[Ed. note: this article was originally published on August 21st, 1995]
The city’s in heat. Days of 90-plus-degree weather strung together one after the other. Everyone is cranky. No one can work. Women wear almost nothing. August is the month New Yorkers think about sex more than all the other 11 months combined. Everyone is amorous—even the Mayor and his lovely wife, Donna, who embraced on WNBC on Aug. 10 at 6:45 A.M., while most of New York was still sleeping. The papers duly reported that the Mayor’s wife was “beaming.”
New York—meaning Manhattan, not the Hamptons, which, thanks to the ocean breezes and chilly social caste system, cannot be said to ever truly be in heat—is a completely different city in August. Like living in some South American country with a corrupt and drunk dictator, skyrocketing inflation, drug cartels, dust-covered roads, clogged plumbing—where nothing will ever get better, the rains will never come, so might as well turn off the air-conditioner and have some fun.
But underneath the fierce exterior, the psyche of most New Yorkers is fragile. It cracks under the heat. Bad thoughts and bad feelings bubble to the surface. They lead to bad behavior, the kind New Yorkers specialize in. It’s secretive. It’s nasty. Relationships break up. People who shouldn’t be together get together.
In the heat, you can’t trust anyone, especially yourself.
“Carrie,” is lying in Mr. Big’s bed at 8 A.M. She believes she is not going to be O.K. In fact, she is pretty damn sure that she is not going to be O.K. She’s crying hysterically into the pillow.
“Carrie. Calm down. Calm down,” Mr. Big orders. She rolls over and her face is a grotesque, blotchy mask.
“You’re going to be O.K. I have to go to work now. Right now.” It’s 8:30. “You’re keeping me from work.”
“Can you help me?” Carrie asks.
“No,” he says, sliding his gold cufflinks through the holes of starched cuffs. “You have to help yourself. Figure it out.”
Carrie puts her head under the covers still crying. “Call me in a couple of hours,” he says, then walks out of the room. “Goodbye.”
Two minutes later, he comes back. “I forgot my cigar case,” he says, watching her as he crosses the room. She’s quiet now.
“Goodbye,” he says. “Goodbye. Goodbye.”
It’s the 10th day in a row of suffocating heat and humidity.
Mr. Big’s Heat Ritual
Carrie has been spending too much time with Mr. Big. He has air-conditioning. She does, too, but hers doesn’t work. They develop a little ritual. A heat ritual. Every evening at 11, if they haven’t been out together, Mr. Big calls.
“How’s your apartment?” he asks.
“Hot,” she says.
“What are you doing then?”
“Do you want to come over and sleep here?” he asks, almost a little shyly.
“Sure, why not,” she says. She yawns.
Then she races around her apartment, flies out the door (past the night doorman who always gives her dirty looks) and jumps into a cab.
“Oh, hiiii,” Mr. Big says when he opens the door, naked. He says it half-sleepy, as if he’s surprised to see her.
They get into bed. Letterman or Leno. Mr. Big has one pair of glasses. They take turns wearing them.
“Have you ever thought about getting a new air-conditioner?” Mr. Big asks.
“Yes,” Carrie says.
“You can get a new one for about $150.”
“I know. You told me.”
“Well, it’s just that … you can’t always spend the night here.”
“Don’t worry about it,” Carrie says. “The heat doesn’t bother me.”
“I don’t want you to be hot. In your apartment,” says Mr. Big.
“If you’re only asking me over because you feel sorry for me, don’t,” Carrie says. “I only want to come over if you miss me. If you can’t sleep without me.”
“Oh, I’d miss you. Sure. Of course I’d miss you,” Mr. Big says. And then after a few seconds: “Do you have enough money?”
Carrie looks at him. “Plenty,” she says.
There’s something about this heat wave. It’s loosening. You feel almost drunk, even though you’re not. On the Upper East Side, “Newbert’s” hormones are up. He wants to have a baby. In the spring, his wife, “Belle,” had told him she could never be pregnant in the summer, because she wouldn’t want to be seen in a bathing suit. Now, she says she could never get pregnant in the summer, because she doesn’t want to have morning sickness in the heat. Newbert has reminded her that, as an investment banker, she spends her days behind the green glass walls of a coolly air-conditioned office tower. To no avail.
Newbert, meanwhile, spends his days puttering around the apartment in a ripped pair of boxer shorts, waiting for his agent to call with news about his novel. He watches talk shows. He calls Belle 20 times a day. She is always sweet. “Hello, Pookie,” she says.
“What do you think about the Revlon stainless steel tweezers with the tapered ends?” he asks.
“I think they sound wonderful,” she says.
One night during the heat wave, Belle has a business dinner with clients. Japanese. A lot of bowing and shaking hands, and then they all go off, Belle and five dark-suited men, to City Crab. Halfway through dinner, Newbert makes an unexpected appearance. He’s already quite drunk. He’s dressed like he’s going camping. He decides to do his version of the Morris dance. He takes cloth napkins and stuffs them in the pockets of his khaki hiking shorts. Swinging the napkins in both hands, he takes a few steps forward, kicks up one leg in front, takes a few steps backward, and kicks up the other leg behind. He also adds in a few side kicks, which, technically, are not part of the original Morris dance.
“Oh, that’s just my husband,” Belle says to the clients, as if this sort of thing happens all the time. “He loves to have fun.”
Newbert pulls out a small camera and starts taking pictures of the clients. “Everyone say robster,” he says.
Cannibals at Le Zoo
Carrie is at this new restaurant, Le Zoo, having dinner with a bunch of people she doesn’t really know, including the “It” boy, Ra. The restaurant has about three tables, and it’s overbooked, so everyone stands on the sidewalk. Someone keeps bringing bottles of white wine outside, so pretty soon, there’s a party on the street.
Inside the restaurant, Carrie sits in between Ra and a female friend. Someone from The New York Times keeps taking everyone’s picture. Ra doesn’t talk much. He stares a lot and touches his goatee and nods his head. After dinner, Carrie goes back to Ra’s friend’s house with the friend and Ra to smoke. It seems to be the right thing to do at the time, and in the summer, in the heat…
“We call this place the zone,” the friend says. She’s staring at Carrie.
Carrie thinks she actually knows what she’s talking about, what this “zone” is, and why they’re suddenly all in it together.
“Why don’t you come and live with us in the zone?” Ra asks.
“I’d like to,” Carrie says, meaning it but also thinking, I’ve got to get home.
She rides uptown, but before she gets home she says, “Stop the cab.” She actually gets out and walks. She’s still thinking, I’ve got to get home. The city is hot. She feels powerful. A predator. A woman is walking down the sidewalk a few feet in front of her. She’s wearing a loose white shirt, like a white flag, it’s driving Carrie crazy. Suddenly Carrie feels like a shark smelling blood. She fantasizes about killing the woman and eating her. It’s terrifying how much she’s enjoying the fantasy.
The woman has no idea she’s being stalked. She’s oblivious, jiggling along the sidewalk. Carrie envisions tearing into the woman’s soft white flesh with her teeth. It’s the woman’s own fault … she should lose weight … or something. Carrie stops and turns into her building.
“Good evening, Miss Carrie,” says the doorman.
“Good evening, Carlos,” Carrie says.
“Oh yes, everything is fine.”
“Good night now,” Carlos says, sticking his head around the open door of the elevator. He smiles.
“Good night, Carlos.” She smiles back, showing all of her teeth.
By the 10th day of the heat wave, Carrie is too attached to Mr. Big. Way too attached. That was the night that she had her breakdown. It started fine: Mr. Big went out alone to a business dinner. No problem at first. She went to her girlfriend Miranda’s. They were going to sit in the air-conditioning and watch taped segments of Ab Fab. But then they started drinking. It continued from there. Carrie hadn’t seen Miranda for a while because she’d been busy with Mr. Big, so Miranda started in on her.
“I’d like to meet him, you know. Why haven’t I met him? Why haven’t I seen you?” Then she drops the bomb. Miranda said she knows some girl who was dating Mr. Big during the first month he was dating Carrie.
“I thought he only saw her once,” Carrie said.
“Oh, no. They saw each other several times. Se-ver-al. That’s why I didn’t call you for a whole month. I didn’t know whether to tell you or not.”
The next morning after the freakout, when Carrie was lying in Mr. Big’s bed, she tried to think about what she really wanted. Life felt like it had changed, but had it really? She thinks: She’s still not married. She still doesn’t have kids. Will it ever happen?
It’s the zone or Mr. Big, she thinks. The zone or Mr. Big.
That afternoon, Mr. Big sends her flowers. The card reads: Everything will be O.K. Love, Mr. Big.
“Why did you send me flowers?” Carrie asks him later. “That was so sweet.”
“I wanted you to know that somebody loved you,” Mr. Big says.
A couple of days later, on the weekend, Carrie and Mr. Big go to his house in Westchester, so Mr. Big can play golf. He leaves in the morning, early. Carrie gets up late, makes coffee. She goes outside and walks around the yard. She walks to the end of the street. Walks back. Goes back inside the house and sits down.
“Now what am I going to do?” she thinks, and tries to imagine Mr. Big on the golf course, swatting golf balls impossible distances.
Candace Bushnell began Sex and the City as a column in The New York Observer in 1994; it subsequently became a book and a series on HBO. She is also the author of Four Blondes, Trading Up and Lipstick Jungle, which is being filmed as a pilot for NBC starring Brooke Shields. Ms. Bushnell is also the host of Sex, Success and Sensibility, a live weekly talk show on Sirius Satellite Radio. She lives in Manhattan with her husband, New York City Ballet principal dancer Charles Askegard.