Saturday, July 25, 2009

Where are the damn nutmegs?

Hard to believe it's been three years since my musical played off-Broadway. And by "off-Broadway" I mean a little hamlet in Connecticut a hundred miles away. Anyway, for those of you still looking for a summer vacation location, here again is my travelogue from beautiful but weird Connecticut.

Back from five weeks in East Haddam, Ct. and nearby Chester, Ct. where the musical I’ve co-written, THE 60’s PROJECT is in production. My eternal gratitude to Michael Price and the super folks at the Goodspeed Theatre for their hospitality. support, and bug balm. I’ve never worked with a classier, more professional bunch.

If you love Americana (which I do more than just about anything other than money), the “Nutmeg State” is for you. And Sourtheastern Connecticut was particularly beautiful and affectionately goofy.

Stayed at a lovely apartment. Very tastefully furnished. Naked drawings and statues throughout. Even the drinking glasses featured topless women. It’s like I was in my own house.

A local pet store sells reptiles and “critters”. And if you buy a cage they’ll give you two free “long haired dwarf mice.”

Roadside sign spotted: SCENIC ROUTE, NEXT 0.3 MILES.

A fork in the road -- one sign points to Camp Beth El, the other to Christian camps.

There are few Cajun places in the south as good as the New Orleans restaurant in Old Saybrook. Their noontime special is a FAT ASS LUNCH. I qualified.

“Casual” is another name for “fried” when it comes to funky fun seafood restaurants. Lenny & Joe’s is the best.

People could not be nicer.

Keep a can of OFF with you at all times.

If there’s a ten minute thunderstorm anywhere in Connecticut, power and cable goes off for the entire state. Usually for 24-30 hours. The state symbol should be a flashlight.

As green and lush and gorgeous as this place is in the summer I bet the fall is even better. With all the salt in the Connecticut River the red and gold colors of autumn must be extra striking and vivid.

If you go to Killingworth, take a drive down Roast Meat Hill Road. I’m not kidding. There’s really a Roast Meat Hill Road.

The Merchant House on US 154 sells Vera Bradley apparel (e.g. purses) and fireworks. Ideal for milady terrorist.

The local East Haddam liquor store closes at 8. And all day Sunday. Blue laws are still in effect. You don’t see a lot of Yale students here.

My 60’s PROJECT writing partner, Janet, got a manicure where the top coat was hoof veneer. Beware any beauty parlor where their celebrity clientele includes Secretariat.

Take I-84 to New York. The highway is smooth as glass. The second you cross into New York state you hit potholes.

Boy, they love Nathan Hale. One good quote (“I regret that I have but one life to give for my country”) and the guy is a God. Attractions include his house, his school house, his barbershop, the Dairy Queen where he used to make Blizzards.

Connecticut is also the birthplace of Anika Noni Rose who will become a big star after DREAMGIRLS is released.

The Tylerville convenience store sells worms in the freezer section between Ben & Jerry ice cream and tater tots. There’s something terribly wrong when worms are more expensive than long haired dwarf mice.

Towns have colorful names like Moodus and Old Lyme (the actual home of Lyme Disease).

I felt like I was in Twin Peaks. And come to think of it, after the first week, I never saw Laura Palmer. Hmmmm?

At the local Bank of America drive-thru ATM I waited in line behind a motorcycle gang. Guess they needed some extra cash for new chains.

Good morning! The menu at a Middletown diner leads off with “Breakfast Cocktails.” If you go out for pancakes, better have a designated driver.

Do not pass a market without stocking up on bug spray.

Most restaurants close on Monday nights. Every one that is open sells pizza.

Big tourist attraction in East Haddam is the Gillette castle. I can just picture their knights, all using swords with the patented four blades for a smoother, closer kill.

There is not yet a Starbucks in every small town. This might not be true by the time you read this.

Sign in Centerbrook: CALAMARI RECYCLING. From what TO what???

The ambience is very New England. By that I mean a Dunkin’ Donuts on every corner. And their coffee is FAR better than Starbucks.

All you see are people on motorcycles. What you never see are motorcycle helmets. They should rename one of the more treacherous streets Motorcycle Meat Hill Road.

If you bought a house here in 1792 you could sell it today for at least double what you paid for it.

There is better cellphone service in Antarctica than Southeastern Connecticut.

Had lunch at the Griswold Inn in Essex, which claims to be the oldest Inn in America – serving since 1776. There must be a hundred old Inns on the East Coast making that same claim. This one had the very first hand blower in their bathroom. But at the time it was just a guy who blew onto your hands.

If you’re hungry, haven’t eaten in four days and only have one dollar, spend it on mosquito netting.

Larry, Darryl, & Darryl are alive and work at every gas station in the state.

There are wonderful hiking trails. You can see nature at its finest and discover Laura Palmer’s body.

A lot of these small towns look like movie sets. If you like bed & breakfasts, Laura Ashley-like dress shops, tchochkes, and cemeteries this is your heaven.

Some big Indian casinos nearby. For you history buffs, Tony Orlando is appearing frequently.

Based on the number of sightings, I’m beginning to think Connecticut is an Indian word for road kill.

There is a Goodspeed airport in East Haddam. One Cessna, a red shack that says 42B on the roof (no running through long terminals trying to make connections.) and a burned out Quonset hut (the “Admirals Club”). It still takes two hours to get through security. Only airport employee is Grizzly Adams on a tractor demanding $5 landing fees.

In Deep River the ice cream parlor is next door to the tattoo parlor. Perfect for the motorcycle gang that has a sweet tooth.

Only passed through New Haven. Wanted to stop by that venerable jewel of the Ivy League, Yale and tell the students to stop trying to be comedy writers. Go into law or politics for Christsakes! You’re at Yale!

And never got to Hartford. Didn’t want to fight all the tourists stampeding to the Insurance Capital of the World.

But in five lovely weeks I’m sure I saw all the major attractions of the Nutmeg State…except, now that I think about it, nutmeg.


Cap'n Bob said...

I get to be first. Yay! There's a parkway along the NY-Conn border that snakes back and forth and you go from one state to the other every 30 seconds or so. Presumably you could get two tickets for the same offense at the same time.

Jon88 said...

All I remember about working at Goodspeed for two weeks a long time ago: The deli next door to the house, where I bought lottery tickets, and the restaurant over the bridge and about a mile down the road where I took most of my dinners. Also, getting stopped by the local cops on one of the walks back from that restaurant. Being a pedestrian is apparently very fearsome in East Haddam.

Alan Coil said...

I really doubt that Nathan Hale made Blizzards at Dairy Queen. Dairy Queen didn't invent the Blizzard until 1985.

"The state symbol should be a flashlight."


Mike said...

As a resident of the Nutmeg State, I found this post particularly great. And not to get into a public safety lecture, but I really don't get why CT doesn't require motorcyclists to wear helmets. Massachusetts does, as does New York. But CT says no. It just seems like common sense.

Anonymous said...

Holy Crap! I live in Centerbrook, and I've actually recycled at Calamari Recycling. Drive by the Goodspeed Opera House all the time, but never been inside.

You got about 90% of CT right. Although take the Merritt Parkway back to NY, not I-84. Much more beautiful.

Also, everything north of Middletown is extremely different from everything south. Well, not extremely, but at least stuff stays open past 5.

Daws said...

Ken, I spent many summers in Moodus/East Haddam. I was an instructor at New England Computer Camps which was held at Banner Lodge in Moodus.


Mary Stella said...

Wow. This takes me back to the days when I became a Ken Levine fan. I started reading the blog shortly before your play was staged.

wv=dabble: The penname Diablo Cody rejected

A. Buck Short said...

You are like the Hallmark of travelers, an expression for every destination. You even make the unremarkable remarkable. However….

Mosquitoes – Moshmitoes, here in Texas I’d give my right arm to be back in a place where you can say things like, “Hey it’s summer. Let’s eat outside for the next three months.” As a native off the reservation for 35 years, I’ve long had a favorite adjective for Connecticut – “civilized.” No, not the same as sophisticated or affluent, or well-heeled, or, God forbid , "classy.” Yes, I know most of the state isn’t Fairfield County or Essex inns – although the harbor on the river still leaves you with a feeling you can never get at Marina del Rey. Hell, a lot of it isn’t even Hamden.

We grew up in the bricks of a New Haven federal housing project. Relatives from Queens used to come stay with us for a weekend “in the country!” But there’s something about it, where regardless of station, a higher quota than average seem to be living their lives in proportion. Or maybe it was just the 50’s and 60’s? No, get back now and then, it wasn’t just that. But it could be J Crew contact sensibility?

I especially enjoy your travelogues of places I’ve been to, because of the memories they trigger. I don’t know if anyone else would be interested, but, in the words of Bernie Madoff, so what?

In response to your original post I might have opined that while Basil Rathbone may have ended up with the ultimate Sherlock Holmes franchise, William Gillette was still the first. Not only had a great run, but also the friggin’ CASTLE. And with hemp wallpaper -- 40 years before Woody Harrelson. OK, maybe civilized in that Weedsily wonderful way, but a little more Kevin Nealon than ML Parker. And the little boxes really are kind of little, but broken in enough to make you forget they once may have also been part of a subdivision. Incidentally for names, if it’s a choice between Gillette Castle State Park, and Cockaponset State Forest just across the river over there in Chester --- I’m going with Cockaponset. It’s so…so…Danny Thomas.

For road signs I’ll have to go with the exit off of I-91 on the way to Bradley Airport – “East Granby / Granby.” Picture backup singers doing that rhythmically over and over on one ‘o them PBS pop music revivals.)

Now Moodus, and Colchester (not to be confused with Westchester that is so far east of Chester that it’s clear on the other side of the river – and a drive even for Connecticut) resonate with Judaica in ways the Griswold Inn never will. Those were the two places all us Connecticut Jews trekked every summer for our Walk on the Moon – Marjorie Morningstar – summer retreats from the pre-AC heat of the city. It was Grand Lake Lodge in Colchester and the aforementioned Banner Lodge (now Banner Country Club – hoo-ha) in Moodus. Both former chicken farms where the staff allegedly still had to sleep in barely converted coops. I think this was before dirty dancing, but at least dinner portions were humongous -- and you could get seconds. In fact, it was considered an insult not to. Since everybody had to eat lunch and dinner at the same time (no, I mean the people at the same time – not the meals. Haven’t you been paying attention, the portions were too large for that) – the wait staff of late teen Jewish overachievers would engage in competitive rushing between tables with flaming flankin, stunt-serving for tips. And Larry Storch actually asked me to play table tennis with him waiting to go on for his standup. Years before F-Troop. Which was a crying shame because, for some reason Killingworth’s big attraction – a little later – was one of those fake Western towns, whose novelty wears off in about a year-and-a-half – but don’t they all.

A. Buck Short said...

And yet we are nothing if not ecumenical....

The gentiles went to another resort in Moodus – Ted Hilton’s, that boasted a tummler named Roy J. Duka, who was billed as having done a stint as Clarabelle the Clown on the old Howdy Doody Show – but at Hilton’s worked blue. A friend from Yale and I went once for a Shicksa Singles Weekend, and I’m pretty sure we played them for Lent.

My mother-in-law grew up on one of those area chicken farms in nearby Willimantic. Had the family not stuck with the chickens and emulated their lantzmen, who knows, I coulda’ been in show business today. Or at least a lifeguard.

In college we used to drive all the way to “Willie” as it was called for two reasons. One, so help me God, was they had a Hotel Hooker – named after the same Civil War general who also gave the profession its nickname. Who could resist stealing those eponymous hotel towels? They should have just sold them. Then on to beer and a filling meal at a modest restaurant whose name escapes me. The establishment’s unassuming greeter had an excuse for fitting your your take as “affectionately goofy” to a T. He was Willie Pep the ten-year world featherweight champion, who fought more bouts than just about anybody and remains one of the greatest fighters of the 20th century. We never thought to ask how Willie wound up in Willie.

Think I already may have mentioned I lived about a mile from the Nathan Hale Homestead in Coventry, which for some reason had semi-wild asparagus you could steal. I received my first radio listener complaint when, on Hale’s birthday, I announced that he was hung by the British at the young age of 21 – only because, at the time, like drinking, you weren’t allowed to hang anybody until they turned 21. Or it may have been insistence that his dying quote actually just got as far as, “I only regret that I have but one life to aggghhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.” But I guess history went with the pre-released official transcript.

There’s a reason for the omnipresent Dunkin’ Donuts. Not to drop names or anything, but in the 1930’s Bill Rosenberg, the company’s founder and my dad started in the food industry together as New Haven Good Humor ice cream truck drivers. By the time he died, Rosenberg had 6,000 franchises in something like 25 countries. Dad had a really nice 8”x10” b/w glossy of himself looking really snappy in the somewhat militaristic white uniform and brimmed cap with the safety patrol style belt -- seemingly at attention beside the gleaming truck. I believe the army of San Marino has the same dress uniform. Rosenberg started his first donut shop in the same town where I created the above commotion over Nathan Hale. Who remembers “toasted almond?”

Finally, since you brought up the Indians -- long before the Foxwoods Casino, Mom read somewhere in the AAA Connecticut Travel Guide that there was a town in that Eastern Connecticut area called Uncasville that had “real live Indians” still living there. The four of us got into the Studebaker and drove, and drove, and drove (this was before I-95). The neighbors had all been promised a return with all kinds of Pequot paraphernalia for distribution.

Arriving after dark, the town was to say the lease uncaswhelming. I remember my parents wandering about stopping Uncasville denizens still up that late and asking, “Where are the Indians?” “Can you tell us where we go to see the Indians?” One guy scratched his head and asked, “You mean the high school?” (I’m only assuming that may have been the team name?) In one of its many oversights the AAA guidebook neglected to mention that whatever Uncasville Indians remained had been fully assimilated two centuries earlier and were now involved in things like the heating and plumbing business. The assimilation had been so complete, not a single resident could direct us to so much as a tobacconist. This is when I believe I began to understand the concept of a sense of humor.