Thursday, June 28, 2012

Nora Ephron and Lima Beans

No one will ever convince me Nora is gone--she was too contemporary, too smart, too funny, and we didn't even know she was sick.  Very few people knew--she was just that dignified, cool, and unwhiny.  If she was, as I think I just read somewhere, diagnosed in 2006, she stayed that dignified, cool, and unwhiny for six years--and spent at least one of them making Julia and Julia.  

Ever since I heard the news, my dissolving brain has been repeating the same seven words:  If Nora can die, then anyone can.   And since my brain is dissolving (or since, as Nora so perfectly put it, I Remember Nothing), I have no idea what those words even mean.  I spent the whole morning trying to remember when, where, and even if I'd ever written about her, and finally gave up and let Google (who remembers everything) figure it out.  Which of course it did (see below).

Horrifyingly enough, I do not recall having read these words, let alone having written them, and I completely forgot about our both liking lima beans.  I actually have some in my freezer right now and I'm going to cook them up tonight on my hotplate. Yes, after six years, still the sad hotplate.  But the one I have now at least has two burners, and if that isn't progress I just don't know what.

Failing At Living
San Francisco Chronicle
Saturday, September 16, 2006

No one has suffered like Nora Ephron -- well, except for me

I've loved Nora Ephron ever since I read "Heartburn," her 1983 roman a clef about getting dumped -- while seven months pregnant with their second child -- by her lowdown husband, dog Carl Bernstein.

Because I was convinced she and I shared the same leaky boat (albeit mine a mere dinghy beside her Titanic), her anguish stabbed me anew with each page. The sharper her wit, the deeper the stab.

She felt, I could tell, savagely butchered, salted and seared. Not unlike a steak which, if she'd cooked it, would have been bathed in a marinade first and served with a ball of fresh tarragon butter.

That was the other thing I loved about Nora. She not only confessed to her life's being ruined, she detailed said ruination's cuisine. She even gave recipes. I, of course, tried them.

We had, I was certain, a cosmic connection. After all, had I not, before ever hearing of "Heartburn," published my very first essay and called it "Cuisine of a Failed Romance"?

Were our two titles not interchangeable?

Did Nora, with her two failed marriages, and I, with my two failed whatevers, not both long for the very same things -- a sane man to love, a kitchen to cook in, and, oh yeah, successful writing careers? Had Nora not begun hers by addressing, in Esquire magazine, her failure to grow gargantuan breasts? Had I not failed to grow breasts as well?

To all questions, a deafening yes.

Nora, I knew, was the eldest of three writing sisters, and I hungered to join their sisterly team. Or at least be seen as a tagalong cousin. Cousin Itt maybe. The wee Ephronette.

When "Heartburn" came out as a blockbuster movie, I wrote a column dissecting the folly of letting two Jews be played by the goyim. (Right, like I wouldn't want Meryl Streep playing me?)

I sobbed all through "When Harry Met Sally" because it was hilarious and I didn't write it.

Oh the horrible horror of envy. Not one of my screenplays ever got off the page. Unless you count Andrew Dice Clay reading the "Pretend You're Sensitive Handbook" in an '88 movie called "Casual Sex?" whose script I "punched up" while going insane in a cottage in the producer's backyard. In Beverly Hills, mind you, where Nora had once gone to high school with starlets and blondes. Another reason I just had to love her. She'd survived that experience. Survived it? She'd thrived!

Nora's triumphs -- from turning her failings into a best-seller to imbuing her work with her passion for food -- were coups I could sort of relate to, at least. But when she became a real live director, I could only regard her with jaw-dropping awe. Directing a film required such genius and massive self confidence that just thinking about it made me pass out.

Which was good, because when you can't relate, you can't envy, either. I finally, sadly, accepted the fact that we did, after all, come from disparate planets.

Until a few millennia later when I saw the logo at the top of this column. I had no idea I was getting a logo, but when this happy surprise appeared in the paper, I recalled in an instant what Nora had said: "When you slip on a banana peel, people laugh at you; but when you tell people you slipped on a banana peel, it's your laugh." Or something like that. Boy, was she smart.

Actually, it was her mother who'd said it to her, and I just read the passage again in Nora's new book "I Feel Bad About My Neck and Other Thoughts About Being a Woman." Since I too feel bad about my neck, not to mention what lurks above and below it, I felt that cosmic connection spark up, the sisterly bond, the rapture resumed.

Once gain Nora is speaking the truth, this time about getting older. People do not, in fact, age like fine wine, and the years are not golden so much as jaundiced by losing your friends forever and always. Mortality looms. And then there's the neck.

"Right on, Nora!" I would have said to myself if I were a person who made such remarks. The point is, she made me feel better. I'd known for years I had entered the Crone Zone, and now I knew she was right there beside me.

But then, oops, I read on:

"Here are some questions I am constantly noodling over. Do you splurge or do you hoard? Do you live every day as if it's your last or do you save your money on the chance you'll live 20 more years? Is life too short or is to going to be too long? Do you work as hard as you can, or do you slow down to smell the roses? Are we really going to have to spend our last years avoiding bread especially now that bread in America is so unbelievably delicious?"

Nora, I recalled with a jolt, wasn't beside me in the Crone Zone at all, but beside her third husband, writer and mensch Nick Pileggi. Plus, she's been beside him for the past 20 years, all through which she's probably cooked on a stove with, at minimum, six working burners. As for the question of "splurging or hoarding," I happen to know that every time Meg Ryan sneezes, Nora's income is squared and then cubed. Or something like that. Am I an accountant?

I don't know why she feels bad about her neck. Personally, I think if you have a husband who knew your neck when you both still felt good about it, no one cares how much it disintegrates. The experience of the good neck is, you know, internalized. Anyway, I can't imagine a man like Nick leaving a woman like Nora over something so banal as a neck.

Then again, it wasn't my neck that was publicly guillotined by the grand executioner named Carl Bernstein.

Talk about internalization. An experience like that can make a gal feel bad to the end of her days. Trust me, I know. I still have nightmares about my whatevers and even I don't remember their names.

OK, so Nora and I really are just the same!

Except for the man and, you know, the money. Plus the fact that I now have only one burner to cook on. And as horrified as I am by my neck, it's as nothing compared to the implications of doom that radiate from my hotplate.

OK, so Nora and I have nothing in common. Except for lima beans. She likes them, too. 


  1. Lima beans rock! Almost as much as Nora and you. And then there is the guilty pleasure called succotash. . .

  2. I love lima beans too. I think we're sibs ... all of us!