Monday, November 25, 2013

I'm in a "Nora" York State of Mind

It started with "Crazy Salad". I was in college and despite all that higher learning, I had not  yet grown into my own mind and was certainly not confident about thinking my own thoughts. However, it was clear that the author of the little Bantam paperback I purchased for $1.95 was very much in possession of her thoughts and she did a good job of sharing them. The book was dedicated to her sisters and it was forwarded by a quote from Yeats:
                                      It's certain that fine women eat 
                                      A crazy salad with their meat.

 I fell immediately and madly in love with Nora Ephron.

I have every book Nora ever wrote and I believe I am also correct in thinking that I have seen every movie she has written or directed. Even the not-so-good ones. When she died a year ago this past summer--and I was sitting right where I'm sitting now when I read the news blurb and I blinked several times, because I felt so sure (and at the same time so dreadfully unsure) that I was reading it wrong--a little bit of my world caved in.

Years ago my sister introduced me to one of her favorite movies, which quickly became one of my favorite movies: "Desk Set". Nora's parents, Henry and Phoebe Ephron, wrote the screenplay for it and when I made this connection, it only intensified the abiding respect I had for my girl Nora. In writing about those same parents, she was honest about their alcoholism and philosophically forthcoming about their distracted methods of parenting four girls without drawing out the obvious drama that must  have provided the background noise for her unfolding life. Ditto for being married to that hot philandering mess of a husband -- Carl Bernstein. Nora's newfound religion was something she called, "Get Over It" and this she did by throwing her considerable energies into crafting a book about the episode and moving on.

I vacillated monthly between wishing desperately to be Nora Ephron's friend...or simply to be HER. On that aforementioned June day however , it became patently clear that I would never get to be either one.

Lately, I've been listening to Nora's books through an app on my phone because, even though I'm already familiar with what they say, it's her reassuring voice in my ear while I'm driving to the cleaners or chopping carrots for the soup or when I'm closing the drapes and turning on the lamps against the chill of our currently rainy autumn weather that I relish. It's not just what she says, but it's how she says it with her very deliberate and yet conversational pacing. Listening to her speak her own words is a smooth one-two punch of well considered prose that is rendered like sage advice from an experienced woman who has been there but lightly delivered as though you were just two close friends eating good Chinese dumplings in a crowded restaurant where you both have to lean in close over the table to hear and be heard.

I'm homesick for the way she explained about why her sofa must always be beige or how her mother served crispy potato pancakes with the roast beef.  I've listened to her talk her love affair with the Apthorp when it was rent controlled and and how it's no use getting the skin on your neck fixed unless you go in for a full facelift, which she will definitely not do. There was her addiction to online Scrabble, the pitfalls of becoming a slave to moisturizer and her love of dinner with friends. There were the accounts of her early years working for Newsweek magazine and the end of her parents' lives with her dying mother in her hospital bed reminding her daughter to take notes because "everything is copy".

She offered up recipes for fail-proof egg salad, ricotta pancakes, and meatloaf as well as tips for grilling steak with a big pat of butter on the top, which--interestingly enough-- is exactly how my grandmother used to do it. But it was the last section of "I Remember Nothing" which offered up the eerily prescient remarks wherein she itemized the things in life she would miss. As though Nora knew --and it turns out that she did know--that she not have long to live. Among those things: her husband, fall, her kids, twinkle lights, reading in bed, Pride and Prejudice, waffles, Thanksgiving dinner, the park, the view out the window, and coming over the bridge to Manhattan.

Nora's second to last book revealed how very bad she felt about her neck and I understand it.  I feel bad about mine too, though mostly I just feel bad that I've lost my sherpa in all matters, neck and otherwise. The hopeful prospect of visiting the Shake Shack on my next trip to NYC and patiently waiting for her to wander in for a custard is no longer even a remote possibility, but I suppose she would shake a finger at me for allowing her absence from the planet to prevent me from enjoying the city that she loved--that I love--so much. And she would be right. The point is to keep appreciating and notating the good stuff in life. Because, in the world according to Nora Ephron, even the bad things are worth writing about.


  1. I feel bad about my knees in a way I think she would recognize.

  2. I've only read some of her work, but you have me convinced I must amend that.

  3. Don't forget "I Remember Nothing" her last collection of essays (2010). I, too, loved Nora and read everything she wrote. (Keeping my eye open for "Desk Set"to air somewhere.) What an author; what a force she was. Thank you for this nice post.

  4. I have loved her writing as well--and will definitely check out Desk Set.


Be nice. It's not as hard as it sounds.