Category Archives: Clips

Vote Yes

You might have missed it back in ’92 when one “Raphael,” running on the Yes Party ticket, made a narrowly unsuccessful bid for the Presidency. “I went to New Hampshire as an announced write-in candidate for the Presidency of the United States of America,” Raphael—now known as Da Vid—writes in his autobiographical notes on www.lightparty.com. “Having had a limited budget, we lost to Bill Clinton.”

Damn that limited budget! Raphael/Da Vid surely would have won if only he had deeper pockets, and his proposed Synergistic Seven-Point Platform would be humming along, eight years strong now, like a well-oiled, cold-fusion-and-biohemp-powered mega-machine. Reports indicate that this year, his showing in New Hampshire again fell below (at least his) expectations. Maybe people were confused about the name change.

He changed the name of his Yes Party, too, to the Light Party, but don’t start thinking that all Da Vid does is sit around, thinking up new monikers. If you check out the party’s website, you won’t believe how many links buttress each of his wholistic [sic] plan’s seven points: Just under “Eco-nomic [sic] Reform,” there are 111 places to click to, many of them written by Mr. Vid himself. That’s a lot of codicils for something that’s supposed to be wholistic.

For argument’s sake, let us take as a given that a synergistic platform is only as strong as its weakest link. We will skip over the Light Party’s central cog—a randomly selected jury of 20 American citizens who, during their two-year terms, write ballot measures for the American people to vote on. This Council, by the way, “will adhere to a code of ethics of the highest standards and be of at least average IQ and competence.” We will skip over the proposed Global Peace Center on Alcatraz Island, the illustration of which resembles the cover of a Yes LP. We will ignore, for the time being, Project Peace, wherein we learn “The Compassion Exercise” (five things to think while looking at a stranger, i.e., “Just like me, this person is learning about life”). We will resist scrutinizing even when it is suggested that we try said Compassion Exercise on our romantic partners, old enemies, and, yes, alien life forms. We will focus, only, on Pillar #5, “Artainment.”

It’s a new art form that will subsume both television and music, a “holographic art form which activates holographic thinking.” For all its thoroughness, the website doesn’t hook you up with video links. This may be due to a limited budget. But there are some still shots of the art of tomorrow, and it is…kind of like a screen-saver. There’s also a catalogue of the music we’ll all be listening to while we watch it, featuring the hits of Karanesh, Deuter, Sychestra, and Robert Slap. And don’t forget Yanni.

Ftp. There goes the whole synergistic platform. There are a lot of things you can say about Clinton, but to our knowledge, he’s never endorsed Yanni. In election years, you have to be grateful for the little things.

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Listen to Your Elders

The Weekly checks in with area seniors to ask them what’s on their minds in the year 2000.

It’s the 21st century, and things don’t seem quite right. We want some community, and we want some wisdom. But sometimes it feels like the world is divided into 6 billion tiny pieces. So we’ve spoken to a few of the area’s senior citizens, just to ask them what’s on their minds in the year 2000. And as we face the not entirely improbable prospect of a massive market crash of our own, it might not be such a bad idea to listen to some people who have already lived through a major American economic depression — and banded together to beat it. True, all that closeness resulted in some post-war conformity that a younger generation fought, proudly, to bring down. But unless you believe the soda and auto ads, the spirit of the 1960s has been pretty much co-opted, and where we are now is starting to feel very cold. We asked some seniors to tell us about their early memories, and to cast their votes for the 20th century’s greatest innovations. We also asked for advice.


Katherine R. Dutton, 94

Shortly after Katie Dutton arrived in the United States from Austro-Hungary in 1913 with her family, her father sought out the man to whom he’d lent a large sum of money. Mrs. Dutton’s father had run a hotel in Vienna; he gave the loan to someone he’d considered a close friend for an oil venture. That friend did in fact strike it rich. But when her father confronted him, Mrs. Dutton remembers, “the man said he never knew who my father was.” There had been no contracts, no agreements on paper. Mrs. Dutton’s family had to start all over again. It was a harsh lesson in a changing world.

“In those days, a handshake was your bond,” Mrs. Dutton says from her apartment in Darien’s Stony Brook. “And when you shook my father’s hand, that was enough for him.”

She sits on a stiff-backed wooden chair, directly in front of a high desk with built-in glass cabinets. Pictures of her great-grand-nieces and nephews are framed all around her; she faces the enormous 1940s couch, neatly dressed in royal blue, a barrette clasping her white hair.

She was 8 years old when she first started school in New York City. Because she couldn’t speak English, she was placed in kindergarten. She struggled at first, tall and gawky, hurt by the other children’s teasing. One day she asked her teacher, who was also Hungarian, why she couldn’t be taught in her original tongue. “She said, ‘My dear child, you are now an American, and in America, we speak English. And you have to learn it,’ ” Dutton says. “And I did…And whatever I learned in school, I brought home and taught my mother and father.”

Mrs. Dutton eventually moved to White Plains, where she was married in 1930. Her husband, Bill, was a civil engineer who lost his job six months after their wedding. He would later find work with the New Deal, but during the first years of the Depression, Mrs. Dutton had to take on two bookkeeping jobs while he took part in Hoover’s version of the later, more extensive WPA programs. “Every third week, you’d work a week,” Mrs. Dutton says, “and you’d get $13 a week. And if it happened to rain on your week, you were out of luck. Digging ditches, cleaning gutters, whatever. The hardest thing my husband ever had to do was draw a straight line. Now he was digging ditches, cleaning out culverts and so forth. And he never forgot it.”

That memory is reflected in her advice to the 21st century, as it is with every soul who lived through the Depression. “You have to save,” she says. “You have to do with less. And you can.” It’s precisely the kind of sensible words that are increasingly hard to hear from underneath the piles of bills and the salesmen’s barking. Mrs. Dutton, who had to start work straight from high school, also stresses schooling. “Study,” she says. “Learn all that you can. And listen, and observe. Because there are so many things that you can learn just by that. I couldn’t even begin to name it all.”

The century’s greatest innovation? “The advances in medicine, for one thing,” she says. “All of the research and cures. They took care of influenza. And I wouldn’t be here if I didn’t have all my medications. I think by the grace of God, I feel fine. He’s not ready for me yet. The family calls me ‘Bionic Woman.’ ”


Werner F. Auerbacher, 90

Werner Auerbacher was born in Germany, near the French border, and lived in French-occupied Germany as a boy. “I saw the Germans go into France, and I saw them come back a few years later,” he says. “In school, too, we were told how great the Germans are. We were told the Rhine was a German stream, not Germany’s border.”

Energetic and thoughtful — days, he still works for a Westchester electronics firm — he tells stories of movement and speed. “My father bought his first car around 1920,” he says. “That was a Fiat. And I remember, we had a chauffeur, because my father didn’t know how to drive. The chauffeur’s dream was to drive a hundred kilometers an hour. And we managed it once,” he adds with a laugh, “on a very straight road, with enough wind behind us.” He remembers, too, flying in a two-seat leftover navy bomber in 1921, open to the sky.

“But these things really didn’t determine my life,” he says. “What determined my life was when I was in high school, and somebody told me that you could hear something without wires. I didn’t believe it. It was about 1923. Then I started to play around with it. Friends came to my house, and they heard the sounds and music without wires. They wanted to buy it for their parents, but you couldn’t buy that stuff yet. So I started to build it for them.”

Mr. Auerbacher set up a lottery, selling tickets to his family. He bought parts with his cut of the profits. He built his own sets in the pre-vacuum tube era, which naturally led to his first job with Phillips in Holland. From there, he moved to America in 1936 to continue his work — for 45 cents an hour, the minimum wage.

“My parents were very opposed to my becoming what in those days was called a radio engineer,” he says. “Everybody thought there was no future in it. And in 1939, when I was in a social gathering in New York City, somebody said, ‘What do you do for a living, young man?’ And I said, ‘I’m a radio engineer.’ He said, ‘You poor guy.’ I said, ‘Why am I a poor guy?’ He said, ‘We have 40 million families in the United States, and up to this point, we’ve made 28 and a half million radios. There’s 11 and a half more million radios to go, and then who needs a radio?’ So then I said, ‘I don’t agree with you.’ I said, ‘The next thing is picture-radio.’ ”

Mr. Auerbacher went on to become one of the engineers who helped come up with the early schematics for television. It’s no wonder that he sees radio as the biggest innovation of the 1900s. “Today, in the United States, the electronics industry is the biggest industry of all of them,” he says. “And it’s going to be more so. Not that we knew this back then, don’t get me wrong.”


Elizabeth Norman, 90

Elizabeth Norman grew up in Colorado, Idaho, and Utah when the West really was still wild. Utah had only been admitted to the Union 10 years before she was born. She remembers driving through Yellowstone Park in a Ford coupe, “with two girls sitting in the rumble seat.” She remembers President Coolidge coming out to visit the Black Hills of South Dakota. She rode horses — once, 40 miles in a single day — and remembers the same cowboys that have become infixed in American folklore forever. And she remembers flying.

“For two dollars,” she says, “you could fly in someone’s plane. My brother was a pilot. I was in the back, and he was in the front. I wasn’t even afraid, and I should have been. He was doing loops, and all of a sudden, I looked up at the sky, and it wasn’t sky, it was the earth. Oh, it was terrible. But we landed all right.”

She also remembers a feeling that has since been all but lost in this country: one of isolation. Though there were the railroads and phone lines, the western states remained relatively bustle-free, and that led to a distinctly regional character. She says Westerners had to be more outgoing, if they didn’t want to be lonely. And as communication systems have grown, so has a more homogenous America. Telephones and other instantaneous means of moving information are her choice for the 20th century’s most important innovation.

“We had telephones,” she says, “but we didn’t have the communication. Everything happened first on the East Coast. Even the Depression in the ’30s, didn’t hit us as fast as it did in the East Coast. But now, with television and radio and computers, everybody’s doing everything at the same time, from the East Coast to the Pacific Ocean…And I think change is happening too fast.” She gestures toward a few computers on the rear wall of the room at the Osborn Retirement Community. “I fear for the children with these things. I don’t think they’re reading enough. I’ve heard some awful things recently. I don’t know anything about it, and I don’t want to. I’m just too old to.”

Her advice is for young people to come speak with older people. “We’ve seen a lot more than people in the 1800s did,” she says. “We have a lot of things to say.”


C. Edwin Linville, 90

C. Edwin Linville, now dressed smartly in a sport coat and flowered-pattern tie, spent his boyhood in Pennsylvania and New Jersey before becoming a member of Princeton’s class of 1930. He remembers furiously debating against Republican children on the first-grade playground when America was called to join World War I. He even remembers that the political climate was still greatly influenced by the not-forgotten victory of Theodore Roosevelt and the Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War of 1898. Or maybe Mr. Linville is only throwing that in for poetic license: He became a history teacher in New York City, finishing his career as a principal, and, finally, superintendent of Manhattan’s ninth school district.

That path only came through later, though. Linville wonders what might have happened if he had kept his first job. After looking everywhere for work — 1930 was a bad year to graduate from college — he finally found a string-pulling uncle and a position at an insurance company in Youngstown, Ohio. “I was paid $21 a week,” he recalls, “which was very high wages for that particular time. I was very, very fortunate. Unfortunately, the job was very difficult. I had a group of 20 girls, and we were cutting up cards. I later found out that this was the beginning of computers. If I had stayed with that job, I probably would have become a computer expert, and it might have led to big things. But to me, it was very boring. We used long sticks to make holes in these cards. Punch-cards. Some of these girls were very efficient. Others were not. They would make mistakes, and then I would have to find the mistakes they made.”

Linville remembers his first commercial airplane flight — a 1929 jaunt across the English Channel — and believes advances in transportation, particularly the automobile, were the greatest innovation of the century. But if a shiny red Maxwell, like his father’s first car, can embody a nation’s changing material desires, the Great Depression will always stand in Mr. Linville’s mind as the ultimate turning point for America’s soul.

“The Depression changed everybody’s idea of everything,” he says. “I remember Roosevelt’s inaugural address: ‘The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.’ That was really engraved upon my mind, always.”

Mr. Linville’s advice reflects the cautiousness he learned while dealing with those tough times. “I would encourage kids not to be too adventurous,” he says. “Everyone should just slow their lives down and do things with more intelligence and thought, and less showiness.”


Antoinette De Paolo, 93

“I met my husband at a dance,” Antoinette DePaolo says. She’s seated at a table at Stamford’s Almost Family/Caretenders, sporting a cap and scarf with matching leopard-print patterns. “I was 20 years old. Mention some of the big band players. Tommy Dorsey? Ted Lewis? You just mention them, I danced with every one of them. I used to go out dancing four nights a week. I used to love to dance. And I used to teach Charleston, myself, in high school.”

Raised in New Jersey and later transplanted to North Stamford, where she and her husband brought up their family, Mrs. DePaolo worked on United Electronics’ submarine line during the war. “I was the forelady there,” she says. “I had a hundred girls under me. I had a medal from President Roosevelt, and a personal letter from him. We were in competition with another factory, and I got a thousand-dollar check at the end, when I quit. For being the best.”

But that’s not even the most memorable part of quitting. “When the second war was over, all those people running out in the street, everybody hugging each other,” she remembers, “whether you knew them or not. Children out in the street. Everyone. I think that was the greatest thing I’ll remember all my life. It was beautiful.”

Now, of course, echoing a few similar sentiments among the seniors, the idea of children out in the street isn’t quite as appealing. “The children today are very different from years ago,” Mrs. DePaolo says. “You know why? We had discipline. There’s not enough of it today. You know why? The parents are afraid to hurt their kids’ feelings. They give in to them and let them do what they feel like. Anything that’s going on, starts at home. I think you should be able to tell kids what’s right and wrong.”

A brief sampling of some of the right and wrong that might be told: “No smoking. Behave when you go out at night. You know what I’m referring to. Boys and girls getting together? There’s too much of that going on. There’s so much of it. First they have the child, then they get married. That’s the new style today, and I think it’s terrible. And just be nice, and love people. And take advice from your parents.”


Tea at the New Canaan Inn

Seated in front of the fire at the New Canaan Inn on Oenoke Ridge was a circle of 12 ladies taking afternoon tea. It would not do to disclose their ages; let them merely stand, here, as the chorus. Over the course of an hour’s conversation, they debated matters of parenting and immigration, feminism and credit cards. One said, afterward, that she wasn’t accustomed to the round-table format: Matters of public discord haven’t always been considered ideal conversation for tea-time. Discussion groups are kind of ’70s, when you think about it.

The greatest innovation of the 20th century?

“First radio.”

“Computer.”

“Someone who drops out of school.”

“Transportation.”

“Marconi.”

“Einstein’s theory of relativity.”

“Appliances. Edison’s electric.”

“Cloning.”

“Airplanes.”

Are people different today?

“Yes, they are. They’re very impolite. They have no manners. We had manners when we were young.”

“Did we? Not everybody.”

“Why are the children the way they are today? The mothers work. We were home.”

“I don’t think they’re different. I don’t see it.”

“There’s a higher cost of living.”

“There’s a greater influx of immigrants.”

“I wonder. I don’t see how it could be.”

“We’re all immigrants…We can’t say that any family didn’t come over, because they did.”

“Oh, yes we can.”

“No. They all came. They went through Ellis Island.”

“People are people. And I don’t think they’re different.””There’s an action and a reaction. You gain in one way, but you lose in another. For example, you gain more money, more prestige. Women have more to say, but what is the reaction? Less home life, less morality. Less bringing up children.”

What advice would you give for the 21st century?

“Don’t get in debt.”

“If you get married, for heaven’s sake, stay married.”

“Get the best education you can.”

“Assess your own gifts, and don’t go into a round peg when you’re suited for a square one.”

“What rhymes with ‘buy?’ ‘Cry.'”

“You are responsible for whatever you do. If you buy something, you must pay for it.”

“Follow your heart.”

“Don’t flirt with the other girls.”

“Don’t spend more than you earn.”

“Be patient. Don’t get discouraged. And exercise.”


Bill Malta, 95

Bill Malta grew up in Guadalajara, Mexico, and came over to the United States on a visit in 1928. “I come over here for visit, and I say, I like it,” he says. “I stay over here. I say, this is my place to stay. It can’t be any more better than this, over here. Live very nice, over here. So I come over here, and I like it.” This, along with his warm smile, is Mr. Malta’s refrain. No matter the question, he turns it back into a plug for America.

“You see no more horses, no more wagons. Nothing but the trucks and cars. It’s better yet. I like it. I always say, ‘United States the best place to live.’ And nobody’s going to tell me different.” Or, “I was working on the railroad. Fifteen, 20 people, and the boss. Shoveling up coal. Over here in Stamford. For everybody, not only me, for everybody, it’s the best place to live.”

But all along, you know there’s much more to it: The immigrant’s rough adjustment, the hard work, the family. After our interview, he lingered in the doorway. It seemed as though there was something he wanted to say, but he couldn’t quite find the words. After a minute of silence, he finally smiled and said, “OK, then. Thank you very much,” and started to walk out.

“Bye, Bill,” I said. “Hasta luego.

He stopped. “Hasta — oh, you speak Spanish, too?”

Un poco,” I said, my usual response. I held up my fingers as if measuring a pinch of salt. “Un poquito.

He brightened. “Oh, that’s all right! That’s very good! It’s very good, you go to Mexico, you can talk with somebody else. That’s good!”

“I can say, ‘Quiero una cerveza.‘”

He laughed for a long time at that, then turned away again. “OK, thank you very much, then.”

“OK,” I said. “Adios, amigo.” I started gathering my things. On the table, the tape recorder was still running.

Bill came back into the room. Smiling, he met my eyes. He said, “Oh, you speak Spanish, too?”

“Oh, I don’t know,” I said. I was a little confused, and not entirely sure I wanted to have the same conversation all over again.

“That’s all right, that’s the way we learn!” he said enthusiastically. “When I come over to the United States, I don’t even know one word of English. It’s not hard to learn. It’s not hard if you’re willing to. There’s nothing that’s impossible for a man to learn, if they have the courage. Some people are too shy. That’s not right. You got to learn by yourself. Enjoy your life, too. That’s the way it’s got to be. You can’t be over there” — at this, he huffed up his chest, stuck out his lips, and swaggered a little — “some kind of big man. The best is to get along. A lot of people, they don’t want to mix it up with some people. But the best place is to be among the people over there, enjoy yourself. It passes by. The time pass for you, too. A lot of people, before you know it, start fighting each other like cats and dogs. No, the best policy is to get along to everybody. I guess it’s my opinion, too.”

“It’s true,” I said. “You’re right.”

“Enjoy your life like that! What use to start fighting for nothing? I don’t like it like that, myself. I like all kind of people talking nice all the time. But no, some people, they don’t even want a conversation with anybody. They are like — grown up in the woods or something. No, the best policy is to get along with everybody. That’s the best for me.”

“It’s easy,” I said, “and it’s hard.” I don’t really know what I meant by that.

Bill laughed anyway. “Yeah! Right! Well, nice to see, to be over here. And thank you very much.”

“Thank you. Thank you.”

“Thank you,” he said again, and this time he almost made it to the activity room.

But then I said “Gracias.” It just slipped out. Or maybe I didn’t want him to leave.

Gracias,” he said from the hall. “OK.”

I picked up my coat. When I turned around again, he was back. Brightly, he asked, “Oh, you speak Spanish?”

Un poco,” I said.

“Oh, that’s all right,” he said. “That’s the way you — ”

Un poquito.”

“You know, if you converse with the people like that, to talk Spanish, you learn everything. It’s not hard to learn a language if you have the will to. But if you don’t have no will, you no learn nothing. I used to work with some people over there, Polish people. I used to know a lot of words in Polish. When I get out of that job, I lost it. When you learn some kind of language over there, you learn a lot of bad words.” He was laughing hard now. “I’m telling you, any kind of language over there, what you’re going to learn is the bad words! It’s no good!” He turned back out of the room, still laughing. His back to me, he said, “Well, take it easy.”

“Take it easy,” I said. I almost added “Suave,” but I knew he had places to be.

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It’s Cooler in Calcutta

Bikram’s yoga is not called “hot” for its popularity alone.

An alert reader might note that this is the second piece attributed to this same writer within the “Wellbeing & Enrichment” issue. The reason is simple. The powers-that-be in the Weekly offices, whom we refer to as “management,” bear the not-altogether-mistaken conviction that I am 95 percent-composed of the following five elements: coffee, hamburgers, refined sugar, deep-fried Chinese takeout chicken, and beer. (The other 5 percent of me is burritos, which are healthy.) Given this structural situation, guess who got the hot-yoga assignment this week?

“Hot yoga” is the term people have been using lately when they’re talking about Hatha yoga, a 90-minute class developed by Bikram Choudhury in the 1970s. The program is divided into 26 poses, half of them standing, half of them lying down (“Hatha” comes from “ha” — sun — and “tha” — moon — and represents, among other things, a harmonious mastery of body and mind). It’s been the exercise of choice among celebrities and laymen the world over; it is somehow comforting to know that while your body is bent into impossible formations out here, Michael Jackson and Madonna are going through the same contortions in Bikram’s original studio in Beverly Hills, or in any of his small empire’s other outposts around the country. But Bikram’s yoga is not called “hot” for its popularity alone.

The studio at the Yoga Center of Greenwich (125 Greenwich Ave., below Lechter’s) has got to be nearly 100 degrees. There’s one of those long bean bags, shaped like a snake, lying in front of the door to keep the heat in. Space heaters and humidifiers are positioned throughout the room. The students, nearly 40 of them, crowd in, staking their next 90 minutes’ territory with a single spread towel and a bottle of water. I, of course, forgot the water. My outfit wasn’t so hot, either, but we won’t get into that.

The intention, says Yoga Center director Toni Goodrich, is for the room’s climate to imitate Calcutta’s. It was there that formal yoga was first developed — as long as 5,000 years ago, Goodrich says. And it wasn’t just by chance. Calcutta’s balmy heat proved ideal for keeping muscles limber and flexible, allowing for more and more advanced pretzel positions. This mid-January week, the forecast says it will be sunny and 84 degrees there. In Goodrich’s studio, it’s even warmer.

I admit I was feeling a fair degree of stress at first. I never have even been able to touch my toes, and it’s not because my legs are too long. It didn’t help that Greenwichians of a varying but nonetheless baseline sveltitude were circulating nonchalantly in a rainbow of lycra, no doubt ready to tuck their big toes behind their earlobes at the merest suggestion. They all brought their own towels, and in the meantime, I was wearing corduroy. Goodrich gave me a seat and talked me down. Then she sent me around back to change, and handed me a towel as I passed back through the door to the studio, hot air hitting me like a bath.

They set me up in the rear of the room, near the door, in case I needed to beat a hasty retreat due to heatstroke. The room smelled like the hallway leading to an indoor pool: enclosed, warm, but not quite chlorinated. All around me, people were stretching. There was some quiet conversation, but many of the participants seemed to have come to relish a little rare solitude. I noticed that most of the men were wearing bathing suits; the women were in leotards. I think they could all see my underpants when I bent over to touch my toes. OK, kneecaps. I was already sweating.

Then class started, and I found out what sweating was really all about. Goodrich came in, wearing a black bodysuit, and reminded us to respect the bounds our bodies would set. The class contained both beginning and advanced students, she said. But every student, regardless of experience level, can be challenged and reap the rewards of a complete workout. And I found, as the class progressed, that I wasn’t as doomed as I thought I would be. Granted, some of the poses required a more developed sense of balance than I currently possess, and flexibility remained a concern. But Goodrich walked the room, gently moving a hand-held ankle or a slightly mis-turned trunk, offering encouragement to her students by their first names. (As we got sweatier, she had to wipe her hands on her bodysuit after helping us click into our positions.) I started to feel really good, even as I huffed and puffed and occasionally groaned and perspired in neat, regular droplets onto the towel. I found sitting on my heels to be a particular challenge — from all the driving I do, my feet cramped in front of me, I think my ankles aren’t used to bending the other way. The liver exercise was pretty strenuous, too, after all that I’d tied on over the holidays. Goodrich warned us that we might feel a little nauseous on that one. She pronounced it “nau-see-us,” though, and all along she was reminding us to breathe through our spines, so I still felt pretty soothed.

The best part of the class was the end: After the final stretch, Goodrich told us to lie flat on our backs, at which point she turned out the lights and left the room. We lay in silence. One by one we stood to leave. I was one of the last to get up. I couldn’t remember a time my body felt so simultaneously taxed and refreshed. I felt the odd compulsion to treat myself well, to speak softly, to eat spinach. When I finally came out to join everybody outside in the cool, cool office, Goodrich instructed me to go straight to the mirror. “Look at yourself!” she said. I did, and I was flushed bright red, and soaking wet, as if I’d just been stuck in the rain, but I had a goofy grin on my face that only broadened when I tried to look serious. I could tell that everyone around me felt similarly exhilarated, and it was as good a place to be as I’ve ever been.

I know that my pleasure came partly because I didn’t expect to be a yoga prodigy: I was just going to do what felt comfortable, and I wound up completely blind-sided by the pleasure of the challenge. The other students told me that it only gets better, the more classes you attend. It sounded like the kind of addiction I could live with. I just need to get one of those bodysuits.

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Who Needs a Stairmaster?

Scaling the stairwells of Stamford’s glass towers—for exercise.

The 17-story Stamford Marriott is conspicuous from the I-95 slipstream, one of the long row of glass towers on Tresser Boulevard, which replaced Main Street during urban renewal’s headiest 1970s hour. Every day, business travelers pause at the windows on the top floor on their way out of Vuli, the hotel’s restaurant. They take a deep breath and watch the cars dart far below. They press the elevator button and wait to be carried down to the parking garage.

The Marriott does have a stairwell, but judging from its decor — Warsaw chic, in an otherwise fairly posh environment — and its unassuming entrance, an unmarked door just past the gift shop in the lobby, people don’t use it much. But I needed the exercise, having recently ingested a disastrous spread of deep-fry at the Town Center food court/heart disease emporium (the culprit this time was Master Wok and the $4.76 General’s chicken). God knows, I wasn’t going to get any exercise over there, where the escalators arc to every possible destination like rainbows in heaven. So I headed for where the buildings were tall, figuring I’d do a few strides on a real-life stairmaster in climate-controlled comfort.

After all, some people refuse to use elevators, period. Stairwells, they say, are all that we’ve got left. Life realities may require us to drive everywhere, especially in pedestrian-hostile towns like Stamford, but once you’re in the building, you still have one chance to affirm your mobility despite the Machine’s seductive vote for stasis: Use the stairs. It’s a choice that has even received a little institutional legitimacy of late, now that the annual “vertical marathon,” a race to the top of the Empire State Building, is entrenched in the calendar of Extreme New York.

There are a few things to consider before entering the stairwell. First, you have to find one. Not every building lets you use the stairs. Some believe this is because management wants its employees soft and fat, so that they may be eaten if necessary. Management, on the other hand, says it’s for security purposes. Second, if you’re climbing the stairs of a building other than your home or office, you might need to consider your attire. “It takes a certain diplomacy,” says a New Haven-based stairclimber who favors the 19-story Omni Hotel. “It’s tricky because you have to wear nice enough clothes, but they also have to be suitable for exercise.” Third, you need to consider walking up, but riding the elevator down — 19 downhill stories can be hard on the knees. And fourth, you need to remember where you are.

“I lost track of where I was, and ended up in the Omni kitchen,” our stairclimber says. “I kind of startled the chefs. They just looked at me, and I stood there, completely out of breath, trying to disguise my beet-red face.”

Between the third and fourth floors at the Marriott, I was already feeling the burn. By the fifth floor, I was breathing heavily. And this was only at a steady walking clip. Still, I kept telling myself that I was something of a tough guy for performing the exercise while wearing a winter coat, scarf and book bag. Bag’s contents: Three books, chapstick (but a very heavy chapstick). My steps echoed off the concrete walls and hard floor. I wanted to stop and rest at the eighth floor, but persevered, counting the steps. Sixteen steps per floor. I tried to do the math but couldn’t remember my times tables. At level 12, the hard floor gave way to a green carpet with little white flowers on it, and the fluorescent lighting became indirect and incandescent. I suppose this was because I was approaching the restaurant. By the 16th floor, the lamps were enshrouded in an approximation of crystal; the carpet took on a rich, tropical pattern; the walls were papered. I couldn’t make out the pattern because my head was swimming. And then, finally, I emerged at the top, where the businessmen take in the view of the sound. Nobody was up there. I stared out the window and fogged it up a little. I counted my pulse: 240. It took me three and a half minutes to get to the top. I walked the path to the restaurant, flanked by dozens and dozens of poinsettias, and considered ordering a drink. But I was too out of breath to speak.

For some reason I felt compelled to continue at the next building down Tresser. That would be the massive, perfectly rectangular, blue-and-white-striped glass box at 1 & 2 Stamford Plaza. I moseyed inside and looked for the stairwell in its accustomed spot: An anonymous metal door on the other side of the elevators. I found it, but this one was posted with a sign that said “Emergency Exit: No Re-entry. Stairs monitored by security.” Being a chicken, I slunk away. I did ask the friendly, on-duty Burns Security representative about it, though. He said he sympathized, but I’d set off an alarm, and that wasn’t something he particularly wanted to deal with. I ran across the same fate at the next two buildings on the block: Lots of security, stairwell doors with big red signs on them and no doorknobs.

Frustrated, I set my sights on the Holiday Inn Express across the street. The place was totally empty as I walked through the Muzak and past the bored desk staff, trying to look like I had a reason for being there. I found the elevators, but no stairs. Finally I asked somebody where they were. A gentleman with a West Indian accent told me that only the staff are allowed to use the stairs, unless it’s an emergency (in which case one hopes the staff is still allowed to use them). I told him I want to get some exercise — “General’s chicken,” I added, patting my belly, trying to get extra points — so he directed me to another stairwell around the back of the building. I thanked him, went outside and walked to where he sent me. I wound up at the loading dock, where there was nothing but a bunch of dumpsters and a cleaning woman having a smoke. Inside, I’m sure the guy who directed me was looking out the window, cracking up.

I didn’t need him anyway. The Holiday Inn was a measly 12 stories. I had a taller trophy in mind. Last stop would be the Ich bin ein Berliner megalith of the Bayview Towers, 300 Tresser, 21 levels of red-painted concrete booty. I stood around in the cold cinderblock-and-metal vestibule for a while, reading the notices posted on the walls — “Don’t forget to pick up your copy of the Bayview Towers Tidings“; How To Use The Intercom System — lurking, until a maintenance guy let me in. I suppose I looked unthreatening. I slipped behind the elevators and found the stairwell. The door had no knob, but someone had jimmied the bolt with a screwdriver, leaving a gap between the door and the frame. I pried it open with my fingers, set my stopwatch at zero, and commenced climbing. It was, again, another set of stairs clearly intended for emergencies only. It was dark and smelled stale, all concrete, no ventilation. By the 10th floor, I had to grip the metal handrail; breathless, I greedily sucked in the wet air and wondered how long it’d been sitting there in that shaft. At this point, I think I entered a Zone. Before I knew it, I’d reached the top, 21 floors in 3:12. A new record. I pushed out into the bright light of the top floor and stood on the hallway’s shiny linoleum floor. There were minty green doors, pale mauve frames around the elevator’s metal doors.

I thought about the stairclimber’s lone journey to the top, through passages where you never see another soul. You almost feel you’re somewhere you shouldn’t be, when you take the liberty of doing something yourself. Somehow you even wind up feeling less alone on the stairs than you do every other day on the silent elevator, where you stand in a group of people, everyone staring up at the light just to know when they can step off.

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On the Surgeon General’s Quite Comforting Report on Mental Health

Only a few weeks ago, it would have been safe to assume that Jewel held a veritable lock on the Holiday Feelgood Prize for her latest collection of Christmas poems and profundities. But no one considered the dark-horse late entry from Washington—Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General—which comes as a soothing tonic to those who feared that, come Y2K, all the computers would be fine but all six billion world-wide humans would have a simultaneous nervous breakdown. Apparently the future is much more promising than that.

Dec. 13’s report marks the first time the Surgeon General has ever addressed the matter of mental health, in a 458-page document available online at www.surgeongeneral.gov or by calling, toll-free, 1-877-9-MHEALTH. Its calm, understanding tone makes it easy to picture its catalyst, U.S. Surgeon General David Satcher, wearing a cardigan sweater and smoking a pipe as he dictates it from a soft leather den chair, occasionally pausing to smile knowingly, pondering the wild world we live in. The reality may be that the report required two years, a massive staff, and an obsessive bibliography to complete—but after reading it, you feel like you’re going to get a clap on the shoulder, the keys to the sedan, and a warm “Everything’s going to be all right.”

The report’s eight chapters cover mental health’s scientific foundations and a history of how it has been handled. Children’s, adults’, and older adults’ differing requirements are addressed. There are sections on the increasing roles of HMOs in providing help and treatment, as well as a chapter devoted to the legal and ethical issue of confidentiality. It closes with “A Vision for the Future”—a formula requiring the elimination of stigma, continuing medical research, more universal coverage, and more specialized treatments.

A lot of it is stuff most of us secular humanists already knew: That mental illness isn’t just major psychosis, but a wide range of conditions that affect us all, directly and indirectly. The report lists Alzheimer’s disease, depression, and attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder as some common examples that weren’t considered treatable mental illness until relatively recently. The common ground is that whatever the cause, the result is “distress and/or impaired functioning”; the bottom line is that, in the vast majority of cases, treatment exists, just like with physical ailments.

The problem has always been that there’s always been a lot more stigma going to a psychiatrist than there is going to the orthopedist after you turned your ankle stepping on a tennis ball. For this, the report says, we can blame Descartes and his philosophical separation of mind and body. (It’s always the French’s fault.) Mental processes are, in fact, physical: Actual transfers of chemicals and electrical impulses can just as easily swing a leg as a mood. So now, after centuries of alienation and asylums, the government’s clearing the air by saying that “almost everyone has experienced mental health problems in which the distress one feels matches some of the signs and symptoms of mental disorders”; that at least one in five Americans is affected by mental illness; that major depression has as much of a Disease Burden (calculated by lost years of healthy life to disability or premature death) as blindness and paraplegia; and that “nearly two-thirds of all people with diagnosable mental disorders do not seek treatment.”

If those who haven’t sought treatment in the past were to do so now, it might result in a national medical revolution. By braving a few potentially askance looks from the folks in the next pew, those looking to bring about positive change in their mental health would spur new research and treatment. Effective treatment is the proven remedy to the social stigma connected with mental illness; people most fear what they deem irrational and incurable. At the turn of the last century, for instance, tertiary syphilis and pellagra were considered mental illnesses—until antibiotics and niacin supplements, respectively, were found to cure them. Then the diseases were moved to the “physical” end of the medical encyclopedias and suddenly were no longer perceived as raving madness. As time passed, however, the stubborn few illnesses whose causes and remedies remained nebulous came to be viewed with greater suspicion and fear. Now that most mental disorders “are responsive to specific treatments,” the report says, “much of the negative stereotyping may dissipate.

“With rare exceptions, few persons are destined to a life marked by unremitting, acute mental illness,” it goes on to say. “The most severe, persistent forms of mental illness tend to be amenable to treatment, even when recurrent and episodic.”

Needless to say, if all of us feel symptoms akin to mental illness at some point, and if we all shake the fear of seeing a professional about it, the current health management system may not be perfectly poised to handle the roughly 280-million-patient influx. But even in the past year, both public and private health coverage have made decisive moves into the mental health arena, recognizing that both physical health and work productivity depend on solid mental health.

“Parity calls for equality between mental health and other health coverage,” our Surgeon General says with a chuckle, taking a long pull from his pipe. “Now get out of here, Tiger, and paint the town red.”

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Bethel: Taking Aim at Target

Nestled directly behind quiet and neatly landscaped homes in the Stony Hill neighborhood of northern Bethel, the 17 acres belonging to Yankee Gas hadn’t drawn much attention since they were sold to the utility company (then Connecticut Light and Power) in 1962. There’s an office building on the property, and a garage with a driveway that faces Route 6. CL&P, and later Yankee Gas, parked trucks there. But any stranger looking at the front yards and Christmas lights in this community would be hard-pressed to say it’s not a residential neighborhood—and a nice, cozy one, at that.

Nonetheless, when Yankee Gas announced earlier this year that it was deep-sixing the roughly 35,000-square foot building and selling its attendant acreage, the redevelopment plans that poured in were hardly residential. Unless places like Home Depot, Ames, or Target Stores have added dwelling units—between dog houses and easy chairs, alphabetically—to their obsessively completist inventories and 150,000-square-foot castles.

There are certain American realities going on here. There’s the fact that open land is never open for long, especially when it’s of the endangered East Coast variety. There’s the fact that development is generally less of an option than a mandate. There’s the fact that utility companies sell their land all the time, and that nobody expects them to take anything less than top dollar. Witness similar goings-on in 28 other communities in Connecticut, including Waterbury, Easton, Weston, Fairfield, and Danbury.

But then, according to a group of area residents who’ve formed the Stony Hill Neighborhood Association to rally against the development, there’s the fact of a solemn promise. Is it only in pick-up truck commercials and John Cougar songs that an American’s word is seen as the defining bond?

Many members of the Stony Hill group have lived in the same houses since before CL&P showed up in ’62. All along, they’ve never worried that the land would be transformed into a commercial-industrial behemoth. They didn’t worry because of a written promise included in the sale’s original documentation. Originally, public utilities were only entitled to less than ten acres of undeveloped land. CL&P wanted 13.45, so the Bethel Planning and Zoning Commission (P&Z) had to grant a special exception. According to the P&Z papers filed by the Bethel town clerk’s office on May 22, 1962, “the special exception requested is hereby granted…subject to the condition that no building, present or future, be located anywhere except within the confines of the areas indicated for initial service building and garage.”

Which means that no new building could ever exist outside the current office’s 35,000-square-footprint. If the original text is to be taken at its word, the site’s latest two development proposals—163,000 and 130,000 square feet, respectively—equate to some seriously ugly step-sisters trying to wiggle into Cinderella’s slipper.

The first problem, according to Bethel town planner Joseph Potenza, is that a “special exception” doesn’t carry much weight. A deed restriction would be another story. The second problem is that, though the Stony Hill Association says that the Yankee Gas property was originally zoned for residential use, it was re-zoned to commercial/industrial (C/I) in the mid-1970s. The residents say they weren’t informed of the change: If they knew about it, they would have fought it. Others suggest they just weren’t paying attention.

“How could they not know what’s going on in their own home town?” asks Violet Mattone, executive director of the Bethel Chamber of Commerce. “It’s like a tower going in next door to you. All of a sudden you see the guys building the tower. Until then, you haven’t read the newspaper, or you haven’t paid attention. And I think that’s what’s happening out there.”

“Really, this has nothing to do with zoning,” says Brian Tobin, a member of the Stony Hill Association’s advisory committee. “Even if the world came to an end, they agreed at that point never to make it any bigger than it is. And that’s not the case.”

***

In October, with the 163,000-square-foot development proposal on the table, the Stony Hill Neighborhood Association formed, raised money, and hired a lawyer. They put up signs. They strategized in community meetings—using parliamentary procedure, opening with the pledge of allegiance—and showed up in force at the public hearings that would determine their neighborhood’s fate. They didn’t want a megastore. They didn’t want its 787 proposed parking spaces. They didn’t want the added traffic, the bright lights, the noise pollution, or the dreaded “sky glow.” They were concerned that the development’s significant topographical changes would affect their septic systems and their wells. They foresaw a drop in their property values and a negative impact on local business.

And they won. “The regulations are not only developed to allow building owners to use their property for whatever uses are permitted,” says the association’s lawyer, Chris Leonard. “They’re also designed to protect the prople that live around it.”

Round two: A 130,000-square-foot proposal for a Target store, proposed, like the first plan, by Stamford’s R.D. Hendon Realty company.

“They like to call it Targé,” Tobin says. “It’s pronounced ‘Target!’”

The next public P&Z hearing, scheduled for 7 p.m. on Jan. 18 at the Bethel Municipal Hall, will be all about the Target proposal. Though the association has been through a similar scenario, things might be a little bit different this time. All along, the association has inferred that town hall’s silence over the matter indicates a pro-development attitude: The property would obviously bring in no small sum of tax dollars. Now, while they’ve gathered allies from outside—State Senator David Cappiello, for instance, is on their side—it seems that support from within the town of Bethel is dwindling. The Chamber of Commerce and local businesses haven’t stepped up. P&Z may be an objective body, but they’re the ones who supposedly snuck in that change to C/I zoning. On top of that, the association’s president, Beth Cavagna, has resigned to fill a slot in the P&Z office, and members feel betrayed all over again.

“It was so awkward. It was horrible,” Cavagna says. “But it was OK with the group. I was expecting to get strung up and hung. They were upset, but this was an opportunity I couldn’t pass up. I’m still doing good for the town, just now I’m getting paid for it.”

***

Gene Rubino has lived in Bethel since 1945. He owns the Stony Hill and Berkshire Inns on Route 6—the Berkshire Inn stands right next to the contested property, and would be the Target Store’s nearest non-residential neighbor. “I think the application fits the area,” he says. “It’d be a nice addition to the Route 6 business community. I have been in touch with every single one of our businesses on this street, and there’s not one person opposing it. Not one single business.”

What about the houses next door? Rubino brushes it off. “None of the neighbors are even going to get hurt,” he says. “[Target has] already told all the neighbors, ‘We will plant shrubbery in back of all your homes. As you wish.’ I’ve never seen a company so willing to help the neighborhood.”

Target PR spokeswoman Patty Morris, calling from the corporation’s Minneapolis office, points out that the company’s policy is to donate five percent of its pre-tax profits to the municipalities that host its stores, earmarking funds for education, the arts, and family violence protection. Five percent of $23 billion (1998 profits), even divided over 914 stores, isn’t peanuts. If the Yankee Gas property is going to become sprawl anyway, why not let it be sprawl that gives back a little? Besides, Target doesn’t claim to be the kind of store that wants to drive all the little guys out of business.

“We can’t even compete with the mom-and-pop stores,” Morris says modestly.

How’s that? According to all those ads on television, Target has everything.

“Well, we can’t compete with them,” Morris says, “in that we don’t look to them as competitors, is maybe how I should phrase it.”

“Target’s a wonderful store,” Rubino says. “And, incidentally, they have a nickname for it in Florida—they call it Targé .”

***

The Stony Hill Neighborhood Association would love a park on the property. But if that were an impossibility, they’d be open to a low-traffic building like the gas company’s—a health center, perhaps. They’re not even complete sticklers for the 35,000-square foot cap. They just don’t want something the size of an airport in their literal back yards. “Even if they came up with something that’s 50,000 square feet,” Tobin says, “I don’t think you’d have a lot of objection.”

Target, of course, promises to be a good neighbor. “Whenever we build a new store,” Morris says, “we try very hand to construct it in conjunction with neighboring residents and/or business, because we want to be a part of the community. And I can’t speak specifically to this case, but would certainly think that our developers and real estate managers are very interested in ensuring that they have the community on their side as they try to move forward with their projects.”

Tobin flips through his papers from the original CL&P settlement, landing on the minutes from a Jan. 30, 1962 P&Z public hearing. Richard F. Gretsch, manager of the Housatonic Division of the CL&P Company, stands to address the town. “Speaking for the company,” he says, “I am sure that our neighbors will find that we will do everything we possibly can to be good neighbors.”

If it turns out that the special exception—the solemn promise—is now null and void, Tobin says, there’s really no reason not to question those words as well.

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Drumming the Years Away

In the bright white common room of the Norwalk Senior Center in SoNo, all the dining tables pushed back against the walls, Stu Losen stood in front of a semi-circle of attentive seated seniors.

He also stood in front of a big conga drum. In between descriptions of the drum’s history—translated for the mostly Spanish-speaking audience by Senior Center coordinator Luz Escobar—Losen broke into thunderous rhythms. He explained that drums were originally used to communicate messages across long distances in Africa. “Mensajes, mensajes,” some seniors whispered to each other. He played two or three basic beats, from West African to calypso to salsa. At the word “salsa,” the ladies in the corner cried out “Puerto Rican! Salsa! Salsa! Merengue!” and one of them shook a tambourine she brought for the occasion.

Losen, a Westport-based psychologist and self-described “old ham,” has been drumming for sixty years. (“I just turned 70,” he says. “The older I get, the younger I feel.”) He studied with famous African drummer Baba Olatunji, the force behind the popular Olatunji! Drums of Passion CD, and leads drum circles throughout the region. This was his second trip to the South Norwalk satellite of the Norwalk Senior Center, back by popular demand. After the five-minute introduction, he handed out the percussion instruments he’d brought with him: Maracas, tambourines, wood blocks, cowbells, and a striated gourd that one gentleman, wearing his winter parka, volunteered to play with a plastic fork.

“Where’d you get that?” one woman asked Losen, looking at the gourd

“In Puerto Rico,” Losen said. “Either San Juan or Mayaguez.”

“¡Viva Puerto Rico!” someone shouted. Then Losen laid down a backbeat—and the room exploded with music.

Smiles flashed and people sang. At one point, after an extended jam and a version of “Guantanamera,” the seniors stepped forward with a song of their own: A traditional Puerto Rican style in which the group plays full-throttle, then suddenly stops while someone tells a joke. At the punchline, everyone laughs and hoots as the beat suddenly slams back in. For the last song, a group formed to dance in the center of the room, including Elsie Ramos, who said she’d had foot surgery that same morning.

“Getting them to dance was absolutely a delight,” Losen said afterward. “Drumming is an international language. Even if you can’t speak the local tongue, it’s getting people to communicate through rhythm.”

He played for exactly half an hour, then left. The seniors immediately moved to the bingo table. But for a little while, at least, there was no question that the deepest, most joyful jam in all of Norwalk was taking place between those four walls on West Ave. Should any devotees wish to follow Losen to his next gig, he will be participating in another drum circle on December 20 at the Weston Grange.

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Armed & Ready

The laws get tougher—and gun ‘fanatics’ know the fine print.

George Littlejohn, crew-cutted with aviator-style wire eyeglasses and a blue sweater with “Colt’s” stitched across its chest, shows me his collection of guns in the yellow light of his East Hartford trailer’s living room. As his wife’s brood of exotic birds looks on from every wall, clawing their cages, he sets pieces on his coffee table one at a time: 9-mm cartridges, a 4-inch and a 2-inch .357 revolver, a .308 Winchester with a laser sight, some of his best paper targets — five out of six shots in the center ring — and plain and hollow-tip bullets. He handles the weapons safely and respectfully, never pointing them, handing them to me fully opened.

“I have a friend who isn’t into guns,” Littlejohn says. “After the shooting in the lottery building, he was joking and said, ‘Hey, George, you weren’t up at the Connecticut Lottery building, were you?’ And I said, ‘No, but I wish to God I was.’ He thought about that for a minute, and then he said, ‘You know, I wish you were, too.'”

In March 1998, 35-year-old accountant Matthew Beck shot and killed four co-workers at Newington’s Connecticut Lottery headquarters. “If I had been there, he would have stopped, or he would have been stopped,” Littlejohn says. “Chances are, I would have been able to take care of business.”

Littlejohn is one of many Connecticut gun afficionados who believe gun ownership is not only a right, but a neccessity. They have a duty to defend themselves and their communities from crime and lawlessness. But as they dig in and insist on their right to bear arms amid a mainstream social and legislative climate that is increasingly clamping down on guns, legal gun owners are feeling persecuted — and now, every burst of gun violence at the hands of once “law-abiding” citizens is heavily scrutinized. What failed? Human reason, or the gun laws? Can they control each other? Can either of them possibly be perfect?

The lessons in the debate over Connecticut’s escalating efforts to control guns may reveal more about who we are as a culture — and our historical propensity for violence — than about our ability to stop the killing itself. And our most extreme efforts at gun control may, in fact, backfire, perpetuating some of the same animosities and fears that have led to the current gun-rights standoff.

 

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The 1990s have seen Connecticut’s gun laws grow to be among the strictest in the country. The 31,235 guns purchased here in 1998 were acquired only after each owner passed a firearms safety course, filled out paperwork for a license, waited weeks or months for the license to arrive, then filled out forms for a purchase permit, was fingerprinted, paid $35 and waited another 14 days for a background check tougher than the national standard: Connecticut checks state, local and FBI records, while federal law requires only that state files be reviewed. The types of guns they could purchase are strictly regulated, as are the ways those guns may be stored and carried. And statistics show that the laws work — at least on criminals. The most recent Center for Disease Control survey shows that death from guns are down to the levels they were at during the mid-’60s. (See accompanying story, “Licensed to Kill.”) But there’s a growing resentment among Connecticut’s average gun owners, people who pack a sidearm for self-protection or a few shotguns for hunting. This is the part where Connecticut legislators aren’t quite up to speed. More and more crimes are committed by people who own their guns legally but who feel increasingly pressured by the fingers pointing at them.

After all, a criminal isn’t born a criminal. You become a criminal when you break the rules, and now, there are a lot more rules to break. And there are new ways for the state to make sure you are up to code.

The latest, the 18th section of Public Act 99-212, might be the one that’s made the most people angry. Since Oct. 1, any of the total 585,226 firearms registered statewide are subject to confiscation by the police if an investigation — and a judge-issued search warrant — determines that the gun’s owner presents a danger to himself or people around him. (For more on Connecticut’s gun laws, see accompanying story, “The State of the Laws.”)

Thompson Bosee is the subject of one of the law’s first test cases. On Oct. 28, police seized 3,000 rounds of ammunition and 11 guns — including an unpermitted assault rifle (banned in 1993) and a machine gun — from his Old Greenwich residence. The exact incident that spurred the search, seizure and two pending felony counts isn’t known: Police indicated that Bosee had been seen with a gun in his yard, but the warrant was also granted due to an 8-year-old charge for DWI that Bosee had failed to address. He, in turn, is claiming illegal search and seizure, a violation of the Fourth Amendment, on top of the usual concerns with the Second.

The problem is that we’ll never know if the law worked or not. Bosee may indeed have been on the verge of committing a violent act, though the law of averages would say he wasn’t. Either way, the record will show that no violence had yet occurred, and he certainly won’t be admitting any wrongdoing. (He says he’s studying to be a gunsmith.)

For legislators, police and victims’ families, one of the most frustrating problems with past gun-control laws is that they have had to be applied only after a tragedy strikes. Parents, for instance, are found negligent when their children find a hidden, loaded gun and shoot themselves. Now, lawmakers can make a pre-emptive strike, but no one, especially someone on the brink, will be very happy to be suddenly disarmed. If concrete nefarious motives aren’t quickly unearthed in the search process, the constant negative publicity over improper searches could kill the law, however many lives it might save.

“I’m still not sure how well it’s going to hold up,” one state police official says.

This might not be a bad thing. Suspicion breeds contempt.

***

Spurred by the Beck case, Gov. John Rowland signed an executive order in August that prohibited state employees from bringing guns and dangerous weapons to work.

“Any weapon or dangerous instrument at the worksite will be confiscated,” an internal memo read, “and there is no reasonable expectation of privacy with respect to such items in the workplace. Violation of the above reasonable work rules shall subject the employee to disciplinary action up to and including discharge.” The order has prompted gun-rights activists to claim that Rowland has established a pond of sitting ducks.

George Littlejohn is a member of GunSafe, the self-proclaimed “Quiet Majority of Connecticut Firearms Owners.” He’s also a senior machinist at Colt’s Manufacturing in Hartford. Or at least he was, until Oct. 15, when Colt’s announced a major curtailing of its consumer line and placed more than 100 employees on furlough due to reported pressures from the dozens of municipal lawsuits recently filed against the gun industry. It might be added that Littlejohn is a law-abiding citizen who happens to be, by his own words, “a firearm fanatic.”

India Blue photo

Littlejohn is a former Enfield auxiliary police officer, and he believes that his guns are peacemakers. And he believes that more often than not, he doesn’t even need to fire a shot to defuse a crime. He says that just last week he observed three men casing a shop in his neighborhood, ready to rob it; he took a long, hard look at the getaway van’s license plates, then moved into the store and stood with a clear view of the cash register. He has a concealed-carry permit, his Colt .45 ready, as always, by his side. When his suspect finally left after reading cigarette packs for 10 minutes, Littlejohn followed him — and watched him and his two friends park at a spot where they could observe two gas stations, a Wendy’s and a 7-11 simultaneously. When the van backed up against the 7-11 and the suspicious characters went inside the store, Littlejohn called 911 and set off a chain of events that eventually led to police action, a pursuit on Route 2 and the van leaving on a tow truck.

“Someone once said, ‘The only thing needed for the triumph of evil is doing nothing,'” Littlejohn says. “And nowadays, doing nothing is almost a government mandate.”

The government might claim the contrary. But Littlejohn points to some notorious American school shooting and asked how control helped: “Only two of the school shootings have been aborted,” he goes on to say. “One, the vice principal had a .45 in his truck, and when the little maggot saw it, he decided it wasn’t fun anymore. The other was at a prom, and the caterer had a shotgun under one of his wagons.”

Several of GunSafe’s tenets seem strangely similar to those of moderate gun-control groups like Washington’s Center to Prevent Handgun Violence, chaired by Sarah Brady. Both groups support background checks, for instance, and permitting processes, and safe gun storage laws. This way, both sides can gain support from the largely unconvinced masses, and in some ways they’re surely converging at midpoints on the arcs to opposite goals. GunSafe’s Web page seems coolly reasonable, until one starts to wonder where all the fear is coming from; whether constantly constructing shooting scenarios doesn’t invite them to actually occur; whether it’s healthy to look at the world as something to be armed against.

The problem, of course, is that there are already 235 million firearms in this country, and they will never entirely fall out of the hands of people who use them for dark purposes. “There are predators out there,” says Littlejohn. “There have been since the days of Adam and Eve.”

On Howe Avenue in downtown Shelton, a stone’s throw from eroded brick factories with smoked-over windows and names like the Chromium Process Co. and Spongex, you’ll find the Valley Firearms storefront. Business on this October Saturday is booming. And despite a big sign in the window that says “Need Cash? We Buy All Used Firearms,” it’s plain to see that today is for buying guns, not selling them. It’s Valley Firearms’ annual gun show.

There’s a boy working the door, about 13, wearing an extra-large giveaway T-shirt that advertises “Total Titanium,” the latest revolver line from Taurus International. He speaks softly and in a voice that will soon change; he stands with his arms folded tightly across his chest, one foot slightly in front of the other. Along with a cordial welcome, he offers me a raffle ticket for a handgun door prize. He makes sure that I provide a Connecticut address, shakes up the box and wishes me luck. I’m not counting on it. I’ll never win that gun. I can’t, because I don’t have a handgun eligibility certificate or a permit to purchase a firearm. That much is probably obvious to the salesman from Shelton’s own Charter Arms, about eight feet down the glass counter, when he places a .38 special (“The Original Pound of Protection”) in my hands and all I can think to do with it is look straight down the barrel.

All day long, the boy has been handing out red raffle tickets while an NRA representative stands nearby, playing a video called “Banned!” on a small TV/VCR combination on the counter in front of him. The NRA rep — a few inches shorter than the boy, with thick glasses and a shirt dotted with NRA pins — lets the tape run through, then rewinds it and starts it over. “Banned!” is about the handgun bans recently implemented in the United Kingdom and Australia: It bounces from one heavily accented gun owner to another, even stopping for a chat (shot in gritty black & white) with a real-life Cockney “street thug,” who leans against an alleyway smoking a cigarette, talking about how bloody easy it is for criminals to get their hands on guns. “Banned!” also periodically cuts to footage of a municipal scrap heap, where a crane equipped with a giant magnet dips into a massive pile of confiscated firearms. There are also shots of government goons sawing perfectly harmless shotguns into splinters, sparks flying everywhere.

The NRA rep is moved. “It just sickens me to see that,” he says. “Crime in England is up 400 percent since they banned handguns there,” he tells me.

“What kind of crime?” I ask.

“All crime!” he says.

“So,” the kid at the door says, “if they made guns illegal in America” — I have to admit, it was kind of sweet, the way he said “America” — “like they did in England, would everyone’s guns be taken away?”

“They would take them all away. Owning firearms would be illegal.”

“That’s horrible.”

“Well, that’s why I keep tellin’ ya,” the NRA guy says. “Ya gotta get a junior membership in the NRA. Fifteen dollars, and you can kick the kooks out of office. You can get a cap and one of these magazines and it practically pays for itself.”

“I already get that magazine,” the kid says. “My dad’s a lifetime member.”

Nearby, a customer is flipping through the Taurus catalogue and comes to a picture of a .45 semi-automatic with a dark wood grip and shiny gold detailing. Someone behind the counter notices.

“I think they call that ‘ghetto gold,'” he says.

***

The gun lobby makes a lot of statements about self-defense and sportsmanship, but it is implicitly understood that a fair share of firearms are used to perpetrate crimes in poorer, urban, African-American and Latino neighborhoods. That market is one of the industry’s most lucrative — whether by legal or illegal distribution of its product — according to lawsuits that are being brought with increasing regularity by cities that claim gun violence has severely taxed their infrastructures.

On Jan. 27, Mayor Joe Ganim and the city of Bridgeport filed a $100 million suit against Smith & Wesson, Beretta, Colt’s, Bryco Arms, B.L. Jennings and Sturm, Ruger & Co. for a litany of violations believed to be directly related to gun manufacturers’ negligence. Ganim was at the forefront of the movement for these municipal suits: Shortly after his action, Atlanta, Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Los Angeles, Miami and St. Louis — among nearly 20 other cities, before and since — filed similar cases.

The Bridgeport case makes several charges: that the gun companies advertised their products as aids to maintaining home safety, when they knew that gun ownership actually increases most people’s chances of a homicide, suicide or accident in their household; that they knowingly distributed the guns to persons who would resell them illegally; that they have dragged their feet on installing safety features; and that the city of Bridgeport — not isolated individuals, but the city itself — can claim damages due to the cost of increased police, emergency, court and prison personnel.

Precedents are mixed. In the last two months, the Cincinnati case was thrown out after the judge ruled that the city could claim only “indirect” damages, while the Atlanta case was allowed to proceed — in a state that had passed a law banning such suits, no less. (These NRA-penned bans have been passed in 13 states, the so-called NRA “winning team,” including George W. Bush’s Texas. Many actually make it a felony for a mayor to file suit against the gun industry, but the laws are unlikely to survive constitutional scrutiny.) “We’re not discouraged by the Cincinnati decision,” says the Center to Prevent Handgun Violence’s Nancy Hwa, “because this latest decision in Atlanta offsets that. And we’re prepared for some judges to be unreasonable, and we’re also prepared to appeal those decisions.”

The Atlanta decision is significant because it opens the way for a discovery process, in which the gun industry’s previously classified documents will be investigated. “It wasn’t the trials that brought down the tobacco industry,” says Sue McCalley, executive director of the Connecticut Coalition Against Gun Violence. “It was the discovery process, when documents were founding showing they manipulated the nicotine level.”

The gun companies in the Bridgeport case have moved for a dismissal, using an argument similar to the Cincinnati judge’s. Connecticut Superior Court Judge Robert McWeeny is expected to deliver a written decision on the matter by the end of November, and both Ganim and the city’s law firm, Updike, Kelly & Spellacy, are confident. In September they received the endorsement of state Attorney General Richard Blumenthal, the first such endorsement of a gun suit in the country. “The gun manufacturers’ position is legally unfounded and insupportable,” Blumenthal wrote in his friend-of-the-court brief, “and would make them completely unaccountable for the damage and public safety threats their dangerous products cause.”

Soon, Blumenthal may not merely be standing on the sidelines rooting for Bridgeport, either. “We’re exploring the possibility of a lawsuit,” he says. By “we” he means the state of Connecticut. By “lawsuit,” he means a case against gun manufacturers, arguing that safety mechanisms aren’t what they should be. It would be the goliath of all as-yet filed suits. Some might see such a filing as the snake swallowing its own tail: Imagine a state lashing back at the very industry that sustained it for years. But a similar chain of events occurred in Mississippi, when the attorney general there, Michael Moore, led the suit against tobacco companies.

“We’re basically trying to make up for the fact that Congress is worthless on this issue,” says Bridgeport city councilman Bill Finch. “Congress is in the hip pocket of the NRA, and we can’t get a damn thing through there. So the states and the cities are bringing lawsuits. We’re not in it for the money. Our motive in this lawsuit is to stop people getting killed.”

“I’ve been waiting for the Ralph Nader [for this issue] to come along and say what needs to be said,” says Connecticut Coalition Against Gun Violence’s McCalley. “Which is that lawsuits are the way that we got the auto manufacturers to make it to the regulatory table. Because if anybody expects that these gun manufacturers are going to do something out of the goodness of their hearts — forget it.”

Bill Finch proposed two gun ordinances to the Bridgeport Common Council this year. “We’re trying to do things that are a little outside the box,” he admits, since the council normally tends to deal with more quotidian municipal matters. “But this stuff is slapping us in the face every damn day,” he says. “Every damn day there’s some other incident. It just happens that most people agree with me. But I feel so strongly about it, I don’t care if they agree with me or not. I’m going to do whatever I can to regulate and cut back the number of guns that are out there. This is an incredibly serious health epidemic.”

Finch’s first ordinance, a measure that would require the Bridgeport police department to destroy all of its confiscated guns, passed. (In 1998, according to a research report submitted to the Connecticut legislature, Bridgeport seized 321 guns that were deemed by a court “to be contraband or a nuisance.” Hartford seized 341; New Haven, 361 and Stamford, 127.) But the second proposed ordinance, submitted with Councilwoman Shirley Bean, dealt with mandating recent technological safety features — so-called “smart guns” that use computer-imaging technology. It didn’t have the same success.

Is Finch going to bring it up next year?

“As many times as I need to, until it passes.”

Is it a frustrating situation?

“Anybody who says we shouldn’t clamp down on guns is nuts,” Finch says. “I mean, they must love these headlines of our fellow human beings being massacred in the streets.” (He pronounced it “massa-creed.”)

The technology Finch was talking about has been developed by Monroe-based Oxford Microdevices, described by CEO Steve Morton as “a young Intel.” Oxford makes chips that process images: It might be computer animation, a system for eliminating automobile blind spots or a method for determining the weights of chicken eggs speeding down a conveyer belt. Two years ago, Morton’s company announced that it was accepting bids for embedding fingerprint-recognition technology in the grip of a handgun, one of several approaches (including PIN numbers, magnetic rings and wrist radios) to the smart gun idea. The gun would fire only if were used by its primary owner. “The technology’s doable. It’s practical. It’s not very expensive,” Morton says. “And the objective was to help stop children from killing children with guns.”

There followed a flurry of media attention. Last June, President Clinton endorsed fingerprint technology as a highly promising method for controlling both accidental shootings and gun theft. The smart guns were profiled in an August piece in Discover magazine, and Morton was interviewed on 60 Minutes II in the beginning of November.

Which should translate to a battle for Morton’s attention. It hasn’t. “The honest truth is, all the attention hasn’t translated into a single dime,” he says. Morton says a prototype gun would cost $1.1 million to build; production would take about two years and $5 million. This dwarfs the smattering of smart-gun proposals that have come up in Washington. Not long ago, U.S. Sen. Frank Lautenberg of New Jersey proposed a five-year, $100 million plan.

“I called Lautenberg’s assistant,” Morton says, “and I said, ‘Get off it. All you’re going to do is reward the gun companies for waiting.’ And he said, ‘Look. A U.S. senator cannot possibly stand up in front of America and ask for a measly five million bucks for a project this significant.'”

So now Morton wants to raise the money through private donations. A government contract requires a bill, voting, proposals, committees and an awards process — and that’s before production. Morton estimates that it would take at least five years to go into meaningful smart-gun production if Oxford were to navigate public channels.

Critics of smart guns have a long list of objections. The gun wouldn’t fire if you were using your other hand. It wouldn’t fire if you were wearing gloves. It wouldn’t fire if your hands were dirty. It wouldn’t fire if the battery died, or if the chip crashed. But these are all challenges that can be addressed when someone comes up with the capital to design a prototype. At this point, objectors are criticizing a device that doesn’t even yet exist. And Morton isn’t giving up hope. He’s just waiting.

“In effect, we’re a guerrilla organization,” Morton says. “Because our objective is just to get the job done. I’m not in the business of doing government-sponsored research year after year after year. We build products. We ship stuff. So our objective is to ship stuff sooner, rather than later.”

Smart guns are already controversial, and they don’t even exist yet. If their production became a reality, there’s no doubt that specific legislation would be proposed about them. These may be the next generation of gun laws. Needless to say, Connecticut isn’t exactly in agreement over the value of the ones currently in place.

“The value of the laws is that people break them at their peril,” Connecticut Coalition Against Gun Violence’s McCalley says. “If there’s no law, then nobody cares what the hell they do. And that’s a problem. The body of law gives you a basis on which to prosecute. And to say that we shouldn’t have laws on a lethal consumer product is nonsense.”

“The more they get you terrified,” Littlejohn says, “the less you’re going to complain about a police state when it comes.”

But given that the laws do exist, there’s the question of enforcement. A major criticism of Connecticut legislation is that it’s come too fast for police to be able to back it up — far from being a police state, it’s still considered something of a free-for-all. Ron San Angelo, state representative from Naugatuck, says that “the state police is grossly undermanned” in terms of firearm regulation enforcement.

Our state police official agrees. “If you were to ask a politician today, what’s a bigger problem, drugs or guns,” he says, “what do you think he’d say? Guns. Well, if you go throughout this state, you will see that most police departments have officers who are 100 percent dedicated to drugs, or to stolen cars. And there are no cops dedicated 100 percent to criminal firearms.

“Community policing is your first step at success with anything,” he goes on. “You get a lot of stuff, especially in legislation, that can just be feel-good. And when you see departments across the state getting involved in their community, that’s a hell of a lot more than feel-good. That’s an active approach to lessening crime, getting to know the people and trying to just calm everybody down.”

***

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “Paul Revere’s Ride,” a poem since memorized by millions of Americans, in 1861. It may provide a clue about why the matter of controlling America’s guns is so difficult to resolve:

You know the rest. In the books you have read
How the British regulars fired and fled — 
How the farmers gave them ball for ball,
From behind each fence and farm yard-wall,
Chasing the red-coats down the lane,
Then crossing the fields to emerge again
Under the trees at the turn of the road,
And only pausing to fire and load.

We do, in fact, owe a lot to guns. How much of American society do we have the power to change, and how much of it is, like it or not, permanently engrained: Self-sufficient, but violent. Armed, too. Perhaps the majority of the population isn’t carrying a gun, but who’s going to argue with someone who is? At some level, it may be wise for us as a society to accept that a drawn-out, intensifying row strictly about guns could wind up in disaster: When pushed to it, people will fight for their guns, and they’ll obviously be well-armed.

“This is where we decide that we, the citizens, are the people in charge of our lives and the government,” Littlejohn says. “We will decide what we do, and how we will live, and you will not decide for us, and not enforce it on us.”

But let it not happen because we’re being duped by greedy, irresponsible corporations. McCalley points out that the surge in gun violence coincides directly with the end of the Cold War: When defense contracts ran out, suddenly the consumer market became a high priority for gun manufacturers. The NRA’s propaganda leads people to believe that they’ll need to stockpile arms in preparation for a great potential freeze-out. Scenarios crop up featuring nebulous “criminals” ruling the world.

“Rather than promoting trust and decency between human beings,” Finch says, “we promote distrust and violence. And I think that gets to a core element of who we are as a country.”

The state police official agrees. “This always has been a violent country,” he says. “It always will be. If a person doesn’t have a gun, they’ll find other means. The year that they passed the assault weapon ban, it was my understanding that there were more people killed in Connecticut with golf clubs than with assault weapons. People are going to find a way to be violent. You have to control the person more than the item.”

The golf club statistic may or may not be accurate. It’s par for the course in a debate that is clouded with tall tales and conflicting reads of the same statistics. Gun-control activists, for example, point to a New England Journal of Medicine study that says that a gun is far more likely to be used against a member of the gun-owner’s household than on an intruder; gun-rights supporters, however, claim a gun doesn’t need to be fired to stop a crime. They say that criminals flee when they see their victim is armed, and such incidents don’t become a part of the statistics.

So we look, instead, at what causes people to use their guns for ill. Not enough gun education? The schoolyard killers in both Oregon and Kentucky were trained hunters. People propose family values. They propose prayer, and postering school auditoriums with the 10 Commandments. But if the gun-law debates can teach us anything, it’s that enforcement of such homogeneity in this country is the fast road to trouble.

The nature of a gun is absolute: Results at the squeeze of a trigger. The split-second difference between life, on the one hand, and death on the other. These are black-and-white questions. But the simple mechanical operation of a gun can’t be mistaken for its application in a complicated society. It’s true that accidents happen and people snap every day, but 235 million guns aren’t the ideal partners for such predictable aberrations. It’s true that the Second Amendment grants the right to keep and bear arms; it’s also true that 1861 South Carolina, regarding itself as “a well regulated militia,” was acting more against the Constitution than for it. Yet the gun debate continues to be seen as a two-sided matter, with less and less love lost between its adversaries, and less and less trust that each side can wield its considerable power, whether legislative or ballistic, without recklessness. A fundamental lack of trust for each other might be closer to the core of why we have always armed ourselves in the first place. The ongoing gun debate may really be a microcosm for the way our society is trying to make peace with itself. What if, through arguing about guns, we agreed they were sometimes necessary — and the resulting trust led us to lay down our arms for good?

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In Search of the Dude in a Fish Suit

A windy November Monday at Captain’s Cove in Bridgeport: The lonely docks creak, massive fishing boats surging on the green water. Up on the seafood restaurant’s deserted roof deck, you cup your hands to your eyes, peer through the glass doors, and see no one in the darkened barroom. This time of year, the scale-model 19th-century village looks like an old west ghost town; the only souls to be seen are a few die-hard salts working on their boats, seagulls circling overhead, a lone police car parked off in the weeds taking a siesta. (We’ll give him the benefit of the doubt.)

But nowhere was there any sign of Gill the six-foot fish.

PETA (People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals) promised that Gill, wearing his trademark shiny green suit, would be at Captain’s Cove from noon to two-ish, rallying against the cruelty he and his bretheren have suffered lo the past three centuries at the hands of Bridgeport fishermen. It can’t quite be said that Gill was handing out fliers, since he doesn’t have hands, but one could assume that he was waving a clenched fin or two at the restaurant personnel and fishermen who brazenly passed him by.

“When you see those nets, with all the fish gasping for breath, crushed under the sheer weight of all the other fish, you can see what a violent and cruel industry it is,” PETA’s Dawn Carr, who knows Gill personally, said. “It’s never been easier to be a vegetarian.”

Nonetheless, by the time the Weekly news team arrived on the scene at one o’clock, Gill was nowhere to be found. We asked if anybody had seen him.

“Yeah, there was a girl with a clipboard,” said a woman having a smoke in her car. “And a yo-yo in a green fish suit up on the corner. This time of year there’s nobody here except boaters and die-hard fishermen. They’re gonna get nowhere.”

People in the marine shop confirmed that Gill had made an appearance, but couldn’t say where he’d gone. A bemused sailor coiling rope on board the yacht Just A Wrinkle radioed his friend: “Have you seen a guy in a fishsuit? No, I haven’t been drinking.”

“Yeah,” a woman’s voice crackled back through the walkie-talkie. “But he left. I think the seagulls were after him.”

Woe to Gill: Let us hope he isn’t still lost, wandering the streets of Bridgeport. They’d probably french-fry him. Fortunately, shortly after his disappearance, search teams were formed to bring him back alive.

“I haven’t seen him,” one fisherman said. “But if I do, I’ll throw a net over him.”

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Turns Out a Lot of People Want to Be a Millionaire

Back in the last golden age of game shows, the 1983-85 period when Press Your Luck, Scrabble, Body Language, and Child’s Play were introduced in rapid successive glory, there was always a certain distance between the viewer and the contestant, a certain awe, if you will. You had to do a little work to actually get on the show. The programs might have flashed some Studio City address on the screen at the end, something like 255000500 La Cienega Monterrey del Mar Marvista Boulevard. But it took some nerve, and a pencil, to write to those guys and get the ball rolling. At the very least, you needed to be in the Los Angeles area. This demographic alone might explain why quiz shows had to get easier and easier over the 80s and 90s, until one day they were all replaced by talk shows (the next de-evolutionary link) and nobody really noticed. Except for maybe Wink Martindale, Richard Dawson, and Bob Eubanks from the breadline.

Now, suddenly, game shows are back. ABC’s Who Wants to Be a Millionaire, hosted by the beloved Regis Philbin, is the first of its ilk spawned entirely in the Information Age, and it uses free technology—toll-free phone numbers (877-258-5808) and the internet (go to www.abc.go.com)—to draw contestants from all over the country. The questions it poses are surely trivial, but they’re not always easy. And, baffling as it may be to television pundits who were positive it would flop, it has been an unequivocal success. More than 25 million viewers tuned in to the show on Sun., Nov. 7, and the Nov. 14 and Nov. 21 episodes—the final two in the short-run special series—should draw even more. Anticipating a long boom, ABC signed Philbin to a five-year contract. Fox, CBS, and NBC will all air new quiz shows themselves by the end of the year to mop up the considerable enthusiasm overflow.

Though the show’s title doesn’t have a question mark in it, I considered the answer plain enough, so I did call in, hoping to work my way toward becoming only the 29th white male out of 32 contestants so far. Regis answered. “Welcome to Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” he said. But before I got a chance to talk to him, he apparently gave the phone to this guy named Fred. Fred then walked me through three questions of increasing difficulty. I got one wrong (I listed the Roman numerals in order from lowest to highest instead of highest to lowest), so I didn’t qualify. According to my records, I said, “Aw, man.” I called back. This time, I got all three questions right. A pat on the back, please, for my cunning in the face of:

“Put the following US states in order of their total geographical area, from the largest to the smallest: 1) Wisconsin; 2) Pennsylvania; 3) New Jersey; 4) Oregon,” and “Put the following sweet food items in the order of when they were first introduced: 1) Graham crackers; 2) Three Musketeers candy bars; 3) Cracker Jacks; 4) M&Ms.” (The first one is 4-1-2-3; the second is 1-3-2-4.)

But that was as far as I got. Regis came back to tell me my name would be thrown into a random drawing for the next round, but he didn’t call back. My girlfriends and I waited all night by the phone for nothing.

Naturally perturbed at the roadblock in my truncated road to riches, I called ABC (this time, not toll-free). Speaking to a program spokesperson, I asked three questions of increasing difficulty.

1) How many calls do you get per day?

“I have no idea,” she said. “Even the producers have no idea.”

2) Can I talk to the people who are in charge of the random computer drawing?

“I don’t think they’re allowed to talk to anyone.”

3) Where does all the money come from, anyway?

“I don’t know.”

Let’s just say that she did not qualify for my random drawing either. Defeated, I had to satisfy myself with the play-at-home version of the game, available from the website (I won $32,000), and the knowledge that, even if I were to win a million bucks, it’d only be about $550,000 after taxes. Who needs it.

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