Saturday, May 29, 2010

Still More Things That Are in My Stomach

If it's Memorial Day weekend, it must be time to play Things That Are in My Stomach right now.

Are there any dark-chocolate pecans?


How about Mingua Beef Jerky?

Of course.

Any Sour Apple SourPatch Straws?

You bet. 

Wasabi cashews?

I can't imagine why not.

That's just a small sampling of the Smugglies Rachel and I stuffed our purses with, prior to her hosting a girls and gays night out for Sex and the City 2 --attendance at which has become the sort of thing one has to justify and explain. (Though from what I read on Facebook, Paul Rieckhoff was seeing it at the exact same time I was, so I'm not apologizing.) A 40-something single woman writing about Sex & the City? Why not just slap some Cathy cartoons on the fridge and adopt a houseful of cats?

As reluctant as I am to devote space to it, the backstory  is pretty simple: I started writing a column around 1991 [here is where a click would indeed be helpful, and if anybody figures out a way to read those old floppies, I'll be sure to post it]. My column, then and now, wasn't really about anything, per se, but providing a "Single perspective" was one of the reasons I was asked to write it. Candace Bushnell started writing the Sex & the City column circa 1994 (no shortage of links there). I still occasionally get asked if her column inspired mine, and I always assert the timeline defensively.

Somewhere around 1998, HBO kicked off the series, hewing fairly close to the source material, and season one was abysmal -- self-conscious and contrived. By season two, the writers had switched from a "based on" to an "inspired by" approach, which is when the show sharpened up. (Favorite episode: Season 4, My Motherboard, Myself, not just because I lived through it. )

The first movie was not exactly Oscar-material, but the central theme of heartbreak and healing was at least a little beautiful -- Samantha spoon-feeding Carrie because she hasn't got the strength or will to eat is a universal moment in the lives of girlfriends. Everybody takes to their bed at some point; everybody recovers.

The sequel is more of a trainwreck. It's culturally insensitive and out-of-touch, but Michael Patrick King has always been those -- somebody has usually just been around to rein in his drag show tendencies. In this, nobody did. It's not always good to be King. What Sex & the City 2 misses most of all (in addition to an Editor) is The City. The series took road trips too -- to L.A. and at the end, to Paris -- and those episodes were jarring. You can take the girls out of the city but you should never take the City out of the girls, as those episodes did (and as the new movie does).

In the sequel, each one of them is written as a caricature that takes the character's limits to the most absurd conclusion. Always the most trying of the group, Samantha is now the saddest -- she's not amusingly outrageous, she's just crude and vulgar. The series used to know the difference. Poor Aidan is reduced to a plot device who no longer sounds (or acts) like himself. Carrie is the cliched defensive 40-something who doesn't want kids,  but has to preface every answer to that inevitable question with "oh we love children, butttt....." Why? It's perfectly ok to not want kids and to not like kids. At all. (A quick glance at Charlotte's crop is ample justification for admitting that a lot of children -- like a lot of grownups -- are just assholes. And usually, they're stickier.)

That said, a bad movie can still make for a fun night out. I met new girls and gays. I got quality time with my own girls and gays, and my BFF. The bar, as usual, ran out of most of the food we wanted (prompting one order revision along the lines of  "Crab cakes." "We're out of those." "Then I'll have a Woodford Manhattan.") Pink panties were passed around the table, and I'm relieved to report, they weren't mine (one Mom was returning them to another Mom, after her three-year-old son had apparently charmed the other one's daughter out of them). It was too hot and too crowded and my feet hurt, but I was still where I wanted to be -- which is the absolute best thing I can say about being single -- I usually am right where I want to be, right when I want to be there. I like it like that.

That's my unidentified thigh crammed into the booth.  What wine goes with watermelon sour patch kids? I don't know, but something about the salt in a margarita offsets the tang nicely.

In real life, of course I have my own Big and my own Aidan (probably every girl does), but I was happy to leave them both at home (separately) in favor of some all-too-rare girl time. In real life, the now ancient question -- "which Sex and the City character are you?" -- is as frayed and cheesy as the franchise, which is somehow showing an almost Vaudevillian, burlesque warp and wear. The long-held critical wisdom, going all the way back to The Simpsons, is that the four women really add up to four sides of one gay guy. The one guy happens to be Michael Patrick King, who apparently has an affinity for the old Bob Hope road movies, and "comedy" so dated it would make the borscht-belt circuit sound cutting edge. It's been described as farce and/or satire, but that's giving it too much credit for being in on the joke, when it doesn't seem to be.

The series (and now the movies) took a lot of criticism for lack of realism, but as far as I know, it was never meant to be a documentary. The size of the apartments?! The cost of that bag with those shoes?! Who cares.

The biggest fantasy element to me was the idea that four girls kept making time to be girlfriends even when marriage, kids, and careers intervened. I have not always been that lucky -- and when I am -- I try to take time to be appropriately appreciative.

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