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When Brian Met Nora Ephron

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I had the pleasure of knowing Nora Ephron. I am saddened but also celebrating Nora, so I wanted to share. Once I asked Nora about her experience at Huff Post and she said, "Before I can finish my thoughts, Arianna has a team working on it." She was a special lady.

"I am no one from nowhere." That is how I started my conversation with Nora Ephron. I meant it and she grinned back at me across the table of a crowded restaurant on the Upper East Side of Manhattan.

Over a year prior to our lunch, I'd bid on a meet and greet with Nora Ephron on CharityBuzz.com, an auction site that benefits charities. The proceeds of our meeting went to Rosie's Broadway Kids foundation. To be honest, I wasn't even sure it would happen, it took a year to schedule the meeting. I literally was, and am, nobody to someone like Nora Ephron. I bid on the auction feverishly and at the last minute outbid someone for five times the appraised value of the auction for a lunch in NYC with Nora. It was the deal of a lifetime for me. I loved her movies, but even more, I loved her words. I had every book and the older movies on VHS. I am a Nora Ephr-fan.

The charity contacted me and asked for dates to set up a lunch in NYC with Ms. Ephron. I placed my bid and won on December 3, 2009. I had an instant moment of panic when I realized I had to pay what I had bid. I wanted to wait and meet her in the spring, planning my own New York fantasy vacation. But life got in the way. I injured myself and couldn't travel, Nora had a book tour, and one thing and then another. We went on for over a year scheduling and re-scheduling. I always knew it would happen, we just had to find the right time and I tried every month.

Then, magically, I was told that Nora had an opening on Monday, February 28, 2011. I booked my flight on February 23 and couldn't sleep at all that night.

The next morning I realized that Monday was the day after the Oscars. How could I have lunch with Nora Ephron the day after the Oscars, when I hadn't even seen the nominated films? I could die. I feared I might drown in my own sweat that night. Thankfully, Nora wasn't going and had not been nominated. I decided it was more important to worry over my clothes.

I arrived an hour early for our lunch. I paced in front of the deli on Madison Avenue. My heart was beating through my chest. What was I going to say? Why had I come all this way? Why did I spend this money? Why is my tie so tight? Did I put on deodorant? This may not end well. I sat as calmly as I could on the edge of a bench two doors down from the restaurant with a bag of bath oils. I knew Nora had a favorite bath oil from reading her books, and I decided it was better to play it safe than be original.

I went in and got a table at the window and waited for Nora's arrival. She arrived punctually and I bounded for the door as soon as I saw her walking up the street. I threw open the door and said, "Mrs. Ephron, I believe I am your lunch date." She smiled and led the way into the restaurant. I told her I had a table for us already. She took one look and said, " No, no one wants to sit in the window." She stopped the host and said we'd be sitting in the back corner. And, just like that, we did.

We made small talk. She ordered about ten different salads and we shared. I was shaking under the table as she strongly encouraged me to try the egg salad. I'd never had egg salad despite being from Tennessee. From that day on, it was Nora Ephron's egg salad. Nora was exactly what I expected: sharp, quick-witted and kind more than anything else. She gave me career advice without being a cheerleader. She read my work and told me it was good, and I almost fainted. I said, "Nora, you don't have to say that. I paid for this lunch." She insisted that she was buying lunch and she was honest. She told me that she knew a little about my home town and she had friends in Nashville. I asked her who, making a joke that it was a small town. She turned to me with a clever grin and slyly asked, " Do you know Ke$ha?" I am sitting across from Nora Ephron and she asks me if I know the pop sensation Ke$ha? Well, it turns out her son is in the band. Nora told me she'd enjoyed bacon from the Lovelace Cafe in Nashville and she wanted to visit. We talked about vacations and places we had been and wanted to visit. Nora was charming and I was in love.

After lunch I thanked her for her time, and expected our two hours had come to a close. She walked me to the end of the block and asked what I was doing next. I told her I had no plans, and she put her arm in mine and we walked down the block. I wanted to visit the Ralph Lauren store and she told me all about it. As we walked, we passed by a bakery that said it was the "very best chocolate cake in the world." She insisted we had to try it. So we went in and split two pieces of cake. What is better, I ask you? We wandered down the street and made small talk and I walked Nora to her building before going over to the store to shop. Of course, my head was swimming and I raced back to the hotel to call my sister and tell her all about my lunch.

For more than a year, we exchanged emails and recipes. Nora gave me her egg salad recipe and emailed me the next day to tell me to mix it with knife because a fork would mash the eggs too much. I told her how I liked to microwave a frozen chocolate cake so you could get just the right amount of gooey hot chocolate and chilled cake. For her 70th birthday, I sent her a gift basket from the breakfast place in Nashville she liked. I received the following email:

You are so adorable and kind to send me THE MOST FABULOUS PACKAGE OF GOODIES. I cannot wait to make this bacon, try this biscuit mix, and put jam all over it. Hope you are good and happy .... Thank you thank you. xx Nora

My heart is heavy today. I am sad because I lost a friend but selfishly I will miss her words. I want to see another movie, read another book and get another emailed recipe.

Someone said that Nora had a knack for making the most ordinary people also the most extraordinary characters. I know that this was not just a talent, but also the heart of Nora Ephron: an amazingly brilliant woman who was sensationally kind and relatable.

Egg Salad from Nora Ephron:

This is literally how she wrote it to me:
  • Throw away at least 1/4 of the whites. Maybe even 1/3 of the whites.
  • Add a bunch of Hellmann's mayonnaise and blend with knives, but don't mash it up with a fork.
  • Salt & pepper.
  • Also you could put in a tiny bit of chopped fresh dill but that is optional.

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