Gotham Diary:
In Place
2 December 2011

Last night, I had a ticket to a chamber concert at Weill Recital Hall, but I stayed home. I wasn’t feeling, as they say, “100%,” and I’d been out almost all day on Wednesday, the day before. One of the things that was making me feel less than “100%” was the dining table, which was covered with stacks of mail. The past couple of days have seen record intakes of catalogues, often duplicates, almost all of which would be thrown away. (Kathleen and I recently made the decision not to hold on to bedding catalogues. We buy bed linens on the punctured-equilibrium plan, four or five new sets at time, and during the two or three years that follow these sprees, we have no interest in shopping for more. Pitch ‘em.) I was supposed to deal with paperwork on Tuesday, but I didn’t feel well on Tuesday (I felt substantially below “100%” — sick, almost). Once upon a time, I could put off the stuff that “I was supposed to deal with on Tuesday” for quite a while, more than a week, even. But those days are over. Two days is all it takes to turn neglected paperwork into rotting fish.

Besides, I had some new ideas about organizing the paperwork, and I craved a stretch of quiet hours in which to test out the mechanics.

I promise you that I am not going to share any of my new ideas about organizing paperwork.

***

Perhaps you can tell, from some tics of style in the foregoing, that I’ve been reading Nora Efron. More accurately, I’ve been listening to Nora Efron, reading her book, I Feel Bad About My Neck. This book came out several years ago, by which time I’d read much of its content in The New Yorker. I bought the audio version because in those days, just after I’d broken my neck, I was religiously taking hourlong walks every day, and to divert myself from the views of pavement to which ankylosing spondylitis has condemned me, I listened to books instead of reading them. It was hard to find good titles, but that’s another story. It’s another story because, in the case of I Feel Bad About My Neck, I never opened the box. I never opened the box until Monday, when I re-introduced the regime of daily walks. I wouldn’t walk for an hour, but at least I’d get to the river.

I liked I Feel Bad About My Neck so much that I couldn’t stop listening to it when I got home. All through the preparation of dinner, I was entertained by Efron’s wry, faux self-deprecations. (People who write and direct popular comedies and still talk of “my friend, Bob Gottlieb” cannot seriously put themselves down). It was like being at a party, listening to someone very funny and wise. That happens! It doesn’t happen often, but it happens. I felt so convivial, listening to Efron talk about her romance with the Apthorpe (an apartment building on Broadway), that I drank a few too many glasses of Chablis on the rocks while I was getting dinner ready. That’s why I felt so far from “100%” on Tuesday.

I haven’t taken any more walks this week. Tuesday, I felt lousy. Wednesday, I ran errands in the neighborhood and was on my feet a great deal longer than I’d have been for taking a walk, so it’s not a total loss. Not to mention babysitting! Yesterday, I was saving my strength for an evening outing that did not take place. Today, I’ll go to the movies early (Hugo, I think), have a quick bite at Shake Shack maybe, and pick up fixings for dinner at Fairway. Even if I could take a walk, there wouldn’t be any more Nora Efron to listen to. I pretty much finished it off last night, staying home, making spaghetti alla carbonara. (I could treat myself to my second-favorite dish because Kathleen, who doesn’t care for it, had a bar association thing.) /This time, I did not have a drop of wine until I sat down to eat.

Nora Efron is an engaging, attractive reader of her own material, and I’m glad that she has made the recordings so that now for all time we will know how it ought to be read. The thing is, though, that feeling that I was at a party with Nora Efron kept reminding me of a real party that she was at. I wasn’t there, but James Wolcott was, and he writes about it in Lucking Out. He writes about having a short conversation with Efron at a party at (her friend) Mort Zuckerman’s.

At the end of our brief chat, at a loss for a swave way to take my leave, I inanely said to Nora, “Well, maybe we’ll run into each other sometime soon.” “I doubt it,” she said, not curtly, but as a clipped fact of life, spearing my empty pleasantry with a fish fork.

I suppose that the right way to regard this anecdote is to understand that, even when she is being mean, Nora Efron gives her victims good, funny copy.

***

After dinner, I poured what remained in the carafe back into the wine box in the refrigerator, filled a final mug of tea, and got to work on the papers. Having foreseen that this would be tedious work, I’d ordered a copy of When Harry Met Sally…, the 1989 classic written by Nora Efron, from the Video Room, and it had been promptly delivered, in plenty of time for my after-dinner sortings. I’d seen the movie only once before, not in the theatre, and found it so-so. It’s a screwball comedy, yes; the characters who turn out to be in love with one another must discover themselves first. But it’s fairly bleak screwball, because the humor lies almost entirely in the battle-of-the-sexes banter that Harry and Sally exchange. There is nothing in the movie to compare with, say, Cary Grant’s telling Irene Dunne that when she gets tired of Oklahoma City she can always go over to Tulsa. No, Meg Ryan’s fake orgasm is not comparable to Cary Grant saying that, or to Irene Dunne’s quip about the night-club dancer who calls herself Dixie Belle Lee. “I suppose it was easier for her to change her name than for her entire family to change their name.” When Harry Met Sally… is funny, but its lack of effervescence pulls it a long way down from the 100% of The Awful Truth.

I am not going to share any of my new ideas about organizing paperwork now. I am only going to mention one astounding insight: paperwork is never in place until you’re dead, so don’t go for it.