Greenwich Gossip

Friday, September 29, 2006

It's Friday Again...

...and once again the week has slipped by without a chance to share my wisdom and insights with the world of cyberspace. News events this week include the opening of Vineyard Vines' classy new showroom on Greenwich Avenue; Shep and Ian were there, of course, and Sandy Evans (formerly of Best & Co.), looking like a sophomore in college who had just stepped off the brothers' yacht, the "Ticonderoga". (Sandy, who I think may be the manager of the new store, is actually the mother of a sophomore in college, as Shep confided to my unbelieving ears.) The store is easily identifiable by the red and green navigation lights at the front door...just sail on in! Remember, red right returning - or you'll miss the door and hit the plate glass window instead.

This is not meant to be a commercial for Shep and Ian's new store, of course, as this column is strictly a medly of opinions (with a smattering of facts thrown in here and there). The point is that y'all should rejoice along with your scribe that the era of the local family business on Greenwich Avenue is not yet dead, and that all the chain stores last Saturday were green with envy at the crowds pouring in and out of Vineyard Vines. In the last year or so, more than half a dozen chains have folded their tents and locked their doors, which to me is a welcome sign that perhaps the Avenue may not turn into an outdoor mall after all. Unfortunately, most of the empty chain storefronts will soon be occupied by other chains, at least until they learn their lesson...which is that the locals tend to buy locally. You will find us in Terry Betteridge's store, not in Tiffany's or Georg Jensen's - we leave those for the out-of-towners, who think that by walking down the street phoning all their friends to say "I'm on Greenwich Avenue" they somehow have a life. They really *do* do this - I kid you not. And no, they do *not* have a life.

In other news this week, the president choppered into town to shake the tin cup, and garnered about $600,000 for Republican coffers. Most of the local political bigwigs, including the governor, pleaded "schedule conflicts" and did not attend; only Chris Shays showed up. I used to be a big fan of his, but in recent days have been revising my opinion. At our July 4th commemoration at Town Hall he located the battle of Yorktown in Vermont, which puts him on a par with the college students in the recent US history survey who thought the final battle of the Revolution was that of Gettysburg. Yikes! Are we becoming a nation of historical illiterates?

The Bush luncheon was at the home of Scott Frantz in Riverside. Actually, Scott is the owner of the "Ticonderoga", though Shep and Ian seem to have what might be termed permanent squatters' rights. No juicy gossip from the luncheon has yet leaked out - to my ears, at least - but if and when it does, you'll probably find it here first.

Last night the Board of Ed voted to vacate the Havemeyer Building, constructed in 1892-4 on land donated by Harry O. Havemeyer, the "sugar king" of the late 19th century. This clears the way for what was the town's first high school to become an arts center, and the long-hidden auditorium and stage will be refurbished for use by local thespians. A green belt will connect Town Hall to the new police station (the old one is being razed today, even as I write). So there are signs of hope and new life on the Avenue, as though to affirm what Heraclites and I have long said, that you never walk down the same Avenue twice.

It's time to head to the PO and stop by to cop a brick from the old cop shop for future, as of yet undetermined, use. More later.

Breaking news (no, I haven't used the brick yet): Quarry Farm is up for sale. This lovely Belle Haven estate was built by the Reynolds tobacco fortune, but for the last 20+ years has been lived in by Diana Ross. Is Diana leaving town, or is she merely downsizing? Enquiring minds want to know, and will start asking around and about the town. Results will be shared, as usual.

You may recall that Diana did some "soft time" here in Greenwich after a DUI conviction in Arizona. The court there allowed her to serve her sentence here, but the curious thing is that the local cops (known in this post as the GG, aka the Greenwich Gestapo) practically gave her the key to her own cell. Did she have a dinner engagement? She was sprung for the evening. Were there no women officers available to chaperone her? She was sent home for the night. Note that male inmates of the Greenwich gaol are not offered chaperones, female or otherwise. Humpf!

So it would not be an unfair inference, dear reader, were you to think that, like just about everything else in this town, justice, crime, and punishment are flexible concepts easily influenced by money and/or celebrity status. You already know from a previous post, "Murder in Greenwich", that this is the safest town in which to get away with that crime, or just about any other. The GG, while relentless in its persecution of those who happen to look at them cross-eyed, is utterly hapless and incompetent when it comes to dealing with real crime.

Just the other day - September 11, as it chanced - I had the honor of having the current chief of police inform me that my car was improperly parked at the lot adjacent to the town's skate park. I had stopped by to look at some bricks (hmm...the theme for the day, it seems) given in memory of some of the victims of that sad day, and Jimmy, who for years has shadowed me in one of the GG's unmarked cars, was as usual trying to break my stones. I did the only thing one can do when being harassed by a crooked cop, which is simply to ignore the said low-life. He circled the lot for another four or five minutes to try to get a reaction, but was wasting his time (and our taxpayer money) as usual. For this we pay him the big bucks.

Jimmy, BTW, is probably the most unpopular chief of police in the town's history - and we've had some doozies. The police union has passed at least two overwhelming votes of no-confidence in him, something like 150-6, but the commissioner of police, our not-so-esteemed first selectman, refuses to do anything about the problem. Just today, an off-duty cop was venting to me about how "f*cked up" the department is under Jimmy, and when I reminded him I'd been telling him and others in the department how bad he is for the past decade and a half, he acknowledged that they now realize I'd been right all along.

Not that his predecessor Petey was any better. Petey assaulted and battered me when I came by the cop shop to pick up an FOI form to take to the first selectman's office, and then lied about it under oath. I sued him, and won $20,000 (not bad for an amateur, hey?). His predecessor, Kenny, used to play hookey on his boat with another officer's wife, and sneak onto the back nine of the local golf course to play a few holes for free. (All this activity was being carried out on town time, natch.)

So, dear reader, you can see that your scribe does not get along very well with the top end of the police hierarchy in town. They say, as you know, that you can tell a man by his enemies...I'm rather proud, actually, of having the right enemies in this town.

The last person who took on the local cops was Lincoln Steffens - things were no better in the first half of the 20th century than they are today. His garage was torched, and he tucked his tail between his legs and left town. Me, I just sue the bastards. It's probably cost the town upwards of $100,000 in legal fees over the past decade or more, and some cases are still ongoing. The last cop who tried to build a career on hassling me ate his own gun last year, and since then things have quieted down a bit. Except for Jimmy, of course.

Well, this is probably boring y'all, and the only reason I got onto the topic was that I went to a tag sale this morning, and the off-duty officer who was directing traffic vented on me as mentioned above. I can hear you asking about the tag sale, and am delighed to tell you that I found a framed pastiche of about a dozen small watercolors of historic houses and buildings here in town. I think the paintings were done about 40 years ago, and they have faded slightly in the meantime, but they are nice to look at, and possibly worthy of inclusion in my next book about the town's history. Gotta check out the rights & permissions & copyright stuff first, though - others in this town may not care about the niceties of the law, but I do.

Well, that's really two or three posts' worth - as you can see, I'm making up for lost time. Time to bail out of cyberspace and rejoin the "real" world, or whatever kind of world it is that you want to call the town of Greenwich.

Friday, September 22, 2006

If Autumn Comes, Can Snow Be Far Behind?

Today's rant is written on the last day of summer. As usual, I am not yet ready to see it go, but of course the seasons pay no attention to my opinions or desires. So that is enough to put me in a Bad Mood right off the bat.

Adding to the Bad Mood is that today is also the last day on the job of my favorite Alphagraphics CSR, Ashley. She has shepherded my latest "Greenwich Historical Calendar" into print, and it is always an unmitigated pleasure to walk in and see her red hair and welcoming smile. Each time I leave I am more in love with her than ever, and wish I were two or three decades younger so I could tell her so. But we all know from reading Chaucer (and the tabloids) that May-December marriages rarely work, so I suck it up (or try to) and get on with my life. I've written her a farewell poem in a zippy mock-heroic style (rhymed iambic tetrameter couplets, if you want to know), and will go by in a few minutes to hand it to her.

Then I will get back in the car for my usual drive to the back country to look at the daily-increasing hues of the leaves before they give up the struggle and cascade to the ground. Remember how we all used to rake them into big piles, jump in them, and then rake them back up and set them on fire? What a gorgeous scent they made! In England the farmers used to set fire to their fields to prepare them for the next planting season - ambrosial! One wonders if they are still allowed to do that...probably not. The government loves to spoil our innocent pleasures, somehow thinking that it's fine for noisy diesel trucks to spew thick black clouds of carcinogenic smoke into the atmosphere, but not to burn an all-natural pile of leaves. Grumble, grumble...I can feel the Bad Mood increasing by the minute.

And then, after what will no doubt be a glorious but all-too-short leaf season, the snow will start to swirl and eddy around our eaves. The trees will become "bare ruin'd quires," as the Bard put it, which at least allows one a better view of the back-country mansions that are always fun to gawk at - that is, the ones that are not pretentious eyesores blighting the landscape, of which there has been a virulent epidemic of late. Such a pity that you can't legislate against bad taste...our local misnomer, the "Planning and Zoning" Commission, neither plans nor zones, and in fact publicly acknowledges that it is powerless to prevent most of the monstrosities perpetrated upon us. My personal opinion is that eventually the Greenwich real estate market will tank as people gag at the ugliness that is overspreading the town and then start to look elsewhere for their housing.

(Time passes...)

Well, in case anyone other than me was wondering, Ashley liked her poem. She knows I have an unspoken crush on her - women have radar about these things - and seemed genuinely pleased at the thoughtfulness of the gesture. We hugged, and she said we'd see each other again, as her new job is only in the next town over. Boy, I sure hope so. I had a king-size lump in my throat as I drove away, and in fact I still do...I think maybe it's permanent. (At least until I fall in love with someone else....)

Other news in town: the Author Babe is now the Radio Babe as well. I heard Sarah Littman on the airwaves this morning shilling for Ken Kieffer's show, "Keeping the Rumor of God Alive" (see my earlier post for more details). Her semi-monthly newspaper column is also generating a lot of buzz, mostly favorable - noises are being made about getting her syndicated nationally, which would be a Good Idea, IMHO. Her latest blog about her adolescent son asking questions about sex is an absolute riot, and extremely well-written, as usual.

My other favorite author chick, Diana Peterfreund, has been running a series of answers to questions about writing from her fans. She is one of the most thoughtful, generous, and intelligent writers I've ever run across, and her blog, "Diana's Diversions", validates everything Al Gore (or whoever) did in inventing the Internet. Oh, yeah - she has a wicked sense of humor, as well.

Well, the Bad Mood has metamorphosed into a Melancholy Mood, Ashley-related, of course, and the skies have turned gray to match my inner weather. But there's a patch or two of blue still left on the horizon, so perhaps that equates to Good Things ahead. As usual, I'd like to know right away what they are, but that would spoil the surprise. Guess I'll just have to wait and see.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Whoops! Where did *that* week go?!

Well, it's been a week since I last graced the blogosphere, and time has clearly not been standing still. I wish I could say it's been a week of humongous accomplishments, but the truth is it's been a week of pre-meetings for the town meeting next Monday. Much heat, and very little light, all in all. But I'll save my rants on the politics in this town for another day.

Speaking of little light, I guess we all know that the days here in Greenwich are getting noticeably shorter. In fact, the equinox is only about a week away, and then we all slip into the SAD mode (Seasonal Affective Disorder, for those who need it spelled out) until the vernal equinox sets things right again. The trees are still wearing their summer verdure, but a drive up Lake Avenue yields an occasional glimpse of red-orange as the maples begin to turn. At this time of year, I would advise you to take a daily drive around the back country, as the scene is changing on almost an hourly basis. That tree that was all green yesterday is tinged with other colors today, and will have still more tomorrow. Each day is an ever-changing work of art in Nature's studio at this time of year, and one should carpe the diem as often as possible to enjoy the show while it lasts.

Hey - why am I still sitting here blogging? I have places to go, trees to see, vistas to enjoy, and a whole bank of batteries of the soul that need to be charged with beauty to carry me through the winter. I'm outta here!

Friday, September 08, 2006

Storm Pics (well, the aftermath)

Here we go with another try at uploading pics (click on them to get the wide-screen Cinemax view):

Ah, that's only took five seconds, and more to the point, it worked! Here we see another hapless vessel on the rocks near the Watsons' erstwhile house.

Further along the promontory, you can see a couple of others that wandered from their moorings. The cabin cruiser at left is pretty much a goner.

This picture shows the former Roebling estate. John Augustus Roebling was the architect of the Brooklyn Bridge, and the work was completed by his son, Washington Augustus Roebling. The mini version of the bridge always attracts comments from ferry riders - "Gee, Mom, that looks like the Brooklyn Bridge over there" - and your helpful scribe will occasionally tell the tot that there's a reason for everything, including that. The estate is currently home to the art-collecting Hascoes, who have added extensively to the house and lavished much attention on the grounds.

Well, now that I'm having better luck in the visual aids department, maybe I'll try to prettify this blog more in the future...and perhaps get the author babe to try another pic that shows more than the fact that I'm in dire need of a haircut!

Thursday, September 07, 2006

"Scribble, scribble, scribble..."

", Mr. Gibbon?" Thus is Lord Chesterfield reported to have greeted Edward Gibbon as their paths crossed one day in eighteenth-century London. Chesterfield, of course, was a bit of a scribbler himself, as evidenced by his once-popular letters to his illegitimate son, so perhaps he was just paying friendly tribute to a fellow author. But Gibbon's masterful "Decline and Fall" far outweighed (six volumes to one) Chesterfield's output in both bulk and literary merit; he who scribbles best laughs last.

Churchill is said (by himself) to have "devoured" Gibbon's magnum opus, the full title of which is "The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire," and seems to have modelled his own elegant prose on Gibbon's example. And both men were attracted to and wrote about history; Churchill even made some himself, for that matter. For them, the past was prologue, and they well knew that those who do not learn from the lessons of history are doomed to repeat them.

How, then, shall we in 2006 view Gibbon's analysis of the ancient Romans? A letter in this month's "Harvard Magazine" suggests that as the Roman Republic gave way to the Roman Empire, and the rule of law was overthrown, their civilization sowed the seeds of its own destruction. Can it happen here?

Garry Trudeau has been portraying President Bush as a centurion's helmet (although of late the introduction of St. Edward's crown suggests that there is some thought to making the Bush family into a hereditary monarchy, with Princess Jenna as the heir apparent). Behind Trudeau's humor lies the reality of Gitmo and the lawless - dare one say imperialistic? - behavior of America in the world at large. "Why do they hate us?" I remember asking after the events of 9/11. I no longer wonder.

Now the President is seeking to legitimize the law-breaking of the past by passing new laws that make heretofore illegal behavior legal. It's an interesting approach, and has the virtue of at least paying lip service to the rule of law. But the further we stray from the Bill of Rights - the principles for which we rebelled against King George III - the more we become like the oppressor, not the oppressed. Pogo said it well: "We have met the enemy, and he is us." King George IV, anyone?

As I recall, it was when the Romans did away with those pesky, inconvenient elections and started appointing First Consuls for life that things began to get sticky. Pretty soon you had the emperors, and shortly after that you saw Caligula make his horse a senator. Hitherto, we in America have only had some horses' posteriors in the Senate; will we, too, see the day when a full-grown horse climbs the steps of the Capitol?

It can't happen here, you say, and I hope you are right. But I'm sure Cicero would have said the same thing, back in the glory days of the Roman Republic.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

Flotsam and Jetsam

So, you'd like to know what a storm can do to your yacht, should you choose to moor it in Captain's Harbor here in Greenwich. Well, wonder no more; herewith the aftermath of September 2, 2006:

Here we have a nice view of Round Island, once home to Frederick and Patricia Supper of Greenwich and Palm Beach. You can see that the sailboat missed the dock by a wide margin. Since I'm not (yet) a techie whiz like the Author Babe, I'm not sure whether you can click on the picture for a larger version that will show you the smashed rudder and keel, or whether you'll just have to settle for the panoramic view. Round Island is presently owned by the uncle of Dodi al-Fayed, who refurbished it in hopes of presenting it to Dodi and Di as a wedding gift had they not died so tragically just over nine years ago. In fact, I believe today is the anniversary of the moving funeral at Westminster Abbey, at which Elton John played "England's Rose" and Earl Spencer spoke his mind in the presence of the Royals. RIP, Princess Di - we would have loved to have you as a neighbor had events turned out differently.

Well, I had a couple of other pictures to show you, but they seem not to want to cooperate. Maybe this is high-traffic time on blogspot, as the site seems to be balky right now. So let me post this much, and get back to you later.

P.S. After posting, I tried clicking on the picture, and it does indeed give you the larger version. But the system is still not letting me upload the other two pics I have for you, so I'll just try again later.

(Time passes....) Well, it's clear that *something* is now working better - instead of waiting five minutes and getting an error message, I have managed to load the next picture in something under 15 seconds. So here it is:

This is a view of a hole in the ground, with a red bulldozer triumphantly posed on the ruins of what two weeks ago was the lovely neo-Georgian home of former IBM chairman Tom Watson. Even the Belle Haven shoreline, it seems, is not immune from the tear-down craze that has been sweeping the town like a plague. Just beyond the trees at right center is another hole in the ground, marking the former site of Victor Borge's home. The unmelancholy Dane, as he liked to call himself, would probably not be overjoyed at the sight.

Off to the right (click on the picture for the large format) is "The Pryory", former (but thankfully still-standing) home of Sam Pryor of Pan Am fame. Sam also had a large doll collection, which for many years was housed at "The Barn" on Pear Lane, until the late Dr. Jim Smith bought the barn and installed his world-class collection of antique arcade games. We said farewell to Jim just a few days ago at a memorial service at Christ Church - held there because his home church, First Presbyterian, is yet another of the many holes in the ground around this really *is* an epidemic, I tell you.

The boat lying sideways on the beach is emblematic of Pan Am, the once high-flying US flag carrier that inaugurated service across the Pacific and Atlantic oceans. Its mighty Boeing flying boats carried Churchill to the White House, and FDR to Yalta. But deregulation killed the airline, along with so many others. Pan Am helped assure its own demise by the disastrous acquisition of National, and the Lockerbie disaster did the rest. In recent years some of the former employees used to meet monthly at Manero's to keep some of the grand old spirit alive; but now most of them are decrepit or dead, and Manero's is just an empty shell of a building, soon to become...well, you know the rest.

Let's do one more boat picture, since at this point the ferry started to pull away from the shoreline, and the other half-dozen wrecks were not as easy to photograph.

Oops...I seem to have lost the picture function again. Well, we know the solution: let it go for now, and come back later. Till then....

Well, I'm ready for try number three. Here goes nothing....

Yup...nothing is just what I got. Even though I received a message saying upload successful, I tend to judge by results...which, as you can see, are non-existent. Sorry, folks, you'll just have to make do with the two pictures above.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Money Can't Buy Everything...

...especially when the everything is simple old everyday electricity. Despite their vaunted deep pockets, nearly half the population of our town (40%) went juiceless for much of Labor Day weekend. Rarely if ever have I seen such sustained high easterly winds and rains as we suffered on Saturday; they were utterly relentless and nerve-wringing. As radio reports of power outages in CT went from a few hundred to tens of thousands over the course of the afternoon, I hunkered down with a stack of proofreading, snug and smug and comfy in my power-ful status. Until, of course, my turn came....

It was maddening to look out the front windows and see buildings a block away ablaze with light, while my neighborhood was pitch-black. The reason, I surmise, is that the next street over is on the same power grid as the hospital, and thus it usually the last to go out and the first to be restored. Makes sense, I guess.

But the rest of the pattern seems pretty helter-skelter. Since this town, which is famous for burying its head in the sand, refuses to do the same with its electrical cables, or, alternatively, to prune regularly the multitude of roadside trees, we have these events on a fairly predictable schedule of several times a year. A severe ice storm last January, a tornado in July, and now this hurricane remnant in September: one wonders what the total cost all these days of powerlessness must come to in a town like this. Some people were out for nearly a week last winter, and some for four days thus far in the present event. I suppose that at least a few households in town are now pushing two weeks out of 35 so far in 2006 without heat, hot water, refrigeration, or Internet access. For this we pay Greenwich taxes?!

Just to give you an idea of the power - oops, let's say "fury" - of the storm, at least eight local yacht owners now have to paddle their canoes instead. Their large luxury ocean-going floating condos are floating no more, but lie smashed and broken high above sea level on the rocks of the Belle Haven peninsula, carried thither by that driving, pitiless and incessant east wind of which I spoke. I took some pics of these wrecks from the ferry yesterday, and if I can get my friend the author babe to help, maybe I'll post some of them here for y'all to see. Interestingly, the smaller boats (less than 30-40 feet) rode out the storm at their moorings, while the sheer size and mass of the behemoths made them choice targets for nature's raw muscle and Newton's inexorable laws of physics. There's probably a philosophical lesson here of some sort....

My friend the Reader's Digest editor, who lives in my old neighborhood at the other end of town, was still darkling when I last spoke with him, and I think was beginning to tire of my daily calls to check on his status and to offer sympathy. Can't say I blame him; the radio today quoted another citizen as saying that after the first day or two, the adventure of camping out and living by flashlight gets pretty old. Somehow, it seems that the length of time it takes to repair these outages is much longer than it used to be, and one begins to wonder if the United States is not sinking into the mire of a third-world existence. Our train service is execrable, our airline service is like that of the former Soviet Union, and our infrastructure is rotting out from under us. Has the sun begun to set on the American empire? Stay tuned for the next installment, which will examine some of the questions Mr. Gibbon might raise if he were still scribbling today....