Carrie lit the spark and SJP is keeping it real

BY MEGGIE SMITH | There’s no better place for a celebrity encounter than my neighborhood, the West Village, and Sarah Jessica Parker is among its famous residents. The iconic actress, best known for her role on “Sex and the City,” has recently made headlines. She expanded her empire, wrapping the season two of “Divorce,” designing a Gap Kids clothing line and launching a publishing imprint.

Though she’s best known for captivating the popular imagination with her lavish, single city girl portrayal of Carrie Bradshaw, her life story is far from her fictional character. She grew up poor in rural Ohio, sharing a home with eight siblings. Her big break was a starring role as Annie on Broadway at age 11, when she became responsible for being the breadwinner for her family.

Actress Sarah Jessica Parker walking in the West Village a few years ago on her way to pick up her son at school. Villager file photos by J.B Nicholas

I also come from the Midwest, suburban Detroit, and from a family of four. My mother’s public school teacher salary was our primary source of income. Food and shelter were never in question. But I started working, babysitting at age 9 and rollerblading a paper route for the Detroit Free Press, and have never stopped since. I realized that we have more in common as women — Sarah Jessica and Meggie Jo, our names similarly Midwestern — than as actress and audience.

Like many growing up in suburban locales, my friends and I were devoted fans of “Sex and the City.” Watching weekly, we fervently debated which of us would be which character. To my delight, it was decided that I was a Carrie, despite Caroline having actual curly hair. I was the writer of the group. I obsessively edited every paper for my AP English class, always coming away with an “A” grade. The teacher scrawled in the margins that I was “a great writer” and “should definitely be considering law school.” Seeing Sarah Jessica Parker as Carrie allowed me to dream of life outside of “The Mitten” a.k.a. Michigan and of doing creative work for a living. That was something my mother dismissed as only for the “independently wealthy.” Which we were not.

I landed in New York City after getting a job here, sharing a shoebox apartment with my best friend. My fascination with Sarah Jessica Parker remained dormant, until one night my roommate rushed through our door, breathlessly exclaiming she had seen SJP hailing a cab on Sixth Ave., in stilettos no less! I was itching to see her up close — to see what the actress who sparked my interest in New York City was like in person.

But SJP was always two steps ahead, just out of sight. I saw her son skateboarding on their block, security detail in tow. Another time, she had just walked out of the bodega as I walked in, and though I immediately craned my head out the door, she vanished without a glimpse of curls or high heels.

A year later, I was walking to my birthday celebration and got caught in a police barricade on her corner. She was having an Obama fundraiser — $40,000 a plate! I hung around to see if I could catch a glimpse of the famous hostess, but my wish didn’t come true.

Years, apartments and jobs later and near-miss run-ins with Sarah Jessica, we’re both still in the Village. I live in 500 square feet with my 6-foot-2-inch boyfriend and a Bernese Mountain Dog that could be mistaken for a bear at a distance. The rent would cover a McMansion mortgage back home, and it’s a lifestyle choice many of my relatives in Michigan deem financially irresponsible. But I love my adopted city and the little family I’ve created below 14th St.

A few months ago, I had my closest run-in yet. Walking down W. Fourth St. en route to my co-ed soccer game in Chelsea on W. 27th St., I realized someone was approaching and stepped to my right. As we engaged in the New York City sidewalk dance, I looked up and realized it was her, in a pastel blazer, perfectly ombré, steadily walking in 4-inch stilettos. I waved excitedly as we passed. She lifted her head and gave a covert but friendly hello, smiled, and winked. Then she was gone, attending to mega-celebrity Wednesday evening business.

SJP signing autographs for fans.

Her role as Carrie lit the spark in me that someday I, too, could lead a hip, lavish, self-made life in New York City. Living in several blocks proximity to the real woman, made me understand, 20 years later, what drew me to Carrie Bradshaw as a teen, and why my fondness for the actress continues today. Though Carrie and SJP are different to their core, they both showed me different ways of living life on your own terms, exorbitant rental costs (me) or paparazzi outside your stoop (her) be damned. Showing up and living authentically, despite the darkness of your past or disapproval of your family is what really matters.

And to that effect, the two of us Villagers are doing quite well right where we are.

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