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girl meets joy

Pop quiz — finish this sentence: Life without ___________ would be less joyful.

Okay, we’re not talking family or friends here. We’re talking about the other things that, well, make your world go round. Things that rock your world. Things that, whenever you encounter them, bring a world of joy to your heart and make the blood in your veins sing.

Pencils down. What did you come up? Me, I’m going with the Beatles.

If you agree (or even if the lads from Liverpool weren’t on your list), the movie Yesterday will certainly up the joy factor in your life. Way, way up.

The movie’s premise is extraordinary — a world in which the Beatles never existed except within the memory of one person. A young singer / songwriter is the only person on earth who remembers them, and, upon coming to that realization, performs their music for the entire world to hear, passing it off as his own. (Any more detail would require a spoiler alert, and I’d rather have you keep on reading than have to issue one of those pesky things.)

The bottom line here is the amazing joy that wells up at the sound of the Beatles. In B.’s mind, hearing their music is like reuniting with an old friend. Indeed. And it’s so much more. It’s difficult to describe just how utterly blissful it was to be immersed in those songs — even when performed by someone other than John, Paul, George, and Ringo. The music is just that good.

And whether you heard the songs while they were on the charts, or if you’re hearing them for the first time now (as is the entire world within this movie), you can’t help but love at least some of them. It’s as if the music of the Beatles is part of our collective unconscious for what is beautiful and moving and joyful.

If your past does include the memory of the Beatles on the Ed Sullivan show; if the group has been a part of your life from their beginning; if their body of music has followed you from childhood (or older) onward —  I swear it’s like feeling your history wash over you again. It’s a wave of emotion that lifts you up. It’s a shimmering sensation of love. It’s gorgeous, fun, revolutionary music that makes you feel like your heart might burst with gratitude.

And, if you’re a baby like me, it leaves you in tears of joy.

If you let the movie work its magic and allow yourself to believe that you and the main character are the only two people who are in on the secret, the only two who remember the significance of all this joy, the feeling is, to quote Roseanne Arquette’s character in Pulp Fiction, “f*****g trippy.”

In this world where happiness is far, far too elusive; at this time that truly tries all of our souls; at this moment when kindness has become much too rare — now is when we need to “get by with a little help from [our] friends.”

Yesterday reminds us that the Beatles were more than a breakthrough musical group. They — and their music — were a gift that embodied a feeling of hope, of love, of possibility. And hearing that music again evokes a feeling of joy that lives on. In all of us.

Let it be.

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

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twin sneaks

I am totally fascinated by twins — the more identical, the more fascinating. What must it be like, I wonder, to have another person who looks just like you sharing your life from your days in utero. How cool must it be to know what you look like by looking at a real person versus a mirrored reflection. And how amazing must it be to be able to pull the old switcheroo on others by pretending to be the other twin and totally getting away with it. I imagine being a twin has its own set of challenges, but, to my non-twin eyes, it looks like fun. Or did, anyway, until I fell prey to the twin spin.

To wit:

The first words I heard upon entering a public restroom recently were those of a harried mother attempting to shepherd her six-year-old twins out of there. “Chloe, come on! Are you done yet? Zoe and I are waiting!” The words were followed by Chloe saying, “I’m waiting for it to flush!” Her mother replied, impatience rising, “Come on, get out of the stall — now!” But no. “I’m waiting for it to FLUSH!” Exasperation mounting, her mom yelled, “Just come out NOW! I’ll deal with the flushing!” (I kid you not). “No! It’s not flushing!” (I hadn’t heard the word “flushing” used so much since the last US Open.)

The problem, I realized, was that the facilities were controlled by motion sensors, and that as long as stubborn little Chloe continued to stand there, nothing would happen.

All this time, Zoe (aka the good twin, or so I thought) was doing everything perfectly. Washing her hands without having to be reminded. Waiting quietly for her mom and her twin by standing out of the way. Looking too, too adorable in her long braids and “Twins Rule!” t-shirt.

Finally, Chloe emerged (after a little more  “encouragement” from her mom) and her mom walked into the stall (presumably to handle the flushing dilemma and to use it herself). “Do NOT forget to wash your hands!” she admonished, as Chloe headed for the sink.

And then it happened. As I stood at the mirror, Chloe and Zoe exchanged their secret twin look and, without a word, exchanged places. When their mom emerged, it was Zoe-as-Chloe washing her hands while Chloe-as-Zoe stood off to the side. Believing that it was Chloe who all of sudden was cooperating with the motion-sensored sink and soap dispenser, their mom dispensed big praise upon the little trickster — great mothering, if only Chloe had legitimately learned something versus a) having known how these devices worked all along; b) having only been stalling while in the stall; and c) having escaped having to wash her hands because she just didn’t feel like it.

Thinking I was being supportive of the little twins’ little joke, I gave both girls a big smile in the mirror. Nothing. Well, not nothing — more like a stare from Chloe that would have made Wednesday Addams’s blood curdle. And the same we-killed-our-babystter-and-we-can-do-the-same-to-you glare from Zoe. Nice kids.

But their fun wasn’t over yet. When their mom went back into the stall to get her purse, which she had left hanging from the door hook, Zoe quickly dried her hands on her shorts and moved back out of the fray while Chloe took her place at the paper-towel dispenser (yes, motion-driven) and proceeded to wave her hand in front of the red light once. Twice. A dozen times. The moment their mother saw that, we were back to the old routine. “Come on, Chloe, let’s go!” “I’m waiting for it to stop!” “Just step away from it NOW — I’ll deal with it stopping!”

Giggles ensued from Chloe and Zoe. Cute. And from me. Not so cute, apparently. Because as I attempted an “excuse me, please” in order to pass behind Chloe, who was now blocking the entrance with her little charade (and her growing pile of paper towels), the twins struck again. “Chloe, move! You’re in the nice lady’s way,” the  mother exhorted. “No, it’s okay,” I said, stepping deftly around the child and pushing open the exit door. But no. The twins had had it with me. Not-so-sweet little Zoe stuck out her little Keds-clad foot and tripped me so that I stumbled on my way out.

And Chloe? Her voice followed after me — “Maybe she needs to get out of MY way!” Zoe’s voice echoed the sentiment — “Yeah, maybe that lady needs to get out of OUR way!”

Obnoxious, obviously. Rude, ruthlessly. And bratty, brilliantly. Game over.

Twin some, lose some.

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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exit dancing

Let’s review what I have in common with Lucille Ball: red hair, no. Comic genius, no. Extraordinary Hollywood and television success, no and no. Now let’s see what I share with Lucy Ricardo: a penchant for putting myself in sticky situations, yes. The ability to take an awkward situation and somehow make it even worse, yup. The knack for getting myself into trouble over what seemed like a really good idea at the time — ding, ding, ding! We have a winner.

To wit:

Close-up of me browsing through your typical store — clothing, cosmetics, cute shoes. After about a half hour, I decide that nothing piques my interest and make for the exit. And here we go.

Like lots of stores, this one has two sets of automatic sliding doors (one set for entry, one for exit), with a vestibule between each pair. Here I am, nonchalantly strolling up to the first exit door, which obediently slides open and allows me into the vestibule, closing behind me. I then approach the second exit door and … nothing. It doesn’t move. I do bit of fancy footwork in front of it, thinking that I can trick it into opening. Again, nothing.

Okay, I’ll go back the other way. Except that now I’m trying to enter the exit door, which will not open because, let’s face it, you can’t enter an exit door. It’s in the door rule book (as opposed to the one about a window opening when a door closes, which apparently is not).

Stuck in the middle, I signal for assistance by waving at the first person I see. Good news, he walks up to the door to try it out. Bad news, now even the door leading from store to vestibule won’t open. He waves back at me with a smile, mouthing the words, “Door’s broken.”

Yeah, got that.

Worse news, he strolls over to the other set of doors (the entry doors), waits for someone to enter from outside, and leaves the store, and me, behind. Now I’m the one mouthing words. Loudly. But no one hears you when you scream in outer space — or in an inner vestibule.

Attempting to mime (read gesticulate wildly) that I’m trapped and need to get out this place, which is becoming smaller by the second, only results in a couple of eight-year-olds imitating me and laughing hysterically.

Desperate times call for desperate measures. The only thing separating me from the entry doors just to my left is a set of metal rails with a narrow opening between each. If I can squeeze through one of those openings, I can make it out the in doorway. But no. For one blinding moment, my left leg (and I have slim legs) gets caught. I now have visions of having to gnaw off my own leg in order to escape the purgatory of what has become a shopping hell. Somehow, I manage to slide my leg back out — but I’m still stuck waiting for Godot.

Next idea: I try calling the store to plead for help. Thinking this is a genius plan, I finally get a hold on my mounting concern that I may never see freedom again — until I get put on hold listening to bad, bad elevator music interrupted at times by a voice telling me that my call is very important to the store and please not to hang up. I hang up.

And then I see it. A space beneath the aforementioned metal bars that looks just big enough to squirm under. Here goes. Flat on my tummy, inch by inch, I begin to wriggle through to the promised land. I can almost taste victory when — ding, ding, ding! — the store alarm goes off. Apparently, the metal bars are a security sensor and, even though I have no store merchandise on me, moving under them like that causes an uproar.

In two seconds flat, the broken doors are miraculously wrenched open manually and a young security guard the size of the Titanic rushes over to me and asks what it is I think I’m doing. Doing a reverse crawl, I stand up, dust myself off, and regroup. I have had it.

“I am,” I say in my haughtiest tone, “attempting to leave this store. Although,” and here I pull myself up to my full (short) height and glare at him, “it appears that while I can check out any time I like, I can never leave.” He looks at me, puzzled, and I realize that paraphrasing the Eagles lyrics a) means nothing to this kid and, b) is probably about to land me an even longer delay in getting out of there. Except. Except.

Except that Mr. Security (actually a very nice guy named Rick — no joke) is a big Eagles fan (his dad was a roadie back in the day). So much so that my response elicits a snort, followed by a laugh, followed by an all-out Joe Walsh air-guitar tribute. When I get the chance to explain my mishap, he immediately apologizes for any inconvenience, escorts me directly to the manager, and waits until he is sure that I am unhurt and that I have been compensated for my troubles with a very generous store gift card. And then he personally escorts me out of the store, as I do my happy dance.

I love Lucy. Ricky loves the Eagles. And I can’t wait to use my gift card — online.

Talk about an exit strategy.

 

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

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trees a crowd

In honor of Earth Day, I thought it might be a good time to talk about my somewhat lopsided relationship with trees — that is, I love them and they don’t care for me all that much. Sure, they tolerate my taking photos of them in the throes of their autumnal splendor, winter starkness, spring bloom, and summer abundance (who wouldn’t want to be adored?). But when it comes to showing me some love, all bets are off.

Take that beautiful, blossoming tree that beckoned to me one summer day, not long after we had moved to LA. The streets were lined with lots of these trees, in shades of pink, red, and purple. “Come on over,” one of the pink ones called. “Smell how beautiful my fragrance is.” And just like that, the tree had me.

No sooner had I leaned in and breathed deeply than I knew I had been had. I could literally feel the pollen surging up my nose and into my sinuses, where it remained for the rest of the summer. I’m talking allergy hell, duped by that temptingly evil tree. I’m smart enough now not to fall for that one again — “You know what happens to nosy dames? They get stuffed noses”– but I’d swear those trees laugh at me whenever I pass by.

Then there’s that root-full, ruthless tree that jumped up and tripped me. There I was on my lunch break at a new job several years ago, walking through the neighborhood to get some fresh air and to check out the best places to get a sandwich. So absorbed was I in looking around, that I didn’t see the giant tree root that rose up out of the sidewalk and sent me sprawling.One moment there I was, feeling fine and sauntering down the street. The next I was facedown, flat on the sidewalk, millimeters from hitting my head.

The damages? Pants torn beyond repair, knees and palms well-scraped, and ego bruised. Very. I pulled myself up and sat on the curb for a couple of minutes to catch my breath. “Great,” I muttered, looking over at the tree. “You know I have a new-client meeting right after lunch and you just couldn’t resist the urge to trip me, could you?” The tree, as is usual in these cases, wasn’t talking. But its branches leaned over in the breeze and rustled those of the tree next to it, sort of like a “good one, right?” poke in the ribs.

The latest incident happened just last week. While walking straight across a parking lot to my car, I walked straight into a tree. Or the branch of a tree to be exact. A very thick branch. That smacked me right in the forehead. I think I actually saw stars for a second, trying to figure out what had happened. The aforementioned branch had been just above my line of sight (obviously) and, to add insult to injury, my head had also broken off a thin branch, which I was now wearing in my hair. Lovely. “What?” the tree asked innocently.

I’ve tried to figure out where all this animosity is coming from. I’ve always been on the side of trees and their feelings. (When they had to cut back tree branches on some LA streets so that a truck, carrying the space shuttle Endeavour to the California Science Center, could pass by, I was as upset as anyone. And I’ve always felt that the Rockefeller Center Christmas tree would rather live out its life in the peaceful countryside than be cut down, dragged to the heart of the world’s busiest city, and be forced to live out its existence in the midst of all that traffic — and all those tourists.)

Maybe it’s just nature’s way of laughing at a city girl. Maybe it’s just a little bit of arboreal fun, if you will. Or maybe it’s just my irrepressible, overactive writer’s imagination that needs to find a creative story in every little incident.

Let’s leaf it at that.

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

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winging it


If you live in southern California, you’ve probably noticed something amazing over the past several days. We are currently being treated to the spectacle of millions of Painted Lady butterflies on their annual migration up from the deserts of Mexico to the Pacific Northwest. About the size of a half-dollar, Painted Ladies look like miniature versions of Monarch butterflies with their orange, black, and white coloration. This winter’s inordinate amount of rainfall has led to particularly abundant vegetation and, as a result, a deluge of butterflies.

I am absolutely in awe at the fact that all of these creatures — every last multi-million-and-one of them — is bred to know where they are going and how to get there.  No stopping for directions, no asking Siri, no GPS, not even a road map. (Remember when road maps were free at gas stations? Sorry, I digress.)

In watching the incredible flutter-by, I can’t help but imagine a conversation between a Painted Lady couple traveling their route. To wit:

A sunny morning in LA 

He:   Are you ready yet, honey? Spring isn’t going to last forever.

She:  I’m here, I’m here, keep your wings on.

He:   Funny. Here comes a tailwind — let’s put the pedal to the flutter.

She:  Look, there’s Sid and Gwen, Marty and Linda, and the whole rest of the swarm.

He:   Yup. Traffic’s building up. Air space over the 101 and the 5 is getting tight. Lucky for us, I know a shortcut.

She:  But everyone’s going this way.

He:   And if everyone were flying off the Brooklyn Bridge, would you do that too?

She:  I don’t even know what the Brooklyn Bridge is, but we’ve got to stay with the group.

He:   Why?

She:  I don’t know why, I just know it’s the way we’ve been bred.

He:   Come on, let’s blow this popsicle stand.

She:  Popsicle stand? What?

A while later, after taking the so-called shortcut

She:  We’re lost, aren’t we?

He:   Uh … nope.

She:  Well, where are we?

He:   Uh … we’re going in the right direction.

She:  Maybe we should stop and ask for directions.

He:   I don’t need no stinking directions.

She:  Why do you always have to be so stubborn about asking for directions?

He:   I like to figure things out for myself.

She:  And I like to arrive on time.

He:   No problem. We’ll be flitting our wings in Portland before they even cross the state line. We’ll be circling the Space Needle before they even —

She:  Vegas.

He:   Before they even Vegas?

She:  No, genius. Las Vegas. We just passed the sign that says Welcome to Las Vegas. I told you we were going the wrong way.

He:   No, no, I was planning this all along.

She:  I’m not speaking to you.

He:   (pivots) Aw, that’s too bad. Because I just figured …

She:  What?

He:   Why don’t we check out that Chapel of Love?

She:  You mean –?

He:   Sure, baby. We’ll get hitched and then hitch a ride on the bumper of a limo headed north. We’ll make up the time and meet the others right on schedule. Just like I planned.

She:  You did, did you?

He:   Cross my wings and hope to fly.

She:  (forgiving him) Maybe we can even catch a show or two?

He:   Just watch out for the neon lights — moth to the flame and all that. I don’t want you to singe your pretty painted wings.

She:  Aw, you smooth flutterer, you.

Fadeout on lights of the Vegas Strip under the stars

Butterfly me to the moon.

 

 

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

 

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how to open doors with just a smile

It’s funny the kinds of things that change as we age. When I was in my 20s, I remember being able to do exactly what Glenn Frey and Don Henley wrote about vis-à-vis city girls in Lyin’ Eyes — I knew “how to open doors with just a smile.” And they were right.

In those days, working in Manhattan and having not much more to worry about than how to avoid getting my high heels caught in subway gratings (or in the slats of the old escalator in Macy’s Herald Square), I had that power. It seemed like a mere smile at a well-dressed man would result in a door literally being held open, a subway seat being vacated, and eyes following as I walked along, feeling good about being young, being in New York, and being able to attract that kind of attention.

Okay, now fast forward nearly four decades (and yes, it does go fast). Doors are still opened by young men, although more because I remind them of their mothers (who, by the way, raised them well if they’re opening doors) or, OMG say it isn’t so, their grandmothers. And, as I’ve written previously, young men seem to leap out of their subway seats if I’m standing (although I am happy enough to remain vertical). And a smile in their direction? It brings a smile back. But the power isn’t the same. In my 20s, it was the power of pretty in the present tense. These days, it’s the power of pretty past perfect.

The last time I wore heels high enough to worry about their getting caught was years ago; it’s too uncomfortable now to walk more than a few  blocks in them. Of course, no one really walks in LA, so that’s kind of beside the point. And it’s not that it didn’t hurt back then — it’s just that now I’m not as willing to sacrifice happy feet for stiletto feet.

I’ll let you in on a little secret. It’s more fun now. It’s more fun to be at an age when not every man I might smile at or comment to while I’m out and about thinks I want him. It’s more fun to be at an age where flirting with the cute waiter does not mean I want him to swipe right — it means I want him to get my order right. And it’s more fun to be at an age where asking the college guy in aisle #3 if he can reach something for me on the top shelf is neither a come-on in his eyes nor nervous-making in mine.

Would I prefer fewer lines on my face? Of course. Do I wish that dropping that annoying “it’s back again” ten pounds were as easy as it used to be? Sure. And do I miss being eye-catching as I stride along? I suppose.

But the trade-off, in my eyes at least, is that the age I am right now is exactly where I’m supposed to be. I’m more comfortable with myself, more outgoing, more creative, funnier, smarter, and (or so I’ve been told) sexier than ever. And that’s not nothing.

No lie.

 

 

 

ⓒ 2019 Claudia Grossman

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braided together

I am so happy for my friends who have had their fathers with them over the years to share in their adult lives. Although I have lived so much more of my life without my dad than with him (he passed away when I was only 19), my memories of him are sweet. One of the most vivid is that of our Saturday mornings together.

Although my dad worked long hours, he was always home for dinner on Friday nights and through the weekend. Saturday mornings were our time together. Maybe my mom had a list of errands for him to run — I rode shotgun. Other times we went to the hardware store — no, not one of the huge home-improvement chain stores we all go to now but a genuine hardware and garden store run by locals, two men named Ralph and Pat, who became fixtures of my childhood. Although my dad was a film editor, in his younger years he had done the kinds of jobs that had left his hands callused and roughened. He was no stranger to manual labor, and sometimes I think that the time we spent at the hardware store shooting the breeze with the men who had grown up in the Bronx as he had were some of the most satisfying moments for him.

More often than not, our Saturday morning jaunts around town included lunch — just my dad and me. Maybe it was the local Jewish deli, maybe the burger place where the hamburgers always were wider than the buns, maybe it was the lunch special at the Chinese place. (Because I was such a fussy eater, he had convinced me that the water chestnuts in my beef chop suey were really potatoes; it worked for me.) What mattered was that I was with my dad and that I had all of his attention. Ours was a mutual admiration society — he was my hero and I could do no wrong (or very little) in his eyes.

One of the most tender memories I have of my dad is of Saturday mornings when we would attend Sabbath services at the synagogue, probably a couple of times a month. Two things I remember about those mornings: 1) that my dad would revert from his regular glasses to his sunglasses during the sermon so that he could grab a nap while the rabbi was speaking, and 2) that I would sit next to him braiding and unbraiding the tassels on his tallit (prayer shawl). Sometimes I wove the strands between my fingers, sometimes I tied them into loose knots before untangling them. It was my way of staying awake during the sermon; it was also my way of feeling even more attached to my dad.

Although I now consider myself a cultural, non-religious Jew, my memories of those Saturday mornings at the synagogue are no less special. The plush seats, the beautiful melodies, the whispered jokes, the slices of sponge cake afterward — it all came together to create an experience with my dad that I will always, always remember.

Funny the things that connect us to our pasts and tie us to the people we love.

Heartstrings, I call them.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

 

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