• Bridge Ladies

    Bridge Ladies When I set out to learn about my mother's bridge club, the Jewish octogenarians behind the matching outfits and accessories, I never expected to fall in love with them. This is the story of the ladies, their game, their gen, and the ragged path that led me back to my mother.
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Stayin’ Alive Stayin’ Alive Ah Ha Ha Ha

I met a BDP (big deal producer) today who was amazing. When he was a PYT, he optioned a magazine article from New York Magazine that became Saturday Night Fever. Saturday Fucking Night Fever. Bam! Better yet, he wasn’t a one hit wonder or the kind of person who keeps talking about his one big thing. I once had lunch with an agent who had one hit, and he literally talked about it all through the lunch. I had no idea what he was talking about but played along, or played dumb. When I got back to the office, I discovered that the book he was talking about was TWENTY years old.

My BDP became a studio head, had a great run, and is producing again with a very cool slate of MMP. (Off the record, in my heart of hearts, I believe I could have been a studio exec if I hadn’t been derailed by twenty years of depression. Totally ridiculous and arrogant, but there it is.) Anyway, this man struck me as the quintessential producer: curious, passionate, disparate and wide ranging taste, the ability to bring people together, working like a conductor who brings the forty-odd instruments together in a Mozart symphony.

Tonight’s question is, and I leave it to you to  make the leap, what will be in your obit? Mine will say that I was never convicted in a court of law for allegedly putting a candy corn in Amy Hahn’s ear at Janet Granger’s sixth grade birthday party sleepover. (Her parents took us to see Dr. Zhiviago which we were very upset to discover was in black and white, and add insult to injury they brought cut veggies and wouldn’t let us buy junk food even with our OWN MONEY); I wrote a CLASSIC on writing, a sink-under-the-waves memoir, I represented some thieves and geniuses. And please remember this above all: I never lived for the present nor did I make the most of every day.

85 Responses

  1. If I dropped this moment, mine could say that I might have been more successful and happy if I’d spent more time writing and less time shoveling chocolate ice cream into my mouth. But probably not on the happiness part. Or the success. Maybe thinner. That might have made me happy. Probably not.

    Can we just put dates? Born: October 11, 19something and Died (date to be determined). She should have cared more.

  2. Was this the 1965 David Lean movie Dr. Zhivago?

    It’s a color film. (Metrocolor, according to the IMDB.)

  3. First, I actually wrote my own obit, meant as a humorous blog story, but then didn’t have the balls to post it. (Can you say bad karma?)

    Second, you middle children must have some unwritten pact: My middle sister talked the neighbor girl into putting raisins up her own nose. Everyone laughed about it except for the neighbor girl, probably due to her inability to breathe.

    Third, I’ve no doubt you could be anything you choose. And you kick ass at what you are.

    • maybe there is something to do the middle child thing (relating to benign neglect) because my friend Anne and I stuffed peanuts up her sister Alison’s nose (she had flared nostrils that begged the question, how many will fit), Anne stuffing and me counting…she had to be taken to the hospital (by Anne’s doctor father) to have them all removed.

  4. Poor Dead Old Jeff: He showed up in a place he never would have guessed, having finally guessed he was in some place. Then he scratched his head, tried to figure it all out with his best guesses, and figured it would be best to just live out his life in peace, which he did, for the most part. He finally shucked it all off into the warm wind of death at one hundred and six. His last dying sentences, with his last dying breath, were reported to be, “Damn it! It’s for the best. Now get the fuck off me.” Which the nurses did. They all say they’ll miss him. No one else seems to know who he is, but there it is.

  5. But…but…it was in color.

  6. Was the opening in black and white? Was any part of it in black and write? Is my whole childhood a lie?

    • Hi, yes, the opening was. Color is used for dramatic and symbolic effect, as I recall.

    • No, I have the DVD. It’s all color. Siberia is kind of bleak — maybe a child could mistake that for black & white.

      • I guess it could have been colorized; although I also remember seeing it in the theaters when I was about 14 yrs old and I don’t remember any B&W.

  7. My husband and I have preplanned and prepaid our exit junk. No viewings, no funerals, no obits. Cremation and UPS to Arlington.

  8. Not once, not even for fun, did Amy ever try to off herself with the cheap wing compass she kept in the back of her writing desk drawer; although, she often joked about how pleasing it would feel stuck in her temple. She deleted more words than Snooki knew and kept an compulsive count of all the words other writers had written better than her. She was a terrible driver. Often she would post rambling comments at the risk of being vain only to amuse herself. Her dying request was that none of her unfinished manuscripts be sent out for consideration as the thought of posthumous literary recognition would be enough to kill her twice.

  9. You know how to put the fear of god in a fellow, Ms. Lerner.

  10. “She’s finally getting enough sleep.”

  11. I think you’re confusing ‘arrogant’ and ‘self-loathing.’

    In my heart of hearts I believe I could’ve been a writer.

  12. My now legendary, always drunken and cruel MFA professor — who is about to get tenure, I might add — said the following to me. In writing. “Your stepchildren, whom you’ve raised, are nothing more than a perfunctory line of type straight from your obituary: ‘She was survived by two stepchildren….” and then … nothing.

    Followed, literally, by the line: “Good luck with your literary efforts!”

    That was her last line on page 4 of her single-spaced critique of me as a person. I think we’re in love! She loves me!

    P,S. Four months after her writing this, I am still distraught. I wish I wasn’t. But I am.

    • Huh. Who shot the dots off her dice?

    • WHAT!???

      of course, you’re still distraught by this. i’m going to be distraught by it until i write her a mean letter that i won’t send (unless you want me to)

      her comments beg the questions: what stepmom fucked up her life? her ex-husband’s less crazy new wife? her dad’s succession of wives? her unsuccessful try at being a stepmom herself?

      do whatever you need to do to get past this. you being distraught means she wins. we can’t let that batshit crazy drunken tenured MFAsswipe win.

      • You’re so civilized, amyg. I want to scalp the bitch.

      • I would so love to be cool, like this is no matter. But honest to god. this has stopped me in my tracks for 4 months. Stopped me fucking dead. How do you shove this to the side? I really, honest to Betsy Freakin’ Lerner, want to know? What do you all do with the bullshit?

      • I would so love to be cool, like this is no matter. But honest to god. this has stopped me in my tracks for 4 months. Stopped me fucking dead. How do you shove this to the side? I really, honest to Betsy Freakin’ Lerner, want to know? What do you all do with the bullshit, the bullshit that feels like a fucking dagger?

      • Shit. And now there’s the double entry. I am completely and totally inept. I’d sigh if it didn’t seem stupid. Sorry. Now I want to hide…

      • that bullshit that felt like a dagger needed to be heard (and as a bunch of writers, we can all appreciate the self editing even in a post so clearly from the pit of your stomach).

        …maybe you could write about it?

      • Okay, Lyra. The Tony Harding image makes me a little bit happy…. bang.

    • This makes me fume. Teachers who are paid to inspire but turn their influence into poison and spoon feed it to innocents. Fuck her. Fuck the broom she flew in on. Don’t let her win, Teri. She’s the one who lost out. She could have been a Mentor. Instead she’s a Dementor. Write about her. Put her in print. Make her toss at night. She deserves not to sleep. Total asswipe.

      • Yes, this.
        And Teri, you just keep going. That’s it. One foot in front of the other. You let this fool stop you and she wins.
        Care to help me with a Tonya Harding move?

    • I know it’s hard when the criticism is so personal. All you can do is sit with it, try to understand her motivations for being such a total fucking bitch and then move past it. Talking about it helps, especially to other writers because we’ve all been there! Then start writing again, one word at a time, one breath at a time…

    • Teri,

      The professor’s remarks go way beyond creepy and then they veer recklessly across the highway median strip and crash head-on into cruel.

      Whenever this prof finally does dial 1-800-dirt-nap, everyone who knows her will understand that her death isn’t due to any “accidental causes.”

      After receiving that letter, you should have responded, “When you die, I’d love to attend your funeral, but I’ll probably spend the day writing. I always put business before pleasure.”

      Teri, your prof from Hell story has inspired me. I’ve just thought of a new product to develop:


      For those who are gone, but not forgotten,


    • Teri, that’s insanely mean, and while you do know this is about Professor Drunk Bitch-on-Wheels and not you, of course it is hard not to obsess. Ten years from now (when she ‘s dead), her obsession attack may have developed some meaning and value it’s impossible to feel right now.

    • She’s about to get tenure? I’d be tempted to bring that letter to the department head and ask him or her to interpret it for you, “Because I’m too non-literary to get it. Is this supposed to be a prose poem or something?”

      Then sit there while the department head tries to figure out what to say. If enough students complain, she might find herself pounding the pavement..

      I had one seriously disturbed individual teaching creative writing during my college career. Other English teachers told me he was “rigorous.” I didn’t realize that was code for “He’s a total jackapple, but we can’t say that about our colleagues.” THe guy would sit in class and read the students’ work in a mocking voice that would have made Hamlet sound like utter garbage. Then he’d tell you how it sucked. Then he’d send you home.

      These folks shouldn’t be teaching.

    • My husband, way back in residency, had an attending physician look at him during a surgery, and say, “Does your mother know how stupid you are?”

      Sorry, Teri. That sucks. But you can take pleasure in the fact that this person must be deeply unhappy in order to be that cruel. Would you like a weasel to plant in her sock drawer?

      • That’s nuts. How do you even finish a surgery after that? And I’ll take your weasel and put him to good use.

        Thanks everybody — I feel better already …

    • Academicians are some of the worst communicators on the planet. I know I have spots when everyone else has stripes, but I’d go ask her about it. Was she commenting on a piece of writing? Without knowing the back story, it’s difficult to make an educated guess. Maybe she thought she was being brilliant, maybe she has her own issues with kids who don’t call, maybe she’s just a dragon lady. But, the fact of the matter is you have to deal with her. I would not go directly to a department head without trying to resolve it with her. That could – will – turn around and bite you in the ass before you reach the door. If your attempt fails well, the best way to marginalize an academician is to not give a shit about what they say. The ego can’t stand it. But, do something. Don’t give someone else the power to shut you down. Actually, at this point you’re shutting yourself down. Fuck that. Repeat after me: fuck that.

      My apologies to the academicians out there, but deep down you know I’m right.

    • Your prof must be the twin sister of a local business woman who loudly announced at a party she hosted, and where she was beyond just drunk, that I would amount to nothing. Nice. Try looking everyone in the eye after that.

      Combined with my father’s conviction that I was his biggest disappointment, my only choice — and yours –is to prove them wrong.

      Even if it takes a l-o-n-g lifetime.

    • Keep writing, Teri. That prof has real problems- don’t let them become yours. Easier said than done, I know, especially given her position of power and expertise, but some people get off on being assholes, unconcerned and unaware how much their shit smells.

  13. My obituary will be a complete and legendary scandal to all who thought they knew me — some of it may even be true. I will write it myself in my last days and make sure it hits the papers the hour of my death, so that my descendants will be forced to sue for a retraction.

    And my epitaph shall read: “Sure. Now You Bring Me Flowers.”

  14. she lived she loved she died she did

  15. I love the idea of not making the most of every day –why does that resonate so?

  16. Excuse me but I was told that writers get to live forever. What? Not true?

  17. From Wikipedia: “The story is based upon a 1976 New York magazine article by British writer Nik Cohn, “Tribal Rites of the New Saturday Night”.

    “In the late-1990s, Cohn acknowledged that the article had been fabricated.[3] A newcomer to the United States and a stranger to the disco lifestyle, Cohn was unable to make any sense of the subculture he had been assigned to write about.

    “The characters who became Tony Manero and his friends were based on Mods,[4] a British youth movement that also placed great importance on music, clothes, and dancing.”

  18. Trying to come up with this, God, I hope the best is yet to come.

  19. What’s with the first-person crap, Betsy! You gonna write your own?

    If my kids write mine, it’ll say: Part work-a-holic, part hedonist, she appropriated the form of Princess in her middle years while concurrently developing a fondness for college football and NBA basketball and wearing inappropriate outfits that embarrassed the shit out of us.

  20. She wanted more than she deserved.

  21. “When I am dead, I hope it may be said, ‘His sins were scarlet, but his books were read.’ ”
    – Hilaire Belloc

  22. Teri,

    One more thing, I think it is great that you’re discussing this. I’ll bet that this prof has written this kind of poisonous bullshit lots of times to lots of people. And I would also bet that the majority of them have probably felt too hurt to even discuss it anyone. You’re showing everyone that you won’t wilt on the vine just because some bitter professor chose to spew her venom in your direction.

    I can tell, just from the way you’re openly discussing this incident, that you aren’t going to let that sadistic freak get you down.

    You will have the last laugh, and it will be an uproarious one.

    You are gonna knock one outta the park! It can’t happen any other way.

  23. Teri, I think you might get a dispensation from Betsy’s “no acknowledgments” rule for this one. A full page, on your most excellent published book, saying only: “For xxxxx — she knows why.”

  24. My gravestone will say “She tried.”

  25. Etched in my granite:


  26. First things first: obits are expensive. Newspapers probably make more money off of them than all the ads on the rest of the page. Probably has something to do with the How To Take Advantage of People Who Are Grieving courses in journalism school. If you see a long obituary in the NYT it probably cost more than the casket. Even a short one in the local bi-weekly will set you back a paycheck. Mine? Adios, amigos. Party at 9.

  27. She was well loved, well hated. Life was good.

  28. Thanks, everyone —- anybody who says the people on Betsy’s blog are negative don’t know what they’re talking about.

  29. My obit will say “all her troubles stemmed from the night that Betsy Lerner tried to put a candy corn in her ear”.

    The candy corn in the ear thing didn’t bother me nearly as much as knowing that you guys had managed to stay up all night and were having fun without me. Oh, the trauma.

    And, what on earth were the Grangers thinking when they decided to take a pack of 12 year old girls to a three hour long movie about a love triangle in revolutionary Russia? I was bored to tears. I bet it was Janet’s idea. She always was a hopeless romantic.

  30. i want a long obit like those beauties in The Telegraph, the ones that say “she drank vodka straight from her tea cup at 4pm each and every day” and “she couldn’t stand fakery and was known to tell irritating people to fuck off.” that sort of thing.

  31. “She ran with scissors.”

  32. He never let up. Never. People would ask him, would you please just once for a fucking minute let the fuck up? He just looked at them.

    As for controversies, he once dared reveal his debts in print (we don’t like that they cried; give us your cancer story! what? no cancer story?), and shortly thereafter he suggested that Ernest Hemingway was no intellectual, and, indeed, might well have been called stupid, having never once written anything about living actual life with others that was even remotely accurate or interesting.

    Then he found internet porn and that was the end of him. Betsy, what would you have become, morally, if you’d never been depressed?

  33. After thinking about it, I’ve decided to decline the obit but I think I’d like my stone to read, “Does this count as being published?”

  34. I can’t get past the fact that the last movie I saw in a theater was “Saturday Night Fever” (and, no, I’m not kidding) so, I think if I was to try & write my obit, it would be terribly passe…

  35. He never–and I do mean never, ever, stinking once never–checked his reviews on Amazon, that Wal-Mart-esq bastard stepchild of the publishing industry.

    And he lived 2 extra years because of it.

  36. “He dropped by, but he couldn’t stay.”

  37. “She couldn’t figure it out until it was too late.”

  38. Not sure what I’d put on my tombstone, but it will be humorous. Once in a cemetery I found this engraved on a woman’s headstone: “I’d rather be shopping at Walmart.”

    I’m sorry, but it was hilarious at the moment! All the deep, serious engravings and then that!

    Most of all, IF there’s a headstone, I’d want to say something mysterious or funny, something that would make those who read it ponder later. ONLY reason for a headstone, IMO.

    I always liked what Stephen King once said he wanted engraved on his headstone: “It’s the tale, not he who tells it.”

  39. I’m reading your book, Betsy!

    (Forest For the Trees)

    Thanks for writing it!

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