She Always Wears Black

My first job was in a bookstore. The store was called Martindale’s who along with his store and so many others is long gone. It was not your ordinary first job. To this day I can remember the smell of the new books and the distinctive scent they created in that relatively small space.

Even then I knew the books, knew their titles, and authors. I could tell people what they were about and, without much of effort, get them to buy the book, and then one or two others as well. I have utterly no idea how I was able to this, especially at that age, long before I had ever heard of “Literature.”

It was the young girl who worked with me that made that summer so unforgettable. Her name was N, the clever, sprightly N, now well known for her literary and cinematic wit. I had a blazing crush on her that summer at Martindale’s. Those who know N may be aware she is slightly cross-eyed. What young man could resist that?

And N could talk. She was clever, funny and bright. We spent all the time we were there bantering and jesting with one another. It is a mystery how we managed to get anything done or sell any books, or remember to give the proper change to those well-healed customers.

I am sure N has no recollection of me or our “brief encounter” at Martindale’s Bookstore or probably even working there. But every time I hear about her or see one of her films, I remember the summer of my very first job. Books, magazines, paperbacks, and the beautiful cross-eyed girl who talked with me. Her name is Nora Ephron and she is profiled by Ariel Levy in this week’s New Yorker.

Levy confirms everything we know about Nora. She is charming, talented, full of surprises and hilarious remarks. I am certain she is as much fun as she was when I knew her, ever so briefly. She not only writes film scripts (among them When Harry Met Sally, Sleepless in Seattle, You’ve Got Mail, Heartburn, Silkwood, etc), she writes articles and essays, she blogs, cooks terrific meals, and knows everyone. Levy writes, “She can tell you who the doctor is for what you’ve got. She can tell you when to forget something, let it go. Where the best food is. Wheat the greatest new idea for cooking this or that is. She knows.”

I’ve always imaged Nora much like Meg Ryan’s depiction of Sally. And Levy, who knows her well, says much the same, “When Ephron knows that she knows something, or knows that she wants something, she does not hesitate to say so. She is like Meg Ryan’s character in When Harry Met Sally. I just want it the way I want it, Sally tells Harry, about her habit of ordering, say a piece of apple pie a la mode with the ice cream on the side, strawberry instead of vanilla if it’s an option, and, if it’s not, then whipped cream, but only if its real.”

Nora was raised by her screen writing parents in Los Angeles. She says the tone of the household was upbeat and that it felt like growing up in a sitcom. When they became “unglued” as Levy puts it, Nora almost shrugged it off. She told Levy, “I’m very into denial.” And later, “I don’t mean that you can’t have your feelings hurt or that you can’t sit at home and feel sorry for yourself—briefly…But then I think you have to just start typing and do the next thing.”

Levy says and I couldn’t agree more that her essays and articles are “vivid and cunning and crackling with her personality.” In one of her essays in I Feel Bad about My Neck, she says “Sometimes I think that not having to worry about your hair anymore is the secret upside of death.”

Many people seem to be intimated by her. Levy quotes Meryl Streep as saying, “She always wears black and she’s so cool and she always has the perfect bon mot to toss off just effortlessly. I mean, who can be like that?” No doubt Ephron feels much the same about Streep.

I’ve thought about writing Ephron to remind her of our memorable affair at Martindale’s. But I haven’t been able to find her e-mail address or where to write her. In both cases, I first need to contact her agent. That isn’t very promising. So until I do, I will be more than content to remember our times together and enjoy reading her hilarious articles in the New Yorker. As Levy notes early in her profile, “People need sarcasm, Ephron seems to think, but they also need fairy tales.”