Nora Ephron: In The New York Times

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In the kitchen sink, breakfast dishes soaked in tepid water. In the bathroom, damp clothes dangled from the shower rod. Although I resisted reading the open letters lying about, I read the contents of the apartment like a book, fascinated by the arc of lives different from my own. Nick and Nora appeared to have spent a fortune to furnish an urban flat as if it were a shabby-chic farmhouse. This was the opposite of what people in Italy did—upgrade rural hovels into sumptuous villas. I mentioned my name, which meant nothing to him, and explained that I was house-sitting.

I guess Nora calmed him down. Carl never phoned again. But a garrulous gentleman rousted me out of bed the next day. I had to interrupt and ask who he was. Drunk-dialing from Hollywood, where the sun had yet to rise over the Angeles Crest, Henry was eager for an audience. In me he had found one, and he phoned every morning, as reliable as a wake-up service. I depended on those calls to get my day off to a rollicking start, and as my time at the Apthorp wound down, I told Henry I would miss him.

I never heard back from Nick and Nora, and feared I had committed some unforgiveable faux pas. Although I had gathered the underpants and socks off the floor, and washed the dishes in the sink, perhaps I had erred in not ironing the clothes on the shower rod. Or did Nora object to my daily chats with her slightly soused father? Letting you live in their place was no big deal to them. The professor had just put the bicycle back out in the hall, and he, too, was waiting inside his front door hoping to catch the accountant in the act of once again moving it.

Both of us stood there idiotically looking through the sheer curtains on our glass-panelled front doors. At that moment, the professor flung his door open and began shouting at the accountant, whom, incidentally, he towered over.

Nora Ephron dies aged 71

Within seconds, he lost it completely and slugged the accountant. It was incredibly exciting. The accountant called the police. The police arrived in short order. Since I, owing to my nosiness, had been a witness to the incident, I invited myself to the meeting with the police and my neighbors. Each man told his version of events, and then I told mine. I have to say that mine was the best version, since it included a short, extremely insightful, and probably completely irrelevant digression about the impatience that childless people have for people with children and bicycles.

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You had to be there. Anyway, when we were all finished one of the policemen shook his head and stood up.

A Farewell to Nora Ephron, Dish by Dish

Eventually, I began to have a recurring dream about the Apthorp—or, to be accurate, a recurring nightmare. Around , rumors began to spread that there was about to be a change in the rent laws: under certain circumstances, rent stabilization could be abolished, and landlords would be able to raise rents to something known as fair-market value. I refused to pay any attention. My neighbors were obsessed with what might happen; they suggested that our rents might be raised to eight or ten thousand dollars a month.

I thought that they were being unbelievably neurotic. It would never be tampered with. I was willing to concede well, not too willing that under certain circumstances there might be some justice in the new law; I could understand that you could make a case a weak case that people like me had been getting away with a form of subsidized housing for years; I could see dimly that the landlords were entitled to something. But I was sure that if our rents were raised the hike would be a reasonable one. After all, the tenants in the building were a family.

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The landlords understood that. They would never do anything so unreasonable as to double or triple our rents. I went blithely about my business. And then the building hired a manager named Barbara Ross. Miss Ross was a small, frightening woman with pale-white skin, bright-red lips, and a huge, jet-black beehive of hair on top of her head. The beehive was so outsized and bizarre that it reminded me of the nineteen-fifties urban legend about the woman who teased her hair so much that cockroaches moved in.

Nora Ephron on Turtlenecks and Aging ⎢Martha Stewart

Her voice dripped honey, which made her even more terrifying. She was either forty years old or seventy, no one knew.

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She wore pink silk shantung suits with gigantic shoulder pads. She lurked everywhere. She lived in New Jersey, but she spent Thursday nights in the building office, and rumor had it that she sneaked around in her bare feet, trying to catch the elevator operators napping. She issued memos discouraging children from playing ball in the courtyard. She repaved the courtyard and covered the cobblestones with tar. She had a way of coming upon you in the hallway and making you feel guilty even if you were entirely innocent.

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Meanwhile, the unthinkable happened. The state legislature passed a luxury-decontrol law stating that any tenant whose rent was more than two thousand dollars a month and who earned more than two hundred and fifty thousand dollars a year would automatically be removed from rent stabilization. I could understand the new law applying to new tenants, but how on earth could it apply to those of us who had lived in the building for years under the implicit bargain involved in rent stabilization? It was totally unfair! It was completely unjust! It was wrong! It was practically unconstitutional!

It was also, of course, not remotely compelling to anyone in the outside world. I made a very decent living. I was going to have my rent raised. And no one cared. I was in love. Cecilia on a scrap of oilcloth; I was a character in a story about mass delusion and the madness of crowds. I was, in short, completely nuts. And so I went to see Miss Ross. As I recall, I gave a tender speech about my love for the building.

Nora Ephron, Essayist, Screenwriter and Director, Dies at 71 - The New York Times

It was fantastically moving, if not to her. She informed me that my rent was going to be tripled. We negotiated. She dropped the price. She dropped it just enough for me to believe that I had managed a small victory.