But that’s not what Smith recalls about the episode. Instead, he remembers “that beautiful scene where it had just snowed. And I was like, ‘I can’t take this test, because I have to stay’—that’s how much I love New York. Of course I had to tell my mom and everybody that I took it. But I couldn’t take it, because I cannot leave here. It’s hindering me from getting promoted, because if you get promoted, you have to leave the borough. And I can’t leave lower Manhattan. I can’t go to the Bronx. I would kill myself.”
Parker and I are sitting in the back of her Town Car, across the street from her building. She left her keys in the door that morning, when she was blocked in by the paparazzi, and now she’s locked out.
“Shite. I can’t believe this. It’s kind of funny,” she says, BlackBerrying like crazy. “Who else has freaking keys? And where’s my poor, sweet, overworked assistant who is not picking up?”
It’s a Manhattan survivalist scenario, I joke—trapped in a Town Car with nothing but Gourmet Garage.
“Isn’t it glamorous? Do you want a potato chip?” She offers me both Classic Lays and barbecue. “Do you want any, sir?” she asks the driver.
As we wait for someone to show up and let her in, she looks dreamily out onto the street. “In the summer, when the weather is perfectly perfect, I will do nothing but sit on that stoop. I will make all my calls on that stoop, return all my e-mails. There is nothing more wonderful than the stoop. A stoop is really—is heaven.”
We talk about her life as a child, when her family was constantly on the move, from Cincinnati to the Wellington Hotel in midtown to Roosevelt Island to New Jersey. Did she have any rituals to make a new place feel like a home? I ask.
“There was nothing of value to bring with us. Nothing—it was a chance to start over and actually leave it all behind and start fresh. It wasn’t scarring. Honestly, it was like, ‘Oh, this could be good. We could start again. We could have a clean house for at least three weeks before it all goes to pot.’ ”
A New York City that lost its financial bearings might not be an entirely bad thing, she says. “I’m very careful about how I say this. I don’t think being below the poverty line is good for anybody. And I don’t think barely clinging to it is good or healthy, especially for children. But there were things that I know I learned because of my circumstances, which were not Dickensian by any stretch, but there was no disposable income, there was no ‘What should we do with this extra $200?’ It was, ‘How can we disguise the lack of money?’ ”
She worries about what her son will learn growing up rich. Even now, she says, “We use the word earn. You’ve got to earn things. And he’ll say, like, ‘One day, when I’m older’—and I’ll say, ‘You know, you have $42 in your piggy bank. That is yours to do with what you want. And one day, you’ll work hard, and hopefully you’ll find work that is good and fun.’ ”
As the street gets darker—her friend Eric Hughes is on his way over with the keys—we talk about the series again, the heightened Manhattan moment that it captured. “It’s like a Jeff Koons piece,” she says, munching a chip. “He takes a diamond ring, and he just blows it up. That’s what the show did. It highlighted the best angle of the Chrysler Building, the shiniest part of it—and those parts of the city seemed like they were for the rarefied few. A life that isn’t really how anybody lives. Even people who do love shoes, they don’t have the time like that to be with their friends. That was the thing that struck me more than anything about the show as the most unrealistic, the time they all had.”
As for Carrie, Parker rejects entirely my theory that she had any attraction, conscious or unconscious, to Big (or Aleks or Aidan, for that matter) because of his money. Carrie wasn’t like that! she says. Charlotte was, but Carrie wasn’t. Hey, she dated Berger, didn’t she? “I really don’t think that money was a criteria. It never would have occurred to her to take money from a man.”
In the modern version of New Grub Street, Parker seems to be both characters: the artist who longs to be good and pure and the pragmatic girl he marries, the one who knows that the world doesn’t work that way. She’s a disciplined businesswoman whose iconic role is the flightiest freelancer who ever lived. And if this sometimes makes her feel a bit conflicted, a mite defensive, cognitive dissonance on two legs? Well, we’re talking about a woman who has a proven ability to walk in heels.