Three days later, Parker and I meet to take a walk through her neighborhood. As we turn onto West 12th Street, she bends down and plucks a washer off the sidewalk. “I find so many things in the streets, and my husband makes fun of me because there’s almost not one walk I’ve taken in New York City where I haven’t found a coin. Something of value. Once I found a big metal N.”
It’s one of those damp days when Manhattan seems to flip straight from January to August. We head toward Bleecker Playground, passing three teen girls who do a New York triple take: confirmation—feigned indifference—giggling. I’d wondered if Parker would prefer to skirt this notorious strip, the wormhole that marks the intersection between the series and its social side effects. Yet here we are, headed toward the most famous stop on the Sex and the City bus tour, Magnolia Bakery, with its eternal cluster of proto-Carries craving red-velvet cake.
Hilariously, the line doesn’t even glance up as its goddess passes by the Biography Bookshop. She’s wearing humongous sunglasses and a floppy slate-blue bodysuit made of chambray. We gamely try to have a conversation about the ways the neighborhood has changed: the Marc Jacobs effect; Broderick’s theory that Christopher Street’s “nasty shops” won’t disappear (although she adds that she “doesn’t patronize them”); Parker’s worries that a friend who owns a framing shop will get priced out. We discuss her first apartment, on Greenwich between Charles and Perry, when she rented from the infamous West Village landlord Bill Gottlieb (“He slept on a mattress made of my checks!”).
But every ten feet or so, there’s a fan: a young actress who calls her “the big meet”; the manager of Mulberry, who offers her a gift bag. There are also people Parker actually knows, like a local mother who fills her in on her daughter’s recent tonsillectomy, and her longtime friend Eric Hughes, who gabs with us about real estate.
“They’re always, always kind,” Parker emphasizes about her fans. “And I think to see me on the streets of New York, in a place that they might imagine the character would be—it makes people feel good.”
It’s the paparazzi that rankle her, this “culture of thuggery” that makes her “long for the Ron Galella days.” She knows how it sounds to complain, that people don’t like to hear this from stars: She understands that if you kvetch about things like receiving that creepy Maxim magazine “unsexiest woman” award, it stimulates the tabloids to repeat the slam. It was a subject that was dealt with several times on Sex and the City, in which Carrie had a penis scrawled on her bus poster and took a pratfall on a fashion runway—not to mention that strange opening sequence, in which she grins at her own image passing by only to get dirty water splashed onto her white tutu.
But Parker can’t help it. Some of these changes are very recent, certainly the willingness of photographers to shove her son’s schoolmates out of the way to get a picture of him. As a result, James Wilkie has begun to cover his face even during family photos. This idea that children are fair game has appeared “over the last four years, even more so the last 24 months,” she says. “Now we just kind of eat it. It’s like empty calories. It’s shit. And it’s so base.” Earlier, she’d told me, “I feel very ashamed, I feel like I’m like a—the town trollop. It makes me feel ashamed of my work. And I’m not. But I’m attached to this culture now in a way that, it’s kind of vulgar. And I feel cheapened. And I feel like I’m cheapening the school, like I’m bringing dirt, like I’m bad for the neighborhood.”
When we turn the corner, she waves hi to the guy in the flower shop, whom she’s known for years.
Parker uses language like this a lot: “base,” “vulgar,” “the town trollop.” Perhaps it’s a way of setting herself apart from a generation of panty-free starlets. Maybe it’s the Matthew influence. It certainly seems linked to Parker’s ambivalent relationship with her sex-columnist character, who, she emphasizes, was never naked (true; has any other character worn so many bras to bed?), did not use profanity, wasn’t a slut but a romantic. (Kim Cattrall seems to be the last person waving the flag of third-wave sexual rebellion that the series championed early on: “Loose woman, hussy, slut, nympho—now it’s a cougar,” she says with a sigh.)
But then, Parker has an anxiety about purity in general, ever more so as she’s become as much businesswoman as performer. In the theater, there’s no product placement. It was her job as executive producer, though, to be aware of the marketing deals that financed Sex and the City, with brands from Apple to Manolo Blahnik to Absolut vodka integrated so seamlessly that unless you had the legal contracts on your desk, or were doing some kind of abstract comparison in your head (how would you feel if Jonathan Lethem cut a deal with Kodak?), you would have had to concentrate hard to notice at all.