Excerpt from a New Book about Greenwich 29 (draft)

Coffee and Cones

Back some 110 milesaway in Simsbury, the household was starting the day free of any real worries.  That is what life is like these days.  Other than learning about that, the first morning of the year was pure enjoyment.  You can’t do much better than waking up in snow-laden rural Connecticut, all sunny and shiny, with good friends, a savory breakfast and children begging to go outside to go sledding.  We pulled out a couple of plastic sleds and bobbled down a little hill in the backyard.  Technically it was a slant if anything.  In fact to call it a hill would be like calling a puddle a sea, but I tell you, that slight gradient provided all the exhilaration our aging bodies could want.  We carried on for about an hour until we tired having packed snow stuck to every nook and cranny of our clothes and we then got things ready for the journey back.  We said our warm and heartfelt adieus to our friends and began the return.

        The first leg didn’t require much traveling.  Three miles down the road, we entered the suburban world of broad and open shopping centers.  We stopped by a couple of stores somewhat relieved that the new month meant setting the reset button on our credit cards.  New year, old habits.  Not even the shops respected the holiday.  Fine, they opened a little later than usual, but that hardly constitutes a day-off.  This used to be a full-fledged holiday, but maybe I am going too far back in time.  We decided to seek temperature asylum inside the inviting warmth of a Starbuck’s.  I thought I would never hear myself say such a thing, but when in a desperate situation, one needs to take desperate steps.

            We went in and while the girls gawked at the window with the cakes and cookies, I tried to get a handle on just what I was supposed to order.  It isn’t easy at those places.  A simple coffee with milk isn’t often uttered.

         Now, of course, let me make it clear that I almost never go into the place because I really can’t stand it.  More than anything I think I have a greater loathing of the clientele than its coffee; and the cups I have tried, while acceptable, are hardly worth calling home about either.  But it’s really those people.  All of them.  A lot of them.  Some of them.  The guys who like to talk really loud about the kind the coffee they want, and carry on tight-knit conversations with the servers as if they have been best friends for years just because share a common liking for brewed toasted beans.  Just drives me up the wall.  Then there are the ones who sit and read their books, or browse the internet, or play with their iPads as if they are steering wheels.  Those people who just plain try to be cool there.

           But why is it?  What makes one of the nation’s largest chains cool?  Would they do that at a McDonald’s?  Hardly.  But I have to admit it, Starbucks has miraculously made itself seem both unique and ubiquitous at the same time.

            Even so, Starbucks has had a rough time of it over the past few years.  The novelty began to wear off as the numbers grew and, of late, the crisis has slammed them because gourmet coffee stops are becoming a luxury rather than a necessity.  Those are certainly understandable factors, but they were not the only ones:  according to one recent article, many of its customers have grown tired of its vast expansion, and some have left.  A woman and former patron decided to go elsewhere when they felt the Starbuck’s was becoming yet another “cookie-cutter” production, like other fast food chains.

         Jeez.  Now, how’s that for a shocker?  Does she mean to say that when there was something like only 875 stores she felt she belonged to an intimate circle of intellectual friends?

        For some reason this never seemed to occur to the immense number of knuckleheads before, or maybe it did and they simply accepted that there was no alternative in their lives, which says volumes about their understanding of free thinking and nonconformity.  It is a sad when I feel closer akin to Sartre by chomping on an Egg McMuffin than slurping a piping hot Starbucks coffee.  But in a sense, I do.

            Starbucks has been aware that its appeal was beginning to tire and couldn’t help noticing that for the past few years profits (“profits” I repeat, not “losses” as some understand) have declined.  The noticed that people were starting to feel more akin to the real local café touch, that Friends ambience.  So, what did they do?  They began to regionalize their produce.  Instead of making the world to conform to its methods, it took a look at local customs and interests and geared its offer towards that.  McDonald’s has been doing that for years, which is why they sell beer inSpain (in part because they can, God bless them) and because Madrilanians probably wouldn’t go for Egg McMuffins.  Spaniards just lack the proper taste buds to appreciate fine American fast food cuisine.

        The company took it a step further.  They have gone so far as to change the name of their cafés so that they sound more like a local place.  This would have been the equivalent of McDonald’s opening up a place under the guise Micky’s Bar and Grill and having a suspicious looking red-haired clown say while wiping the bar counter, “So what’ll it be boys?  Burgers and Coke on tap?”  Those fast-food chains don’t venture there, but massive beer producers do, for example.  They’ll come up with their own version of micro-brew brew, and marketed it as a select product, concealing the company name if and where possible.   This brings me to my point, why should Starbuck’s get the recognition it gets when it behaves like most other multinational?  That is why there is something that’s not quite right with the whole operation.  Something that doesn’t fit.  Some fundamental flaw in the Indie movement law.  I digress.

       The rest of the day turned into a kind of tour of Connecticut.  First it was down toDurhamagain to have a New Year’s lunch with Janet and Bill and their son Rick, a good friend of ours.  We had a mid-afternoon meal.  Since it had snowed since the last time we were there, everything look just right for the occasion.  The hue, that undying afternoon light.  It starts around two in the afternoon and evolves constantly for a couple of hours.  The snow was aplenty, and the temperature right, so we decided to make a snowman.  Getting the initial ball together was easy enough, but once it came time to rolling it around, roll it did, but grow it didn’t.  I trekked all over the place until the wellbeing of my back found itself challenged.  Just what kind of snow did they have up there in centralConnecticut?  We abandoned the main goal and reduced our objective to snow-gnomes, and that worked out much better.

         Then it was over to my parents’ place where we met up with my brother and sister-in-law.  We had a little bite to eat while we combed the internet for some information on how to keep a little family tradition on January 1st: eating ice cream.  It’s a dicey deal planning one filling your belly with it on a melancholy New Year’s Day evening, but we managed to track down a local place that happened to be open, as if it had heard our beckoning; all it took was for one call to confirm.

         The owners specialized in homemade ice cream, and boy were they good at it.  The place was one of those tiny wooden shacks with doors that creaked when you opened them, tables and seats that wobbled, ceiling lights that would serve nicely for long-term interrogation, and ice cream servers whose average time as an employee was about three weeks.

       The ice cream was outstanding, as were the portions.  Thank God the previous days preparation stretched our stomachs to just the right size to handle the load.  It had one of those quirky features in the form of a map where people could pin their hometown on.  The United States was well-represented, except for maybe North Dakota, as were various places in the world.  The girls proudly pierced the paper of a dot which read Madrid.

       Years ago, places like this weren’t that uncommon in Greenwich.  Now they are a rare and endangered species, which was partially why we had to go to Hamden to find one.

     We finished.  It was time to get in the car and work off the calories at the accelerator pedal.

Excerpt From a New Book About Greenwich 27 (draft)

Greenwich Avenue

I kind of liked the idea of hunkering down to a good book that morning and looking out the window from time to time, just to gaze at a flake or two, but my family had other plans in mind.  That meant squeezing out every available minute of shopping time, on this occasion, the mightyGreenwich Avenuewas on the agenda.  I discouraged that proposal on the basis that the snowy conditions outside my turn our drive down the avenue into a kind of uncontrolled slide into Long Island Sound.   That was a totally impossible scenario but they didn’t have to know that.  My next argument was more persuasive from my standpoint.

     “Closed?  How can they be closed?  In America?”

      There was no fighting it.  Shopping was shopping.  Who was I kidding?  Plus stores would be closed the next day and that would mean a travesty for a society which saw no need to defend the once untouchable day of rest.

     “All right, what the hell,” I thought, “I might as well turn it into a visit to old Greenwich Avenue, to see what the heck was going around there.”

      Not much, I can tell you.  Things couldn’t have been quieter, as you would expect on a snowy New Year’s Eve morning.  As you would expect onGreenwichAvenuebut that was what it was like.

    I really don’t know what people who have never been here would have in mind when they think of Greenwich Avenue, but my guess is that they conjure up imagery of boutiques galore, fancy cafés at every corner, dog walkers dragged by a dozen pooches of all sizes shapes and hairdos, and chauffeur-driven town cars gliding up and down the street.  They couldn’t be farther from the truth, at least in part.

    To begin with, Greenwich Avenueis a one-way street and it only goes down.

     Physically speaking, Greenwich Avenue as purely a street has hardly changed over the years.  Really.  It pretty much looks the same it did when I was a tot.  And when you look at old turn-of-the-century postcards, it all looks very familiar.

     What has changed are the stores themselves; quite a bit too.  These locales were once mostly unassuming, unpretentious shops that sold the basics: toys, shoes, stationery, sports goods, records, books, bread, corduroys.  Simple places with signs that read Quinn’s Market, Meads Stationary, Roger’s, Favourite Shoe and Bestever Dry Cleaners adorned the tops of the windows.  You could hand in your painted model at theYellow Brick Roadtoy store for a contest, or eat a grilled cheese sandwich in a Woolworths booth, or get your haircut in a tiny floating fire engine by an Italian named Mike at Subway Barber.  The Greenwich hardware store had those characteristic creaky wooden floors you find in places that sell rakes, hoes and nails, and Baskin Robbins was about as sophisticated as our ice cream got.  When you wanted a real treat, it was the soft ice cream at Dairy Queen in Cos Cob.  The kitsch interior decorations.  They pastel colors.  Sitting at those school desk-like chairs and lapping up  rainbow sherbet before anyone dared venture further into the world of flavors at a time when people still called sherbet “sherbet” and not sorbet.

     Maybe I am being a little nostalgic, a little too gentle with the town’s former image, but I somehow feel I’m not.  Not in the sense that there was a time when downtown Greenwich looked a lot like downtown New England anywhere.  Does that make it special?  Does that make it worthy of praise?  Should we win a prize for ordinariness?  Or do you have to come from an affluent community to be insecure enough to strive to make your town look like all the rest?  Don’t think I haven’t given some thought to this. Oh well, back to what I was saying.

    Intermingled were a few luxury stores, but they were minority.  When a person wanted to do some real shopping, they had to go into the city.  By the early 80s, the chains began to arrive and by the time I was leaving forSpain, people wondered whether the old-town feel would endure the changing times.  It wouldn’t.  The 1990s made that clear.

     If you ask me, no other moment in recent history has so succinctly summed up the transformation that was to rock this street than when Woolworths was bought out and replaced by the upscale retail storeSaks Fifth Avenue.  That, my friends, said it all. Greenwich  had lost what little remained of its plain small-town charm.  Plus, I really liked that old Woolworths.  You could get just about anything you wanted there and the food was the kind comfort crap kids loved.  It was there me and my friends did all our candy shoplifting.

     If there had been any hope of the older, humbler, simpler Greenwich staving off the encroaching arrival of top-notch stores, this signaled pretty much the final nail in the coffin.  Starting then, it was just a matter of time before the others vanished.  They are all gone and replaced by theRugbystore, Ralph Lauren, and such.  Barely a remnant of the street I knew as a boy, except for Bestever Dry Cleaners and Hoaglands Jewelry store.  And the Knapp funeral home, naturally, still has plenty of business to tend to.  But that pretty much summed it up.  Don’t get me wrong.  None of this has really gotten me choked up.  I guess it’s a shame, butAmericahas changed in so many ways and in so many places.  But it didn’t really bring down and I really can’t explain why.

Excerpt from a new book about Greenwich, 26 (draft)

Still December 31st.

Blue Laws

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

         So, I focused my attention on the rest of the day which was being constructed on certain uncertainty, thanks to the current atmospheric conditions.  The storm was moving north which just happened to be the direction we were heading in, so for once I used my noggin a bit and decided to wait a few hours to see if things cleared up.

         In the meantime, I went to buy the Greenwich Time to check out what it had to say about the end of the year.  I walked down to the deli, flipped the bird at dog on the way (mainly because it was inside and out of sight), purchased that day’s edition, bid a happy New Year to the owners and returned.  I got to the doorstep and kicked off as best as I could the snow from the rubber canyons of the soles of my boots and walked in, only to pull them off again, sit down at the dining room table and set the expanse of the newspaper fully on the glass surface.

        Considering it was the last day of the year, the headlines were extraordinarily dull, as if it were the 17th of Boredemder or Tedium Tuesday. Here’s what I laid my eyes upon:

  • UnionReaches Vote Threshold.  Yawn.
  • Brushing Up on Painting Techniques. Yawn and groan.
  • YMCA nears funding goal.  Slap in the face.
  • Man dies after being tasered by police. This was not in Greenwich so it doesn’t count.
  • Lawmakers may consider wine sales in supermarkets. Bingo!

        Now that last one is what I called news!  Good news!  Long overdue news!  It turned out the state would probably give in because it could foresee a long-term revenue advantage built into the whole plan, but the rest of us believed it as something that should have happened long ago.  Then again, this was Connecticut, and things don’t always moved forward that quickly.  For example, alcohol, up until just a few years ago, could not be sold after eight and never on Sundays.  Now the closing time has been raised an hour, and the Lord’s-day thing seems destined to be shelved with all of those other former-sabbath prohibitions.

     But it sure took a while, trust me.  These religiously-based rules were called blue laws and Connecticut was notorious for them.  In fact the first mention of them in written form had to do with the rigid legislation that reigned in this state.   Some laws may have resulted in many a dreary Sunday afternoon watching the game while sipping on a glass of water, but after looking at the way things were run around here back in Colonial times, you definitely get the feeling the state has loosened up over the years.  For example, as a child you could legally be put to death for swearing or refusing to sweep the floor.  To me, that makes staring at a closed sign on the liquor store appear almost refreshing.

       The good thing about living in Greenwich, though, was that you could always cross the border into Port Chester, New York and buy booze basically at any time you want, then run it back.  Our neighboring state is generous and more flexible in that sense.  In fact, it seems to me that there was little that you couldn’t do around the clock there.  Some call it shameless, others reckless, and even others opportunistic;  we just called it lucky.

     The big place to buy at was this dumpy-looking but effective warehouse called WestConn, which still exists by the way.  The second choice was Cumberland Farms, one of the first true convenience stores in the area.  The Farms was a last resort because it jacked up its prices in standard screw-you-because-we-can-do-it-since-we’re-the-only-ones-open fashion.  It also purveyed all of those hazardous frozen cooked foods from the 1970s and 1980s that most likely have been responsible for the death of a generation or two since.

     WestConn was the main aim, though, and also where you got your kegs for the parties when getting kegs for teenagers was not so frowned upon.  Families actually supported it.  Hell, parents practically pumped the taps for the guests. I remember my older sisters and brothers throwing some of the biggest shindigs in town.  It was the kind of status that, back in the 1970s, made you proud to be a Murdock.  The police would sometimes come and politely but firmly ask us to tone things down, turn a blind eye to the dozens of wasted teens stumbling off to their cars, and when all was settled down, go back to the public school parking lots and hang out…or whatever else they did at night in those days.  In fact, having the local authorities sweep in to break up the crowd was a unquestionable sign of success.  It meant we would be the talk of school on Monday.

      They often came because one of our neighbors would always complain.  He was a self-contained kind of person who owned two nasty German Shepherds called Lothar and Himmler, or some name like that.  Most balls that floated onto their property were left there forever as acknowledgement that no toy was worth getting neutered for.

       By the time I was of the age to have my own parties, drinking laws had changed fairly radically, with the brunt of responsibility falling heavily on the owner of the home, namely my parents; that curtailed almost all activity on a legal level.  Which doesn’t mean we didn’t have parties; we just had to go underground.  I authored two major clandestine events.  One was in winter when snow covered the lawn.  The side of the driveway was full of incriminating tire tracks.  Some even curved around trees.  The morning after, as I gazed out the front yard, I pondered the situation calmly but with a degree of desperation stirring inside.  This was not going to be easy to explain.  I gave it some thought and came up with one of those unsound Grinchy ideas.   That was it!  What if…

        On paper it was a risky and last-ditch effort to salvage a lost cause.  I went to the garage and returned with a shovel and, this is the honest to God truth, started to fill in dozens of wheel tracks.  The finished product looked like, well, a lot of wheel tracks sloppily filled in with snow.   I leaned on the handle of my shovel and surveyed the results of my endeavors.  It looked like crap and there was no way in hell my parents weren’t going to nab me.  In fact, had they arrived at that moment I most certainly would have been writing these lines from a jail cell as my father, being a lawyer, would have dug up some old blue law which entailed a life sentence.

          It was hopeless, unless I got lucky and my parents return flight got delayed two weeks.  Other than that, I just couldn’t see myself pulling it off.  In fact, as I drove off to a friend’s house, I made tentative plans to seek adoption should the need arise.  It didn’t.  You see, it could not have been a sunnier day, but it was also very windy, and the blustery weather effectively swept the tracks clean, like a desert.  By afternoon, no easily detectable evidence could be found.  Only the most experienced manhunter would have possibly noticed something, and, even then, maybe not.  Mother Nature had saved my ass.

        Years later when we lived up in Darien and I tried it again, she would kick it.  This time it was summer and it was raining all day.  I even considered calling it off, but we were all in the mood, so we said what the hell.  Well, muddy soil is a far more difficult terrain to control, and I awoke the next day to go to work, I knew I was a challenge because the backyard looked like one of those battlefields in France during World War I.  It was as if Mother Nature was telling me, “You know, Brian, you are one big dumb fuck.  And this time I’m going to make you pay for it.”

       The first to nail us was Mary Jones, the housekeeper, who had no reason to be up at that time or day, or even that day at all, but had lived with us far too long to know what was going on.  She went through the roof and I took a shellacking as a result.  But that was just the beginning of it.  Luckily for me I had to go to work and missed the arrival of my parents whose irate eruption, from what I understand, would have triggered a tsunami had it taken place on the shore.  I got my share when I got home, and a well-deserved one.  That party would end up being the final full-fledged Murdock party in history…the end of an era.

erpt from a New Book about Greenwich 25 (draft)


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.

Excerpt from a New Book on Greenwich 23 (draft)

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.

A new book about Greenwich 22 (draft)

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.

Excerpt from a new book about Greenwich (Draft) 21

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.

Excerpt from a New Book 20 (draft)

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?

Excerpt from a New Book 19 (draft)

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.

Excerpt from a New Book 18 (Draft)

Speaking of medical centers, I pulled up to the Greenwich Hospital early that day, it wasn’t really a visit down Maternity Ward Memory Lane but rather a quest to see what had become of the old place over the years, and, if it had become the holistic temple that my mom suggested the evening before.  Would there be Indian music and candy-stripers draped in healing beads and things like that.

     Driving towards the hospital did not trigger any childhood traumas like being stuck with a ten-inch needle, or having my shin bone cracked back into place.  I was a child of great fortune in this sense.  I had never really had to go there to be treated for anything too serious.   Never even spent the night.  The worst was a visit to the emergency room to have a bleeding toe cared for after I had walked into a knife that had been stuck in the ground in our backyard.  Allow me to explain.

     There were a few summers when my brothers were shipped off to Indiana to a military summer camp called Culver.  Now, doesn’t that sound like the kind of fun you look for as a 12-year-old!  Reveille at dawn and Nazi-youth dressed counselors barking orders left and right.  I have never been there, I escaped forced labor somehow, but from what I hear the camp must have been a kind of place the weeds out the strong from the weak under the guise that you are having fun.  Those places unnerve me.

      In all seriousness, their experience did not go without its benefits.  One brother had become quite an expert in Indian dances, which is just the kind of formative skill that in no way serves a youth from the New York Metropolitan area, but does make for thrilling summer evenings when life would otherwise be slow and uneventful.  For a time there, he was into building bonfires large enough to scorch the neighborhood and he would leap around them nimbly and even hop over one on occasion as long as the flames were high enough to snap at his gonads.

       I have to hand it him, in that thick muggy August night air, and with the fire dancing around like feisty organ pipes, the whole effect was pretty impressive.  Oftentimes, to get something set up, we needed to aid of a knife, and being a bunch of numbskulls we would usually choose the one that boasted the biggest and sharpest blade.  Then we would stick it into the ground in John Wayne fashion, and forget about it as we raced around barefoot beneath the tricky dusk light.  And that, my friends, was the cause of it all.  It was my fault, mind you, and the scene, though not toe-threatening, did produce its fair share of bloodiness.  One of sisters took me to the hospital and made it through all right with a first-rate band-aid and bandage.  Not even a stitch.

      And that was the beginning and end of my Greenwich Hospital experience as a child.

      Though the hospital was in the same place as always, I could barely recognize it.  Really.  It had completely changed, resembling its former self only in that it shared the word “hospital” on the sign.  A look at the history of this institution is a kind of century-long chronological analysis of dissatisfaction.  You see, the Greenwich Hospital has been redone so many times over the past one hundred years, it’s hard to imagine a moment when someone wasn’t tearing down a wall or hammering in a nail.  And one gets the feeling that when the board members weren’t actually renovating, they were drawing up the blueprints for the upcoming refurbishment.

      The Hospital was founded in1903 ina building called the Octagon House (we can reasonably imagine its shape), but not long after, it moved to a larger location up on Milbank Avenue in 1906, where it acted as the town’s medical center until a new hospital large enough to accommodate the town’s increasing population was constructed.  The new building was finished and functioning in 1916.  The new site was on Perryridge Road, where the hospital stands till this day.

      It was then later expanded in 1930, 1932, 1934 and one more time in 1940, before they decided that it just wasn’t big enough and, apparently never would.  So, after a period of raising the necessary funds, a new building was completed in 1951.  A south wing was added to that in 1963.  Then a huge overhaul took place in 1978.  This was theGreenwichHospitalas I basically remember it; a cross-shaped edifice, white on the outside, clean and broad on the inside.  Just your standard, straightforward, classic 70s-looking-soap-opera-fashion hospital, if you know what I mean.   It was really big, and looked plenty modern to me…but that just shows you how little I know about major clinics.  It also proves how much I underestimated the board of directors’ will to outdo itself every five years.

       In the early 90s it was determined yet again that the facilities were inadequate in both size and technology and that something had to be done about it.  They did two things:  one was to have the institution join the Yale-New Haven Health System.  This boosted its category from just to solid municipal hospital to a first-class medical center which covered most specialties and even offered classes.  We are talking about a whole different level altogether.

        They also built.  Naturally.  It started in 1997.  This time, there were no add-ons, no expanding, no sprucing up.  They just pulled the whole thing down and basically started over.  I also wanted to see the results, even though it was ten years later.