The Power of the Purse 

Wednesday, Mar 15 2000

Yes, you can call them purses again: The tiny silk floral “Audrey,” by Lauren Scherr (at Jennifer Kaufman, in the Beverly Center)

His gaze stops on one girl at the ClubClub bar. She wears Moschino Cheap and Chic tiger-pattern Lycra pants and top. Comparatively, his D&G black makes him look like a RetroDandy, an uptight hero of some sort. He feels a bit out of time, all of the time. The most delightful part of this girl’s ensemble is the object under her arm. He thinks to himself, I would willingly admit to anyone of my pleasure in seeing this woman with a Ferragamo python-skin clutch rammed up into her underarm, sweat mixing with shiny candy — a delight reminiscent of dancing the night away at Studio 54. He was 14 in the ’80s, now defunct in the ’00s.

He is fascinated by her purse. It is so small. Functionality is only a reference. I remember my grandmother’s purse. Though I was intimate with it as a young boy on several occasions, when she would ask me to fetch change or a cracker from its inner, leather folds, it was a mystery to me. Her purse was large, a proper conveyance and not just an accessory, as if the Depression had turned her into an urban survivalist.

He moves through ClubClub’s spinning pinpoints of mirror-ball refractions and positions himself beside her at the bar. The girl’s hips, 12 years his junior, swing side to side, disembodied, having their own fun. He suspects that she’s being as glamorous as she can imagine, imagining what it must have been like in the ’80s, with Warhol, Halston, Minnelli, Capote and Dynasty. He understands her exhaustion with the minimalism of Calvin Klein and The Gap.

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Like a magpie, he wants to grab her purse. He doesn’t care about the girl. He’s already stolen several shoulder bags, clutches and minaudières. He is seduced by the eclectic fabrications: fish vertebrae, zebra-striped patent in Crayola colors, peacock feathers, embroidered silk and satin, silver studs, rhinestones, sequins, metallic beads, abalone platelets and hard, pimply, black stingray skin. He displays them on pedestals and in their own vitrines, as in the boutiques where he goes to identify the varying species, like an entomologist.

He wonders how these tiny purses have so much power over him, especially when they contain nothing, such as money — important if he were another kind of thief — or rubbery objects that might be associated with commingling. He knows about their emptiness, as he has opened each purloined bag to consider the clean, simple, empty cavity. Nothing but surface remains, he has thought.

Suddenly he feels insecure in the girl’s presence. He feels old at 34. He looks down at his own epidermis, a black-leather jacket from the ’90s, and compares himself with the girl and her purse. I’m unadorned. It’s depressing. I feel so rational, routine, functional, like some e-commerce zombie workaholic . . . I have lost, again, to a purse. But it is a pleasure to lose to its beautiful, polished reptile skin. Ponyskin, dyed green, has beaten me as well.

He realizes that he’s never held the power. Only his fantasies have been studded. He would be happy to restrain his freedom of movement by occupying his hands with a bejeweled, embroidered purse made of bumpy red-dyed ostrich skin with denim handles. He would like to appear without burden by getting rid of his black polyurethaned-nylon Eddie Bauer briefcase and his ergonomic Prada backpack. Like this young woman, he wants to appear as though he can exit his home with few or no necessities. I want the New World Order to take care of me too.

He wants to forget that he grew up during the last days of the Cold War and Disco, ever afraid that the draft would be reinstated when nuclear war inevitably happened, and of the last dance at 3 a.m. He wants to dance under ClubClub’s mirror ball instead of just observing the glamour of the glistening python skin, and the rhinestone fringe that he noticed after closer inspection. He mutters to himself, “Empty yourself out like the reptilian purse.” Then yells inside his head, Flaunt it!


Tyler Stallings is currently working on a book of short stories titled It Won’t Hurt. He is also curator of exhibitions at the Laguna Art Museum, Laguna Beach.

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