Category Archives: For Our Connecticut Readers

For Our Connecticut Readers

I live in Bethany now, a town without media. Oh, we share a Patch page with Woodbridge, and there’s a weekly paper put out by the New Haven Register that has some original content, and there’s a very informative “Bethany Bulletin” and a monthly newsletter from the First Selectman. But there’s no hardcore beat reporting, no tweeting or posting of breaking news. If I wasn’t on the email list of the head of the town Democratic Party, I wouldn’t have been able to find the full results of the recent municipal elections (without going to Town Hall myself and asking, I guess).
After 30 years of living in New Haven and working at a newspaper there myself, plus living the rest of my adult life in and around Boston, I’m used to deep extensive coverage, even of suburbs. An odd transition.
But not an unwelcome. I’m so used to getting information about where I live from the media, I’d forgotten how you can ask neighbors and politicians and other community members for answers. I’m naturally inquisitive, and I like hearing both sides of a story and bouncing different versions off of each other.
I’m also recalling something I learned when I was a busy, story-chasing journalist myself—that not everybody needs everything to be a story. It can be validating to see something you did documented in print, but it’s not always necessary to be validated. Sometimes things just happen. Sometimes unnecessary arguments fade away if they’re not fought in the media. Sometimes things are so blown out of proportion that they shouldn’t’ve been brought up in the first place. The media is a reflection of what it covers; a bustling city and a quaint small town will operate differently.
I’m all for authoritative reporting and transparency and truth. But I’m learning that in a town where people are more set off from each other, and create their own small quiet cultures, that solitude and privacy and respect are the real story. No news may be good news.

For Our Connecticut Readers: Cripple the Libraries and You Kill Connecticut’s Spirit

Dear Governor Malloy,
This is about the libraries. It’s shortsighted and reckless for you to be targeting them in your proposed budget cuts. By cutting support to established, well-running programs such as ConnectiCard, the Connecticut Library Consortium and various grant-funding streams, you will directly affect how Connecticut learns, grows and prospers.

Interlibrary loan programs are heavily used by students in need of expensive or hard-to-find textbooks. The grants you are looking to cut support programs that build stronger communities.

In difficult times, when many state services are at risk, libraries need to be strengthened, not challenged. You argue that libraries need to do more of their own fundraising, yet are proposing to cut important incentive funding programs already in place.

You support the growth of the technological industry in Connecticut yet are proposing to cut the libraries’ Computer Access Program, which is key to creating greater computer literacy in the state.

Libraries are our de facto community centers, especially in communities that can not afford to improve their existing meeting areas. Libraries provide a safe haven for those who wish to better themselves.

In the case of cities like New Haven (where I lived for 30 years), you would be willfully reversing immense growth that has been made through rebuilding and raising awareness about that city’s distinctive branch libraries. In the case of small towns like Bethany (where I recently moved with my family), you will be turning a tapped-in satellite system with access to countless books into a limited, restricted collection of a few thousand volumes. Bethany has only recently joined the LION consortium, and has always taken full advantage of the invaluable interlibrary loan system. Now, after exhibiting such pride and initiative in explaining these programs to the townsfolk, they may be thrust back into the dark ages of limited access to critical materials.

Libraries are symbols of an advanced civilization, a robust culture, an informed populace. They are where we meet and learn from each other.

The legislative manner in which you propose to make these cuts shows an utter lack of remorse or empathy for the struggles libraries face. You are proposing repeals of statutes which have worked smoothly for years and which create necessary paths for libraries to interact, build resources and work with the state government. You are proposing to cut programs which allow libraries to save millions through the investment of mere thousands. You are showing a disregard for intricate relationships which have been built bureaucratically and legislatively. To have to rebuild these important, well-running, highly important programs again, or to have libraries suspended in constant anxiety over the state support for these valuable programs—assuming they can even be restarted—will be time-consuming and demoralizing.

Instead of thinking of libraries, as you seem to, as boutiques whose inventories and services can be reduced during hard times, know them for what they are: the foundation of their communities. Weaken the libraries and you directly weaken the cities and state they serve.

Libraries are one of the most public faces of government. They are the best way to show that we are a strong, united Connecticut, concerned with educating and supporting citizens who want to know more and do more. Libraries are centers of civic engagement. Libraries are monuments to the self-motivation, self-education and self-esteem. They help people escape oppression and ignorance. Their importance can not be minimized.

Please reconsider the crippling effects that your proposals will have on Connecticut’s libraries. As governor, you have stressed your interest in better public education, in reducing the achievement and education gaps, and in building a stronger and more prosperous Connecticut. By cutting critical library services, you sure have a funny way of showing it.

Christopher Arnott
Bethany, CT

For Our Connecticut Readers: Slaying the John Slade Ely House

The John Slade Ely House is being sold. The news was sudden and shocking, and when I heard it from some thunderstruck artists I immediately informed the New Haven Independent, which posted a well-reported story here. I could have written the story myself and submitted it to the Independent, which runs my theater reviews and other features, but I felt it needed a newsy touch I wasn’t prepared to bring to it. Paul Bass would get comments from the bank which oversaw the Ely House endowment, and from the building’s live-in curator Paul Clabby, and from the stunned artists whose clubs were about to evicted from the house where they’d met for decades. Paul even looked up the public tax documents about the endowment. Really thorough work.
The online commenters on that Independent story felt the way I was feeling. This was a sad day for the local arts community, even for those who were barely aware the Ely House existed. It provided something that few city arts institutions can provide anymore: space. This was a big house, with rooms for club meetings (including regular figure-drawing sessions), and large display areas. They welcomed installations as well as wall hangings. They had pedestals to put sculptures on. They hosted great opening receptions, with plenty of room for refreshments and conversations and gallery-viewing all at once.
I have a personal attachment to the Ely House. When I first moved to New Haven in the mid-1980s, its then-curator/occupant Ray Smith was one of my first real friends in the arts scene. I literally housesat at the John Slade Ely House a few times when Ray was out of town. I have a lasting memory of sitting in the middle of the night in the big upstairs gallery room where Linda Lindroth has installed a giant Camera Obscura, watching inverted photographic images of tree branches waving in the wind, cars driving down Trumbull Street and other outdoor scenes. I was even suggested as his successor when Ray decided to buy his own home and move out of the Ely House, but my candidacy didn’t pan out. I did curate a show there, utilizing all the exhibition rooms of the house for a show I dubbed “ReFuturism,” which consisted of conceptual art pieces and performances in the tradition of Italian Futurism and British Vorticism.
I was most actively visiting the Ely House in the late ‘80s and early ‘90s, when Ray was still there, but while I’ve missed a bunch of exhibits there in recent years I’ve developed a genuine respect for Paul Clabby, who’s been the live-in curator for something like 20 years now. The house was an unusual balancing act of trad art clubs, emerging progressive artists, school-based exhibits, family friendly offerings and more provocative works.
Clabby also allowed concerts there for a time. I saw a tremendous show by some Yale School of Music students who later became the acclaimed neoclassical combo So Percussion, staging a minimalist piece (by Riley? Reich?) where a dangling microphone swung pendulum-style over a large speaker, feeding back as it revolved. The house has a spiral staircase, and the high high ceiling made the demonstration possible.
When I was still pushing my daughters in a baby carriage, local art galleries were a major stop on our strolls. The Ely House was full of delights for my whole family. In the past couple of years I made a point of seeing work by old friends there: a puppet stage built by Kim Mikenis and, in a nice bit of circularity, photographs of the American South taken by Ray Smith when he was a Yale student, years before he was the Ely House’s curator. The photos were part of a long-dormant project which Ray completed last year with a published book and an exhibit in another state. It’s unfair that he, and so many other artists, can’t use the Ely House as a gallery anymore.
The endowment that enabled the John Slade Ely House to thrive for so many years is much deplenished—too small to fund needed repairs on the house, or to continue to pay for a curator and other services. The endowment will apparently be used to fund art projects that don’t involve having a house. The clubs that have met there and/or held shows there for decades—The Paint & Clay Club, The Brush & Palette Club, The Calligraphers Guild, etc.—have been evicted; the current (114th annual) Paint & Clay Club show, curated by Will Lustenader and running March 22 through April 12, is the John Slade Ely House’s last hurrah.
I don’t know, and don’t want to comment on, the behind-the-scenes decisions that led to such an abrupt and unwelcome announcement about the house. On the other hand, it’s remarkable that the Ely House lasted as long as it did. It is a remnant of what community arts scenes were like a century ago—clubs and gathering spaces, populated by both amateurs and professionals united by social urges and artistic passions.The clubs were part of an early 20th century movement that mirrored the community theater movements and other arts revolutions which affected cities during the late Industrial age. A lot of these clubs lost their homes ages ago, as did the social clubs which also defined small cities during the first half of the 20th century. Because of the special set-up of the Ely House, those New Haven art clubs had a house to meet in right up until now. That’s an amazing legacy, as profound as any of the countless inspirational artworks displayed in the house by those clubs.
The house will morph into something capitalistic or corporate. The aura of the Ely House, however, will never dissipate.

Three Anchor stories

New Haven’s legendary Anchor Bar closed last month, perhaps for good. Even if comes back under new management, as has been suggested, why would it be the same? Was Rudy’s? Was Bookworld? Was Kaysey’s?

The bar’s regulars and other supporters are tossing brickbats at landlords and managers for allowing the place to die. As someone who once oversaw a precious New Haven landmark (BookWorld on Chapel Street) and saw it crumble from my grasp, I know how complex and confusing a failing business can be, and how it’s too easy to blame the money people. Times change, and commercial businesses are dealt with differently than other landmarks. It’s inarguable that the Anchor Bar was a monument to old New Haven. But it had more competition than ever for the current-day hipster drink dollar, and that means something.

I stopped drinking over a decade ago, and basically stopped going to bars which didn’t offer local band shows. But before that, the Anchor was definitely a regular stop on my downtown rounds. I was there dozens if not hundreds of times, and can boil my most potent memories down to extraordinary encounters, good friends and creative fulfillment. All the other memories are gone, thanks to too many martinis made with bottom-shelf Clyde’s Gin.

1. Summer, 1995. Just a few months before he collapsed on a New York street corner and died, the eminent funny novelist and screenwriter Terry Southern (The Magic Christian; Candy; Flash and Filigree; Dr. Strangelove; Easy Rider) spoke at the Summer Lecture Series at Yale. The talk itself was disappointing, but directly afterwards a bunch of hardcore Southern fans (me, novelist Darius James, playwright/Weekly Reader editor Forrest Stone and others) strolled over to the Anchor, chosen for its probable appeal to the great Southern. I mostly stared at Southern that night, but the next day, in a different now-defunct New Haven bar, at the Colony Inn on Chapel Street, I spent three hours with the man discussing his word, sharing stories and even getting invited to his East Canaan home (though I never did take him up on that).

2. Dec. 31, 1999. Betty Buckley had just performed a concert at the Shubert. My old friend Cheryl McCloud had traveled from Boston to New Haven to see the show with me, and was staying (on my recommendation) at the Duncan Hotel. We chose the Anchor Bar as the place to ring in not just the new year but the new century. We were joined by Dan Perkins (Tom Tomorrow of the This Modern World comic strip) and Beverly Gage. My then-future wife, Kathleen Rooney, was visiting her mother in Massachusetts. She had squirreled a note into my coat pocket, with instructions to open it at midnight. It held a note and a quarter, with instructions to call her as the new year dawned. But the pay phone at the Anchor was on the fritz and I could only send her telepathic messages. This was the time of the “Y2K” computer scare, and technological breakdowns were on everyone’s minds. When midnight struck during our third or fourth Anchor cocktail, we joked that the best way to ring in 2000 would be to flick the lights off in the bar for a minute and freak everyone out, then turn them on again and celebrate, knowing what we hadn’t lost.

3. Winter, 2000. I was directing a production of Julian Barry’s play Lenny for New Haven Theater Company, at BAR on Crown Street. We had just finished auditions and adjourned to BAR’s BruRm to make the final casting decisions. I’m very collaborative at times like this, and was tossing ideas at all the designers, stage managers and crew. But the vibe wasn’t right. BAR would be a gracious host to the production for several weeks of rehearsals and performances, but wasn’t making it as a creative business office. So we rushed out in the cold over to the Anchor, where we could spread the actors’ resumes and mugshots and our own notes and charts around one of those big round booth tables. The place had the feel of a bar that Lenny Bruce might have drunk at, and had in fact been blessed for decades by the presence of Thornton Wilder. This was the red-vinyl vibe we sought. BAR had the dark theatrical environment we needed for our play. The Anchor had the inspiration.

For Our Connecticut Readers: Wood-B

One of the New Haven transformations of 2014—besides the new mayor, the new president of Yale, the new cosmetics store at the corner of York and Broadway—was the Woodland coffee shops turning into the B Natural.

I happened to be in the neighborhood when the old sign at the original Orange Street Woodland location went down and the new B sign went up.

I’ve been a Woodland regular since it first opened. I’ve written about both locations numerous times, and feared for their existence when other shops encroached on their turf. May they continue to thrive and be natural.



For Our Connecticut Readers: January the First

The Toni Harp inauguration was too crowded. A polite crowded, but crowded nonetheless. We left early, with0ut even making it into the auditorium. Who even needs the post- ceremony reception when you’ve been up late the previous night eating cheesy snacks and watching 42nd Street?

Mabel and I wandered downtown instead. We finally found a CR1616 watch battery I’d been hunting for days. Also bought a can of silly string, and had a brief string battle on York street.

Most everything downtown was closed. Claire’s was open, with Claire herself working behind the counter. We told her that her place was one of the few open.

“Well, the chains are, aren’t they?”

” yes. We were at Walgreen’s.”

Oh. She meant Panera, and Starbucks.

“We don’t even notice those places, Claire. They’re invisible to us.”

Nothing like a Claire’s Mexican spiced cocoa on a wintry New Haven Wednesday.

Happy 2014.

For Our Connecticut Readers: A Long Weight

Get Healthy Connecticut has issued a challenge for citizens of New Haven to collectively lose 375,000 pounds over the next two years. The number was chosen to reflect the city’s age: 375. It’s common to worry about one’s weight when one has reached a certain age.

But that magic number of 375 might explain why there’s a particularly troublesome obesity epidemic in some of the Midwestern United States. Those cities are way younger than ours—175, 200 years tops. Plus, as I’ve always noticed when I’ve traveled out that way, they have wider sidewalks.

That’s clearly the problem: less incentive.

To accept Get Healthy Connecticut’s “Healthy Eating Pledge,” go here.