Oh, You’re Supposed to Leave Coins!

by Pat Fortunato

Forget about San Francisco: you can leave your heart in Rome faster than you can say Ciao, Baby!

I, however, held on to my heart, but left my underwear.

As some of you know, I am capable of losing almost anything. Gloves, of course, pens and pencils, cell phones, keys, wallets, not to mention money, checks, credit cards, address books and laundry lists, plus scarves, hats, earrings. You know, the usual.

But am I satisfied with these paltry everyday items that any idiot could lose? Not I!

Perhaps I was cursed at birth by a vindictive gypsy (or have been watching too many operas), but I do have a deep and abiding talent for losing virtually anything, any place, any time. Back in college I misplaced my senior thesis and had to rewrite it from scratch, using my barely legible notes, and didn’t get the A I thought I deserved. So young, so tragic.

But the thing that has captured my friends’ imagination—and the incident they want to hear about—is that I once lost my underwear near the Trevi Fountain.

Let me explain.

I was in Rome with my business partner, Diana, and we went shopping for tennis outfits at this really nice store near the Trevi. We had a ball (no pun intended) trying on all the skirts, shorts, and tops that the cute Italian clerk handed us through the curtains of the teeny little fitting room. He did seem to be lingering a little too long, and leaning in a little too far, but we’ll get to that later. Each of us bought a few outfits, some of which I still have today, and so, mission accomplished, we scurried off in search of gelato.

Later that day, around cocktail hour, we met up with Diana’s husband at the piano bar in the lobby of the Hassler Hotel, a very chic, very fancy Italian place at the top of the Spanish Steps.

So there we were, the three of us, lounging at the lounge, working on drinks of Campari (me) and Scotch (them). It was to be my last evening in Rome; they were staying for a few more days. As the piano quietly tinkled in the background, and elegant Italians (elegant Italians are really, really elegant) stylishly conversed over cocktails and delicious little nibbly things, I asked my friends if they thought they’d be going back to the Trevi. If so, I wondered, could they stop in that sweet little store and see if anyone had found my underwear?

I was surprised by their simultaneous loud and startled “WHAT!—which resulted in a kind of happy hour hush among the privileged patrons. There seemed, at least to me, to be total silence in the room. Even the piano player stopped, his hands poised in mid-air as he turned to stare. Remember that commercial, “When E.F. Hutton speaks . . .” and everyone stops what they’re doing to lean in and listen? That’s what happened, there in the piano bar that night in Rome. It seems that, in Italy at least, sex sells even better than financial advice. Italians are so wise.

Well, maybe it was the Compari, or that When In Rome Feeling, or maybe it was just me, accustomed practically from birth to losing things of all nations, but I didn’t think it was that big a deal.

In the shop, I had been wearing my favorite cream-colored camisole and tap pants set—silk, lace, the whole nine yards (actually, very little in the way of yardage, but very effective, lacy lingerie-wise). In my defense, your honor, I was wearing a bra and pantyhose underneath the sensuous silk set, so that when I got dressed (Remember, we were dealing with very cramped quarters and I was tired from all that shopping!), I guess I forgot to put on the cami and pants. It could happen to anyone, right? Well, maybe not.

The next day, I took off for New York, and my friends headed for the Little Shop of Panties, down by the Trevi, where the very good-looking young man who had been helping us (and perhaps himself) claimed that no, no signori,of course he had not found anything like the intimate articles being described to him by this crazy American couple.

My friends left the shop empty handed, and went to the fountain to throw in a few coins. You’re supposed to do that, you know, to ensure that you’ll return to Rome.

But you have to wonder: If tossing coins in the fountain brings you back to Rome, what happens if you leave your underwear there? Will the Italian branch of Victoria’s Secret send you a catalog and ask you to pick up your purchases at the Piazza Navona? Will you be extradited from the US and hauled back to Sunny Italy on charges of lewd and indecent behavior? Or will you return to Rome to have an encounter with the cute clerk? He’s the perfect age by now.

Whatever. But that young man knew more than what he was telling. Much more. It is my firm belief (it’s so nice to have something firm these days)—and very pleasant fantasy—that somewhere in Rome, someone, perhaps at this very minute, is riding around on a Vespa wearing my underwear. In my imagination, it’s a woman, but who knows?

Whoever it is, my loss was somebody’s gain, and one way or another, with, or more likely without, silk underwear, I will return to Rome someday. And to be perfectly realistic, me being me, it’s extremely likely that I will leave behind more than just my heart.


After working as writer, editor, and publisher for many years, I formed my own company in 1984, optimistically naming it Mega Books. When I retired, I started a blog called I Can’t Believe I’m Not Bitter, and now do everything I can to stay that way, including joining the IRP.
Visit the blog at: http://i-cant-believe-im-not-bitter.com/