Yeah, right! - Writings by Brian Murdock

Archive for September, 2012

In Spanish,Madrid,Spain,Travel

September 25, 2012

La Alegre Levedad de Estar en Crisis: Post Mortem 1

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Hablar de Greenwich está muy bien, pero vivo en España y tengo que regresar más a menudo ya que está pasando tantas cosas.  Además algunos de mis lectores están empezando a preocuparse por el país, pensando que está a punto de doblegarse y ser tragado por las entrañas de la mismísima Tierra, o por el Euro, o por Merkel.   Vaya putada sería eso.  Residir en la superficie toda tu vida para ser enterrado antes de tu entierro.    Gracias a Dios, estamos todos aquí.    Todos menos el autor de las crónicas sobre la Crisis enMadriden agosto.  No sabemos nada de él desde los últimos días de ese mes.    Aún estoy intentando encontrar las últimas entregas, si es que fueron escritos.

         El país necesita un subidón de moral desde que la Unión Europea, o el Banco de la Unión Europea, o alguien más al norte con un huevo de dinero, no sé quien coño es, estaba prometiendo hacer las cosas mejor para nosotros…mucho mejor.   Eso es lo que dicen por lo menos.  Esto se traduce en dos posible desenlaces:

  1. Varias semanas más de diversión y ocio en las terrazas sin ninguna preocupación en el mundo.
  2. Todas esas personas que tienen un montón de dinero y que lo pueden gastar en la bolsa se han forrado en las últimas semanas porque el IBEX ha subido como mil millones de puntos desde que nos hemos enterado de que alguien va a salvar nuestro país, que a su vez salva a los bancos, que a su vez pasa de salvar a los clientes.

Y aparte de eso, la vida sigue…creo.  Estaba hablando con un amigo el otro día y nos pusimos a hablar de la crisis porque es más o menos lo que hace la gente hoy en día.

       Hablé de mi amigo el autor que había descrito con mucho detalle todo lo que había ocurrido y que luego desapareció de repente y inexplicablemente, “según,” como decía él.  Y cómo las cosas iban a estar bien al final y cómo la crisis no estaba tan mal.  Les dije todo esto porque me habían preguntado por cómo los americanos veían la situación en España, y les dije que creían que estábamos al borde de un colapso económico y social y que, por nuestra culpa, estábamos puteando la recuperación económica en su país.   Por fin, pensé, hablan de nuestro país.  Pero eso fue solo su opinión desde lejos y que cuando llegaban aquí, veían que las cosas no iban tan mal.    Nada mal en absoluto.

         “¿Que no van mal?” Me preguntaron incrédulos.  “Van fatal. Van de puta pena.  No es que España esté a punto de un colapso, porque ya se ha colapsado.  Varias veces.”

         “Trece según el autor,” especifiqué.

         “Pero mira los bares.    Y mirad las terrazas.  Están hasta arriba.”

        “Ya pero nadie está consumiendo.”

       “El alcohol.”

       “Pero eso no es todo.  Antes la gente podía permitirse el lujo de salir a cenar fuera todas noches.  Y ahora casi nunca se hace.”

        No puedo creérmelo.  Justo lo que decía el autor.  Esas mismas palabras.  Antes la gente desembolsaba 30, 40, 50, 60, y hasta 70 euros en cada salida.  Y los restaurantes cobraban un 81% más de lo que se debieran.    No es que se pudiera permitir el lujo.  Pero se hacía y es por eso que no tiene un puto duro.

        “Y qué me dices de Irlanda, joder?

        “¿Qué pasa con Irlanda?”

       “Pues que tenía una pinta horrible antesdelrescate.  Madrid no se parece en nada a eso.”

       “Eso es porque Irlanda siempre ha tenido esa pinta.  Es una economía de mierda y disfrutó de un par de años buenos y se volvió loca.  Pero era un espejismo.  Y ahora van tan mal como siempre.  Incluso peor.  Ya podrían emigrar de nuevo.”

       Desde luego me parecía una mujer bien informada en la historia.  Y mejor preparada para informarnos de lo bien informada que estaba.

       Ella prosiguió.  “La gente en España sale todas las noches porque siempre ha salido mucho, aun cuando no teníamos más de dos patatas y una cebolla en nuestras dispensas.    No tiene nada que ver con la crisis.  La crisis existe y se está poniendo cada vez peor.    No creáis que porque Madrid tenga buena pinta que estésana, porque no lo está.  La gente lo está pasando mal por todas partes del país.    Y lo peor está por llegar.”

       “Pero en Irlanda…” insistí.

       “Que les den a Irlanda.”  Irlanda no es España y nunca lo será.

       Vale…vale…vale…que les den a Irlanda.

Madrid,Spain

September 23, 2012

The Joyful Lightness of Being in Crisis: Post Mortem 1

Greenwich is a perfectly fine subject, but I live in Spain and have to get back there more often since there is so much happening.  Plus some of my Readers were beginning to worry that the country had finally buckled under and had been swallowed up by the Earth, the euro or even Germany.  But we are all here, somehow.  Except for the author of the August chronicles on the Crisis in Madrid, whom we haven’t heard from since the final days of that month.  I am still trying to smoke the final installments if they ever were written at all.

         The country has been given a boost of morale since the European Union, or the Bank of the European Union, or someone up north who apparently has more money than we do, was going to make things a lot better than they were before.  So they say.  That translated into two outcomes:

  1. Several more weeks of fun & games at the outdoor cafés without a care in the world.
  2. Those people who have a lot of money and can use it to spend on the stock market got loaded the last two weeks because the IBEX shot up a billion points once it learned that someone was going to save the country, which in turn was going to save the banks, which in turn was going to save the country…

And aside from that, life goes on…I think.  I was just talking to a friend yesterday and we picked up the subject of the crisis because that is what people talk about these days.  I told them about my friend who had described it in such detail and who had disappeared inexplicably, “it depends”, as he would say, and how things were probably going to be all right in the end, and how the crisis maybe wasn’t as bad as some thought.  I told them this because they had asked about how America saw Spain, and I told them that America felt that we were on the verge of social and economic collapse and that we were causing their economy to falter.  But that was just their opinion, because when they came here, they saw that things weren’t so bad.  They weren’t that bad at all.

         “Not that bad!  They are horrible!  They are dreadful. Spainis definitely on the verge of collapse.  In fact, it already has collapsed.”

         “But look at the bars!  Look at the outdoor cafés!  They are packed!!”

         “But no one’s consuming.”

         “Alcohol.”

         “But that’s not all.  Before we used to go out for dinner nearly every evening.  Now we almost never do.”

         Holy shit!  That was just what the author had told us.  Those very words!  People used to dish out 30, 40 and 50 euros a night on dining out even in times when they couldn’t afford it.  And the restaurants charged us 81% more than they should have even though they knew we couldn’t afford it.

         “But what about Ireland.”

         “What about Ireland?”

         “Ireland looked horrible before the bailout. Madrid looks nothing like that.”

         “That’s because Ireland always looked like that.  It’s a crappy old economy that got a lift from a couple of big name companies.  But it was an illusion.  And now they’re just as bad off as ever.  They might as well just go emigrate to some other country.”

         She certainly seemed well versed in her history…and better versed in showing how well versed she was.

         She continued.  “People in Spain go out because the always have gone out, even when they didn’t have more than two potatoes and an onion in their pantries.  That has nothing to do with the crisis.  The crisis exists and it’s getting worse and worse.  Don’t think that just because Madrid looks healthy that it isn’t there, because it is.  People are going through rough times all over the country.  And the worst is yet to come?”

         “But in Ireland…” I insisted.

         “Screw Ireland! Ireland isn’t Spain and never will be.”

         Ok…ok…ok…screw Ireland.

Travel

September 22, 2012

erpt from a New Book about Greenwich 25 (draft)

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Martha

Now, if you are unfamiliar with the story, it is hard to sum it up in just a few lines, after all, three books and two movies have either discussed the story or been based on it, but I will kind of boil it down for those of you.  The main suspect was a dashing, reckless and attractive youth by the name of Tommy Skakel, who happened to be the nephew of Ethel Skakel, Robert Kennedy’s widowed wife.  That was what made it especially newsworthy.  That is where all the attention came from.  The Kennedy connection.

        Ethel was raised in Greenwich, and she and Robert said their nuptial vows at St. Mary’s Church on Greenwich Avenue in 1950.

        Her brother Rushton also lived in town with his children, practically next door to Martha.  His wife Anne died of cancer at the age of 42 in 1973, leaving him in charge of seven children he never really knew how to manage in the first place.  That event was said to have sent the now infamous Skakel rowdiness into an abysm.  Tommy was believed to have had a particularly troubled childhood.

       In any event, as the focus of the investigation began to center on him, so rose the interest in the case.  People seemed to feel that his wild nature made him the only real candidate, but there were other suspects.  After all, an unmonitored teenager with issues doesn’t necessarily have to vent his frustrations out by taking a 6-iron to a young girl’s head.

       There was another sibling named Michael who was also considered a suspect, but deemed to young at the time to have performed an act which required unusual strength and violence.  Michael was quieter, more introspective, and on the surface, less unruly.  But he was known to possess a sadistic coldness in his treatment of animals and could be thrown into fits of rage when he snapped.  In short, he was a potential psychopath and a motherless one at that.

       He also had an inferiority complex towards his brother the size of horse and was infatuated with Martha, who fell for the older and more confident Tommy.  These were certainly classic sibling rivalry issues which did not have to result in such a horrible outcome for the girl.  But they were conceivably valid circumstances and motives that might lead to a murder all the same.  The thing is, no one seemed to put two and two together and the case died on the investigative vine.  For about ten years.

       In those years the Moxley murder received a lot of attention for its ties with America’s royal family, and the insinuation that the rich clan was able to outwit the authorities.  How it managed to literally get away with murder, but the investigation was also heavily criticized by experts for its sloppiness.  The Greenwich police department took flak for being over its head in the case, as it had no real experience handling these affairs.  This was fair enough.  They had proceeded correctly in many ways but they had also committed several crucial errors, such as practically befriending the Skakel family and catering to its generosity unaware that they were cavorting with the doers of the deed.  When the sons became prime suspects, one of the nation’s wealthiest families suddenly shut up like a clam.

         Despite not having been formally accused, the Skakel boys earned a reputation for being a pair of crazied kids.  I remember my childlike ears being spooked by my friend once telling us “Don’t go down that way, the Skakel boys live on that street”, which wasn’t true by the way.  Then we heard a branch crack in the woods and that sent us screaming and bolting down the road towards home.  It was sort of the Boo Radley effect.

        Time went by, and we all thought the case was closed forever.  Then, one of those extraordinary events of irony occurred.

        Years after the events, when it seemed that the murder would go unsolved forever, an entirely separate set of events brought it out into public viewing once again, and this time more than ever.  Down inFlorida, the nephew of the Kennedy clan was charged with rape on the family compound and it was, for a time, thought that he might have had something to do with the Moxley death.  As it turned out, he didn’t.  But the rumor did bring renewed attention to the case, which was compounded by a novelized bestseller based on the crime written by Dominique Dunne.

        In an attempt to exonerate his children once and for all, Rushton hired some private investigators to prepare a detailed report on the events so that they would prove his children’s innocence.  Good idea?  Nope.

       The new report revealed relatively little new except for one fairly startling point: the Skakel boys (now men) had changed their stories notably, and on some very important issues.  For instance, Michael suddenly “appeared” at the scene of the crime, when for years he had claimed he was at his cousin’s house across town.  That proved very suspicious indeed.  This was just about the tie when experts began to formally discard Tommy as the perpetrator and centered their efforts on Michael’s movements that fateful evening.  Rushton had inadvertently made things worse.   When Mark Furmon of the O.J. Simpson trial got involved and wrote a book openly accusing Michael as the only possible doer of the crime, pressure began to build.  A case was presented against him andMichael was finally indicted, tried and convicted on June 7, 2002, nearly twenty-seven years after the murder.

       I will say that, even though I feel it is very, very possible that Michael committed the crime, rarely have I seen a person declared guilty on such a wealth of flimsy circumstantial evidence.  Honestly, I have combed all sorts of sources in search for that bit of hard proof that makes me say, “That’s it!  The little bastard did it!”  But as hard as I try, I have never fully understood it.  Even the sum doesn’t add up.  I’ve seen suspects get off with much more going against them.  They even tried him as an adult when the crime was allegedly wrought when Michael was a minor.  It’s as if society was going to make up for its mistakes no matter how weak its arguments were.  A Skakel boy needed to pay dues for Martha to rest peacefully.  And I’m saying this convinced that the right guy is in jail.

        Now the media were getting all pumped up again because the death took place on a huge backcountry estate in Greenwich and had all makings of a good scandal.  Details were sketchy, but just from the initial reports, the whole scene sounded about good and grisly.  I would have to wait and see.

Travel

Excerpt from a New Book about Greenwich 24 (draft)

Death

Halfway through the morning, news of the snowfall was interrupted by an even bigger development.  Something wrong had happened inGreenwich.  Something terribly wrong.  That was what the newscaster had announced.  “I know,” I said to the screen.  “It’s snowing and I’m going to celebrate New Year’s in an igloo.”  But that wasn’t it.  There was more.  I had walked into to the bedroom to get a pair of socks and picked up the news out of the corner of my eye and it made me sit down on the corner of the bed to glue my eyes to the screen.

      News reporters were swarming in.  A helicopter was hovering over a large white house, which I took for a condominium complex at first.  It was that big.  At the bottom there read something about a body being found on a Greenwich estate.  The incoming information was confusing and unconfirmed, all so very confusing and unconfirmed.  From what the reporters could tell, the death may have been a result of murder.  A common result of most murders, come to think of it.

Murder.  Jesus.  Now, that was wholly unexpected for the nation’s safest city, or was it a town?  The subject is touchy. You see, amongst Greenwich’s numerous identity crises, between trying to be an everyday town and yet striving to set itself apart from the rest somehow through discretion and indiscreet wealth, there was the issue of just how to denote this municipality.  Both led down different roads and each would make all the difference.

      By many standards, the figure of over 50,000 should elevate it to the rank of a city, and there are states like Nebraska which require only 800 inhabitants to gain that status.  But the mere use of the “C-word” sends shivers up and down the backs of most residents.  Cities mean ghettos and ethnic groups, drugs and alternate side of the street parking.  Towns mean residential areas, homogeneity, soft drugs and alcohol, and no parking whatsoever on the streets.  You get the feeling that just that tiny change of wording would depreciate the value of the local real estate by twenty percent.  Call me exaggerated, but little things like that can affect a market.  After all, a market is an object run by a state of mind.

      The town itself, that is the Town, won’t go for it either.  The official name is “The Town of Greenwich”, and it will probably stay that way until the sun finally expands so big it swallows up the Earth and renders owning a French Norman Chateau home on Lake Avenuea waste of time.

     Cities, at least in America, also suggest an increased likelihood of homicide.  And you just didn’t get too many of them in lowerFairfieldCounty.  Just how few?  In the first ten years of the century, there were only seven murders inGreenwich.  For a city, sorry, town of over 60,000 people in theUnited States, this was a staggeringly low number.  It makesGreenwichessentially one of the safest cities, sorry, towns in the entire country.   Yet another reason why the rich like living here.  Not only can they enjoy the good life, they can do so free of the fear of getting a knife stuck in their heart or having their face blown off; and that is always a relief.

      If all suspicion proved true, however, this unfortunate outcome would make it eight, coming in on the final day of the year.  Eight seems to be a nicer number.

      Violent deaths were even rarer when I was growing up.  So uncommon that when they occurred no one knew really what to do.  Especially the police.  When 15-year-old Martha Moxley’s bludgeoned body was found under a tree back in 1975, but a few yards from her doorstep, it sparked the first murder mystery in the town since 1949.  Homicide simply did not happen here in a land sheltered from the horrors of the rest of the world.  But when it did, it certainly got its share of news.

      In the modern era of this town, probably no event has gathered as much national and international attention here as that notorious killing of Moxley on October 30, 1975.  Where were you on 9-11?  People of my generation and older will all be able to tell you exactly what they were doing when the pretty blonde girl, a recent arrival fromCalifornia, was brutally attacked and slain in the middle of one ofGreenwich’s most exclusive neighborhoods known as Belle Haven.  This neighborhood is one the water and is often referred to as the crème de la crème of the town, which is hogwash.  Sure it’s fancy and sure it’s got its own guard at the gate, but that isn’t saying much inGreenwich.  It doesn’t impress.  It generally impresses those who have never lived in the town.

    By the way, I don’t know what it is like today, but back then, the infamous guardhouse turning back all unwanted outsiders is pretty much a myth.  Unless you looked like Charles Manson with a shotgun in the front seat, you could get through quite easily.  All you needed was a name to give.  I mention this because this detail has often been cited as jaw-dropping proof of the town’s selective nature (as if this kind of thing didn’t happen in other parts of the world) and I’m here to say it was quite that way.  At all.

     But let’s not wander off.  The fact was, there was a dead teen lying caked in blood, pine needles and dirt, underneath a tree and no one could figure out who had done it.  The body was in terrible shape.  The killer didn’t just wop her once or twice, he beat the living daylights out of her, and the results were horrifying.

Travel

September 19, 2012

Excerpt from a New Book on Greenwich 23 (draft)

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Dec 31st

You really have to hand it to The Weather Channel when it comes to miscalling the 24-hour forecast.  They seem to excel at the skill.  One person told me, in defense of this guild, that they get it wrong more often simply because they predict it more often.  It wasn’t a question of incompetence, he continued, but sheer numbers.  If I had been a freshman in college, I would have fallen for that schlock, but I’ve been around the block a few times and know bullshit when I hear it.  I gave a brief thought to his words and then changed the subject, adding he do with an MRI.

       You see, you’d think these guys had the wherewithal to make a fairly decent stab at the kind of atmospheric conditions you can expect for the next couple of hours.   After all, that’s all they do and they boast some of the finest technology a human can possess.

       All week they had been saying there would be rain here and rain there and rain in the streets and rain in the parks; rain inside and out.  It would be soaking our shingles roofs rotten.  Then it would develop into snow late for a short period on New Year’s Eve, say an hour or two, harmlessly dissolve in the puddles that had been formed on the ground, and then turn into all rain again for the New Year.  One big goddamn mess, I tell you.  It just stirs one’s soul with glee to hear news of that kind, but if that was what they said, there wasn’t much we could do about it.

       Well, they couldn’t have gotten it more wrong.  It was early New Year’s Eve morning and it was snowing…snowing a lot.  The trees were becoming laden with fluffy white precipitation, the highways were a mess, the commute was hellacious, and my daughters were pumped up about the idea of practicing the art of ambushing with a plump snowball.  They don’t get many chances back inMadrid, and from the looks of them, I could tell they wanted to make up for lost time.

       Where was the rain?  Not hither or dither.  Who could have missed this call?  Even as the stuff was three inches and growing, the radio predicted about an inch max!  Look out the window for crying out loud!  Honestly, just how hard is it to forecast storms these days?  Hours before, and I mean, maybe six at the most, apparently no one saw this coming, except for me I guess.  I bothered to sneak into the Weather Channel’s secret website where they have a thing called a radar image which showed a massive blue blob the size of Uranus heading this way.  That color meant only one thing: frozen precipitation, and plenty of it.  And yet the official report insisted on calling for rain, as if they were trying desperately to hold onto their blunder for the sake of foolish pride.  It’s just beyond me.  All I do inSpainis brag about how technologically advanced my country is, about how they can tell you down to the second when that thunderbolt is going to strike you in the ass, and then they turn around and do this to me!

       I bet they’ve got some awesome gadgets back at the headquarters that they show only to great scientists, foreign dignitaries or chicks they want to get into bed with.  “Ever show you my ultra-violent, heat-detecting precipitation scanner honey?  Oh, you’re gonna love this!  It rotates for hours and it makes mojitos too.”  They must have been humping on that radar screen or something like that, because someone clearly missed the latest developments.

       Once the meteorologists caught up with the rest of the world and they were able to determine just when the snow would stop, which wasn’t saying much since they didn’t know it was coming at all.  Too late.

       By northeast standards, though, the snowfall was little more than a nuisance, and somewhat of a disappointment, especially in Greenwich where everyone is equipped for the rugged backcountry with chunky SUVs, or whatever you call those things these days, so they say what a tough time they had grinding up the hill to their driveway.  Then they’ll add that they even had to get out of the vehicle to open the gate manually because the remote is frozen solid.  The cars have become more and more macho.  I find it a bit mindboggling that I should clamber up a Mercedes like a child on a jungle gym, but that is just the kind of challenges I am faced with in this town.  Once buckled in, you look out and can literally confirm that you are at an altitude.  I once asked my brother, “So, how high up are we?”  I could see the Sound from the dashboard.  Years ago, that wasn’t such a surprise.  In fact, there were dozens of spots from which you could gaze out over a stretch of miles and spot the bluish gray strip of Long Island Sound capped on top by the low-lying forests ofLong Islanditself.  That was because back then, like much of New England, farms abounded inland, and woods made up the fringes of fields and pastures.  As the New Englander finally gave up on his fight to tame the planet’s rockiest soil, the firs, pines, maples, oaks, birches, dogwoods, and all the rest began creeping back in.  Now the town is enveloped in flora.

     The ability to survey the Connecticut shore was also due to the hilly terrain of this land. Greenwichisn’t mountainous, but it is certainly hilly as ridge after ridge ripple up and down, east to west, or west to east, depending on how you look at things.  It can make for some hazardous driving conditions no matter what your annual salary is.  The snow, like hunger, has a funny way of making everyone the same.  It’s a chance to take on the world.

      This sense of impending danger caters to a classic local condition known as the Greenwich Denial Syndrome.  This is a curious affliction among some in this town who wish to seem as un-Grenwegian as possible in order to boost their manliness and readiness to tough out the ruggedness of the country, while not quite leaving the confines of the community.  They want to set themselves apart from the rest of the residents, when, in fact, this is precisely what makes so many Grenwegians look alike.  They’ve got it all wrong.  Handling snow-stricken roads while commandeering a Hummer doesn’t impress me that much, I tell you.  Try driving down one of those hairpin turns on Dingletown Road in a Chevy Chevette with baldnig tires and no rearview mirror if you want to prove your worth.  That takes balls.

       But still, by nine in the morning, the ground was blanketed with frozen precipitation and though I wouldn’t call it blizzard conditions, things were getting somewhat ugly out there.  On top of that, I had lived in Spain long enough to feel I had lost some of my skills at driving in snowy conditions, and I had some doubt about whether or not we would make it up to Simsbury, Connecticut to spend the night with our friends Juan and Vicky and their family for New Years.  After all, it wasn’t precisely around the corner, and we would be heading north.  So, we hung out for a while and gave some thought to it.  I fielded about 300 calls from my parents warning me about the dangers of road and frozen water, but since it was supposed to all get better in a couple of hours, they finally accepted my decision.

     In the meantime, we took a break and enjoyed an occurrence you don’t see to often back in Madrid.  It was especially fun for my daughters who just couldn’t believe their eyes.  Here the snow falls, the snow sticks quickly, the snows becomes one with the surroundings.

Travel

September 15, 2012

A new book about Greenwich 22 (draft)

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There are basically three ways to get into the city: one is by car, which I find about as appealing as stomach flu, another is by commuter train, known as Metro North, and the third is not going at all.  Despite the cold weather stirring outside, staying home was not a serious option either, and I dread driving into New York, so, we made the railway our choice of transportation.  That made perfect sense since there was something very Grenwegian about hopping on an express or a local to Grand Central and spending the day in town.  Train travel into New York has been around for over 150 years.  In fact it was at the Cos Cob train bridge itself that the New Haven Line, was finally completed.  The station was inaugurated on Christmas Day, 1848.  According to one account, the terrible screeching sounds that the steam locomotive produced as it pulled in were so strident they literally scared the living daylights out of every living creature in the vicinity, prompting cows, horses, chickens and a handful of humans to scatter in all directions.   It must have been some sight, I tell you.

     Despite the shock of that first day the arrival of the railroad service was here to say.  Like any important invention, the train didn’t just entail a change in how people traveled; it profoundly changed the demographics of the New York City metropolitan area.  This, perhaps more than any other factor up until then, was the first step towards transforming Greenwich from a sleepy country village into a major suburban town  (God help me when the residents read the “s” word!).  Now that people could get in and out of the city with relative ease, living out in rural Connecticut became irresistible to many…especially with all the attractive tax breaks to boot.  First, came the vacationers about a century ago, who fled the city for some summertime relief out on the gentle shores and fields of this town.  They lodged in boarding houses, small inns and hotels, most of which no longer exist.  In fact, this was not at all peculiar to Greenwich.  Country tourism thrived throughout the shoreline of New England from the 1820s until about just before World War II.  Some accommodations were full-scale hotels, the two most important being the Indian Harbor Hotel, a stunning Second Empire building which turned into the summer retreat for none other than Boss Tweed.  The other famous hotel was the magnificent 150-room Edgewood Inn, considered to be one of the finest shingle structures of all of New England at the time.  These were the crème de la crème for tourists, lodgings equipped with running water and electricity.   They ran for decades until eventually their popularity waned and their maintenance costs continued to rise.   Just like throughout the region, they died off like useless animals.

      They must have been amazing hotels.  The fact that they are no longer around, the fact that they are just evasive shadows, the fact that something grandiose could meet such unfitting ends, makes their stories somehow more tragic and even spooky.  I have seen old pictures of them, they aren’t hard to find, and they are alluring but eerie at the same time.  You can almost see a ghostly figure in every window.

       As a result of this industry, New Yorkers, especially the wealthy ones, who found the bucolic surroundings as well as the personal income taxless state so appealing eventually began to turn the town into a permanent residence.  After all, it was just a stone’s throw away from Manhattan and yet in an entirely different world. Greenwich’s population rose steadily as did its fame as an upper-class haven.

      And to think, all of that began with the final spikes being hammered into the tracks at Cos Cob.  Yeap, this was where it all began.  All those mansions up on the northern end of town owe their existence to this cute little station.

Travel

September 3, 2012

Excerpt from a new book about Greenwich (Draft) 21

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We were going into the city, as you say in these parts.  “Into town”, as my mother would say, as opposed to “downtown”, which referred to the center of Greenwich.  If one thing made this trip relevant it was the fact that for years, whenever I went into the city it had rarely to do anything other than visit some exhibit at the Metropolitan Museum of Art.  The other was the Museum of American History which featured a temporary exhibit about Lincoln and New York.  The plan was ambitious to say the least, but we wanted to give it a go and see what happened.  Plus, we were going to have a chance to my brother and sister-in-law.

       We had about an hour and half of time to kill before leaving, so instead of hanging around and doing nothing, the girls and I went over to the Cos Cob Library to see what that was like.  It wasn’t quite the marvel of the main library up the road, but a pleasant little place to visit all the same.  The girls could grope and paw at the bookshelves in search of a nice story to pull out and look at while plopped on a beanbag, and I could find a quiet place to nestle and read.  It was a quaint venue for searchers of books and peace. I nosed around the history section and pulled down a couple of volumes about Abraham Lincoln, just to see what was there.  I found a biography and withdrew it from the shelf, holding it firmly in both hands and giving it a shake.  There is something comforting about library books.  You know, those sturdy hardcovers enveloped in plastic. Something about their weight and feel and smell.  The are physical proof of knowledge.

       While drifting through the aisles, I began to draw my attention to the kind of person who went to the library at that early hour.  They were men, for the most part.  Grown men.  Some were senior citizens but many were men about my age or maybe a little bit younger.  This struck me as odd.  What the hell were they doing there?  Were they looking for work?  Were they saying they were looking for work at home, dressing up for the show and coming to logging onto their Facebook account?  Were they telling their loved ones at home they were going to work just to conceal the fact they were out of a job?  That was the impression I got.  People do that.

       I sat down at one of those nice tables with a cozy lamp, the kind you see in those old libraries at law school.  It was a pleasurable few minutes with just me and my Lincoln until an elderly man heavily approached and dumped a couple of newspapers on the other side.   That would not have been a problem had that been the only audible contribution he would make.  But he wasn’t finished.

       You see, the individual made noise.   No, he didn’t just make noise, he made noises.  He manufactured them.  He wheezed, heaved, sighed, panted, whirred, gargled, gurgled, sniffled, oozed, dripped, leaked and produced a dozen other indescribable emissions.  He was a wonder of biological study.  Just how many different noises can a human make?  732, according to one study.  He neared that figure in a record ten minutes.

       Eventually, it just got too much for me to take and I gathered my papers, stuffed them in my pocket, fetched my daughters and we went back to our friends’ place.

Travel

September 2, 2012

Excerpt from a New Book 20 (draft)

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DEC 30th

Of Fords and Fried Eggs

You know, in Spain you can buy a beer at a McDonald’s but you can’t get an Egg McMuffin?  And in the States it’s the other way around.   It’s hard to say who’s got the better end of the deal.  When I first went to Spain at the age of twenty and saw I could order a cup of frosty brewsky to go with my quarter-pounder with cheese, I thought to myself, “This is the greatest country in the world!  I think I could live here.”  Funny thing is, 20 years of living here later, I have yet to order one there.  Never.  There is something about my upbringing that impedes me from sipping a beer while I tinker with my daughter’s Happy Meal toy.  But I think it’s the fact that I could purchase one whenever I wanted to that makes it so cool.

     Some of you may not believe me when I claim that an Egg McMuffin elicits the same kind of satisfaction, but I tell you every time I go back home and drive by a McDonald’s in the morning, that hankering for a greasy fixin’ just overpowers me.  So, I give in to all temptation and willingly pull into the MacDonald’s parking lot on thePost Roadjust off the exit 5 ramp of I-95.

     You may be astounded to know we Grenwegians have even allowed a McDonald’s into our preppy principality and further floored to learn we actually have two of these franchises flanking either end of the town, not to mention a Wendy’s.  Burger King started up one here too years ago, but it withered away decades ago, which is very unusual indeed.  But the McDonald’s have been very popular from the very beginning.

     Ours was the one on West Putnam Avenue, not far from the library, heading towardsPort Chester,NY.  In many ways it would be just like any other Micky-D’s on earth were it not for the array of fancy car dealerships that surrounded it suggesting you were clearly in no ordinary part of the country.  This was where car dealer tycoon, Malcolm Pray started up his business and turned it into one of the town’s icons.  His fetish was German machinery, Volkswagen, Audi and Porsche.  During the 1990s, his Audi dealership became the flagship of the fleet as it grew to be the largest and most successful in the country.   Pray laid the foundations for what would eventually convert that nook of the town into the high-end foreign automobile district, which is truer than ever today.  Here is what you are likely to find within a stone’s throw of your dripping Big Mac: BMW, Audi, Porsche, Ferrari, Maseratti, Aston Martin, Bentley, Infiniti, Saab and Lamborghini, I believe.

     In a sense, that’s sort of the bizarre paradoxical town that Greenwich is.  A bunch of freaks getting freakier while slurping on a thick milkshake.

     In my home, McDonald’s was often a staple post-Sunday mass meal, something easy and cheap to digest after going to church.  There seemed to be a special need for comfort after forty-five minutes perched on a pew.  It was a rather notable departure from the classic Sunday dinner, I would say, but a true sign of the times.

      Plus, we loved it.  We’d all bark out our orders, then one of my older siblings would do the delivering, motivated by hunger and the need to have it satiated.  It was also a cool way to calm the nerves because, for some inexplicable reason, some of the worst family fights, I mean the ones that would push us to the brink of violating the law, would traditionally erupt just minutes after the priest would conclude “May peace be with you.  Now go with God.”  One of my sisters would take an order as I would call it out as I watched the 1:00 football game.

      As a teenager, Mickey-D’s was the place where me and my friends would make countless evening visits grabbing a bite to eat while waiting for something to happen which, naturally, would never come.  In fact, the minute we had our own wheels, it became a primary destination, as it was as close to a joint as you had in the town.  The real diners for the most part limited their service to breakfast and lunch and were done before the afternoon was gone, and the few that offered late night fare, like the Country Squire in Cos Cob, did so for a price.  “Oh, so, you got the munchies now, is that right?  I’ll get you a fix, but it’ll gonna cost you.”

      McDonald’s provided the first and only real backdrop for my first and only real run-in with the law, which, to a certain degree, I am ashamed to admit, was pitifully banal.

      It was the day our friend Bill came to school brandishing his spanking new driver’s license and jingling the keys to his brown Ford Granada right in front of our eyes in a teasing way.  We were elated and despondent at the same time.  Bill was basically the best-looking kid in our class, and now that we was the first with a car meant we were doomed with the girls.  But at least we were mobile.

     “So, let’s go for a ride.”  The car could fit comfortably five, so we took that as a challenge and doubled it…and then some.  Eleven of us managed to pile, and then squeeze in.  Once inside, Bill gingerly cried out:  “Where to?”

And someone from pile in the back, it wasn’t me because my jaw was pinned against the rear seat window, grunted out “Mickey-D’s”.  For an impromptu snack.

     More than drive over, the vehicle kind of wobbled downGlen Roadand thenLake Avenue, nearly flipped as it glided around the circle, and then hacked and coughed its way up the hill to thePost Road.

       Due to the excess passenger load, most of us were not sitting in the car, but stacked in the most astonishing and miraculous manner.  We looked like a mobile common grave.  It was a blast, as long as you weren’t on the bottom suffocating, but amid our hearty laughter there lay a latent fear that one of us would let fly a lethal dose of flatulence and provoke unimaginable panicking. Thank God that never occurred.

      As fate would have it, when you overstock a vehicle with humans, you tend to run into the kind of people who do not share in your entertainment.  They also seem to have the need to tell you this all the time.  We passed a patrol car parked in the former Exxon station.  I am sure the officer had been hoping to take a little break, munch on a donut and read the paper or something like that, but a dozen teenagers whooping it up inside a sedan was an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.  So, he flicked on the lights and followed us to our destination, and, in the meantime, called for back up, because I guess we must have posed a threat to town security.  I imagine he alerted the force by saying something like: “Hey guys, something is finally happening here in town.  Come on, let’s do something about it.”

      By the time we got into our parking spot, more cars were trailing and preparing for action.  Back then they didn’t have a helicopter (I still don’t think they have one), because otherwise we would have heard the propeller chopping away at the air too. The Greenwich police simply loves handling these kinds of problems.  It’s the 15-year-old girls who are bludgeoned with a golf club that gets them unnerved.

      Anyway, personal observations aside, there was no question that we were nabbed big time.  Just like a good old-fashioned slapstick silent movie, there was the officer outside the vehicle nodding as we climbed out and were counted: 1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10-11.  Yes, that’s right, eleven sophomores in one car.  Plus the driver, of course.

     The cop said, “Great.  Looks like you’ve got yourself a big ticket waiting for you son!”  God knows how many years had gone by before he was finally able to deliver that line.

Of course, that was in the days when a kid with a new license could carry other underage kids along.  That has changed now inConnecticut, and perhaps behavior like ours contributed to that new law.

Years later, there I was at the McDonald’s on the other end of town, and it was an Egg McMuffin moment.

     Now, say what you will about this little sandwich, use all the venomous language you can muster up to describe its total lack of nutritional virtues, but that won’t take away from the fact that the Egg McMuffin transformed the entire fast food industry in this country by making breakfast an appealing feature on the menu.  Up until then, these chains focused mainly on lunch and dinner.   But now they had you coming in at all hours. It was introduced in 1972 and first served inCalifornia, which only proves that not everything that comes out of there is healthy.  I like to remind natives of that state of this point from time to time.  It’s an indefensible flaw in their position.  The Egg McMuffin was the brainchild of a man named Herb Peterson, who had nothing to do with Greenwich, as far as I know, but profoundly affected the lives of its inhabitants.

     Years ago, to say you had eaten one hardly would have roused a reaction of any kind in your listener other than possibly a remark of extreme envy, but today most people I mention the sandwich to sort of step back uneasily as if I had been vacationing in Chernobyl.  They wait for my next move and expect me to glow in the dark.  Some are just surprised they still exist.  Or that I still exist for that matter.

      “Oh, they still make those?”  asked my Dan, who is an expert on nutrition, and especially ill-nutrition.  Then he came up with something to the effect of “You know I think the cheese is also used for cementing the tiles on the space shuttle.  But, hey, enjoy it.”

       They fail to realize that the very fact that I can ingest and enjoy something that is otherwise used to prevent spacecrafts from disintegrating is something I do with pride.  So, I said I would because my philosophy was that I only ate one or two of these a year and so what harm could that do.  Basically, factoring in the time I spent in the USA, I could eat just about anything I wanted and not die.  On top of that, she should have realized that I was restraining myself, because I still hadn’t entered her home with a box of Pop Tarts, though I did taint it with Fruity Pebbles, the single greatest sugar-packed cereal of all time. It makes your feces turn rainbow colors.   Personally I findthat to be an amazing feat by the foodindustry.

       I came home and provided each of my daughters with one in hopes that, by doing so, I would be helping them see the light.  The results were astounding.  Clara was the first to be tested on and, after her first bite, lights literally beamed out of her eyes and her hair began to string out in different directions.  She bounced up and down endlessly as if she were on a trampoline before bolting upstairs to prove to her sister what happiness in the form of a sandwich was all about.  Seconds later, I could hear Ana belt out the first few choruses of Handel’s Hallelujah, and actually leapt from the top step all the way to the bottom with one full bound like a ballerina.

       It was my little contribution to their cultural awareness of my country.  What do you expect?

Travel

Excerpt from a New Book 19 (draft)

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I got out of the car and approached it.  It was a cold morning.  Really cold.  The first time of the trip when I could feel what a Northeast winter was capable of really doing.  And it wasn’t fun.  I pulled up my hood and gripped my collar closed, leaned forward and marched ahead to the door.

       My first impression was that it looked nothing like the building I grew up with, and certainly no place you’d expect to have your appendix removed in.  This looked more like a Hyatt; and a good one too.  But here was the big question: was it Holistic too?  Would I hear New Age music tinkling in the air?

     It took me exactly three minutes for those inquiries to be answered.  Before I could reach the door, drifting and floating music emanated from somewhere. I don’t where it was coming from, but there was a lot of emanating going on.  It was soothing.  I walked in to see what was up.  Somehow I felt that, even though some may have advocated healthy external forces for curative purposes, most patients were not going to forgo the best modern technology could offer.

     Once inside, I was confronted with a kind of imposing reception desk, and there were two wings which jutted out to the left and right were roped off.  This turned me off, but I guess it was understandable.  Most hospitals tend to want to keep some control on who is entering, so there was nothing necessarily special about that.  Nothing too Grenwegian.  The last thing I wanted to do was engage in explaining why I was there, because my answer would have been, “Oh, I was just looking around.”  And that tends to make people feel tense.

     So I bypassed the desk and headed for the lounge where I spotted the gift store.  Now, there was a place to visit!  Gift stores can tell you a lot about a place and the one in Greenwich promised to supply the customer with only the most select products.  Godiva chocolates in the shape of a aorta?  Moet Chandon for your IV bottle?  Carolina Herrera operating hairnets?

     To my surprise and relief, the store featured a lot of down-to-earth basics from dreary night gowns and toiletries to baby items and mainstream books.  The kind of things you would expect to find there or anywhere.  The offer was fairly low-key and the prices reasonable from what I could tell.  I found this all quite heartening, which did not mean I did not run into a few oddities more suitable for a bazaar, like a full-fledged nativity scene the size of a couch.  Who on Earth would purchase such a thing there?  But if it was there, clearly there must have been some kind of market for it.  It being December 29th, the item was on sale and a good deal in fact, but I refrained.

      If pressed to make any suggestion it would probably be the removal of greeting cards with the “Farewell and Best of Luck” motif on it.  I mean, honestly, was that the kind of message you would want to convey at a hospital?  Just who would be the receiver of such a thing?  Can you imagine paying for one, signing it, stuffing it in an envelope and taking it up to your friend in the ICU?  Or taking one of those up to a room for someone in pre-op and saying “This is for you, we’ve all signed.  Good luck buddy!”  My favorite was the one with the cover bidding farewell in something like ten languages: “Goodbye, Adios, Adieu, Arrivederci, Sayonara, Saijan.”  Unbelievable.  Someone clearly should bring this to their attention.  That someone is me.

       It was comforting to find the candy-stripers though.  They were the classic volunteers of young and old, though at this time of year, the senior citizens took on the brunt of the load.  Some of my sisters were candy-stripers; that, I can remember.

         Oh well, I moved on and browsed around the place.  It was pretty, there was no doubt, and pleasant to walk around in.  We came upon a sign indicating where all the departments were, and to be honest, it was difficult to find out just what was what because all of them were named after people or different neighborhoods in Greenwich.  The Glenville this, the Byram That, The Myanus Watchamacallit and so on.  I did locate the oncology ward, that was true, but the rest was a pure mystery, and it gave me an eerie sensation that no one really wanted me to know that there were patients behind that magnificent lobby.  Something hidden behind all those niceties. Something straight out of Thomas Mann’s Magic Mountain, if you get what I mean.   It was as if the last thing people wanted to know was the crude reality of medicine in practice going on beyond those limits.  But it’s there.  If the hospital’s website is to be trusted to any extent, medicine is what they do.  Here is a sampling of the kind of services you can find there.

     The Greenwich Hospital looked like a perfectly fine hospital.  It was certainly large and more grandiose than the version I recall, and perhaps pristine to an unsettling degree, like some modern funeral homes, but I guess it was alright.  I didn’t find more examples of holistic medicine other than the entrance melody, but if my mom says it’s there, I have no reason to doubt her.

     So, is it a good hospital?  I’d like to say it is, but I also like to look into these things.  I have heard great stories about GH and some not so hot ones.  I’ve read terrible reviews and some brilliant opinions, though the former tend to come from disgruntled patients who want to make their displeasure very clear and very public.

     A little more serious research on my part has come up with some fairly inconclusive conclusions.  In the very least, it’s a very solid middleweight general hospital, and a topnotch one in some areas, but it is not immune to screwups.  Ratings go all over the place.  The negative ones point out eyebrow-raising observations, such as the low survivability in certain categories like stroke victims.  These findings were worded with a discouraging “worse than expected”.  That might explain those farewell cards down in the gift shop.  And yet, others seem to indicate that the death rate across the board is generally lower than most state and national averages.  So go figure.

     I honestly find it hard to believe that an association with those means would be doing in so many people.  Plus almost all surveys show that the patient satisfaction rate is high, with over 81% recommending it.  And I doubt they are saying that because it’s the ideal place to kick the bucket before your time.  Or maybe they are.  Almost everyone raves about the beautiful facilities, the friendly staff and, here’s the universal point of praise, the excellent food.  Nothing less than outstanding.  Who wouldn’t want to bite the dust there?

         I also get the feeling that people from Greenwich go to their hospital for the more straightforward stuff and revert to nearbyNew Yorkhospitals for the really specialized stuff.   Speaking of out-of-staters, a string of reviews from patients who were not from the town had wonderful words for the center.  Many commended the staff for their efficiency and friendliness, and remarked how natural and normal the workers were with them despite not being fancy, wealthy patients.  There it is again.  That money thing.

      Does that make the hospital “just your ordinary hospital”?  Well, in many ways it might be, but think about this: Wednesday’s meal menu features “lobster night”, so on that note, I will let you draw your own conclusions.