Today is our 38th wedding anniversary.
But as readers of Seraphic Secret know, I have been helplessly, hopelessly in love with Karen since fourth grade when I first saw her on the playground of our elementary school, Yeshiva of Flatbush.
Without Karen, I never would have accomplished very much in life. It was her faith that propelled me to become a successful Hollywood screenwriter. And of course, it has always been Karen’s common sense that has turned me from an irresponsible young dreamer into a man who willingly shoulders the complex burdens of life.
The other evening, Karen and I attended a dinner for the Orthodox Union where my Daf Yomi teacher, Rabbi Yitzchok Etshalom and his wife Stefanie, were being honored. At one point, I turned and gazed at Karen’s profile. Time seemed to turn liquid as present and past merged. For one hallucinatory instant, I saw Karen as the mysterious nine year-old, onyx-eyed beauty who captured my vulnerable heart.
I said to myself: “Karen loves me. Karen married me. We have built a wonderful life together. My world is complete.”
Here’s an excerpt from my eBook, How I Married Karen.
Souls for Sale
“Can I read the screenplay?”
I am my usual articulate self.
It is 1976. Karen and I have been dating for several weeks.
Karen is reserved. Karen is cautious. Several painful relationships have made her suspicious of the male of the species.
Now we are sitting in a coffee shop on Manhattan’s Upper West Side and I spill, tell Karen of my dreams and aspirations.
“I am a screenwriter,” I say.
“I want to make movies,” I say.
Notice: I am not in medical, dental, or law school. Nor am I am studying to be an accountant, a businessman, a psychologist, an educator, a rabbi or a social worker.
I’m shooting for Hollywood.
Karen just gazes at me long and hard. Like Supergirl — the Jewish version — she seems to possess X-ray vision, and I’m pretty sure she can see right through me.
Karen does not flinch, she does not blink, she does not protest. Other young women have said to me:
“You can’t do that — you’re a shomer Shabbos Jew.”
“Is that a parnassah, a living?”
“What’s a screenplay?”
“That’s a wonderful ambition,” says Karen.
To this day I have no idea what kept me from falling to my knees and kissing her feet.
I have been so isolated in my love of movies, in my desire to become a Hollywood screenwriter, that at some point I just stopped telling people what I truly wanted out of life.
I was like a crypto-Jew during the Spanish Inquisition: on the surface, a normal American guy, but in the privacy of my apartment, a devoted screenwriter, pounding away on my manual Smith Corona, burning with images.
Karen sips her tea and asks me a series of logical questions about the structure of screenplays.
I explain that movies have three acts: exposition, conflict, resolution. I talk about main characters, how the script is all about a journey to overcome impossible obstacles and achieve something.
Karen asks about the business. “It’s very tough,” I concede.
I don’t tell her that Hollywood is littered with broken, failed screenwriters. I don’t want to scare her away.
I don’t tell her about one of my favorite movies, the silent classic Souls for Sale, a great comedic drama that views Hollywood as an asylum run by the lunatics.
“What have you written?”
I tell Karen about my latest script, an adaptation of a short story by the great Israeli Nobel laureate S.Y. Agnon. It’s been a struggle to write. Every script has its own unique problems to solve, but this script has been keeping me up at night. It’s good but flawed, deeply flawed.
“Can I read the screenplay?” Oh, boy. If I give it to Karen and she hates it — well, I have a feeling that this will diminish me in her eyes.
But if I don’t let Karen read it — well, that indicates total cowardice.
I have loved Karen since we were children. Helplessly and hopelessly. Abruptly, I realize that at some point I must make the leap from the warm embrace of romantic love into the real world where relationships are tested, where the depth of trust can be properly measured.
On the way home from the coffee shop, we stop at my apartment and I hand over my screenplay.
A little voice inside my head screams and screams and screams.
Several days pass without a response from Karen.
I tell myself: “She hates it.”
I stare at the telephone and growl: “What do you know about screenplays? Nothing. Who are you to judge me?”
And then, the phone chimes:
“I read your screenplay.”
Someone on my block is beating on a set of drums and it’s making my entire body shake. Oh, wait — that’s my heart galloping in my chest.
“Annnd?” I whine.
We meet at the same coffee shop.
“I’m sorry I didn’t get back to you sooner,” Karen says, “but I wanted to read the original story and see what you did with it.”
Note to self: Unlike yours truly, Karen is thorough, believes in hard work, research.
“So I had to go to the library and find the Hebrew version.”
“Wait a minute — you read the original Agnon?”
Karen nods, sips her tea.
“It’s not hot enough.”
“You read the story in Hebrew?”
Karen nods, says to the waiter: “Can I have some hot tea, please?”
“I worked from an English translation. My Hebrew isn’t good enough to read Agnon’s original. ”
“I read both,” Karen says, “the Hebrew and the English.”
Which is why Karen was in the A class in the Yeshivah of Flatbush and I was in the C class, reserved for dummies.
Karen praises my work and then offers the most cogent criticism I have ever received on a screenplay. This young woman, who has never before read a movie script, effortlessly isolates the main problems in the story and offers a few simple suggestions that will help clarify the central theme and sharpen the main character. Oh, and Karen has a few notes on how to make the script a bit more commercial.
Always a fine idea.
I am flattered.
I am humbled.
And of course, I am a complete baby. “But you like my script, right?”
I’m pretty sure I’m begging.
Yes, Karen assures me, she likes it.
And only supernatural willpower stops me from saying: “Well, that means you like me too, right?”
Even I, violently love-smitten, have some reserves of pride.
Karen sips her hot tea, looks up at me with her coal-black eyes and says: “You’re going to have the career you want. I have faith in you.”
I bite my lip. Hard. It’s the only thing I can do to hold back a gush of tears. No one has ever said these words to me. All my life I have been the outsider, the lofty dreamer, the kid who just doesn’t fit in. In truth, I have almost no faith in myself.
It’s as if the cruel teachers in the Yeshivah of Flatbush had forever branded me, inside and out, with that fearful report card notation: “Does not live up to his full potential.”
In scripts, there is a decisive moment, almost always in the second act. It’s the point in the story where several plot lines converge, where the main character makes a momentous decision — and in terms of narrative, the story then moves along with single-minded velocity to the inevitable resolution and end.
We have reached that decisive moment. Karen and I have just taken a giant leap in our relationship, and here in this Manhattan coffee shop, we sip our tea and just bask in companionable silence.
I am going to marry Karen.
Karen is going to marry me. Everything is going to be okay.
It’s in the script.
“How I Married Karen” can be purchased via
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