Paula and I were participating in a real-time, interactive social dialogue (meaning, we were on the phone) trying to schedule a lunch date. This was no easy task, as we are modern women who live the type of chronically busy lives that become grist for oodles of "how-to-simplify your life" type of books and articles that we, being so busy, have no time to read.
Paula consulted her PDA and ticked off the days she was not available.
"Monday I can't take a lunch break, Tuesday I've got a doctor's appointment, Wednesday I've got a business lunch, and Thursday's out since I promised to shop with Barbara for a wedding dress."
"Barbara?" I asked. "Barbara's engaged?"
"Omigod," Paula said. "I cannot believe I said that. And I was sworn to secrecy!"
"You know you can trust me," I said, immensely satisfied at suddenly finding myself In The Know. Inexplicably, Barbara had remained one of our social set's most eligible singles for a long time. News that she was about to don the lace veil was the most exciting information I had heard since I learned that our very nasty neighbor's pipes had burst. It was hard to decide which news was more delightful.
"You can't tell anybody," Paula said. "But the engagement is going to be announced in synagogue this Saturday. Boy, are people going to be surprised!"
"I'll make sure to be there, and don't worry. CIA agents couldn't drag it out of me, unless they threatened to drag me to some secret detention center."
Though Paula and I failed to find a single day anytime in the following six months when we were both available for a midday sandwich, the conversation was still a rousing success by my standards. I walked a little taller (which is a novel feeling, as my kids are now so big that in my entire household I am only taller than the dog) just knowing something juicy that almost nobody else in the world knew.
An hour later, the phone rang.
"Make sure to come to synagogue on Saturday," Mimi said. "There's going to be a big announcement." Her "I've-got-a-secret" tone irritated me. I thought I was the only one, other than Paula and the groom, to know about the hitching. And I had kept my trap shut. I had suddenly tumbled from the social gossip elite, and I didn't like it.
"Yes, I've heard," I said, in a studied, nonchalant tone.
"How?" Mimi demanded. "Nobody is supposed to know."
"Well, you know, and I know also. Why are you calling people if it's supposed to be such a secret?"
"I don't want to deprive people of the chance to be there when the news breaks," she said. This is BIG."
"Have you also alerted CNN and the Los Angeles Times? "
"No need. Larry already works for one of the wire services. It'll be all over once services are over," Mimi said.
The same day, I got an email from Barbara herself. "I know that Paula spilled the beans," the bride noted. "But please don't tell anyone else. I really want this to be a surprise."
"Don't worry," I replied. "I wouldn't tell anyone even if I was promised the jumbo jackpot of the California lottery, which I believe is up to 48 million dollars now."
As a woman of my word, I kept mum. But the next day in the market, I bumped into one of the synagogue staff. "You didn't hear this from me," he said sotto voce near the tomatoes, "but there's going to be a big announcement in services on Saturday. Only thing is, I can't tell you exactly what it is. Wish I could," he said, clearly relishing the presumption that he knew something that I didn't.
"Somebody already beat you to the punch," I said. "I learned about this three days ago," I said.
"Three days ago? That's impossible. This news is hot. At least that's what I heard." He sounded hurt.
I shrugged. "What can I tell you? As Ben Franklin said, 'Two can keep a secret, if one of them is dead.'"
Over the next few days, I received no fewer than four phone calls, three e-mails, and two unsubtle hints accompanied by winks about the big bombshell that was supposed to have remained a bigger secret than the Manhattan Project but had leaked like a New Orleans levee.
Barbara emailed me again. "I'm not accusing you of anything, but it seems that news of my engagement has already traveled round and round. I only accidentally told twelve people, and they each promised not to breathe a word of it. Only two days left till the announcement, so please restrain yourself from passing the info any further."
At that moment, the king-sized down duvet that I planned to get for Barbara as a wedding gift shrunk to a three-speed blender. I may be a writer, but I'm no leaker.
On Saturday I arrived at services early. The place was standing-room-only, a very rare condition. It was as if God Himself had been announced as the guest speaker.
When the prayers were over, the rabbi stood to announce what by now was the worst-kept secret in the history of Western Civilization. The women were all on the edges of their seats. Two even slid off.
The air in the room was electric, as the rabbi dropped hint after hint about the identity of the bride and the groom. Finally, to great fanfare, he announced Barbara's engagement to a man whom most of us did not know. Not that it mattered. Two more singles had been rescued from the cauldron of singles events, blind dates, wretched dates, and internet dating services. We sang and danced as if we had just discovered and trademarked the recipe for world peace, or least the recipe for a good non-fat cheesecake.
It was still one of the best secrets, if not the worst-kept ones, that any of us had ever heard.
Judy Gruen is the author of two award-winning humor books. Read more of her columns on judygruen.com.