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beyond 34th street

Anyone with a sentimental bone in his or her body has seen Miracle on 34th Street, the charming, heart-warming film that reminds us that believing is seeing, that Santa really does exist, and that miracles happen. Starring an adorable, little-girl Natalie Wood, the 1947 film is as much a holiday tradition as It’s a Wonderful Life and A Charlie Brown Christmas. For good reason. Whether it’s the miracle birth on Christmas or the miracle of light on Hanukkah, ’tis the season.

Which brings me around to miracles in general (can a miracle really be described in general?). Of course, there are the major life-saving miracles that truly evoke awe; those are in a category all their own. But what about those other “I-can’t-believe-this-good-thing-happened-it’s-a-miracle” moments?  To wit:

There are yesterday’s Alabama election results. Truly a miracle of hard work, determination, and the belief that good must win out.

There are the tickets to Hamilton that B. procured a few days ago as a surprise early birthday present for me. The fact that he found tickets — aisle seats, no less — and that we got to go to this extraordinary show that I’d nearly given up hope of ever seeing (its LA run ends at the end of December) qualifies in my mind as nothing short of miraculous.

Want more? Just yesterday I sold an essay of mine to a national magazine for its spring issue. Each time this happens, I’m as surprised and amazed as the first time. Fairy godmother, anyone?

And today, while browsing in my library’s used-book store, I found the new, best-selling novel that I have been longing to borrow but could not because the library waiting list is weeks and weeks long. There it was, just waiting for me for just four dollars. Title me wonder-full.

Sure, one person’s miracle is another person’s coincidence; someone’s magic is someone else’s random luck. In this season of possibility and hope, I choose magic and miracles and Tinkerbell.

I choose to believe.

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

 

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meet cute

Good news, bad news. The bad news is that stress rules these days. Stress over the the state of the world, the state of politics, and the state of who exactly is steering the ship and where are we going? It’s tough to meet each day feeling positive when so much negativity bombards us on a 24/7 news schedule. But — and here’s the good news – I’ve found a little bit of a solution, an escape if you will. It’s fun, it’s clever, and it’s the perfect antidote to these toxic times (and to the stories in the Washington Post and The New York Times). It’s — and I’m going to use a word that we hear so little these days — delightful.

I know what you’re thinking — “dear blogger, what in the hell are you talking about?” Okay, settle down. It’s a little movie called Down with Love that came out in 2003 — and it’s as much a terrific distraction as a creative gem. All it asks of the viewer is to sit back and enjoy, with no commitment to following a story that is filled with angst, has impossible-to-understand twists and turns, and is just a major downer, man.

Down with Love is a bit of a madcap romance, set in the 1960s, with lots of I-fooled-you, you-fooled-me details. In short, Renée Zellweger plays a best-selling feminist author named Barbara Novak who aims to teach women to forget about love and instead aim for professional success as well as a casual attitude in the bedroom. The bane of her existence is writer Catcher Block (Ewan MacGregor) who is out to expose Ms. Barbara as a fraud with a few ploys of his own.

The brilliance of this pic lies in its send-up of the Doris Day / Rock Hudson romantic comedies of the late 1950s and early 1960s. (If you’re not familiar, check out Pillow Talk and Lover Come Back.) The ingredients are a pretty girl meeting a handsome guy, some zany mix-ups, lots of flirty romance, and a wink-wink to sex. Down with Love takes it to a more sophisticated level (including being more suggestive in its wink-winking), and the overall effect is slick, sleek, and pure money in the bank.

The movie’s color palette — the sets, the props, the costuming — pops, right along with the dialogue. And in a particularly clever bit of casting, Tony Randall, the foil for Rock Hudson’s heartthrob hero in the old movies, appears as well (albeit in a different type of role), while the immensely talented David Hyde Pierce picks up Randall’s mantle of wingman and lovable-nerd-in-residence. Sarah Paulson plays Vikki, Barbara’s editor and requisite best-friend character, to fill out the fabulous foursome. Hilarity ensues throughout, but don’t leave early. The musical number that plays over the closing credits is totally worth the price of admission.

After watching a couple of hours of bleak TV news last night, finding Down with Love on HBO was like coming home from a tough day and finding an unexpected gift waiting at my door. A big, bright, happy gift. Tied in ribbons.

No strings attached.

 

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

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star crossed

Living in LA, it’s not unusual to cross paths with celebrities, movie stars, and just those I-know-I-know-that-person-but-from-where types. It never really gets old for me, but it’s more of an “oh, that’s so-and-so” reaction rather than the “can I get a selfie with you?” touristy response. I don’t mean to sound blasé about it but I heartily believe that famous people deserve to have their private lives, too. Unless it’s either a) George Clooney b) Brad Pitt or c) Harrison Ford and then all bets are off and I can’t promise anything.

But while B.’s and my interactions with media darlings have been mostly sightings, both of us have had our separate brushes with stardom. One story is “aww”-worthy (mine); and one is “whoa!”-worthy (his). To wit:

The first time I came to LA was on a family vacation when I was four years old. In those days, some airlines offered two-facing-two seating, which my dad had reserved for our family of four. At the last minute — at the gate — the airline rep very nicely asked my dad if it would be possible for us to change our seats to the more traditional kind, as a very famous person would be on the flight and was requesting the facing seats, if possible. My dad agreed.

Once we were airborne, it seemed that the VIP wanted to thank us in person. And that is how I ended up sitting on Sophia Loren’s lap, being “oohed” and “aahed” over sweetly by La Bellissima herself. I don’t remember the incident (I think my first visit to Disneyland made way more of an impression on me), but my parents loved to tell that story for years.

B.’s story took place in a bar in the 1980s after a law firm softball game. (B. was a labor lawyer and his team was the Blue Flashers — a labor law term.) He was exiting the men’s room as a tall guy with blonde hair wearing a red linen jacket was walking in.

Red Jacket looked at B.’s jersey and asked, in a British accent, “Blue Flashers? What do you do?”

“I’m a softball player,” B. responded. Then he joked, “What are you — a rock star?”

“I don’t know that I’d call myself a star,” Red Jacket replied, “but that’s the field I’m in.”

B. didn’t think anything of it until a bit later, when the house band announced that there was someone famous at the bar that night. Someone in a red linen jacket. Someone with a British accent. Someone whose signature long hair was cut shorter, which was why B. didn’t recognize the lead singer of one of his favorite bands.

Someone named Robert Plant of Led Zeppelin fame.

Not at all rattled, B. walked over, explained that he was fan and why he hadn’t recognized Plant earlier, and apologized for having given him s**t.

“You can give me s**t,” Plant replied companionably and graciously proceeded to introduce B. to the other members of the band sitting nearby.

If only all of those whose names are up in lights could turn down the wattage every so often to be human.

Wish upon a star.

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

 

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two on the aisle

Every woman has a different idea of romance. To some, it’s roses and champagne. To others, it’s diamonds and a getaway for two to Fiji. To still others, it’s George Clooney (oh, come on, like you’ve never thought that). And while all that stuff is nice, to me, real romance is more nuanced, more personal, more here’s-my-heart. To wit:

This past Sunday, B. took me on the most romantic date. Casablanca was playing in a local movie theater (as part of its 75th anniversary celebration) and, while I’ve seen it on TV a gazillion times, I’d never seen it on the big screen. B. had seen it 25 years ago at Hollywood’s legendary Grauman’s Chinese Theater and, so amazing was it seen that way, he was determined that I not miss out on the opportunity.

It was, in a word, breathtaking. Ingrid Bergman was absolutely exquisite as the woman torn between the love of her life and the hero husband working to save the world; Humphrey Bogart was swoon-worthy as Rick, the smooth, suave nightclub owner with a tender, if broken, heart. And hearing the French nationals sing the Marseillaise, in the face of occupying Nazis attempting to sing their own anthem, was incredibly moving — even more so on the big screen.

I fell under the movie’s spell. Apparently my “Oh, my!” when Bogart first appeared onscreen was audible, as was my sniffling when he told Bergman’s Ilsa that she had to get on the plane with her husband, Victor Laszlo, for the greater good — even though it was tearing Rick apart.

If you’ve never seen Casablanca, shame on you — rent it or stream it right now (right after you finish reading, that is). And for those of you who have, if you ever get the chance to see it in the movies, don’t think twice. It’s the right thing to do.

So okay, you’re saying, B. took you to a romantic movie (not just a romantic movie, dear reader, THE singular most romantic movie of all time). But really, it was just a trip to the movies — how is that unbelievably romantic? I’m glad you asked.

As a college professor, B. works every day during the fall and spring semesters. He’s either in the classroom; in his school office helping any of his hundreds of students with questions or concerns; or working at home on the weekends grading papers and exams, preparing for class, writing reference letters on request, and more. In short, during the semesters, the idea of socializing on the weekends — particularly on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon — is downright hilarious. So, the fact that B. made this Sunday date happen for me was quite a feat — he was at his desk before dawn on Friday, Saturday, and Sunday mornings, put in 15-hour days on Friday and Saturday, and whisked me off to 1940s Morocco on Sunday afternoon. Talk about swoon-worthy.

You must remember this — when it comes to romance, a kiss is just a kiss. But someone who gives his whole heart to you — that is true love.

Cut and print.

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

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letting chips fall

One of the fun things about being me is that I manage to get myself into trouble just because I don’t do things halfway. It’s all or nothing. Like the time I ordered all five levels’ worth of a language-learning software program to brush up on and perfect my seven years of high-school-through-college French. My thinking beforehand? Great! I’ll tackle the whole thing and be finished — and completely fluent — in no time. My thinking after getting through just one level of talking back to my laptop? Merde.

Or when I decided that the perfect opportunity to conquer Anna Karenina (my fourth attempt) would be on an LA to NY flight (and the NY to LA return). Wrong. So wrong. Not only could I not stay focused for a fifth try on why “all happy families are alike; each unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” — trying to read a heavy 800-page book while scrunched into a seat in coach made me unhappy in my very own way.

And then there’s the time I thought it would be fun to make a freezer full of ice cream sandwiches to have on hand whenever the craving struck for something a little bit decadent. I wanted to re-create the Chipwich (big in the 1980s) — vanilla ice cream sandwiched between two chocolate chip cookies with the edges rolled in more chocolate chips. To make it easier, I decided to use store-bought cookies (three dozen to be exact). How big an undertaking could it be?

Very, apparently. Because if you’re going to be making 18 ice cream sandwiches, you’d better have a plan. Because ice cream, it turns out, melts (who knew?). Because cookies crumble if you press down too hard on the scoop of ice cream between them. And, oh, yeah, because chocolate chips escape and travel all over your kitchen if you try to spoon them onto the edges of the sandwiches. (Trying to roll the sandwiches in the chips only works if a) the ice cream isn’t melting all over the place, which it was by then, and b) you’ve thought ahead about having this step in your assembly line, which I had not.)

One more thing about the melting. (I swear I could hear the Wicked Witch of the West — Wicked Sand-witch of the West? — screaming “I’m m-e-e-e-e-lting!”) You’ve got to get the sandwiches into the freezer really fast. Like make one, open freezer, pop it in, close freezer. At this point, of course, the temperature of the freezer drops from the door being opened so many times. (And flying monkeys show up to carry away any ice cream sandwiches — or small children — left untended.)

My collateral dessert damage was impressive. Eight cookies broken, myriads of chocolate chips rolling in all directions, four scoops of ice cream fleeing from their cookies. Final number of ice cream sandwiches that made it to the freezer? As I growled at B. when he innocently asked that question: Do. Not. Even.

The story has a happy ending, though (unlike poor Anna Karenina). We found a showing of Amélie (French with English subtitles) at an arthouse movie theater not too long thereafter. And found Nestlé Toll House ice cream sandwiches at the concessions counter.

Très chip.

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

 

 

 

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blue plate special

In a city where sports fans are notorious for arriving late at games and then leaving early (purportedly to miss the traffic although, hey, it’s LA and there’s always traffic); where basketball games (the Lakers, namely) have more royalty off the court these days than on; where the number of football teams has increased twofold (as has lack of enthusiasm for them, seemingly) — one thing has remained a constant. This city’s love for its boys in blue — the Dodgers.

And while our boys of summer now face do-or-die in their autumn race to capture the World Series title, the fans who love them stand by their side. Like through ten seemingly unending innings in Game 5 last night that now bring them home on the edge of either brilliant victory or the chill of a fall defeat (although again, hey, it’s LA, and the fall really isn’t all that chilly, but you get my point).

Because I grew up a Yankees fan in New York, I had grave concern a couple of weeks ago about which team I would root for if the Yankees won the American League pennant to face the Dodgers. I shared my concern with B. whom, although a former New Yorker himself, was not terribly supportive. To wit:

Me:  I’m torn. What if the Yankees win and I have to choose between them or the Dodgers?

He:  You’ve been living in LA for more than 20 years — it has to be the Dodgers.

Me:  But the Yankees — the team of Mantle and Maris, of Lou Gehrig and the Babe, of Joe DiMaggio — and I can hear you mocking me by humming Mrs. Robinson under your breath so cut it out — of Joe Torre and Derek Jeter and A-Rod before the drug scandal …

He:  (cutting to the chase) How many of the current Yankees can you name?

Me: (pretending not to hear)

He:  And how many Yankee games have you been to in your life?

Me: (small voice) One?

He: And the Dodgers?

Me: (naming about five current players)

He: And how many Dodger games?

Me: (silently, holding up 10 fingers)

He:  I rest my case.

Me: (muttering) The Yankees have better uniforms.

He: Seriously?

Me: Shut up.

But as things turned out, I didn’t have to make the choice. And also as things turned out, B. was right (do not tell him I said that) and cheering on the home team feels really good (it would feel better if we were leading 3-2, but I’m choosing to take the high road here).

And through all my puzzlements about the details of the game (tagging up, the designated hitter rule, forward Ks, backward Ks, fouls as strikes except when they’re not), one thing I do know is the sound of the bat hitting the ball that signals a home run. There’s nothing else like it. Except maybe sitting in Dodger Stadium on a sunny afternoon, beer in hand, soaking up the atmosphere and the history (and trying to ignore the guy next to me on his phone because hey, it’s LA).

Good to be home.

 

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

 

 

 

 

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cereal monogamy

While in reality I’m a one-guy-for-the-rest-of-my-life kind of girl, in the kitchen I am a cereal monogamist. That’s right, I’ve had relationships with numerous breakfast cereals (only one at a time) for years, now, and I just can’t seem to settle down with The One. To wit:

Froot Loops. Just the name is enough to make B. turn green (and not with envy). “No redeeming nutritional value whatsoever,” he intones. But it’s got esthetic value, I argue. All those pretty colors, the sweet crunch, and that adorable toucan named Sam. Froot Loops are what got me through college — and here’s a hint:  if you mix them with peanut butter (hold the milk) they are incredibly fun to eat. Once in a while, B. will find an errant snack Froot Loop on the floor of my car. “Back story?” he’ll ask dubiously. Me, shrugging, “Looks like one of those Cheerios of yours turned a weird color.” Pivoting, “How about those Dodgers?”

Rice Krispies. Presenting three of my favorite guys, Snap, Crackle, and Pop (I really need to get out more). I just love the sound this cereal makes when I add milk. Alas, it’s all that air that makes them sing but also makes them so light that it’s like eating, well, air. Of course, turn them into those famous treats, and now you’re talking. (Also, is it just me, or do Snap and his bros look like they’re related to the Keebler elves?)

Corn Pops. When I was a kid, this cereal was named Sugar Pops and it tasted sort of like sweetened popcorn. Guess they changed the name to make it sound more nutritious but really, nothing this sweet and yummy can actually be good for you.

Frosted Flakes. I only had a brief fling with this one. It seems that Tony the Tiger and I disagree over the “they’re gr-r-r-r-r-eat” sentiment. I can’t deal with the sugary sog. And again, is it just me or does Tony remind you of the “tiger in your tank” from Esso (now Exxon) gasoline?

Quaker Oats Oatmeal. I like oatmeal, I really do. Especially if it’s thick and creamy and has a sprinkling of brown sugar on top. But I only like the slow-cooking kind. And I just couldn’t make the commitment to give the oats the time they deserved. Sorry, Mr. Quaker Oats man on the label, it’s not you, it’s me. Maybe we can still be friends.

Pumpkin Spice Cheerios. Okay, B. is a Cheerios fan. (Every breakfast. Every day.) I, however, have been known to flirt with the edgier side of these most wholesome of O’s. And Pumpkin Spice Cheerios (available only during the holidays — like right now!) are really good. No, not as good as a pumpkin latte. Or pumpkin pie. Or pumpkin cheesecake. But this is cereal, we’re talking about, people — and it’s pretty damn delicious. (Sometimes wholesome is in the eyes of the partaker, as in, “These are so good I want to eat the whole sum of the box.”)

So what’s the next chapter of my cereal serial? You never know. I had been involved with Honey Bunches of Oats until last week when a sexy new granola caught my eye in the supermarket aisle. We’re not ready to agree on a china pattern for cereal bowls, yet; right now we’re just having fun.

Two spoons up.

 

ⓒ 2017 Claudia Grossman

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