Following the taping of SFW that afternoon, Susannah Fontaine-Williams accepted the invitation of one of her guests, the British philosopher/astronomer Malcolm Norton-Hollings, for lunch and drinks at Fiorello’s. It was a gorgeous New York afternoon and they sat at a sidewalk table drinking something fizzy and critiquing the passersby. The bag lay at her feet and she checked it by rubbing her leg against it every few minutes. Still there. Norton-Hollings was her favorite (favourite) type of guest: intellectual, witty and tweedily good looking, there to talk up his latest book, generously dishing out the flirty banter. When Norton-Hollings excused himself to relieve himself of too much fizzy, she plopped the bag on her lap and reached inside to check on the contents. She had had no intention of taking more than one item, but once the Vera Wang had been gulped up into the bag’s void, there was the matter of the Dior, the so many things they brought her to try on that they couldn’t possibly keep count of what remained piled on the chairs and day lounge in the dressing room. The dresses were not there, nor were the shoes, nor anything else she had liberated from Neiman’s. She found, however, an envelope that she did not recall placing and pulled it out, did not look at it, and quickly tucked it back. Would it be, she wondered, better to discuss the bag’s properties with Norton-Hollings before or after their upcoming tryst? As the distinguished scholar returned to the table squinting in the bright reflected sunlight, she thought also that it might be worthwhile to read the license agreement she had so eagerly signed.
It didn’t take long before Susannah Fontaine-Williams began to wonder “just what this baby can do.” Would the bag, for instance, block the signal of an alarm tag on a Vera Wang? She felt like that time her producers put her in a formula one car on a closed track. Her guest, international formula one racing sensation Tony Almondswerth gave her a quick lesson. Then they zipped her into racing togs, popped a helmet on her head, aimed a small camera at her face – she thought she looked adorable and so did the audience. “Take it nice and easy,” he advised. She thought, as did the audience, that he leered salaciously at her. No matter. She floored it, giggling all the while until she sideswiped the wall, emerging exhilarated and unscathed. “Yes,” she said out loud one morning while Antoine happily dozed next to her in bed. “I need to know what this bag can do for me.”
Egberto leafed through the license agreement that Susannah Fontaine-Williams had left open on her nightstand. She was painting his toenails purple, not his favorite color, and he'd have to remind himself to pick up nail polish remover on the way home. He'd have to remind himself to remove the color before he went to the pool, not that anyone in New York pays attention to anyone's toenails. The chlorine would do the job if he forgot. Her polish application technique tickled so he wasn't really reading so much as trying to fend off the ticklishness. “Suze, listen to this,” he said. “Item 37: some objects not belonging to nor placed by licensee may periodically appear in bag from time to time.” SFW could not possibly take seriously a sentence with such a redundancy problem: periodically and from time to time. If an assistant brought her uneditd copy like that, she'd fire him on the spot. Or her. She concentrated on drawing a smooth edge on Egberto's big toe toenail while simultaneously tickling the bottom of his foot with the index finger of her left hand. “Hold still,” she said.
The man’s name turned out to be Walt and he told Susannah Fontaine-Williams that the bag would cost her ten thousand, not the fifteen hundred he first quoted. And she wouldn’t really own the bag, just a license to use it that Walt could revoke any time. He produced a 40-page document outlining myriad terms and conditions she’d have to agree to. “Here,” he said. “Just check this box and initial. No one ever reads these things.” She was impressed. Walt told her he got the idea from Apple and Microsoft and Google and… Anyway, she really had no choice. During her trial week with the bag she stuffed everything in it she could: files, books, makeup, pens, a notepad, a straightening iron and a curling iron just in case. And still it weighed next to nothing. If she shook it, it didn’t make a sound and nothing shifted inside. Once, it fell onto its side on a table and nothing spilt out, as if it was empty. But reach into the interior void, and there was that hairbrush, exactly where she left it. As she saw it, well worth the ten grand. Hell, a decent bag without this kind of storage would run a few thou and not even Oprah had anything like this hanging from her shoulder. “Deal,” she said and extended her hand.
In Susannah Fontaine-Williams’s world, leaving for an event at the time it starts counts as getting there on time, the lone exception being her show, SFW with Susannah Fontaine-WIlliams.
We’ve arrived at weddings as guests are filing through the reception line. SFW will cause a scene if the theater won’t seat us because the curtain has already risen. At movies, we not only miss the previews and ads, but sometimes arrive so late we have to sit apart.
A little bit about movies with SFW. She talks, she comments, she interjects, she sighs, cries, gropes, snorts and laughs – an immersive experience. She won’t let you get anything for her at the concession counter, but will eat everything you get for yourself. She smuggles Smarties and kettle corn and I can already see a great use for this new bag of hers. Sitting apart just won’t do so I lie to her about start times, the current time, the traffic, the weather…anything to get her there.
It’s late afternoon when we tumble back out onto Canal Street, with the bag that bends space-time swinging care-free from her shoulder. She’s poured everything into it from her precious letterless Louis V bag.
“Here,” she says, handing it to me. “You can just toss this.”
I don’t, which leaves me the indignity of carrying it. We walk uptown through Soho stopping in galleries and shops before she flags down a cab with a barely perceptible wave. To the observer it appears taxis pull up and she gets in without the slightest indication that she signals for one.
“Let’s see those earrings you’ve bought me,” she says.
“Now how did that happen?” I say.
She opens her bag, turns it over and shakes it. When SFW needs something from her bag, she doesn’t rummage, she dumps everything out. Nothing comes out.
“Oh, that’s odd.” She rights the bag, reaches in, feels around for a moment, and pulls out the neatly wrapped box with her earrings.
“Huh!” I say. “Interesting. A bag that won’t empty when you pour it.”
“And don’t forget, you can’t see inside it.”
I’d forgotten that. “And what was he going on with about electronics?”
“Don’t worry, my phone’s right here in the outside pocket.,” she says, then taps the driver on the shoulder. “Pull over right here,”
“This is where you get out,” she says to me. “I found a street spot. Aren’t you proud?”
“Keys.” I say.
She reaches into her bag, feels around for a second and pulls out the key fob. The electronic key fob.
“Oh, I didn’t even think… well, it looks fine.”
“I’m sure it is,” I say, certain that it isn’t.
I push unlock and lights flash on every car in both directions on the block. The door to my car does not open. I push unlock again, and again every other car flashes, including the cab. I try the door of the car just behind mine and the door opens. I push lock and again lights flash and I hear the lock click on the car I just tried.
I press the remote start button on the fob twice and I hear a dozen car engines turn over, but not mine.
“Huh.” I say. “Interesting.” A light snow begins falling.
…to be continued.
“Who is she, this Susannah?”
She isn’t anyone. She’s made up.
“You’ve based her on someone… who?”
She’s just a composite of every talk show host, game show-er, blond TV personality. Turn on the TV and you’ll see her on every channel.
“Why are you holding her hand in Chinatown?”
Well that’s not me – it’s just me writing in first person. I like to write first person; I can omit all of the details that omnisciency requires. It’s not me.
Look, if you want, we can just leave that story where it is. I haven’t figured everything out yet.
The conversation is happening last night. We had just seen the movie Her and were sitting in the lounge at the Stone Barn hoping for a seat at the bar. Our first time there – an extraordinary place – I was drinking a scotch concoction that included something almond and cinnamon and wheat grass and a few other things that you couldn’t imagine would taste so good. I think there was triple sec in there. The fire was going and people waiting for tables were dressed very well. Except me in jeans and a sweater – we hadn’t planned on popping in but here we were. A fire warmed the room.
My wife has the most delicious and irrational jealousies because everyone knows I married up. I’m the lucky one in this relationship. My blog isn’t a confessional, although wouldn’t that be something?
“No. I want to know if you’re going to sleep with her.”
Well, it isn’t me, and we can assume that the two characters are intimate.
“I knew it!”
If you want, I’ll just write about something else. I have something like three readers…
“Well, no… Why is the bag so expensive?”
You’d pay that much for a bag like that wouldn’t you? Maybe more, right?
She nods and I can see she’d really like a bag like that. SFW’s carrying needs are based on hers of course.
“Where does everything go and why can’t you put electronics in there? Is it a black hole or some kind of a portal?”
I haven’t worked it all out. However she’s impressed me with the sci-fi terminology (she doesn’t think much of the genre).
About this time I’m thinking we should give up on getting seated at the bar and go eat somewhere else when a polite man in a suit tells us that it will just be a few more minutes.
Soon they transport our drinks to the bar and put little menu booklets in front of us. The couple to our left enthusiastically explain how things work – they’re on the foraging menu and have been there three hours already. I am salivating and my wife is smiling. We have for the evening left Susannah Fontaine-Williams in Chinatown holding the extra-dimensional bag. There’s no way I’d ever bring her to a place like this anyway…
It’s Feb. 1 and the garden is still beneath a coat of snow criss-crossed with footprints and pocked by various tree droppings. Even the roof, bathed in sunlight, still has snow and ice on it. In the summer, there were tremendous spiderwebs spanning the eaves with huge, voracious spiders and these webs have been replaced by lengthening icicles. Winter’s lock remains and the heating system creaks and groans.
A thing to look forward to today: my new phone arrived at the destination sort facility at 6:28 AM this morning and a man in a blue uniform will deliver it to me by noon. It says so on the tracking page and I believe it.
Let me tell you something I don’t believe: Susannah Fontaine-Williams does not love me although she says she does. She’s too practical for love and I’m just someone who can knock down 18 year old Scotch Whisky with her dram by dram and throw her pithy phrases that sometimes ends up on her show, the fourth most-watched afternoon talk show in the land.
She has the most amazing extra-dimensional bag and it’s gotten her into several kinds of trouble. It all started when we were on Canal Street looking for knockoffs and a man led her into a narrow shop with bags hanging from the walls and ceilings like cave bats and piled everywhere on the floor. You waded more than walked through this place.
“I need a bag that will hold a lot,” she told the man. “But isn’t very big.”
He pointed to the knockoffs and SFW held them, appraised them, hoisted them onto her spaghetti-strapped shoulder and shook her head no. No. “Too big. Too heavy.”
She took my hand and we looked at each other and laughed and walked out of the store.
The man said, “Wait. Come with me. I show you something special.”
He led us to the back of the cave to a door covered with dusty bags and found the knob beneath the faux leather. We walked onto a creaky, wooden stairway. Bare fluorescent bulbs hung every few feet so where we hoped for and expected a puddle of dark, we were instead treated to blue-white light. After 27 steps, one of which had an nail sticking straight up (“nail, watch out), we landed in the basement, a big, neat, mostly empty space.
“My workshop,” he said.
At the far end was a metal desk under exposed fluorescent tubes. On it sat a single bag.
“That doesn’t look like it would hold very much,” SFW said.
The man smiled and handed her the bag. SFW dutifully put it on her shoulder.
”The straps are too short.”
“Put your hands on strap and lightly pull,” and as she did the straps lengthened.
“Now, put something in the bag, your wallet…”
SFW pulled out her wallet, a bulky thing weighted down and fattened with credit cards, slips of paper, loose change and lots of cash. She always carried too much cash.
“It will take up the entire bag,” she said.
“Put in everything else you have with you now. Except nothing electronic.”
She piled in a notebook, a few loose pens, a makeup kit, a toothbrush…”
“You carry a toothbrush?” I said.
It all fit. I looked in the bag and it was black inside, dark, although a bright light was shining directly over it. I reached in and felt around for her wallet and pulled it out. “Huh.”
“For you, $1500.”
“Too much for a knockoff.”
“Not a knockoff. This is one of a kind. A prototype.”
He gestured to his workbench with his neatly organized tools and implements and tubes.
”Tell you what. I like you. I watch your show. You take it with you, try it for a few days. If you still want it, buy it. If not, just give it back. No charge for trying it out.”
She looked over at me.
“Why not?” I said, not realizing that that question would be answered soon enough.
“Remember,” the shopkeeper said. “Nothing electronic.”
“Well, where do I put my phone?”
“Outside pocket. Always in the outside pocket.”
…to be continued.