Dear Ms. Ephron,
You should be ashamed of yourself. Taking two impressionable young girls, stuffing their heads with lies and montages and Godfather quotes. You ruined us, spoiled for life, lost with no grip on reality. We’re ready to go to the mattresses!
Actually, let’s back up. This letter comes to you in three parts. Part one: gratitude.
We would be remiss if we didn’t start things off with a big fat thank you. Thank you for hours of entertainment, for tugging at our heartstrings and our tear ducts and for making us laugh until we hurt. Thank you for witty repartee and soundtracks we could groove to for days, for utterly charming romances and Meg Ryan’s bob. Thank you for making daisies our favorite flower and for giving us an appropriate phrase to describe a head cold, for teaching us about interior decorating (wagon wheel tables, no; daisy sheets, yes) and classic cinema (for us, it’s you who made the Empire State Building romantic, but we get the Affair to Remember references, too). And most of all, thank you for making us fall in love with the city we now call home.
You were our first, you see. The first glimpse of skyscrapers peeking through fall foliage, of brownstones and Met galleries, of Washington Square and Riverside Park. You gave us a city bathed in sepia-toned light, full of spacious apartments, charming neurotics, farmers markets and bookstores and spontaneous street fairs high on carnival rides and low on discount t-shirts. And we fell for it all: hook, line, and sinker.
So we’re grateful. For the daydreams, for the bonding with friends and mothers and strangers on planes creeping on our laptop screens. We were drawn to the sunny city you spun for us, full of romance and dazzling conversation and late-night musings over mugs of tea curled up in the corner of our spacious Upper West Side apartment. We counted down the days until we, too, would be New Yorkers with all that entailed: a fulfilling job with charmingly quirky co-workers whom we loved like family, afternoons at museums with dryly funny Jewish men, orgasmically good bagels and schmear, and, of course, a passionate, sweet, epic romance with a man who would run through the streets of New York to kiss us on New Year’s Eve.
Then, we arrived. Which brings us to part two: indignation and disappointment.
Because the New York we found was not the one you promised us. In this world, uncinematic as it is, we spend approximately 0.001% of our time on the Upper West Side, with its brownstones and tree-lined streets. Our apartments would fit inside Kathleen Kelly’s kitchen. We avoid the Empire State Building, and all similarly mobbed tourist attractions, like the plague. And we have never, not in a million years, seen a butterfly on the subway.
That’s not to say that some things you told us weren’t true. We do love New York in the fall, especially on the rare occasions when we manage to make the 45 minute subway trek to Central Park. The landscape around us is constantly changing, only now it’s the big box bookstores being replaced by something depressing, like a Baby Gap. And Starbucks orders can be used as an accurate barometer of a person’s personality and level of decisiveness.
But as for the rest of it, you ruined us. Fed us lie upon well-intentioned lie about the beauty and romance that awaited us in the city. To put a spin on your own words, when you watch a movie as a child it becomes a part of your identity in a way no other film does. And so we arrived, brimming with hope and unrealistic expectations, and every pee-scented subway car with a screaming lunatic in the corner just drove home the fact that this was not the city we were promised. We have yet to meet our Joe Fox, or our Harry Burns, or our Sam Baldwin. We haven’t even found a Jess or a George. When we watch your movies now, the love is mixed with a tinge of resentment and a healthy dose of cynical perspective. A street fair where they don’t try to sell you anything, other than balloons and goldfish? An independent business with four full-time employees and canvas shopping bags? A cappuccino for $2.95? We’ve wised up to you now, Nora. Go ahead and file these movies under fantasy.
As we continue to concede the fact that we live in New York City, for better or worse, at least for the moment, we arrive at part three: acceptance. So our apartment will never look like Kathleen’s. So nobody’s running through the streets to sweep us off our feet. So the closest we get to the life we imagined is grocery shopping around Thanksgiving. We guess that’s part of growing up: learning to reconcile adolescent fantasy with the brutal, expensive reality of the everyday.
You ruined us, through and through. But we have to admit, especially as the leaves change color and the air grows crisp and the school supply displays pop up in our Duane Reade, we’re grateful. Because New York in the fall is pretty damn awesome, even if it is outside a movie.
Zelda and Scout
P.S. In our ever so humble opinion, a karaoke machine is an AWESOME wedding present. Or just general life present. Please put it on our registry. For life. Thanks.
You’ve Got Mail paints a beautiful New York City; autumn leaves and beautiful cafes on the Upper West Side. It’s a New York I believe in. I’m sure it would be considered cooler for me to see New York the way Marin Scorcese or Woody Allen does; but the New York I love is the Nora Ephron version.
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On a related note, I love Nora Ephron’s essays. What a woman.