Choosing The Perfect Purse For An Existential Crisis

My purse is a tiny thing, by design, so that I don’t carry around heavy, unnecessary things.  Cash, cards, an EpiPen, and my cell phone is really all the weight I need dangling from either of my shoulders.  Give it a long enough strap so that I can wear cross body in crowded spaces, and I’m golden.  It’s not a fashionable choice here in Rome, but I’ve had years of practice shrugging off the eye rolls of the Trenderati.

20170629_123444.jpgBefore I embarked on this journey, I cleaned out the solid black Vera Bradley mini-hipster that has served me well for the last three years, and moved into my brand new Baggallini.  I found it on sale at AAA when I went to exchange currency.[1]  It is also compact, but has just enough room to fit my Nikon B700, in addition to the necessities.  It sounds Italian, and the blue and green stripes remind me of my favorite patio cushions from a few summers ago, and best of all – the shoulder strap is adjustable.  I’ve already sewn the strap back on to my Vera Bradley three times and I had my doubts it would make it through a busy summer of travel without another repair that I was unwilling to accommodate with space for needles and thread in my suitcase.

I began my purse-moving by sorting the contents of my black bag into piles on the kitchen table.  There was the obvious trash pile that contained old receipts and loose pieces of gum.  One of the many pros of having babies that turn into teenagers is that the gum I find is now, more often than not, un-chewed.  Then there was the pile of stuff that I needed to keep, but not in my purse, at least not for Italy.  There would be very little need for my Kohl’s card, I astutely observed.  The pile of things that made the cut included my emergency credit card, my super-duper emergency credit card, three ChapSticks, and a Benadryl itch relief stick.  There was a fourth pile – the pile of things to pray about.  Like, maybe I would need 47 bobby pins, a cough drop, and the rest of the gum that hadn’t fallen out of its pouch yet.  That pile, like so many things I spend prayers on, ended up in the kitchen garbage can.

I’d just reached the last of the three pockets in my black purse when my phone chimed with a new e-mail.  It was one of my oldest friends.  From somewhere on the underside of the planet, where she lives now, she’d just stumbled upon a data card with a slew of MelSerena.jpgpictures from our trip to Savannah and St. Augustine two years ago.  She thought I’d want to see all the pictures of us with drinks in our hand.

I remembered those photos, perhaps better than she did.  I smiled for a few of them, and gritted my teeth through a lot more.  Today I wouldn’t mind being selfied with a drink in my hand, but in 2015, I was still raw from a hank-williams.jpgbitter custody battle where every tiny thing I did was nitpicked and torn apart, used as evidence that I am an unfit parent.[2]  I didn’t want the pictures then, and they are bad memories now.  For me, anyway.  She seems to enjoy them.

I replied to her e-mail with a quick snapshot of the home made business card I’d just cleaned out of my purse.  It was from the night we happened into The Monk’s Vineyard and met Hank Williams. 

When we were kids, she got the silly notion in her head that I am a witch.  I never practiced the craft, but I am a very good manipulator of coincidence, so for almost three decades, I’ve let her believe it.  It was no surprise that she replied with her age old witch accusation.
I confided that I wish my witchy ways were useful for speaking Italian, because I would be spending the next few months speaking in Charades.

That’s when she told me the truest thing I have probably ever hated about myself.
MeleemailAnd there, maybe, is the thing I could not put my finger on.  Why I am here.  Or more specifically, why I am not at home with everything and everyone I know.  Rome could have just as easily been Istanbul, or Warsaw, or Beijing.  Maybe I’m here to prove in practice, not in feminist theory, that I actually am a capable human being.

But you know what?  At this particular time in history, when I look at my neighbors and try to guess which third of them supports fascism, racism, homophobia, class warfare, and corporate greed – or at the very least think that those things are a small price to pay to teach Democrats a lesson – I realize this is an experiment that cannot fail.  Maybe learning that we can depend on the kindness of strangers – even and especially globally – is what we all need more of.


So cheers to whatever I learn from this.  I mean, aside from how to use a Metro and discern real gelato from the touristy paste, of course.Bood Moon Toast


[1] I’ve not been a AAA member very long.  Mike added me to his account a few years ago, and it has paid for itself just by letting me back into my car when I’ve locked myself on the wrong side of the door from my keys.  However, I just found out it’s much more than dummy insurance.  Did you know that they will exchange currency with no fee, and that they take your passport photos free of charge?  Also, it’s one of only two places you can go to get an international driver’s license, which is frighteningly free of any ability-based restriction or regulation.  Also, they sell car insurance and luggage.  Who knew?

[2] Spoiler alert:  Custody fights aren’t in anybody’s best interest unless a child is being abused.  Don’t do it.  Take it on the chin, learn to work with your ex and ignore anybody who was not instrumental in creating the children when they purport to represent what is in their best interest.

St. Augustine


Our conversation was likely a little slurred and our walk down Saint George Street may have been somewhat wobbly while Melanie was still not fully grasping what just happened.

“So, that was the real Hank Williams?” She asked for the umpteenth time.

I let the conversation continue with no real intention of clarifying matters.  “He looked real to me.  Did he look real to you?”

“But isn’t Hank Williams a singer?”

“Well, he was.  But I liked him better as a song writer.”

“And now he owns a wine shop in St. Augustine?”

“Don’t be ridiculous.  Hank Williams died a long time before we were even born.”

“Then who were we just talking to?”

“Hank Williams.”  Keeping her confused may have been my passive aggressive revenge for her failure to mention she’d booked this leg of our trip in a hostel.

I’m a low maintenance traveler, really I am.  But try to understand, I was responsible for booking the first half of our trip and we had just enjoyed three nights in the Hyatt Riverfront in Savannah, Georgia.  At best, there should be some sort of decompression chamber for transitioning between a Hyatt Regency and a hostel; at the very least, there should have been some sort of, oh, I don’t know – warning.

But, no.  When we arrived three hours earlier, I stared up the whimsically painted stairs already being scaled by a medium sized palmetto bug and beheld my first indication that things were different now.

Our room had one king sized and three bunk beds and was icky.  Again, I can do icky; I just wasn’t expecting it.  I plopped my suitcase onto the plastic-wrapped mattress of one of the bottom bunks, prayed that palmetto bugs hadn’t learned how to unzip things, and set out to explore America’s oldest city, St. Augustine, Florida.

It took us no time at all to stumble upon The Monk’s Vineyard, where the window sign promised sangria.  Within minutes of sitting down, we learned that the proprietor has spent all of his summers since the 1960’s back in our home town.  He knew familiar people and places, and even had a Peabody’s T-shirt back behind his bar.  He asked our family names, and he knew some of my kin.  I asked his and he said, “Williams.”  As common as it is, I don’t remember any locals with that name.

He is a man who likes to tell stories where the characters say his name a lot.

          My teachers always said, “Hank, sit still.”

          My lady friend always says, “Hank, don’t spend so much time at work.”

          And then Doc said, “Hank, why don’t you just sell your place in Florida?”

Still, it wasn’t until he disappeared behind some boxes to get himself a drink that I put the name together.

“Psssst, Mel,” I whispered, poking her shoulder.  “That man is Hank Williams.”

“What?  Who?  No it’s not.”

“I’ll bet you twenty dollars,” I thought I was going to make some easy money.

“Isn’t Hank Williams famous?”

“Yes.”  I wasn’t lying.

“Maybe it just looks like him.”

“No.”  I meant, he looks nothing like that Hank Williams.  “He actually is Hank Williams.”

As he reemerged with fresh drinks for us, too, I said, “Hey, Hank.  Will you tell Melanie what your last name is?”

“Williams.”  It was almost a question.

I turned to Melanie, holding out my hand, “Ha!  You owe me twenty dollars!”

“I didn’t take the bet.”  She was right.

We left after a couple of hours of enjoying his stories about loading his own shotgun shells and how he’s trying to sell the bar, and that’s when we found ourselves in the circular conversation.

“Then how can that be Hank Williams if Hank Williams is dead?”

“Hank Williams had a son, also named Hank Williams.  Junior.  That’s probably the one you’ve heard of.”  She had no way to know that I was simply making a statement of fact, not answering her question.

“Then that was Hank Williams, Jr.?”  Honest mistake.  Poor girl.

“No.  We did not just meet Junior.  Weren’t you listening?  His father’s name was Hugh.”

“I’m so confused.”

And confused she stayed.  I anxiously await her Christmas letter this year to see if meeting Hank Williams rates a mention.

Speaking of sangria and the holidays, which are clearly now upon us, enjoy my Christmas Sangria recipe.


Christmas Sangria
Therapeutic Alternative to the Holidays

1 cup orange juice

1 cup Fireball whiskey

1 bottle of dry, red wine

simple syrup, optional, to taste.

sliced granny smith apples, oranges, lemons, and lime.

*Soak your fruit in the whiskey for several hours, refrigerated.  Mix all ingredients together, serve over ice.  I prefer no simple syrup, but you may like sweet things more than I do.  Remember, sangria is the perfect way to dress up those wines that you don’t enjoy, that somehow end up cluttering your kitchen counter.  Or maybe that just happens at my house.