Insight comes at unexpected moments. A typical example happened recently while I was casually scanning a promotional insert in the local daily newspaper and my gaze fell upon an ad for plastic "tote boxes" in 10-, 18-, and 30-gallon sizes. There was also an adjoining ad for an impressive 44-gallon "wheeled tote locker" that had several interesting features, including a "hinged lid with incorporated latches."
I put down the paper and stared out a nearby window, considering potential avenues of my life that have never been explored, or even surveyed. As if struck by lightning, I became aware of a void in my daily existence: I am not now, nor have I ever been, a toter.
The word "tote" occurs only rarely in my personal vocabulary, and to me it has always sounded vaguely inconvenient. Tote bags are what people use to carry things that are too big for their pockets. The only other item I've ever heard used in conjunction with the word tote is a firearm, i.e. "the suspect was described as a gun-toting militant."
Until seeing the ads in the newspaper insert, I had never even considered the possibility that large plastic containers could be toted. To me, toting has a definite size limitation. Bulky items such as a 30-gallon tub are just not tote-friendly; they have to be hauled, and the expenditure of energy required for hauling anything will not be insignificant.
My wife walked into the room. "Look at this," I said, showing her the ad. "Do you think our lives would be changed in a positive way if we bought some of these bins and made toting part of our regular schedule?"
She looked closely at the paper. "Are they only good for toting?" she asked. "Couldn't we just store things in them? That would cut down on some of the clutter around here."
"The ad doesn't say anything about storing," I pointed out. "It says they're tote boxes. That means you put something in, take it somewhere, and remove it. The boxes are for transportation purposes."
"So they're good for stowing things," my wife replied.
"No," I insisted, "stowing and storing are the same thing."
"I don't think so," she said. "There's a time factor involved."
"Stowing is short term," she said. "Like when you get on a plane and the flight attendant says, 'Please stow your carry-on items under the seat or in the overhead bins.' "
"That's true!" I exclaimed. "On a boat, they tell you to stow your gear. Stowing is what you do on a voyage. It's short-term storage!"
"Didn't I just say that?" she wondered.
"Yes, but we need to look forward now," I answered. "Do we stay in our well-worn groove of never toting anything or buy these bins and start living a more dynamic, tote-oriented lifestyle?"
I stopped talking and stared at the ad. When I looked up again, my wife had left the room.
For now, I'm just toting up all the pros and cons.
• Jeffrey Shaffer writes humor from Portland, Ore.