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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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’twas the plight before christmas …

… and all through the house there was panic because someone had sent out online invitations with the wrong info. “Join us for cocktails and dinner on New Year’s Eve,” the invites should have read. But no. Whoever sent them out (you know who you are) made one teeny-tiny, itsy-bitsy error. Instead of New Year’s Eve (for which we would have been totally prepared), the invitations mistakenly read, “Christmas Eve.” Worse, the mistake wasn’t realized until one of our friends asked, a couple of days before the party, if he could dress up as Santa (don’t ask, it’s a thing with him).

Pulling all the details together for a party for 40 adults 48 hours before Christmas Eve would be a miracle — nothing short of an immaculate reception, if you will. Here’s how it all went down.

The tastefully sophisticated jazz trio I had originally booked to play softly in the background was, of course, not available. The good news? The musicians I did find came at a pretty good rate. The bad news? Having 12 drummers drumming along with 11 pipers piping their hearts out does not a jazz trio make. What it does make is too much noise to hear Santa’s reindeer hoofing it up on the roof.

The professional ballroom dancers I had hired were, of course, now scheduled elsewhere. But for the rate I would have paid them, I got the deal of the century — or so I thought. Ten lords a-leaping and nine ladies dancing fill up a dance floor quite well. But when there’s no partner for one of the lords, he might choose to ask one of the guests to dance. Which is fine. Except when it’s 90-year old Great-aunt Shirley whose leaping days are far behind her (if she ever leapt at all) and whose jeté over the buffet landed her in the ER.

Speaking of food, the caterers I had reserved for New Year’s only laughed at me when I asked about their availability for Christmas Eve. What to do? Even though my menu of filet mignon, lobster tails, and chocolate mousse was no longer possible, the evening was saved by a — uh, unique — last-minute catering company. They brought eight maids a-milking their cows (yay! ice cream for everyone except the lactose-intolerant). The caterer’s seven swans a-swimming distracted everyone long enough for the six geese a-laying to lay their eggs (perfect for the omelette station). And, because I paid fully in cash, they gave me five golden rings of coffee cake for free (something to put the ice cream on).

Instead of New Year’s Eve noisemakers, I went with the vocal stylings of four calling birds. The only problem was that no one could hear over the bird calls to make calls on their cell phones, resulting in lots of shouting and some cursing, leading to the calling birds getting upset and, well, leaving their “calling cards” all over the dance floor.

The problem of replacing the white-gloved, French-serving-style waiters I had signed for our elegant New Year’s Eve gala was solved, I thought, by a suspiciously not-busy party planner. Unfortunately, while I requested three French-style-trained men in black tie with white gloves to serve, what showed up instead were three French hens and a pair of white turtle doves. I’ve got to tell you, getting the little white gloves on those hens was no walk in the park. And, FYI, French hens and white turtle doves do not like sharing the spotlight.

Lastly, the gift bags. The gorgeous, gift-filled, New-Year’s-Eve-themed bags I had ordered wouldn’t be ready for several days, so I had to punt. Scouring our home, I found one pear left from a gift basket someone had sent to us (regifting, anyone?), plus a brand-new, unopened, four-color printer cartridge. Am I resourceful or what? Everyone got a raffle ticket, and we held a prize drawing at the end of the evening. One lucky guest won the Grand (and only) prize.

“Wow!” she said, “A cartridge and a pear. Gee.”

Fa-la-la-la-rim shot.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

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with friends like these

There’s an old joke that goes, “You can pick your friends. You can pick your nose. But you can’t pick your friend’s nose.” Okay, I know, it’s gross (but that doesn’t mean it’s not also funny). Then there’s the adage that says, “You can pick your friends but you can’t pick your family.” And at this time of year, when family gatherings are everywhere you look (at least on the Hallmark Channel and your favorite retailer’s website), I believe it’s important to remember that, sure, blood may be thicker than water — but it can also be, well, bloody.

With details left aside, when it comes to friends or family, I’ll choose friends all the time (except, of course, for B., who is both best friend and “best family”). Not every family belongs in a Norman Rockwell painting; not every family relationship is supportive; not every family dynamic is a positive one. Sure, the Waltons were all about the love, the loyalty, and the lifelong bonds that — yes, it’s true — some families are fortunate enough to share. But that’s not the case for everyone. The sweet, simple “Good night, John-Boy — Good night, Elizabeth” may have echoed through the decades on Walton Mountain but may not resonate on the plane where the rest of us live. And that can make you feel as if you’ve failed. But you haven’t. Just because someone shares your DNA doesn’t mean that he or she shares your sensitivities and sensibilities. Your sense of right and wrong. Your sense of humor (okay, that one isn’t a requirement but it helps).

The good news is that owning that truth and being okay with it (and, yay me, I’m almost there), goes a long way to soothing the disappointments and healing the heart’s wounds. That, and good friends.

So on this Thanksgiving Eve, I need to share how grateful I am for my dear, dear friends (the “water” in my life) who love me, nurture me, and care about me. Who boost my confidence and believe in me. Who celebrate when I bloom and bring sunshine when I start to wilt. From the East Coast to the West; from Santa Barbara to Santa Fe; from LA to New York City to the length of Long Island; from San Francisco to Chicago — consider this my love letter to you. I love you all. Thank you for picking me.

But no, you can’t pick my nose.

 

ⓒ 2018 Claudia Grossman

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