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TOO MUCH WEIGHT IN THE WALLET

While recently rifling through my wallet looking for the dry cleaning slip for a coat I dropped off -- this is slightly embarrassing -- three months ago, one thing became clear.

I have too much stuff in my wallet.

I am not talking about the essentials -- driver's license, registration, credit card, library card, insurance cards, etc. No, I'm talking about the "frequent client" or "preferred customer" cards that seem to mysteriously show up in my wallet.

I have not one but three coffee club cards from my supermarket, and I honestly do not recall putting them there. Each informs me I am entitled to a free cup after seven punches, a goal I have yet to achieve because I apparently never fill up a card. I only acquire new ones.

I have cards from a video rental place I have not been to in months, a hair salon and the place where I get my oil changed every 3,000 miles or so, if I remember.

What I do not remember to do once I am there is to pull out my "club" card.

I should explain that I am not a pack rat. I crave order. I like the dollar bills in my wallet facing the same way -- the $1s on top.

But these shopping cards are having a heyday in my wallet.

I used to have more of these cards -- a bread card comes to mind, for example -- but I got rid of them during a wallet purge a couple years ago.

Why? Because I never use them.

One season, I stocked up on black opaques at a store, and the woman asked if I had a club card. "To what?," I asked.

"The hosiery club," she replied.

"Would you like one?," she asked.

"No, thank you," I replied.

"Are you sure?," she continued.

"Yes, I'm sure," I said.

"You get a free pair after you buy a dozen . . ."

Enough all ready. I don't want to belong to a panty hose club. Or a panties club. Or a bread club. Or a coffee club. Or a shoe club.

Now, it doesn't take an MBA to figure out why these cards are popular. It keeps shoppers coming back to the same establishments for one more "punch" or "stamp" on their membership cards. And, of course, people love freebies.

But all this also got me thinking in a silly sort of way about where all this may lead. Will these cards eventually reveal not only where we shop but who we are? Will they become part of our biographical information on job resumes, book jackets, medical records, even obituaries?

Imagine this one: "Josephine Shopper, a lifelong member of the No Nonsense Hosiery Club and an avid coffee drinker, had her hair cut and colored every six weeks at her favorite salon. She enjoyed numerous free oil changes and tire rotations in her lifetime but fell one hole punch short of receiving a free videotape from her Video Dozen Renters Club . . ."

Do not get me wrong. I am not against taking advantage of sales and discounts. I have been known to clip a coupon or two. I just want my wallet back.

That's because these cards have plenty of company.

ATM slips cozy up to cash receipts. Post-its with "notes to self" adhere to dollar bills. And I notice I am carrying around not one but two state registrations -- one new, one expired -- and two driver's licenses ("But, Officer, don't you think my hair looks better in my old one?").

And right about the time I dropped off my coat at the dry cleaners (they still had it three months later, by the way), I deposited a lone pierced earring in the coin section of my wallet. The back had dropped off, and I didn't want to lose the earring.

Guess what? It's still there. And the sad news: Now I can't find the other one.

Maybe it's at the dry cleaners.
e-mail: smartin@buffnews

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