Once home I immediately dove into the paper to see what was up. I was flipping through some pages somewhat listlessly when suddenly my friend Steven came by to pick me up and take me to a restaurant onGreenwich Avenuecalled the Ginger Man. There we were going to meet another old time friend, Bill. On the way, the weather was turned rather crappy. Wind-driven rain pelted the windshield. We pulled into a parking place at the top ofGreenwich Avenueand, with our coat collars pulled up and our hands in our pockets, dashed for the door.
Restaurant-going is commonplace in many parts of the world nowadays, but it didn’t always used to be like that, not even inGreenwich. Back when I was growing up, my parents mostly entertained at home or were entertained at someone else’s. Of course there were always a place to go for dinner, but it was kind of a special occasion. Starting, I would say, in the 80s, the idea of eating out grew in appeal and variety, and by the 90s it really took off. And now having meals at home has become the novelty.
The Ginger Man is located at the top of Greenwich Avenuewhere a once classic oriental restaurant called Lotus East used to be. I don’t really know what happened to that place, oriental restaurants seem to never go out of style, but whatever it was, it led to the opening in 2002 of this exceedingly popular tavern-style restaurant. I once thought it was a local original, but it turns out it is a franchise which originally started in Texas, Houston if I am not mistaken, and now they are popping up all over the globe. Or something to that nature.
The Ginger Man specializes in American cuisine and international drink, especially beer. It has something like ten thusand different kinds of ales, pilsners, lagers, stouts, pale ales, porters, doppelbocks, malts, wheats, and stuff you never imagined possible would go into fermented grain, and you get the feeling from the minute you walk in room that this is no place to be ordering a Bud. I let my finger follow the endless lists of choices, this could have been a page out of dictionary, and to my surprise, did discover that you could get it in a bottle. Not that I was planning on ordering one, I just like to know it was there and that I could have one if I so desired.
I guess I shouldn’t feel too broken-hearted about Budweiser’s taking second stage to the rest. The Anheuser-Busch family still controlled, at the time of my visit, a whopping 49% market share in theUnited Statesalone, and even though that percentage meant a retreat from the absolute majority it once boasted, it is still a formidable amount of beer from one of the largest beer-drinking nations on earth. Fancy beer-drinking has been on the rise for quite some time now. One of the first pioneers was Samuel Adams, and now every time I return, I find what seems to be dozens of new brands. Some are from foreign lands, but many seem to come from some barn in upstate made from the purest spring water and have a name usually involving an animal and its improbable condition like “Blind Elk Beer” or “Crippled Beaver Ale” or the “Cursing Cow Amber” or sometimes even include a season, “Barfing Trout Stout: Winter Brew”. All they do is induce me to wanting to order an Old Milwaukee, when under different circumstances I never would.
So, we just ordered the biggest glass they had of whatever they would serve that in, which turned out to be some kind of European pilsner I think with a thick, three-inch froth at the top. I turned to the waiter and said, “You know, in certain cities in this country, seeing scum like this atop a liquid would require an immediate call to the E.P.A.” Budweiser never would have permitted that.
“That’s the way it is.” He remarked without a bat of an eye.
“All right.” I desisted.
So we had a nice lunch, basic burgers and all, got a little drunk and shot the shit for a while. It never bores me. Then again, it might be because I do it once every eighteen months. But it never bores me all the same. We had a good time, but since it was only one o’clock and we weren’t in college anymore, there was no excuse for carrying on until we threw up around two in the morning. Steve took me home and I went back to my paper.
Here was what I found on the front page:
“Bistro owner seeks zoning change”
“Firefighters cook for ‘second family’”
“Economy still strains local animal shelters”
“N.Y. boy, 7, drowns in hotel pool.”
That last one stood out in my mind because newspaper’s insistence that the boy was not fromGreenwich, as if that really mattered. Of course, it may have been the daily’s way of informing that, thankfully, the victim was no one we knew, but the tone gave me a different feeling, as if to say, some stupid New York boy got drowned in one of our pools. Greenwich children don’t know how to get drowned.
The poor kid was in a hotel swimming pool and through some form of clear negligence, not on the hotel’s part, the poor child perished. This did little to bring cheer to Christmas, but then again, why should we have to always be cheery on those days. Tragedies do happen. Yes, they do.
Of all the news I came across, though, the one I found most intriguing was an article about a house up on North Street, not far from where I grew up, which has become a pioneer in the town for its use of geothermal energy to heat the premises. I have a friend who lives inZurichand his home is heated through this wonderfully natural way of tapping warmth from the innards of the planet and drawing it up to the surface and inside the floors of your home. Geothermal energy is still a fledging industry but it’s a terrific system and one which I am surprised hasn’t gained more acceptance among alternative energy source searchers. The house has gone on the market and is listed for sale at $5.6 million. Thank God I had my Powerball in my pocket. I was just that much closer to making it mine.
But that was not really what made this story interesting. Innovative home building was nothing new to this property. In the late 1800s a house was constructed there which is said to have possibly been the first private estate in all of the world to have an electric light system built in, thus leading to its nickname as “Electric Hill”. The owner of the house was none other than Edward H. Johnson, inventor and colleague of Thomas Edison and former president of one of the first electric companies in this nation. It only seemed fitting that his home be fitted with such a network. But Mr. Johnson garnered little or no fame for his singular home. In fact, what he is really remembered for, if at all, is for being the first person to put electric light bulbs on the Christmas tree. No joke. In addition to measurably increasing home safety by replacing candles with lights, the advent of the Christmas light as we know it radically altered the way in which people expressed their feelings about the day. All it takes is for a night drive around theUSAto appreciate that more fully. It was a stroke of genius.
Now, I wish I could say that Johnson first tested this new idea inGreenwich, and I am tempted to lie and say he did just to pump up a little local pride, but I may as well lay the facts on you and admit the historical moment took place years earlier in his home inNew York City. But he was also a resident of this town, and, according to the article, quite possibly was the first to use them here too. It doesn’t say when Electric Hill was put up, but it does mention when and why it disappeared: in 1903, due to a fire. I am tempted to suggest the tragedy was a result of a short circuit or from a “Christmas light that would wouldn’t light on one side” of the tree, but the writer did not delve into the matter, so who knows.
I came to two conclusions. Even back then, Greenwich was a town that attracted successful and wealthy businessman. Secondly, this town played home to a couple of individuals who had a profound effect on contemporary Christmas traditions. Who would have guessed? No one. Not a soul.