Most readers who enjoy a good literary challenge have attempted to read Ulysses, James Joyce’s 1922 masterpiece. The text, while brilliant and representative of the 20th century shift into modernist thought, contains so many narrative cul-de-sacs and classical allusions that readers often turn to a guide to lead them through. Whether a college course or Twitter bot, Ulysses gurus abound, offering to light the path through the 265,222-word labyrinth Joyce built through Dublin.
For the centenary anniversary of the book’s publication on February 2, the Paris bookshop Shakespeare and Company began hosting an ensemble podcast reading. Spanning the four months between the publication anniversary and June 16, the day covered by the novel known as Bloomsday, each weekday brings a new episode of the novel, read aloud by a different literary luminary. Joyce’s fellow Irish wordsmiths Caoilinn Hughes and Paul Murray, authors Will Self and Jeanette Winterson, and even comedian Eddie Izzard have lent their voices to the podcast thus far.
Interspersed between readings of the text, the almost-weekly Bloomcast helps clarify the novel’s plot. Host Adam Biles, the literary director at Shakespeare and Company, is regularly joined by Alice McCrum of the American Library in Paris and Dr. Lex Paulson of the Université Mohammed VI Polytechnique in Morocco. Other guests have included Patrick Hastings, creator of UlyssesGuide.com, and Aggie, resident cat at Shakespeare and Company, whose vocal stylings are clearly audible throughout Episode Two.
While the bookstore encourages listeners to purchase a special Clothbound Classics centenary edition of Ulysses by publishing partner Penguin, complete with the shop’s Kilometer 0 hallmark stamp, Shakespeare and Company has more than just a bookselling connection to the novel. The original Parisian Shakespeare and Company, an English-language lending library run by American Sylvia Beach in the years between the world wars, also acted as publisher to the first edition of Ulysses.
Famously, Joyce was making edits to the proofs of the text even as the book was being printed in Dijon, but on February 2, 1922, Sylvia Beach met the morning train that carried the first two extant copies of Ulysses. One she gave to Joyce, and the other went on display in the window of her bookshop, but impatient customers forced her to hide the book until she could fulfill all pre-orders. The novel, which had already been banned in the States after excerpts in The Little Review brought the magazine’s editors up on obscenity charges, saw an initial print run of a thousand, some of which were smuggled into the U.S. over the Canadian border. Shakespeare and Company published eleven editions of Ulysses throughout the 1920s.
In 1964, another Parisian bookshop run by an American was rechristened from Le Mistral to Shakespeare and Company in honor of Sylvia Beach, who had died two years earlier. In fact, George Whitman was so taken with Beach’s legacy that he named his daughter Sylvia Beach Whitman. After taking over the bookstore in 2006, this Sylvia began introducing new initiatives, like podcasts, to the legendary bookshop.
Currently playing on subtitled screens in the States after making a splash at Cannes last year, The Worst Person in the World opens on an effortlessly beautiful woman standing in profile against the Oslo skyline, smoking a cigarette outside a book launch. The film comprises such stunning visuals of the Scandinavian atmosphere, including a triptych of vignettes that pull focus from star Renate Reinsve’s beguilingly wholesome face toward a backdrop of moody skies, but also pays homage to Northern Europe’s literary traditions through its heroine’s day job.
The narrator explains how Julie went from medical student to trainee psychiatrist to amateur photographer in rapid succession, securing a temp job at a bookstore as her fallback. Borrowing the bookish structure of chapters, prologue, and epilogue, the film follows this thirty-ish woman adrift in central Oslo. Julie shrugs off a question about the temporal status of her employment, which seems to gain permanence as the plot unravels, becoming her most consistent attribute throughout the four years covered by the film.
The bookstore, Norli, is a real-life Norwegian chain with five locations in Oslo alone. Julie’s branch, “near the university,” is known as Universitetsgata (@norliuniversitetsgata). Her uniform is a navy polo with white letters on the back declaring “Jeg hjelper deg gjerne!” (“I’m happy to help you!”). The employee discount may be to blame for Julie’s accidental hoarding of books. “I have two copies of a book,” she incredulously tells her boyfriend, the wonderfully Nordic-named Aksel, as she rearranges a bookcase that also includes such English-language titles as The White Album and Portnoy’s Complaint. “Can I have two shelves?” she asks.
Within the context of her bookstore job, Julie is equally absentminded, knocking over multiple stacks of books and holding several life-changing personal conversations, all while on the clock. Yet a bookshop is the perfect setting for such chance encounters, the intersection of ideas and culture serving as a waystation where old friends and new loves can wander freely. This affection toward bricks-and-mortar stores gets grounded in practical commerce when Julie regretfully informs a customer that it will take two weeks to order a copy of Green Yoga.
In one poignant scene with Aksel, Julie listens patiently as he laments the loss of Gen-X tactility: “I grew up in a time when culture was passed along through objects,” he says. A dozen years older than Julie, Aksel is a comic book artist with fond memories of hanging out in record stores, an experience he implies her generation will never understand. “They were interesting because we could live among them. We could pick them up, hold them in our hands, compare them.”
In his waxing nostalgic about the digital shift, Aksel has forgotten that Julie can relate through that timeless artifact that constructs her workaday life. Now an aspiring writer who has had some success with a viral article, she nevertheless knows a little something about object permanence within a culture. Julie smiles dolefully, but not without sympathy, and asks: “A bit like books?”
As I stared down another self-imposed and perilously close deadline, I couldn’t help but wonder: would this undertaking eventually fall into place? With all the ghosts and magic and twins and flashbacks and fever dreams, would these stories ever effectively tie together? Or should I have let sleeping fishes lie?
I once had a case of writer’s block so bad that I wrote a column about my sock drawer. I was convinced I was going to get fired; even Samantha wasn’t reading my column, and the socio-political aftermath of 9/11 did not render a good economy in which to be whipped cream. I was so desperate, I even agreed to go to a self-help seminar with Charlotte.
“You might get a column out of it,” Charlotte reasoned, catching me in a weak moment.
She and I were sitting at a sidewalk café playing “The 100,” a game where we decided how many men walking past we would sleep with. Charlotte had resoundingly rejected the angry-looking bald guy with a big head walking toward her…but then she realized he was fast approaching our table.
And just like that, my editor Gabe appeared, ex machina, and told me that an editor from Clearwater Press wanted to turn my columns into a book.
Despite passing on the opportunity to hypothetically sleep with Gabe, Charlotte was extremely offended when he brushed her off as I introduced them. Charlotte went home in a huff that the angry, balding, big-headed guy was not interested in hypothetically sleeping with her and, being Charlotte, could not leave well enough alone.
So she cyber-stalked him.
Since I work from home, my interaction with my work colleagues is minimal. I write my columns in my apartment and somehow transport them to Gabe at the New York Star office, despite once devoting an entire column to my learning how to use email…in 2001. Gabe and I occasionally take meetings, like the time I left Aidan behind at the Suffern cabin to take the train back into the city, but suffice to say none of my friends had met Gabe before that day with Charlotte.
Perhaps she has better taste than the rest of us, but somehow Charlotte avoided dating any of the guys who would overlap with the New Jersey underworld. Still, she cracked the whole case wide open with her internet sleuthing skills, honed during the hours she spent researching Trey’s impotence online.
“Carrie, he’s a secret agent!” Charlotte cried as she, Anthony, and I shared a well-endowed baguette from Hot Fellas Baked Goods. Charlotte held out a photo she had helpfully printed from the internet. “Look: Agent Dwight Harris of the FBI.”
“More like Agent I-Have-No-Harris,” Anthony shrieked.
Imagine my surprise when the most important man in my life—my editor—turned out to be the key to the whole mafia-Manhattan connection.
Once again, Charlotte was my salvation…and my meal ticket.
“I am going to get so many columns out of this,” I laughed. “Well, that’s just fabulous!”
“Remember my over-the-hill neighbor Len? The one who said he was keeping me on neighborhood watch?” Samantha and I were catching up over a little mani-pedi-botox session.
“Let me guess—he moved to Jersey and joined the mob?”
“No,” Samantha frowned. “Why would you assume that?”
“Just the way things have been trending lately. So what happened with ol’ hip-replacement Len?”
“His twin brother lives next door to that mafia don you’ve been so curious about.”
“There are two of them?”
“Actually, three. They have a sister who is famous in the theatre; the brothers changed their names to avoid recognition. Len went with Schneider and moved to the meat-packing district. The other, Bruce, for some reason chose the last name Cusamano and moved to New Jersey.”
“Does he have the ponytail and the pierced ear too?”
“Ugh, no. He’s a doctor.”
Len had been an art collector Samantha went out with to validate herself when she thought she was going through menopause. He spent the whole dinner talking about the lumbar support in his new Cadillac El Dorado.
“His mood music was the sounds of smooth jazz on the radio,” Samantha recalled. She had slept with him anyway, resulting in Len lamenting that Flo had come to town all over his $2000 Pratesi sheets.
“Did you keep running into him in your building?”
“Yes, but he would just look squeamish and scurry away,” Samantha shrugged. “Good riddance.”
“So how do you know his brother knows the godfather?”
“I ran into the twin at a benefit and thought it was Len. I walked up to say hello and his wife got really upset. It took a while, but we got it all straightened out and had a good laugh. I even got them to donate to Javier House!”
“Impressive,” I nodded.
“So the wife is also a twin, and her sister wrote a stellar college recommendation for the neighbor’s daughter.”
“I think so—something like that,” Samantha nodded. “Anyway, the wife, Jeannie Cusamano, was extremely dismissive of her neighbors’ interior design, too much Murano glass.”
“I like Murano glass.”
“Well, it seems the neighbors don’t think too much of them, either. Called them Wonderbread, the type of Italians who eat Sunday gravy out of a jar.”
“The Cusamanos said they’ve been keeping a package the big man asked them to hold on to for years. They have no idea what’s in it.”
“Luca Brasi?” I quipped.
“I gotta tell you, honey, this isn’t your best work.” And just like that, Samantha called me on my bullshit.
I couldn’t help but wonder: would I get it together next week? Or had this whole little project run out of steam?
“I just thought you might want to know that the good doctor Cusamano recommended a psychotherapist for the big man. She could be a good source for some of these questions you have been asking everyone.” Samantha stood up. “Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to get my botox.”
Miranda and I were in the gender-neutral restroom at Webster Hall, trying to have a meaningful conversation in the inconvenient atmosphere of flushing toilets and roaring hand dryers.
“Do you remember that time I ran into a coworker in the bathroom at a gay club?” Miranda shouted.
“At Trade, a.k.a. Shirtless Heaven,” I nodded. “That was the night I picked up my gay mistress and some gay porn.” My gay husband, Stanford, had been so green with envy about my new Australian shoe distributor, Oliver, that he later outed me for having worn pink suede Candies in the 80s.
That same night, in the sanctity of the men’s room, Miranda had revealed her pregnancy to Max, who asked her to keep his sexual preferences hidden from the older partners at Stern, Hawkins & Erickson. Turns out, it was mutually assured destruction, as both Miranda and Max accidentally outed each other to the office gossip, Celeste.
“So this little junior associate gets Casual Friday cancelled for wearing mesh and camo on his first foray out of the closet, then he leaves to go work for Grubman, Grubman & Curcio. I can’t begrudge him the salary, but he was my gay boyfriend. We were supposed to have each other’s backs, you know? Even my gay relationships are dysfunctional.”
As we exited the all-gender restroom at Webster Hall, a pansexual foursome made their way past us, looking like an updated version of our original group. Miranda turned her head slightly to watch them go, while I waxed nostalgic about the time when all we needed was each other, even if it was just hanging out together in Samantha’s apartment, watching gay porn.
“The thing I can’t wrap my mind around,” Miranda said, her gaze gliding back toward me, “is that he went back into the closet after he changed jobs.”
“Let me guess: he changed his name, too?”
“Yup. He dropped the “Max” nickname from law school and returned to plain old Patrick Serafini Parisi. Celeste found out that Patrick got engaged to a girl—I forget her name, maybe Fielder? But you’ll never guess whose daughter she is…”
This girl, whom we will just call Fielder, had grown up with Patrick Parisi, son of Pasquale Parisi and nephew of Patsy’s late twin brother, Philly Spoons. Their histories often overlapped, but nothing serious developed between them until she got a good look at him during the premiere of the family-funded mob slasher movie, Cleaver. The two rekindled a long-latent spark and were engaged soon after.
Patrick was instrumental in convincing his fiancée to give up her long-discussed but never genuinely pursued goal of becoming a pediatrician and instead “settle” for law school. Fielder claimed she wanted to help combat Italian American stereotypes after seeing the way her father and his associates were treated by the federal government, but the $170,000 starting salary Mr. Grubman dangled in front of her did not hurt.
“What kind of spoiled Ivy League brat graduates from Columbia with zero life direction and takes another three years to decide between medical school or law school?” Miranda mused aloud.
“An annoying but well-connected one?” I shrugged, thinking of my own rejected application to Columbia.
“I mean, usually you have some sort of inclination, one way or the other: medicine or law. There’s not a lot of overlap. None of that flakiness would fly at Harvard Law,” Miranda concluded.
I couldn’t help but wonder: If this Fielder girl were half as smart as she thought she was, would she have noticed her fiancée was gay as pink suede? Or was it like the time Stanford and I pretended to be engaged so he could lockdown his inheritance and I could lockdown a sugar daddy and, perhaps, one of his grandmother’s Chanel suits? Did Fielder and Patrick Parisi come to an arrangement that worked for them both, keeping their respective families happy while allowing the two of them to live their personal truths away from prying eyes?
Could a closeted gay man in the New Jersey underworld keep his proclivities private, perhaps even escape to New Hampshire to live out a fantastic gay porno with a volunteer firefighter who made a tasty batch of Johnny Cakes? Live free or die, right? Surely there would be no repercussions?
And just like that, I remembered the time I got karmically mugged for my pink suede Manolo Blahnik strappy sandals from the 1999 collection that I got half-off at a sample sale. As the mugger pointed a gun in my face and demanded I hand over the Monolos, I whined that they were my favorite pair—granted, I say that about damn near every pair of shoes I own. But for someone who uses pink suede as a measure of gayness, I sure wear a lot of it.
Perhaps sexuality is a spectrum that my friends and I all populate at different places during different points in our lives. I was clearly in the pink suede zone of the LGBTQ rainbow, while Samantha was lightyears beyond the rest of us in her fluorescent power suits, and even Charlotte was becoming woke…by pastel Park Avenue standards.
As for Miranda, we had tried to establish early on that Miranda was undeniably straight, even though her coworkers and boss at Stern, Hawkins & Erickson thought Miranda was gay long before she outed Max and even before she made partner. Miranda famously failed the lesbian kiss test with her softball buddy, Syd, but what if Miranda was just not attracted to that particular lesbian?
“Hey, Miranda, what are your thoughts on pink suede?” I asked as we exited Webster Hall. I looked around, but Miranda seemed distracted, staring down the sidewalk into the crowd. After an entire summer of badgering her with questions about members of a certain Italian American subculture, maybe it was time I let Miranda focus on herself.
“Huh?” she finally asked, glancing at me.
“Never mind,” I said as our Uber arrived. “I’ll ask Charlotte.”
Reminder, this is basically fan fiction for both The Sopranos and Sex and the City. The stories are confined to the shared fictional world, but we’re reaching the end of both series, so I’ve taken a few liberties with the narrative arcs that extend beyond the life of the show. Again, it helps if you’ve seen both shows, and spoilers abound.
In memory of Ed Vassallo, 1972–2014.
Catcalls and Gummy Bears
Back during the days of Blockbuster, Miranda once hit a sexual drought so prolonged that she racked up enough video rentals to earn a free pound of gummy bears.
At three months and one week without sex, Miranda swung by the quick drop slot at the Lexington Avenue Blockbuster to return a libido-numbing five-hour Danish documentary on the Nuremberg trials. A construction worker yelled that she could “quick drop this,” so she rolled her eyes and scurried away. She never went inside the Blockbuster yet produced a bag of gummy bears to share with the ladies as we watched my neighbors having sex. She must have secreted them away in her Strictly Rhythm satchel…or in her dungarees.
When Miranda weirdly went back to Blockbuster for the second time that day, ostensibly for another pound of gummy bears, she got catcalled again by the same guy yelling: “I got what you want! I got what you need!”
“You talking to me?” Miranda yelled, doing her best De Niro. She proceeded to let everyone on the Upper Eastside know she needed to get laid, effectively cat-calling the construction worker’s bluff. She dismissed him as a gavone, Italian for swine-god, then stomped into Blockbuster for her gummy bears. Inspired by her little lesson in the language of love, she also rented the entire Godfather trilogy.
“Part III is so bad,” Miranda told me the next day.
“And Parts I and II were both so good,” I agreed. Maybe revisiting a beloved franchise after an extended break might not be such a great idea…
“I find the higher the number, the worse the sex,” Samantha interjected.
“We’re talking about roman numeral movies, not roman numeral guys,” I scolded Samantha, though maybe she had a point.
“How did he react when you demanded to get laid?” Samantha reached into the bag of gummy bears.
“He said: ‘Take it easy, lady. I’m married.’”
“Well, that has absolutely nothing to do with getting laid,” Samantha stated, then pursed her lips.
“You know, I believe her,” Miranda said to me.
“Do you think he was really married?” I asked.
“He was married, all right,” Miranda said. “Married to the mob.”
Tom Giglione, Jr. and his wife, Barbara, lived a relatively quiet life in Brewster, New York, with their kids, Tom III and Alyssa. Occasionally, they would drive the hour and a half across the Tappan Zee to visit his New Jersey in-laws. Tom made appearances beside Barbara at five family meals, four funerals, and one bedside vigil when the head of the family was in the hospital with a gunshot wound. He and the don’s baby sister lived in relative obscurity, avoiding getting drawn into the underworld that subsumed Barbara’s parents and siblings.
Tom uttered some of the best one-liners in the family…by virtue of only speaking one line per appearance:
When the matriarch of the family, a terrible woman, finally died and her equally awful eldest daughter forced everyone to choke out a few nice words about the departed, the first lady’s father snapped and went on a tirade about suffering under the yoke of that woman, to which Tom responded: “Hear, hear!” When Christopher Moltisanti finally settled down with a wife and kid to throw a housewarming party at his tacky Mini McMansion, complete with a CLEAVER poster in the foyer, the Giglione family arrived bearing gifts and Tom cracked a joke that the wine-shaped one was for the baby. When his buttnut of a nephew went through a woke phase regarding Iraq and started quoting “The Second Coming” during another uncle’s funeral buffet at Vesuvio, Tom corrected his mispronunciation of the poet’s Irish name: yates, not yeets.
But mostly, Tom blended into the background, at least in New Jersey. The edgiest thing Tom ever did was grow a goatee and accept mafia boosts when his honest and hard-working father died. Tom II liked football and food, and once unknowingly poked the bear by bringing up the Jets at the dinner table, prompting the elderly uncle with dementia to tease the scariest man in New Jersey about never having the makings of a varsity athlete. His life was so seamless and relatively uncomplicated that his wife transformed into a completely different woman who simply had to call the mafia don “big brother” during that pasta dinner to reclaim her role in the family.
I couldn’t help but wonder: were the women in that world as disposable as the men were in mine? If wives can be recast and mothers can be computer generated, what place of power can women really hold? With an ever-rotating supply of guest-star goomars, not to mention background strippers who are never given credit and might as well be human scenery, was the life depicted on the other side of the Lincoln tunnel as dismissive of women as mine was of men?
And just like that, I realized our stories constituted thematic inversions of each other, reflected across the Hudson River.
To learn more, I dusted off my press pass and did a little investigating into the parallels between us. I figured that Tom Giglione was the most approachable: he was a New Yorker (albeit upstate), he was connected without being CONNECTED, and Miranda had all his contact information from the sexual harassment case she had considered pursuing against him.
“Whatever happened with that?” I asked as we reminisced with gummy bears in my single gal apartment that BIG AND I KEPT AS AN EMPTY PIECE OF VALUABLE MANHATTAN REAL ESTATE.
“It’s so great you never bothered to find renters for this place,” Samantha said, watching the couple across the street having sex. Well past their prime years of two-hour matinees, the pair still liked to occasionally put on retrospective exhibitions. Like the rest of their audience, I had moved on, but Samantha still liked to take a peek, for old time’s sake.
“I didn’t pursue it because I pretty much trumped him when I started screaming in the street about needing to get laid,” Miranda said, stretching a gummy bear until it snapped. “I did get him fired, though.”
Miranda’s discovery procedures had prodded Tom’s employer to issue a round of layoffs, allegedly only affecting upstate crews so disorganized that they had to work in the middle of Lexington Avenue on Saturdays, which somehow also managed to get rid of the sex pests. The company was trying to rebrand, and the catcalling construction worker, pounding away at the pavement with his ineffectual jackhammer, was a sexual harassment trope that everyone was ready to dismiss.
This turned out to be a blessing in disguise for Tom, who took small handyman jobs around Putnam County while he went back to school to earn his teaching certificate (with a few feminist studies classes thrown in for good measure). He eventually became a football coach, a dream he had shared with his brother-in-law that would ultimately become a nightmare.
Tom began as a coach of his son’s pop warner football team. The big man back in Jersey seemed supportive of Tom II’s progress on the sidelines and Tom III’s development on the field; his own son was also showing some promise as well. But as the Toms began to display more and more gridiron prowess, the buttnut of a nephew was experiencing panic attacks in the huddle, and Tom Jr. started noticing some passive-aggressive comments from the mafia don.
“My brother has a bit of a jealous streak,” Barbara told me when I drove Big’s Batmobile up to Brewster for an interview. I had thought I just had to drive by Aidan’s rustic cabin and turn left instead of right at the sign for farm-fresh summer squash, but it turns out Brewster is nowhere near Suffern—they are on complete opposite sides of the Hudson. It’s like I don’t know upstate New York at all.
Barbara recalled her husband staring out over the darkened waters of the Tappan Zee on their way home from a family dinner. Her brother had needled Tom III about hitting the weight room, bragging that there was a time when he could bench press 300 pounds. “I may have placed us in a no-win situation,” Tom told Barbara.
But football had become a way of life for the Gigliones, and they couldn’t quit if they tried. By the time Tom Three, who everyone now called Tre (Italian for, you guessed it, three), made the all-state team, Tom Two had secured a job on the varsity coaching staff as an offensive coordinator.
A photo I found in the newspaper archives showed the two of them—Tom II and Tom III, father and son, player and coach—embracing on the field after a heartbreaking loss in the state championship. Both were covered in dirt, drenched in sweat, and openly sobbing. The photo was a perfect balance of masculinity and vulnerability, two warriors who came up short but left everything on the field.
I thought back to the time I dated an actual New York Yankee and acted like a whiny baby the whole time—maybe my relationship problems stem from my having horrible taste. I do tend to pick the wrong men, and I probably should have continued seeing the therapist who led me to that breakthrough.
“Then Seton Hall started recruiting Tre,” Barbara told me. “That was the beginning of the end.”
Her brother had been indignant that Tre look elsewhere to continue his education. “Those guys from Seton Hall are seven feet tall, some of them,” he had yelled during Sunday dinner with the family, pounding his fist on the table before leaving in a huff.
“I used to worship my big brother,” Barbara told me. “Christ, I went to Seton Hall because that’s where he went—for a semester and a half—but I guess all godfathers meddle in their sisters’ lives.”
“Like Connie Corleone’s husband in Part I,” I nodded. “They let that play out for years.”
“Tom disappeared during a college visit with Tre,” Barbara told me, stubbing out her cigarette. “Now I sit here, turning into my mother, shriveled up and bitter, ruining my children’s lives. I don’t even recognize myself. It’s like they hired someone else to play me.”
“You never go back to Jersey?” I asked with trepidation.
“I don’t even cross the Hudson,” Barbara croaked. “After his father disappeared, Tre was angry enough to go back to Newark and steal my mother’s car.”
“That green Dynamic 88 in the driveway?” I had dinged the car when I pulled up to the house and was just waiting for the right time to bring it up.
“My horrible sister tried to claim it as her own, but that family owes me,” Barbara said, lighting another cigarette. “Tommy took a lead pipe to the kneecap for his efforts. Got the car, but never played football again.”
“All this because Tre succeeded where your brother failed?”
“No, because my husband succeeded where my brother failed,” Barbara yelled. “My brother always wanted to be a football coach; he literally dreamed about it. It was the only honest work he ever wanted to do, but since he was incapable of honest work, he had to send my husband into the witness protection program.”
“Is that a euphemism?” I asked.
As I left the Giglione house in a hurry, I had a thought: the senseless deaths were now hitting way too close to home. If people in the actual family were not safe from the mafia don’s wrath, maybe I should stop asking questions.
A long scrape of green paint now marred the front fender of Big’s Batmobile. The custom color was so outlandish that it evoked neither the Green Lantern nor the Green Hornet—both of whom, I now knew, were considered heroes. No, this green was pure villain, the most quintessential, sociopathic, and secretly adored villain of all time: the Joker.
I pointed the Batmobile toward Manhattan. Surely there would be no repercussions for my actions.
I have been fine-tuning my theory about modelizers for years. Since Big is a reformed modelizer, I can no longer dismiss these men as shallow and superficial poon-hounds…or can I?
Still, my deep dive into the minds of modelizers led to the single sexiest thing Big has ever said to me, that day he swooped into Soup Burg—the coffeeshop around the corner from my apartment where I told him I wrote half my columns but never visited again—and decreed: “The thing is this…well, first of all, there are so many goddamn gorgeous women out there in this city.”
To which I replied, with my 1990s dry wit: “What an amazing observation.”
What he said next—along with the way he bit his lip—told me that Big would not be another cardboard cutout of a romantic interest, though we would go through quite a few ups and downs, as chronicled in this column and four subsequent books, on our way to happily ever after.
“But the thing is this,” Big continued, predicting our entire relationship. “After a while, you just want to be with the one that makes you laugh, you know?”
I nodded, and there began our flirtation, but this is a column about Miranda and the modelizer she once dated.
I couldn’t help but wonder: Why do I always highjack my friend’s stories with these self-involved tangents? Could that be why Samantha was pulling away? Miranda seemed to be disproportionately affected by these New Jersey mafiosos, dead or alive, so I really should have been more supportive of her during this strange time. And where the hell was Charlotte?
Anyway, Miranda and Nick Waxler rode the same elevator line for years before he finally asked her out. Miranda learned, too late, that she had been Nick’s “intellectual beard” for a couples’ dinner party, the female halves of which had decided they could no longer sit across the table from Nick’s anorexic dates.
Miranda told me she thought her answer to the dinner-party lob, “Old movie stars you would have liked to fuck when they were younger” had been very witty and accurate. “I answered with Sean Connery: yesterday, today, and forever,” Miranda told me, “but all the other girls Nick was bringing answered with guys like Charlie Sheen.” Deanne and Ellen told her they had learned to use the pouty-lipped answer as a barometer for brains and gave Nick an ultimatum: no more models. Hence, he asked out Miranda.
And just like that, Miranda stopped dating Nick.
I had a few questions about my column, so I caught up with Nick a few days later, back when I used to engage in actual journalism and interview people other than my friends. Nick’s response when I asked him for an on-the-record comment about models? “They make me fuck up my life!”
Nick said he was exhausted, that he was an old man at 34, and that he couldn’t keep going this way. I guess he took that little ultimatum seriously as well, because Miranda soon heard that he moved to New Jersey and went back to practicing law after his sports-agent schtick, a ploy to meet models, got old.
“Still, a leopard can’t change his spots,” Miranda announced when Samantha and I joined her for an afternoon drink at her new firm. The rooftop event space where Miranda’s kinder, gentler partners celebrated big wins, like the one Miranda secured for Global Families, Inc. shortly after joining the firm, overlooked St. Patrick’s Cathedral from the corner of 51st and Fifth Avenue.
“I can see Saks from here,” I interjected, looking over the railing, cocktail in hand. “Happy hour to me.”
“If I had a Victoria’s Secret on the ground floor of my office building, I don’t think I would get any work done,” Samantha said, staring straight down to street level. “Though I do prefer something a little less flammable.”
“That’s where I ran into Nick,” Miranda said. “He was down there ogling the mannequins in the window displays. He said it was the closest he gets to models now.”
“What kind of weirdo gets infatuated with mannequins?” Samantha mused.
“Reformed modelizers like Nick Waxler?” I offered, guiding us back on conversational course.
“His last name is not really Waxler,” Miranda said.
“Shocker,” Samantha pronounced.
“Sounds made up,” I nodded. I had thought it was Wexler until I had to fact-check it for my column…back when I did real journalism.
“His real name is Nick Charney, but everyone calls him Zev. It’s Hebrew for wolf.”
“So he was a wolf in wolf’s clothing,” I quipped. Samantha touched her nose and pointed at me.
“Actually, I heard he has a thing for dressing up as a turtle,” Miranda said, looking pensive.
“Remember when I dated The Turtle?” Samantha said. “I dressed him up in a Helmut Lang turtleneck.”
“That was hilarious,” I recalled, then noticed Miranda frowning. “So what is Zev up to in Jersey?”
“He represented a guy named Corrado—er, Junior, when he shot his nephew,” Miranda lowered her voice and looked around.
“Don Squirrel-Leone?” I squealed. I swear, that pun was not even mine; credit goes to the headline writers for the Jersey papers.
“Nick—Zev—is the one who came up with that insanity defense,” Miranda nodded.
“How could that man head an entire crime family?” Samantha wondered aloud. “He looks like Mister Magoo.”
“The way Zev tells it, Junior was never in charge,” Miranda said. “Even when the nephew was just the street boss, he still ran things in The Family. I’ve been digging around on these disposable men from New Jersey, and I’m learning that…”
As Miranda babbled on, I had a thought:
Maybe it was not men that were disposable. Maybe it was everyone in my life. Were Michiko Kakutani and Nina Katz correct in their criticism? Was I the one who threw people away?
“Carrie, you can’t put this in your column,” Miranda concluded.
Miranda’s one who got away, a cute G-man interpreter named Walker Lewis, was one of the few men who had a recurring role in our little self-created dramas.
Desperate to get laid before Brady arrived, Miranda had hot pregnancy sex with Walker without telling him she was carrying another man’s baby. When he showed up again a few months later and Miranda told him she had recently given birth, Walker Lewis was understandably curious about the timeline of her pregnancy. Relieved to learn the child was not his, Walker Lewis was game to reunite with Miranda.
Turns out, he was not quite as game as he thought. When Miranda started making the obvious joke: “Mommy’s coming!” as Brady cried over the monitor, Walker got a little freaked out and left. That was the last Miranda saw of him.
Recently, Miranda and I were indulging in some street food on a bench in Bryant Park while Samantha literally looked down on us.
“Would you sit down and eat something?” Miranda said between bites.
“Can’t,” Samantha said over her shoulder. “This outfit only works if I’m standing and not eating.”
Our people-watching turned up a familiar face coming toward us.
Miranda smacked Samantha on the ass and said: “Look, it’s Mr. Too Big!”
“I don’t get it,” I said. “You broke up with James because he was too small. This guy’s too big. Who are you, Goldicocks?”
“Yes, I want one that’s just right,” Samantha drawled. “Now make nice because this wall of flesh and I are supposed to be friends.”
It was true. After their sex life proved incompatible, Samantha had suggested she and Mr. Cocky just be friends. He was, allegedly, her first ever male friend. He was also the mutual friend who had set up the blind date between Walker Lewis and Miranda.
“How is Walker was doing?” Miranda pried.
“You mean Walker Lewis?” Mr. Cocky replied.
And just like that, we learned that Walker went by two first names, Walker Lewis. His full name was Walker Lewis Zmuida.
“I guess I was so desperately horny that I got his name wrong,” Miranda reasoned.
“Hell, I didn’t know Big’s name for six years,” I sympathized.
“And I bet none of you know my name,” Mr. Cocky said.
“Em,” Miranda said.
“Er,” I echoed, darting eyes at Samantha for help.
“Oh, you!” Samantha purred, playfully slapping at Mr. Too Big’s relatively tiny hands.
Assuaged, Mr. Cocky explained how Walker Lewis Zmuida, burned out from speaking five languages and traveling so much that he had not realized Miranda had a baby, used his State Department connections to transfer to Fish & Game…in New Jersey, of all places.
“But it’s the most densely populated state in the country,” Miranda opined. “What game could they have?”
“At least one flock of symbolic ducks,” Mr. Too Big answered, “and quite a few big-mouth bass.”
“I hear Jersey guys sleep with the fishes,” I quipped, wondering if I get a whole column out of that pun.
“They also have bears,” Mr. Cocky said, ignoring my joke and continuing with his story. Officer Zmuida had responded to a few calls about a bear—attracted by a bin of damp and aromatic duck food—that had rearranged some pool furniture before eating the small dog chained up next door. The frightened homeowner, a blond housewife we’ll call Goldilocks, started making eyes at him while her estranged husband tried to buy him off.
“Walker Lewis is my best friend,” Mr. Cocky told us. “I was already worried when he quit his interpreter job to go play Trapper Joe in the suburbs, but then he went into a fugue state about that damn bear.”
Mr. Cocky finally decided to get Walker Lewis some help. “I drove him to the mental hospital, also located in New Jersey,” he sighed. “The whole time he’s staring into the trees, yelling: ‘It’s the husband! The bear is really the husband! The husband is really the bear!’”
In the end, it wound up being Walker Lewis Zmuida getting shot with a tranquilizer dart.
“Poor Walker,” Miranda murmured, catching a glance from Mr. Cocky. “I mean, poor Walker Lewis!”
“The worst part is, no one knows what happened to the bear,” Mr. Too Big shook his head.
I couldn’t help but wonder: do women really want the forest ranger, or do we secretly prefer the bear? If Goldilocks deemed this porridge too hot and that bed too soft, maybe the comforts of a three-million-dollar mansion would also leave her unfulfilled. Was this Real Housewife of New Jersey on to something? Should we file for divorce and invite the law, in the form of an overgrown boy scout playing forest ranger, into our homes (and beds)? Or is it better to just live with the bear?
“Remember Brady’s godfather?” Miranda asked as we watched her son, Brady Hobbes, grow up before our very eyes. It seemed like yesterday he was winning science fairs with the rather passé baking-soda-and-vinegar volcano act.
“Steve’s second cousin, Patrick?” Samantha clarified. “Why do we never see him if he’s so important to Brady’s life?”
“He’s probably off baptizing himself in more bad cologne,” I quipped.
“Yes, there is nothing worse than a disappointing godparent,” Miranda snapped, staring at me.
And just like that, I remembered I was supposed to be Brady’s godmother. I had used the poor kid’s baptism as a segue to talk about my own original cynicism; worse, I had barely been there for the child when his parents separated for six months. And even though I made him ringbearer in my wedding-that-never-happened, I don’t think I have exchanged two words of dialogue with the boy since he learned how to talk.
I shook my head and absolved myself of my sins. After all, you can’t feel Catholic shame if you’re not a Catholic.
“Anyway, Patrick?” I prompted.
“He was extremely helpful with my mother-in-law’s funeral,” Miranda frowned.
“The guy who introduced himself as the godfather with the bad Brando impression at Brady’s christening?” Patrick was in several photos of the blessed event, often with his arm around my shoulder.
“Yes, and by the laws of movie-reference logic, that would mean Patrick the Godfather was supposed to kill Steve,” Miranda said, looking a little disappointed. “Clearly, that didn’t happen.”
Patrick Barold Sontag had been fiddling with his new SUV’s instrument panel during that beloved Sunday evening ritual—trying to find parking in Manhattan—when his Mercedes had been carjacked. The nice Jewish girl he married to please his mother left him, taking their nebbish and always-cold son, Evan, and their nameless daughter.
Barry traced the carjacking to Italian mafia dons, who were passing Polaroids of his 1999 Mercedes-Benz ML 430 around New Jersey and Naples. Barry wisely backed off, spending the next two years in a recliner, watching a mafia-movie marathon so intense that he could even quote dialogue from Godfather III. He finally emerged from his cocoon of pasta shells a new man: Patrick.
In honor of Ray Liota’s character in Goodfellas, Patrick had decided to embrace his father’s Irish/Italian heritage, resuming use of his first name and converting to the Catholic faith, which celebrated both sides of his father’s lineage. He became especially close with his Irish aunt in Queens: Mary, Steve’s mother. Thanks to Patrick’s liberal dousing of cologne, the pair became known as “the drunk and the skunk” whenever they met up at Molly Maguire’s on Sunday evenings.
“The worst part,” Miranda continued, walking around the auditorium where we were having this conversation, “is that the family dog, Churchill, ran away during the carjacking.”
“His dog left him too?” Samantha cried. “This sounds like melodramatic Irish tragedy porn. Somebody call Frank McCourt.”
“He’s dead,” Miranda frowned.
“Dogs run away,” I shrugged. “In my experience, they come back.”
Miranda and Samantha stopped short.
“What?” I soldiered on. “If your boyfriend’s dog runs off while you’re talking to the married ex-boyfriend with whom you are having an affair, and you chase the dog through Manhattan traffic and walk home three hours later in the rain to your own apartment—not even the boyfriend’s apartment that the dog knew as his home, where you should have checked first—the dog is just going to be waiting there for you, at your own apartment, with the clueless boyfriend.”
My two friends continued to stare at me, a united front of silent disbelief.
“It happens,” I finished weakly. “Something to do with their sense of smell.”
“That is the worst urban relationship myth yet,” Miranda said. “Nice touch with the rain, though.”
“Honey, as your publicist, I’m advising you to never try to expand your writing career into the fiction market,” Samantha said, sipping her flute of champagne. “Because that shite is unbelievable.”
I couldn’t help but wonder: do we all just need to be let off the leash sometimes? If Pete could find his way back, who’s to say Churchill never made it home? Maybe Pete the Brittany Spaniel and Churchill the Springer Spaniel met up with Charlotte’s King Charles Spaniel, Princess Dandyridge Brandywine “Elizabeth Taylor” Stork York-Goldenblatt, for spaniel brunches to talk about their spaniel sex lives.
It was entirely possible that Pete or Churchill could be the dog father of Elizabeth Taylor’s illegitimate puppies…or even the godfather.
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 neglected 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.”