About a Purse

I am not a purse person, someone who changes their purse to match their outfit or blogs about designer bags on online purse forums. Sure, I see Bottega Veneta magazine ads and swoon, imagining the feel of a woven leather hobo bag under my arm. But a $3,000 hobo bag? Seriously?

Don't get me wrong; I like a nice purse. But to me they're mostly about function -- something to hold a wallet, phone, sunglasses, feminine products. I have a few purses -- a 20-year-old black Coach bag, still the go-to for special occasions. A small crossbody you wear over your shoulder -- great for concerts so you can dance and not worry about your bag getting drenched with beer when it's under your seat. For the past year I've been carrying a bright blue satchel I bought to celebrate selling my first novel.

So when I got an email from a purse company that was having a pre-Christmas sale, I checked out their bags, found one I liked and placed an order. Merry Christmas to me.

And let the humbug begin.

The purse arrived a week later, hermetically sealed in layers of tissue paper and plastic. Unwrapped, I fell instantly in love with my gorgeous chestnut-colored purse. Until I smelled something funky. Fishy, vaguely chemical. My purse? I sniffed at it and nearly gagged. My new purse was dangerously odoriferous.

Perhaps because the purse had been mummified prior to shipping, it only needed to be aired out. I left it in the kitchen and a few hours later my 18-year-old daughter came home from school and asked, "What's with the purse that smells like fish?" Later my husband said the fumes from the purse were making his head hurt.

Clearly in denial, I put the purse over my arm and modeled it in front of the bathroom mirror. Soft leather, the right size, perfect. When I put the purse back on the kitchen counter, I realized my sweatshirt smelled like fish and chemicals. So did my hands.

I Googled "Why does my new (brand name) purse smell terrible?" and was surprised to see the question had been asked before. People advised to "return it" or "try stuffing it with fabric softener sheets/car deodorizers/baking soda." Okay, I'd give it 24 hours. The purse stayed in the kitchen, my husband and daughter making P.U. faces every time they walked by. "It'll smell better tomorrow," I promised them.

When I woke up the next morning and started downstairs, you could smell the purse. "Are you bringing the purse to the mother/daughter luncheon at school?" my daughter asked, her eyes pleading, "No no no." "You have to send it back," my husband told me. Still hoping for a miracle, I called customer service. Would they laugh when I told them my purse smelled like fish?

After waiting for 25 minutes on hold, I talked with a surly woman who, after I explained the problem, told me to return the purse for a replacement. "You promise the new one won't smell like fish?" I asked, trying to be funny. Not amused, she told me, "It won't."

And in a way she was right. The replacement purse doesn't smell like fish. Because -- almost a month after mailing back the original bag -- the replacement has yet to arrive.

This is a big purse company. Their bags are very popular. (Here's a tiny clue -- quack.) But weeks passed, with no purse, no emails. When I tracked the order number, it said the item had been shipped. The insured mail receipt showed the purse had been returned to the company. o what was the problem?

I sent an email. Very polite. Gave the order number, an account of what happened. Could they let me know when my purse would appear?

Another week went by. No response. I sent a second email. Firmer this time. My credit card was charged, I've emailed before, where's my purse?

Nothing. What's the point of having a customer service department if you don't answer emails?

One morning I was thrilled to see an email from the purse company. But it wasn't an answer to my email. "We hope you're enjoying your new purchase and want to hear what you love about it. Thanks!"

I'd tell them. If I had the purse.

I checked out the company for complaints and was slightly shocked to discover their rating from the Better Business Bureau was an F. (F? For "fish?")

It's January and I'm still waiting for my Christmas bag. These days I carry a black satchel I found on eBay. Good price, smells like leather.

More emails? Call customer service to speak with the surly woman again? Threaten litigation? It's only a purse. So... maybe I'm a purse person after all.