It was one of those cloudless late-spring New York days when the air is just a few degrees cooler than blood-temperature and the smell of blooming trees drowns out that of the garbage and exhaust. In Midtown, the sidewalks were thronged with smiling, sunglassed waddlers offering up their pasty winter faces to the sun. I was late and walking fast, darting out into the gutter to pass slow-moving three-abreast clots of tourists and Orthodox Jews. "Excuse me, sir!" I would have said several times, had I been Carrie Bradshaw.
11 West 47th Street has such tight security that each visitor must have not only her ID but also her fingerprint scanned on entry. "I guess that's why they made such a big deal of asking me to bring my ID!" I said to the guard, smiling and trying to be cute, trying to get comfortable – I was nervous. He shrugged and directed me to the elevator that would take me to the 19th floor.
A uniformed cleaning lady sized me up as I got out of the elevator. "What you doing here?" she said, not unkindly. "Um, are there any … radio studios in this building?" I asked as two furry-hatted men passed us, speaking in Yiddish. "This diamond building only. You want diamonds, rubies, emeralds?" "No, I'm not in the market for any diamonds," I told her as I edged back into the elevator, beginning to sweat.
Back on the street: "Ohh, you were supposed to go to 11 West FortySECOND street," explained the PA who called to try to figure out why I was already 15 minutes late to an NPR interview that was meant to have started at 4. I hung up my cell phone and started sprinting down 5th avenue.
Almost everyone I passed was not from around here. Almost everyone I passed seemed to be thrilled to be soaking up the version of New York City that television had sold them, and why not? Look at these shiny buildings glittering! Look at the shiny hair of the women exiting the stores, glossed-paper bags in tow, twitching their tiny haunches, revolving their delineated shoulder blades as they flag down cabs! Who wouldn't give everything to be any kind of cog in this perpetual-motion display of wealth and importance and efficiency? Who wouldn't want to live inside this myth?
I'd been watching Sex and the City for three days straight by this point - yes, I finished them all - and so, as I rushed down the street I found my footsteps were keeping time with the jingle that was by then irretrievably lodged in my head. I couldn't stop hearing that antic tinkle, that almost foreboding ending.
Darting through an intersection against the light, I thought about the show's opening credits sequence. Carrie Bradshaw, in a flesh-toned, nipple-revealing top and matching tutu, walks down the street, darts her eyes from side to side with a secret smug smile, tries to hail a cab, and is shamed when the bus, bearing an advertisement for her newspaper column- "Carrie Bradshaw knows good sex … and isn't afraid to ask,"- whizzes by, splashing her and her tutu with gutter-water. These events are intercut with iconic images of The City: Sunlight glinting off the Chrysler building, the Empire State building, the Brooklyn Bridge. There had been a shot of the Twin Towers at one point, but it was replaced in post-2001 episodes.
Remember the episode when Carrie shoots that bus ad? She'd had some worries about its suggestiveness, she explains via voiceover, as we see her lolling suggestively in her bed as a photographer shouts "Beautiful!" and "More!" But her worries were mitigated when she found out that she got to keep the dress.
Cut to another episode, much later in the series. Carrie is in the ladies' room of some chic establishment or other when she encounters a woman who she at first thinks is a fan: "I read your column," the woman says, and then interrupts Carrie's standard aw-shucks routine by saying, "And I dated Aidan right after you." Then she makes a face that says "and oh my god, you are a horrible, horrible person." As the episode wears on, several other people who have been informed of Carrie's horribleness by this woman-including Heather Graham, as herself-make the same face. "You're Carrie Bradshaw, huh? Eeesh.(Intake of breath)." Like, "You're Carrie Bradshaw, huh? Poor you."
That was sort of how my radio interview went, once I finally made it to 11 West 42nd Street. The interviewer fake-congratulated me a tiny bit and then asked whether I was worried that people would think I was a narcissist, which was a cute way for her to tell me that she thought I was a narcissist. "Do YOU think I'm a narcissist?" I asked her, and she stuttered. Later, the interview was posted on the NPR website with this quote taken out of context, making it seem like I am such a narcissist that I go around asking people, unprompted, whether they think I am a narcissist.
Last week a writer for Salon asked Moe whether she thought Carrie Bradshaw was a narcissist. I guess this is a question that all people - well, women mostly - who write about their own experiences must answer, whether or not said people are fictional.
One of the things people like to write about when they're writing about Sex and the City is whether the show Gets It Right vis a vis The City. Ways the show Gets It Wrong have been catalogued extensively elsewhere- the girls' apartments, their clothes, their endless free time, the fact that a collection of previously published newspaper columns merits an enormous book party and a publicity tour, all, apparently, on the publisher's tab!
But here is how the show Gets It Right. It captures that feeling you can get walking down the street here sometimes on a sunny spring day. You have clean hair and new shoes and for a moment, you can trick yourself into believing that the City is on the verge of opening all its doors for you. All you have to do is be yourself! Things will work out.
But what a TV show will not tell you, no matter how many episodes you watch in a row, is that the people you meet here will only like you or want to help you as long as they can believe themselves to be better - more talented or more successful or richer or smarter - than you. The people you meet here will pretend to be your friends as long as it's convenient for them or as long as it's consistent with the versions of themselves they're performing every day. The people you meet here will never hesitate to say things about you in print that they'd never say to your face. They have made a bargain. They will do whatever it takes to stay here. You came here because you thought you had a lot in common with them, and the thing is, you do. But those things aren't the things about yourself that you like.
And so, at the end of wondering, here is the City. Now will you do whatever it takes to stay here, with them? How many times are you willing to let that bus spray you as it passes before you stop standing on that corner in that tutu? Are those shining towers worth those showers of muddy bus-spray? And why did you ever agree to have your face on that motherfucking bus, anyway? It wasn't even really such a great dress.