I’ve lived on three of America’s five Great Lakes: Michigan, Ontario and Erie. And, after all that Midwest and Mid-Atlantic residency, driving in any of these geographies during the winter months is as much fun as, say, doing your taxes while your dentist is extracting your tooth, all while you’re standing on a tightrope with no net.
After surviving a complete white-out adventure one Super Bowl Sunday several years ago when I had to spend the night at the last available motel room just outside of Buffalo after being stranded in the middle of a winter apocalypse, I still have nightmares about driving thru Interstate 90 between Rochester and Cleveland between the months of November and April, the approximate length of the area’s snow season.
And, while I’ve declared no more such trips to the home town of my grad school University of Rochester, early this March a special occasion forced me to overcome my cold precipitation fears: Annabelle Gurwitch and Jeff Kahn were coming to town and speaking at the local JCC to promote their funny and honest book on relationships and marriage, You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up: A Love Story.
Anita had the pleasure of meeting the talented, married couple last year in Chicago and I wasn’t going to pass the opportunity. Anita and I love the authentic perspective this family offers and after reading their book and hearing how much Anita enjoyed the experience, (not to mention that Emmy-winning Jeff appears in Ben Lieblich’s and my favorite Gen X film of the 90′s, Reality Bites) there was no way I wasn’t not going to risk the travel.
I quickly rearranged my schedule, called my Simon alum and mench of a friend Rami Katz, filled the car with gas, straightened my meshugi Jewfro and headed East for the weekend. Additionally, I also connected with Alex Okounev, another Simon alum, who lives in Toronto and who also made the treck to Rochacha.
So there we were, at the JCC main hall, packed with hundreds of people, all anxiously awaiting Annabelle and Jeff. Like a little kid, filled with anticipation, I sat down in the second row, with Alex, Rami and his lovely wife Irena all next to me. Jeff’s cousin, who lives in the area, warmly introduced the couple and, as soon as Annabelle and Jeff headed towards the front, the temperature in the room quickly changed – from winter cold to humor cozy.
Their stand-up routine, based on material in You Say Tomato, I Say Shut Up, brought us to tears. Marriage is neither fantasy nor perfect. Marriage is work, compromise, affection and letting go. Annabelle’s and Jeff’s gift of presenting their truths with such raw comedic framing adds levity to the most complex relationship any individual may potentially ever have in her lifetime.
At the end of their hilarious shtick, the dynamic duo opened the floor to questions and the best one came from a misheard older lady who asked, “How do you fight?” Instead of “fight” most of the room, including Jeff, thought she asked how they do the other f-word, and this brought down the house. And, after the event, at the book signing, another mature woman came up to Jeff and, in a dead-pan, serious tone asked, “Who’s Larry David?”
Finally, towards the end of the evening, I had the pleasure of personally meeting both authors, actors, industry pros, as well as loving parents to their teenage son Ezra, and they could not be more kind, sincere and open. It was an incredibly special moment and after that night I understood even more why nearly a year later Anita still talks about both of them in such high regard.
The drive home was far from simple: the snow and ice made for slippery and dangerous conditions. But the journey to and from was well worth it. All those wonderful people. All those incredible relationships.
Because that’s what it’s all about. And that’s why we’re writing this book.