More Sales of the City

Bursting the bubble of municipal boosterism

If the postindustrial city is now mostly an entertainment machine designed to serve affluent urbanites, then the city magazine is its user manual. While a few such publications attempt to leaven endlessly recycled "what's hot" listings and special advertising sections with the occasional old-fashioned feature, what's most entertaining about them is the surprising civic portraits that emerge from their singular mix of plastic surgery ads, classified come-ons, and editorial effluvia.

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Only in... Catalog copy posing as caption Half-baked restaurant- blurb prose Best "urban renewal" ad The classified ad just waiting to be turned into a feature
New York "Says Lecia Rosenthal, of West 109th Street, 'I'm tripping over either a drug dealer or a foot-long rat. My fear now is that rats will start dealing drugs too.' " "Definitely not for the dabbler, this incense is for the truly addicted ($30)." "Did someone say 'fresh- pomegranate margarita'? Yes, someone did." If you're embarrassed by your enlarged masculine breasts, then "cosmetic surgery can be the answer." "Creole Nurse -- Cleansing/ Role-Play. Medical Scenes."
Chicago "Another time, a kid brings in an absentee ballot. The reason was listed as 'pregnant.' I said, 'Geez! She's 80 years old! What're you thinking?' " "Today those rings provide a bit of local history as limited-edition picture frames, $130." "The food at this bustling bistro can be very, very good, but when it's not, it's sometimes noticeably flawed." "Get ready for summer by changing your body through the art of modern liposculpture." "Graceland Cemetery in Chicago. 4 graves for sale. Forget the list price. Let's talk."
Texas Monthly "Bill had planned carefully for Lance's senior year. To make his son more muscular, Bill was giving him ten to fifteen pills every morning.... At the end of each school day, he was at the locker room with a protein drink for Lance." Blatant advertorial is exiled to fairly well-marked special advertising sections. "Shaded by ancient pecan trees, this jewel box is a nexus for dazzling interior cuisine." "A doctor who is skillful enough to build an ear where there was none is certainly the man you want when you choose to have cosmetic surgery." "Millionaire Replica Watches, $99 up, prepaid"
Seattle "The Symphony made history November 10, 1995, with Cyberian Rhapsody, a mix of symphonic and rock music that bridged the gap between grunge and glamour." "This hand-wrought iron bowl atop a scrollwork base ($54.98) adds vertical interest to any garden setting." "Canlis continues its unbroken history of the nation's finest awards, coupled with a $2 million remodel by pioneering Northwest artist Jim Cutler -- artist to Bill Gates." "Patented laser-based process erases hair quickly and gently with lasting results." Seattle doesn't contain classified ads.
Los Angeles " 'It's a very regular thing now,' says Tony Brand, proprietor of Pom D'api, the French children's shoe store in Beverly Hills. 'Rock stars call me up and describe what their kid is wearing to a function, and I send some shoes over to match.' " "Mercedes-Benz seven-speed sport cruiser; $1,795 at Mercedes-Benz, Beverly Hills." "Joachim Splichal's spin-off of Pinot Bistro is situated next to the Central Library in a shoebox of glass with a view (skyward) of the towers of downtown." "Boudoir Portraits -- guaranteed to look your thinnest." "Well-known, board-certified plastic surgeon seeking patients for scarless treatment of excessive armpit sweating"