Tuesday, April 15, 2014

My Moment With Charles Grodin

Reflecting during this Child Abuse Prevention Month, several themes from my own life have come to mind. Today I share with you a "light" memory - "light" in the sense that while an otherwise "heavy" lifelong theme, intimidation, is the basis for the event I write about, the concomitant behavior, and the response to it, have a humorous edge, one that makes me smile even today. And a very familiar talent graces the anecdote :)
I hope you enjoy...

Driving recently, listening to WCBS talk radio out of New York, I heard the spot of regular contributor, actor/author Charles Grodin. Typically less than a minute long, Grodin’s comments cover a wide range of topics, all thoughtful musings delivered in his unique way. I can’t say I’ve always agreed with the positions he’s proffered, but I’ve always taken the time to turn up the volume and listen. Just hearing his voice evokes a smile – no matter the topic – and calls up a moment in my memory, from almost 20 years ago, a moment a dear friend of mine once proclaimed was "your moment with Charles Grodin!"

Back then I was working at Klein's of Westport, a now-defunct store that, for years, had been a fixture on Main Street in the upscale Connecticut town. Klein's sold many things - office supplies, and stationery among them. It was also home to (prior to the burgeoning of Barnes and Noble and Amazon) a vital, well-respected book department. I’d had enough of my accounting career and so pursued, then accepted, an offer from the store’s book department manager for a job.

I loved it at Klein’s. Smack dab in the middle of Westport, with a grand window view of the bustling street, the environment was just the change I'd needed from my accounting life. There was the occasional off day, but overall working at the store was a welcome experience - a relief. I felt my emotional load lighten dramatically.

Part of the fun of working at the store was the parade of celebrity clientele. Donna Summer, Whoopi Goldberg, Harry Connick, Jr., Linda Blair, Patty Hearst, Jose Feliciano (he'd jokingly asked for a copy of Playboy - in Braille) among them. Early one evening, Keith Richards came strolling in. Apparently, he'd parked behind the store and was cutting through, making his way to Main Street. Everything came to a standstill when we realized the rock icon was in our midst. He looked exactly like photos I'd seen over the years, every hard-living line etched on his evocative face. That was a cool moment.

Then there was Mr. Grodin. I’d seen him in the store once or twice and I’d taken note. He was much taller than I ever would have guessed (Wikipedia says he’s 6 feet tall). He’d thoughtfully meander through the books, often intensely examining an item or two. Once, he’d inquired of a co-worker about a particular title; when he left, she’d asked me to check its availability as she was leaving for the day. I did. When I discovered the book was no longer in print, I called the number she’d given me to let him know.

“Mr. Grodin?”
“Who’s this?”
“Hi, Mr. Grodin. This is Susan at Klein’s book department. I’m getting back to you about [can’t remember the title of the book]. I wanted to let you know it’s out of print. I'm sorry, but we cannot get it.”
“Okay. Well, thanks.”
“We just wanted to get back to you as soon as we could.”
“Okay. Thank you.”
“Thank you. Bye.”

So, even before "my moment" happened, Mr. G. and I had conversed. I'd managed my nerves. I'd handled it well: business-like, respectful. At times in my life, intimidation had gotten the better of me. Not this time. I’d gotten the job done.

So when he sauntered in one day and brought several books to the register for purchase, I should have been ready for him. Really. And I wasn't even the one doing the ringing, which would have required conversation - my co-worker was. My job was solely to gift wrap the books. No conversation necessary, just wrap.

There were a lot of books. When my co-worker was done ringing, I was still wrapping. Co-worker moved on to next customer. I kept wrapping. And the entire time I was wrapping, I wouldn't look up at him. I was shy. So self-conscious. Intimidation had smacked me over the head! I knew he was still standing right there in front of me, but I just could not bring myself to look up. At all. Even between books. Mr. G. said nary a word. I kept wrapping. Looking down and wrapping.

When I finally finished and I knew I had no choice but to look up at him, I did. And there he was, Charles Grodin, looking me straight in the eyes, with a Cheshire cat grin spread wide across his face. He knew I had to look eventually...and this was that moment! Seeing his grin and the glint in his eye, I just could not keep from letting out a laugh. And a “thank you.”


  1. Great story! Love the detail you describe. I can totally picture it!

  2. Wow, so enjoyed reading this. I was also honored to spend time at Klein's wrapping gifts during one holiday season. Your writing took mr right back there, I also passed by Donna Summer and wrapped a gift for Andy Rooney, what a great memory. I hope you still have Mr. G's number so you can wish him happy birthday on the 21st of this month.

    1. LOL...don't have the number! Sounds like you had some great Klein's experiences, too!