I was walking down the aisle of a department store when I spotted him - poor devil. There was a middle-aged guy standing in the middle of the misses' sportswear section holding a purse.

He was a huge guy, big enough to play be an offensive lineman - or even the offensive line himself - and he was standing there with a bright pink handbag.

My heart went out to him. I wanted to tell him that I have shared his pain, but I was afraid he might panic and start slugging me with his wife's purse.

He, I and most of our fellow husbands have wound up waiting in department stores while trying to conceal purses the size of suitcases.

And our shame is not because we are afraid passersby will think that we are holding our own purse. Just about everybody knows that we are stuck with our wife's purse while she is in the fitting room.

Dads sometimes make guy purse holders the center of a lesson directed at their young son or sons. Most of the time, the truth is too painful to tell.

"Daddy, why is that man holding a purse?" young Cornelius may query.

"Well, son, that is a story so sad that I think I'll postpone until you are older. I don't want to scare you, but that will probably be you in 20 years."

The alleged reason why we guys find ourselves in such an embarrassing position is we are left holding the handbag while our wives try on potential clothing purchases.

However, the real reason is that we guys are in "Purse Purgatory." It ties in with Dante's "Divine Comedy" in which the denizens of hell and the people in purgatory are tortured or reformed in ways related directly to their sins.

We guys bring our purse punishment on ourselves because we continuously make fun of the size and weight of the purses our wives or significant others lug around.

I'll be the first to admit that I am guilty of this.

Actually, if I did not accept the blame, my wife Jo Ann would probably demand equal time by writing next week's column. She could probably do that in her spare time by using the computer she carries in her purse.

I am not talking about a computer phone or even a notebook portable computer; I am talking about a computer with power tower and monitor.

I still don't know how she fits that in her purse - especially when she also has to carry a 50-foot extension cord to use the computer.

As is the case with most guys, I am very subtle when I make fun of my wife for carrying a purse that weighs about the same as a railroad freight car and can hold almost as much.

I have two favorite techniques for doing this. If Jo Ann hands me her purse, I'll pretend it is so heavy that I cannot keep it from thudding to the floor.

If the purse is already on the floor, I do my impression of a weight lifter trying to get gravity to reduce its grip on barbell loaded with 500 pounds of weight.

For some reason, my wife does not find either one of those bits of humor the least bit funny. I probably should come up with something new, but I am still working on it.

Frankly, my main concern is working on my speed in getting away in case JoAnn gets mad my old jokes and tries to take a swing at me with her purse.

But, after giving this whole guy-holding-wife's-purse situation some more thought, I have concluded it is not the bad jokes about purses that get us guys in embarrassing situations in stores and other public places.

It's the fact that we guys make fun of the size and weight of purses and their contents, and then expect our wives to tote around our own gear.

Jo Ann and I recently attended the wedding of our cousins' son and I was shocked when I realized that I was guilty of that offense.

I carried only a money clip in my pants pocket - just the clip and no money. I was able to travel so lightly because I weighed down Jo Ann's purse.

The car keys were kept there and so was the spare set. Likewise, my sunglasses were dropped in the purse and so was my camera.

At the reception, I won the floral centerpiece at our table and where do you think that went? It was a lucky break that the roses were short-stemmed and not long.

However, it was not until our ride home that evening that I realized the sins that had caused me to be sent to Purse Purgatory and I came to appreciate my wife's efforts.

We got a flat tire on the way home. No, Jo Ann did not carry a car jack in her purse.

But the spare tire she had in the cosmetics compartment of her handbag really came in handy.

(Walt Kozlowski, a freelance writer from Mount Carmel, composes "Walt's Way" for each Sunday edition.)