NOTES from the UNDERGROUND No. 151| September 23, 2008
The Laugh’s On…(who?)
Editor’s Notes: Maybe what the country needs in this dark hour (these dark times) is a little humor. The old fashioned kind. The kind of humor writers, skilled in the art of working words and situations into belly laughs, once served up in our daily newspapers and monthly magazines. There’s so longer room for that in our culture. Nothing in America seems funny anymore unless you’re sticking it to the other guy—weapons off satirical destruction. Making ‘fun of ‘ so-and-so, instead of finding the humor in common, everyday situations. Once upon a time there was also room in this culture for something called “self-deprecating humor.”
I was reminded of all this when I came upon the piece below by Nora Ephron. Which called to mind a recent incident (just a week or so before yet another birthday, alas) when I carried on a long conversation with ‘a stranger’—who obviously knew me –Norbert Blei
WHO ARE YOU?
I Know You
I KNOW you. I know you well. It’s true I always have a little trouble with your name, but I do know your name. I just don’t know it at this moment. We’re at a big party. We’ve kissed hello. We’ve had a de¬lightful conversation about how we are the two last people on the face of the earth who don’t kiss on both cheeks. Now we’re having a conversation about how phony all the people are who do kiss on both cheeks. Ha ha ha ha ha ha. You’re so charming. If only I could re¬member your name. It’s inexcusable that I don’t. You’ve been to my house for dinner. I tried to read your last book. I know your girlfriend’s name, or I al¬most know it. It’s something like Chanelle. Only it’s not. Chantelle? That’s not it either. Fortunately she isn’t here, so I haven’t forgotten both of your names. I’m becoming desperate. It’s something like Larry. Is it Larry? No, it’s not. Jerry? No, it’s not. But it ends in a Y. Your last name: three syllables. Starts with a C. Starts with a G? I’m los¬ing my mind. But a miracle occurs: the host is about to toast the guest of honor. Thank God. I can escape to the bar. I will spend the rest of the night scrolling through the alphabet in an attempt to come up with your name. If I fail, there’s always Google. If only I could re¬member what that last book was about.
Have We Met?
Have we met? I think we’ve met. But I can’t be sure. We were introduced, but I didn’t catch your name because it’s so noisy at this party. I’m going to assume we know each other, and I’m not going to say, “Nice to meet you.” If I say, “Nice to meet you,”, I know what will happen. You’ll say, “We’ve met.” You’ll say “We’ve met” in a sort of aggressive, irritable tone. And you won’t even tell me your name so I can recover in some way. So I’m not going to say, “Nice to * meet you.” I’m going to say, “Nice to see you.” I’ll have a big smile on my face. I won’t look desperate. But what I’ll be thinking is, please throw me your name. Please, please, please. Give me a hint. My husband is likely to walk up, and I’ll have to introduce you, and I won’t be able to, and you’ll know that I have no idea who you are even though we prob¬ably spent an entire weekend together on a boat in 1984. And even though I have a secret signal with my husband that involves my pinching him very hard on the upper arm, a signal that means, “Throw your name at this per¬son because I have no idea whom I’m talking to,” my husband always forgets the secret signal and can’t be counted on to respond to my pinching, even when it produces a bruise. I would like to chew my husband out about his forgetfulness on this point, but I’m not ex¬actly in a position to do so since I myself have forgotten (if I ever knew it) the name of the person I’m talking to.
Old friends? We must be. You’re de¬lighted to see me. I’m delighted to see you. But who are you? Oh, my God, you’re Jane. I can’t believe it. Jane. “Jane! How are you? It’s been — how long has it been?” I’d like to suggest that the reason I didn’t recognize you right off the bat is that you’ve done something to your hair, but you’ve done nothing to your hair, nothing that would excuse my not recog¬nizing you. What you’ve actually done is’ gotten older. 1 don’t believe it. You used to be my age, and how you’re much, much, much older than I am. You could be my mother. Unless of course I look as old as you and I don’t know it. Which is not pos¬sible. Or is it? I’m looking around the room and I notice that everyone in it looks like someone — and when I try to figure out exactly who that someone is, it turns out to be a former version of herself, a thinner version or a healthier version or a pre-plastic-surgery version or a taller ver¬sion. If this is true of everyone, it must be true of me. Mustn’t it? But never mind: you are speaking. “Maggie,” you say, “it’s been so long.” “I’m not Maggie,” I say. “Oh, my God,” you say, “It’s you. I didn’t recognize you. You’ve done something to your hair.”
Nora Ephron, the author, most recently, of “I Feel Bad About My Neck: And Other Thoughts on Being a Woman,” is a contributing columnist/or The Times.
[From: The New York Times, August 12, 2007]
Nora Ephron, acclaimed essayist, novelist, screenwriter and director was born May 19, 1941 New York City. She is the daughter of screenwriting team, Pheobe and Henry Ephron, who wrote classic screenplays such as, There’s No Business Like Show Business, What Price Glory and Desk Set. She is the oldest of four sisters, Delia, Amy and Hallie. The Ephrons were a family that valued verbal jousting, and in an article in Vanity Fair one Ephron sister compared the family dinner table to the Algonquin Round Table. Ephron grew up in a household where both parents abused alcohol, but she has never let her sometimes difficult childhood defeat her.
Ephron graduated from Wellesley in 1962 with a degree in journalism, and became a reporter for the New York Post. In her autobiographical speech, Adventures Screenwriting, Ephron reveals that in college all she could think about was going to New York and becoming a journalist. She became one of the counrty’s best known journalists with her work in Esquire, New York Times Magazine and New York Magazine. Two collections of her essays, Crazy Salad and Scribble, Scribble were bestsellers, along with her novel, Heartburn, an account of the breakup of her marriage. Ephron was married to writer, Dan Greenburg before marrying Watergate journalist, Carl Bernstein. The couple had two sons, Jacob, 21 and Max, 20. It was the breakup with Bernstein that prompted her novel Heartburn. In 1987, Ephron married Nicholas Pileggi, a journalist and screenwriter. He wrote Wiseguys, which later became Goodfellas. Ephron lives on the Upper West Side of Manhattan with her husband.