Buckle up, buttercups. This is a wild ride that follows two different actors across three different TV shows. As always, it won’t make sense if you haven’t seen the shows, and spoilers abound.
My digging around for Samantha’s nude photos had started her reminescing as we walked through Charlotte’s gallery, taking in an exhibit of finely curated photographs, unlike Samantha’s nudes, which Charlotte had declared “not very arty.”
At the studio, the photographer had let Samantha know that his assistant, Tiger, was ready with some music to help her ease into the shoot and feel more comfortable in the nude. Samantha immediately disrobed, leaving Tiger frozen speechless at her full-frontal unveiling.
“We had a lovely chat, once he recovered his power of speech,“ Samantha explained. “Tiger was an RN at an chemotherapy clinic and worked as a photographer’s assistant on the side. I tried to track him down when I underwent chemo for my breast cancer, but he had moved back to southern California.”
“What music did he cue up for your nude photoshoot?” I asked, never one to handle Samantha’s brush with cancer very well.
“Steely Dan,” Samantha guffawed her open-hearted floozy laugh that I love so very much.
“A band named after the dildo in Naked Lunch?” I whispered, incredulous.
“I thought it was an inspired choice,” Samantha said. “One of my vibrators is named Plasticky Dan.”
“I still think you should meet the Rabbit,” Miranda interjected.
“I told you, I’m not interested in a sex toy named after a cute, fluffy animal.” Samantha rolled her eyes.
“Lions and tigers and bears, oh my!” I quipped.
“Speaking of tigers,” Miranda continued, “that exhibitionist guy I dated in 1999, Jack, had a brother he called Tiger.”
“Oh, did Tiger also catch you two having sex?” I asked. Miranda had been relieved to finally have sex with Jack in a bedroom and not a Landmark Society alley or Central Park restroom, only to discover that his parents were visiting when they walked in on her in flagrante.
“No, but do you remember how we only discussed books—in, like, the most obnoxious way—and we were so consumed with name-dropping titles for historical biographies that I negelcted to ask what he did for a living?”
“So what?” Samantha shrugged. “You were busy fucking him in taxis all over Manhattan. I hate when men expect you to get to know them.”
Miranda shook her head. “I ran into him at another bookstore, and it turned out he was an FBI agent!”
“A female body inspector?” I snorted, and Samantha snickered. We high-fived like 22-year-old frat boys at the Playboy Mansion.
“The real Federal Bureau of Investigation,” Miranda scolded, her scowl reading us our Miranda Rights. “Those weren’t even his parents that walked in on us—they were state’s witnesses he was in the process of relocating. His real parents are some big-time real estate developers in southern California.”
“Sitwell Enterprises?” Samantha asked. “I handled some PR for their alopecia charity.”
“No, that doesn’t sound right,” Miranda shook her head. “Jack never seemed like the family type, anyway. He completely abandoned the kid he had with another FBI agent, this woman who posed undercover as a personal shopper in New Jersey.”
“Who would fall for that?” Samantha asked.
“Not me,” I declared. “Shopping is my cardio.”
“You’ll never guess who she befriended on that assignment,” Miranda whispered. “Christopher Moltisanti’s fiance.”
There was that name again. “So he’s not single?” I asked, leaning back and smacking my lips.
“I don’t know if he’s single, but Jack’s baby mama got pulled off the case for giving Moltisanti a hard-on,” Miranda said.
“This Christopher guy sounds like a total catch,” I said.
“Jack said they hauled in the fiancé and her little dog, too. She threw up all over the table when they asked her to turn informant. And when the FBI finally thought they had worked a deal, she vanished.”
I perked up. “So he is single?”
As we nibbled our canapes, Miranda told us how the shake-ups at the bureau ended the romance between the two agents, especially after Jack’s baby mama got promoted over him. Jack the exhibitionist decided to pull a vanishing act of his own and quit the bureau to pursue his dream of becoming a famous magician.
Miranda ran into Jack while he was selling all his historical biographies to The Strand’s used book buyer, right before he moved back to southern California. He said he wanted to be near his dysfunctional family, including the brother he called Tiger, who had worked as an oncology nurse and moonlighted as a photographer’s assistant before joining the military.
The three of us stood there, contemplating a new work by Maria Diega Reyes, Samantha’s ex-girlfriend, whose career resurgence had made her an art-world darling beloved by Charlotte’s power-lesbian clientele.
“Stanny!” I cried, seeing my long-suffering gay husband and his gay husband across the room. The only two gay men to consistently remain in our lives, they had naturally married each other, despite a less than fortuitous first meeting. As I watched them cross the room toward us, I couldn’t help but wonder: What the fuck ever happened to Stanford’s beautiful boyfriend Marcus?
“Is that Bobby Fine?” Samantha asked, looking to the other side of the room and waving to Bitsy von Muffling. “He’s talking to the two gay men I almost had a threesome with, pretending to grate cheese on their abs.”
“I think I see the lesbian my co-worker tried to set me up with at the company softball game,” Miranda mused aloud.
“Isn’t that the pastry chef Charlotte dated who swore he wasn’t gay?” Stanford asked.
“I think I see the bisexual twenty-something I dated and his lesbian ex-girlfriend who looks like Alanis Morissette,” I interrupted.
It was as if the LGBTQIA retrospective at Charlotte’s art gallery had forced our long overdue reckoning with a parade of characters on the sexuality spectrum.
And just like that, Liza Minnelli walked in, trailing an entourage of hangers-on wearing vintage Halston.
“Liza?” Samantha and I asked simultaneously.
“It’s the law of physics,” Miranda winked. “Whenever there’s this much gay energy in one room, Liza manifests.”
A woman who is used to getting a reaction, Samantha was dismayed when no one, not even the framer, commented on the nude photos she had commissioned.
When the photoshoot was over and the results hung in a pure-class, charcoal-matted frame next to the front door of her studio apartment in the meatpacking district, Samantha allowed herself a little fast food. She was, after all, extremely hungry after her diet of hot water and lemon. And since she was splurging on convenience-eating indulgences, Samantha even had her cheeseburger and fries delivered in a greasy paper bag.
The delivery guy caught sight of the boudoir portrait and told Sam: “Nice ass.”
“I didn’t tip you enough,” she said, handing him a twenty.
And just like that, Samantha formed one of the longest male relationships she had in the city: her late-night food delivery guy. Once in a blue moon, often with a post-coital companion, Samantha would order in from her favorite burger place, the only guilty pleasure she actually considered taboo.
Over time, Samantha would learn that this delivery guy, Ramone, moved to the city from Jersey, where he had worked at a wallpapering company. His former boss had almost gotten mixed up with the first lady of organized crime in the Garden State. The boss came to his senses in time to avoid any dangerous liaisons, and instead of the planned rendezvous, he sent his assistant, Ramone, to finish the contract at the mafia don’s McMansion.
A few weeks later, Ramone walked into the paint store and saw his boss chatting with the woman in question. After she left, Ramone’s boss turned to him and said: “Do you know who she’s married to?”
That was enough for Ramone. He was sick of his boss making out with clients while he was in the next room or lying that Ramone had backed over his lunch cooler with the company van to get clients to cook for him. Ramone quit that day. He moved away from Jersey to avoid any association with the “family” whose members could beat a waiter to death for complaining they had not tipped him enough.
Ramone took the first job he could find, running deliveries for a greasy burger joint. He met Samantha a year later, and as long as she lived in the meatpacking district, Ramone continued to deliver her beef.
I couldn’t help but wonder, why did we never see the nude portrait hanging in Samantha’s apartment again? Did she move it? I tried to google Samantha Jones nude photo, but I just got a bunch of results for pornography.
But that night, as Samantha tore into her cheeseburger, she looked out the window of her studio. It was still too early for her prostitute friends to be working their corner, so as she chewed, Samantha watched Ramone walking down the middle of her street. He threw his arms up, clutching the $20 in one fist, and shouted into the night: “I love New York!”
Photo of a TV. Like I said, this image is tough to google.
“They’re starting to die on us,” Miranda declared over brunch.
“No, Miranda,” I said, “I promise no more deaths.” And I meant it. I was running out of ways to resurrect certain gentlemen from New Jersey.
Unfortunately, Miranda was talking about a man who really was dead. Will O’Connor was an urban planner who Miranda met-cute at Starbucks. She thought he had stood her up, called to confront him, and learned from his mother that he had died of a heart attack at the gym.
At the wake, Miranda met Will’s college roommate—my old boyfriend, Asshole Jim. He said he and Will were very competitive, so I opined that they were the classic frenemies, and he praised my wordplay. He wrote his thesis on Robert Lowell and said he always read my column: quite literary for a civil engineer. When I dated him, Jim had hair down to his ass and sang in a band called Uncle Ted’s Ass.
I gave Miranda my blessing, however cautious and doubtful, telling her I thought Jim should be voted off the island of Manhattan. They went to dinner and a poetry reading. I happened to be present when the relationship rapidly imploded, and after hearing Jim childishly whine “the fancy lawyer lady is breaking up with me,” I got to gloat on the way home.
Miranda, who repeatedly claims trashy celebrity tabloids are “my thing, I love it, let it go,” despite only expressing interest in these magazine for like a month, was nevertheless flipping through one during our brunch. She landed on a spread about the anniversary of the movie Swingers, checking in on Jon Favreau and Vince Vaughn and some of their other projects.
It got me thinking about my own stint in Hollywood, which involved taking meetings with Matthew McConaughey, watching a weird lip-dub thing happen with Sarah Michelle Gellar, and getting mistaken for a hooker and thrown out of bed by Carrie Fisher. The tall drink of water I dated out there, however, was just as cute as Vince Vaughn.
The tabloid reported Favreau had wrapped a movie with Janeane Garafolo and Sandra Bernhardt playing lesbian assassins whose silencers underscored their voiceless places in society. He got tired of people always asking about Vince Vaughn. A paparazzi photo showed Favreau standing with a production company vice president and her boyfriend: none other than Asshole Jim.
Miranda and I both decided to let sleeping assholes lie, and neither of us scrutinized why Jim would be going by Gregory or how long he had been dating the redheaded D-girl—er, I mean VP. Why perform a postmortem when everyone had gotten out alive?
“I’m staying way out of this one,” Miranda said.
“Way out,” I agreed. “New Jersey out.”
And just like that, I remembered Jim was from Jersey and had a cousin named Christopher Moltisanti. I kept hearing that name, and the man definitely had a weakness for women in Monolo Blahniks. I couldn’t help but wonder: Was he single?
After so much blood and gore and fecal matter, I was relieved when Samantha said she had a sweet story to share with me, one she promised would be dolce, dolce, Dolce.
This time, we met for Aperol spritzes in the West Village at Bar Pisellino…which is Italian slang for penis.
“Really?” I asked when I found Samantha waiting for me at the bar, cocktail already in hand, “Con te Partiro” blaring over the speaker system. “You couldn’t have picked a bar with a more obvious name?”
“Oh, honey, it’s just good PR. They know their audience. Best Aperol spritz in the city AND the name translates to ding-a-ling? Welcome to the cougar den.”
“Well ring-a-ding-ding,” I drawled as I looked around the room, indeed full of women of a certain age and promiscuity. One walked up to us wearing the most fabulous Dolce dress, strapless and turquoise. “Ciao.”
“Fendi?” I asked, petting her handbag and speaking my love language: Italian fashion design.
“Never!” The woman spit on the floor. “Roma has a war with us.”
“Carrie, this is Annalisa.”
I endured European air kisses. “Have we met before?”
“Bella, no, your column is about disposable men, remember? I come from Napoli and am such a, come si dice, favolosa character that I simply had to manifest in your little stories.”
“She’s like a cross between your friend Amalita and my friend Claire Ann,” Samantha said. “But so much more fabulous. Plus, she knows what it’s like to be a woman boss in the full Madonna-whore equation.”
I suddenly felt jealous of Annalisa. “Samantha, are we breaking up?”
“It can’t hurt to start seeing other people.” Samantha sipped her cocktail. “You never know what the future may bring.”
And just like that, I had to picture my world without Samantha.
“Annalisa and I have a mutual friend,” Samantha was saying. “Do you remember my short little lover, Jeff? The big dick with a little man attached?”
I did remember. Jeff had picked up Samantha with his charm and business acumen while seated at a bar, and it was only when he stood up to leave, having secured a date with Sam, that she realized he could only reach her nipples. He cracked her when he joked that she must shop at the Big & Tall Whore Store.
“You made it work with him for two weeks and then he just disappeared without explanation?”
“I get bored.” Samantha waved away the question. “Annalisa has informed me that Jeff was a real-life Pinocchio!”
“I’m going to need some details.” I leaned forward conspiratorially. “Did his pisellino grow a few inches every time he told a lie? If that was the case, all men should suffer the same affliction.”
“Sweetie, trust me, he needed no help in that department. And there is such a thing as too big, even for me.” I remembered: Mr. Too Big. If a woman of Samantha’s talents had given up, I worried about the poor guy ever getting laid.
“This man, Jeff, the tiny one, he is working as a waiter in my favorite restaurant,” Annalisa explained. She lit a Monopolio di Stato cigarette and began waving it around.
I had to ask: “Can we smoke in here?”
“I dabble in la stregheria, come si dice, witchcraft, like all women,” Annalisa said, ignoring my question and talking loudly with her hands. “Sibyls, curses with toenail clippings, herb gardens, psychic powers, animal familiars, yes?”
“Capeche,” I nodded, afraid to say anything else.
“This Goffredo, Jeff, he is such a good waiter while we are entertaining some Americans visiting from the other side. They make fun of the food and think we do not notice, ask for macaroni with gravy, worse than classless Germans. So I say he needs a vacation, I can send him anywhere he wants for two weeks. He tells me he always wished to be a big shot on Wall Street when he grew up.”
“So you made him a real boy,” I nodded.
“Who had to shop in the boy’s department at Bloomingdale’s,” Samantha added.
“This, he did not care about,” Annalisa shrugged. “He wants only to meet a beautiful woman and make love to her for the entire fortnight.”
I raised a questioning eyebrow at Samantha. She nodded in confirmation.
I couldn’t help but wonder: could Annalisa put a spell on me, too? If we all fantasize about living la dolce vita in Neapolitan novels or Tuscan villas, why are so many of us still stuck in the daily grind of the city? Without his strings to hold him down, Jeff had made his dreams come true, in the form of Samantha. Why couldn’t I?
Annalisa swished her Dolce into the kitchen, the staff too stunned to stop her.
“Let’s hope she doesn’t drop ashes in the moozadell,” I quipped.
Samantha lowered her voice: “Wouldn’t matter. She is acting boss of the crime family back in Naples.”
“The don is a Donatella?”
“Everyone thinks her husband is in charge, but she runs things while he serves a life sentence.”
“So the godfather is a fairy godmother, flitting around, granting wishes on stars.”
“Oh, honey, I am going to miss your little jokes.”
“Samantha…” I teared up.
“Let’s just make the most of the time we have left together, shall we?” Samantha soothed.
Annalisa emerged from the kitchen, heavy appetizers plated in both hands. “Mangiamo!”
Quick reminder and spoiler alert: this is a series of short stories connecting the shared actors between Sex and the City and The Sopranos…and, when I absolutely can’t help myself, another character that actor has played. These will probably only make sense if you have seen both shows…or in this case, all three.
Not long after I learned that I had accidentally set Miranda up on a date with a ghost, Samantha shared some equally disturbing news over sips of sake at the Blue Ribbon Sushi Bar & Grill on Columbus Circle.
“Do you remember my assistant Matt?”
“The rude guy you fired and then fucked on the front desk?”
“That’s the one. Did you ever actually meet Matt?”
“I can’t say I had the pleasure. Why?”
“Well, it seems no one did.”
“How did you hire him?”
“I was literally on the phone with Mitch, my headhunter, when Matt walked into my office. I just assumed Mitch had sent him and hired him on the spot.”
“Did you check out his references?”
“I checked out his pecs,” Samantha purred, “and honey, they were excellent.”
“Wait, didn’t this guy insult like half your client list over the phone?”
“That’s the thing. It was always just me and him, two alpha dogs in heat, caged inside an office suite. No one else ever saw him. He had horrible phone etiquette, even told some wannabe music promoter from Jersey that her parties sucked, but my career never suffered.”
“You have had some terrible assistants,” I nodded, thinking of Nina G. and the one whose leisurely lunch break allowed me to walk in on Samantha blowing the Worldwide Express guy. “I never understood why you kept him around for a whole week.”
Samantha inspected her flower cocktail ring. “He called me a boo-yah hottie and said he wanted to make sure I got the respect I deserved without having to get my nails dirty.”
“That reminds me: I still owe you a manicure for that time you fished out my diaphragm.”
“Oh, honey, I wrote that off a long time ago. We all know how terrible you are with money.”
“I am not.”
“Please. Have you paid Charlotte back for the down payment on your apartment?”
“I dedicated my book to her!”
Samantha smirked. “Did you pay her back?”
“She put me on a payment plan,” I said quietly.
“And I’m obviously paying for drinks and those secret-menu appetizers tonight. May I continue?” Samantha looked out across the rooftop bar toward the park. “He was always talking about someone named Matthew Bevilaqua, and maybe I wasn’t paying attention because I thought his own name was Matt, but it was actually Sean Gismonte. Matt Bevilaqua was his roommate and partner back in Jersey.”
“Were they gay?”
“That was definitely implied, but he was able to perform when I wanted him to, so no complaints there.”
“Good for you.”
“He did tell me they spent a lot of time hanging out in their underwear together, though, and Matt called him Jizz,” Samantha looked momentarily pensive. “You know, short for Gismonte?”
“If you say so.”
“So when I submitted all his I-9 information—because I am, after all, the sole proprietor of my own PR firm, Samantha Jones Public Relations—I got a call from my accountant that the information he provided was wrong.”
“Because his name was Sean Gismonte and not Matthew Bevilaqua?”
“Because he was dead.”
Now I was getting scared. I couldn’t help but wonder: are we so desperate for a decent date that we have started to unearth the undead? First Miranda and now Samantha had experienced this strange new phenomenon. Is the island of Manhattan in such short supply of suitable men that we have to import the recently deceased from New Jersey?
By the time Samantha had straightened all this out with her accountant and Mitch the headhunter, Matt/Sean had long since ghosted her. Sam learned that Sean Gismonte had been mentored into the DiMeo crime family by none other than Christopher Moltisanti, friend of Samantha’s tantric celibacy guru Brendan “Siddhartha” Filone (RIP). Both Sean and Matt had their stockbroker’s license and once beat the shit out of a fellow cold-caller.
“Three months before he walked into my office, an assassination attempt gone wrong resulted in a gunfight that left Moltisanti alive but in a coma. Jizz was found shot through the head.”
“Talk about bad head,” I opined, but Samantha gave me a withering glance.
“He was still strapped into his seatbelt, hanging out the passenger side of what was presumably his best friend’s ride,” Samantha nodded knowingly. “But the driver fled the scene.”
“He said Matthew Bevilaqua always made him do the talking, which might be why he was so verbose working my phone lines. He also brought me a bunch of stockings as gifts; said he had loads of them.” Samantha took a deep breath. “And speaking of loads, the strangest thing happened after I fired and fucked him.”
“Something weird happened after you had sex with the ghost who worked as your assistant?”
“He squatted right in the corner of my office and…defecated.”
And just like that, I learned that Samantha could literally fuck the shit out of a man.
I stared at her for a moment. I had to admit, I was a little impressed, if also completely disgusted. “Is this a new fetish?” I finally asked her.
“Could be adrenaline? Irritable bowel syndrome? Who the fuck cares? All I know is I had to recarpet my office and find a new assistant.” Samantha drained her sake and poured us both another.
“So where is he now? Still floating around doing his unfinished business on other people’s floors?”
“My guess is he gigged as a plumber and joined the Fatberg Five, that task force that dislodges calcified waste from the sewers, before disappearing on his honeymoon to Italy.”
It sounded like Matt/Sean found his calling in the afterlife. I was tempted to make a bunch of body-waste puns, like when I dated that politician who wanted me to pee on him, but I was too stunned to utter a single quip that would glibly summarize my friend’s headhunting sexcapade.
Neither of us had much of an appetite when the waitress arrived with our pu pu platter.
A wise woman once said: “I believe there is a curse put on the head of anyone who tries to fix up their friends.”
That woman was me, in 1998, after I set Miranda up on a date with a grown man named Skipper, who would be in and out of our lives for two years before disappearing entirely. I must not have learned my lesson, because in 1999 I once again set Miranda up on a date, this time with a guy who turned out to be the biggest freak in all of Manhattan.
Luke was a friend of Ben, the fellow journalist I met-cute in front of Bethesda Fountain in Central Park. Ben unceremoniously dumped me when, in pursuit of the freakish truth, I ransacked his studio apartment and uncovered a wooden box containing his childhood collection of merit badges. Ever the boy scout, Ben got in touch again recently to share some strange goings-on.
“I wanted to reach out to you because you’re the only person I ever introduced to Luke,” Ben said over the phone. Intrigued, I arranged to meet Ben back at the carousel where we last saw Luke. The double-date had taken a turn for the worse somewhere around the Häagen-Dazs cart, and even though a guy buying her junk food was usually on the expressway to Miranda’s heart, she evoked our “I have to feed my cat” bad-date code. When I selfishly tried to argue, she reiterated that she was leaving to feed Fatty, and Luke uttered, “Cat people: all freaks.”
“The man hasn’t left Manhattan in a decade,” Miranda hissed at me. “And by the way, if Luke’s a freak, Ben is bound to be a freak too.” Then off she went to feed Fatty, eating her frozen consolation prize and once again regretting that she had allowed me to set her up.
“The thing is, she was right,” Ben said as we retread our brief history together over those same Häagen-Dazs bars in the park. “Luke is more than a freak—he is a freaking ghost!”
“Excuse me?” I shouted, startling the children on the merry-go-round.
As Ben explained it, he only knew Luke from the park, where Luke liked to heckle Ben’s weekend soccer team. “We were really bad,” Ben admitted, “but this jackass in a black leather jacket would just mock us from the sidelines.”
“He never wanted to play?”
“He was always wearing that jacket,” Ben shook his head. “Anyway, it never occurred to me that I only knew this guy within the confines of the park, and I thought nothing of it when he suggested we meet here for our double date.”
“So when he said he hadn’t left Manhattan in over ten years…”
“It was a promise he had made to his mother, that he would never go back to Jersey and get mixed up in his father’s business. His father was a guy named Donato Paduana, who used to do murders for hire in the 80s until someone got the jump on him. Anyway, little Luca kept his promise and moved here after college.”
“And he didn’t leave for ten whole years?”
“Not until a friend of his father’s offered him a crazy amount of money to kill some guy real high up.”
“Like, this guy was nephew of the acting boss at the time.”
“Who ordered the hit?” I was quite pleased with my mastery of mob-talk, but Ben looked scared.
“The acting boss himself, the uncle, plus—get this—the guy’s own mother wanted him popped.”
“So the guy you and I know as Luke is actually little Luca Donato Paduana. He went by Donnie back in Jersey where everyone knew his dad, Donato, and even though Donnie promised his mother to never try to fill his father’s cement shoes, he took the assignment. He was going to do this one job, just one, and even tried to farm it out to some subcontractors, but everything got snarled. So he caught a bus to Jersey, got lost driving around Newark in his old Pontiac from high school—because he hadn’t left the island or driven a car in ten years—and got himself shot in the head.”
“When was this?”
“March of 1999.”
“But we went on our double-date like three months after that.” I had done my due diligence and checked my past columns to verify dates.
“Right, and I had known him almost three months when I introduced him to you and Miranda. But he was already dead! I finally put two and two together when I realized the dude had never aged…or changed clothes.”
“At least a black leather jacket is a timeless style choice.”
“Donnie, aka Little Luca, promised his mother he would stay out of the family business while they were having lunch at Tavern on the Green, so now he’s doomed to wander Central Park forever with his unfinished business.”
“He’s still here?” I yelped again.
“He was supposed to shoot that mafia boss.”
“I can’t believe this.”
“I know. Nobody can. That’s why I am here, Carrie, to make sure you remember him and can vouch that I am not losing my mind.”
“Ben, you were one of the sanest guys I have ever dated.”
“Do you think Miranda would verify that she saw him too?”
“Please, Carrie, you know the Times requires two independent sources to fact-check.”
“Oh, you’re at TheNew York Times now?”
“Well, yeah—I’m a real journalist. I was editing that hip political magazine when we met, remember?”
“I’m remembering why we broke up…you’re kind of smug.”
“We were a non-couple, so we couldn’t break up. You turned into a freak right after we slept together.”
“And now you’re asking me to call my friend Miranda to meet a ghost for ice cream so you can write about it in the paper of record? I was wrong Ben; you are a freak!” I stomped off holding the Häagen-Dazs bar he had bought me as a bribe.
I couldn’t help but wonder: if a journalist from The New York Times was asking me to call up my friend so we could all wait for the ghost of bad dates past in Central Park, was journalism well and truly dead? If even the stately Gray Lady of newspapers has to resort to cheap parlor tricks and stories about the occult to resuscitate circulation rates, maybe my unfinished business would be the stories I would never get to write when my newspaper folded.
She already believed any date I set her up on was cursed, so I never mentioned anything to Miranda about Luke’s curse. I suppose she can just read about it here, in my lowly sex column, like everyone else.
I just watched The Sopranos all the way through for the first time, an undertaking that consisted of me yelling, through a mouthful of pasta, “That guy was on Sex and the City!” every other episode.
A fictionalized Michiko Kakutani, a real-life book reviewer for The New York Times, once wrote in a fictional review of Carrie Bradshaw’s fictional nonfiction book: “All in all, I enjoyed spending time in Ms. Bradshaw’s sharp, funny, finely drawn world, where single women rule and the men are disposable.” Indeed, men are disposable in both shows, although The Sopranos’ waste-management systems make sure most of those men are literally disposed of, while Sex and the City just regulates the cast-offs to the Island of Misfit Toys, aka the parts of Manhattan we never see in the show.
Written in the voice of Our Lady of the Voiceover and Patron Saint of Working from Home, Ms. Carrie Bradshaw, I present to you: Sex and the Sopranos, a column in The New York Star. I will have one for you every week of the summer, posting at 8pm each Sunday (real ones know why).
Samantha, Siddhartha, and Brendan
Remember that week Samantha was celibate? I do. We all do, what with the way she bitched and moaned about it.
Her latest boy toy, Siddhartha, was a voluntary celibate she met in our yoga class, hitting on him as he assisted opening her goddess pose while I lay on the mat next to her. They had tea at Tofu or Not Tofu, then practiced brachmacharya (or tantric non-sex) together for a few days until, somewhere between plow pose and horny warrior, Samantha cracked. She took home the first person in the room to agree to her proposition “Want to fuck?” (I, thankfully, skipped yoga that day.) Samantha left Siddhartha sweating bullets of lust down his chiseled cheekbone.
It turns out his name was not really Siddhartha. I know, I am as shocked as you! His real name was Brendan Filone, and he had traveled a long way to Manhattan: through the Lincoln Tunnel from the exotic land of New Jersey. His three-year stint into the celibacy experiment preceded and belied a much darker history of guns, violence, and an actual pork store in the Newark suburbs. His willpower was no match for the power of Samantha’s tantric tantrum, so seeing her run out of the yoga studio to enjoy meaningless sex was too much for Siddhartha. He first broke his vow of celibacy…and then he broke his vow of nonviolence.
Shedding the robes of Siddhartha, Brendan emerged and returned full-force to his life in the New Jersey underworld. He took up with a childhood friend, Christopher Moltisanti, and the two engaged in some sort of rogue operation where they held up delivery trucks at gunpoint. Now, no one appreciates fine Milanese craftsmanship more than I do, but stealing an entire truckload of Italian suits is taking the love of fashion a step too far.
Not long after, Brendan was found shot dead in his bathtub, the water in the tub diluted with blood. Brendan’s last cigarette floated in the tub with him for days, with that same Chinese character tattoo on his forearm resting just above the water’s surface. And just like that, both Siddhartha and Brendan ceased to exist.
Samantha expressed no remorse when learning of the death. “As far as I am concerned, a man who refuses to have sex with me simply does not exist—whatever name he goes by.” She said I could quote her on that.
I couldn’t help but wonder: With our sex lives comprising so much of our actual lives, is taking a vow of celibacy signing our own death warrant? Did Brendan die in that apartment bathtub, by the gun of a killer who has never been caught, or did he really die the day he changed his name to Siddhartha and willingly gave up sex? Sure, Sting tells us tantric sex is better than regular sex, and surely it’s better than no sex at all, but at what cost? In a city that never sleeps, is celibacy the big sleep?
I’d probably just started my drive to Houston in earnest when the Notre-Dame fire started. Blissfully unaware, I drove for three hours, listening to Spotify and Audible and occasionally stopping for a bite to eat or a bathroom break. I was in a Mediterranean grocery store near my motel, standing around for 20 minutes as the in-store deli worker fired up my falafel, apparently from scratch, and scrolling through Instagram on my phone.
The reactions were of the breast-beating, teeth-gnashing, hair-pulling variety, and I braced myself to dig into the news of the latest terrorist attack. A fire. Notre-Dame was on fire. No one was dead, but a firefighter was seriously injured. Centuries worth of art and relickery might or might not have survived.
My reaction was one of anger—anger at the self-absorbed nature of the “global” citizenry. I don’t remember anyone having this reaction when artifacts in Syria were destroyed, and that wasn’t an accident. I was sick of basic bitches, which was unfortunate, considering where I was headed.
It was in this state that I arrived at the Bayou City Events Center on Tuesday morning. I had left the motel around 7:35, passing the events center around 7:45. From my vantage point on the bridge, I could see people were already lining up outside. I knew that would be the smart play, the fangirl solidarity and priority admission worth the killed hour. I could even bring a book. #butfirstcoffee
I found the nearest Starbucks, a corner lot on Buffalo Bayou and Main Street so congested that the drive-through backed two cars deep into the road. It was the scariest thing I had seen in Houston on this trip. I made it back to the event center by 8:20 and sat in the car, refusing to take part in the queue. So basic. I lasted until about 8:30 before I joined the growing line out front. These were, after all, my sisters.
My segment of the line shared some self-aware laughter as we converged on the end of the line and took our respective places in an orderly fashion. A woman wearing yoga pants explained how sample sales worked (she lived in New York). I gave a pair of the pantyhose booties I’d brought to the woman behind me, Size Ten. Occasionally an overdressed, painstakingly coiffed basic bitch would roll through and have to join the line just like the rest of us. A young mother approached with a baby in a pouch, and someone sniped “That’s ambitious.” But mostly, we were a diverse, normal group of women (with about three men sprinkled in).
I’d joined the line just in time, as SJP staff in MD Anderson t-shirts began handing out tickets for admission. It turned out I was the second person to receive a number 3. A Wendy Davis lookalike walked up in jeans and a starched white button-down, and the SJP girls started cooing, “It’s Gina! She’s wearing Gina!” They were, of course, talking about the shoes, a pair of ridiculously impractical black strappy stiletto booties.
The SJP girls walked back in, assuring us we would be in the first wave. One resembled SJP in stature but wore hipster glasses and painstakingly effortless waves. The other was fresh-faced and ponytailed, giving off the vibe if not the exact resemblance of Sutton from The Bold Type.
About this time, the media started showing up, walking the line while filming and extolling us to chant SJP! SJP! My segment of the line hid our faces behind sunglasses and a white Dodge van parked at the curb. “Come on, again? Some of us our supposed to be at work…”
Finally, we were in. At almost nine o’clock sharp, we walked through the doors. Find your size, find your table, prices on the projected screens at either end of the back wall.
Almost immediately, I found what I’d come for: Ursula, a d’Orsay stiletto in a sparkling green labeled Meteor. Ursula had launched in the Summer of 2017, when I was reading One Hundred Years of Solitude at rehearsals for a community theatre production of The Little Mermaid. Ursula was, of course, the villain of the musical, but Úrsula was also the name of the matriarch of the Buendía family. It felt like fate, back in the summer of 2017. I’d gotten so far as to place SJP’s Ursula in the website’s digital shopping cart, but ultimately couldn’t justify the price tag.
Today, though, was different. The prices were ridiculously low. A woman next to me asked how we were supposed to know the price, and when I pointed to the screen where the price list was cycling through promo photos of SJP with the shoes, she spoke into her phone: “Yeah, nothing is more than $125.” Not only were the discounts impressive, but the cause was altruistic.
It was about that time that I overheard a woman tell a reporter that she was not only picking up some things for herself but buying for her mother and sister as well.
One of my dad’s favorite stories to tell of my childhood involves a trip to the candy store. I assume it was the 7-11 near the house we lived in while I was growing up, but in reality it could have been any convenience store in North Austin, as “candy store” served as a generic name for all gas stations until we were old enough to care about the other provisions on offer. One of Dad’s old roughneck/wildcatter/poker buddies was with us, and when I panicked, exclaimed “I have to get something for Megan!” and ran back to the candy aisle, my dad swears he saw a tear roll down his friend’s weathered face while he declared it the sweetest thing he had ever seen.
Family myths are chimeric, and this story manifests new details every time my dad tells it. I, for one, have no memory of the alleged incident, but since I don’t believe in pure, selfless altruism, I know something else motivated me to run back to the candy aisle that day. There’s no telling. Regardless, Megan got candy that day, and she would get a pair of shoes on this day. I texted for size and if she even wore heels (she’s about 5’9”, introduced in my high school Spanish video project as “mas alta que me”). I plucked, I gathered, and, on a whim, I picked up another pair of the meteor-green Ursulas.
Clearly, I’d stacked the deck, but when the response came, it was, “Omg, I love the green!”
I kept going back, looking for Cherry in a size 6. The size 5 was way too small, the 7 wearable but not worth the expense for an ill-fitting shoe. I was pushing my time limit and knew I would eventually have to go, so I did one more pass of the tables and found another pair of Ursulas. Except, something was different. These Ursulas had no heel. She looked more like a ballet flat with a peep toe. I checked the sole, and there seemed to be some sort of trial fitting. A prototype? They broke the mold when they made her? Regardless, she was perfect for my mom.
So now I had three pairs of Ursulas, an emerald-green ballet flat, and a fierce pair of gold booties. It was time to go. I got in line, which only stretched three-quarters of the way to the back of the room. Shortly after I joined the line, a lone gentleman queued behind me, and as we got to talking, I learned that Brandon was shopping for his wife, who worked at MD Anderson, and his mother. I approved of his purchases, including a handbag for his mother that still sported an original price tag for $1790!!! “Normally, you should remove the price tag from a gift, but you want to leave that one because your mother is going to be so proud of you,” I told him.
For my part, I was going back and forth about the bag, and here Brandon was extremely helpful. He pointed out the canvas SJP bags, which were only $50 and, better yet, matched the pencil bag I’d received as a pre-order gift from SJP’s publishing imprint. They were also plentiful, piled high on folding tables around the room, all of which I had some how missed in my beeline for the shoes. I left Brandon holding my place in line and walked toward what I thought was the closest table of canvas bags.
And there she was.
SJP walked out of a side door, then started the way I had just come. I ran back to Brandon, his phone already aimed and ready, and took my place in the screaming mob.
She stood behind a table piled high with canvas bags (yet another table I had somehow not seen, closer than the one I had been heading toward) and giggled at the crowd. She thanked us for helping to fight cancer, then emphatically shouted: “Now go shop more!” As much as I love SJP, I was too shopped-out to obey, so I stayed in line with Brandon as SJP worked the floor.
It was like watching a school of fish avoiding a predator, except the opposite. Everywhere she went, a sea of women followed, ebbing and flowing around her tiny person. We couldn’t even see her, just the effect she was having on the room. I learned later that she had declined to talk to media, so the TV cameras and reporters were swept along with the tide.
From where we stood, Brandon and I watched the crowd and compared SJP photos, texting each other copies of the best. “She’s still here,” he said, seeing my obvious anxiety. “She’s waiting for Mandy.”
I arrived at the register and paid for my shoes, requesting a few extra SJP shoe bags for good measure. I will never tell anyone how much I spent, but I can reveal the amount was exactly $100 higher than the absolute limit I had given myself before walking in the door. And this was after I traded the leather handbag for the canvas tote! I still spent less than the cost of golf clubs, anything with a motor, and, honestly, the original cost of the trenchcoat (if we include tax, which we did not as all the money was going to MD Anderson).
My other favorite image.
I took my giant white shopping bag, which was marked PAID in red Sharpie, and stood in the middle of the ballroom. I am pleased to report that, although it would have been terribly easy to slip another pair or five in my bag, the thought did not occur to me until a full 24 hours later. Besides, who steals from a charity sale? I was late, so late, and needed to leave…but I wanted to meet SJP. Brandon walked up behind me and said, “C’mon.” So I blame him for what happened next.
We approached what appeared to be an SJP fashion consultation, and in a shocking turn of events, got there just in time to hear her tell a woman: “I’m not a stylist; I can’t tell you what to buy.” SJP! Refusing to give fashion advice! It was refreshing. The crowd tightened, and the woman with the baby somehow got between me and SJP. Well, great, I thought, there goes any chance of meeting my hero…this woman clearly has the trump card.
SJP had been “working the floor” for a full ten minutes before Brandon and I followed her out there, but the moment we arrived seemed to be the moment she’d had enough. She ducked and dodged, I swear looking right at me once, and said something to one of the TV cameramen and then something to Sutton. Sutton politely asked me to stop taking photos because SJP was feeling a little overwhelmed. She quickly made her exit.
I did learn later that the problem was the news camera—it wasn’t supposed to be on her. You can see the moment at the 1:50 mark in this news clip. She’d asked not to be filmed.
But in the moment, it felt dirty, like we’d failed to treat her like a human. Oh, God, it was my outfit, wasn’t it—I looked like a stalker in ill-fitting celebrity skin. I’d completely forgotten about the pencil bag I’d wanted her to sign, so it may be for the best that it was still in my purse. Maybe it was my giant shopping bag. Or any of the fifty people in her immediate vicinity. That had to have been terrifying. Disappointed and a bit shamed, Brandon and I parted ways in the parking lot.
Stalker status unlocked.
The Bitten hoodie I should’ve worn.
That night, I met some friends at a booksigning. Of course I wore my new booties, golden trophies of my conquest. One of my friends, not understanding the difference between a designer sample sale and the end-of-year clearance at the local department store, scoffed at my adventure: “That is the most basic shit.”