Time to Go
The first article I ever wrote for Connecticut Magazine was a profile of Meriden’s controversial mayor Abraham Grossman. It appeared in May 1977 and was called “The Embattled Mayor of Meriden.” The story opened like this: “Abraham Grossman—political maverick, failed shoe merchant, rabble-rouser, little guy, mayor of Meriden—hunches forward in his chair, pushes another mint into his mouth and sighs. His usually puckish expression is dark and foreboding, as grim as the deepening winter afternoon beyond his office window.”
I didn’t know it at the time, of course, and I never properly thanked Abe Grossman, but those words were to set me off on a very long, mostly happy relationship with this magazine and its readers, a relationship that ends, after more than 35 years, with this issue.
After following the Grossman piece with another freelance article on the Hurricane of 1938, I was hired by the editor, Prudence Brown, as a staff writer. I was given a salary of $14,000 for which I was expected to produce nine stories. I was 27 years old and single, and could live on about $15 a week. I was delighted with the arrangement.
I began turning in stories on all sorts of people and things here in Connecticut. I wrote about the state’s first lottery millionaires; hockey great Gordie Howe, who was then skating with his sons for the Hartford Whalers; radio legend Bob Steele; how the people of Connecticut were supposed to evacuate to western Massachusetts and Vermont in the event of a nuclear attack (a big scoop that ended up on “60 Minutes”); the emotional and financial costs of losing a major political race; the state’s growing ranks of “exotic” dancers and the netherworld in which they performed.
Many young magazine writers were pretty full of themselves back then, and I was one of them. A story of mine on a new craze called disco in the February 1978 issue had this for its lead:
“Dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-(Hey! Super glad you could make it!!)-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-(Welcome to Discoland in the electric pink heart of a Friday midnight!)-dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-(What?)-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-dum-(WHAT???)-dum-BOOM!-dum-dum-BOOM!-(Hey! I can’t hear you! I SAID I CAN’T HEAR YOU!!!)-dum-BOOM!-dum-(LET’S GO UP INTO THE DEEJAY’S BOOTH!!! C’MON!!!)-BOOM!-DUM-DUM-BOOM!-DUM-BOOM!-BOOM!-BOOM!-BOOM!!! . . .”
It was fun to get carried away like that, the editors encouraged it and at least some readers professed to enjoy it. Eventually, the editors also started encouraging me to come in to the office to help out with various chores, and my staff-writer idyll came to an end. By the summer of 1979, following a series of machinations unknown to me, I became the editor.
For “my” first cover story as editor, I had become aware through friends of an entity in Bristol that was planning to telecast, via satellite, 24 hours of sports programming a day. Although no one was paying much attention except to dismiss it as preposterous (it was operating out of a construction trailer at the time), it seemed like a plausible idea to me and to Associate Editor (and later New York Times restaurant reviewer) Bryan Miller. Bryan wrote a typically thorough report and we became the first magazine to publish a major take on what would soon become known to all as ESPN. Its founder Bill Rasmussen appeared on the September 1979 cover, the month the new network first went on the air, beside the headline, “Why Are ABC, CBS and NBC Afraid of This Man?”
Within a year, however, my first term at Connecticut Magazine had come to an end. It was 1980, and a senate race was brewing between a young Democratic congressman named Chris Dodd and old-line Republican James Buckley. One day early that summer a sunny profile of Buckley appeared unbidden on my desk. It had been assigned by the magazine’s owner, Dan Lufkin, who was a friend of Buckley’s, and written to order by columnist George Will. We were told by Lufkin to run it in the October issue. Bryan Miller and I were duly affronted and protested loudly. We didn’t want the magazine to identify so blatantly with either political party. We soon resigned. Lufkin was probably happy to see us go, but he never ran the story. I still have a copy. George Will can pay me to burn it, if he’d like.
After that long drive home from the office on the day I quit, I spent the next nine years writing humor books and freelance magazine pieces, helping SNET start up a vanity publication called Connecticut’s Finest, writing speeches for the governor, getting married and having children. By the time I bumped into Mike Mims, then the magazine’s associate publisher, in 1989, and he asked me if I’d ever thought about coming back to the magazine, I pretty much jumped at the opportunity.
And here I’ve been ever since.
I know I can’t recap the past 24 years in any meaningful way in this space, so I won’t try. But I do have a few random thoughts and memories:
• Restaurant reviewer Elise Maclay was here when I got to the magazine in 1989 with her stylish, erudite, knowledgable takes on Connecticut dining, and she’s still here as I leave. Thank you, Elise.
• Only one threatened libel suit ever went to court, where our attorney Alan Neigher demolished the plaintiff, a man we’d labeled a stalker who served as his own counsel.
• I have loved many of our stories over the years, but my favorite was “All Alone,” from April 1992 by nonpareil freelancer Karon Haller—the astonishing tale of a young woman who lay dead in her Norwalk condo for more than three years before anyone found her. Karon went on to write 20 more remarkable stories in the decade that followed.
• In fact, here’s to all the freelancers who made my job easier and often a pleasure, notably Lary Bloom, Julie Wilson, Jane and Michael Stern, Alan Bisbort, Tom Connor, Rea Lubar Duncan, Dave Howard, Larry Sheehan, Robert Palm, Steve Kotchko, Richard Urban, Margaret Farley, Kim Waller, Andy Marlatt, Terese Karmel, Nicole Wise, Mary Younglove, Andrew Brady, Diane Cyr, John Columbus and Janelle Finch, Bob Benson, Jeff Kaufman, Julie Bidwell and Dave Holahan, who had two stories in the issue I returned with in October 1989 and one in this issue. That’s called a career arc, Dave.
• I enjoyed the gamble of putting Geno Auriemma, Nykesha Sales and Rebecca Lobo on the March 1995 cover long before knowing how they’d do in the NCAA tournament (they won, for the first time).
• For instant gratification, there’s nothing like waves of new visitors and page views on connecticutmag.com. One that truly went viral was Tom Connor’s 2012 intervew with Cardinal Edward Egan, in which he took back his apology to Connecticut’s priest-abused kids.
• I’m still not sure how or why that boat ended up one morning beached in our parking lot on Reservoir Avenue in Bridgeport.
As to my colleagues here at the magazine over the years, my love and admiration know no bounds (well, maybe a bound here and there). Luckily, I will be able to thank most of them personally.
And as for you, dear reader, thank you as always for your interest and attention. I’ve greatly enjoyed our time together.
Many of Charley Monagan's colleagues past and present have taken the opportunity to honor him—click here to read these tributes.