“This is Michael Patrick King,” I said to the reporter on the other end of the phone.
“Hey, man,” he said. “Thanks for calling me right back, I’m on deadline.”
“I hear you,” I said, and we shared the knowing laugh of one writer held captive by a deadline to another.
And then out of our shared camaraderie, came a long awkward pause on his end of the phone until he finally uttered, “So, I guess we should talk about shoes.”
Now the long awkward pause was on my end of the phone. “OK,” I said. “But I thought we were going to talk about the movie.”
When the first movie came out, I did see some cool hetero couples in their early 30s walking hand-in-hand out of the theater. And I would reach for my cellphone to snap a picture—like I’d been walking in the woods and had suddenly come upon Big Foot.
To which he replied: “Yeah, I know, but my wife would kill me if I didn’t talk about…”
And then he sputtered out the clumsiest word to ever escape a straight man’s lips. “… Manolos.”
• Rebecca Dana: Carrie Bradshaw’s Battle of the BrandsI have been through this uncomfortable man/shoe scenario more times than Carrie Bradshaw has bought Manolo Blahnik shoes. OK, that’s an exaggeration; I haven’t been through anything that many times. But I have certainly been put in this exact same man-Manolo moment as many times as I’ve typed the word Manolo in a script. And that’s a lot.
For the life of me, I don’t understand why these guys get so tense about saying the word. Hell, “Man” is right there in the first syllable of Manolo. But trust me, it happens. Having been the spokesman for Sex and the City through the television series, the movie, and now the sequel, I can tell you right now that straight men need help in these interviews.
So I try to help. It’s just something they think they can’t relate to. I try not to take it personally, and put myself in their places. I imagine that I am the reporter and I have been asked to interview, say, a spokesman for the Tea Party. I guess after that long uncomfortable silence, I would clumsily mutter something like, “So, I guess we should talk about Obama,” desperately clinging to the only word that I see repeated over and over on their posters.
And it’s not just the press. It seems a lot of straight men need a word coach or a lawyer when it comes to discussing Sex and the City.
First comes the disclaimer: “My wife makes me watch it with her.” I always imagine these guys tied to a chair, like Malcolm McDowell in A Clockwork Orange, head in a vice, forced in the direction of HBO on Demand. I picture their loving wife or girlfriend sitting next to them, sipping a Cosmo, tears of joy glistening in the corners of her eyes as she leans over and says, “That wasn’t so bad was it?”
There is also the “I was so drunk last night, I don’t remember a thing” straight man approach. This usually involves some sort of denial that leads to a confession: “I was flipping around on the remote, and at first I didn’t know what it was—then I realized what I was watching—and I thought, ‘Hey, let me see what the fuss is all about.’” At this point, I lean in expectantly, hoping to hear his positive reaction to the show or the movie—but nothing comes. He’ll confess to watching to see what the fuss is all about, but that’s as far into the fuss about the fuss as he’s going to go.
I cling to my family members for support—my brothers-in-law and nephews who swear to me that they love Sex and the City. Even as I tell myself, “They’re straight and they like it,” there is a nagging voice in the back of my head that counters, “But they’re family—perhaps they are giving you a pass.” Like the family members at a piano recital who nod on supportively as the beloved child performing hits some deafening clinkers to end the program.
Occasionally, I notice signs that this uncomfortable straight male silence is generational. When the first movie came out, I did see some cool hetero couples in their early 30s walking hand-in-hand out of the theater. And I would reach for my cellphone to snap a picture—like I’d been walking in the woods and had suddenly come upon Big Foot. I needed proof.
Recently, I heard that Jonah Hill—young, cool, straight, brilliant, funny Jonah Hill—told a reporter that he is excited to see Sex and the City 2. As much as I am thrilled with that information, a good part of my more realistic self thinks: He’s just going to see it to get laid. (And if that is the case, I am happy to help a brother out.)
But there have been signs of evolutionary leaps. In the past several weeks, a few male reporters have boldly told me they enjoyed the sequel, a break away from the herd mentality. Even if the next sentence that rushes out of their mouths is, “I’m going to take my wife.” Firmly establishing that their heterosexuality is intact. Baby steps.
I myself have been an up-close-and-personal witness to one man’s Sex-ual evolution.
It happened on a flight from New York to Los Angeles. There was a straight businessman sitting next to me. I say he was straight by using my writer’s superpowers of observation: his wedding ring, his Scotch on the rocks, his sensible business suit, his age, and his laptop screen saver. (It was a photo of him and his wife in khaki shorts holding hands on a volcano site in Hawaii. He was either straight or a lesbian. I went with straight.)
So imagine my surprise when I saw him scan the movie selections on the airline personal movie player and select Sex and the City. I was in shock—and also incredibly uncomfortable for the next couple of hours. As I pretended to follow the plot of my own selection—one of those blue-tinted, high-tech conspiracy movies staring Leonardo DiCaprio or Matt Damon, or both—I kept glancing over at the businessman watching Carrie and Big’s romantic wedding fall apart. To be honest, I couldn’t look directly into his face to see how he was enjoying it, that would be like looking into the face of the Medusa and I was afraid I would turn to stone. So I glanced over and over again to take in his body language. The rolling of his feet, the short bursts of breath—could it possibly be a laugh? The wringing of his hands, the dropping of his ice cream into his lap.
Let’s just say it was like being held hostage. And the captor is your movie. I have no idea what happened to Leo or Matt in their movie, but I know I’d been put through an exorcism sitting next to mine.
After we landed, I did manage to cheat a slight glance up to his face. I scanned for any sign. A smile, a contented smirk, even a frown—something—but there was nothing. He seemed unaltered. If there had been a moment of Sex evolution, it had now retreated back into the slime.
Just as I gave up all hope, his businessman friend who had been sitting behind him asked him, “What movie did you watch?”
At that moment, it seemed to me that everything stopped. My heart stopped; even the overly processed cabin air stopped. My businessman paused, what felt to me like such a long pause that it surely put all the long uncomfortable reporter pauses to shame. Finally he said, “I watched that Sex and the City—it was pretty good.” His friend replied: “Yeah? I’ll have to check it out.”
It was then that I had a realization: Gay, straight—doesn’t matter. We’re all just men standing on a plane wondering what’s taking them so long to open the cabin door.
Michael Patrick King is the writer, director and producer of Sex and The City 2 . He won multiple Emmys, Golden Globes, and DGA awards as the writer, director and executive producer of Sex and the City on HBO. King also created and directed the Emmy-nominated show The Comeback .