Thursday, June 16, 2005

The Naugahyde Bag

I'm upstairs with too many individual items to carry down in one trip and I'm running late, so I grab Susan's Naugahyde bag. It’s got nice long sturdy leather shoulder straps, kind of tan colored, and would look okay if it weren't for that weird pattern on the Naugahyde. I know the bag is expensive, Keith has told me in no uncertain terms. But I don't think he'll mind if I borrow it, as long as I bring it back. It was Susan's. She, he told me, knew what was what (the implication being I did not, but I don't care. Who wants to know whether a Naugahyde bag is expensive or not? I just want to know if it's sturdy, holds all my stuff, and is comfortable to carry. If it looks nice, so much the better. This bag is a little funny looking, but it'll do.)

Keith had told me the name of the bag, something French. Pierre? Louis? I don't know. Erin, my daughter, has one of those bags, a smaller one. She thinks they are pretty grand, so I take mine to show her. Suddenly, it's mine. Well, could be, I suppose, since Susan is gone.

Erin gasps when she sees it in the car. "Don't leave it in the car; it's probably worth more than $2500. People will break in and steal it.”

“They wouldn't need to break in,” I say, “I never lock my car.”

“Why not?”

“There's nothing to steal,” I say. “I'll lock it in the trunk.”

“There's no other way to get into the trunk?”

“Well, yeah, but how would they know it's in there?” I ask. Erin is shaking her head in frustration.

Why, I wonder, would I want to own something that people would break windows to steal? And why would anyone who would want to be seen with such an item be the kind of person who would break windows and steal?

Erin is horrified at my attitude. “Gimmee gimmee,” she says, making come-hither signals with her hands. Is she coveting my new bag? I can't really give it to her. It's actually Susan's. Keith's now. If it's really worth $2500, I'd better not hand it over without asking.

I think about the $2500. If I scan a dollar at the cash register at Wegman's, I could feed a hungry person for a day. So they say. I don't quite see how, I can't feed myself for a dollar. Maybe it's subsidized. If so, I could, with $2500, feed 2500 people for a day. And if not, I sure could buy a lot of books for a girls school in Tehran or help some injured orphans in Iraq or feed some starving people in Rwanda or even help some of the kids at the school where I used to teach. I could donate to a science museum or be the patron of an artist. I could do something useful with the money.

Maybe buy myself a camera with a few more megabytes to increase my creative abilities. I could send Graham to music camp for a couple weeks. I could send my daughter Erin to Tuscany, where she’s always wanted to go. I couldn’t do all those things, but I could something useful, something helpful, something honorable and good. What is honorable and good about spending $2500 for a handbag when you can get a nice one at LL Bean for less than $65?

Some people, I think, have too much disposable income and not enough imagination. But then, who am I to judge? I'm sure there are people who would criticize my choices. My own daughter, for one.

I'm hoping she will continue to respect my choices, as I will try to respect hers, even if I may not always agree. I deeply believe in our right to disagree.

Here's where I become non PC and alienate half the population. I hate being too inflammatory because I like to keep my friends. But the whole tone of this note is rather inflammatory, so here goes: I was going to guess that only republicans would carry those Naugahyde bags, Louie or Pierre or whatever they are. I think of republicans as people who steal from the poor and give to the rich, a sort of reverse Robin Hood syndrome. But wait, I know at least two Democrats who have those bags.


Keith said...

The Louis Vuitton tote bag is genuine, not a knockoff (there are lots of those, made in Asia, and sold for low prices), but it was not nearly as expensive as you suppose. I think Susan paid about $300 for it, back in the 1980s. Susan seldom carried a purse, but nearly always carried this tote when Graham was a baby, stuffed with several pounds of junk--wallet, keys, appointment book, cosmetics, baby supplies, etc. Once she was approached by a reporter at Somerset Mall, who was interviewing women about what they carried in their purses (it was at about Christmas time), and the picture was printed in the Detroit News. I still have the clipping somewhere.

I think Susan would be glad you're getting some use out of it; she certainly did. The pattern is the traditional pattern that appeared on Louis Vuitton luggage early last century.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I am relieved that it did not cost $2500. ($300 is still a lot, but much better.)

Erin said...

The design is Monogram Canvas not that horrible word you keep using! :) I found a tote listed for $1060 that is 16"x12", considerably smaller than yours. (Just to point out I wasn't completely off-base.) But Keith's right- only the most expensive luggage pieces run over two grand.

I don't think you can relate expensive indulgences to political parties. Afterall, your very expensive camera gear would be as impractical to me as my very expensive purse is to you. I love you!

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

AND I love you, too! :-) XOX

I didn't know what the correct term was--"monogram canvas"--and it looked a lot like naugahyde (fake leather) to me!

I guess what I always think is that Republicans WASTE good money on stupid things and Democrats USE good money on good causes, but wastefulness and usefulness is totally in the eye of the beholder, as you point out--or almost so.

WAR for example, cost lots and kills lots of people--including children--but "they" spend lots on killing kids and very little on educating them. And they drive around in big cars and all that when they could do something useful with the money. But I have to remember that foolish financial extravagance is NOT limited to republicans. And that occasionally they do do something useful with some of their money.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Of course the cost was less partially because it was a long time ago.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

And one more comment: A camera is a useful creative device that makes art.

In some cases, perhaps not all, a more expensive camera makes better art. Or, makes better art possible. It's true that the camera doesn't make the art, the phtographer makes the art with the aid of the camera. But it is hard to make good art with a bad camera.

However, a $65 LL Bean bag will carry stuff just as well as a thousand dollar bag. The price tag isn't paying for better quality, but for something else. A name. It doesn't seem to increase the functionality of the bag. At least not relative to it's cost.

I guess a case could be made for the self as art. You can design yourself by choosing clothes, make-up, eyebrow tweezing, hairstyling, luggage etc. Your body (and your home, and other possessions) could become your art project. An expression of creativity.

But if there's a set of rules that says Louis Vuitton is good and LL Bean is not, how can you truly be creative in expressing yourself? It sounds as if you have to be like the other people who carry those bags--wear the "right" clothes, not the ones that best express who you are. Or, that's the way it looks from here.

But as usual, I am probably confused.

sara said...

It's funny that you keep mentioning LLBean. Is that not as much of a name brand as Louis Vuitton?

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Yes, it is, but it is a more practical brand than Louis Vuitton. And much more affordable. If there was a place to buy well-made handmade bags that were comfortable, reasonably priced and functional, it seems like that would be the ideal.

Also, there is all this hoopla about whether or not the Louis Vuitton is genuine. From my point of view, if the bag fits, wear it. If it's a fake, but works well and is less expensive, who cares? (I guess lots of people do, but I'm not one of them.)

Erin said...

Okay kids, I think it is safe to say that we should just agree to disagree.

I was not judging your opinion of the Louis Vuitton bags, even if you are clearly stating that you believe them to be a waste of space. But since you brought art into the picture (as in your expensive camera gear makes good art, which has its own value), then you must understand that I feel a well-made, luxurious Louis Vuitton bag is art. It makes me happy to just see it, hold it, smell it. It has nothing to do with how others view me while I'm carrying it. I'm not the teenager I used to be that cared very much about those things.

I still think that if I chose to enjoy expensive purses (or shoes or clothes) that it is every bit as valid as you chosing to enjoy expensive camera gear (or camping gear). I thoroughly agree that our society is too obsessed with "things," but I don't see how one thing can be better than another. They are just different.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

I DO agree to disagree!

And, in spite of how it may seem, I am NOT criticizing YOU! I am trying to think about these issues, do some values clarification, discuss and understand the world.

I'd like to be able to talk about and examine differences in opinion without being too opinionated and without causing hard feelings or alienating anyone.

In my personal world, a good camera is more valuable as a thing than some thing that just sits there. Like a vase. That doesn't mean I don't value your choices.

Cameras and purses or bags are both tools of sorts. The value of a tool, in my personal opinion, is how it performs its job.

On the other hand, a bag may also be an object d'art. That aspect of it has its own special value that a new camera does not have, at least not to the same extent. That's where the smelling and feeling and admiring may fit in.

So admire away. And I'll snap away. XOX

sara said...

The bottom line is that value is in the eye of the beholder: one person's trash is another person's treasure.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Astute point, well taken.

Sara said...

I always think about that when I see some piece of (apparent) rubbish is sold at auction for some ridiculous sum. I read in THE NEW TIMES, for example, about a cigarette butt being sold on Ebay for over $5000 because it was the last one smoked indoors before some new smoking ban took effect. Something is only worth as much as someone is willing to pay for it.

Mary Stebbins Taitt said...

Aiee, well I'm the one (wo)man who's TRASH that would be!!! Holy mackerel! I would definitely call THAT a waste of money.