by Polski Rhumba
An obsession had arose in her and it was not to be stopped. It was
to be placated.
It began at the close of an Indian summer when a warning wind of cold swept up Broadway round her body through her thoughts. Tongue of a frozen serpent lashing out. She hugged herself tight, shoulders hunched up, a defiant squint in her gold-flecked eyes. She didn't like heavy clothes too soon, preferred to feel the change, investigate cold, frighten herself a little, feel how vulnerable she was against The Universe. Indulge in a few bits of masochism, just keep them subtle. She teased & tortured herself into November, when finally one night out would come the suitcase of soft mohairs, thick turtlenecks and the down jacket bought on rue de Rennes. A treasure trove of survival.
She stared at pairs of gloves searching for holes, black smears of grease, lipstick, all the wretched bits that destroy.
That summer she had made do, all the way since spring, May to be exact, with a cheap piece of baggage she had found in a huge garish store a block from Macys filled with playclothes and bins of $4.00 tennis shoes. Mostly it was poor black women and tourists although she had a millionaire friend who regularly went there and bragged about the price he had paid for some pants or a fleece sweatshirt.
But one thing she noticed, he always had that exquisite small bag on a strap over his shoulder, the best leather you could buy you could see it instantly and over the years it got better and better. It marked him as one of wealth. It was a beautiful bag.
The summer before she ran around Europe for months with a yellow and white daisy bag of all things. She bought it in Montparnasse--for $7.00! A handbag with a little gold plaque that said PARIS on it. This bag being vinyl and covered with daisies should have been enough to make her run out of the store but her perversity took over: she contemplated the fake innocence and recklessness of walking around these streets and traveling with a $7.00 vinyl bag yellow and white no less. Yellow and white! What could that possibly go with? That was just the point. It would go with nothing, absolutely nothing and that would be the joke, her private joke. The hideousness of this bag. But then again it was very well made and had nice touches around the top. Nothing cheap about it really.
She knew of handbags that cost $80 and looked much cheaper than this bag. It's because it's Paris. They can even make a $7.00 bag look expensive and proper she thought as she asked for a fresh one wrapped up in plastic. They were selling like hotcakes (gaufres). Not to worry--all French women who were not buying it as a joke.
Then on Broadway, this summer, she did the very same thing. Walking through Macys--there were all the in-between bags that cost $29.99 or $34.99 making a grand attempt to look sophisticated and expensive. But the whole pretension collapsed. They looked like middle-class bags. And that's precisely who bought them. Tired secretaries, scrimpy actresses, paralegals.
She left Macys in a huff. The Coach bags had their own section of course but they had moved into the category of bland cow woman, someone who didn't make many demands on the brain. She, the little Hamptonite who bought them, would beg to differ of course. She would say her life is so important and she so busy that the simplicity of the Coach bag supported her by allowing her to never have to think if she had the right bag or not. She would look 'right' no matter whose party she walked into, no matter which new restaurant or yacht club she entered. It would be there doing its required job with a simple panache. Quelles idiots. Boring vaches.
Then there were the bottle blonde ladies who wear pink and have the most amazing bags. They never ever go with any part of their outfit. A little pseudo-punk perhaps but mostly they look like they clean bowling alleys or are old whores. But they're not. These ladies are the hard-workers and their bag is bought for the price and some quick flash. Usually it's a bunch of different colored leathers sewn together with big black stitches (to match their black roots), a gold ring or tassel hanging down from the bottom. They're grotesque bags. But these women are more free than the Coach girls. You could have an unexpected conversation with them in a bar over a beer.
The white bag. That was a hell of an insouciant bag. White vinyl. Completely white vinyl with a drawstring at the top also white vinyl. No other color. There was Just One hanging there on the wall in the middle of all the other pieces of junk and because there was only one, she bought it. When there is ONLY ONE you HAVE TO HAVE IT! Salesmen should know that. Two weeks later when she passed through the store again, she looked up to see a whole wall covered with them. They had restocked.
The funny thing was, like last summer, this bag cost $7.00 also.
The same number again for a summer bag.
This one too she used for months, grabbing it no matter what she had on... dinner at Demarchelier, silver Gaultier, jeans or black leather. Let them think what they will. Let them eat leather. She refused to clean it, cultivating the garbage on the bottom--tobacco, French coins, phone numbers with forgotten names, a condom given her by a well-meaning bartender, film stubs, matches--pawing through a past that gave proof of existence: The Paramount, Bar Six, Dublin Inn, La Coude Fou, Le Limousin! --my god what a night--Versailles & Masturbation. She decided it would be cleaned when she put it up for the season, or threw it away in the river, the East River, the mean one.
And now the season had arrived. It was the first day of October and she would not use this bag another day. She must buy a new handbag.
The Search Begins
If shoes reveal a woman's soul...the handbag reveals her cunt. The ever-hungry all-important Tunnel of Pleasure.
It's true. Look down at the shoes of women as you walk down the street. Safe black pumps, serious safe soul. But she carries a Coach bag. By that you know she likes it quick and not violent. Unless it's a dirty Coach bag, in which case she has to get drunk first and then she likes it violent.
There's a girl with very tall black leather boots on, spike heels with the boot going right up to the middle of her thigh. This girl is ready for a trip around the world and will fight off aggressive people who try to get near her lover. She carries a little spiked bag, black leather with steel silver spikes pointing in every direction. She has a pussy that's locked away waiting for the most beautiful boy in the world or at least one with a steady flow of blow. (Or else she's an accountant for a music entertainment firm.)
Vinyl. Anything goes.
Canvas. In the dirt out in the garden. Squash some tomatoes between her toes.
Backpack? Virgin. Or someone who's not getting it often but reads good books.
Fake pony skin bag, big and expensive. She'll throw her cunt in your face any day for the right price. Hollywood girl.
In Paris all the girls walk around with streamlined quality handbags. They hang there parfait with all those thought-out ensembles, the silky brown hair, their signature touch of makeup, no lipstick. The older women have even more expensive bags with names dripping off them: Hermes, Lanvin, Yves of course, and the chattes of these beautiful girls and women, the handbag says it all. They are well taken care of. They prize and feed these animals. They are expensive, labyrinthine to get into but they are well-made, you get your money's worth. If you don't care about the expense, everything's fine. All those French men are just waiting waiting and they know it costs.
(Albert says no matter how big or small the bag there's never any francs in it.)
MarieHelene was the one who told her about it in the first place. (She wore slashes of turquoise under her eyes, extended out and upwards like little blue wings.) Walking down out of Belleville, there at the bottom of the street were women diving and ripping through a huge pile of handbags outside a Moroccan's shop, a great flock of ferocious magpies hell-bent on securing a prize. MarieHelene said 'You know, someone has written a book that says the handbag a woman carries represents her vagina'.
It made her angry. She said 'How ridiculous. That's absolutely ridiculous. It must have been some idiot man who wrote it.'
Then, two years went by and there they all were one day. Parading up and down Fifth Avenue, Madison Avenue, across 57th Street, coming out of the Plaza and Bergdorf's and she saw it finally and was sorry she had acted angry towards MarieHelene. Yes, she could see it now.
They were their vaginas.
The Handbag As Vagina.