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yes, virginia, there is a laughter clause

Happy holidays, dear readers! This post made its debut a few years ago (under a different title) and I still find it chuckle-inducing enough to warrant another run, particularly this holiday season when we can all use some laughter. Here’s hoping for a time when our celebrations will indeed be limitless and our world a more peaceful – and peace-of-mind-full – place. Until then, I wish you all a safe holiday season and a better, brighter 2022. Cheers!

‘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 fabulous gourmet menu was no longer possible, the evening was saved by a somewhat 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 do their thing (perfect for the omelette station). And, because I paid fully in cash, I got 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 snag 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 top-notch servers 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 had requested three French-style-trained servers in black tie and white gloves, 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. Ha. Rimshot.

©2018 and 2021 Claudia Grossman

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piece of mind

In my ever-puzzling experiences observing the differences between how creative types and linear types go through life together, another example showed its face the other day – that is, how B. and I approach doing jigsaw puzzles. In short, he loves it and I, it seems, usually end up curled up in a corner with some chocolate. Muttering about never attempting this piece-full, non-peaceful pastime ever again. To wit:

We have a closetful of puzzles, purchased at various times over our 25 years together, always with the intention of doing them in front of a cozy fire on a winter evening while sipping hot chocolate spiked with amaretto, some great jazz spinning in the background The reality? We’ve barely looked at them in years; our apartment doesn’t have a fireplace; and these days our hot chocolate is spiked with nothing more exciting than whipped cream. The jazz, though, is accurate.

So there we were a couple of evenings ago, thinking we’d segue back into puzzle-doing slowly by delving into a set of puzzles I’d bought years ago. The assortment holds a couple of 500-piece puzzles (uh-oh), a couple with 300 (doubtful), and four with 100 (my best shot). The small ones were where we began.

Here’s where the different mindsets first showed. B. chose a beautiful nature scene. Soothing colors, easily defined images, challenging but in a good way. And here’s where I decided to go (aside from straight to puzzle hell) – a snapshot of Times Square, filled with tons of lighted billboards and neon signs.

The colors – seemingly hundreds of them – looked so pretty that I got distracted, both to the fact that the pieces were so small that that amount of detail would be hard to decipher, and to the fact that, if I’m honest, I just don’t like jigsaw puzzles. (Crossword puzzles, yes. Jigsaw, no. I mean, just the name “jigsaw” brings up images of slasher movies.)

As any puzzle-doer knows, the first thing to do when puzzling is to build your outside frame. Look for all the straight-edged pieces and fit them together. Which is exactly what B. was doing. While also sorting his pieces into groups – all the pieces of the boat in one spot, all the pieces that looked like they were part of the mountainside in another, all the pieces of clouds in a third. All the while annoying me to no end.

First, because I was sure that some of my straight edges were missing. After sorting through my cache at least 20 times, my frustration growing, two were still nowhere to be found.

Me: I’m done. They left two pieces out. There’s no way I can do this puzzle without the frame.

He: (frame finished, starting to fill in the center of his puzzle) I’m sure they’re there, you probably just need to look again.

Me: Nope. Not here. Can’t do it.

He: (stretching, totally relaxed) Are you sure? Do you want me to help look?

Me: (shoulders starting to creep up to my ears, lower back knotting up, teeth beginning to grind) Yes, I’m sure. And no, I don’t need you to look.

He: (eyebrows going up a fraction) Okay.

Me: Yes, I need you to look.

He: (scanning my pieces for a few seconds) Here they are.

Me: That’s not possible – how did you do that? You planted them!

He: Really?!

Back to our separate puzzles, my frame completed at last, it was time to work on the rest. And here’s where my creative mind started looking creatively for something else to do. Because sorting patiently the way B. does just isn’t the sort of thing my brain does successfully. He can methodically go piece by piece and put each one with its brothers and sisters; me, not so much. I’ll collect two pieces that go together and then get distracted by something else. I call it the “related piece, related piece, look there’s a flower!” method of doing a puzzle. Here’s a hint – it doesn’t really work.

And when B. says he’s looking for “a piece with two openings, one notch, and a tiny stripe of red on it,” I’m looking for a way out. That uber-rational, utterly sensible, completely scientific method of thinking may build puzzles successfully but it makes me plain nuts. I just want to cast my eye over the pieces and immediately sense what fits where. All I want is to see the beautiful visual at the end. And then maybe make up a story about it.

The end result? B. finished his puzzle while I was still lost in Times Square. When he graciously offered to help me, I grudgingly agreed. And he didn’t even mind my interruptions of, “Ooh, look at this pretty color pink!” or “This shape looks like a witch’s face with two warts!” Because he’d say, “Pink? That must be part of this building sign,” or “A shape with a couple of tabs sticking out? I’ve been looking for that. It fits right here.” I was happy creating and he was happy analyzing and figuring out.

Maybe that’s the answer to how a linear mind and a creative mind can live together happily – one builds the foundation and the other has her head in the clouds.

Puzzle solved.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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outside the lines

In my ongoing effort to explore new areas of creativity, I recently discovered what I thought would be my next artistic endeavor – a paint-by-numbers kit. “Simple!” the package cried out. “Create a masterpiece as easy as 1-2-3!” it extolled. “You’ll be painting in minutes!” it promised. And I, who have spent my entire career writing engaging ad copy to convince people to buy products ranging from Champagne to baseball cards to nail polish, fell for the engaging part. The kit proposed, I accepted.

Too soon, it seemed. Let me the count the ways:

First, after getting the kit home and unpacking it, I realized why one shouldn’t judge a book – or anything else, I guess – by its cover. While the outside of the carton showed a beautiful representation of the artwork within – a legendary masterpiece by one of the world’s best-loved painters – what was missing were the three magic words: Enlarged for detail. That is, the numbered spaces on the canvas were much, much smaller than they appeared on the box. Combined with the fact that the “canvas” – a thin, plastic-coated sheet – was printed so lightly with the pattern and numbers that I had to bend my desk lamp way, way over it in order to see what to paint where. Way over, as in leaving about two inches of space between lamp and canvas. Which might work if I were gifted in brush handling, but which resulted in my painting the lamp numerous shades of blue, green, and purple instead because I am not.

Second, “Brushes included!” the package claimed. That part was accurate. Except that the two sizes of brushes were either too big to allow for filling in the spaces on the canvas without going way over the lines or too small actually to be effective. The result – uneven patches of paint in some spots, streaks in others, and something only a five-year-old would be proud of overall.

And third, the paint. You know the frustration of completing a jigsaw puzzle only to find that the last piece – the very last one in the box, the only one needed after 999 pieces of a 1000-piece puzzle have been locked together – is missing? Yup. Of the myriad of individual containers of paint needed to create my work of art, one color went awry. No, not missing. The indigo blue was dried out completely. As in useless. As in there was no other shade I could use to replace it without dramatically altering the image. As in I would have cared more if the rest of my project were anywhere near resembling the painting it was meant to replicate.

In short, I was having no fun. Zero. And the more I looked at the included color printout of what my finished project should look like, the more of a failure I felt. There was no joy but a whole lot of self-judgment. (“Feel really bad about your painting abilities!” should have been featured prominently on the box.)

But. While I was cleaning up the mess it occurred to me that maybe the joy, for me, wasn’t meant to come from staying inside the pre-printed (although barely visible) lines. Maybe it lies in painting without constrictions or limitations. (And with a brush and paint that work, of course.) Maybe the freedom to brush colors onto paper in whatever random design I choose would be a better experience. (That’s probably why I liked finger-painting so much as a kid.) Maybe the only one who needs to feel good about whatever I paint is me (even if that means getting almost as much paint on myself as on my canvas).

Maybe that five-year-old, who would have been proud of my paint-by-numbers mess, was onto something – pursue your art with your heart, not your head. Paint yourself out of a corner.

Easel does it.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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love notes

When asked which city I prefer, New York, where I was born and bred, or LA, where I’ve lived for the past 26 years, my answer is San Francisco.

I’ve been in love with San Francisco from the first time I visited it at age six (I even grew up to write a novel that is a love letter to the city, much as this blog post is). It started with my dad, who was equally smitten by the city by the bay, with its mix of morning fog and golden sun. The affair of the heart continued into my adult years because that’s where B. was living when we reconnected for one unforgettable week in our late 20’s after a teenage romance a decade earlier (and before we Harry-and-Sally-ed our way into another decade until we realized that we were each other’s “one”). And the city has kept a hold of my heart ever since, as we return every year to experience the look, the light, and the absolute lure of this place that is like no other.

All of these thoughts converged the other evening while we were watching a tour de force – Tony Bennett’s “One Last Time” concert at Radio City Music Hall. While suffering from Alzheimer’s, Bennett miraculously gave what could certainly be called the performance of his life, summoning the energy, the memory, and the unbelievable-at-95 voice to sing his way through his songbook of American standards with his signature style and oft-times jazzy edge.

Right by his side was Lady Gaga, his partner in song for the last several years, who provided much more than an arm to lean on. She gave Bennett a reassuring presence, an amazing voice to duet with for part of the performance, and the sensitivity, respect, and love to get through the evening – an evening that Bennett could not recall at all just days later.

While one could certainly talk about the heartbreak of that particular note – that a man whose mind unbelievably retains the lyrics and melodies of his music throughout the ravages of this memory-stealing disease but cannot remember more basic things – one can also marvel at the miracle that took place on that stage. That for a brief time Tony Bennett managed to capture all the vocal artistry and grace that has endured him to so many for so long. That, for a few moments on that enormous stage in front of a sell-out, 6000-fan audience who gave him standing ovation after standing ovation, he sang his heart out, maybe not with the same range as his younger self, but hitting notes of pure beauty along the way, leading up to his solo finale – I Left My Heart in San Francisco, the song that will forever be associated with him.

When the curtain rose for that last song, there was Bennett, standing alone at the piano. As the familiar notes filled the auditorium you could feel (even through the television screen) his love of music, his passion for living, and his courage. While he sang of leaving his heart in San Francisco, I (and I imagine everyone experiencing that moment) felt a piece of my heart break. But, even more important, I felt a piece of my heart soar at the absolute magnificence of such a feat. Bravo, Mr. Bennett, bravo.

I left my heart in San Francisco a long time ago – when I had to return home after visiting B. there in 1985 and realized even then (actually I knew it when we were 17) that he was my heart. And I leave it there each time we leave the city behind for another year. Despite the challenges San Francisco faces in these difficult days, its sun will always shine for me.

Brilliantly.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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stuffing & nonsense

You know that saying that goes, “Just because I’m paranoid doesn’t mean people aren’t following me”? Well, I’d like to present the corollary, at least in how it refers to me. That would be, “Just because seemingly random, messy situations happen to me doesn’t mean that the universe isn’t laughing its ass off. At my expense.” To wit:

Back in March of 2020 (shudder!) when we were all trying to navigate this new system of getting groceries (and getting by) without endangering ourselves, I tried the ordering online method, placing a big order that I hoped would last us two or three weeks (because remember when everyone said it would be over by then?). Including lots of items for the freezer. The order was delivered on time, the food was safely unpacked and put away, and I let out a sigh of relief that at least that one hurdle had been crossed for the time being. The universe, obviously regarding me as an appropriate plaything, was having none of it.

Less than 24 hours later, our 21-year-old refrigerator – and most of the perishables in it – gave out. Hilarity (at the obvious ridiculousness of the situation) and mayhem (what to do now?) ensued. Because of the pandemic, we didn’t want a refrigerator delivered and installed; because we like to eat more than pasta, canned goods, and cereal, we needed a solution. And Midge the Mini Fridge was it. Small enough to be delivered to our front door and for us to bring inside, surprisingly big enough to hold a decent amount of refrigerated items (and a few frozen meals), and adorable enough to warrant a name, Midge was our saving grace. We and Midge soldiered on for the next few months, until we felt safe enough having a full-size refrigerator brought in and the old one taken away. But Midge remains — unplugged and stored in a closet — perhaps for future happier use.

Now, 20 months later, Thanksgiving Eve is here and the universe is cracking itself up again. As of yesterday, I had all the ingredients for our small but food-filled fest ready to go – turkey breast, check; stuffing stuff, check; fresh cranberries for sauce, yes, yes, yes (I love that one!); pumpkin pie (from the bakery for a change), yes indeed. With my mother-in-law on board for making her sweet potato casserole, I was all set. Or so I thought.

Because I was raised in an environment where food equals love and lots of food equals lots of love – but don’t eat too much or you’ll risk gaining weight (thanks for the conflicting messages) – I couldn’t help but try another cake recipe for the celebration. So I mixed and measured, stirred and sifted, preheated and prepared, and into the oven it went for the recommended 50 minutes. Sort of. At 50 minutes it didn’t look done. At 60 minutes it hadn’t progressed – half-risen and not at all golden brown. (“That’s strange,” I thought naively). At 90 minutes nothing had changed – except, as it was becoming painfully clear, for the status of the oven. Uh-oh.

It appears that a heating coil had gone kaput. As in goodbye. So long. Farewell. And lots of luck with Thanksgiving. That sound I heard above the roaring in my ears and my own choice language was that of the universe chuckling.

The good news? Turkey duties have now moved to B.’s mom’s oven. I’ve still got the sides. Our feast is indeed moveable and will be enjoyed thoroughly albeit differently.

If there’s one thing I’ve learned over this era (dating from fridge meltdown to oven cooldown), it’s that you’ve gotta laugh at the things you can laugh at and try to find the humor in the incredibly annoying moments where possible. With all the things we can’t find the funny in, finding it wherever we can has never been more essential for getting by.

So here’s to all we’re thankful for – the people at our table and the friends just a phone call away. Here’s to Thanksgiving in all its perfectly imperfect variations. And here’s to the universe laughing with us. Call it nonsense and sensibility.

Let’s eat.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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block party

Sure, it’s all fun and games until the inevitable happens – that oft-told, sad-but-true, you-know-it-when-it-hits-you case of writer’s block. There you are (or, actually, I am), weaving a tale, telling a story, thinking that you’ve got all your ducks in a neat little row when one tiny duckling refuses to move out of the way. Will not follow the path you’ve set for it. All around just stops, sticks out its little duck tongue at you and says, “Nope, I’m done. Find another way around. Quack.” (Cue end-zone victory dance.)

All to say that, in the midst of writing my second novel, I am flummoxed. Stuck in the mud spinning my wheels. Just a short drive from wit’s end. My characters have gone off cavorting on their own, taking my storyline with them, and, unlike my experience while writing my first novel, this time it seems that I’m not invited along.

“Step away for a few minutes,” some might say. “It will come to you.” Or, “How about a brisk walk outdoors? Nothing like fresh air to clear your head.” Or, and here’s my favorite, “Just think of something else to write. You must have a million stories inside your head.”

Nope. We’re past all that. At this point, each time I step away, my characters just laugh and go even further in the opposite direction. And in terms of taking a walk outdoors, unless it includes a stop at the nearby Trader Joe’s for snacks, all I’m bringing home is a whole lot of nothing.

As to that third suggestion? Oh please. Thank you for your faith in me and for thinking that I’ve got so many other make-believe stories to tell, enough to just sit down and start creating. Not so. Unlike this blog, which seems to lend itself to my writing about my life, writing a novel is so much harder. Here I tell my own observations. There I’m telling my characters’ stories. Here I know everything about what I’m writing. There I’m making it all up. And here I know how each account works out. There … well let’s just say my characters all know but, at this point, they’re not sharing. (Sort of the way I feel about cats. I believe that deep down they have all the answers – but they’re just not telling. Which explains why I’m a dog person.)

So what to do?

Banging my head against the proverbial wall results in nothing more than an existential headache – i.e., If I cannot write, can I truly call myself a writer? And if I am a writer, but cannot write at the moment, then who am I? And if that bag of Trader Joe’s chips is now empty, did it ever really exist at all? And if it did not exist, then are those calories I consumed nonexistent? Oy.

Obviously, I am a writer (you can’t come up with this kind of neurotic stuff and not be) – but this writer needs to somehow get over, around, or past the block. To carry out an end run around that annoying little duckling. To figure out the right breadcrumbs to lure it away and find my way back to my novel’s story.

You may very well ask why I put myself through this at-times painful process. Why, instead of the angst of writing a novel, do I not, say, put together a book of my blog posts instead? They come to me so much more easily and naturally, and they are usually (today’s notwithstanding) quite fun to write. Why indeed.

Because making up a make-believe world is just so awesome. Creating characters, putting words in their mouths, controlling their movements and even their destinies – it’s a kind of rush like no other. And because the tremendous challenge behind it, while incredibly difficult, is unbelievably rewarding when it works. The satisfaction in basing a story on something my brain creates from nothing – versus something I’ve experienced – is just so, well, for lack of a better way of putting it, crazy cool.

That promise of that hard-earned joy is what keeps me going and keeps me writing. And every bit of that writing – whether a blog post, an essay, or a draft – anything I write helps in chipping away at the block until at some point (hopefully in the not-too-distant future), I know I’ll find myself back on my story’s path. My best advice in facing down that stubborn little duckling is to be more stubborn. More fearless. More determined.

And quack louder.

© 2021 Claudia Grossman

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ciao, bella

Everyone’s got their own version of comfort – being with the one you love, curling up with a good book and a better brandy, snuggling with your pet, eating spaghetti and meatballs. No, really, what? In a culinary world where pasta exists in so many shapes and sizes, to say nothing of a nearly infinite variety of gourmet iterations, are we really talking about plain old spaghetti and meatballs?

Well, I am. There’s something intrinsically joyful about the dish. Well, mostly the spaghetti. The very action of twirling it around the fork before popping it into your mouth builds the anticipation. Will it make a neat swirl? Will it all fit on the fork? Will you end up with a marinara mustache if you’re not careful? And the inevitable slurping up the stray strand or two is just plain fun. It feels like being six years old again. Seriously, how giggle-inducing is penne? Not very. Shells? Somewhat better because the sauce gets inside them but still not the same. Fettuccine? Come on, it’s just spaghetti’s fancier cousin. And don’t even get me started on capellini. Sure, it’s angelic looking in the package, but one wrong move and it’s overcooked.

When I think about eating spaghetti as a little kid – before it became known as pasta and got replaced in our pantry by those other shapes and styles – I remember my mom breaking it into shorter strands before cooking it to make it easier to eat. Not much twirling was required (good for little hands, not so good for becoming an expert at the art of dining).

And there’s the rub. Flash forward from my six-year-old self to me as a teenager – shy, unsure of myself, very smart but very awkward and, in my mind, somewhat lacking. I was lucky enough at that age to go to Italy for the first time (a bit intimidating) with my parents (a bit sheltering). It was sort of a conundrum, wanting to appear as the irresistibly, innocently sexy ingenue while a) not knowing how, and b) having my parents by my side, sort of cramping my style. I so wanted to be Audrey Hepburn in Rome but, even though my dad may have called me his princess, I was so clearly not ready for my spotlight.

Until. One day, we found ourselves at a small trattoria filled mostly with locals enjoying their late dinner. And there on the menu was my most favorite comfort food – spaghetti and meatballs – or, at least, what sounded like an incredibly delectable version of it, prepared and suited to authentic Roman tastes. The only problem? Those were full-length spaghetti strands. Cutting them was out of the question. Twirling them, however, resulted in unmanageable forkfuls way too big to eat. What to do?

I nibbled at the meatballs and sort of pushed the spaghetti around my plate, hoping no one would notice (there were worse things, I thought, than having just “and meatballs” for dinner), when my hero appeared. No, not Gregory Peck. Not even Eddie Albert. Showing up at my shoulder with a whispered “Signorina” was our very elderly, very courtly waiter, Antonio (to this day, I still remember his name), spoon at the ready.

And right then and there this chivalrous, oh-so-very European, grandfatherly waiter gently took my fork from my hand, expertly twirled a forkful of pasta against the spoon, and fed me my first taste of spaghetti in Rome. It was, as promised, delicioso. After a second forkful, I nodded in understanding and took the spoon from him. I tried the twirl-against-the-spoon ritual for myself to great success. Antonio then left to take care of his other diners. But not before bowing over my hand, kissing it as he brushed it with his silvery mustache, and saying, “Ciao, bella.”

That short encounter with that very kind waiter did more than teach me how to eat spaghetti. It gave me confidence in myself. It made me feel special. And it made me believe that there was hope for me yet, that my inner Audrey Hepburn would emerge one day. Never having known my own grandfathers, I felt like I’d been gifted one right there in the form of Antonio, if only for a few moments in an out-of-the-way trattoria in the Eternal City.

Roman holiday, indeed.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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tell me a story

Decades before the advent of “Take Our Daughters to Work Day,” my father would take the little-girl me to work with him on occasion. And what occasions they were. This was back in the 1960s, and my dad was a film editor working at a post-production company and editing TV commercials. These were the Mad Men days, and I was so enchanted with his work that advertising and I have had an ongoing love affair all this time.

Having the chance to go to work with my father was so exciting that I could barely sleep the night before. He caught a 7 a.m. commuter train each morning into New York City, so I had to wake up super early, after picking out my outfit the night before. I loved riding the train, sitting next to the window and watching the station signs go by. My dad would read The New York Times commuter-style; that is, he would fold the paper in half the long way and read each page one half at a time (turning the pages in this folded mode is an acquired art form – trust me).

Once we got into the city, I wouldn’t let go of his hand for anything, as the crowds in Penn Station swirled around me. Riding the subway was an adventure — how did he know which train to get on, I wondered, and more important, how could a train travel underground (the cute but neurotic little-girl me tried not to focus on that one for too long).

And then finally, there we were, in his office. The best part was getting to get sit alongside him while he worked in his editing room, seated at his Movieola and viewing and splicing film footage to create a story.

That’s the part that has stayed with me over all these years – his ability to create by being a storyteller. And that’s also the gift he passed down to me. As he created with images – sketching out storyboards, choosing his takes, and creating his final sequences to turn pieces of film into a final story – he taught me the beauty of creating through imagining. For me, creating has come through my writing, and I like to believe it started by watching him love his work.

The other highlights of the day? Getting to sit at my dad’s desk when he was out of his office at meetings down the hall, pretending to field calls and draw my own make-believe commercial storyboards. Being the center of attention when secretaries would poke their heads in and ooh and ahh over me (as I said, this was the 1960s, and secretarial pools were commonplace). Going out to lunch, not at a fancy expense-account restaurant, but at one of New York’s famous coffeeshops where I got to order whatever I wanted (burger, fries, and Daddy, could you please ask for more ketchup?).

I remember barely being able to keep my eyes open on the train trip home. Almost as soon as my father would put his briefcase and our coats up on the overhead rack I’d be halfway to dreamland, exhausted by the excitement of the trip, the energy of the city, and the sheer fun of watching my dad do what he loved – and my learning by example.

While going to work with my dad happened way, way before Take Our Daughters to Work Day became a calendar event, it impressed on me the importance of doing something productive and challenging and creative with my life just as much as it would impress a young girl going to work with her mother (or father) today. It fueled my passion for writing and my love of New York City. It showed me how loving what you do and doing what you love involves skill, talent, and hard work, and that, when it happens, it’s magic. It taught me to imagine and to dream.

And it allowed me to see my father in another dimension. He was a terrific teacher, without ever knowing it, and I was the perfect student, hungry to learn. I only wish he could have seen what I’ve become and could have read the story I continue to tell.

Sugar and splice.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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touching base

How do you know it’s autumn in LA? The Dodgers are in the playoffs.

You certainly wouldn’t know that the season has changed by the weather – until one day you actually do. While much of the rest of the country has cooled down, summer temperatures extend here into October. There may be a day or two in late September when it seems as if we’ve moved on, but no, there’s sure to be a blast of heat sometime well after the autumn equinox.

But then one day – like two days ago, for example – more than the promise of fall arrives, in this case, in the form of gusty winds. Winds that rattle branches and whip up dust and debris (LA is desert, after all). Winds that put a welcome chill in the air and remind us that it’s time to put sweaters and even jackets in the morning rotation. Winds that are definitely not the warm Santa Anas – noted for their heat and the strange things said to happen when they blow – but the bracing (for here) gusts that tell us that autumn, LA style, is about to settle in. That’s when you know that fall is truly here.

That, and the Dodgers are in the playoffs.

Another sign of fall in LA? The Halloween decorations. In this place where the make-believe industry is the focus of so much for so many, the displays are major productions. Not many happy smiling pumpkin faces here – our fall this year is punctuated by everything from realistic skeletons parading up to the roof to truly terrifying clowns (right out of central casting) holding their victims in cages. Gravediggers compete with hands reaching up from the ground while tombstones dot driveway paths like tulips in the spring. While all of it scares the hell out of me, it’s a sure signal of autumn. That, and the Dodgers are in the playoffs.

Watching the Dodgers in the post-season (as I write this they are 2-2 in the Divisional playoffs against the Giants after a heroic home game last night) is an integral part of fall in this place that gave birth to California girls, Beach Boys, and endless summer. As the team, its pedigree practically synonymous with the game of baseball itself, takes to the field for possibly (but hopefully not) the last game of its post-season, the feeling is bittersweet, one of summertime being over and daylight savings time about to end. But it’s also pure joy, stirring up passions for a more genuine time, a time when the romance of a baseball game was enough.

Playing in the footsteps of Koufax and Drysdale, Gibson and Valenzuela, Reese and, of course, the immortal Robinson, these Dodgers carry on the franchise’s storied legacy while telling their own story. One of down-to-the-wire greatness as the days of summer flit past. One of feeling like a kid again and playing outdoors until dark. One of something special in the air – whether it’s peanuts, popcorn, or that autumn wind blowing in the outfield.

Safe at home.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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write the joy

Writers write for many reasons. For me, it’s all about the joy.

Writing the joy means not only writing what you know – the advice given to writers probably since the beginning of time – but writing about what makes you happy. The people, the places, the passions that fuel you. The words themselves that feel good to say and even better to write down and relive. The colors and shadings of nature, of cities, of places visible and those only dreamt about. The things that you’ve seen and heard, tasted and touched, felt with your fingertips and caressed with your soul.

Write the joy of a cerulean blue ceramic bowl filled with a pile of richly colored oranges (and enjoy, with an internal “ahh,” the use of cerulean and ceramic in a single phrase). Immerse yourself in the pleasure of finding the words to describe looking at a glass of ruby-red cabernet, glints of light captured in its depths, and seeing the world as if through a jeweled lens.

Describe the perfect cup of cocoa – write until you can see the creamy color, smell the irresistible lure of the chocolate, taste the sweetness. Until you can feel the comfortable weight of the warm mug in your hand. And until you can remember the very first time you ever tasted cocoa and all the joyful memories that evokes.

Find the words to paint autumn in New England. Leaves of scarlet and gold, amber and purple, deep dark green – all against the bluest of skies. Or New York in the spring – towers of grey and silver punctuated by bodega buckets of tulips in pink and coral and bright red.

Write down how you feel about the person you love most in the world – or describe his kind eyes; her gentle touch; the way he saves you the comics and the crossword from the paper each day; the way she saves you the edges of the brownies because she knows those are your favorite pieces.

I write the joy because it evokes pure elation. Because it allows me to capture, craft, and create small, exquisite moments in time through lines on a page. Because it restores my faith in the power of words to make something beautiful. And because it makes me happy.

Joy to the girl.

©2021 Claudia Grossman

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