A few years ago, I watched an episode of Oprah where the topic was aging. One her guests was Nora Ephron and she had just published I Feel Bad About My Neck. Ms. Ephron was so funny and so true! I never forgot her humorous comments about getting older and decided to add her book to my book club reading list.
I Feel Bad About My Neck (and other thoughts on being a woman) is a collection of short writings on all kinds of topics, not necessarily about aging. I wished she had narrowed her focus, because the book seemed to jump from all kinds of topics like hair color, handbags, apartments and politics. They really didn’t connect. Ephron is, however, very funny and so I found I could still enjoy the book even though the reflections weren’t seamless, and even though she interjected her political opinions.
A couple of Ephron’s pieces were very interesting to me. The chapter entitled “Moving On”, where she talked about her fabulous upper west side apartment, made me reminisce about my young adulthood in New York City. Ephron lands a $1,500 a month, 8 bedroom, rent-controlled apartment, and it only costs her $24,000 in key money. Key money, for those who aren’t familiar with the dark side of New York City housing, is a bribe you pay for the privilege of getting said apartment. The owner does not receive this money. In Ephron’s case, the bribe was paid to the former tenant. Sometimes it’s the building manager, the super, or a family member of a deceased tenant. My upper west side digs was a single room – roughly 10 foot by 10 foot, that costs $280 a month. It was part of a larger apartment that had been divided into several units, each tenant sharing the same bathroom and kitchen. Did I mention that I had a roommate? We had a bunk bed built-in and called it a loft. I remember visiting the great-aunt of a friend who had a gorgeous apartment near Union Square. It was the first time I realized that large gorgeous apartments existed in New York City. The elderly lady lived there with her friend, and they had both been Rockettes in the old days. They proudly told me they only paid $400 per month. In Ephron’s book, she tells how in the early 90’s, some of the war against rent control was won. Apparently, the owners of buildings could increase the rent to fair market value if the tenants made over $250,000 per year. Ephron was downcast as her apartment rent increased to $10,000 per month and she was forced to move. Just imagine the feelings of the tenants who paid $250,000 in key money to live in the same building! I’ve always felt that rent control was a bad thing. I don’t live in New York City anymore, so I have no idea how that battle has fared. For me, it meant that young people had to sleep six to a studio apartment so that people like Ephron and my friend’s aunt could live in luxury.
Another chapter called “Considering the Alternative” dealt with death and dying. Ephron experienced the death of a close friend and is forced to face those possibilities in her own life. It’s a scary thought, and especially knowing that Ephron did succumb to leukemia just last year, it’s extremely poignant. I had a good friend who lost her life to that same disease. She died with love and grace, and I think she would agree with Ephron that life is a gift – don’t be miserly with it. In Ephron’s words:
“But if the events of the last few years have taught me anything, it’s that I’m going to feel like an idiot if I die tomorrow and I skimped on bath oil today.”
3 stars (out of 5)
Published in 2006