Friday, December 07, 2007

Holiday Happenings/Follow-Up #1/Follow-Up #2

As noted in the previous post, there are more things to do around Town these days than time in which to do them. Which means that that precious commodity, time, has become even more precious of late.

Which (ah, how your scribe loves to start non-sentences with a which - no which-hunting in these pages!) is why we almost had blood in the streets the other day during the House Tour From Hell. Fur-clad matrons shivering in their mink boots were ready to commit homicide at the grossly inept way in which the tour was being managed, or rather, mismanaged. Your scribe has been going on these tours for a number of years, and has to admit that the ladies were right: this year's tour will long be remembered as the worst ever.

And why? The Historical Society tried to mandate that everybody - and that means you, too - take their so-called shuttle buses. Often in the past groups of people have chartered limos to take them around to the various houses, and despite the attempted ban on this practice, this year turned out to be no different. In retrospect, those were the smart people.

The rest of us did as instructed, and drove to a gathering-point such as Stanwich Congregational Church. Your scribe arrived a few minutes before the official opening hour of 10 AM, only to see the first two shuttles already pulling out, en route to two different houses, and over a hundred people standing there shivering.

So he stood in line and shivered too, and we waited. And we waited. And we...oh well, dear reader, you get the idea. The genius who had arranged this snafu didn't take into account the fact that two buses going in different directions to houses several miles away, each carrying all of 24 passengers, simply couldn't handle a crowd which by now was closer to 200 people.

Finally one of the shuttles returned. 24 lucky people got to board it. Since many people were in groups, and your scribe was in a group of one, he was given the last seat on the bus. He had only been waiting about 45 minutes at this point.

Then we drove. And we drove. And we...well, once again, you get the point. The house in question was NOWHERE NEAR the Stanwich Congregational Church. Like, miles and miles away. When we got there, we noted the presence of a dead-end street directly across from the house with oodles of parking possibilities and only a handful of smirking limo drivers availing themselves of the wide-open spaces. There was almost rebellion in the ranks at that point, but we had a house to see, and so up the driveway we trudged.

The house itself was chockablock with 18th century French antiques and art and furniture - and every piece was reportedly an original, not a reproduction. From the like-new condition, your scribe would say they were heavily restored - after all, these pieces had lived through several revolutions - but they were admittedly impressive. Yet they did not appear all that comfortable or inviting. Have you ever actually sat on a Louis Seize chair, dear reader, or reclined on a Madame Recamier sofa? The latter is constructed in such a way as to almost guarantee you a crick in the neck before long.

So then it was back down to the bottom of the driveway, where we waited, and waited, and waited some more. After half an hour, the same shuttle bus finally deigned to reappear. One lady who had been taking these tours for 20 years was so fed up that she loudly proclaimed she was going home and would be demanding her $100 back from the Historical Society. The rest of us applauded and cheered.

Long story short, when your scribe was finally returned to the Stanwich Congregational Church, the line was even longer, and nearly two hours had been taken from his life. Then we learned that we all had to go to the back of the line and wait an hour or so for a bus to take us to the next house. We were also told that if, as, and when we got to the front of the line, there was no guarantee that the next bus would take us to the house we hadn't seen, or back to the one we already had.

Open rebellion broke out. Your scribe headed for his car and decided to hell with the stupidity of whoever had organized this fiasco; he would drive himself from now on.

So off he went to Cindy Rinfret's house, where the kindly cop/ferry captain on duty suggested a nearby place where he - and others, of whom there were now many - could park and take a five-minute walk (most of which was up Cindy's half-mile-long driveway). The brisk exercise sure beat standing in a shuttle line.

We were greeted by the verbose parrot and the smell of cookies baking in the oven, not to mention Cindy herself. Your scribe tried one of the sugar cookies with imported jam and powdered sugar on top - utterly melt-in-the-mouth delicious! Then it was downstairs to see the home theatre, where there were popcorn and candy bars on offer. Your scribe was glad he had not signed up for the $60 lunch at the Country Club; not only would he not have had time to eat it, but it would have been superfluous after Cindy's hospitality.

Then it was down Taconic to North Street to park on Parsonage Lane around the corner from the next house. You should have heard the muttering, dear reader, from the people who had followed instructions to park two miles away and - yes, indeedy - take yet another shuttle bus. They stood there shivering like sheep on the front porch while your scribe toured the house and then headed back to his warm car three minutes' walk away.

A break from this insanity was called for. Your scribe swung by the library to check his blogroll and email Maven Erica some of the details of the debacle to date. Her reply came back swiftly: wear body armor to avoid being injured in the rioting.

Your scribe, however, was now in the home stretch, and being in familiar territory was able to thumb his nose at the wretched shuttles. The next house on the tour was one he knew well: the original Zaccheus Mead homestead, lovingly updated and expanded by Amy and Brian Pennington. Since each of the previous houses had been built within the past ten years, it was nice to be in a home that actually had some history to it. The house itself is, of course, utterly gorgeous, and everyone - that is, everyone who hadn't already bailed - agreed that it was by far the best of the day.

One last house to go. Your scribe parked around the corner on Grove Lane, near the boyhood home of former President George Herbert Walker Bush, and in less than two minutes was walking up the front steps of the mansion. Built by a local judge and political boss of the early 20th century (he basically ran the Town of Greenwich the way "Boss" Tweed had run New York City), it was redolent of elegance verging on pretentiousness. As every docent in every room was quick to let us know, the house and two acres is on the market for the modest price of $6,999,500. Even though you could see the library over the back fence, your scribe decided to pass.


Last evening the Land Trust held its annual meeting, and we were told of the status of its 21 properties totalling more than 600 acres, with more soon to come. The finances were satisfactory, with assets of some $1.8 million, and a bequest from the late David Agnew on the way. (David's name was not actually mentioned, but everyone in the room knew it had to be him.) We were treated to a deconstruction of Manhattan that took us back visually to what Henry Hudson would have seen when in 1609 he first sailed the "Half-Moon" up the river that now bears his name.

At the reception afterwards your scribe spent a few minutes with David's widow and daughter, telling them how much his RTM colleagues in District 7 missed him. And then it was time to go to the District meeting itself to show the delegates the lovely full-color picture of David and some of his grandchildren on the back page of the Land Trust meeting program.


And tonight is the "Literary Lights" shindig at the Arts Center, at which a passel of nationally-known authors will be signing their books. AuthorBabe, come if you can, and bring the kids - no charge! Erica, you already got your invitation earlier in these pages, but your RSVP must have been lost in the mail. What a pity that Florida is so far away from Greenwich!

Time to head over to Belle Haven for a tag sale. More later!


Well, as promised, there is more to report. The tag sale, on Broad Road, turned out to be at the home of the late C. Peter McColough, quondam Chairman and CEO of Xerox. How are the mighty fallen! By the time your scribe got there, after unburdening himself of the thoughts above, the house was almost empty. The vast master bedroom, overlooking Greenwich Harbor, had only marks on the deep-pile carpeting denoting where the furniture once stood.

Laurence Gonzales, author of "Deep Survival", had this to say about McColough:

Peter McColough, head of Xerox, managed to ignore the fact that his own engineers had invented the PC, the mouse, the graphical user interface, the laser printer, and Ethernet, right under his nose. Xerox lost more than a billion dollars in cash and untold revenues from personal computers as a result.

Ouch! Not a great way to be remembered. Apple Computer took up where Xerox left off, and the rest, ut aiunt, is history.

But your dauntless scribe, not to be deterred, was determined to find himself a memento of McCulough. And just to show you that the gleaning process works, here is the story:

In McCulough's study he found an interesting book about the life and times of Samuel Pepys, the great English diarist, which may make a nice Christmas present for somebody. Thus encouraged, he picked up a nearby light and began to shine it on the ill-lit spines of the rest of the books. A gleam of crimson leather caught his eye.

He pulled out a slim folio and found that it was gold-stamped with McColough's name. Inside was a handsome Distinguished Alumnus Award from the Harvard Business School. An adjacent volume, similarly bound and stamped, proved to be a record of the events surrounding the presentation of the award, including a letter telling McCulough where to be and when, e.g., dinner at the Busch-Reisinger Museum. Wow!

"How much are the books," your scribe asked? Ten dollars for the large ones, five for the smaller one, he was told. He offered $20 for the trio, which was accepted. He walked out feeling as though he had scored a unique trove of personal, corporate, and university memorabilia, which had probably cost Harvard a tidy sum in leather, binding, stamping, and calligraphy charges.

He also purchased a handsomely-framed 18th century hand-colored print of St. Michael's Mount in Cornwall, England. The asking price was $15, but an offer of $10 turned out to be sufficient. The frame alone had probably cost McColough close to $100.

And thus your scribe had a fine lesson in economics today: sharp eyes and a clear head can get you what once cost $500+ for a paltry $30. No wonder Xerox has gone through such hard times of late. Gonzales's lead-in to the lines above reads thus:

Seeing the Gorilla: In a famous psychology study at Harvard, more than 56 percent of subjects failed to see a man in a gorilla suit cross a basketball court in full view while they were concentrating on counting passes the players made. (This was the task given them by researchers.) It’s amazing what we can miss when we’re focused on what we think is important.

Well, that about sums it up. Too many people focus on the hole, not the donut. Thus it ever was, and thus, no doubt, it ever will be. Life in this Town is like a medieval morality play, each and every day. But most people are watching the stock ticker, or the fashion parade, or each other, and miss the gorilla entirely.


Just a quick addendum about the "Literary Lights" gig. About 20 authors and 200 visitors were present; for a full list of the authors see the comment trail to this post.

Your scribe chatted with Howard Roughan, a local lad who started his first novel on the commuter train to NYC when loud-talking cell phone users began to drive him nuts. His brilliant premise involved a fictional hero who, equally fed up by one particular yammerer, began using the personal details aired in the calls to start messing with the offender's life. I loved it! Now he's gone big-time, partnering with James Patterson in his latest book, You've Been Warned. "I only partner with the best," he told your scribe.

Michael Korda's book, Ike: An American Hero, was a big hit. Many people were buying it as Christmas presents for their family members who participated in World War II. George Taber, author of To Cork or Not to Cork, told your scribe that "air is the enemy of wine." Your scribe takes this as encouragement to drink up. M. J. Rose, another local author, tried to interest your scribe in her new book, Reincarnationist; she succeeded, although not to the point of getting him to open his wallet.

The high point of the evening for your scribe was meeting and chatting with Jane O'Connor, whose new children's book, Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy, was attracting lots of interest. But what really caught his eye was the stack of her first adult book, Dangerous Admissions, which he had read over the summer and loved. A forty-something single mother is working in the admissions office at a prestigious Upper West Side prep school when a senior faculty member is found murdered in his office. While trying to do her job along with coping with the vagaries of her adolescent son and his oversexed fellow students at the coed school, the heroine manages to glean clues about the murder that help her to solve the mystery. Very hip, very literate writing - it earns the scribal seal of approval.

Jane herself is a graduate of Smith College, has written a number of children's books, and is now a senior editor at Penguin. She is a delight to talk with, very funny and personable, and seems as though she would not bite your head off if you were to send her a query letter (a well-written one, that is!). If there are any agented authors out there who have not yet landed a publisher, Jane might be a good person to call or write. Under duress, she even signed a copy of Dangerous Admissions for the author of your scribe's favorite not-quite-yet published manuscript.

All in all, it was a fun and memorable evening. The usual motley assortment of local residents was there, from the cream of the crop to the downright unmentionable. Frank Juliano, Executive Director of the Greenwich Arts Council, and Jenny Lawton of Just Books II did a great job of organizing the event, which was again chaired by Bob and Pat Mendelsohn. Le Wine Shop provided le vin, and Garden Catering the comestibles. The authors were well behaved, considering that they had to endure being displayed like goldfish in a bowl, and the young volunteers who helped with the check-out process were cheerful and efficient. This was the second year of "Literary Lights", and one hopes that this delightful event will become an enduring tradition here in Town.


Blogger Erica Ridley said...

Then we learned that we all had to go to the back of the line and wait an hour or so for a bus to take us to the next house. We were also told that if, as, and when we got to the front of the line, there was no guarantee that the next bus would take us to the house we hadn't seen, or back to the one we already had.


/erica bangs head on wall in empathy

December 07, 2007 11:13 AM  
Blogger Sarah Darer Littman said...

Next time let me know about the house tour BEFORE the fact! I can chauffeur you in the AUTHORmobile. I've always wanted to go on the HT to see how the other half lives, but haven't ever made it.

Spoke to the 8th graders at Central today - lots of fun and we even sold a bunch of books.

And now, I'm completely I'm not sure we'll make it to the Literary Lights tonight.

December 07, 2007 3:34 PM  
Blogger Bill Clark said...

OK, AuthorBabe, you're on for next year. Maybe we can get Miss Erica to join us!

w00t on the Central Middle School appearance!! Talk about not letting people know in advance what's going on... :-(

You may not read this in time, but one Arts Council event featured Eric Carle, and I think there were one or more children's authors last year as well.

Oh, heck, here's the full list, fresh from the GAC web site:

John Baldwin (CT) Last Flag Down
Dan Barry City Lights: Stories about New York
Charles Monagan (CT) Connecticut Icons
Bill Evans (CT) Category 7
Andrew Gross Blue Zone
Jane Green (CT) Second Chance
Michael Korda Ike: An American Hero
Meghan McCarthy City Hawk
Jane O'Connor Fancy Nancy and the Posh Puppy
Stewart O'Nan (CT) Last Night at the Lobster
Howard Roughan You've Been Warned (with James Patterson)
Jake Rajs Atlantic: Coastal Towns, Seashores and Waterways
MJ Rose (CT) Reincarnationist
George Taber To Cork or Not to Cork
Michael White (CT) Soul Catcher


December 07, 2007 3:54 PM  
Blogger Vicki said...

I'm glad you decided to drive yourself after the first go round. Think of the things you might have missed. Things we would have missed you penning for us.

December 10, 2007 4:35 PM  
Blogger Erica Ridley said...

The package has arrived! Thanks, Bill--can't wait to read it! =)

December 12, 2007 5:39 PM  

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