SEX AFTER SIXTY: THE BOOK THAT NEVER GOT PUBLISHED
As you know by now, I was the wife who liked sex!
When I was sixty and George was seventy, I began to hear from my female friends about “routine” hysterectomies for benign uterine tumors. At the same time the PSA test for possible prostate cancer were becoming common for men, and again without definite diagnosis of cancer, but just because the PSA seemed a little too high, many men were having prostate surgery which rendered them impotent.
Sexy me became alarmed.
After a little research, I discovered that both Gynecologist and Urologists were recommending such radical surgery because they assumed that sexual activity was practically non-existent people over 60!
So I decided to write a book, directed at physicians, but also for lay people, about sex after 60 being a pleasurable thing, not to be ignored.
I wanted the book to be based on good medical evidence as well as patients’ personal experiences, so I enrolled a Gynecologist and an Urologist to guide me.
After writing three chapters, I realized that I needed to be sure this book would be publishable and I needed to send it to an agent.
Mine of many years had recently died, and since she was “a one woman shop”, I had not a clue of how to find a new one.
I was stymied. Since I felt I had no audience and no path to successful marketing, I stopped writing.
And then another “LIBBY MIRACLE” happened.
My attorney son Peter was now in New York with a large network of friends, among them a small cadre of Tatnall School alumni. One of them was Scott Davis, (the son of one of my VIP real estate clients), the co-producer of an MSNBC program called “Real Personal”. He often called Peter to see whom he knew who might be an interesting guest on his program.
One day, shortly after I had finished my three chapters and shared my quandary about an agent with my kids, Scott called Peter and said “Whom do you know who likes sex, and is a credible person, not some kind of screw-ball?”
Remembering my need to find an agent, and knowing that Scott’s cable program was watched by many people in New York City where there might be an agent interested in my book, Peter answered, “My Mother”.
“Your Mother? The lady who sold my parents their big house in Westover Hills, the mother of you, Betsy, and Debbie, the wife of Dr. George Zurkow, I don’t believe it!”
A few days later a young woman from MSNBC phoned me, and after asking a few general questions, formally invited me to be a guest on a segment of the show which was scheduled to air in two weeks.
Of course I accepted, thinking this would be great opportunity to find an agent for my book.
Unfortunately, when I accepted I made a few false assumptions. First I assumed I understood what the title ”Real Personal” implied; second, I assumed the show was only aired in the New York/New Jersey area: and finally I assumed the format was that of a friendly talk show.
Any experienced potential guest on a TV show should certainly not accept an invitation without checking the accuracy of these assumptions.
But not naïve me!
I was so excited about appearing on the show, that once again I was like an innocent little lamb being led to slaughter.
The night before the show, for some unknown reason, I decided to look at the evening TV listings in the local paper. To my surprise, “Real Personal” was showing in Wilmington on MSNBC at 11 pm that night!
Big surprise! I hoped no one in Wilmington was watching the show. Full of curiosity, and some misgiving, I tuned in at 11 pm.
Nothing had prepared me for what I heard and saw. It was all sado-masochism in shadows, with a lot of explicit examples of how it was practiced.
I switched off the TV and frantically called Peter. “What have you gotten me in to?” I screeched into the phone, “Did you know what this program was really all about?”
When Peter finally caught his breath from my unexpected hysterical attack, he said, “I think you misunderstood, it couldn’t be that bad”, ”Well,” I said, “It is that bad and I’m going to get out of this. What’s Scott’s home phone number and where does he live?”
Peter didn’t have his phone number but he did know that Scott lived with his wife in Greenwich, Connecticut.
It was too late to call him that night, especially because I needed time to gather my wits, so I decided to sleep on it and call him early the next morning.
At 6 AM and “ready for Bear”, I called 411 ad asked for the phone number of Scott Davis in Greenwich Connecticut. To my surprise, there were three Scott Davis’s in Greenwich Connecticut.
I knew my Scott was married to Barbara, who was also one of Peter’s classmates at Tatnall.
I dialed the first Scott Davis and a sleepy woman answered, I asked, “Barbara?” ”Of course not, “she replied and hung up.
I dialed the second Scott Davis, asked the same question and got the angry answer, “Wrong Number!”
I dialed the third Scott Davis and miraculously, it was Barbara.
“This is Libby Zurkow, is Scott there?”
“Yes, but he’s in the shower”
“Get him the hell out of the shower right now” I screamed into the phone.
In a few minutes a foggy-voiced Scott answered, “Yes I know exactly what you’re calling about, I saw the show last night too. But it really isn’t like that most nights. We had a guest producer because I was out of town for a couple of days and I promise you it won’t be like that tonight.”
“I don’t care what you say, I am definitely not coming.”
“Please, trust me, you are the core of the show, and we have two very legitimate other guest, both professionals in the field of senior sexuality. Please, please change or mind.”
”Absolutely not. I have too much at stake with my Real Estate Practice to even think of appearing on your show, particularly now when I have discovered it will be seen in Wilmington.”
Long pause, then Scott said, “Tell you what, suppose I have Peter meet you at the train in New York and come with you over to the station in New Jersey. He can sit in the control room, and we can have a 7 second delay so that if there is something he thinks would embarrass you, we can cut it out?”
I still said”No!” and hung up.
About ten minutes later my phone rang and it was Peter on the line.
I just spoke to Scott and he told me about your call. I really think you should still do the show. Even if you don’t trust him, you can trust me, so please let me call him back and tell him that you’ll come.”
Well, Peter was very persuasive, so I called Scott right back and said I was willing to be on the show if Peter were in the control booth.
I took the train to Penn Station as originally planned, expecting Peter to meet me and use his car to drive me over to the TV station in Fort Lee, New Jersey. To my surprise, when I got off the train, there on the platform was a chauffeur uniformed driver with the neatly printed sign “Zurkow” just like one you would see at the airline terminals.
But no Peter!
I went up to the sign holder, whom I assumed was looking for me. Once I identified myself I immediately asked, “Where is my son Peter?”
“Oh he’s outside waiting in the car.” I handed him my luggage, and still somewhat confused, followed him out of the station. We went through a special private exit I had never noticed before, and there, standing beside a black stretch limousine, was Peter.
I was utterly confused because in our family stretch limousines were considered the choice of rock stars, the newly rich, “ostentatious” and “gross”. And not the kind of car that well to do, well-educated and truly sophisticated people chose for transportation. Why oh why, I thought had he hired this car?
Noticing my look of surprise, Peter immediately said, “MSNBC supplied the car and the driver, they just wanted you to have VIP treatment and be sure you got to the station comfortably and on time.”
Contrary to my expectation of being embarrassed to drive in such a 0stentatious car, I found the ride to the MSNBC station truly luxurious and yes, I did feel like a VIP!
When I arrived at the station, I was surprised because it was not the glamorous hi-tech building I’d expected, but looked like a recently restored, but still somewhat neglected, warehouse.
This was just the beginning of a series of surprises.
Just as I was getting my bearings, a young woman who introduced herself as an aide to Bob Berkowitz, the host of the show, arrived to go over the schedule with me.
She explained that after I was dressed, I would go to “Hair and Makeup”, and that Bob Berkowitz, would like to sit down with me to reassure me that the show would be tasteful and in not at all embarrassing.
Famous Last Words.
Little did I know that a 30 second bite of my own spontaneous answer to a question from a call-in would become a very successful, frequently run commercial for “Real Personal” that would be seen by my friends and family all over the United States, with some embarrassing repercussions.
First 0f all I need to tell you about the “ground rules” for live television; Anything you say on any show, unless specified as an area of your personal expertise, becomes the property of the show, to be used as they please without your permission. None of this did I know.
But let’s get back to what actually happened and how I happened to get into this embarrassing quandary.
Before the show began, after meeting with our host and the two other guests, (the “sex education professionals”), I felt more comfortable about appearing on the show.
After Bob Berkowitz’s opening remarks and a general introduction of the guests, he turned to me for what was the first “real personal” interview.
“Well tell me, Libby, about your sexual fantasies.”
I nearly fell off my chair.
“Nothing embarrassing” he had promised, so what in the world did he think “embarrassing” meant?
I guess Bob saw the shock on my face, so he quickly said, “If that is too personal you really don’t have to answer that question”. But by then I had recovered from my initial surprise, so I replied, ”As a matter of fact that’s not a difficult question to answer I’m turned on by men who wear hard hats!”
Bob then turned to e two other participants, and each of them had far less personal and more professional answers on the same subject.
Ultimately we became an informal panel discussing a wide range of sexual adjustment subjects. At last I felt comfortable, this was exactly what I had expected, because the talk was quite scientific and not at all embarrassing.
I shouldn’t have allowed myself to be that comfortable.
When I watched the show the previous night, once I saw the sado-masochism introduction, I had switched off the TV to call Peter. As a result, I never learned what happened in the next part of the show.
The second half of the show was devoted to “audience participation “ or “call-in-time”. The viewers could call-in and ask any panel member whatever question they chose.
The first caller on the line was a very young sounding female voice: ” “This question is for Libby I often hear about sexual fantasies, but how exactly do you use them?”
Again Bob leaned over and said,” You don’t have to answer that.”
“No” I replied, “I have an easy example that is not even very embarrassing.”
And so began my story that became a widely broadcast 30 second commercial for “Real Personal”, and quickly developed some amazing, amusing, sometime embarrassing and definitely unexpected “legs of its own.”
“One cool September morning when our3 children were either at college or boarding school, we were for the first time completely alone for breakfast. We had always had the tradition of big country breakfasts, every day, (not just on Sundays). I was in the kitchen beating the eggs when George came in and said “Good Morning Lizzy”. “Good morning”, I thought to myself, “what a stupid thing to say when he just got of bed with me, and so I went on beating the eggs. Then I said out loud without looking up,” George” go set the table, breakfast is almost ready”. He said again, a little louder, “Good Morning Lizzy” and I said impatiently, “Just go and set the table George.” This time he said, “If you don’t look up at me I am going to ’kill’ you!!”
And so I looked up: there was George standing at the sink, wearing a hard hat, a cigar in his mouth, a necktie around his neck, and not a stitch of clothing”
“That,” I said, “is how a sexual fantasy works.”
Bob immediately asked “So did you have breakfast,” and I answered, “Yes, but later.”
Of course I didn’t realize what became of that snippet until a few weeks later when my Great Aunt who lived in California was in the beauty parlor with a big TV set on the wall,. Suddenly one of her friends said, “Oh look there is your niece Libby on television!” and to her delight they turned up the volume, and she and all the ladies in the Beauty Parlor watched the whole sexy segment.
Of course she was horrified, embarrassed and shocked called me to scold me about disgracing her and the whole family. I had cousins all over the country, many of them very straight laced, who called to tell me I was a disgrace to the family.
George, who was a very good golfer, went out on the course the next weekend to be greeted by fellow golfers with the remark” So you like to wear a hard hat for breakfast!” Meanwhile I returned to my real estate office the following Monday to sideway glances and leers from my fellow REALTOR. Finally someone said, “we taped the show, and we never guessed that side of you!”
I thought my conservative bosses would ask me to leave before I further disgraced the company, instead they informed me that someone brought that tape of the entire show to the weekly executive meeting, and they though it was just great, and of course instead of losing my job I became a minor company celebrity.
A week after the program aired, our home phone rang at 11:30 pm and when I answered with my usual, “This is Libby Zurkow”, a husky male voice on the other end of the line said, “Libby I have on a hard hat, a necktie around my neck and I’m buck naked, talk dirty to me!” I made up a quick little lie,” You better get off this phone immediately because it’s being monitored by the police and they can trace this call!”
Dead silence. Then, after a few seconds, hysterical laughter.
“Oh Libby relax, this is your friend Barney Taylor” (who happened to be the President of Wilmington Trust, a major bank in our city), I didn’t mean to scare you. I thought your appearance on “Real Personal” was unbelievably funny, one of the best programs of theirs that I’ve seen, and I watch the program regularly.”
But that was not the last of it.
George was a much admired clinical professor of Endodontics in the graduate program at the University Of Pennsylvania School Of Dental Medicine. Each year a small group of practicing dentists enter this graduate program, (at much financial sacrifice), to become Board Qualified Endodontists. The students come from all over the world to attend this prestigious program, and when they graduate, the University holds an elegant “graduation” dinner where they receive their degrees and the faculty gives awards to outstanding students.
In return the students select outstanding professors to honor. Each year George would get a plaque or a bowl as the most “whatever” faculty member.
The year of the MSNBC program, each of the honored faculty members opened their gift package on stage, to the applause of the audience. But when George opened his gift, there were no applause from the audience, just a confused dead silence because it wasn’t a plague or a bowl, it was a hard hat!!
Because George did not want to sully this festive and somewhat solemn occasion by linking it to an explanation of a slightly tawdry story about my solo television appearance, he decided not to give the somewhat “off color” humorous response that in other situations might have been appropriate, he simply said “Thank you”, and sat down.
Did I find an agent as a result of the program? The answer is a resounding “Yes”. Yes I did find an agent, and a very wise one, but not from the New York audience as I expected. Instead my top flight New York literary agent came through the recommendation of an old friend who lived in my home town of Wilmington, Delaware.
One of our country club friends, who was the largest regional magazine and paperback book distributer in the Brandywine Valley, also saw the show ,and shortly after it aired when he saw me at a the country club pool he asked, “Well “Adlib The Career Girl”, (his special name for me), did you ever find an agent?”
“Sadly, No,” I said.
“Well why don’t you give me a copy of those three chapters and I’ll send them off to a literary agent I know in New York who might be interested.”
So off a copy went to my friend David, and after he read it, he sent it off to the agent, Sadie Schore.
A few weeks later she called me to say she had read the three chapters, and yes, they were informative and amusing, and pretty well written for an ”amateur”.
In fact she would be interested in representing me if the rest of the book maintained the same quality of writing as those first three chapters. “You may not know how you do it, but you write funny! There’s a rhythm to your writing that an ordinary editor that I might assign to you might not be able to sustain. Therefore, if I am to be your agent, you must agree that you will be totally mine for the next year. No real estate marketing or sales, no cavorting off to Cannes with your sexy dentist husband: just writing and editing until you produce what I think might be a publishable book.
What a shock!
To think I would have to entertain such an exclusive agreement, with still no assurance that the book would ever get published, seemed untenable.
It was particularly unrealistic, because I was making beaucoup bucks that I was spending with no required accountability to my husband.
I could entertain lavishly, buy tickets to all the plush benefits, meet lots of new people, stay in the public eye, and all of it tax deductible as a” Real Estate Marketing Expense”!.
I also developed a special market for European investors who were buying condominiums in Wilmington for short term rentals. The rentors might be in-coming executives of ICI, DuPont and many other national companies ewho had not yet found permanent housing. Or even more lucratve ,were the short-term,high-paying renters who were out-of-town lawyers and their staffs who came to Delaware to participate in Legal cases before the Delaware Court of Chancery, that is a unique business oriented court available to those who were already incorporated in Delaware.
Almost all my home sale and investor networks that I had so carefully crafted over many years, would have to go “by the board” for the entire time I was writing the rest of the book.
The idea of giving this all up to finish the book, not knowing whether it would ever get published, giving up al that real estate income, which I loved to spend freely without discussing it with George, giving up my premium position in the local Real estate market, seemed untenable.
Most surprising to me was that writing those first three chapters, was terribly lonely.
I suddenly looked deep into my heart and discovered I was really not writing the book for the “noble purpose” I believed in, not to educate physicians and the public, but for something quite different: Money.
When, to my surprise I blurted out that one word, money, over the phone to Sadie, she said “Good, you are a true professional, and you sound like you’ll be a dedicated writer, which is extremely important to me. I don’t want to waste my time with someone who will quit in the middle of the project when the going gets tough. But before I agree to help you, I need to ask you one more question: if it’s money you want, how many books in the same “Genre” (women aver 60 writing about sex), do you think a person would buy in a year?”
“What do you mean?” I said, and then she dropped the bomb, “Helen Gurley Brown, the editor of Cosmopolitan Magazine is coming out with a “tell all” book of her personal life experiences with some rich and famous men, and you can bet that she is going to have a lot of media coverage to promote her book. So which book would you buy?”
That decided it for me right then. No book, full speed ahead in Real Estate.
So now there is a brown cardboard box sitting on the bottom shelf of my bathroom linen closet, labeled “Sex After Sixty” almost forgotten below the layers of sheets and pillow cases, and I have gone back to being the Barracuda of real estate.