[Ed. note: this column was originally published on August 12th, 1996.]
The neighbors had sex last week. You know how it sounds, like cats being thrown into the sky. “Temptation hangs in the summer air,” The New York Times recently reported. Welcome to August.
I met my colleague Candace Bushnell by the Chanel accessories counter in Bergdorf Goodman at high noon the other day. Her Sex and the City columns have just been published in book form by Atlantic Monthly Press. Shopping is, after all, vertical sex.
“Show me your favorite designers and I’ll show you mine,” I said.
We ascended the escalator directly to the Manolo Blahnik shoe section. “I had the most wonderful pair of Manolo shoes,” Candace sighed—the women in her tales of the city won’t get out of bed in the morning unless there’s a pair of Manolo Blahnik shoes on the oriental to slip into—“satin pumps that were meant for summer but I used them up this spring.” I’m sure she did. She fondled a similar pair; she held a pair of strappy pumps with stiletto heels toward the light for closer inspection. “There’s something very grown-up about these,” she declared, “that I should wear them with two white poodles under my arms like I’m practicing for when I am 50.” Candace, who is 37, twirled the shoes in her hand. “Ages from now,” she laughed.
“The stakes are high,” I said. “I mean, the heels.”
“I have really good balance,” she explained, “so I don’t have any problems wearing really high heels.”
We shopped. We thought to visit the bridal department on the fourth floor, but got lost. “I can’t even find the wedding dresses,” Candace said, referring to the unmarried heroes and heroines of her stories who weather affairs that, more often than not, are all gust and no redemption. The door to the bridal salon, an exclusive club, was closed. “Let’s not,” Candace said, “it’s too scary.” She pressed her nose against the glass door and saw a salesperson in black directing the white-gowned, lacy future of a lass. Candace shivered. “We aren’t for this,” she said, leading us to the safer environs of European designer boutiques. “This is what’s known as cold feet.”
You probably have read in this publication Candace’s Sex and the City columns, which chronicle the pseudonymous mating rituals of peripatetic Manhattanites in this publication. In book form, the columns take on a new life that, with lilting truths about the sweet-and-sour state of the heart here, is rich and entertaining, companionable, even consoling. Kirkus Reviews recently opined that Sex and the City is written with “the detached grace of an early [Joan] Didion.” I cannot recall a more satisfying compilation of urbane columns since Fran Lebowitz’s pieces for Interview and Mademoiselle were published in the late 1970’s and early 1980’s.
“‘I think I’m turning into a man,” says Carrie, the character who most resembles Candace. “You can beat your head against the wall trying to find a relationship, or you can say ‘screw it’ and just go out and have sex like a man…We were members of some special club. We were hard and proud of it, and it hadn’t been easy to get to this point—this place of complete independence where we had the luxury of treating men like sex objects. It had taken work, loneliness and the realization that, since there might never be anyone there for you, you had to take care of yourself in every sense of the word.”
Candace parted the seas of tourists and led us to the Dolce & Gabbana boutique, a favorite of hers. They had made the white pants suit she was wearing.
“That’s sexy,” I said, pointing to a leopard-print silk scarf in a case.
“Leopard? Too much, too obvious,” she said.
“Have you ever gone on a date and worn the wrong thing?” I asked.
“No,” she giggled, “they’ve worn the wrong thing. The worst is a bad sweater. Men seem to have lots of problems with sweaters, and I have seen some really high-profile men in the Hamptons wearing bad sweaters; sort of polyester blue and brown print things.”
“This could be very cool,” she said, fingering a certain long dress with a deep neckline, “but I’d have to put my fake boobs on.” She described the inflatable apparatuses that are par for the course, it seems, in fashion these days. “If the clothes are too big,” she said, considering a thick wool suit in a sad brown shade, “I’m lost like a twig.”
“How about this suit?” I wondered, pointing toward something tweedy with a Peter Pan collar.
“I don’t think so. We go out with Peter Pan; we don’t wear [him].”
The moment to buy something passed. We left Bergdorf’s empty-handed and walked up Madison Avenue to La Goulue. “Writing about you isn’t exactly the height of objective journalism on my part,” I said. Candace shrugged. The boîte was filled with married ladies with expensive painted hair, and we settled at a table at the back.
“I don’t think there’s a war between men and women,” she said, talking about the sexes, ordering beef carpaccio from a handsome French waiter. “If you think it’s a war, then you’ve already lost.”
When asked, Candace said that she doesn’t write in the nude and has been writing for most of her adult life. Her first published piece, for Night in the last days of Studio 54, was titled, “How to Act in a Disco.” The last line advised: “If someone dies, ignore them”
Candace was born and raised in Glastonbury, Conn., one of three daughters whose mother and father are still happily married. She recalled white-gloved shopping trips to Hartford, her first pair of hot pants at age 12, and her first trip to New York. She met a significantly older Manhattan executive during her undergraduate days at Rice University in Houston. He invited her to visit him in New York during a summer weekend, and she came by bus from Glastonbury.
“He was pretty sophisticated and it made him nuts that he had to meet me at the bus station,” she recalled, sipping a cola with lime. “I was wearing a straw hat; he seemed to have lost some hair since I last saw him. ‘What’s wrong with your hair?’ I blurted when I got off the bus. ‘What’s wrong with your hat?’ he aske
d. He was really upset.”
The gentleman put her up in a room at the Roosevelt Hotel that his company paid for. They had dinner but nothing happened. Then he left her alone. “It was great. I was in New York. You can’t sleep your first night in New York because it’s so loud. So I just walked around and around. That was the weekend the helicopter fell off the Pan Am building.”
Candace has been fascinated by the whirligigs of local emotions ever since. Marriage? “I’m not interested,” she promised. “You’ve got to keep your individuality in New York, and I’m never lonely. I might be sad, but I’m not lonely.”