Greenwich Gossip

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Desperate Times Call For Desperate Measures...

And the times must be desperate indeed in Passaic, New Jersey. Your scribe can hardly believe the following wire story:

Library director hired for half-year
Thursday, February 19, 2009
Herald News

PASSAIC — After going nearly one year without a permanent library director, the library board of trustees hired the former director of the Greenwich, Conn., library to take the helm — on a trial basis.

The board passed a resolution Tuesday night to hire Mario Gonzalez, who has also worked for public library systems in Houston and New York City, for a six-month trial.

Board President Walter Porto said the board will meet again in July to decide if it will offer Gonzalez a contract.

"Or, we tell him, 'Thank you for visiting,' " Porto said Wednesday.

Gonzalez will receive a starting salary of $76,126, Porto said, but may receive a $5,000 salary increase after six months.

Passaic has been without a permanent library director since last March, when former director Alan Bobowski stepped down to take another job. Kathleen Mollica, who has been serving as interim director, decided not to stay, Porto said.

"We need to replace [Mollica], or we lose state aid," Porto said. "That's basically the bottom line. If I don't have a director, I jeopardize $72,000 that I cannot afford to lose."

At Tuesday night's meeting, Gonzalez presented the library board with a list of more than 30 goals he said he planned to accomplish in the next six months. The goals ranged from enhancing access to library collections through technology to implementing a schedule of "on-call" staff to fill in for absent staff members.

He also said that his overarching goal for the library system would be "creating an atmosphere of mutual trust and integrity."

Gonzalez comes to Passaic after retiring as director of the Greenwich Public Library last May, a position he held for nine years.

Although a March 2008 report in Greenwich Time, a local newspaper, said that a survey of Greenwich Library employees revealed that some employees disagreed with Gonzalez's managerial techniques, Porto said he was not concerned with the incoming director's style.

"I did call the library to find out exactly what was going on," Porto said. "It boiled down to nothing. It was … a group of people that were not in agreement with (Gonzalez) being there."

Well, at least they got Mario on the cheap. It sounds to your scribe as though the net cost to Passaic for the next six months will be all of $4,126, which is about all that Mario is worth, in his humble opinion. Less than $700 a month. Call it about $30 per day, net net. Hell, that's less than a day's worth of fines at the Greenwich Library.

Well, dear reader, it seems you can fool some of the people some of the time. Not too many people here in Greenwich would say that Mario fostered "an atmosphere of mutual trust and integrity." Just the opposite, in fact. Which is why the board of trustees finally showed him the door. And, of course, they still haven't released the secret study of employee morale that led to Mario's downfall....

Well, maybe people in Passaic are different. Or maybe Mario has somehow transformed himself into Super Mario in the past few months. But your scribe remains skeptical.

(With a tip of the hat to Brian Harrod at Greenwich Roundup)

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Barbados Comes to Christ Church

Your scribe has never been to Barbados (yet), and when he went to Christ Church last Friday for the latest in the second Friday organ recital series, he was surprised to find that the performer, Dr. Sean Jackson, had grown up and learned to play on this small Caribbean island. FYI, Barbados is about three times the land area of Greenwich, and is divided into eleven parishes, each presumably with its own local parish church. This would seem to suggest that there are probably no more than a dozen or so organs on the island, most of which are probably quite small. We have about the same number of organs here in Greenwich, but they are mostly medium-to-large concert instruments, some of them of world-class caliber.

Being as provincial as he is, your scribe thus had no idea that Barbados ranks third in the human development index in the Americas, behind only Canada and the United States. Here it was that Sean started his study of music at the age of five, and by eleven he had won his first gold medal. The list of his subsequent prizes and awards is simply too long to publish here, but it's pretty damned impressive.

Sean left Barbados to attend the Royal College of Music in London, where he earned his Bachelor of Music degree. Since then he has earned both his Master's and Doctorate from Juilliard. He has played recitals all over the world, in places as diverse as the UK, Germany, Taiwan, China, Canada, and of course the US. He is presently the organist at one of the three St. John's churches next door in Stamford - the Episcopal one near the Mall, if you'd like to go hear him play in person.

He's also played at Lincoln Center and Carnegie Hall, at Washington Cathedral and the Shanghai Conservatory, and was Assistant Organist at Trinity Church, Wall Street, before and after the events of 9/11. And now he's played here in Greenwich, as well. And in a word, wow!

He began the program with Jean Langlais' flashy Hymne D'action de Grace, based on the Gregorian theme of the Te Deum. The last time your scribe heard this piece played in recital was over four decades ago, when he himself played it on the bombastic (and no longer extant) Ernest M. Skinner organ in the Harvard College Chapel. There the organ was buried deep in the walls of the Chapel, whereas at Christ Church the placement and acoustics are much better. So, needless to say, was the performance.

Next was Bach's Fantasy and Fugue in G Minor, from his prolific Weimar period. Sean's tempi were fast but not rushed, and his finger- and footwork were excellent. He began the Prelude with a half-scale runup to the mordant on G, and ended it with a tierce de Picardie, both unusual touches to put his own stamp on a well-known piece. The fugue, based on a Dutch drinking song that Bach must have heard in his travels, takes both hands and feet to the extremes of the keyboards. Sean made it look effortless. Had Papa Bach himself been there, he would have been quite pleased.

Next was the Scherzo from Widor's Symphony No. 4, a quiet piece in A-B-A form. First a relentless scurrying theme showcasing Sean's great keyboard artistry, then a middle quieter section featuring the oboe stop, and then back to the scurrying and an understated humorous ending. Sherzo means "joke", of course, and we were all smiling at the end.

Franck's Chorale in B Minor followed, one of his great masterworks. The three chorales were among Franck's last works; he had been injured in an accident, and soon died from the resulting complications, but he hung on, in Sean's words, until he was done. Sean's performance was faithful to Franck's spirit, and his registrations came as close to the sounds of a Cavaille-Coll organ as is possible on an American instrument.

The last selection was the opening movement of Vierne's Symphony No. 3. Vierne had a rather tough life, as Sean told us in his lovely Barbadian lilt: he was born legally blind; his brother and son were both killed in World War I; his wife divorced him, which hit him hard; and then he, too, was in an accident that fractured his leg, which took a year to mend. Nonetheless, he presided over the console at Notre Dame de Paris for decades, where he died as he had wished, collapsing on the keyboards as he was concluding his 1,750th Sunday afternoon recital. He, too, would have been pleased to hear Sean's rendition of his work.

Then we were told we'd been a good audience - well, we'd tried - and thus Sean rewarded us with C. S. Lang's toe-tapping "Tuba Tune" as an encore. Christ Church's trompette en chamade was a passable stand-in for the Tuba Mirabilis stop that was a favorite of Victorian and Edwardian organ builders. Though he wrote a good deal of music, Lang (d. 1971) is remembered today solely because of this bouncy piece, which sounds deceptively baroque until he starts morphing from key to key in a way that would have had Handel tearing his wig off in surprise and frustration.

The usual reception followed, at which your scribe had the chance to buy Sean's CD of organ favorites. As he drove home, he popped it in the player, and was treated to the strains of Bach's "Nun Danket alle Gott". Which promptly gave him an idea for a new scene in his third (almost-completed) novel: using that piece as the processional in a wedding ceremony. It was after midnight when your scribe hit the hay, with strains of Bach, Lang, Widor, and Franck still chasing each other through his head. Thanks, Sean, for a most memorable evening!

Friday, February 13, 2009

The Gravy Train Has Left the Station...

The ax fell at Town Hall yesterday. Plainclothes cops were there to keep the peace while the laid-off workers were told to put their personal belongings in a cardboard box and leave the premises. Most had years of service with the Town; some had decades.

Time was, dear reader, when a job with Greenwich Town Government was a sinecure for life. Decent salary, nice bennies, and nobody ever seemed to work too hard. Guaranteed pay raises regardless of level of competence, and a nice retirement package. Those were the days, my friend, we thought they'd never end....

And now they have. Greenwich is no longer vying with the Federal Government as the employer of last resort. And frankly, despite the personal pain involved on the part of those who have been laid off, it's probably a good thing.

Your scribe has personal knowledge of one Town employee, who finally "retired" last year, who confessed to him that she could do her job in one day a week, and had to spend the rest of her time trying to look busy. For this she was being paid over $100,000 a year. After her path and your scribe's diverged, she took to filling her idle moments with hanky-panky in the workplace. Her flagrant goings-on led to more than one attempt to fire her, but the union always intervened and managed to protect her. After the grumblings in her particular Town department could no longer be ignored, she was finally persuaded to leave, taking with her a $50,000+ annual pension.

And she was far from the only one to use the workplace for trysting. There is a certain desk in Town Hall which, if it were to put its history on YouTube, would be immediately censored and taken off the Internet. And who knows how many other Town employees spend hours of the day goofing off at taxpayer expense? Or spend other hours each day trying to look busy while they calculate the days left before they can retire with a hefty pension?

Greenwich has more municipal employees per citizen - by far - than any other town or city in Connecticut. For years, the gravy train has been an open secret in Town. Now, at last, the train is leaving the station, and in your scribe's view, it's high time. If we're in a fiscal mess here in Greenwich - and we are - one has only to look at the bloated personnel costs, which are by far the biggest item in the Town's budget. Yesterday was a start in the right direction, but it was only a start. Not until we've pruned the workforce by some fifty percent will we be in line with the rest of the municipalities in this State. We've got a long way to go....

Sunday, February 08, 2009

On the Charts at!!

Your scribe is pleased to report that his first novel, Winning the Lottery: A Tale of Greenwich and London, is now officially "on the charts" at To be precise, it is " Sales Rank: #1,007,786 in Books." Now, to be sure, this is a long way from #1 on The New York Times best-seller list, but it's also the first time your scribe has seen any number at all attached to it on the Amazon website. Time to break out the champagne!

What is particularly interesting, to your scribe, at least, is that his long-standing local history book, Images of America: Greenwich, is only at #1,339,722. And yet this book has sold between 5,000 and 10,000 copies over the past six years. The local Borders store on Greenwich Avenue, which, sadly, closed at the end of last month, routinely sold several hundred copies of this book every year, which accounted for a couple of thousand copies right there.

Just Books and Just Books II used to sell them at a pretty steady rate, too, but they always seemed to let months go by before reordering. Then a new stack would come in, and immediately fly out the door. Then more months of waiting before they reordered. If your scribe were in the bookstore business, this is probably not the way he would choose to operate....

And then, of course, there's Diane's bookstore, the logistics of which your scribe has never managed to comprehend. The Great Diane herself took one look at the book back in 2002, turned up her nose, and sniffed. To the best of your scribe's knowledge, she has never sold a single copy. And yet a large number of the 25,000 households in Town own a copy. Many people have wondered over the years how Diane manages to stay in business, your scribe among them.

But back to Winning the Lottery. Does its current status on Amazon mean that it, too, will sell thousands of copies over the next few years? Your scribe would like nothing better. But, as already acknowledged, he is woefully ignorant of the book business. Even on the drabbest day on Greenwich Avenue, when every other store was empty, there was always a line of people waiting to check out at the Borders bookstore. What corporate nincompoop decided to close this very obvious profit center? The parent company must be in dire straits, indeed.

Well, dear reader, it is becoming increasingly obvious that the future of the book trade lies in the online outlets, such as Amazon, Barnes & Noble, and - yes, indeed - Borders. So if you want your very own copy of Winning the Lottery, go to:

It's available in both trade paperback and hard cover, by the way. And is that the Island Beach ferry on the cover? By Jove, it is! Not to mention Island Beach itself, spanning the center of the front and back covers. And notice how nicely the tower of Christ Church at the lower right holds its own with Canterbury and Westminster Abbey. Yay for Greenwich!

And for Images of America: Greenwich, go to:

Such a pity that you can't buy these two books about Greenwich anywhere in Town these days. Well, perhaps the new owner of Just Books will see the light. Perhaps even the Great Diane will have a Road to Damascus moment and realize the error of her ways. In the meantime, dear reader (and you do read, don't you?), there's always And your scribe usually manages to have a few signed copies near at hand. So all is not lost in the literary world of Greenwich, Connecticut....

But as for the political, social, journalistic, and economic situation...well, that's material for another post, another day.

Friday, February 06, 2009

Joseph's Dream Comes True...

And we're not talking about the pathetically marginalized Joe Pisani here, the failed and fired former editor of the Local Rag, more generally known as Yellowwich Time. No, dear reader, your scribe is referencing the Biblical Joseph, eleventh son of the Patriarch Jacob, who was sold into slavery by his brothers as a last-minute alternative to killing him outright (good thing that caravan showed up when it did!). The reason for the brothers' actions was that they didn't like Joseph's dream, vividly recounted by him in front of them all, in which his brothers' sheaves of wheat bowed down and paid homage to Joseph's sheaf. What a sanctimonious whippersnapper young Joseph was! Clearly what his brothers were contemplating would have been deemed justifiable fratricide in any modern (or ancient) court of law.

But God had other plans. As you no doubt remember, Joseph then had many adventures in Egypt, including his non-affair with Potiphar's wife, which nonetheless earned him a long stretch in prison (sort of like the late unlamented prior management of Yellowwich Time, Potiphar tended to go with the woman's side of the story, regardless of where the truth lay). There, of course, Joseph carried on in the dream business, interpreting those of his fellow prisoners. Eventually, his talent came to Pharoah's attention, and the rest, as they say, is legend. Including, of course, Joseph's brothers bowing low and doing him homage when the wheat supply ran low back home in Canaan. So there. Who says that dreams don't come true?

The relevance of all this to 21st-century Greenwich is that the once proud and mighty Yellowwich Time has now knuckled under to the once-puny Greenwich Citizen. Just as in Pharoah's dream the lean cattle swallowed up the fat ones, and just as David bested Goliath, our longtime local weekly paper's boss, Michelle McAbee, has replaced the ousted John Dunster as publisher of Yellowwich Time and The Advocate. Go, Michelle! About time Hearst got around to cleaning house in our neck of the woods.

The downfall of the Local Rag can be traced to 1974, when it was sold to the family who owned The Advocate in Stamford. They then sold it to Times Mirror a few years later, who in turn sold it to Tribune, who in turn sold it to Hearst. Under the inauspicious leadership of Bill Rowe (who named his yacht the "Rowe Boat" - isn't he just too cute for words?), the paper lost any semblance of impartiality, and began to slant and/or ignore any news that suggested Greenwich might not be Disneyland East. From there, it was a short step down the slippery slope to the point where truth no longer mattered, and then it was that your scribe told Bill Rowe just to go ahead and change the color of the masthead from green to yellow to reflect the quality of the journalism he was publishing. Rowe choked on his martini, and has never spoken to your scribe since that day.

But it's a new day in Town, part of the "100 Days of Change" promised by Hearst. As loyal readers of this column know, April 1st is the drop-dead date for those who don't take the proffered buyout, and one certainly hopes that retread editor Bruce Hunter, widely known as an alter ego of Joe Pisani, will fade back into obscurity by then, if not before.

And thus, dear reader, we may all hope to see some semblance of truth-in-journalism restored to our fair Town this spring. True, the Local Rag will no doubt die, to be resurrected as a local edition of the Connecticut Post, and true, the Citizen will likely take over as the real estate newspaper of record here in Greenwich. But finally, the citizens of our fair community will no longer be able to joke about the Local Rag being published in the basement of Town Hall, since it will be printed in Bridgeport instead - as, in fact, it already is.

Your scribe wishes Ms. McAbee well in her new position. One hopes she will restore journalistic integrity to Greenwich, where it has long been absent, and perhaps find us some reporters who know how to use and spell the English language. If they can also show some independence of thought and action, that would be a bonus. Too long has the real news gone unreported in this Town. Perhaps, dear reader, that is about to change. Your scribe devoutly hopes so.