Excerpt from a New Book 4 (draft)

The Greenwich Historical Society, the only true official authority on the 370 years that comprise this town’s past, is a serious, disciplined and scholarly organization.  Of that I have no doubt.  And yet, it stretches the very limits of conceivability when I notice that it devotes a scant five paragraphs on its website to the history of this town.  That’s right, just five paragraphs (approximately 450 words) on a community whose origins go back nearly to the dawn of northern European colonization in North America.  Five paragraphs, of which one is devoted to giving a general overview of Greenwich as it is now.  So, that makes it four.

       There is something to be said for brevity, I will admit, the old adage “less is more” certainly holds true in many circles, but this was inexcusable; especially when I found out in the Greenwich Time that $150,000 of the town’s annual budget went to this association.  Yes, indeed, I do believe they could make the effort to come up with something slightly more substantial on their website.  I have a volume on Spanish History called “An Introduction to the History of Spain” and this abridged version is 1060 pages long.  I fret to think where I would have to go if I wanted to research the subject more thoroughly.  The same is not required of the Greenwich Historical Society, but I feel something more in depth than 450 words is in order.

       People who go to these pages don’t normally do so in search of a video game; I can assure you we can handle more.

      I had been nosing around there because I hoped to do a little research homework before stopping over to see the place myself. It had been so long since the last time I was there that I could hardly recall where it was, which, now that you ask, is in the Bush-Holley House, probably the town’s most historic building.  Fitting.  I was also trying to find out if the name of the place had anything to do with the Bush family, since they have been associated with this town for several generations.  George senior went to school here, and his father, Senator Prescott Bush, not only lived inGreenwich, he was buried here.  But I could find no connection between the two, which doesn’t necessarily mean anything.  Anyway, after further investigating from different sources, this is what I did find:

         The first sections of the Bush-Holley House were built around 1730 making it one of the oldest standing structures in town.  In the 1870s it opened as a boarding house and by the 1890s, the scenic land around Cos Cob harbor served as a perfect backdrop for a handful of impressionist artists and painters who would form one of Connecticut’s first art colonies, known rather uninspiringly as the Cos Cob Art Colony.  Founded in 1889 by the artist John Henry Twachtman, this school of creative individuals was formed by some ofAmerica’s finest impressionist painters who would spend extended stays at the Holley Boarding House and let their artistic juices flow freely.  They even started the local Greenwich Art Society for which my mother would volunteer for several years.

     I had hoped to get to the Bush-Holley House earlier during my trip, but the holidays are a time when making progress of any kind is a near impossibility, so I kept putting off the visit until the final few days finally came upon us, which is an extremely questionable strategy, because I tend to do that with a lot of plans and before I know it, I have dozens of to-do lists which slowly turn into undoable lists.

      But that was only part of the problem.  The museum’s thrifty timetable didn’t help either.  Apparently in the wintertime, according to the website, the place was only open to the public from Wednesday to Sunday, because, I’m surmising here, no one wants to go early in the week.   I knew stopping by at this point in the game, just 48 hours before take-off, would further strain the tension of the closing days of vacation crunch, but there was little I could do to avoid this.  We were, as they say, running out of time.  To keep time issues to a minimum, I chose early Wednesday as the moment to go for it and see what was there.

       As it turned out, the information on the website was erroneous. Had this come from a different source, I might have been a touch perplexed, but somehow that was not my impression.  I should have guessed as much as we went up the wooden steps of the porch to knock on the door and sensed the place was deserted.  A young woman, who reminded me of someone I knew when I was growing up but couldn’t exactly remember who, politely informed us that the Bush-Holley House only served the public on the weekends during the winter.  If that didn’t give you an idea of the numbers of tourists we were talking about, I can’t say what would.

       “But the webpage says you would be open…” I stammered.  I really don’t know why I brought up this inane point; after all, if she said it was closed, well then it must have been closed; it wasn’t like she was going to turn around and announce,  “Well, if that what the website says, then by all means, we’re just gonna have to let you in.”  Maybe it was my sense of indignation that what was stated on the internet did not correspond to reality and that the truth was somehow in need of being brought to their attention…or some kind of bullshit like that.  Objectively, I could completely understand, but it all came as a great disappointment all the same.  Maybe I could sneak in a visit early Friday.

       I turned around and looked out from the porch and I thought for a second about the art colony.  Here on this very spot, painters moved by the impressionist movement that was upending artistic convention in Europe passed their time immortalizing this gentleConnecticutharbor.   Those idyllic views that once inspired so many imaginative minds over a century before had been substantially altered since then. Interstate 95 and the infamousMianusRiverBridgewhich spans the marina forever obliterated the beauty that once graced this area.

      This is part of progress, I know, and I accept it…but it hurts.

      So with great forlornness, I led my family back to the car where we warmed our bodies in the interior and pulled out of the parking lot substantially defeated by disillusionment.  But the effects were only short term.  There was plenty to do that day so not all was lost, and I for one was not going to let the extremely limited opening hours of the Bush-Holley House douse my drive to take in a little culture for that day.

      We got back on the Post Road, passed the Greenwich High Schooland drove up Putnam Hill.   At this point, I spotted the gray rock on the right hand side where the Put supposedly launched his heroic retreat.  Screw it, I said to myself.  This time I was not going to hold back.  I was not going to give in to family pressure.  I was not going to go by that goddamn stone monument again without taking a closer look, because, this being the epicenter of the town’s most heart-pounding seconds in history, the least I could do is find out how the event was honored and maybe in passing relive those exhilarating seconds of the past.

     I pulled in Old Church Road and decided to park the car, a magnificent plan until I realized that there was no where to leave the car.  That’s just what happens here in town.  I really can’t say it’s something peculiar to Greenwich; much ofConnecticutsuffers from this disease.  As a good American-law-fearing citizen, I was wary of leaving it just anywhere so as not to stir any suspicion in the local authorities.  People who park their cars where they shouldn’t, are often suspect to just about anything.

      You have to work hard to get into a law-enforcer’s mind to understand their train of thought.  As a result, there was always the latent possibility that the minute you get out Johnny Law was going to roar up and ask you what the nature of your business was, like “What in Sam’s Hill you doing here, boy?”

      “Just going to read what it says on the monument over there.”

       “Why?  What’s it to you?”

       “Just out of curiosity.”

        “Got a permit?”

        “Uh, didn’t know I needed one.  I was born and raised here.”

       “Don’t matter.  Even Greenwich residents have to have one.  Like the beaches.  That’s historical praperdy thar and we don’t want no vaindals marring the good name of Genral Israyel Putn’m, here?  Maybe you’re a terrorist.”  To be honest, I don’t really envision theGreenwichpolice talking like, especially with that spanking new Beverly Hills Cop like station they have just off the Avenue, but it is fun to pretend.

       I got out, pulled up my belt and asked who wanted to come.  My daughters were entrenched in some kind of bickering that prevented them from wanting to join; no one found any amusement in going to a small stone monument on the side of the road, so I let them have it their way and made the brief journey on my own to the corner of the street and over the grassy terrain to where the granite block, at least it looked like granite, stood.  There I started to read the inscription:

         This marks the spot where on February 26, 1779, General Israel Putnam, cut off from his soldiers and pursued by the British cavalry, galloped down this rocky steep and escaped, daring to lead where not one of many hundred foes dared to follow.

         Daughters of the American Revolution, 1900

        Now, presented that way, we are certainly treated to a version that warrants a scene in a movie script.  But after transcribing onto my notepad what was engraved on the slab in front of me, one thought came to mind: the local delegation of the daughters of the American Revolution clearly had a thing for this man.  You almost sensed he was their spiritual leader.

Excerpt from a New Book 2 (draft)

A wealth of numbers

While waiting for the gang to head into the city I continued with my newly acquired morning routine.  I walked down to the local deli again and bought the real Sunday Greenwich time to snoop around and see what was up there for today.  The year was coming to an end so the news level was at a minimum as the papers spent most of their time review these twelve months.  The Greenwich Time had a small section on the best pictures of 2009, an exhibit which did little justice to the creative capacity of this town.  Maybe that was all they had around to fill up pages 3 and 4.  Of all the snapshots, the one that caught my eye showed two elderly people, Eugene and Rusty Moye, who formed the first biracial couple in Cos Cob (probably Greenwich, added the caption, along with the rest of the world) when they married in 1951.

     Say, now that was something!  1951.  15 years before Martin Luther King’s I had a dream speech, this enclave of white power was already opening its doors up to a certain degree of tolerance.  It may not have been a first in the world, like Johnson’s electric house, but certainly a rarity in most parts of theUnited States at that time.  It still is.   Really.   We may have elected a black man to be president, but we can’t seem to screw.  So much so, that you barely see a biracial couple in this town some sixty years later.  Heck, you can black person.  There are fewer than a 1,000 Africab-American residents in this town.  That constitutes just 1.6% of the population compared to 10% statewide and 13.6% on a national level.  So, integration may have jumped to an early start in this town, but it didn’t go very far from there.  More than a statement about town attitudes, but it seems to me more like an anomaly.

     Oh, say what they will, and vote for whom they will vote, racism has hardly been an issue because there has hardly been another race in the town to bring it up.  I cannot say what the current statutes say at places like the numerous country clubs in town, but I imagine there exists a de facto rule, and a highly non-representative ratio of whites to blacks.  In the picture, Eugene and Rusty Moye look like a couple still very much in love.   She gazes at him lovingly, as he looks ahead with smiling eyes.

     Page 8 featured a list of requests sent by local people, many of whom lived in this town and were in want of some very, very basic needs.   Many were single mothers, widows, teenagers who were struggling to get by.  That’s right, even in upscale Greenwich.  To a foreigner, which to me is anyone who comes from beyond the Fairfield County border, this may come as a big surprise, but not to someone who grew up here and understands that not every part of the town is that fancy, and for all my poking and nudging at the Greenwich Time, the newspaper has always been fairly adept at presenting both sides.  Today was just another example.

     Greenwich is a wealthy town, there is no doubt about that.  And there are millions across the country who associate it solely with this enormous affluence, but there are residents here who really go through rough times.  There are working class neighborhoods, lower income families and even housing projects.  4% of the local population lives beneath the poverty line.  4% of 60,000 comes to about 2,500 people, which is no trifle figure, and 2.5 % somehow make it by with an income of 50% below the poverty line.  Just what explains that number and how it should be interpreted is beyond me, but I do recall as a teenager taking boxed Thanksgiving meals to several low-income housing apartments.  It was awkward for me as a junior in high school used to playing golf on the fairways of the Greenwich Country Club, but it was especially awkward for them.  Most wouldn’t even show their faces and would ask us live the food at the door.  I wasn’t sure if I felt like a saint or an idiot.

     Are they representative of Greenwich?  I would like to say they are, and I would rather say they weren’t, if that means anything, and if it meant saying thank God no one in town goes hungry, but it may well be that they do symbolize a part of the town which so many people choose to overlook.  Just because the town is home to estates costing over $50 million doesn’t mean the other half doesn’t exist, albeit a minority.

      Just exactly what was Greenwich’s wealth anyway?  How rich is it?  People, in general, need to measure themselves up to something.  It’s constant.  They need lists and lists to prove where they are in life and this is no exception.  In fact, in America particularly, people indulge in assessing each other through money and personal assets. Greenwich is often casually regarded as the “richest town in the country”.  But is it really the wealthiest community in the nation?

      Well, by some indicators, it isn’t.  Not by a long shot.   One statistic known as the “highest-income place based on per capita income” places Greenwichat a humbling 55th in a list of the Top-100 richest communities with at least 1000 households.  This register is considered the best and supposedly most reliable because it eliminates very small communities which can distort reality.  There is a list of the most affluent places of a thousand people or more, in other words, including much smaller towns, and that tells a very different story.   There are tiny hamlets around the nation with 5 residents and a median income of 200,000.  Greenwich is also listed there, but due to the stiff competition, it slides back to 79th.

     I guess I should have accepted this as the kind of good news that would finally silence all those people who bad-mouthed the community without knowing the facts.  Now everyday people fromGreenwichcould finally be freed of such an unhealthy stigma.  It didn’t even make the top 50, for the love of God, so lay off and let the residents of this ordinary town go about learning how to be just ordinary.  Right?

     Well, unfortunately that wasn’t what I thought.  Suddenly I discovered I was reacting in the exact opposite way.  Part of the premise for this book was that I would have a chance to analyze the most prosperous community inAmerica, for better or for worse.  If it turned out the dozens of other towns actually out-asseted it, what was I to do?  Plus, it just didn’t match up.

      “What the fuck are they talking about?  What do they mean this isn’t the richest own in the country?  That can’t be right.”

     I plowed on in search of just the right data which would back up my hypothesis, as any lame researcher would do, and wasn’t going to give up until I found it.   No one was going to debunk that assertion by playing around with a few wimpy statistics.

     My efforts paid off.  You see, a closer look at the those lists showed that Greenwich was far larger than any of the other municipalities – it’s a veritable metropolis in comparison – suggesting that not only was there a lot of wealth there, but also it was on a massive scale.

      Consider the list of the towns with 1000+ population.  Greenwich’s populace is, according to the statistic, 61,171.  The next largest town is Westport, Connecticut with 25,749 people and third place goes to Lake Forest, Illinois with 20,059.  Of the 100 towns, 67 have less the 10% of Greenwich’s population.  Similar results come up when you analyze the second list which pits communities of 1000+ households.   Here Greenwich (55th) weighs in at 23,230 households, while the next closest is none other than Beverly Hills with 15,035, and places a lame 99th!!   83 towns register 5,000 households or less.

     What happens when we stand the town up with the big boys, say 50,000+ residents? Not so surprisingly it leads the pack, and by quite some margin.  There are other lists which include median income households, where its place fluctuates, but one thing is clear, considering its size, Greenwich remains a very wealthy town and, to a certain degree, maintains a position of prestige that elevates it to realms which quite possibly reality says it shouldn’t be.

I’ll be home for Xmas 9

If there is one thing that the Greenwich Country Club likes it’s rules.   The GCC, or the Country Club, or simply “the Club”, if you want to sound like the entire staff knows your name, is only one of the ten or so ultra private and select social and leisure institutions in Greenwich know as clubs (there are also four yacht clubs), but perhaps because this one carries the name of the town, much more attention is given to it.  And in the past, not such nice attention.  About twenty years ago an exposé appeared in a New York magazine where a black reporter went under cover as a waiter and revealed the nastiest attitudes sustained within its walls.  The article was certainly unflattering, but you finished with the thought, “What did this person expect?”  He was at one of the most reputedly snobby clubs in one of the most exclusive town’s in the country.  Plus, if something should be said in favor of this club, at least it hired the man.  He had been turned down at no fewer than two other clubs in town for unspecified reasons (i.e. race).

      Despite its stratospheric status, GCC is surprisingly easy to access, especially in the winter went activity slows down like maple sap.  There is no one at the gate to flag you down and interrogate you mainly because there isn’t even a gate.   There are no tire-puncturing barriers or snarling dobermans or guards with nervous trigger fingers.  In fact, there is no one at all.  Believe it or not, I find this heartening.  The way things are today, it’s nice to see the club still at least pretends to feel open.

       But that doesn’t make you feel any more at ease.  In fact, being a member is not such an enviable position when you learn of all the rules you have to obey.  The minute your car dips down that first hill of the driveway, you could swear you hear the voice of something Supreme whispering into your ear, “No, you can’t…”, just in case any radical thoughts or ideas jumped into your head.  And it must be something that effects you as you get older and fear arrest, because as a kid, none of this made any different to me.  I almost grew up at this place, but when I was young it was my father who had to take all the responsibility, so I didn’t care.  My friend and I bowled down the hallways, turned hamburger buns into frisbees, tried to hit BMWs “accidentally” with golf balls (we failed), but it never crossed our minds this would have grave consequences.

      Now that only other people I know belong to it and I don’t, I probably care even less, but I am aware that my acts my have dire consequences for others, and have promised not to set off fire alarms or throw ice cubes onto the squash courts.

        One restriction I admire about the club is the very limited use of electronic devices like cell phones, iPhones, iWhatevers and other distracting gadgets.  By limited, I mean, none, zilch, zippo.  Unless there is emergency.  It is assumed, and correctly so if you ask me, that if granted the right to employ these machines, people would stop engage in little else…and that is not what the Country Club is about.  And they’re right.  It’s about beng sociable.  I guess.  In any event, that’s one thumb up for them from me.  Clearly that means nothing to the club’s governors…but it’s a moral victory for me.

     The dress code is another matter.  One article of clothing that stands out for its absence, in addition to clogs, is denim, or rather anything made with it.  Contrary to what some believe, this prohibition is not peculiar to GCC.  Many clubs around the nation ban jeans in any form to ensure the members go to place looking neat and decent.  I know a woman who had a conference to give in a club out somewhere in Illinois or some place like that and committed the faux pas of arriving in a jean skirt, which prompted her direct passage to the superintendant’s office for close observation and retention until the matter could be solved.  And that was Midwest which is supposed to be laid back about it life.  Yeah, right.

     The norm is so deeply driven into the psyche of its members that they seem to talk about little else.  My brother says things like, “We’re going to lunch there tomorrow, and you can’t wear jeans,” or “How about some bowling?  Just don’t wear jeans,” or even retrospectively, “I played paddle tennis this weekend, and I didn’t wear jeans.”

    If aesthetics were all that counted, then I would understand; the thing is, one morning when I went to pick up my parents, they invited me down to breakfast and what to my wondering eyes did appear, but a man in running shorts, a T-shirt and trainers without fear.  He had been doing exercise minutes before and was all sweaty and emanated human effort.  He looked dreadful, as if he were going to keel over right there and then.  I scanned the room for the nearest defibrillator (which not only happens to be one of the most difficult words to pronounce in this language, it reminds me more of an appliance you use to make ice-cream drinks than channel of hope from cardiac arrest) just in case my assistance was needed.  I don’t know how to use one of them, but at least I could point and say, “There’s a defribula…a dufribal…a defroster…what the fuck…one of those things they used on Emergency!” with the remote idea that someone in the room watched Saturday night Tv in the 1970s too.

           A few minutes later two children came down in their pajamas.  That was cute, but kind of unorthodox for a public buffet.  This was in the main dining room mind you.  Where were the dobermans when you needed them?  Boy I really wanted to get into the spirit of things and accuse the child of ruining my coffee by wearing pjs to the danish table, but then I figured that nightwear must somehow be allowed on the premises…as long as they weren’t made of denim.