Last year it was at a wedding for the son of a good friend. I drank heavily, danced heavily on my bad knee and got up and rapped with the band to the Run DMC variation of Aerosmith’s Walk This Way: “…I was a high school LOSER, never made it with the LADIES…”. No kidding.
Late in the evening the mother of the bride made a point of coming over and reminding me that she had been in my sister’s cabin at summer camp and was in the same class in Hebrew school. She remembered and that was good enough. As I headed into the seventeenth anniversary of Marjorie’s passing I would have to say that was the moment that stood out on yet another year without her. That fact that someone took a moment from her daughter’s simcha to say something this many years later was touching.
Its also surprising, considering that Marjorie left town when she was just eighteen and never really came back. She moved to New York in 1974 to become a ‘comedienne’ back when they were labeled as such. Probably because there weren’t any save for Totie Fields and Joan Rivers. Marjorie soon became ‘Young Marge’ because she was years junior to the guys she shared the stage with at The Improv and Catch A Rising Star – Larry, Andy, Richard, Jerry, Gilbert, Jay. If you can’t pick up the last names, you might want to move on.
Marjorie worked clean. No four letter words, no narcissistic routines on her private parts. There were musings about the designer scarves her mother would use to wrap school lunches, the convertible “sofa-oven” in her bachelorette-ette. There was a classic bit about her street gang of Jewish American Princesses: “You’re not going to rumble in that are you?” Not a lot of edge but very funny, moreso if you knew her.
Whatever, she never made a dime for about eight years until someone gave her break as a writer on a sitcom called Square Pegs. She was good from then on, spending her final years on Seinfeld. I was lucky enough to work with her on a couple of episodes. She was very, very sick through it all and I have no idea how she cut it. Jerry put a cot in her office so she could rest. My rabbi in LA had me over for Shabbos a couple of years ago and an old comedy writer at the table told me that my sister was as tough as she was talented.In the end she was taken on in Hollywood as the ‘poor little sick girl’. The old man went to visit her in her last months and Marjorie sent someone to pick him up at the hotel. He got into the car, turned to the driver and said, “Aren’t you Sharon Stone?” There was a big memorial service after she died. I didn’t go because as much as I was Marjorie’s brother, I’m not sure I was family. I think when she left town, she really left it all behind.
And now a year later its not a an old bunkmate but Howard Stern talking about her respectfully with Carol Leifer, another Seinfeld vet. I’m going to do a little something at shul for her in a couple of weeks, for her 18th Yahrzeit.
This is me sifting through the few shards of a broken portrait that cut through to the memories closest to the surface. The deeper wounds, the fathoms of dark grief – those are depths I have stopped plumbing. I tend to keep it light. Marjorie was just 40 when she went. I’ve now lived twenty years more and I often find myself staring at her headstone like the elder Private Ryan in Saving Private Ryan who talked to the grave in which the Lieutenant played by Tom Hanks was buried, trying to assure his ghost that he has not wasted all the life his savior in the battlefield had sacrificed.
If you’re my age chances are you have suffered profound loss on this level or greater. You know what it feels like, hopefully, when someone reaches out to you with a kind thought. This is the take away in all this – if you see a relative of a friend, school chum, business acquaintance or even a survivor from your local Hebrew school stalag who is no longer with us, say something. You have no idea what it will mean to them.