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nonsense of direction

Once the mainstay of every American family setting out for a cross-country vacation, the map has become virtually obsolete. Now, instead of pulling out the TripTik so carefully prepared by AAA with the route highlighted in yellow or orange and little foldout side notes for side trips, the GPS (Ms. GPS?) has become the voice that leads vacationers, to say nothing of everyday drivers, on their merry way.

Sure, GPS systems are convenient and faster to use. But they have none of the magic, the on-the-road promise of adventure, or the colorful patterns and curious names you’ll find on a map. B. is a huge fan of maps — he can spend hours plotting out a trip, poring over the details, and finding at least three ways of getting from here to there. He has an almost instinctual knowledge of which way we’re heading at any given time.

Me, not so much. I do love the possibilities a map offers. And I am always in awe of the fact that someone actually created the map — without using a map. But my title of chief navigator (guess who the pilot is) is one I’d like to abdicate. To wit:

Full-size, foldout maps are the bane of my existence. I never seem to be able to control them. Just when I think I’ve folded one down to the exact piece of road we’re traveling on, it turns out that we passed that spot about 20 minutes earlier (like the time I was trying to find our location in California and we were already in Arizona). Unfolding and refolding only leads to a paper cut or two (sometimes resulting in a tiny spot of blood that I mistake for a town), accented by some choice language that eats up another few miles.

Once I finally manage to locate our location (usually pointed out to me by B. when we stop for gas), continuing to read and follow the map is like going the wrong way on a one-way street — I need reading glasses to see the map clearly, but I also need sunglasses because of the glare. So yes, I have actually had to don my sunglasses over my readers (the ultimate in road-trip geek chic). Not only do I look like a deer caught in the headlights, but wearing both pairs of glasses at the same time puts undue pressure on my allergy-ridden sinuses and creates undue snickers from B.

If that isn’t enough to take me off map patrol, how about this? While I can now follow the map’s details thanks to wearing both pairs of glasses, I can’t focus. Because reading while riding in a car makes me queasy. Between the sinus headache and the motion sickness, I feel so awful that figuring out which way we’re headed is no longer of any interest to me. I’m sure that I am headed straight to hell.

What usually happens next is that a) we stop to buy me some ginger ale, b) B. pores over the map and memorizes what he needs to know, and c) I get “promoted” to exit patrol, i.e., “Let me know when you see signs for exit 29.” (I can do that.)

My last confrontation with the map is trying to fold it back to its original state when the trip is over. All I can say is that it’s not pretty. (Picture Taz, that animated Tasmanian Devil character, in a whirl of mishap. That would be me.) I end up rumpled; the map, crumpled.

The alternative? Don’t even get me started on Ms. GPS and her know-it-all tone of voice.

Time for a latitude adjustment.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman


blonde spot

In the realm of classic film noir there are certain factors — and actors — you can always count on in any combination: a private eye in a sharp suit; a cop with a New York accent; a good man gone bad; a murder needing to be solved; a sordid affair; a femme fatale, frequently blonde.

The blonde (alias the dame or the skirt) — is the one who either a) commits the murder; b) is covering up the murder; or c) distracts the authorities off the trail of the murderer. Also — and this is vital — her looks are killer (even if she is not).

Cases in point:

Barbara Stanwyck in Double Indemnity.  One of my favorite movies, certainly my favorite film noir. Fred MacMurray plays the life-insurance salesman who lusts after the wife (Stanwyck) of a new client. She leads him far, far astray, as the two plot and carry out the murder of her husband. But watch out for double crossing, lovers crossing, and train crossings. Stanwyck’s character is so bad she absolutely shimmers. When this blonde bombshell explodes, watch out. (See also: Kathleen Turner in Body Heat for a modern update on this classic.)

Lauren Bacall in To Have and Have Not. Worth watching, if just for the scene where Bacall’s character (“Slim”) seduces both Bogart (“Steve”) and the audience with her feminine wiles and wit. After a kiss that sizzles off the screen, Slim leaves Steve with this legendary lure:

“You don’t have to say anything and you don’t have to do anything. Not a thing. Oh, maybe just whistle.You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together … and blow.”

Definitely to have.

Grace Kelly in Dial M for Murder. The ultimate man-marries-blonde, man-blackmails-someone-to-murder-blonde, man-underestimates-strength-of-blonde film. Ray Milland is absolutely chilling, but it is Grace Kelly, delicate in looks only, who steals the spotlight. (See also: Gwyneth Paltrow and Michael Douglas in the remake, A Perfect Murder, which varies a bit from the original but is also a nail biter.)

Of course, not all films in the noir genre include a fair-haired femme fatale. But the impact on the subconscious — of a cool, smart, beautiful blonde in a drama simmering with dark heat — is undeniably brilliant and endlessly unpredictable.

Watch your back.



ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman




for better or verse

I say “poetry” and you say: a) roses are red, violets are blue, b) there once was a girl from Nantucket, c) oh, no, don’t make me read poetry — please! But how about songwriters as poets? Got your attention now, don’t I? To wit:

If you have ever been to a Bruce Springsteen concert, really been to one, you know that it’s a religious experience — the religion of passion, of rock and roll, of having your soul saved by a four-hour evening of standing on your feet, ready and willing to be converted. From the achingly poignant Ghost of Tom Joad (with that amazing guitar riff by Tom Morello); to the joyful, off-the-scale, gospel-according-to-Bruce testimony that Springsteen often drops into the midst of Tenth Avenue Freeze-Out; to the glorious declaration of Independence Day; to the haunting strains of The Rising, echoing the unspeakable heartbreak of 9/11 — these are more than just amazing pieces of music (that, they certainly are). The lyrics tell stories — of fear and survival, of doubt and hope, of anger and love — of what it means to be human and vulnerable. Stories told with words picked for their ability to pierce through the armor of our self-defenses and land, without fail, in our hearts. Stories told by a legend who evokes his Everyman roots with every note played, every word sung.

Paul Simon paints vistas with his songs. Who can listen to Bridge Over Troubled Water and not envision laying down one’s heart and soul to comfort a friend or lover?  Who doesn’t see the fate of The Boxer — the man beaten down by life but rising up like a phoenix once again? Rarely has there been a more hopeless view of the world than the one Simon has painted in Sounds of Silence — or a more hope-shattering sense of loss than that of the American-dream-ebbing American Tune. But then there are the joyful works — Late in the Evening, the irresistibly upbeat, salsa-charged snapshot of playing music in a city neighborhood; or Feeling Groovy, a purely lighthearted look at the city as playground. Finally, there is the irony of Old Friends, a song written when Simon was still in his 20s, imagining it “terribly strange to be seventy.” No more common chord can be struck for anyone of a certain age who has looked in the mirror and seen an aged parent’s face in his or her own reflection.

Whatever your rhyme or reason, there is a poet who speaks to your heart.

Go ahead. Take a stanza.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman


one girl, two cities

A lot has been written about New York; even more has been said about the city that has given Chicago an inferiority complex, Los Angeles a cultural arts complex, and San Francisco, well, honestly, I think that San Francisco is too busy dealing with its LA insecurities to worry too much about New York.

To quote John Updike, “The true New Yorker secretly believes that people living anywhere else have to be, in some sense, kidding” — and, to really appreciate that sentiment, you have to have lived in New York for a while. Because while it is a great city, it also seduces you into believing that it is, for all intents and purposes, the single greatest city in the world. The place where things happen first. The place that makes all others secondary.

A born and bred New Yorker, I moved out to LA more than 20 years ago, and, at that time, you couldn’t convince me that I would ever adore any other city the way I did New York. I really believed Frank’s words — “if I can make it there, I’ll make it anywhere” — until I actually heard myself saying them aloud to B. (a native New Yorker himself who had left about 15 years earlier than I had).

That’s when I realized a) how silly that sounded, b) how full of themselves New Yorkers can be about their city (hey, don’t throw tomatoes — I was one of you once), and c) how I never wanted to hear that song again. Ever. (Close-up of me with my fingers in my ears every New Year’s Eve when, while watching the ball drop in Times Square on TV, the song New York, New York is blasted at full volume.)

For a dyed-in-the-wool, 98%-of-my-wardrobe-is-black, you’ll-never-get-me-to-leave-this-pizza-behind New York girl, moving out to LA was a major change. In fact, the only thing that would have made me leave the Big Apple behind would have had to be something really extraordinary. And it was. I call him B. (By the way, that was a test; if you’re nodding over the “Big Apple” nomenclature, you’ve failed. No true New Yorker would ever say those two words unless it was part of a grocery list, e.g., “buy a big apple to make an apple pie.”)

So what did I find once I moved? In some ways, New York does continue to rule — the aforementioned pizza, the bagels, the walkability. But in many other ways, for me at least, LA comes out ahead — the proximity to natural beauty, with both ocean and mountains close by; the guacamole; the creative buzz (everyone is either an actor, a writer, a director, someone who knows one of the above, or someone who loves the movies — wink, wink); the weather (it’s 78 degrees as I sit here on February 6 — what’s it like in midtown Manhattan?). While the general LA vibe is more casual (I can’t remember the last time I had to dress up to go out to dinner), the business vibe is only deceptively more casual (Angelenos work just as hard as New Yorkers — we just may do it in flip flops and sweats instead of a suit and tie). And the museum and stage scene out here, while perhaps not as large as in New York, is certainly rich enough to satisfy even a reader of the Sunday New York Times (that would be moi).

“What about the traffic?” you ask. Have you ever ridden a New York City subway during rush hour? Personal space much? “What about the skyline?” you argue. Yup, that New York skyline is beautiful (don’t tell Chicago; again, it’s a sore spot). LA’s skyline may not be as impressive, except when you see those mountains in the background. Earthquakes? Yeah, we hate them. Also the fires and mudslides. But New York certainly gets its share of natural mayhem as well.

In the New York-or-LA debate, both cities certainly have much to recommend them. But when I add up the pros, the cons, and the just “what makes me happy” stuff, I choose LA.

In a New York minute.



ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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write handed

For anyone who thinks that being a writer is glamorous, I have two words for you: as if. Being a writer is a lot of things — challenging, all-encompassing, sleep-reducing, stress-inducing, and, if you’re very, very lucky, satisfying and well-received — but glamorous is not one of them. On the days when the words just elude you, when the next idea is not even a seed but whatever precedes the seed, when it feels like your imagination needs recalibration — those are the moments when, to quote the advice that Edward Norton’s character (a young priest) receives from his mentor, played by Milos Forman, in Keeping the Faith: “if you can see yourself being happy doing anything else you should do that.”

I once worked with someone who would say to me each time she came into my office, “I don’t know how you keep coming up with new creative ideas. Don’t you ever run out?” My response — “I can’t worry about that. If I do, I will run out” — was somewhat disingenuous. Of course, I worry about that. Every. Single. Day. Because my words are my living. Fortunately for me, for every moment I wish I had gone to law school instead, there are more times when the words show up and writer’s block has been blocked. At least for that day.

The other tough thing about being a writer is the price it exacts from you. Your time and energy. Your self-esteem and self-consciousness. Your heart. And your soul. Because, as a writer, you leave a piece of yourself behind on the page. You open yourself up to your readers and trust that they will not trample all over your way-too-sensitive feelings. You fight back the fear of being so vulnerable and hope that your readers get you. You play the game of devil’s advocate with yourself — it is / it isn’t good enough, funny enough, clever enough, touching enough, smart enough — because you cannot play anything but yourself to your reading audience.

A good writing day is like finishing a marathon. Like landing a quadruple toe loop on the ice. Like swinging for the fences and watching the ball go up, up and all the way over the Green Monster.

A not-so-good writing day? Let’s just say that you spend so much time hitting the “delete” key that you hope it doesn’t portend your future — and doesn’t end up tattooed on your forehead.

So why do it? Because for all of the scary, what-do-I-do-now moments; for all those impasses where I have no clue as to what exactly my point is and where exactly the piece is going; for all the time spent cleaning out a closet, or color-coordinating my crayons, or trying to determine whether bangs are a good idea (alas, not for me) instead of staring at a blinking cursor that is making me feel cursed — for all of that, there is the exhilaration of finding my way, of discovering the exact words I need, of crafting a piece of writing that I absolutely fall in love with.

Because that’s the other thing about choosing the writing path. It’s an act of love, of commitment, of faith.

Until commas do us part.



ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman



There used to be a TV commercial for a margarine product that supposedly tasted just like butter — so much so that even Mother Nature was fooled. Not happy about that, she then used her power to inflict all kinds of misery on the world (thunder, lightning bolts, etc.). The spot’s tagline –“It’s not nice to fool Mother Nature” — feels particularly apt right now.

In this past year, especially, it seems that Mother Nature (or God or Goddess or Higher Being or the Universe or whatever you call the source from which you draw your faith, if indeed you do) has had it. Life-shattering natural disasters — hurricanes, fires, mudslides, blizzards — have abounded in number and severity to the point where it often feels as if the world is about to end. The wrath of God (or God-like power) in response to the state of our nation seems like a terribly real thing — even to someone like me, who is still trying to figure out my own belief system.

Feeling helpless cannot be an excuse; “ignore it and it will go away” is wishful thinking; turning a blind eye to the hatred, a deaf ear to the cries of injustice, a silent voice to the need for change are all non-actions that only add fuel to the blaze of ugliness.

Of course I know that science can explain the tragic natural occurrences. I know that the logical answer involves global warming, changing weather patterns, the shifting of tectonic plates. I know that inhumanity does not cause hellacious fires, deadly rivers of mud, or life-erasing earthquakes, hurricanes, or tsunamis. But I also know that the more we see the natural world in an uproar and the more we become aware of our own mortality, the greater our urgency to set things right, to do the right thing, to protect human rights.

“Darkness cannot drive out darkness,” the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King said. “Only light can do that.”

The time is now. Illuminate.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman


play innocent

About a million years ago, I had a client who made a children’s toy designed to teach reading and spelling. The marketing message was that play is about more than fun and games; it can also tackle serious stuff, like learning basic skills. Makes sense.

But what about playtime for adults? I love to play like a kid (the fact that B. and I often act as if we’re six probably helps), although, clearly, learning to read and write has been checked off my to-do list. For me, then, play is all about fun and making nonsense. To wit, my perfect play date:

Color with abandon. Nope, not one of those made-for-adults coloring books. I’m talking freestyle coloring — extra points for using all the colors and for creating blooming blobs, shapeless shapes, and amazing mazes. You’re going to want the big box of crayons for this. Note: Do not let the dog eat the crayons to see what color poops out — you’re a grown-up, for heaven’s sake.

Skate in your socks. Okay, this is a favorite in our home, even if I’m not really good at it. The premise is simple. Wearing socks, push off on one foot and slide all the way across a room, attempting to crash into your playmate at the other end. Some caveats — only skate on a floor, not a carpet; and make sure you’re not barefoot (trust me, bare feet do not slide well). B. tells me that the look on my face while sailing across the floor is a mixture of absolute joy and utter terror. Once I reach him, I hold on for dear life, always somewhat surprised that I made it. (Based on her performance holding on for dear life in Titanic, I think that Kate Winslet should play me in Sock Skating: The Movie.)

Swing with friends. No, not that way (yes, we live in southern California, but still, ugh). I’m talking about going to the nearest playground or park and spending some time on the swing set. You can get really high. No, not that way (yes, we live in southern California, but still, no thanks). There’s nothing to match the sensation of soaring in a perfect arc, the wind in your face, the world streaming by, the … wait, are those the monkey bars? Race you!

Act out with shadow puppets. Especially enjoyable when your playmate is attempting to read in bed and you discover that making shadow puppets on the ceiling is unbelievably amusing (for you) and annoying (for said mate). You can make all kinds of creatures  — dogs, dragons, bunny rabbits, butterflies. Really fun when your playmate joins in and you enact “my animals can take down your animals” matches. Winner gets treated to breakfast out — animal-shaped pancakes optional.

When it’s hard to forget the day-to-day drama, try to remember that the play’s the thing.

Share your toys.


ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman





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