They Called Us “Team Grotta”

Daniel Grotta & Sally Wiener Grotta

They called us Team Grotta.

I’m not sure which editor first gave Daniel and me that nickname. When we were long-time Contributing Editors at PC Magazine, I remember being pleasantly surprised when various people started referring to us as Team Grotta. It came so naturally to their lips that we felt that they had been using the term for a while. Perhaps it had developed organically, put forward in staff meetings and in office discussions. “Why don’t we put Team Grotta on that project?” or “Ask Team Grotta, they’ll figure it out.”

Not that it was exclusively a PC Magazine thing. Other editors and clients took it up, as did conference and workshop organizers and, eventually, readers.

When I look back, I sometimes feel that Daniel and I were the last to hear the sobriquet. But we were delighted when we realized what a nice compliment it was to who we were professionally and personally, how well we worked together and how others had learned to depend on us.

Team Grotta. I’ll never know if it spread out virally from one person’s dubbing of the two of us as a single well-tuned entity. Or was it an outgrowth of the nature of our relationship which was evident to anyone who saw us together? Heck, a number of years ago, a young couple with whom we used to square dance told us that their toddler son thought that “DanielSally” was one name. Out of the mouths of babes?

Another time, while attending the humongous CES trade show, we were guests at one of those Las Vegas spectaculars, starring the comedian Sinbad. Daniel and I were sitting at a front table with several other journalists and our PR host. Sinbad paused in a rant about marriage, looked at us and our body language that always inclined inward toward our center, and he said, “Now, there’s a man and woman who are a true couple. So in love, but it’s more than that.”

Over the years, we got used to the fact that others recognized the profound connection between us, even if we were standing on opposite sides of a room. Still, we seldom stood apart. We were drawn to each other, to breathe in the physical warmth, to feel the ballast, to hear the summons of new thoughts generated by just being near. Wherever we were, at a social gathering, in a business meeting or a test lab, the two of us together made something greater than the sum of our parts.

Team Grotta.

However it developed, it was the best kind of branding. Not a marketing ploy plastered over an enterprise like a designer three-piece suit you can don and remove at will. Instead, it grew out of every-day interactions, projects taken on and completed, questions asked and solutions found. More than that, it was a tribute to the sense of fellowship and downright fun with which we approached whatever task was at hand. Fun that spread out from us to envelop our associates, employees and friends.

It’s who we were.

When Daniel and I first fell in love (and it happened quite quickly, but that’s a story for another time), he told me that he wanted “a working relationship of equals” based on mutual respect. That’s what we had, and more. Two minds that fed and energized each other, we brainstormed everything, synthesizing new ideas, new visions that neither of us would have created on our own.

Over lunch when the conversations became so dynamic that we sometimes sat at the table until dinnertime. In the car navigating interstate highways or wandering twisty one-lane mountain roads. During long bathtub meetings with one soaking and the other perched on the closed toilet seat. Wherever we were, whatever the topic, we explored, tested, proposed differing views and generally enjoyed the game of stretching our minds against and with each other.

True, it could occasionally drift into the realm of the absurd when we focused on trivial matters such as the implications of a comma in a specific sentence (which was often a bone of contention – I have a bit of an antipathy to the Harvard comma though he has worn me down over the years). It was also how we created test scripts for cameras, printers, software and such, helped each other sketch plot twists for our separate novels, periodically reprioritized our lives to include new creative or practical goals. We applied the same brainstorming techniques to analyze and try to understand geopolitics, our changing publishing industry, the unexpected (to us) popularity of some effete celebrity we had never heard of, or in the last couple of years, maneuvered our way through the often confounding maze of medical issues and treatment options.

This back and forth questioning, questing, wondering, then revising the questions, reshaping ourselves was part of the intellectual adventure that was our marriage, keeping it always fresh and challenging. It was also a very productive and enjoyable way to work. (If you’re curious about some of the practical aspects of how Daniel and I collaborated, please read Collaboration & Marriage: Strange Bedfellows?, a lighthearted piece we did for another website and then reprinted here on Grotta.net.)

Suddenly, it ended when Daniel breathed his last sigh.

Many tell me, “Daniel is within you. The conversation has simply moved inward.” But that’s not entirely true. Yes, of course, I talk to Daniel frequently. I even sometimes still yell at him, especially for leaving me, for not being here when I need him. But it’s one-sided. The only response I receive is an impenetrable silence.

Those same well-meaning friends often try to reassure, “You know what Daniel would say.” No I don’t, not always, not when it matters most. To the very end, Daniel’s surprising insights and out of the wild comments could stop me in my tracks. (I believe I did the same for him.) He was more than my partner and lover, husband and best friend; Daniel was my muse, inspiring me to greater heights and depths. He was the Yang to my Yin. My opposite. With him at my back, I had no blindside, experienced no dead ends. With a single opposing point of view, one fact or story dredged up from his wealth of wide-ranging knowledge or an unexpectedly skewed perspective, he could get me to make a quick U-turn, to listen and reflect on what I had, until then, never even considered.

What is Team Grotta, if half of the team is no more?

About three weeks after Daniel died, an editor emailed me asking if I were available to do a roundup of reviews of security webcams for him. It would involve developing a test script, putting each of the seven cameras and their apps through the script, analyzing their performance, and writing the reviews. My first reaction was to say no. The project was of a type that Team Grotta had often accomplished. Team Grotta, not me. However, I knew enough to recognize that I shouldn’t make any snap decisions, not while in the state of fresh, raw grief. So I asked if I could let him know in a couple of weeks.

I sat back and thought about whether I should take on the project. Certainly it wasn’t a difficult one. I know cameras and software. Team Grotta had tested and analyzed more than I can remember. In fact, we wrote the first articles about digital cameras and imaging for many publications, such as Popular Science, Macworld and PC Magazine. That included creating the test scripts that are still used in one form or another by various magazines, including PC Magazine. This project would be a piece of cake compared to some of the rather complex ones Daniel and I had tackled over the years. Still, I was unsure; was I up to doing the project without Daniel?

Of course, I agreed to take it on. And, yes, I was quite capable of dealing with all the challenges, technical problems and other typical frustrations. I tested each camera and app thoroughly. Too thoroughly. But that was one of the hallmarks of Team Grotta’s approach. We’ve always been thorough, making sure that our analyses were (are) based on solid, provable research. Nothing really new here, except for one thing.

It wasn’t fun. Daniel wasn’t there to share it with me. Nor was he covering my back.

Still, when I went over the reviews one last time, I was satisfied with them. No, more than satisfied; I was pleased with them. After I hit Send on the email to my editor, I looked at Daniel’s desk, across the studio from mine, at the empty chair where he should be, watching me, listening to me read the articles to him, giving me suggestions as small as a comma, as significant as a question about my conclusions. I said to that vacant space, “Daniel, I did it. And you know what, it’s darn good.” I paused and smiled back at him. “Well, it should be, I learned from the best.” I was about to say, “I learned from you, Daniel.” But I imagined that smile of his, that knowing look, the adjustment he might have suggested, and I said, “I learned from the best; I learned from Team Grotta.”

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