We have the Real Housewives of Every City, each one trying to out-Trump every other housewife (??!!) within camera range. Even before Bravo invented this media circus, Jill Kargman was skewering their lot in her brilliant, hysterical novels. As she confesses in Sometimes I Feel Like a Nut: Essays and Observations, she went undercover, living among these Momzillas, collecting research. Be forewarned: Reading this book on a crowded bus or subway may be embarrassing. You are apt to laugh outrageously, causing those around you to slowly edge away. And who knows? Jill may be a fellow passenger taking notes.
Jill’s new book does more than deflate the overinflated egos among the Manhattan elite. She gives us a glimpse into her own life, growing up on the Upper East Side in an intellectual yet quirky Jewish family. “For twenty-five years, my father worked for Doyle Dane Bernbach, the legendary Madison Avenue advertising agency that was proto-Don Draper, complete with the same martini lunches and genius minds, but the Jewy Jewstein version,” she writes. No surprise that there was no running to the bathroom during commercials.
Yet the events inside Jill’s family apartment were far more entertaining than whatever sitcom was being sponsored by a Doyle Dane Bernbach client. And Kargman takes great delight in recounting all these mishaps in very colorful terms. (Kargman freely admits she has a potty mouth and the book is filled with many expletives and, shall we say, R-rated situations). How do her parents feel about having their private stories made public? This is the same family that once went to a tattoo parlor together (Jill, her brother, Willie, and her mom and dad) intending to have the letter “K” etched on their butts. Recently, Jill’s mom and dad attended a City Harvest luncheon where Jill was the keynote speaker and laughed as loudly as the guests. (Jill told the City Harvest people she might not be the group’s best choice since “I write about women who skip meals on purpose.”)
For the luncheon, she gave an animated performance, bringing to side-splitting life with accents and gestures several “Babysitters from Hizznell”—young women from Julliard and the School of American Ballet—who once babysat for her and her brother. One, named Ann, “Put the `Ann’ in `anorexia’” and actually passed out in a Jacuzzi trying to “sweat off the carrot she’s eaten.” A second sitter, sweet Sue from Alabama, turned out to be a sex addict and took Jill and her brother to the nearby Playboy Club, and Sabrina, a “morbidly obese German cellist,” once ate an entire dinner Jill’s mother had prepared for eight guests. “At least they didn’t give us shaken baby syndrome,” Jill reasons.
Once she became a mother herself, Kargman found herself entering the uber-competitive world of Manhattan parenting. (One mother she meets while she’s pregnant brags that her son got a ten on his Apgar test. “Ah, and so it begins: Apgars now, SATs later,” Jill writes). Her take on raising children is humorous, yes, but also refreshing. She has two great role models in her own parents and she decides not to sweat the small stuff. She celebrates each child’s individuality. Her daughter, Sadie, refuses to come down the slide to get her diploma at her nursery school graduation, opting instead for the fireman’s pole. “Kids are taught to do what they are told, obviously. Still, it was a weirdly great moment. That pole was high and she had total balls to do it her way.”
Kargman can get away with needling the rich and famous because her bona fides are real and impressive. Her father, Arie Kopelman, went on to become president of Chanel, Inc. Kargman attended the Spence School and graduated from the Taft School. When her parents balked at sending her to boarding school, she confessed that she lied when she told them she was seeing Rain Man then sleeping over at a friend’s house. “We went to Mars, a club on the West Side Highway, and danced all night until the sun came up and then we went to a diner in Chelsea and got breakfast and bought the New York Times and read the Rain Man review so I could discuss it with you.” She was “prompltly FedExed” to boarding school.
She zoomed through Yale in three years and after several jobs-from-hell along with many dates-from-hell (other hilarious chapters in the book) she became a best selling writer and married Harry Kargman, a self described techie who owns a software company. They have three children, the aforementioned Sadie, Ivy, and Fletch. (Photo above shows Jill with Sadie and Jill’s mother, Coco).
If it seems like Kargman lives a charmed life, she disabuses us of that notion, recounting her battle with cancer. Visiting a dermatologist for Botox injections, she has a small mole biopsied. Walking her children, she receives the doctor’s call: she has a rare form of skin cancer and must check into Memorial Sloan-Kettering immediately. Ever the mother, Jill finds the courage to face a difficult medical test when she encounters a patient there for the same procedure. “She was eight….I thought about this cute girl’s mother, sobbing there in the claustro waiting room with tattered issues of National Geographic. I pictured it being me and how I would pray to switch places.”
Kargman came through the treatment with an eight-inch scar on her thigh and a new appreciation for sunblock. “Can’t be to careful! And can’t be too grateful.”
And we are grateful for Jill—her down to earth humor and ability to cut through all the b.s. that sometimes threatens to bog us down. When we see some of ourselves in her stories, we can laugh and remember not to take ourselves too seriously.