Greenwich Gossip

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Ask Not For Whom the Bell Tolls...

...since, as faithful readers of this column already know, it tolls for Greenwich Avenue. Now your scribe understands why the bells at St. Mary's toll so lugubriously at noon every day. They're ringing the death-knell for the Avenue.

The latest empty storefront is that of Georg Jensen. Well, it's not quite empty yet, but give it a couple of weeks or so. Rumor has it that prices are being discounted by about three-fourths, if you don't mind buying an item that cannot be returned or serviced locally. The wise shopper will remember Thomas Jefferson's adage: "Never buy what you don't want just because it is cheap."

Your scribe recalls with fondness the old days when that storefront was The Video Station, where you could rent a movie and buy nibbles from one of the then-numerous family-owned businesses on the Avenue. Then the gentrification of Greenwich Avenue began, chasing away such favorites as Al Franklin's, the Greenwich Drug Store, the Yellowbrick Road, C'est Si Bon, the Cheese Shop, Finch's, and so on and so forth.

And now, dear reader, welcome to the de-gentrification of Greenwich Avenue. Scattered amongst the proliferating empty storefronts you can now find a Psychic with a handsome brass plaque out front telling you everything you may care to know about "Psychic's" [sic]. This particular seer may be able to read the future, but is apparently unable to read the dictionary.

Not far away is the lovely massage parlor, whose blinking neon lights advertise its cut-rate services - only $55 for 60 minutes, can you imagine! That's gotta be cheaper than the tony day spas that have been invading the Avenue in recent years. Once you tear the heart out of a community in the name of greed, you have started down a slippery slope to which there is no end, it seems.

And so, dear reader, the bells at St. Mary's will continue to toll, and Greenwich Avenue will continue its decline into not-so-genteel shabbiness. What a pity! We used to have such a nice downtown here. And then the chain stores started to invade, like kudzu, and pretty soon all the charm and character of the Avenue disappeared. We were left with an open-air mall.

And now the mall is closing, and we are left with...what? A few family-owned businesses that have managed to hold on, an ever-increasing bunch of empty storefronts, and a plethora of empty parking spaces. What a blessing that we didn't build the mammouth parking garages that the Chamber of Commerce was so fervently championing a few years ago. Can you spell "white elephant", dear reader?

No doubt more chain stores will be closing before the end of the summer. Your scribe will continue to perambulate the Avenue and report back. Stay tuned....

UPDATE 7/31/09

Well, it's now official, folks. As though to validate your scribe's post of yesterday, today Georg Jensen sports a large sign on the front door announcing their, consolidation, as they call it. And yup, take whatever you want at 75% off. Just remember Jefferson's advice....

Thursday, July 23, 2009

More Blight Comes to Greenwich Avenue

Greenwich Avenue is getting uglier by the day, it seems. Today your scribe noticed that 353 Greenwich Avenue, the former home of the popular Bon Ton Fish Market, is all boarded up with a bright red STOP WORK order nailed on the front. Somebody somewhere has goofed, it seems. Empty storefronts - of which there are many downtown - are not very attractive, but boarded-up ones with stern legal notices are downright gross. Once again, your scribe's tongue-in-cheek prediction that Greenwich Avenue may turn into a ghost town seems to be becoming an ever more likely possibility.

What a pity that greedy landlords have forced so many stores out of business over the past year or so! Now, of course, many of them are lowering their once-obscene demands, but the damage has been done. Not even in the Great Depression, one suspects, have there ever been so many empty storefronts on Greenwich Avenue.

And the downward trend seems poised to continue. As your scribe watched in astonishment, the one apparent remaining employee at Baccarat locked the front door at 1:10 PM, smack dab in the middle of the shopping day, and headed down the Avenue on some mission of her own. Now, we all know that no one shops there anymore, if they ever did; but what kind of message does the locked door send to potential browsers? "We don't want your business," the locked door seems to say. "Go away and stay away."

Well, it seems unlikely that Baccarat will be around in this Town for much longer. Your scribe would place a modest bet that the store has been hemorrhaging money for years, so maybe it makes sense just to lock the doors and stop throwing good money after bad.

Further up the street, your scribe was surprised to see Greenwich Avenue's first flashing neon sign advertising a massage parlor. Red, green, blue, and orange neon, to be precise - rather pretty, actually, but perhaps more suited to the Las Vegas Strip than once-tony Greenwich Avenue. And if you are curious, dear reader, about the parlor's rates, they are spelled out in handsome red duct tape: $55 for 60 minutes.

How much seedier will Greenwich Avenue get before the deterioration comes to an end - if, in fact, it ever does? At the moment, the trend is far from hopeful. Stay tuned.

Monday, July 20, 2009

RIP Walter Cronkite 1916-2009

Your scribe wrote his first novel just over a year ago. The action ranges far and wide, from Greenwich to London and back again. Many topics are discussed, including attempting to make peace with the Muslim world centuries after the disastrous events of the First Crusade and the bloody conquest of Jerusalem in 1099.

A brief recap: the hero meets the heroine, who is a TV news reporter. They fall in love, marry, parent, and embark on a series of adventures together. Five more books ensued in quick succession. Such is the writing life.

Here is an excerpt from the first book, which was written in early July of 2008, just a year before Cronkite’s death:

“Do they have a bathroom on this island?” she asked. This time I was the one to take her hand, and led her over to the lavatories. “Don’t go away,” she said as she went in. As if, I thought to myself.

When she came out she was composed and ready to get down to business. “Castles,” she said—“let’s talk castles.”

“Yours or mine?” I asked, and she smiled again.

“We’ll start with yours, and see if we share any architectural ideas in common.” So I told her about the brick Georgian house set on two acres and filled with bookshelves.

“Nice,” she commented. “How much are we talking for that?”

“About five million, give or take,” I replied. “And I have a pretty good idea in what section of town to find it.”

“Okay,” she said. “What about the other twenty mill?”

“ What was that Thoreau quote again?” I said, although we both remembered it perfectly well. It took her only a second or two.

“Oh,” she said, “a foundation! What a great idea! What will you use it for?”

“Well, first I’ll need to set up an advisory board to help to decide that,” I said with a wink. “Would you like to be the first member?”

She clapped her hands, perfectly willing to play the game. “Of course! Let’s see…the arts, naturally—painting, music, drama, writing—they’re the lifeblood of any civilization.”

“Good,” I said. “How about support for education—scholarships, travel grants, teaching fellowships?”

“Absolutely,” she agreed. “What level of education are we talking about?”

“All levels,” I replied. “Any level where a mind can be opened and expanded by the judicious application of eleemosynary funds.”

She laughed again, and again I thought how much I loved to hear that sound. “Great! So if Mrs. Grundy’s third grade class wants to visit the Bronx Zoo, we can charter a bus and pay their admission fees and off they go.”

“That’s it,” I said, enjoying as before her use of the first person plural. Maybe she thought my offer of a slot on the foundation’s board was in jest, but I knew that it wasn’t, and that I’d made an excellent choice.

“What about the application form?” she asked.

“Just a one-page letter,” I replied. “Tell us in one page what you want to do and why, and how much you think it may cost. We can always ask for detailed budgets and résumés and all that stuff later on, once we approve of the general idea.”

“That’s pretty straightforward,” she said. “Do you think something that simple will really work?”

“Why not?” I replied. “It’s our foundation, and we can run it any way we want to.” Two can play at first person plural usage, but she seemed not even to notice. Maybe she didn’t think I’d been joking, after all.

We spent another half-hour putting the foundations under the foundation, so to speak, and Sarah was beginning to look peckish. “Lunchtime,” I said, and we headed over to the refreshment stand. Food always tastes better at the beach, and with my new best friend-slash-cousin at my side it tasted better still. We each had a cheeseburger, and I showed her how to take a frozen Charleston Chew bar and slap it down sharply on the counter to fracture it into bite-size pieces.

“Yum,” she said through the sticky nougat and chocolate confection. “They taste much better this way.” This is a woman of refinement and discrimination after my own heart, I thought.

“So how will you get from here to there?” she asked, reverting to her reportorial role. I told her about my conversations with Lawyer Lee, and how he was already drawing up the papers for the tax-exempt status. She asked how the mechanics of cashing the ticket would work, and I explained my idea of hiring a limo for the three of us to drive to lottery headquarters.

“What about my cameraman?” she asked.

“He can follow us in the van so that he can broadcast live,” I said.

“Great idea,” she said, and squeezed my hand. “You have this all planned out, don’t you? No wonder it took you so long to call me.”

“Well, there are still lots of details to iron out,” I said. “Can we run a foundation from a residence without running into zoning or neighborhood issues? How big should the board be? What should be our scope—townwide, countywide, statewide? Not nationwide—twenty million is pretty small potatoes in the foundation world.”

“Small board,” she said. “Let’s get people who are professionals in their field—local artists and teachers and musicians. And let’s keep the focus local as well—better to make a big difference in a small pond than to have our benevolence lost in a large lake.”

“I like your thinking,” I said, and she looked at me thoughtfully. Sarah was nobody’s fool.

“You’d already decided that, hadn’t you?”

“Yes, but I needed a second opinion. That’s why I’m glad you’re on the board. My offer was serious, by the way.”

“So was my acceptance,” she said promptly. “I wouldn’t miss this for the world.”

Then the conversation drifted back to our personal histories. She had attended Miss Porter’s School in Farmington, followed by Columbia College and School of Journalism. Her parents still lived in Wethersfield. She had a condo in Glenbrook, at the eastern end of Stamford. She loved her job and dealing with people. She loved books and words and ideas. Walter Cronkite was her journalistic hero.

“You’re too young to know about him,” I said.

“ Nonsense,” came her answer. “We studied him in journalism school. Great reporting is timeless.” I had no reply to that. She was obviously right.

It is doubtful that Walter Cronkite himself ever read these words. Your scribe met him once many years ago, at the Union Club in New York City, and his deep, rich voice thrilled your scribe to the core. It was a moment never to be forgotten, and thus your scribe paid tribute to him in his first novel.

Walter Cronkite was not merely Sarah’s journalistic hero; he was America’s journalistic hero. He could easily have become president, but was too modest to run for office. He was one of the greatest Americans of our time, and indeed, of all time.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Lin-Lin Follow-Up

Some people just don't get the message. As your scribe was perambulating a wooded path on an island off the coast of Greenwich this morning, he heard noises from in back of him to the effect that "Hey, Bill, we have so been properly introduced, and it happened at Christ Church."

The speaker, of course, was Lin-Lin Lavery, who now seems to be intent on pushing herself onto your scribe whenever their paths happen to cross. Your scribe does not subscribe (as it were) to this sort of childish behavior, and so he merely ignored Lin-Lin's words. Can't the woman take a hint?

As to the veracity of her assertion about a prior introduction, your scribe considers it suspect, particularly in light of her contrary assertion on Thursday that "we haven't formally met yet." This last agrees fully with his own recollection, and he has none whatsoever of a prior face-to-face encounter with Lin-Lin. If such an encounter did in fact occur, he has undoubtedly repressed it; but it is extremely unlikely that it ever did. He and Lin-Lin do not travel in the same circles, never have, and undoubtedly never will.

What will be her next step, one wonders? A signed affidavit from the person who supposedly introduced us? A doctored photograph purporting to show us shaking hands? Your scribe can hardly wait.

Meantime, Lin-Lin continues her habit of injecting herself uninvited into every possible situation that presents itself. When Peter Tesei was asked to unveil a sign this morning, Lin-Lin leaped into the photo op, saying "Oh, we do everything together." The sour grimace on Peter's face said it all. Luckily, his wife Jill was not present, or she might have bopped Lin-Lin then and there.

And so, dear reader, life in the Town of Greenwich goes on its merry way, in spite of the efforts of Lin-Lin to make herself the focal point of everyone's attention. If she should accost you, too, dear reader, simply do as your scribe does and ignore her. Perhaps eventually she'll go away and play in her own sandbox instead of trying to invade yours.

Friday, July 17, 2009

Lin-Lin Lavery

As your scribe was peacefully doing his New York Time Times crossword puzzle yesterday morning on the stone wall in front of St. Mary's, he was startled to hear a loud female voice saying, “Hi, Bill Clark, what’s happening?” The speaker was Lin-Lin Lavery, the pushy Selectman of the Town of Greenwich who seems actively to enjoy injecting herself into situations where she is uninvited and unwanted. Prior to this unexpected encounter, her demeanor towards your scribe had been one ranging from simply ignoring him to downright avoidance of him. Which was fine by him. So what could account for this abrupt change in her behavior?

Frankly, your scribe had absolutely no interest in finding out. He has heard eoungh comments around Town recently about Lin-Lin’s habitual rudeness, and here she was in the flesh demonstrating the truth of those assertions. Reluctantly, your scribe lowered his newspaper to ponder the situation.

"What's happening?" What kind of inane question is that, anyway? Was she perhaps asking about the local scene (it's Sidewalk Sales Days, duh), the national scene (messy), or perchance the international scene (even messier)? The most obvious answer, of course, would have been to say that she was inconsiderately interrupting your scribe's train of thought, but he is too well-bred to have done so.

”We haven’t formally met,” she said next to your scribe, thus stating the screamingly obvious. So why, then, was she noisily accosting him like this without a proper introduction? Doesn’t the Junior League have rules about that sort of thing? Had she been with your scribe at the Palace a month ago, and behaved thusly with the Queen, she would have been unceremoniously tossed out on her ear.

Lin-Lin had been written up in the Local Rag, aka Yellowwich Time, that same morning for having attacked the First Selectman, Peter Tesei, for the fact that some senior citizens in Town have been denied tax relief. Since the decision to cut back the program was made by the Board of Estimate and Taxation, not by the First Selectman, her attack was more than a bit of a non-sequitur. Peter's comment was, ""Sounds like a lot of cheap political rhetoric from a politician." Bingo, Peter.

And thus, given Lin-Lin’s less than savory, not to say deteriorating, reputation around Town, your scribe had absolutely no interest in changing the current status between himself and her. So he simply replied, “I know we haven’t. Let’s leave it that way.”

The look on her face was priceless, dear reader: surprise, astonishment, disbelief, denial, and anger passed over it in quick succession. “Well!” she huffed. And then,“Have a nice day.” Which, as everyone knows, is cop-speak for “F**k you,” usually said after handing out a ticket to an errant motorist. Our non-introduction was complete. She marched away in high dudgeon, and your scribe returned his attentions to his newspaper.

And thus, dear reader, it took your scribe a few minutes longer than usual to complete the Times crossword puzzle yesterday, the theme of which turned out to be, "It adds up." Yup. That made sense. Everything he had heard about Lin-Lin's boorish, arrogant, and self-centered behavior was true. As he now had had occasion to see for himself. It all added up.

Such a pity that her stint at the Junior League does not seem to have taught her any manners. Well, it's too late now. She has made her bed in the Town of Greenwich, and now she must lie in it. And, like the national and international situations, it seems to be getting messier by the day.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Bastille Day in Greenwich

As has been the case for a number of years now, a small but heavyweight group of Greenwich residents gathered in front of Town Hall to raise the Tricolor and sing "La Marseillaise". The weather was warm and picture-perfect, as was every aspect of the ceremony itself.

The French flag was raised by Henri-Pierre Gerin and his grandson Sofiane, who came all the way from Annecy, France to be with us today. Henri-Pierre is the uncle of Jean-Louis Gerin, who of course is the famous Greenwich restauranteur of eponymous fame. Mme. Chantal Chauvin, Adjunct Consul-General of France in New York, was with us for the fifth and final time. As always, she told us of various events in the long history of Franco-American friendship, and made us feel glad that France is one of our closest friends. Next year, she mentioned, she will be in Marrakesh. Presumably she is moving up the diplomatic food chain, and we wish her well.

Then it was off to Meli-Melo for crepes, coffee, and freshly-squeezed orange juice, as well as viennoiseries from Versailles, donated in honor of the late founder and proprietor Maurice Versailles. Among the many local residents who crowded into this perenially popular Greenwich bistro were First Selectman Peter Tesei, the mercurial Ed Krumeich, singer and songwriter JD Southard, and many members of the Alliance Francaise. Accordion music was provided by Corinne Kuzma of the Cirque du Soleil.

Your scribe permits himself only one crepe every two years, as the Greenwich Bastille Day event alternates between Meli-Melo and Restaurant Jean-Louis. This year's was as delicious as ever. Merci, Marc!

Monday, July 06, 2009

The Demise of Greenwich Radio?

As usual, your scribe tuned his radio to 1490 on the AM dial this Monday morning, expecting to hear at least a semblance of local Greenwich news. Nope. Not today. Nor has the website been updated since Friday.

Have we lost our local radio station? It was never all that great, but at least it provided an alternative to the increasingly hapless - and hopeless - Local Rag, aka Yellowwich Time.

Well, maybe there's no news to report today. Or maybe another once-local business has gone belly-up. Time will tell - but the Local Rag and the local radio station may not. Never very reliable to begin with, it now seems they're falling off the map. Well, in the case of the latter, at least the airwaves.

UPDATE on Tuesday morning:

Well, it seems that the locals were just taking a day off. Perhaps they confused the 6th with the 4th, or perhaps they felt that since the Fourth fell on a Saturday, they would take their holiday on Monday instead. In any case, the usual format was back today, full of the usual mostly irrevelant stories. But even an irrelevant story is better than none. At least it tells us that the Town of Greenwich is still alive and kicking.