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she did not just say that

I was almost 35 years old the first time I ever said the f-word. Aloud, that is. Before that, I’d said it maybe a few times in my head (I was raised to believe that nice girls just did not talk that way, so even the thinking-it number is low), but it never actually came out of my mouth before then. And when it did, it was a surprising relief. I had been in a brainstorming session with a few men I worked with, all really good guys. One of them used the word and then immediately turned to apologize. “Don’t f**king worry about it,” I replied with a shrug before realizing it. Everyone laughed, me loudest of all at the utter joy of no longer feeling constrained. And a door opened.

Hopefully I’m not offending anyone here. I’m not talking about berating or telling someone off using the word. I’m certainly not talking about using it in front of children. And I’m not even talking about using it in front of people whom I know are sensitive. But sometimes even I, who make my living using words carefully, cannot help but succumb to the pleasure that comes from an occasional, well-placed f-word at the right time and in the right place (usually said aloud to myself). To wit:

As a noun “What the f**k!” is the perfect exclamation when finding out that the six hours I had just put into writing part of my book were a waste (after one errant keystroke deleted my work forever because I hadn’t hit “save” and neither had my old computer done it automatically). Also useful for when you cut your finger instead of the apple you’re paring, when your refrigerator dies immediately after you’ve restocked it with perishables, or when you live in an apartment and miss the UPS delivery person (whom you have to let into the building), thereby resigning yourself to six more weeks of wintry package tracking.

As an adjective Nominees for the award for best use of the f-word as an adjective go to Marisa Tomei’s character, Mona Lisa Vito, in My Cousin Vinny and Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Susie Diamond, in The Fabulous Baker Boys. When her forever-fiancé Vinny Gambini (Joe Pesci) still has trouble admitting that she could be a huge help to him in winning even more cases (after she helped him win this one), Mona Lisa says, “… You have to say thank you. Oh, my God, what a f**king nightmare!” Frankly, the line wouldn’t be the same without the word in it. (Say it both ways and see for yourself. It helps if you have a New York accent, big hair, and a tight dress on at the time.) In Susie’s case, she is having microphone trouble onstage. When told to turn on the switch that will make the mic go live, she says, in frustration, “What f**king switch?” just as, you guessed it, the mic goes live. After Beau Bridges, as one of the fabulous duo, later chides her for using that language, she retorts, “I said it. I didn’t do it!” Come on, that’s good.

As an adverb “Are you f**king kidding me?” (the f-word modifies the verb, as any good adverb does) is really the only way to respond to that guy who cuts you off on the freeway (caution: it must only be said within the confines of your car, without moving your lips — otherwise road rage might ensue). Or try it when you’ve been on hold for three hours waiting for some representative (from the phone company, for example) and then you’re disconnected. By the phone company. The people who are supposed to excel at phone connections. You get my drift.

I love when people who may have the (old) impression of me as being the quiet type are delighted to find out that I’m really quite animated. When people who knew me as a shy teenager are surprised to find out just how outgoing I am now. And when people who have always thought of me as a reserved Ms. Goody Two-Shoes are astounded to know that there’s a little bit of bad girl running around inside my head. She’s fresh, she’s fierce, and she’s that other f-word.

Funny.

© 2021 Claudia Grossman

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just one look

We’ve all seen it. That look. The one that changed the course of your moment — or of your history. That kept you from making the wrong choice — or pushed you into making the right one. That gave you confidence to leap — or propped you up when you fell. (Or, on a lighter note, the one from your mother that stopped you in your tracks from a) running with scissors, b) using those scissors to cut off your little brother’s hair, or c) attempting to trade your little brother for the neighbor’s dog.)

The looks that we receive from others can communicate volumes (if we keep our eyes open); the ones we give can transmit a world of meaning (if the looker remains watchful).

Think about it. There’s the flirtatious wink. The icy death stare. The compassionate, teared-up glance. The loving gaze. The brief shut-eye assent. And the ever-popular bedroom eyes.

B. and I have had our share of shared looks (my death stare being the predictable reaction to his eye roll), as I imagine most couples have. Movie couples, certainly. (I love how I can illustrate almost anything by turning to the movies.) To wit:

The Wink. In The Way We Were, Hubbell Gardiner (Robert Redford) and his rich preppy friends show up at the diner where Katie Morosky (Barbra Streisand) is waiting tables. Katie hates everything about the Hubbell crowd (except, as it turns out later, Hubbell himself); Hubbell thinks she takes life too seriously (if you think that now, Hubbell, just wait until after you’re married to her). While she glares at them all for their spoiled, trust-funded freedom to have fun, she takes their orders for cheeseburgers and Cokes. “Onions?” she asks, annoyed. “Yeah,” he says. “In the Cokes.” And then he winks. Game over.

The Sultry Stare. No one did sultry better than Lauren Bacall. And on no one did she fix that sultriness better than Humphrey Bogart, namely in To Have and Have Not. After giving him one of moviedom’s greatest kisses, she laser-focuses her stare, telling him that if he wants her, “Just whistle. You know how to whistle, don’t you Steve? You just put your lips together and … blow.” It’s a line delivered coolly enough to match her icy blonde bob, yet it’s hot enough to melt the celluloid it was filmed on. He can’t take his eyes off her.

The Pained Scowl. This time it’s Bogart in Casablanca when the love of his life, Ilsa Lund, who abandoned him in wartime Paris years earlier, finds him again in Morocco, where she needs his help in getting her and her Resistance-hero husband out of the country. To say that Bogart’s eyes are filled with anguish is like saying the nearby Atlantic Ocean is filled with just a little water; to say that they burn with anger is like saying that there might be a small fire in hell. And to say that he is still in love with Ilsa is … well, you get it. Looks like he’s not ready for the start of a beautiful friendship.

The Love Lock. There’s a moment in Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner? (a film filled with exceptional moments) that is particularly extraordinary. San Francisco newspaper publisher Matt Drayton (Spencer Tracy) has been asked by his daughter to give his blessing to her upcoming marriage to Dr. John Prentice (a brilliant Sidney Poitier). The complication that makes him hesitate is that Prentice is Black, this is the 1960s, and, while Drayton is liberal in his leanings, he has tremendous fears for the societal problems the couple will face. Until. In an amazing speech, he recalls the passion he and his wife Christina (Katharine Hepburn) shared as a young couple and realizes that to stand in the way of such passion in this couple would be wrong. At one point Drayton looks over at Christina and their eyes lock in remembrance. But it goes deeper than that. Because the look is one also shared by lifetime lovers Tracy and Hepburn — a tender look that spoke to all their years of real-life love and passion at a time when they were late in life. Cue the tears — theirs and mine.

The eyes have it.

© 2021 Claudia Grossman

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give my regards

One of the wonderful things for me about growing up in New York was the chance to see Broadway musicals. Not everyone’s cup of tea, I know (the idea of characters just spontaneously bursting into song is enough to send some running for the aisles). Some musicals struck me as so wonderful that I’d want to see them more than once, their score running through my head for days afterward (in a good way), while others, not so much (I’m talking to you, Cats).

Add to that the fact that I came from a family where Broadway albums were on the stereo almost non-stop (to this day, I can probably sing you the lyrics from your favorite classic Broadway show, even the ones I was too young to have seen in person when they first played, like South Pacific, West Side Story, and Oklahoma).

Of course, with Broadway being dark, now, for a year, the yearning to see a musical in person again on any stage — East Coast or West — is palpable (still not Cats, though). But in looking back, there are three musicals from my youth that made a huge impact at the time I saw them (original casts) and have stayed with me since. While worlds apart from each other, the common thread is the joy of the music, the heart in the storytelling, and the lure of the stage. To wit:

Fiddler on the Roof — The masterpiece musical — based on Sholem Aleichem’s stories about Tevye, a Jewish milkman in an early 20th century Eastern European shtetl (small rural community) — first came to Broadway in the 1960s and lit it up for years afterward. As a young Jewish girl whose grandparents grew up in that very environment, I was captivated by the music, the humor, the romance — and I longed to play one of Tevye’s daughters, long hair streaming as they danced and sang. By turns funny, poignant, romantic, and searing, this show stole my heart a long time ago — even hearing the first few bars of “Matchmaker, Matchmaker” today can send me twirling across a room, pretending the towel I’m holding is a bridal veil. One word: tradition.

Hair — If Fiddler was tradition, then Hair was everything but. The 1960s groundbreaking musical centered on a group of hippies in New York and told the story of their beliefs — make love, not war being key — and their sex, drugs, and rock and roll. Both political and poetic, joyful and angry, Hair sent shockwaves through the until-then staid musical-theater scene with its language and its — gasp! — brief nudity, and its story could not have been more timely. Interestingly enough, this edgy musical made its way to the somewhat homogeneous suburbs where both B. and I grew up. Both sets of parents took us to see it as ten-year-old kids; our respective elementary schools then performed some of its songs in stage productions. (B. played the drums for his, I played the piano for mine, and everyone kept their clothes on.) Four words: let the sun shine.

A Chorus Line — Opening on Broadway in the mid 1970s, A Chorus Line took everything we knew about musicals and turned it on its head, because it was told from the performers-as-performers point of view. The story — stories, actually — behind a group of dancers auditioning for their spot in a musical’s chorus line is riveting, both for the personal accounts of each dancer’s life and for the extraordinary talent they each exhibit. Some accounts are heartbreaking, some humorous, but all are filled with their love for dance, their need to be on stage, their unfailing commitment to keep following their passions no matter what. I was absolutely spellbound from the moment the curtain went up until the dazzling finale (oh, how I longed to be a Broadway dancer even though I was far too shy ever to have taken a dance lesson in my life!). The show ran for an astounding 15 years — even after it closed, though, the stories of those dancers and their unwillingness to let go of their dreams plays on. What they did for love is unforgettable. Two words: singular sensation.

Everyone has their favorite Broadway musical — from Phantom to Les Miz, Wicked to Miss Saigon, Rent to Chicago, Aladdin to Jersey Boys. And, of course, Hamilton to, well, Hamilton. To me, as a young girl, those Broadway lights and the players who dared to brave them were heroes. The stories they told were intoxicating; the music was hypnotic; the performances, enthralling. I was a rapt audience, wrapped up in the mystique, the possibility, the magic.

Places, everyone.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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in the mood

Yes, I’ve written about chocolate before. And no, I haven’t run out of things to say. In a world turned upside down and inside out, chocolate seems to help restore some smidgen of a semblance of balance. Temporarily. I’m not talking about good-for-your-health dark chocolate filled with antioxidants. I’m talking creamy, comforting, good-for-your-soul milk chocolate. Ahh.

And while there are those who may only indulge in offerings from an exclusive chocolatier in Paris or a too-chic boutique in Soho, my tastes run far more ordinary than that. Pleasures easily found, treasures widely available. To wit:

Caramel. Whether you pronounce it “car-a-mel” (like me and every New Yorker I know) or “car-mel” (like everyone else), sign me up. Not for the sticky, chewy kind (that stuff is hell on dental work and therefore a reckless-abandon type of joy I’ve had to abandon as I’ve gotten older) — the soft, melty kind of caramel that shows up in Ghirardelli Milk Chocolate Caramel Squares or Cadbury Caramello (is that a perfect name or what?) bars. Or in a Hershey Rolo stack. Give me any of the above and I can literally check out of reality for a little while. Turn on, tune in, drop out. Repeat.

Chocolate bars. The classic milk chocolate bar is like the classic string of pearls — it goes with everything in your wardrobe from little black dress to little white tee; it’s the perfect choice when you’re not sure what to pick; it always says “rich.” My favorite is one from my childhood that I can’t find anymore, at least not in LA. It’s the original Nestlé milk chocolate bar in the red and white wrapper. If you’ve seen it recently, please send it along — until then, I’ll have to make do with Cadbury Dairy Milk bars. They’re almost as good. Bar none.

Movie candy. Let’s face it, movies are more fun with let’s-go-out-to-the-lobby candy. I used to love Milk Duds, until they made it to the aforementioned gotta-abandon-it list. (Extra points if you throw Milk Duds into your bucket of popcorn.) Coming in a close second are Raisinets (and I can justify them as having the nutritional benefit of fruit). Also, and here I break my no-dark-chocolate rule — SnoCaps. The points they lose for not being milk chocolate are gained back by the sweet, crunchy, white nonpareils on top (like teeny sugary pearls — again with the metaphor). Just remember to do all your candy unwrapping before the movie starts. Sheesh.

See’s Milk Chocolate Buttercreams. If chocolate nirvana exists, then this must be it. I’m not sure how to describe these wonders except as pillows of velvety chocolate buttercream (like cake frosting but richer) cloaked in the smoothest milk chocolate. If life is a box of chocolates, this piece is the pinnacle.

So yes. When it comes to vices, chocolate is mine.

Everything else? Plain vanilla.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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listen to the music

Right off the bat, extra points if the title says Doobie Brothers to you and you’ve, well, listened to their music. Way to go. That business taken care of, and speaking of music, one thing I have truly missed over this past almost-year (aside from, first and foremost, of course, the human connection), is the music. The pure joy of going to concerts at terrific venues and of hearing music performed live — music that stirs the heart, the soul, and the feet — is unmatched and so very needed right now.

I’m talking about the kind of concerts that stay in your mind forever because of the feelings they stirred when you were there. The kind of artists who manage to reach across the gap between stage and audience to touch your pulse, practically, with their sound, delivering the sense that you have traveled their road with them and emerged feeling — simply put — part of the music. To wit:

Bruce Springsteen. Yup, you knew this one was coming. We’ve seen Bruce in concert several times, including the night that he opened Staples Center, and I truly believe his concerts are the most life-altering (not a word I use lightly) of any I’ve seen. The man’s energy, the E Street Band’s incredible sound, the songbook that is a rocking, rolling, poignant, unforgettable portrait of life through the eyes of a poet with a guitar. Every performance has left me a little breathless and a lot speechless. To see Bruce Springsteen in concert is as close to an alternative kind of religious experience as one might find. The religion of music to stir, to celebrate, to consecrate. Amen.

Billy Joel. To me, going to a Billy Joel concert is like going home to a place that’s familiar and comfortable because of all the years of love behind it. I’ve adored Billy’s music from the very beginning (and the fact that he grew up five minutes away from where I did). From a performance at the Boston Garden (while I was in college) to so many out here in LA — including, most memorably, at the Bowl and at Dodger Stadium — his concerts are so personal to me. Because I know all the words. Because I love his East Coast “don’t-take-any-s**t-from-anybody” attitude. Because of his incredible ability to connect. And because of the fact that he’s that guy from New York who tells such great stories with his music. Say goodbye to Hollywood.

James Taylor. Whenever I’ve seen him in concert — with Carole King (a once-in-lifetime experience at the Hollywood Bowl); Sheryl Crow (love her music and her energy); or Bonnie Raitt (that whiskey voice and silken guitar stop me whenever I hear her music) — the man just gets better with time. And whether the concert was set amidst the legendary acoustics and mountainsides of the Hollywood Bowl or in a grand San Francisco baseball stadium (the former AT&T, now Oracle, Park), there is nothing to compare with James just sitting on a wooden stool, strumming his acoustic guitar, and singing Sweet Baby James. The ultimate lullaby from a voice that hypnotizes. Sweet dreams.

Paul Simon. Art Garfunkel. Simon & Garfunkel. Seen together in concert, whether as one of a half-million spectators in Central Park in 1981 (when the lyric “How terribly strange to be 70” was far off for them) or at a smaller venue in LA (when that age was considerably closer), the duo was an amazing complement to each other — Paul’s poetic and global musical brilliance and Artie’s shivers-up-the-spine vocals. Seeing them separately many years later, Paul’s burnished-gold magic was never more in place and Artie’s silver-aged voice was all the sweeter because of the years behind it. Old friends, indeed.

So there you have it. Can’t wait until the touring starts again, the ticket takers get their scanners out, and the lights go down.

I’m with the band.

© 2021 Claudia Grossman

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puppy love

I grew up scared of dogs. No, there was no traumatic event. No run-ins, no dog bites, no being chased while walking home from school. Just an imagination overactive enough to make me believe that every puppy that crossed my path was really Cujo in disguise.

Not helping things out was our next door neighbor’s dog, a big, slobbery spaniel that made a beeline for our yard every chance he got, running full speed ahead, ready to jump on anyone in sight to greet them, and hell-bent on stealing sneakers, slippers, or anything he could get his teeth on.

The fear abated somewhat as I grew older, as long as friends’ dogs were small and somewhat aloof, but my comfort level was never, well, comfortable. If you’d told me then that I would become a dog person one day, I’d say you were one kibble short of a bowl.

That all changed when I came out from New York to visit B. in Santa Barbara, two decades after we had originally met and dated. Two decades — through college, law school (for him), and careers — of keeping in touch somewhat sporadically. (My favorites were when he sent me a Valentine out of the blue one year telling me he’d always thought I was brilliant, fascinating, and sexy and, by the way, was I married?; and the bouquet of birds-of-paradise he sent while on a trip to Hawaii “just because.” Of course, if you ask my mother-in-law, she’ll tell you that it was me who pursued B. all over the country during those years, the Valentine and flowers notwithstanding. Trust me, I’m right.)

But before I got on that plane, we spoke on the phone every day for two months. And because it didn’t take us very long to realize that when I did finally come out to Santa Barbara it would kind of mean forever (that chemistry we’d always had was still there, bigtime), we talked about everything and planned for the future. (B. even mailed me two postcards of the Santa Barbara Riviera — remember, this was before smartphones — with instructions to tape them together in order to get the full panorama effect. You’ve gotta love that kind of joy. And that very man.)

One of the things we talked about then was his dog, Ilsa. (Gulp — a dog? Really?) B. described her as an Australian Shepherd-spaniel mix. I heard two things — the first being “shepherd.” Living on the East Coast where Aussies weren’t really a popular, known breed back then, I could only think “German Shepherd” — one of those breeds I was clearly terrified of. The second was “spaniel,” which set off alarms in my head about the childhood dog next door. B. made it clear that he and Ilsa came as a package (not that I would expect, or want, him to think of her in any other way), so I knew I needed to be brave.

“She’s really perceptive,” he told me. (“She’ll sense your fear and stalk you if you get up in the middle of the night to pee,” is what I heard). “She’s so smart,” he bragged. (Smart enough to pin me down while he was at work, I imagined.) “She loves to play,” he went on. (Sure, she’ll love to play with my head after biting it off, I catastrophized.) “Don’t worry, I’ll teach you how to behave when you first meet her so that she feels good about you,” he promised. (“You might want to make sure all of your affairs are in order before you get here,” my brain translated.)

When he later mailed me photos of Ilsa, I realized that she was neither a German Shepherd nor bore any resemblance to my childhood spaniel nemesis. That was something. And when he opened the front door after we got home from the airport, his caution to “crouch down so that you’re at her level and she doesn’t feel threatened” fell on deaf ears. Hers. And that was everything.

Because Ilsa came right over to me, tail wagging at about a million miles an hour, and nudged her head into my hand. And that was it. I was welcomed into her home, no questions asked. (My getting out of bed in the middle of the night was met by her lifting her head up off her doggie bed, looking at me for about two seconds, and returning to her bunny-chasing dream.) Like the greatest last line in movie history (from the movie featuring the character for whom Ilsa was named), our meeting was “the beginning of a beautiful friendship.”

And so I became a dog person. For the next 15 years, Ilsa and I were like E.T. and Elliott. Any animated discussions (you might call them disagreements) between B. and me inevitably ended up with Ilsa sitting on my foot and glaring at B. When I’d take her out for a walk at night if B. was still at work, she’d glue herself to my leg, committed to protecting me from any unknown passerby. When I didn’t feel well, she was right next to me, offering the kind of unconditional love that dogs give us so freely. (Of course, when she was in need, B. was still the alpha dog.)

With all the gifts Ilsa gave me (her love and devotion, her soft belly to rub, her seemingly unending patience for doggie hugs), not the least was the confidence to give up my fear of dogs. Once we lost her, I became one of those annoying people who, when out walking, will always ask anyone with a dog if I may have petting privileges (in pre-social-distancing times and, hopefully, again soon).

She gave me the courage to face down my longtime fear. And unleashed a joy I didn’t know was missing.

Good dog.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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swimming upstream

I hate seafood. Even though I’m told, “It’s good for you, it’s low fat, it’s brain food,” I just can’t stand it. The taste, the smell (don’t even try to convince me that if it’s fresh it has no smell), the look — the whole thing. When it comes to seafood, I’ll skip straight to dessert.

Full disclosure. Up until my appetite changed about a year ago (long story), I used to enjoy one — very limited — kind of seafood. I used to love tuna (with celery, mayo, and relish) on rye with a Diet Coke. Almost every day for decades, from working at New York ad agencies through the years writing for an LA beauty company (and even after that), it was my lunch of choice. It didn’t surprise me when a former colleague told me that, in his experience, it was what all writers had for lunch. Go figure.

Anyway, we can now call me a seafood-free zone. (Sharp-eyed readers of my novel, The Mermaid Mahjong Circle — A Fairy Tale for Women, will note that one of the main characters also hates seafood. Art imitating life. And a shameless plug.)

But. I fully recognize how healthy the right kind of fish can be, particularly salmon. And I fully recognize how much B. loves salmon, particularly in sushi; however, with the limited number of places we go these days in order to remain safe (the supermarket once a week), B.’s options for excellent sushi are not great. So, salmon it is. And I, Ms. Don’t-Get-That-Fish-Anywhere-Near-Me, am now the preparer of said salmon.

But wait, you ask, if you hate it, why can’t B. prepare it himself? He can and has offered to do so many times. The problem is that Ms. Don’t-Get-That Fish-Anywhere-Near-Me coexists in the same body as Ms. It’s-My-Kitchen-and-I-Need-to-Be-in-Control. So there you go — a classic battle of the wits. On one side, me. On the other side, also me.

I’ve figured out the almost ballet-like moves it takes for me to remove the salmon filets from their plastic-bag-and-butcher-paper wrapping without touching either (not easy). Then, tongs to get them onto the pan, and into the oven they go to broil for 20 minutes. Simple as that. Except for the, shall we say, aroma. I’ve got the oven door shut (even on broil), the oven fan on (the highest setting), and the door leading to the other half of the apartment closed, but still the aroma remains for a while. Good times.

Yesterday’s salmon fiasco brought me to new heights (literally) of discomfort. Stay with me here. Take pan out of oven, check. Slide spatula under first filet to loosen it from the skin on the bottom (even writing those words makes me feel just a wee bit ill), check. Place onto platter to cool, check. Repeat with filet number two. Uh, not so much.

Because somehow in my zest to loosen the second piece from the skin below it (OMG, again?), the salmon decided to go back to its roots and leapt (not out of the water, but off of the spatula). Yup. So now, the only thing worse than dealing with salmon from pan to platter was dealing with it as it flew through the air and hovered dangerously close to my face (are you kidding me here?) before landing, thankfully, on the far counter. Not so thankfully, though, it landed bottom side up, requiring flipping as well as spearing.

Now it was personal. Just me and the fish (very Captain Ahab, although that one didn’t work out so well). In the words of Lady Macbeth, I reminded myself to screw my courage to the sticking place — and skewered that piece of salmon through the middle with a fork, settling it with a flick of the wrist, right side up, onto its platter to cool. Final score: Salmon 0, Moi 2.

All this to say that next time you’re at our place for dinner (and one day, before too long, hopefully we will be eating dinner together again), expect brisket (maybe), roast chicken (possibly), or pasta (most likely). Seafood will most definitely be off the table. Happy faces (especially mine) will be around it. And we’ll toast to good friends (in person) once again.

Talk about a lure.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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have a heart

Some people see faces in the clouds. Others see castles (ice-cream castles, if you’re the wonderful Joni Mitchell). Still others see patterns (and fortunes) in tea leaves. Me, I see hearts everywhere.

Heart-shaped leaves. A heart in the shape of a spontaneously sliced red bell pepper. Heart-shaped potato chips. (Although the champion of finding potato-chip shapes has to be this charming lady who visited the Johnny Carson show years ago. Her collection was amazing — her reaction when she thought Johnny was biting into one of them is classic Carson. Take a look: https://bit.ly/39oLDjz).

But back to me and my hearts. I’m not sure when it started, but seeing a heart shape — in a puddle, a stray thread, an imperfectly rolled meatball, a seashell, a casually thrown sock, in all kinds of things encountered in an ordinary day — has become part of who I am.

I’m not talking about things deliberately designed as hearts — cookies and candles, Valentines and chocolates, earrings and lollipops, and on and on (although I will admit to owning two pairs of earrings with tiny dangling hearts). I mean the kind of random impressions that pop up like surprises each time I see them.

Annoyingly adorable? To some, probably. The sign of an eternal optimist? I wish, although it’s really hard, especially these days, for me to claim that title. A sign of a creative temperament? Given that I have doodled hearts on notebook covers and page margins for years, why not.

Or perhaps it’s the sign of someone who has spent a lifetime believing in happily ever after.

Yeah, I know. Happily ever after is the stuff of fairy tales and children’s stories, right? Well, yes and no. That perfectly idyllic, nothing-bad-ever-happens, everything’s-rosy, effortlessly worry-free existence — that’s not real. And that’s not life. But finding pieces of personal happiness and fulfillment, and having days that are absolute jewels, friends to treasure, and a life partner who is truly a piece of my heart — maybe this is what happily ever after means. It’s not perfect. It’s not easy. And it’s not all hearts and flowers.

Maybe seeing hearts in everything is a sign that looking for joy — whatever that may mean at any given moment — is a sign of hope. Of an eternal optimist in training. I like that.

Or maybe it’s a sign that I really need to cut back on those heart-shaped chocolates.

Heart to tell.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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drop in the bucket

If you remember the 1970s, you might remember a song that lived on the pop charts for a brief, ear-worming period, bemoaning the fact that while “it never rains in southern California … man, it pours.” Indeed.

While rain is too infrequent here (although living in sunshine nearly 365 days a year is intoxicating), when it chooses to come down with a vengeance (not often) it’s memorable. Such was the case about three weeks ago, when the heavens poured, the thunder roared, and the lightning scored every few seconds for most of the night. The gods were clearly unleashing their wrath (can you blame them?).

Aside: Our apartment is on the top floor of a building that was constructed before the song was written and was retrofitted after the huge earthquake in 1994 (a fancy word for “reinforced to withstand another quake of that magnitude, hopefully”). We’ve been living here for nearly 23 years. It’s a great unit with, among other nice features, a sunny, southern-exposure view of the Hollywood Hills from every room, a huge kitchen and über-spacious master bedroom, and rent control. Plus lots of character (okay, quirks) because it is, after all, an old building.

Back to our story. The storm passed and the next day dawned clear (there’s nothing like LA after the rain). Sure some water had gathered in the window tracks (quirk) but otherwise, no problems. Until.

That night, as I sat at my standing-desk (does anyone really stand at one of these?) in my office portion of the bedroom (I told you, the room is big), I heard a funny noise. Sort of like a soft pah sound. Pah (pause for several seconds), pah (pause), pah. I barely paid attention, assuming it was just the building settling (not that a building settling in earthquake country is terribly comforting). After it happened a couple of more times I thought absently, “Oh, it’s the dog brushing past the bed.” Except that we haven’t had a dog in fifteen years. And that’s when I turned around, looked up … and saw a strange shadow on the ceiling.

“Oh, wow,” my Queen of Denial inner voice said, “I never realized how the desk lamp makes that weird shadow.” Probably because it doesn’t. The not-shadow was due to a roof leak, the pah sound was the noise the leak made dripping onto the bed (the one covered with a now no-longer-white down-alternative comforter), and the words coming out of my mouth were, well, unprintable.

Rushing into the living room where B. was happily ensconced watching a Laker game, I calmly broke the news. To wit:

Me: “Honey …”

He: “Just a sec …”

Me: “HONEY…”

He: “Hold on, LeBron’s setting up a 3-point shot …”

Me: “HONEY!!! The roof is leaking onto the bed!!!”

He: “Why didn’t you tell me sooner???”

And from there the hits — and the hilarity — kept coming. After setting up a bucket, we spent the next couple of hours moving furniture around to get the bed (did I tell you it’s a California king?) out from under the leak, which required moving all the other pieces of furniture to new spots. The result being that now most of it is on one side of the room, leaving a nice, big, empty space on the other side (behind my desk) but throwing off my neurotic sense of symmetry completely. And then there are the little oddities — like one of the nightstands being not-so-conveniently located across the room where it serves absolutely no purpose at all.

Good news — it hasn’t rained since then (yet). More good news — I hear the roofers up there now (unless it’s Santa, 11 months early, although the two are interchangeable in this regard).

But what really makes me smile is B.’s enthusiasm about maybe keeping the bed where it is, while rearranging the rest of the furniture so that he can preserve that newfound, extra space behind my desk for me to use however I choose. You’ve got to hand it to him — it’s a downright “A for admirable” effort. (Really wanting the room back to the way it’s always been, I merit a scarlet “D” for my “don’t even go there” attitude.)

“Maybe you’ll use the space for yoga,” he has suggested hopefully, resulting in a very un-namaste glare from me (hint: I don’t do yoga). “And maybe we can move the bookcase over there so that it will show up behind you when you do Zoom meetings … just like everyone we see on TV.” (Sure. And maybe we can all burst into a chorus of “Singin’ in the Rain.”)

Or maybe we send the rain to a plain in Spain.

Aboard a westbound 747.

© 2021 Claudia Grossman

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all buttoned up

One of my most enduring, and endearing, memories as a little girl is that of the box of buttons belonging to my grandmother. Made of blue and gold tin, round and gleaming, with flower petals painted on the lid, the box was a treasure of buttons from years and years of clothing – sweaters and dresses, baby outfits and men’s vests, coats and blouses and more.

My grandmother lived with us as I was growing up, and one of her prized possessions was a Singer foot-pedal sewing machine, black and gold in its wood table. And right next to the sewing machine, among spools of threads in a myriad of colors, pincushions, dimpled thimbles, and an old silvery scissors, sat the button box.

As a child, I loved to play with the buttons, running my hands through the seemingly endless collection, making piles of them on the floor, sorting them by shade to match my crayons, and loving the feel and the sound of them. Each one had a story, and my grandmother would tell them all to me.

That eye-catching, bottle-green button that seemed to glow with a marbleized finish? “That was from a sweater you wore when you were just two or three,” she told me. My mother had knitted that sweater and a matching hat, I remember, in the perfect shade to match my eyes, and the buttons went all the way up to my chubby little chin. Those buttons were sold on cards of two, and the extra went into the button box “just in case.”

The amethyst colored sparkler? That one, she told me, with a bit of a faraway look in her eye, was from the dress my grandfather liked the best on her. It was a luxury for her to have purchased the lengths of secondhand velvet at the time, and her attention to detail had turned the worn fabric into a beautiful garment.

“This one, tell this one!” I must have said a thousand times, begging for another tale. I remember once holding up two buttons from the box; the first, a flat mother-of-pearl disk, rimmed in gold; the other, its tinier matching counterpart. She smiled at me. “Those were from a special blouse,” she said, “I think it was for your mother’s high-school graduation, or maybe it was your aunt’s.” In those days, when there was little money to buy fine clothing, buying new buttons could dress up a garment like nothing else.

The stories that button box could tell! Buttons from my father’s cardigan – brown-leather-wrapped domes – the one he wore when fall set in. From my brother’s first little sailor suit – navy blue with tiny anchors embossed on them. Pieces that held the scents of the past – a curious mix of plastic and shell and metal and leather and time – the history of a family as told through the clothes that warmed us.

Every family has traditions and keepsakes that pass down from one generation to the next. In my family, the button box that my grandmother started became my mom’s, to which she added years more of buttons and ribbons and even pieces of yarn (“just in case” a handmade sweater needed mending).

When I moved across the country from the house I grew up in to our home, I started my own button box, almost without thinking. And while I don’t have my grandmother’s talent for sewing (the woman could sew a hem by hand with practically invisible stitches) or my mother’s talent for knitting (no pattern was too complex), I can sew on a button perfectly. Buttons that adorn and attach, that secure and hold together. Like the memories that carry from one pair of hands to the next.

Common threads.

© 2021 Claudia Grossman

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