The Mystery of The Blue Bags

One of my favorite books when I was growing up was Harriet the Spy. I read it the summer I went to horse camp with my friend Jane. We wanted to be Harriet the Spy, and Jane kept a notebook about the other campers. Of course when someone found the notebook, life imitated art, and we were ostracized by the other campers. It was pretty miserable.

But this early experience did not daunt my interest in mysteries—fictional or real. As a child I read every Nancy Drew, and during my teenage years I went on to read every Miss Marple and Hercule Poirot book Agatha Christie ever wrote. As I got older, I moved on to any and every mystery I could get my hands on. I don’t read quite as many as I used to, but I still love a good mystery.

In fact, the truth is, I just want to know why. Not just in a mystery book, but in real life, too. I like to figure things out and get to the bottom of things.

Like why is one of the houses in our neighborhood only occupied for three months of the year. Is it true, like everyone says, that the husband is an international pirate? That they own four houses around the world? Who knows?! I don’t, but I sure want to.

Or the mystery of the blue bags. Why are there neon blue bags melting out of snow banks all over our neighborhood? Dozens of them. Some have dog poop in them, sure, left by tired-of-carrying-them dog walkers, no doubt. But others? Empty. Flung by a disgruntled newspaper carrier? Who knows! But again, I want answers!

And I’ve pulled MEH (My Engineer Husband) into my mysterious life, too. One day this winter, when we went to a nearby Starbucks, MEH and I sat in our car drinking coffee. It was a super cold day, around noon, but because it was so cold not many people were out.

A shiny new, silver Mercedes SUV pulled in, two parking spots away. A tall, young, attractive man in blue medical scrubs got out, holding a small, flat box.

He stood for a moment by the SUV, fishing around in the box, finally pulling out something—we couldn’t see what—and threw it into the back of the SUV. Then, he closed the car door and walked purposely down the sidewalk, away from Starbucks. With the amazon box firmly in hand, he made a bee-line for a nearby trash can that was almost directly in front of our car. With his back to us, he opened the box, and shook it over the open can—something fell out, we couldn’t see what. Then, mission accomplished, he turned and walked swiftly back to his SUV, tossed the box inside, and continued on, into Starbucks.

So intent, he didn’t notice us, a mere six feet away: sitting in our car, sipping coffee.

“What do you think that was?” I nudged MEH, whispering. (I don’t know why I always whisper. Standard conspiratorial practice, I suppose.)

“Who knows. Packing material.”

“No way. He’s hiding something!” MEH hasn’t read as many mystery books as I have, so he has no idea how many secrets there are all around us.

I nudged MEH again. “Go see what it is! Hurry before he comes out!”

“NO!” MEH is a curious guy, too, but he has his limits. “It’s nothing. Just some packing paper.”

“It’s something more. And you know it. Why a public trash can? He’s hiding something. What if it’s needles? He’s a doctor!”

“Julia! Forget it. If you’re so curious, you go.”

“I can’t go, what if he sees me? I could be in danger!”

“He should find me instead? Oh, ok!” MEH opened the door and got out, still mumbling something about “nothing.” (Later, I asked MEH why he eventually gave in. And he said that, as usual, he got caught up in the swirl.)

I watched as MEH approached the trash can. He put his hand in his pocket and pulled out some imaginary piece of trash. Then he leaned casually over the trash can, looking intently down, and flicked his piece of imaginary trash inside. So convincing! I smiled with pride.

Quickly, he turned, and strode back. Wide-eyed, he got back in the car. He closed the door.

“I’ll be darned. You were right. He is hiding something.”

“Needles? Drugs?”

“No. Porn.”


“Yep, porn.” MEH laughed. “I can’t believe you were right that the guy is disposing of evidence.”


“Yeah. Now that’s a mystery. He buys the stuff then throws it away. What’s up with that?”

“It’s his son’s or…he’s a sex addict. I mean, who wants a brain surgeon or…worse… a pediatrician that’s a sex addict, for god sakes?”

MEH started the car, and we drove home, discussing the possibilities the whole way. One mystery solved, with many more opened. And I just want to know why. But unlike Harriet the Spy, Nancy Drew, or Miss Marple, I may never figure it out. Or will I?

I got home, sat down at the computer and started to type:

“The Mystery of the Blue Bags

Maggie sat in her car outside Starbucks. It was sub-zero cold, and she hunched over her latte, inhaling the heat. A brand-new silver Mercedes SUV pulled into the next parking place over. A tall, handsome man in blue scrubs got out, holding a small, flat box. He fished around in the box for a minute then threw something into the backseat of the SUV….”



p.s. Are you like me, do you love a mystery? Are you inspired by the mysteries around you? What stories have come out of things you’ve observed?


  1. Cynthia Robertson says:

    I LOVE this, Julia! You are right. It IS one of your best posts. I wish I had been following you then! But since I wasn’t, I’m posting now, so this little post won’t be lonely.
    How interesting that you were right about the doctor hiding something. Did you ever finish the story it spawned?

  2. Cynthia!! You’re awesome to read this AND comment. Believe it or not, I just recently met a new neighbor (that has never seen or heard of my blog) who asked what was up with all the blue bags in the neighborhood this winter!!! But I did not ask her about the doc; that’s one of the weirdest ever stories, and yes, still in progress!