I saw Kirstie the other day, loping down the street over by Union Square. It was as if I were a Golden Age Greek who’d spotted Socrates making his way through the Athenian marketplace: a real personal showstopper.
Who is Kirstie? you ask. A noted public intellectual? A firebrand pundit? A feminist academic with a blistering intellect?
Not exactly. Kirstie was the unacknowledged star of To Live and Date in New York 2 , the second season of Metro TV’s rather grim but compulsively watchable reality show, which ended last week. A 22-year-old vaguely employed English model, Kirstie (“Rhymes with ‘thirsty,'” as she explained during one episode in her weary drawl) is the sort of girl New York perpetually attracts, but whose incisive take on our metropolis-and, for that matter, on the entire human comedy-is habitually ignored.
I mean, how smart can a model be, right? Much less a model who has given up modeling so she can do nothing more demanding than hang out and date a parade of short, rich guys? (Kirstie is, of course, quite tall–though not, she says, as skinny as she used to be.)
Into this stereotype is dropped Kirstie, like a lanky, slurring guerrilla specifically trained to dismantle cherished assumptions. Sure, sure, Kirstie and her yelping, chesty cohort in after-dark adventure, the incongruously named Dawn, have their mindless fun. They dump vodka and something blue into a blender before hitting the town. They slip in and out of cabs as if the pavement had long awaited the redemptive stab of their stilettos. They are ogled by an endless stream of beefy, nocturnal men and courted by the ones who can afford to fund Kirstie’s transhemispheric lifestyle (she spends summers in New York, winters in Australia and Asia).
By comparison with To Live and Date 2 ‘s other compelling figure, the talkative, neurotic, lemur-eyed Laurie, a sassy freelance writer slogging away in online-personals hell, Kirstie is outrageously successful on the sexual front. I doubt she’s ever even seen the Internet, much less considered the possibility that it might be a place to meet men. All she really needs is a cell phone, a pack of cigarettes and something to lean against.
But unlike Laurie, who natters on thinly and unreflectively about her romantic failures, Kirstie’s streamlined expectations promote a philosophical intensity about her place in the world, and about how life in this city works.
The other women whose travails were chronicled in To Live and Date 2 possess a chipper New York optimism that seems minted in the late 1990’s. They contemplate their prospects with storybook assuredness that their dreams will come true.
Kirstie does not. And this is why I couldn’t stop watching her-or, for that matter, fantasizing that Metro TV would see an Osbournes in the making and give Kirstie her own show. While Lori, a hard-bitten, divorced event-planner, struggles through a date with a cop; while curly-haired ditz Sarah hurls herself out of an airplane in a vain effort to skydive into love; while borderline schizophrenic Victoria … well, let’s not get into Victoria; while all this is happening, Kirstie parties on a boat with Dawn and a clutch of chiseled Romeos, guzzling booze and sucking down Marlboros, boogying in the moonlight, fielding calls from frantic former paramours.
Once in a while, though, out of nowhere comes the patented thousand-yard Kirstie stare. It’s like time stops as she considers her curtailed future, her haggard past. Twenty-two years old, and her limpid brown eyes are already full of marbled wisdom. The girl has seen things . You get the sense that if she and freelancer Laurie ever found themselves comparing notes, Kirstie would stare down at poor tremulous Laurie and tell her how it is, then maybe slap her hard and instruct her to go out and get very, very drunk and whore herself to the first halfway-rich-looking guy in the bar. Wake up hung-over and miserable the next day and immediately fly to Aruba for a recuperative week on the beach, with festive cocktails and late-night high jinks. “Whatever you do, darling,” you can imagine Kirstie instructing Laurie, “Do not … uh … date any more men you meet on the … uh … Inter-fucking-net .”
Kirstie functioned on the show as a flagrant counterpoint to the serial whining and hapless schemes of the other single women. But in the process, she proved that she’s actually lived a life, however brief, and learned from her experiences. The other women have barely gotten started, or have already given up. This is because they are, for the most part, normal. They have standard-issue fears and standard-issue dreams. Kirstie has neither. She’s already exotic, and was probably considered freakishly beautiful from the time she was 12. Posing for nude photos, as she did in one episode-pretty much for her own pleasure, on a lark-didn’t trouble her in the least. She owns what she’s got-but she knows it’s all she’s got. Hers is a gruff realism, drained of all delusion.
But she also thinks of “dating” as it has nowadays become-a truly twisted and self-destructive practice, a fit subject for reality-show farce-as a scam, and refuses to confuse it with love.
That’s deeply insightful, refreshing even. I certainly don’t envy Kirstie her having been chewed up by the beauty business. It can’t be pleasant, as she conveyed in one episode, to be made to feel that you’re always too fat or too dumb. No wonder she quit so that she could devote herself to drift.
I do envy her attitude, however. For too many people, women especially, New York is a mirage, a city that thrives on its capacity to dazzle and beckon in spite of the harshness that everyone eventually discovers, beneath the glimmer, like a dead rat in the flower beds of Park Avenue.
Kirstie, by contrast, knows that New York is cruel. But she’s not in town to be made to feel good; she’s here to use the city in the same way that the city wants to use her. Meanwhile, smart, single women from the Upper West Side to Battery Park City slip deeper and deeper into cosmic denial. They lament the dearth of good men, nice guys. Ladies, listen: Most Manhattan men are shameless jerks on the hustle, coveting sex, money and power. They want women like Kirstie, who conveniently symbolizes all three.
And Kirstie will have them, if she wants. But she knows their game. And when she’s finished with them, or they’re finished with her, or however things happen on Kirstie’s rarefied plane of socio-sexual transaction, they might be ready for something more … normal. But while you’re waiting, before Kirstie and her cadre give up and go off to procreate, pay attention. These babes might get all the action, but they gather knowledge, too. Intelligence of a brutal sort-and it damages them, in the way that only seeking after truth can.
Seeing Kirstie in the flesh made me glad to know that she still walks among us. New Yorkers should be grateful to her. Her sacrifice, like Socrates’ public martyrdom, enlightens us all.