New York, New York

The Opposite of Sex and the City

There is a city that belongs to Sarah Jessica Parker. Rather than let it slowly creep into your head, it’s sometimes nicer to imagine HBO’s hit series as a Beckett play.

I have never seen the program Sex and the City, but its images—particularly those of Sarah Jessica Parker (always all three names—the needless “Jessica” has cost us all gallons of ink and hundreds of column-inches), who plays Carrie Bradshaw, the show’s heroine—have been beamed into my mind from bus stops and subway ads, Ms. Parker looking serious and sexual and cityish in my direction, her every armpit hair waxed or shaved or plucked away. Thanks to the massive marketing budget at HBO, she is as omnipresent now (is a new season beginning?) as Giuliani was in the months after last September.

I know too much about this program, and I have no desire to see it, at all; it’s not for me, but it’s rammed into my cortex whenever I venture more than 6 blocks from my home. The show is in the newspapers, stories from episodes have been related to me, and people from out of town have asked “are they really that way, the women there?” and I say, “yes, absolutely,” with no idea what I am implying.

There is now a Sex and the City file in my head, unbidden, the product of good branding. In that file: these friends like the show, these friends hate it, Carrie lives uptown, Miranda has a baby. I learned, a few months ago, while reading the “Vows” section of the Sunday New York Times, that the woman who created Carrie Bradshaw, Candace Bushnell, recently married a ballet star, and all of her tiny slice of society was abuzz that a woman who had sworn off marriage was getting married. Shock.

Vows, which covers the marriages of wealthy people with hyphenated names, is great entertainment. I try to read it as a different person every Sunday. Sometimes I’m a 15-year-old aspiring starlet in Florida, wishing my life was as glamorous as the young couples described, with their careers in publishing (her) and finance (him), or I’m a fundamentalist Muslim condemning the godless capitalist Jews and their decorated whore-brides, or a radical animal rights activist, lamenting the likelihood of slaughtered animals at the after-dinner meal, planning to arrive and throw fake blood on the bride. But it’s most fun to read as an anarcho-syndicalist with Marxist tendencies, because the Times makes it so easy:

These two people, Terence Trevor-Mills and Lauren Grape-Expury, the ignorant, self-righteous recipients of a false system of wage exploitation, will be united in April during a massive wedding spectacle funded by the profits stolen from the proletariat employed by their capitalist fathers. The union, which will culminate in the corporate-and-state-supported subjugation and sexual slavery of Ms. Grape-Expury to Mr. Trevor-Mills, will be sanctioned by a paid-for church father despite the thieving hypocrisy of the celebrants, and will be attended only by other ruling capitalists, who will be served by even more proletariat, each at chafe under the rule of their masters. The wedding will be followed by champagne, and then by revolution, as the workers arise and take what is rightfully theirs, including the beaded Mischka wedding gown and the heaped platters of canvasback duck.

Anyway, I know that Sex and the City occurs inside that milieu, the Vows milieu, where people attend things, like weddings, operas, and charity benefits, and are served by attendants, who take their keys and coats. I assume that the dialogue on the show is snappy, written by snappy-dialogue professionals, shot with lots of quick edits and good camera work. But I prefer to imagine the show as a black-box play from the 1970s with Beckettian overtones, three women on an empty stage, looking at the audience, speaking in monotones:

1: I doubt I am fecund.
2: I have eaten so little.
3: Where are the men?
1: There are no men.
2: I will pay a woman $40 to caress and decorate my toes with varnish. I will wear shoes that cost more than the weekly wages of a restaurant worker, with tips.
3: What kind of tips?
2: Not on the shoes, for the restaurant workers.
1: I am hungry. I will not marry.
2: Talk about the shoes.
3: The shoes!
Unison: Shoes.

The theme of the show, I understand, is the search for love, love gained and lost, and the means of attaining your ends is consumption: what must I buy, how must I look, what must I become in order to find the community and love for which I yearn? Love is nirvana, a good match is the unattainable goal, the choice of handbag a meditation towards a particular enlightenment.

If you go to Central Park on a spring afternoon, you will see a parade of strollers, containing the progeny of the privileged uptown residents who have attained love, and if you start to count, you will find that a number in serious statistical excess—perhaps 20 percent, or more—of those strollers, often pushed by underpaid, tired nannies, are designed for two children, for twins.

It’s the fertility treatment, plus the waiting until the late 30s, that does it: a whole portion of the world is now only coming into existence because of expensive treatments and pills, the desire to create a child after all those years of consumption, the sudden bursting-forth of an equation in the not-yet-maternal breast: child is fulfillment, not-child is emptiness, followed by a passionate desire to solve the equation, to put a baby on the right-hand-side of it and cancel out the emptiness denominator.

I’ve seen this so often—in friends and strangers—that it seems fundamentaly unmockable. I can’t say it won’t be me—certainly, since I’m just now beginning to decide whether I want children or not. At 28, I could find myself holding a wife or girlfriend’s similarly-wrinkling hand a few years down the road, in line for fertility treatments with everyone else, hoping for my own set of twins—and it seems weirdly ironic that, after all that waiting and putting off, you get twice as many children, as if the universe is saying, “catch up, grow up, here, now.”

Above the Central Park baby parade, the immigrant nannies working for their $10/hr, the secular world of media and entertainment, channeled through billboards, promotional postcards, online banner advertisements, and overheard discussions on the subway, wants me to witness this television program, to become intimately involved with the lives of its fictional creations, to see beyond their love for shallow things into the spiritual and emotional hearts that lurk below, to revel in their revelations of uncertainty.

But I have absolutely no desire to do this. I think I’ve seen enough, and the more I am asked, the less desire I feel, the more certain I am that an hour in front of the tube with Sarah Jessica will be an hour wasted. I suppose it would be easier to just watch an episode at some cable-blessed friend’s place, and get it over with, but despite the many millions of marketing dollars pressing down on me as I go through New York, and like Bartleby, I would simply prefer not to. At some point, I feel, I must say no, I will no longer partake, you can keep it.

And I feel I must say, before I go, that this is as much my city as the city of those who care deeply for shoes, a place for the slightly broke Brooklyn cranks in $25 2XL shirts as much as the ultra thin and ultra clever, and if I want Sex and the City, I can get the city part by going for a walk across the Brooklyn Bridge, and the sex part, I can figure that out, too.


TMN Contributing Writer Paul Ford is the author of Gary Benchley, Rock Star, a novel that was originally serialized here on TMN. He was formerly an editor at Harper’s Magazine, was an occasional commentator on NPR’s All Things Considered, and is now sole proprietor of (which has a Facebook group). More by Paul Ford