And then, one day, I found myself in Paris with a friend who announced that her goal for the week was to buy a Kelly bag. Perhaps you know what a Kelly bag is. I didn’t. I had never heard of one. What is a Kelly bag? I asked. My friend looked at me as if I had spent the century asleep in a cave. And she explained: A Kelly bag is an Hermès bag first made in the 1950s that Grace Kelly had made famous; hence the name. It is a classic. It is the purse equivalent of the world’s most perfect string of pearls. It’s still being manufactured, but my friend didn’t want a new one; she wanted a vintage Kelly bag.
She’d heard that there was a dealer in the flea market who had several for sale. The flea market is open on weekends only, so we spent several days eating, drinking, and sightseeing, all of it (as far as my friend was concerned) mere prelude to the main event. How much is this purse going to cost? I asked. I practically expired when she told me: about $3,000. About $3,000 for an old purse, plus (if you’re counting, which I was) plane fare?
Well, finally we went to the flea market, and there was the Kelly bag. I didn’t know what to say. It looked like the sort of bag my mother used to carry. It barely held anything, and it hung stiffly on my friend’s arm. I may not be good at purses, but I know that any purse that hangs stiffly on your arm (instead of on your shoulder) immobilizes half your body. I don’t want to get too serious here, but a purse (like a pair of high heels) actually impinges on your mobility. That’s one of many reasons why you don’t see the guys-with-purses trend catching on. If one of your hands is stuck carrying your purse, it means it’s not free for all sorts of exciting things you could be using it for, like shoving your way through crowds, throwing your arms around loved ones, climbing the greasy pole to success, and waving madly for taxis.
Anyway, my friend bought her Kelly bag. She paid $2,600 for it. The color wasn’t exactly what she wanted, but it was in wonderful shape. Of course, it would have to be waterproofed immediately because it would lose half its value if it got caught in the rain. Waterproofed? Caught in the rain? It had never crossed my mind to worry about a purse being caught in the rain, much less being waterproofed. For a moment, I thought once again about how my mother had failed to teach me anything about purses, and I almost felt sorry for myself. But it was time for lunch.
The two of us went to a bistro, and the Kelly bag was placed in the center of the table, where it sat like a small shrine to a shopping victory. And then, outside, it began to rain. My friend’s eyes began to well with tears. Her lips closed tightly. In fact, to be completely truthful, her lips actually pursed. It was pouring rain, and she hadn’t had the Kelly bag waterproofed. She would have to sit there all afternoon and wait for the rain to end rather than expose the bag to droplets of moisture. It crossed my mind that she and her Kelly bag might have to sit there forever. Years would pass, and the rain would continue to fall. She would get old (although her Kelly bag would not), and eventually she and the bag would, like some modern version of Lot’s wife, metamorphose into a monument to what happens to people who care too much about purses. Country songs would be written about her, and parables. At that point, I stopped worrying about purses and gave up.
Next: I came back to New York and bought myself a purse. »