University of Baltimore Asst. Prof. and Bohemian Rhapsody Columnist Marion Winik tells a startling tale of personal theft…and personal grooming.
Dear Salon Manager,
My dear friend Peggy Maher gave me a gift card for spa services at Christmas last year. Last Wednesday I used my card for a pedicure and gel manicure with your lovely employee, Jane Feldman. It was the first time I ever had a gel manicure and I can’t tell you how much I like it. A week later, my nails still look perfect. That is one of the only things holding me together at this point, as you will soon understand.
Thanks to Peggy’s generosity, I had $90 remaining on the card when the clerk returned it to me. She said to be sure to keep the cash register receipt and the card together because I would need both when I come in next time or sorry, Charlie.
Then two nights ago, I was at home with my daughter and son, as well as my son’s girlfriend and our cousin Nancy, who comes over for a weekly dinner and viewing of “Project Runway.” My son is not as interested in “Project Runway” as the rest of the group but like so many boys his age, he has a natural gift for watching TV. After Nancy left, my daughter went up to bed. I brought in my laptop and began to triage the day’s email.
The kids changed the channel to “South Park” — an appalling and deeply scatological episode called “The Tale of Scrotie McBoogerballs.” My son’s girlfriend joined me in clamoring to turn it off. They put on a cooking show but since I am dieting that was not much better. I gave up and retreated to my office, to finish up.
There I came upon an odd sight. The front door was ajar and the storm door was propped open by a skateboard that was formerly leaning on the wall under the mailbox. I guess it fell over. That darn son of mine! He complains all night that he’s freezing then leaves the door wide open when he comes in. I shouted through the house about this, and he shouted back that he didn’t leave the door open and he wasn’t skateboarding. I went up to bed at 10:42 where I found my daughter still awake, whimpering about how she was too stressed out to sleep because tomorrow is the Maryland State Assessment test. I hear they are ending the MSA in a couple years and that’s great but WHY NOT NOW? Oh well, another letter for another day.
So. We all went to sleep. We all woke up. I took my daughter to school, I came home, and soon enough I needed something out of my purse, and I couldn’t find it. What the hell? I got serious, I tore the house apart, I called the Giant where I’d shopped in the afternoon. I still had it, I realized, when I picked up a book at the library on the way home. Whew. It had to be around somewhere.
But it wasn’t. And then the image of the skateboard holding open the storm door came to my mind. I realized that someone had entered our unlocked house while we were sitting in the back room watching Scrotie McBoogerballs. When he realized we were home — maybe he was so nervy he knew we were home and didn’t care — he snatched the purse and slipped back into the night. The skateboard was to prevent us from hearing the door bang shut.
Now, at last, I understood. I had lost my driver’s license, credit and debit cards, insurance cards, Giant bonus card, and faculty ID. I’d lost much more money than I usually carry around, about $150, because I’d just returned from a trip where I thought I would spend cash but didn’t. Gone were my Mahogany Luxe Lancôme lipstick and my Urban Decay eye pencil and tiny tube of blemish concealer from France. Not to mention my almost fully stamped card for a free car wash.
But forget all that. The purse itself was a gorgeous, rectangular, handcrafted, brown alligator shoulder bag I bought in the gift shop at the Hambidge Center, an artists’ retreat in Georgia where I stayed for a week the summer my mother turned 70. I convinced my sister to split the cost with me and we gave it to our mother together. She carried it on and off until her death 10 years later, when I inherited it. My sister and I did not argue about one single possession of my mother’s, nothing like the usual depressing stories you hear, and she knew how I felt about the purse.
I have carried the purse for almost five years. Partly because it was even better than I thought, with fitted compartments for pens, cell phone, keys. Partly because, since I had bought it for my mother, it was nicer than any purse I would ever buy for myself. But mostly because it was like carrying my mother with me all the time.
Feeling a combination of nausea, stupidity, and violation, I called the police, wrote my neighborhood listserv, and ran out coatless into the rain, poking in trash barrels and peering into hedges. Oddly, but perhaps understandably considering my 22-year-old son lives with me, I found one of my juice tumblers sitting on a ledge halfway down the block. I kept reminding myself of the amazing fact that neither my cell phone nor my datebook were in the purse at the time. I also reminded myself that if the skateboard hadn’t been there, I would never have figured this out and would still be looking for the purse now. Also, for what it’s worth, my nails still looked great.
I reminded myself that things could have been far worse. More could have been taken, there could have been violence, something else entirely different and a million times more terrible could have happened. This did not make me feel much better. These things have happened, to people I love, to people I know, even to people I don’t know, and the fact that they didn’t happen to me on this particular night is not that much to gloat about. Though don’t get me wrong. I’m not asking.
Most of the ways I could think of to make myself feel better involved writing about the theft. Unfortunately, I immediately remembered that I am already the author of a published essay titled “Meditations on A Stolen Purse” written 25 years ago in Austin, Texas. Pretty much the same story, too.
Well maybe I could write something else then. I could write an Alice Hoffman-meets-Stephen King type thing where it turns out the ghost of my mother has taken the purse because she wants it back. Or an Oliver Sacks essay, where I am hit on the head and get a brain injury causing Capgras syndrome. Though my purse is returned to me, I don’t believe it’s my purse, and keep insisting that aliens have taken it and sent this in its place. What about an O’Henry tale, where my son sells his kidney to get the purse back for me but then it turns out my daughter needs a kidney transplant? Or a Jess Walters version, from the sleazy but desperate and weirdly lovable robber’s point of view?
I’ll probably go with “Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Skateboard.”
By Tuesday evening, the loss of my purse had dawned on me afresh many times. When I left the house, or got out of the car, or had to gather my stuff. That night I was at a Rick Moody reading at school. I had already decided to forgo the faculty dinner because I was too depressed to make small talk or impress anyone in any way. Thinking of the fine meal I would miss, I reached for my sugar-free Lifesavers and realized the goddamn robber had my sugar-free Lifesavers too. It was then that I took a more careful mental inventory, and remembered my salon gift card.
I don’t see much possibility for a happy ending to this story. The last time this happened, back in Austin, someone wrote to me saying they knew where the purse was. They had seen it atop a grand piano in a house not far from mine, but they could never tell me where because the person who stole was so mentally ill that it would be far worse for me to try to get it back than just to accept the loss.
I find I can’t bring myself to ask you to replace the gift card, since your policy was made so clear to me last week. But if you feel you want to, please let me know. I will need to get my gel nails redone in a week or so.
Thanks for listening to my story.
Update: I mailed this letter to K-Co Salon on Falls Road and just heard that they will honor the remaining part of the gift card. I guess the robber didn’t think to go in and get a facial. Good people help balance out the bad people! Mani-pedis all around!
Marion Winik writes “Bohemian Rhapsody,” a column about life, love, and the pursuit of self-awareness. Check out her heartbreakingly honest and funny essays twice a month on Baltimore Fishbowl.