I never got to meet Nora Ephron. She was not a mentor, a friend, a distant acquaintance or even someone I once saw walking down the street. I cannot in all honesty say that she influenced my writing in any way; the fault for that being entirely my own.
In fact, the first time her name registered in my brain was the night I went to see “Sleepless in Seattle” with my friend Suzanne. I remember enjoying the movie – have enjoyed it on numerous occasions since – but at the time the film itself was overshadowed by the fact that at dinner before the movie, a man had jumped from the 2nd floor fire escape of the building that housed the restaurant in which we sat, closely followed by several police officers.
This in and of itself would barely raise any eyebrows, but the guy was completely naked. More than a few forks stopped in midair at the sight.
The perp (there’s a word I’ve never used in a post before) made it to the sidewalk but was pounced on by several other officers who had apparently anticipated the possibility of a window escape. He struggled, and the police slammed him up against the floor to ceiling windows of the diner in which we sat. Full frontal on spectacularly disturbing display.
Thank god we’d already eaten.
As Suzanne so accurately stated, “Man, that guy REALLY did not want to get caught!” Needless to say, in the visual effects department, “Sleepless in Seattle” was at a distinct disadvantage at least when it came to shock value.
Nora’s list of funny, enjoyable films aside, it wasn’t until I stumbled upon a piece she’d written for The New Yorker titled “Moving On” that I truly fell for her. The essay details her time living in and subsequent move from The Apthorp. For those of you who don’t know, The Apthorp is an iconic NYC building, famous for its’ enormous “Classic 7″ apartments in which people lived/live virtually rent free (which means at sums well below $1000/month) because the units were/are rent stabilized. We live a scant 12 blocks from the Apthorp and I’d often gazed into its’ courtyard and wondered what it would be like to have so much space for so little money.
Reading that New Yorker article was the first of several times that Nora’s writing dissolved me into helpless laughter in a public place; usually the subway.
Most memorable among these was while reading her book I Feel Bad About My Neck. One of the essays had to do with the contents of Nora’s purse, and I laughed so hard sitting on the 1 Train that even the most unflappable New Yorkers began to look at me funny, or stifle grins. My mirth was made all the more unusual by the fact that our train was stopped between stations, with the conductor apologizing every minute or two for the delay. This is not normally a situation that evokes peals of laughter from the riders.
That was what Nora gave me. Laughter in unexpected places.
It’s what she gave almost everyone, of course, but her writing was so sublime that somehow in reading it you felt like she was talking directly to you and that you were sharing a private joke with a close friend. That was her genius.
After her sudden death in June I purchased her last book, titled I Remember Nothing. It is because of the essay in it of the same name that I decided to write this post and lead off with the naked man vs. “Sleepless in Seattle” story. I think Nora would have appreciated it. You’ll need to read the essay to find out why.
So thank you, Nora, for uncontrollable, helpless laughter. It is one of the things I will miss.
And also, wherever you are right now, I hope there is no e-mail but lots and lots of pie.