February 13, 2010: In an effort to be more like Shannon (and perhaps Dan Woog as well), I've decided to focus more frequent entries on the community around me -- Westport, and Fairfield County -- and the many memories I've garnered there -- both pleasant and stomach-curdling -- ones which helped shape this dysfunctional lad and make him the frustrated, under-employed clod you see before you. (Of course, this is only until I become bored with it and decide to write about something else).
Westport, Connecticut, as many of you know (and yet refuse to believe) is my hometown. While I was born at Norwalk Hospital on a salty day in September, my parents quickly saw to it that I was transported back over the border before I developed any kind of small inner-city habits, like a penchant for boccie. Ironically, the Westport News -- I think it was the News, but it may have been the Town Crier, or some now-defunct variation -- actually ran my picture and a cutline announcing that I was the only baby born there that week. This was, of course, largely because it was a slow news week, but at the very least clearly debunks my parents' later claim that there was some kind of mix-up in the maternity ward.
We lived on Easton Road, which even then was a busy thoroughfare. Our home was a 200-year old former tollhouse that still stands today, and remains one of the few dwellings in the area not grotesquely compromised by modern man's fear-driven need to make everything bigger and tackier.
Life was good and simple, at least for me, being only a baby. We had a dog named Pepper, although his full name was Maximillian Pepper Liotta -- an old English sheepdog, the kind that doesn't have any eyes. Some of my earliest memories involve my evil brother locking me in his outdoor pen, where I'd cry and scream until someone -- usually my grandfather -- came and retrieved me. (Since he lived in New York, imagine how long I sometimes had to wait.)
My neighbor across the street was my best friend, Debbie Gilbertie. She was a beautiful, spirited little blonde with a dog of her own named Chipper. How I ever managed to get across Route 136 to visit her at age three I'll never known, although I think my mother may have occasionally brought me. Debbie and I used to take baths together (although I'm sure she'd deny this, despite what a gentleman I always was). I have great memories of us building with these giant orange cardboard box-blocks she had, on her family's kitchen floor, and us running back and forth around my house with my grandfather chasing us with his cane.
One story I often tell my children was of the time Debbie got a cat. I don't remember its name, but when I went over to see it, she explained that cats always land on their feet. She then proceeded to pick it up several times and, standing up on one of those bright-colored beanbag-like footrests so popular in the late '60s, drop it upside down on the floor. "See?!" she proclaimed each time it flipped over. "They always land on their feet!"
I remember her kind father, Mike (who I don't think was any relation to Westport celebrity Mickey Gilbertie), cutting their lawn with his dark-green Locke mower. It seemed like the biggest lawn in the world -- a rolling meadow that disappeared into the distant trees and late-afternoon sun, which set over the rambling little river miles below in that valley just the other side of their lawn ... In the summer there were honeysuckle blossoms and Debbie taught me how to taste the sap from them ... I also remember playing with Debbie's Barbie doll, which had one of those cars, and we'd have her drive to the store naked as a jaybird and shop, and we'd laugh hysterically ... I remember us riding in the back of Mrs. Gilbertie's station wagon, bouncing around in the days before seatbelts, staring out at the quick-passing pavement, "Watching the road go fast," we called it ... I remember her sister, Karen, had those '60s sunflower stickers in her room, and the four portrait pictures of the Beatles from the White Album hung on her ceiling -- a room not far unlike Greg Brady's in the episode when he took over Mike's den ... I remember Debbie and I intended to get married, but somehow it never worked out ...
NEXT TIME: A visit to downtown Westport in 1969 ...