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departments 24 TRAIN OF THOUGHT My fantasy parents: Sonny and Cher. by Nancy Balbirer 33 THE LOCAL SCENE Fascinatin’ Neighbors. 124 IN GOOD TASTE Georgette Farkas, the Woman behind Rotisserie Georgette. by Kathleen Squires 132 I’LL TAKE MANHATTAN NYC anew. 140 DA MO DA MERRIER Construct Your Own Happy Place. by Simone 148 LIKE A ROLLING STONE Adventures around the world. 166 MODEL CITIZENS High Performance Outerwear. 176 THE BEST OF BOTH WORLDS Luxury lifestlye. 192 APPRAISED AND APPROVED Style and Substance. 217 INDEPENDENT SCHOOL GUIDE Institutions for all kinds of learning; Story Pirates take the stage. 272 COMMUNITY ROOM The Great Game of Women’s Tennis. by Christine Juneau
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“Each story in SPOILED BRATS opens with a brilliant comedic perspective that only gets funnier, more surprising, and more insightful.... ONE OF MY FAVORITE BOOKS FROM ONE OF MY FAVORITE AUTHORS.” —B. J. Novak, author of One More Thing: Stories and Other Stories
Alan and I knew instantly that our child was exceptional. He was just so adorable, with his pentagram birthmark and little, grasping claws. —from the story “Gifted” “The funniest thing I’ve read in a long time.” —Conan O’Brien, on the story “Guy Walks into a Bar,” via Twitter “Rich knows how to balance the smart with the funny.” —Patrick Cassels, New York Times Book Review “One of the funniest writers in America.” —Daily Beast
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CENTRALPARK WEST R ye W e s t o n UPPER EAST SIDE THE
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TRAIN OF THOUGHT
Sonny and Cher By Nancy Balbirer
ALP i NE W estchester
greenwich Westport NewCanaan hamptons Longisland Litchfieldcounty COUNTRY CAPITALIST
I spent an inordinate amount of time as a child lying in my canopy bed fantasiz- ing about Sonny and Cher being my parents. I’d imagine them wending their way down our long gravel driveway in the Con- necticut woods, to claim me in their VW bus, along with little Chastity, some stray dogs and cats, and a trunk, (emblazonedwithmy name), full of tie-dyed casual-wear, and miniature Bob Mackie gowns. I figured that while my parents would be a bit sad to lose me, they’d get over it; they had other kids and they’d conclude that I really was better suited to living with a pair of Hollywood Hippies. I had always been a bit “out there”; a sort of pint-sized rabble-rouser, marching to the beat of a different drum, and my parents had, without fail, wholeheartedly supported my myriad nutty endeavors. Once, in Kindergarten, we were asked to paint a life- sized self-portrait. Our teacher, Miss Cohen, had us all lie on individual rolled out white sheets so that she could trace our outlines; our task, then, was to simply paint in the specifics: hair; eyes; clothes, etc. Ostensibly, the point of this exercise was to notice, perhaps for the very first time, who we are, and how we are differ- ent. Even at the tender age of five, I thought the whole undertaking was a big yawn, so instead of filling in my outline with my ac- tual features (dark brown hair, green eyes, pale skin), I filled them in with the comedian Flip Wilson’s (kinky black hair; dark brown eyes; brown skin). Miss Cohen, being a literalist, was none too pleased by this abstraction; I was duly reprimanded for insubordination and ex- iled to “the corner” for the remainder of the afternoon. When my mother came to pick me up and was informed of my malfeasance, she asked to see the offending painting. “I don’t see what the problem is,” she said, perusing my handiwork. “Flip Wilson’s never looked better.” Later, at dinner, when my mother shared the story with my father, he took it as an opportunity to teach me the meaning of the word pedantic. And, that was that. But, as understanding and encouraging as my parents were of their child’s offbeat tem- perament, even they had their limitations. The
experience I could have as the tag-along daugh- ter of counter-culture Glamazons like Sonny and Cher would surely trump anything they could offer me in the pretty-but-staid woods of Connecticut. And so, with heads held high, they would agree to hand me off to the Bonos, whilst I kissed them good-bye tearfully, and promised to write postcards each week from the road. And then, Sonny and Cher would whisk me back to the VW and off we’d go on an endless, pleasure-seeking Summer of Love. When I was eight, and Sonny and Cher announced they were getting divorced, I was completely despondent; it clearly signi- fied The End Of Everything Good. I sort of never accepted it. Yeah, OK–they “split up”; Cher got with Gregg Allman; Sonny re-mar- ried and then re-married...blah, blah, blah… whatever. I just never was willing to believe that they stopped loving each other; that they were not soul-mates; that one day, in my (apparently romance-starved) imagination we’d, all of us, not be reunited as a “family.” I N MY EARLY TWENTIES , I PARTICIPATED IN A weekly poker game with Chastity Bono. One day, I shared with her my kooky early-child- hood dreams of her parents, and the very pro- found inferences I ascribed to the love that they had once shared. Basically, I told her the whole, ridiculous thing. She was standing in my tiny kitchen on Twelfth Street, making us all Sonny’s famous steak recipe for dinner, and as I recounted my tale, she chuckled, knowingly. “I felt that way about ‘Sonny and Cher’ too…” “You did??” “Sure,” she shrugged. “Of course.” Cutting into the meat to see that it was done to perfection, she added: “And, it’s good to have fantasies, Nance. But, you know what?” “What?” “It’s even better to have steak….” Nancy Balbirer’s first book, Take Your Shirt Off and Cry was published by Blooms- bury in 2009. She is currently at work on her second book, A Marriage in Dog Years. She lives in Manhattan with her daughter. *
Editor and Publisher Eric S. Meadow Editor Celia R. Meadow Art Director TimHussey Executive Editor Debbie Silver Travel Editor Susan Engel Editors at Large Paula Koffsky, Simone Meadow, Rich Silver General Counsel Bruce Koffsky, Esq. Contributors Bonnie Adler, JacobM. Appel, Natalie Axton,
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“The first great novel about post-crash American disillusionment, the flip side of The Wolf of Wall Street.” —NY1’s The Book Reader
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“THOMPSON HAS A GREAT GIFT FOR STORYTELLING, and this is that rare book that would translate well to the big screen.” —The Daily Beast “Through sharply written prose and fiery dialogue, Thompson’s characters come alive.... HONEST, RAW, HEARTBREAKING, AND COMICAL.” —Bustle “A FUNNY, BITTERSWEET DEBUT.... A worthy new tale of suburban lives gone astray.” —Washington Independent Review of Books
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the local scene
Fiction: The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson The affluent,morally strict hamlets ofConnecticut Speaker’s Corner by JacobM. Appel The New Yorker’s Barry Blitt Litchfield County’s renowned illustrator Generations The Next Chapter by Thomas G. Fiffer The Yale Club: Behind the Y blue flag Parent Trap by Hillary Frank The Longest Shortest Time Acts of Kindness ITN Coastal Ct: Helping Fairfield County Seniors get around Rural Palates Westport’s Arezzo Ristorante and Bar Arts Still Motion by 17 year oldWeston photographer, Daniel Bogaev Gallery PlayWith Your Food and Greenwich Historical Society’s Antiquarius 36 38 40 42 44 46 47 45 by Gretchen Vanesselstyn My Life Among Lobsters
f i ction
THE LAND OF STEADY HABITS by Ted Thompson
A nders figured he knew how it would all go down. Larry would know a guy, probably a kid Tommy’s age, a hedgie who worked from a laptop in a shed in his Darien backyard—the future, Larry would say, the sort of kid who had made a billion dollars last year in his Adidas sandals. Larry would tell Anders not to worry about it, it was just money, they could make it back in an hour; all Anders had to do was give him a number and Larry would place the order. He’d slap him on the shoulder and tell him to relax, it’s what friends were for, and toast him with his third drink of the morning. Larry lived in the original farmhouse on Beachside, a property that had been divvied up into an entire avenue of waterfront estates, walled-off monuments with service entrances and wrought-iron gates and hunks of modern sculpture strewn about the front lawns. His greenhouse came off the side of his home, a tall glass structure that looked like it might hold the food court of a major mu- seum. Inside, it was something of a gymnasium of flora— all leaves and humidity, dirt and cement. He led Anders down a long row of what appeared to be pots of earth. He was barefoot, the cuffs of his Dockers rolled, and as he walked, he’d occasionally touch the beds of soil with his thumb and then smell it. “Tells me if they’re healthy,” he said. “You develop a knack for it.” He went over to the corner and ran a pitchfork through a steaming heap of compost. It was black and as he turned it, some vapor escaped. “Put your hands in there,” he said. “Go ahead. It won’t hurt you.” It was surprisingly smooth, soft, really, and gave off a rich scent of organic matter. “Cleanest thing on the planet,” Larry said. “From garbage to the espresso of soil in a couple of months.” When he had a lot of work to do, Larry said, he turned off the ringer. Anders had assumed that by “a lot of work to do,” he meant something like managing his portfolio, but Larry meant planting a kind of heirloom called Mr. Stripey. Raising tomatoes, he said, snapping a brown leaf from the bottom of a nearby plant, wasn’t just about bear- ing witness to the cycles of life—all that living and dying and producing of fruit—but about putting your hands
of self-help tomes that Helene had pushed on him, books that turned out to be smarter than he had thought, that pinpointed some of his feelings with embarrassing precision and almost always ended by recommending meditation. Which he tried—he tried everything. He apologized to He- lene on her voice mail and he ate less meat and he cut out most of the caffeine and all of the booze and with them the twin drugs of rage and self- pity, waking in the morning refreshed and calm and with a rare sense of clarity about the life he was no longer ashamed to say he was wrong to have left. Larry and Anders wheeled the top dressing over to a row of pots and packed it with their bare hands. “Not too tight,” Larry said. “Like you’re tucking them in.” They worked in si- lence. Occasionally a fine mist would spray over the rows like in the produce aisle at a super- market but otherwise it was still and quiet. “So,” Larry said when they had them all packed. “Should we talk numbers?” “Why don’t we go inside.”
a warming drawer.” The coffee machine gurgled. Larry poured them two mugs and held his to his lips, smil- ing. “So,” he said, the steam fogging the bot- toms of his glasses. Anders told him what he owed. Larry took a small sip, seemed to let it lin- ger on his tongue, and swallowed. “And here I thought you might have come by for a visit.” “Look,” Anders said. “I don’t want you to loan me all of it.” Larry crossed the kitchen to a drawer that held a leather binder of checks. “Seriously, I was thinking maybe about an in- vestment,” Anders continued. “Didn’t you say you knew a kid who was into some new high-yield—” Larry wrote the check, tore it out, and held it for him. “Look,” saidAnders. “You know I can’t take that.” “You still love her?” said Larry. “I’m sorry?” Larry held his gaze. “You heard me.” Anders took the check. He helped Larry until the sun was low and even the greenhouse was dark. His hands and
in the ground. “Touch the place where we in- tersect with the earth, where our food comes from and where we’re eventually headed, get that stuff under your fingernails,” he said, “and you’re changed forever.” He’d been inviting classes from Bridgeport out there, elementary- school kids who had no idea their hamburger was cow and thought food came from bodegas. “Mostly I want them digging in the dirt,” he said. “That’s enough. I discovered the hard way they’re all plant murderers.” In the week since Anders’s humiliating scrape with the law—a ridiculous incident, when he thought about it, the behavior of a crazy per- son—he’d been doing some evaluating. From what he remembered of that night, which un- fortunately was almost everything, he recalled elucidating for the police officer that it wasn’t breaking and entering if he had a key to the front door, not to mention if the house was in his name, and especially if his wife—ex- wife, whatever—was standing right there. He remembered pointing, a lot of pointing, and though all the cop had done was scribble si-
Larry lived in the original farmhouse on Beachside, a property that had been divvied up into an entire avenue of waterfront estates, walled-offmonuments with service entrances and wrought-iron gates and hunks of modern sculpture strewn about the front lawns.
his pants were filthy and as he drove home he could feel a smudge of dirt on his brow and a calm sense of accomplishment. It had been ten days since the party and already he felt re- newed. Ten more like this and he might end up with a decent Christmas after all. Excerpted from the book The Land of Steady Habits by Ted Thompson. Copyright © 2014 by Ted Thompson. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. Ted Thompson is a graduate of the Iowa Writ- ers Workshop, where he was awarded a Truman Capote Fellowship. His work has appeared in Tin House and Best New American Voices, among other publications. He was born in Connecticut and lives in Brooklyn with his wife. *
lently in his pad, the lights on his car still whirling, and all Helene and Donny had done was stand there staring at him in their pj’s and terry-cloth robes, that was enough. He’d rid- den home in the back of the squad car with his forehead against the window and a Budweiser button still blinking on his lapel. What followed, though, was a morning of such raw clarity, such sober awareness, that he found himself waking at dawn, flinging open the curtains on the low cotton sky and cleaning his condo to the grout. He filled his cabinets with groceries, bought end tables from a design store, and rearranged the furniture until it felt like a room that a person might want to be in. He took a brisk morning walk and spent the evening with books, adventure stories mostly, though over the week that followed he also ventured into the shelf
Larry’s kitchen was an open palace of granite and brushed steel that made even Anders’s ren- ovation seem modest. The range had eight dif- ferent burners, none of which seemed to have been used, and the refrigerator was one of those restaurant-grade bunkers, the kind with a door that you had to use your whole body weight to open. They scrubbed their hands at the sink with a rough powdery substance that Larry said could also take the stain out of the tub, and he punched a button on the coffee machine. The afternoon sun burned through the clouds and for a moment the countertops were ablaze, the whole room awash in white. There was no way Larry had designed this kitchen himself. “Nope,” he said when Anders asked. “Course not. This was her last project—took two full years! Turns out nothing says ‘It’s over’ quite like
Weston Magazine Group: Since 1992, you’ve illustrated more than 80 covers for The New Yorker. If it’s all right with you, I’d like to start with The New Yorker cover from the 2008 Presidential campaign that made you famous, in which you depicted Senator Barack Obama as a turbaned Muslim fist-bumping his wife, who sports military fatigues and carries a gun. Can you tell us what you were thinking when you initially came up with this image? What were you trying to say? Barry Blitt: Sure! As you can imagine, I never tire of explaining a cartoon from six years ago that almost no one got. But seriously: it was meant to be a sly visual collection of all the ridiculous innuendo being spread by then-candidate Obama’s more virulent detractors. I thought it would render the crazy stuff laughable on its face. [Oh, to be middle-aged and naive again.] WMG: Youmust have realized that some readers would be offended. My understanding is that even your own mother was upset at you.What surprised you most about the public reaction? BB: Yeah, I figured there would be some limited outrage. I wasn’t expecting anything so viral. I’d drawn covers that ruffled feathers before, but this was the first one that really had the internet behind it [my previous controversial one was in 1942], and it went from kerfuffle to brouhaha overnight. [Or perhaps vice versa.] But that was what surprised me most—the connectedness of the web, and how the story was suddenly everywhere at once. [And yes, it even reached my mother.] WMG: Any regrets about the cover? BB: I sort of wish it was a better drawing [but that BARRY BLITT THE NEWYORKER’S COVER ILLUSTRATOR UNCOVERED by JacobM. Appel
sentiment isn’t limited to this particular image, alas.] WMG: President Obama has reportedly hung another of your covers in theWhiteHouse and requested an autographed copy of a third. Does this mean that you and Barack have patched things over? BB: Um. I believe [former senior advisor] David Axelrod had a print of a subsequent cover hanging in his office at the White House [“Vetting,” which depicted himself, the President, and Rahm Emmanuel interviewing dogs—when the Obamas were talking about getting a pet]. And someone from the White House called and asked for a signed copy of a cartoon I drew [that featured a donkey doctor putting on a latex glove–about to give an elephant patient a prostate exam, shortly after Obamacare passed]. Apparently it was being given to President Obama. But I’d sort of be amazed if he knows this cartoon was drawn by the same punk who did the
* just sitting down and scribbling, is as much of it as I can convey. It’s not real regimented. It’s different every time. Often there’s weeping involved. WMG: I read a profile by Ashley Waters in which she reported that you grew up in a home without The New Yorker. Is this possible? Do such places really exist? BB: You sound like the Manhattan residents who were amazed Ronald Reagan got elected, because they didn’t personally know anyone who voted for him. [But yes, no New Yorker magazines in my home growing up. No culture whatsoever. I never saw broccoli or asparagus until I was 22.] WMG: On your website, instead of a biography under the “about” heading, there is a sketch of a man passed out in his boxer shorts, surrounded by bottles of “envy,” “gall,” “rancor” and “regret.” The caption reads, “Mr. Blitt is about to collapse.” Is this true? BB: It’s a sanitized version of the truth. Let’s just say I have to have my bile ducts drained regularly to stay sane. WMG: You have a reputation (at least on the Internet) as a very private person. Should we infer from your cryptic biography that you have something to hide? BB: Seriously? I’m answering all your questions about my background and my working process and my bile ducts, and you think I’m a ‘private person?’ WMG: On a more serious note, how does being a widely known and often controversial artist affect your personal life? BB: It helps me get hair appointments with almost no advance notice. WMG: You live in Litchfield County, CT, far away from the political fray in Washington. Is keeping your distance a conscious choice? BB: Nothing in my life is a conscious choice. I stumble into everything. But it’s nice to be able to live in a quiet setting, and scan and email my drawings into the fray from afar, without having to rise from my chair or put on socks. WMG: Any chance you’ll run for office in Litchfield County? I imagine you’d have fantastic campaign posters. BB: You have a wonderful sense of humor. [I think.] Jacob M. Appel’s most recent books are a collection of essays, “Phoning Home,” and a short story collection, “Scouting for the Reaper.” He is Assistant Professor of Psychiatry at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, where he teaches medical ethics and creative writing.
fist bump cover. [So let’s just say my relationship with the president is evolving.] WMG: Are you expecting anything in return for your autographed cover? Possibly an ambassadorship? BB: Well, I just became an American citizen, and an ambassadorship to my native Canada would be extremely handy. Who do you suppose I get in touch with about that? WMG: In many of your covers, you display a knack for capturing widespread public sentiment about well-known political figures far more effectively than pundits can do with words–whether it’s the iconic image of Hillary Clinton, as a senate candidate from New York, wearing both a Yankees cap and a Mets cap at the same time, or President George Bush, armed with a feather duster, playing housewife to cigar- smoking Dick Cheney. What’s your secret for distilling the public consciousness so effectively? BB: The panic of a last minute deadline helps. A lot of the topical covers really have to be put together with no time to spare. Sometimes I’ve got a few hours to think of something, get it approved, and draw the final artwork. Obviously, scores of political cartoonists live by this process, and handle themselves with greater aplomb. I never expected to be doing newsy stuff. I certainly don’t know much about politics. I probably lean heavily on my ridiculousness radar [but I’m not sure that really answers your question about a trade secret]. WMG: Do you think being a Canadian lets you see things differently—maybe with more detachment—than if you’d been born in the USA? BB: Well, there’s certainly no shortage of Canadians working as professional smart-asses down here. [My own little brother Ricky is a comedy writer in LA.] I’ve heard that theory— about the sense of detachment. There are a lot of Canadian illustrators working in the States. A great history of Eastern-Europeans here as well. Maybe if I’d been born in Michigan I’d be a game show host. It’s hard to know. WMG: You contribute to a wide range of leading periodicals—not just The NewYorker, but The New York Times, Vanity Fair, Rolling Stone, and The Atlantic. How, if at all, is a particular drawing shaped by where it will appear? Is there a “Barry Blitt New Yorker” style and a distinct “Barry Blitt Vanity Fair” style? BB: I definitely don’t start with a political message—I’ll go to any angle of a story to get a laugh, even if it’s at odds with my own. [There’s a sickening admission.] As far as my process, I think
MY LIFE AMONG LOBSTERS by Gretchen Vanesselstyn
I DON’T REMEMBER my first taste of lobster, but I can picture it. That phrase, “my first taste of lobster,” probably conjures visions of a child in an antique highchair, lace napkin tucked under her chin, a buttery silver spoon bearing an ivory morsel perched at her waiting, ruby lips. Instead it was a bit of rubbery claw meat, dangled from my father’s rough hand, his blue eyes watching to see if I was a true lobsterman’s daughter, or a mere landlubber. Legend has it that I laughed, and asked for more, thus cementing my fate, my life among lobsters.
peg into each claw’s hinge so it couldn’t snap shut. He’d bait the pot with a chunk of mackerel or bunker, then toss it back over the side. Sometimes the trap would be empty. Other times a spider crab or two–terrifying creatures with foot-long, eager claws–would wait inside. At the first sight of these sea monsters, I would run to the bow and hide my eyes until Dad said “All clear.” But I was never afraid of lobsters. Back at home, I’d watch them try to fight, try to snap me, each other, anyone. They were angry to be out in the fresh air, but a short, hot bath took care of that. We ate them boiled with melted butter,
In fact, the truth is somewhere in between. My father, despite his most fervent desires, was a paper execu- tive. Weekdays he would mull new cup designs, sit through meetings about desirable colors and scents for toilet tissue. But on summer nights and weekends, he got to take off his business suit, pull on his cutoffs, his stained T-shirt, and bait-shop hat, and pretend. The corporate world has its rewards: stable hours, decent pay- check, walls to shield you from the cold wind. But you really feel like a provider when you haul up a big load and hear the approving grunts of your fellow fishermen as you carry the pails down the dock. You lay them out on the lawn, just for show, then haul them into the house, where your city- born wife waits knowingly with a pot of boiling water and a pound of but- ter. Beats bringing home a piece of paper any day.
corn and potatoes on the side. As a young child I learned to break open lobster shells and extract the meat without using tools, though crackers and picks were always available for guests. Snapping off the tail plates, then pushing my fingers into the niche to force out the meat is a party trick that still impresses, though people now figure that I learned it in cooking school. Rejecting the disgusting green goo in the body cavity, we ate claws and tail first, then sucked the juice from the small, prickly legs. In summer, we ate from the sea. Huge bluefish steaks, whole roast- ed striped bass, tiny deep-fried snappers, and whole dynasties of lobsters fed the VanEsselstyns year after year. From May through Sep-
tember, we lived the life of kings, the life of lobstermen. The rest of the year, Mom got dinner on the table every evening after teaching first-graders all day. Because she attended graduate school at night and raised us two kids, dinner was mostly Hamburger Helper, SPAM, and boxed macaroni and cheese. But it was dinner, and we liked it, and let’s forgive those meals for the sin they seem now to be, the heart surgery they brought my father, the thirty extra pounds that stick to my frame no matter what I do. Dad ate strange concoctions: jellied consommé from the Campbell’s can, which was kept in the refrigera- tor, topped with Worcestershire sauce; peanut butter, mayo, and ketchup sandwiches; and hardboiled eggs sliced into a bowl, topped with a gener- ous spoonful of mayo and a sprinkling of cornflakes. My brother David liked fried eggs, I liked scrambled. For four
It was the 1970s, and Long Island Sound was still rich with food: bluefish, fluke, weakfish, stripers. We had twelve pots in the water, which meant three or four lobster dinners a week in the high season. The sum- mer days were long, spent waiting to hear Dad’s car pull into the drive- way, then waiting again until we were out on the water, salt splashing on my face, wind tangling my hair. We’d cruise up to one of the empty bleach bottles that marked our pots, and the anticipation would build as I watched my father’s tan, muscled arms work, pulling up the line and resting the pot on the boat’s ledge. Sometimes we’d bring up a pot teeming with them. Dad sized them, checked for eggs, and tossed the illegals back over the side. The legal ones would go in the boat, and I’d hold my breath as he forced a white, ribbed
months, once, I ate only soup, inspired by Rus- sell and Lillian Hoban’s Bread and Jam for Fran- ces. But all winter we’d bide our time, waiting for that taste of summer, the flavor of salt and sea, of butter and sunshine, that was the first lobster of the year. WHEN I WAS twenty-five, I met a wonderful man, the funniest person I have ever known. We laughed, we ate Chinese food, we fell in love. And I foresaw a day when I would never eat lob- ster again. A wedding dress, a canopy. Poached salmon. Roast chicken. My father, a yarmulke sliding off his sun-freckled bald spot. My mother clapping her hands as I teetered above her on a chair, held up by strangers and friends, clinging tight to a handkerchief. On that day, I would trade steamed clams for companionship, oysters for love, lobster for a new way of life. Danny, my new love, was an Orthodox Jew. I caught him in a rebellious phase, and had great fun introducing him to the pleasures of Saturday morning cartoons, necking in public, and cheeseburgers. When my August birthday rolled around, I took him to Connecticut to meet my family. My dad had sold his lobster pots years before, but we piled into the car and drove to a casual shore restaurant, and sat, looking out onto the Sound. When the wait- ress came around, my dad said, “Beer, Danny?” He glanced at me and nodded. ‘We’ll have two pitchers of beer, steamers all around, and four lobster dinners,” Dad told her. Danny politely passed on the steamers–shellfish, including lob- sters, are not kosher. “It’s okay,” I whispered to him. “You’ll get corn and bread and a potato. I’ll eat your lobster.” “No, I’ll eat it,” he told me. Feeling more than a little guilty, I watched him take his first taste of lobster. “Oh my god. How can anything taste this good?” he asked me. I boiled a lot of lobsters for him over the next year, falling deeper in love with each passing month. At the Guggenheim Museum gift shop, we found a poster of the Picasso painting Lobster and Cat. “That’s you,” he told me, pointing at the spiky, gray lobster, “and that’s me,” he said, pointing at the brown cat, its fur on end, terrified. “Thanks a lot,” I told him, as he paid for the poster. He hung it on his apartment wall, and I’d look up at it sometimes and real- ize that he was right. Lobster and Cat. We were about as alike,
“Take… apart?” “So you’ve never done this,” he said, staring at me. “I guess not.” He grabbed two towels, held the front sec- tion of a lobster in his left hand, the back sec- tion in his right, and twisted, hard. In a second, there were two squirming lobster halves on the table. “Got it?” he asked me. “Got it,” I said through clenched teeth. I had boiled dozens of lobsters without a thought, but somehow dismemberment was another story. They’re bugs, I told myself Big, ugly bugs. You can step on a cockroach, right? So you can kill a lobster. I wound the towels around my hands and approached the smallest, most sluggish lobster on the pile. I flinched, let a tear drop down my cheek. The chef saw it, but said nothing. I picked up the lobster, twisted. “Harder. Do it fast. Twist. Now!” I did it. Made two pieces of lobster out of a live lobster. “Good. Now do the next one.” The second one was hard. The fifth was almost easy. And the tenth was like chop- ping a carrot. Freedom from compassion in ten easy lessons, thanks to a hard-ass chef. Four months later, I found myself working the garde-manger station at a lively East Vil- lage bistro. The lobster salad was a very popu- lar summer item, and within a few weeks I could turn a dozen cooked lobsters into salad meat in ten minutes flat. Dragging my tired body home on the subway late one night, I realized that the crowds of riders were giving me a wide berth. That exotic undersea per- fume in the air–that was me. I was mortified. And a little bit proud. Saltwater runs through my blood, after all. That first taste of lobster had contributed more to my fate and my choices than any-one might have guessed. I am the daughter of a lobsterman/paper executive and a first-grade teacher who can cook a mean loaf of SPAM. My plate runneth over with sweet corn; a brown Russet potato slashed open to reveal floury, buttered insides; a crisp sour-dough roll; and a bright red Long Island Sound lob- ster, claws dangling over the side, just waiting for me to dig in. Gretchen VanEsselstyn is a writer and edi- tor who lives in Brooklyn, NY. She is working on a novel about sex, psychotherapy, and res- taurant kitchens. *
similarly contentious. One night, after a few drinks, my brother took me aside. “You guys are getting really se- rious, huh? If you want, I’ll convert with you so you won’t be the only Jew in the family.” I imagined the canopy, and I knew I had been fooling myself. Danny was taking a vaca- tion from his life: dating me, eating shellfish, watching cartoons. He wasn’t going to give up his faith for lobster. I saw my revised plate for the years to come: baked potato, corn, a roll. And Danny. Was it enough? In the end, it didn’t matter. The relationship sputtered, faded into something else. I got to keep my friend Danny, and I got to keep my lobster. Sometimes I still wonder what my decision would have been. LOBSTERS FADED INTO the background of my life for a few years, barely causing a ripple of memory when I saw them on menus. Life in the corporate world took its toll on my joy and my health, and I, like my father so many years before, realized that I needed an escape. I left my job and enrolled in cooking school, taking the first step on a path that would lead me back to lobsters. Day Ten of cooking school. Already I have dumped a quart of chicken stock into my part- ner’s knife kit, slashed my finger open and bled all over a case of onions. But I, who have been known to get weepy because of a rude mail car- rier or a maudlin long distance commercial, am determined not to cry. My chef-instructor asks the class, “Has anyone cooked lobsters before?” I raise my hand. Finally, something I can do. Boiling lobsters never threw me. I’d watched my parents do it so often that I didn’t flinch the first time I threw my own Chinatown-bought lobsters into a boiling pot in my kitchen on Av- enue A. It wasn’t exactly the Maine coast, but they still tasted good. Lobsters were my first indication that, for me to eat, something had to die. Though I was a painfully sensitive child, the cold facts of carnivorism didn’t bother little Gretchen in the slightest. The lobsters went in the pot kicking and came out delicious, and that was the way of the world. “Okay, so you know that the tail and the claws should be cooked separately, right?” the chef asked. “Um, okay…” “So you’ll need to take apart these ten lob- sters for me.”
the next chapter
N EXT YEAR , THE YALE CLUB OF NEW YORK CITY WILL CELEBRATE the 100th anniversary of its 22-story clubhouse, located across the street from Grand Central Terminal. The Club itself turned 100 in 1997, having inhabited two other build- ings, including the current Penn Club, before moving to its current resi- dence at 50 Vanderbilt Avenue. I’ve been a member of the Yale Club for nearly 25 years, since I moved from Chicago to New York in 1989. Dues for a recent graduate then were just $75 per quarter, and I remember en- tering the Club for the first time, membership card at the ready (though I was not asked to show it), and walking slowly up the stately stone staircase to the Main Lounge, an imposing room nearly the width of the building with a two-story high coffered ceiling, a parquet floor covered with faded Orientals, portraits of Presidents Taft, Ford, and Bush I on the walls, large leather sofas and armchairs, and the ambiance of an era much more gen- teel than the go-go ‘80s–more akin to the late 19th century. A dark-haired young waiter named Gilbert wearing a crisp navy blue uniform sporting polished gold buttons sauntered over and inquired politely, “Would you like a drink, Sir?” Feeling instantly sophisticated, I ordered Campari on the rocks with a lemon twist, signed my name and number on the pale blue bar chit, settled deeply into my oversized chair with one of the day’s papers from the Lounge’s central table, and luxuriated in what would become my living room for the next decade. My actual living room was a 10 x 15 rectangle in my tiny one-bedroom apartment in Greenwich Village. I entertained guests at the Yale Club. I proposed to my first wife at the Yale Club. I hosted a private dinner for my boss in a book-lined back room of the Club’s 40,000-volume Library. The Club was a haven, a refuge, a quiet pause for an affordable after-work cocktail for a young publishing professional mak- ing a pittance in Manhattan. What I didn’t know then was that hidden behind the bright blue flag with the giant “Y” and the elegant Vanderbilt Avenue facade (badly in need of sandblasting) was an antiquated clubhouse suffering from years of de- ferred maintenance, a dysfunctional management structure in which the chef had become the de facto general manager, and a declining membership dissatisfied with the Club’s appearance and services but also opposed to any change that might resemble “modernization” and bring with it a loss of the Club’s curious traditions and treasured Ivy League charm. What I also didn’t know is that plans were already afoot in the Gover- nance, the group of members who serve on the Club’s governing Council and various committees, to upgrade both the building and the Club’s operations and bring the Yale Club up to the standards of excellence its name naturally implies. During the next decade, nearly every room of the Club, including its 140 guest bedrooms, would be renovated; “back of the house” problems such as temperamental plumbing and wiring dating from the early 1900s would be addressed, and the Club’s food and beverage offerings, activities and THE FUTURE OF HISTORY: THE YALE CLUB OF NEW YORK CITY’S NEXT 100 YEARS by Thomas G. Fiffer
YALE CLUB EXTERIOR, 1914
events, athletic facilities, catering, and overall service would all be raised to the five-star, world class level for which the Club is now well-known. On a recent morning, I sat down in a quiet corner of the Main Lounge, which now includes portraits of Presidents Clinton and Bush II, with Scott Glascock, ’74, Vice President of the Club and a long-serving Council mem- ber, to discuss the Club’s strategic plans for continuous improvement of both facilities and offerings over the next ten years and beyond. Naturally, Glascock began with some history. He served as head of the Club’s Mar- keting Committee at the start of the ‘90s, and while he and his colleagues brainstormed to develop marketing plans, he was told by the newly-hired General Manager, Alan Dutton, who had switched camps from the Har- vard Club, to hold off until the Yale Club had a superior product they could market with confidence. Major capital expenditures were allocated to renovate the Club’s lobby to make a better first impression on members and to update the men’s locker room, but it quickly became clear that current cash flow would not be sufficient to fund the necessary repairs and upgrades at the pace necessary to halt the membership decline, reinvigorate the Club, improve its financial picture, and secure its future. You might expect the Yale Club to have a few smart financial minds among its members, and Glascock, then an investment adviser, along with current Council Member and finance executive Kurt Jomo, ’80, and then Club Presi- dent Fred Leone, ’82, got creative and figured out a way for Yale to help the Club without sacrificing the Club’s cherished independence from the Uni- versity. Jomo and Leone met with David Swensen, Yale’s Chief Investment Officer, to arrange a deal in which the University guaranteed–but did not provide–a $10 million line of credit for the Club, enabling the Club to bor- row at a substantially reduced rate of interest. This money enabled the Club to ramp up the renovations, which included a complete redesign and structural remake of the Roof Dining Room (formerly the Ladies’ Dining Room before women could become members) and to begin rehabilitating the Club’s ten floors of guest bedrooms, two floors per year. The women’s locker room also received attention, squash courts were reconfigured and resurfaced, the Main Lounge was repainted to highlight the ornate ceiling’s detail, and Club staff– from management to servers–received training to provide a higher level of service to members. A new catering director, Kevin O’Brien, was hired from the Waldorf, and the Club started to become a place where members were eager to hold events for business and pleasure. At the same time, New York began its own financial comeback, and Glascock allowed that the Club’s ef- forts were well-timed to benefit from the rebounding economy. Soon the cash picture improved to the point where the Finance Committee could start pay- ing off the loan, eventually retiring the debt completely and ahead of schedule and establishing a substantial reserve fund for unexpected capital expenditures and long-term planning for the Club’s future. The resulting financial strength has enabled the Club to move from spending approximately $800,000 per
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