Nora Ephron's voice was one that led me, a young Black gay man from North Carolina, to find my way to New York City many years ago. I was driven to call New York City home due in part to an image I saw in the World Book Encyclopedia of the city's skyline with the World Trade Center's Twin Towers front and center, like two beacons telling me that "all were welcome"...
The other inspiration to move to New York City was due in part to the many films that featured the city -- or gave it prominence as a lead character, albeit with no dialogue. Woody Allen's "Manhattan" and "Annie Hall" and Neil Simon's "The Goodbye Girl" were early visions of how I imagined sophisticated New Yorkers lived and spoke, though the characters in those films were a little more 'advanced' to my 12 year-old mind. It wasn't until I saw "When Harry Met Sally", and met the flawed and wonderful characters of that film that I knew what my New York City would be and for that, I am forever grateful to Ms. Ephron.
Over the past 17 years, I have weathered the highs and lows of life in New York City: the never ending monologues over relationships gone awry while at brunch with friends, work struggles and the fear of 'not being happy'; encounters of the glamorous kind -- dinners with supermodels and movie stars who have posed for a throng of paparazzi and then grabbed my arm with a quick whisper of "I'm not doing this alone, Freddy", or vacations that begin with a flight on a private jet and end with a sunset toast at a sprawling vacation home of some captain of industry. All of this, I did, imagining myself a character in a Nora Ephron script, with the just the right amount of cynicism, awe and "it's just another day in my life" mentality, because little ol' Fred Howard from Fayetteville, North Carolina was living out his fantasy of being an adult in New York.
In January of 2011, my friends Bryan Fox and Sandy Gallin, the talent manager and film producer, invited me to see their good friend, Jon Robin Baitz's play "Other Desert Cities" at Lincoln Center. I arrived about 20 minutes before curtain and Sandy said, "Nick and Nora are joining us too!" I had no idea who they were, but I replied "I love The Charleses!" My own little joke about my love of the classic "Thin Man" series and it's chic mystery-solving lead characters. The Nick and Nora of that chilly evening, were of course Nick Pileggi and Nora Ephron -- and I was in New York City sophisticate heaven. Seated in the theater before the show, both were warm and gracious and after the show, as we collecting our coats, the discussion moved to dinner afterwards. Having already attended the theater with two couples, and not ready to be a fifth wheel, I announced I would pass on dinner and head home. Nora turned to me and said, "Who will you discuss the play with? You have to join us so we can all talk about it! We'll have a quick bite and then call it an evening...."
The meal at the restaurant Lincoln was not very memorable -- not because the food wasn't good, but because the company was so much more delicious than the taglaitelle. Being seated for several hours with two writers whose words I had spent half of my adult-life soaking up was something I had never imagined. As I left that evening with a handshake and pat on the back from Nick, I received a hug from Nora. Having spent the evening discussing the play, the menu of Lincoln, and my father's recipe for macaroni and cheese, I felt too self-conscious to say "I'm a huge fan". So instead I simply said "thanks for everything!" And I meant everything: the meal, the wine, the evening, the conversation and of course her wonderful, wonderful words.