Saturday, July 14, 2012

Nora Knew Me

Nora in Beverly Hills from The Los Angeles Times

Since Nora Ephron’s untimely death two weeks ago the loving tributes have poured out and justifiably so. We ladies, especially of a certain-ish age, felt like we knew her and she knew us. As the oldest of four girls, she owned the role of the perfect older sister, someone smart and funny and free with important advice. Prominent younger  writers have shared their lovely personal stories of being taken under – as Meghan Daum put it so aptly in the L.A. Times  -Nora’s "cashmere-clad" wing.  Nora would meet these up-and-comers for lunch and hand out tips, phone numbers and email addresses. Nora dispatched Daum, an Angeleno,  to have coffee with a writer recently transplanted from New York to our bouganvilleaed jungles. Girls’ creator Lena Dunham got talkings to on boyfriends, doctors, contractors and “good white paint” for her apartment, as well as the exact right Patagonia jacket to wear on film sets.

This according to the Twittersphere this is Nora's go-to on-set jacket.

Damn, I thought reading after about this. I for one could have used some of this. When I moved to L.A. I called a writer-acquaintance and suggested coffee. She said, “No one here really has coffee.” And I can’t help thinking that with Nora in my life, I probably wouldn’t have made the tragic mistaken of hemming my living room curtains three inches too short instead of leaving them long enough to chicly air kiss the floorboards.

I wasn’t lucky or accomplished enough to have been on Nora’s radar, although in my former life as a celebrity journalist, I had seen her at a few parties and in my current life as a Hollywood hausfrau caught a glimpses of her around town. Even those snapshot moments revealed someone who possessed a energetic engagement with the moment, whether it was greeting a young friend at a movie premiere with open arms and the words, “When no one hears from you, they worry,” or happily meeting colleagues at Burbank’s NBC commissary –not a fancy restaurant but the studio’s cafeteria where production assistants and grips grab sandwiches.

My all-time favorite sighting: there she was one day pushing a cart through my San Fernando Valley Trader Joe's. In her New York black-on-black business wear, it was as though she had been beamed in directly from Park and 72nd to Ventura Boulevard. (The Traders is located across the street from the CBS studio complex. She must have come from a meeting. ) She worked the aisles as one famously in love with food and cooking does: antennae out scanning the shelves and the carts of others with a bemused expectant look, taking in what was good, what other people were buying. She probably absorbed more knowledge in that one trip than most people let in all day. 

My pink bedroom.

Though I knew her only through the page and screen, it doesn’t matter. Her death bums me out for one simple reason. Who else will make Nora Ephron movies? Or write Nora Ephron essays? I know she wasn’t young, young and we all read about her neck, but I took her for granted. I assumed she would stick around for a while, making smart funny movies with smart funny women, witty banter and high production values. This last point is not a minor one. I am a girly girl. I feel naked without earrings and lipstick and am the person who convinced my husband to paint the connubial bedroom in Farrow and Ball’s Calamine pink. And Nora just knew me. She knew one of the reasons I loved her movies was the exquisite taste in every frame.  Nora understood our heroines should reflect our own aesthetic choices or more accurately the kind we would fully exercise given the same budget as her set and costume designers. The apartments were cute and the clothes flattering. Meg Ryan’s wardrobe in You Got Mail is still an inspiration and as timeless as anything from 1998 ever will be. To this day I love the black jumper she wore to wait on customers at The Shop Around the Corner, her sick-day pajamas and the ethereal sweater and  flowered skirt from the final scene. 

Meg in cute pajamas.

My copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking.
From The Strand
That is only one example of how she knew me. Some how she shared my twin obsessions with Julia Child and food blogger Julia Powell enough to make a movie interweaving the two.  She knew there were cooks out there like me. Women who had ferreted out vintage copies of Mastering the Art of French Cooking at New York City’s Strand bookstore, even when I was young and broke and single and had no one to cook for but myself. (My vintage copy came with the bonus of some delicious Ephron-seque paper ephemera.  Its former owner, an Upper East side doyenne, I imagine, wrote menu suggestions and the address of upscale caterer Glorious Food in the flyleaf and left behind a recipe for spinach quiche scribbled on the back of a contract bridge score sheet.) Nora knew that years after buying that copy of Mastering, I was the person sitting at a dinner party in 2004 patiently explaining to my husband’s boss what a blog was and what Julie Powell had done with it. 

I loved that she cooked, because I love to cook and even in these Foodie-ful days of recipe blogs and Tublr diaries of daily meals, more often than not, I  find myself defending a plate of homemade food to other women who wear their inability to cook  like a badge of honor and make it completely clear that they have way better uses for their time, thank you very much. Faced with these naysayers, I silently invoke Nora and think, what is better than something nice to eat? Something you made for yourself and those you love?

When I read her 2003 essay in The New York Times about being the only White House intern not hit on by JFK.  I felt a little robbed. I had been dining out on my own version of same story for years. Except in my decidedly less glamorous version, the aging but enthusiastic lothario was not the president of the United States but a magazine editor who hit on virtually every young female intern and hire on staff – except me.  One very young intern told the story of answering the phone at her apartment and fending off his telephone advances while her boyfriend and roommates collapsed with laughter beside her. (She was that young. She lived in a group apartment.) "Okay, what's was wrong with me?" I would rhetorically ask friends after hearing their stories.

And Nora didn’t just know romance. She knew family. These days, with a teenager and 10-year-old tweener on my hands, Nora's line  from I Feel Bad About My Neck, “When your children are teenagers, it’s important to have a dog so that someone in the house is happy to see you” has taken on a special meaning. Our tubby and sometimes smelly little brown mutt is always happy when I walk through the door or or at least fakes it instead of bellowing, "Mom, I'm hungry."

Was Nora the modern lady’s iChing, as posited by Alessandra Stanley in the New York Times? I can't go that far. With apologies to fans of When Harry Met Sally, she did have something to do with Billy Crystal to playing a romantic lead.

But I forgive her that and even in my unannointed anonymity I am sad, very sad, because I don't think that there is anyone out there making movies or writing essays who knows me like Nora knew me.

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