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Authors: Nora Ephron

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Wallflower at the Orgy

BOOK: Wallflower at the Orgy
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Praise for Nora Ephron

“Her finely honed wit is as fresh as ever.”

People

“Nora Ephron has become timeless.”

Los Angeles Times

“A wickedly witty and astute writer.”

Boston Globe

“Wry and amusing … Marvelous.”

Washington Post Book World

ALSO BY NORA EPHRON

FICTION

Heartburn

ESSAYS

I Feel Bad About My Neck
Scribble Scribble
Crazy Salad

DRAMA

Imaginary Friends

SCREENPLAYS

Bewitched
(with Delia Ephron)
Hanging Up
(with Delia Ephron)
You’ve Got Mail
(with Delia Ephron)
Michael
(with Jim Quinlan, Pete Dexter, and Delia Ephron)
Mixed Nuts
(with Delia Ephron)
Sleepless in Seattle
(with David S. Ward and Jeff Arch)
This Is My Life
(with Delia Ephron)
My Blue Heaven
When Harry Met Sally …
Cookie
(with Alice Arlen)
Heartburn
Silkwood
(with Alice Arlen)

WALLFLOWER AT THE ORGY
A Bantam Book / published by arrangement with the author

PUBLISHING HISTORY
Viking edition published October 1970
Bantam edition / July 1980
Bantam trade paperback reissue / July 2007

These stories originally appeared in
Esquire, Cosmopolitan, Eye, Holiday, New York
, the
New York Times Book Review
, and the
New York Times Magazine
in slightly different form. “If You’re a Little Mouseburger, Come With Me. I Was a Mouseburger And I Will Help You.” originally appeared in
Esquire
under the title “Helen Gurley Brown Only Wants to Help.”

Published by
Bantam Dell
A Division of Random House, Inc.
New York, New York

All rights reserved
Copyright © 1967, 1968, 1969, 1970, 1971 by Nora Ephron
Introduction © 1980 by Nora Ephron

Library of Congress Catalog Card Number: 73125948

Bantam Books and the rooster colophon are registered trademarks of Random House, Inc.

eISBN: 978-0-307-79693-6

www.bantamdell.com

v3.1

THIS BOOK IS FOR DAN

Contents
Preface to the 1980 Edition

WALLFLOWER AT THE ORGY
, my first collection, was published in 1970. It contains the first group of articles I sold to magazines after I left the
New York Post
, where I was a reporter for five years. I don’t think anything could have better prepared me for magazine writing than those years at the
Post
—though not for the reasons you might suspect. The
Post
was a terrible newspaper in the era I worked there, and everyone knew it: as a result, those of us who worked for the
Post
were treated far more shabbily than reporters for other newspapers. It was often extremely difficult to get an interview with whomever you were writing about; and if you did get an interview, it often took place at the end of the day, after the subject was exhausted from hours of interviews with reporters from more important media outlets. I remember, in my years at the
Post
, reading the Arts and Leisure section of the Sunday
New York Times
and wondering why the reporters for that section were able to spend entire days with subjects I could barely get in to see; it never crossed my mind that it might have more to do with the clout of the publication involved than with the charm of the reporter. But the point is this: I was better off with my forty-five minutes because I was forced to report
around
the subject. I learned to go through the clips, find the names of people from the subject’s past, hunt them up in old telephone books, track them down, and pull out anecdotes they knew. What I’m saying may seem obvious; but one of the things that stuns me is how seldom reporters do this: the standard magazine profile these days seems to be written after a reporter spends a lot of time with the person the profile’s about, and only with that person. I can’t imagine that. I can’t imagine even going to see the person the profile’s about until I’ve seen twenty or thirty people who knew him when.

The other advantage to all those years in the newspaper business is that I learned to write short. Much too short probably, but as vices go, that’s far better than much too long. Nothing in the
Post
ran over fifteen hundred words: six hundred words was more like it. And the lack of space forced me to select, to throw out everything but the quote I liked best, the story that seemed most telling. Again, I don’t mean to sound obvious, but several years ago I spent a year as a magazine editor, and I realized how difficult selectivity is for reporters who are spoiled by large amounts of space. I also don’t mean to sound as if I learned all this on my own; I had good editors at the
Post
. I complained about them at the time, complained as they slashed out what I thought of as my gorgeous stylistic flourishes and what they thought of as wretched excesses largely inspired by worship of Tom Wolfe. But they were right. And as a result, my writing style—such as it is—is very spare. Which is lucky for me, because it turned out that there were very few editors in the magazine business as good as those I had at the
Post
.

Because I began as a newspaper reporter, it took me a long time to become comfortable using the first-person singular pronoun in my work. In the articles in this book I used it gingerly, often after considerable prodding from my editors. I was uncomfortable with it. The work I have done subsequently is considerably more personal and considerably more full of the first-person singular pronoun, but I still believe that the best approach to its use ought to be discomfort. Do you really need it? Does it add something special to the piece? Is what you think interesting enough to make the reader care? Are you saying something that no one has said? Above all, do you understand that you are not as important as what you’re covering? We are now in an era when the I-lost-my-laundry-while-covering-Yalta school of reporting has become an epidemic; when serious books that involve reporting often tend to be suffused with the author’s admiration of his own investigative techniques; when the narcissism of the press almost outstrips the narcissism elsewhere in the country.
The image of the journalist as wallflower at the orgy has been replaced by the journalist as the life of the party
. I look back on the original introduction to this book with a nostalgia that borders on pain. “There are times when I am seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to blurt out, in the middle of interviews, ‘Me! Me! Me! Enough about
you
. What about
me?
’ ” I actually wrote that. I actually believed that. And now, here I am, after two subsequent books—and the book tours, the newspaper interviews, the television talk shows, after all the me-me-me. “It must be difficult being on the other side of the notebook,” the reporters who interview me say. No. Not particularly. It’s boring. And unbelievably repetitive. And terminally narcissistic. But not difficult.

Rereading this collection produced other fits of nostalgia. I am no longer the young woman who wrote about being made over by
Cosmopolitan
magazine, and I am no longer interested enough in the culture of kitsch to defend Jacqueline Susann. But here are these remnants of my former self, old snakeskins, and it amuses me to read them and remember how dippy I used to be. There are also pieces here that I’m proud of. But there’s nothing here extraordinary or brilliant; I am a journeyman, and if these articles work, they work as examples of old-fashioned journalism. I am not a new journalist, whatever that is; I just sit here at the typewriter and bang away at the old forms. Which is fine with me.

Introduction

Some years ago, the man I am married to told me he had always had a mad desire to go to an orgy. Why on earth, I asked. Why not, he said. Because, I replied, it would be just like the dances at the YMCA I went to in the seventh grade—only instead of people walking past me and rejecting me, they would be stepping over my naked body and rejecting me. The image made no impression at all on my husband. But it has stayed with me—albeit in another context. Because working as a journalist is exactly like being the wallflower at the orgy. I always seem to find myself at a perfectly wonderful event where everyone else is having a marvelous time, laughing merrily, eating, drinking, having sex in the back room, and I am standing on the side taking notes on it all.

I am not, I must tell you, entirely happy with this role. There are times when I would much prefer to be the one having the fun; there are times when I am seized with an almost uncontrollable desire to blurt out, in the middle of interviews, “
Me! Me! Me!
Enough about you. What about me?” But then I remember that, like so many journalists, I am stuck on the sidelines not just because I happen to be making a living at the job but because of the kind of person I am and the reason I was drawn to this business.

Everyone I know who writes has an explanation for it, and for years I went around collecting them, hoping that someone else’s reason would turn out to be mine. The first person who gave me what seemed like a good one was a colleague on the
New York Post
(where I worked for five years), who told me during my first week there that the reason she loved her work was that every day, on the way home from work, she could see people on the subway reading her articles. For four years I looked around the subway to find someone reading mine. No one ever was. And finally, one day, it happened: the man next to me opened to a story of mine, folded the paper carefully back to settle in for a long read, and began. It took him exactly twenty seconds to lose interest, carefully unfold the paper, and turn the page.

BOOK: Wallflower at the Orgy
10.36Mb size Format: txt, pdf, ePub
ads

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