If there is one drawback to going over to the States for Christmas and getting there on the 24th, it’s that two days later pretty much everything is done, gone, and over with.
That’s the problem with the yuletide here. Most of the festivities take place in the first few weeks of December, and once the big day passes, once the Messiah is born, once the great Redeemer has come to save the world from all sin, back inConnecticut, things return to normal frightfully quick. Sure the lights are still up and the decorations continue to promote joy and hope for World peace for the time being, but the mood kind of deflates like a dismantled moon-bounce ride at a carnival.
Some of my fondest memories of Christmas go back to our annual family party, which we would celebrate on a Sunday evening a week or two before December 25th. Oh, yes, the once famous Murdock Christmas open house. Back in the seventies, it was one of the highlights of town and it seemed there was a person around who wouldn’t want to be invited. I remember it starting at around 4:30, when there was barely any light out and surging on for several hours and hours with an energy and mirth that you would expect from these events. The party was designed in such a way that people could come at any point, stay as long as they wanted and then move on. There was a continuous rolling population. The preparations would go on for weeks, even months, and on the day of the event itself the house bustled with activity. A big healthy fir tree would stand in the corner of the old room. Holly abounded on the sills and mantle pieces and a thick burly pine garland would be wound down the front stairs banister. The fireplaces were stuffed with thick oak trunks, crumpled newspapers and splintery kindling wood, and the tables spread with the finest delectables a merrymaker could ever desire: roast turkeys, sweet hams, smoked turkeys, assortments of breads, butter, mustard, platters of cookies, biscuits, marzipan and bonbons from the old St. Moritz bakery down at the bottom of Greenwich Avenue. There was a jolly punchbowl full of creamy spiked eggnog, which my parents would place in different rooms from year to year; sometimes the old room, sometimes the dining room, on occasion the living room. Often, a musician was hired to liven up the air. A piano player would softly play background melodies on the baby grand piano in the living room or an accordionist would move from room to room cheerfully tapping away and striking spirited Christmas tunes at our request. Guests would join in from time to time, especially towards the end when they were emboldened by alcohol. It was an atmosphere even Dickens would have envied. I think.
Some years up to 250 people would stop by and enjoy a drink and a bite, say hello, see friends, make friends, belt out a jolly carol and then depart in a whole range of states from stone sober to right-out wasted! I remember one friend of our family’s, a direct descendent of an early president of this nation, getting lost in the walk-in closet. Course, back in the 70s, things were more relaxed and people didn’t seem to take wrapping their car around a tree on the way home as seriously as they might today.
In any event, as I was saying, the open house was the culminating point of the season before the day itself. It was what Christmas was all about. That was a fine dosage of nostalgia for you, but the fact was, decades later, none of that existed in my life anymore. They were mere shadows of the things that had been and the fact that they were what they were could not be blamed on anyone.
It was just Saturday, December 26th, the goddamn day after Christmas and there was little more for me to do than greet the day with valor and take a shower. It’s just the kind of real man I am.
Satisfying my need for a cleansing was easy in Greenwich, Connecticut. It was nice to know that, in a world fraught with frightening statistics about surface fresh water comprising only 0.014% of the total amount available in the world, at least in this town, that issue appeared inconsequential if not all but nonexistent. In fact, 19.4 square miles, or approximately 28% of the area of the town is water, and though I am inclined to believe that much of that comes from Long Island Sound, there is no doubt that water is generally not in want here. There are countless ponds and lakes all over the place, many of which are hidden deep into the woodlands. In addition, a generous4 inchesof rain on a monthly average keep things green and healthy. You would think you could practically drown in this town at any given point. Many of them are connected and intersected by dozens of rivers and streams and creeks and brooks.
With that in mind, I felt guiltless about letting the hot water flow copiously into the tub as I tried to adjust the handles until they satisfied my standard of what a good and safe temperature was. Bridget and Dan still had one of those old two-headed tap systems, a rarity in Greenwich. In theory, turning the knobs to the correct position required a minute or two to a person’s life, but in this bathroom there was no telling just how long a person would have to fiddle with the handles until it finally settled at a temperature which wouldn’t do permanent damage to the skin. There was no method behind the madness, no foolproof system. No perfect point. It was just pure luck, and once there, you’d better be quick about it because events could turn ugly at any time during your time beneath the water.
Washed and freshened up, I looked at what lay ahead for the day. Family planners were plotting to take on the sales at the Stamford mall so I opted to let them be and go and see a couple of old friends for lunch.
Before my friends came to pick me up, I walked down to the local deli to get a newspaper. You don’t always get a chance to walk anywhere around these parts because people have long since abandoned their own feet as a mode of travel. This time I cannot say it’s a problem with Greenwich, but rather one that affects much of theUnited States. I am not enlightening anyone when I say that, with the exception of a handful of cities like New York, getting around this country without a car is little more than impossible.
So, the fact that I was able to walk down to the deli made walking down to the deli that much more pleasant. It was like strolling through a neighborhood designed by Frank Capra, with white picket fences and adorable little porches. It’s one of those charms that Cos Cob has, in contrast to much of the rest of the town. This neighborhood happened to be a kind of former Little Italy, and there are still signs of the past visible via the names on the mailboxes, some of the stores, the restaurants, and even places like the St Lawrence Society, which is a club founded in 1923 by Ialian Americans to create mutual support for the community residents and newcomers.
The only element marring the idyllic panorama was the neighbor’s dog, whose size and weight rivaled a number of economy-sized cars, and whose ferocious eyes made it very clear from the minute we regarded each other that the beast considered me a threat and quite possibly as a meal too.
I don’t really know what breed it was, but it was one of those muscular fat-headed beasts that clamp onto your arm and don’t let go until a bulldozer beats it off. It reeked of danger. Even its owner the neighbor agreed. They had put a “Beware of Dog” sign up so large it looked like a highway billboard. You sure don’t see many of them anymore. I wondered what category we could have entered this monster in for the Greenwich Dog Show. The Bad-Ass Group, perchance?
Just like any black-belt karate expert will tell you, the best fighter knows how to avoid combat. I believed whole-heartedly in that philosophy, but the problem was I had to walk by their property on my way to the deli, so having the pleasure of a canine coming within inches of ripping my neck apart was unavoidable and would become a loathsome inevitable part of my daily routine. Like shaving. I had kind of hoped they would keep him inside more often on account of the wintry weather, but to my dismay, he was on the steps and growling low like one of those farting machine guns. The sound was deep and it echoed. It could have been heard miles away in a forest at night. He rose, jogged forward a few yards, shaking the ground as he advanced, and barked a few times as a warning. I refrained from breaking into a dash, lest that prodded him to turn me into prey. He held his ground and watched intensely as I passed.
There was a fence, that was true, but it was flimsy as all get out. And low too. That was its least encouraging feature. Had that pooch ever put his mind to it, and I was grateful he appeared dull in this respect, he could scramble over with it without the slightest difficulty.
What was keeping him from disfiguring me? Maybe it was one of those territorial things. As long as I stayed off his turf, he wouldn’t touch me. We had a neighbor back at our home on Clapboard Ridge, who owned two German shepherds which had names you normally associated with men who wore SS officer uniforms. Whenever a ball of any kind would fly errant into their yard, we had to shoot odds-or-evens to decide who would jump over the bushes and fetch the thing without having the backs of their britches and a chunk of their buttocks ripped out. You see, it was silently agreed upon that if one of those bastards got you, no one was going to go in for the rescue. You were on your own. The rest of the baseball game depended on it.
Ironically, though, these were one of those specially instructed dogs instructed never to make friends with anyone, the way good trained killers are taught to, and if you ever caught one of them snooping around your property, the minute the saw you they would bolt back home. Just like a bunch of babies. Go figure.
Anyhow, I made it to the deli alive. It constituted one of the 75 convenience stores in town. There I ordered a coffee and picked up the day’s edition of the Greenwich Time, in addition to a local free periodical known as the Greenwich Citizen. It was my intention to purchase an issue of the Greenwich Time (wrongly called the Greenwich Times, by some) daily and keep a kind of log of what was going on in town, believing that if the Greenwich Time could not keep me abreast of the latest I don’t know who could. After all, it was they who had alerted me of the dog show demise in the first place. I believe I owed them something.
While I was paying at the counter, I noticed a flurry of signs and ads eliciting both my attention and money in an attempt to buy one of a handful of lotteries inConnecticut. I paused and looked at them a little more closely, doing my best to soak in all those lights, bold letters and bright colors, dazzling phrases used to lure me in. I ended up staring at them with a dumbfounded look on my face, the kind I make when I try to decide which type of bread I should put in my shopping cart. There were all sorts of games to choose from: you had your lottos, your Play 3, Play 4, Cash 5, Power Balls, Mega Millions, Super Big Mega Billion Million, Extra-Trillion-Mega-Master-Super-Cash-Creative-Ways-To-Suck-More-Money-Out-Of-You-Zillions, and so on. You know, for all its stiff blue-law conservatism it was famous for, this state sure had a thing for gambling.
I gazed at the array before me and licked my lips. I love lottery tickets, I just do. I indulge in the feeling that, once I have one in my hand, I am just that much closer to becoming a millionaire. No, a multimillionaire. And then my life would be set. Money doesn’t bring happiness? Bullshit. I even had it all worked out. I know who is going to get what and just what I plan to buy, where I am going to live and what I plan to do. As long as I don’t get hit by a truck on my way to cash it in.
I knew the odds are crap, but I didn’t care. I have friends who say they never play because they chances of winning are so low; I tell them I agree, but that my odds improve greatly once I play.
Of all the varieties dazzling my senses, Powerball attracted me the most for two reasons: one because of its sensational jackpots, and two because Greenwich had become the center of a huge media maelstrom concerning this lottery. It’s funny when you think about it. Back then, just a handful of states participated in it. To the west of this town, New York and New Jersey had eschewed the idea, which always kind of surprised me, because I somehow always thought that gambling was their thing. Entrance into the Powerball community certainly guaranteed increased revenue for Connecticut. Authorities in Connecticut must have heard a ghostly voice in hallways of the statehouse whisper: “If you sell them, they will come.” And come they did. But it also meant that every person living within a200 milerange (and that included New York City just 28 miles off), just might be tempted to cross the border and pick-up that possible early retirement check. And their closest destination wasGreenwich, it being the first town across the border, thus earning the longtime moniker as the “Gateway to New England”. There is nothing new about this kind of interstate activity. Up until recently, people from Greenwich, restricted by the age-old blue laws of the state, would cross the frontier to buy alcohol after 8:00p.m., and on Sundays. So while the outsiders flocked into town to hopefully get rich, the rich would use their wealth to slip across the border to get wasted.
In any event, this bit of geographical circumstances, as you can well imagine, led to misfortune for the locals.
In the Wikipedia article on Greenwich, a disturbingly brief section is set aside to the town’s nearly 375 years of history, and it is broken up into 5 tiny paragraphs:
1) The founding of the town and the early years.
2) Events during the American Revolution. (A sparse three short lines.)
3) The Mianus River Bridge collapse in 1983. (Yes, two hundreds years of history was skipped to bring us to this point)
4) The Tod’s Point beach access case. (We’ll get to that later.)
5) And finally, point 5 is devoted to this period of relative turmoil in the town. In fact, more space is given to this topic than any other. This does not reflect the importance of the issue in its history, but rather the shortsightedness of the writer of the article. These events need to be given their proper weight in the greater view of things, and this moment, though certainly newsworthy in a relatively sleepy town like Greenwich, was tipping the town’s historical boat nearly on its side.
But it did garner a great deal of attention in its day and, for reasons I believe interest us, it needs to be looked at. For a while there, the issue of buying lottery tickets did not attract much attention. But as the jackpots got bigger, so did the traffic influx that swarmed on the town. Now, I really wish I had been here for that. It must have been a riot…in every sense. Long lines dangling outside the stores and backups on the streets exasperated the residents. This was not what living in Greenwich was supposed to be about. And the fact that it was happening here, and that the people were so upset (and rightfully so, in part), led the media to have a field day. Oh well, since then, nearby Pennsylvania and New York have joined, and that proved to be pressure reliever Greenwich needed.
I had never played Powerball. This was going to be my first stab at it. Wouldn’t it be great to hit the jackpot on the first try? My first purchase would be a bazooka to take on the dog.