Grown in Greenwich

Former resident details his childhood memories By Sabrina Banes

Staff Correspondent

George Tabb has an ax to grind with Greenwich.

The 42-year-old who grew up on Guinea Road has written a book of harrowing tales about his childhood on the northeast end of town.

"Playing Right Field: A Jew Grows in Greenwich" (Soft Skull Press; $13.95) is a 162-page violence-filled, expletive-laced memoir about Tabb's apparently painful eight years here.

It's brilliant.

Tabb describes with humor, candor and intelligence how he was bullied, beaten up and called names as a kid.

His experiences, though tinted with a stroke of anti-Semitism, are something many of us can relate to.

"It could have been a black grows in Greenwich or an outsider grows in Greenwich," Tabb explains during a recent phone interview, adding that he was an awkward kid regardless of religion or ethnicity. "I'm sure that not reaching puberty until I was 17 had something to do with it," he says. Tabb, a punk rock musician and lead singer of the band Furious George, has written a book that is not for the faint of heart.

In an early chapter, he describes an incident in which one of his friends nails a frog to a homemade crucifix and murders it with a BB gun. The friend's family is rabidly anti-Semitic, and when Tabb admits to being Jewish his friend says, "Okay, but don't tell my dad. He likes you. I would hate it if he beat you up."

Tabb says local residents who grew up with him might not recognize the bullies he grapples with because he has changed all the names. Kids who were nasty to him when they were younger, he says, should not be punished for it the rest of their lives. Tabb also talks about his home life, which is as unpleasant as his school life.

His father and stepmother are more like fairytale villains than the picture perfect Ward and June Cleaver.

"I would always dream that my dad and stepmom were vampires. In the dream my dad chops me up with an ax," Tabb says. When he was in second grade at Parkway Elementary School, Tabb was asked to draw a picture of his family, and his work, a replica of his stick-vampire drawing, appears on the front cover of his book. Although Tabb's story is inherently tragic, he manages to tell it without whining. If anything his work seems to emphasize that even life's lumps can be entertaining.

"I wrote it for kids who are growing up now, saying things could be really bad in your life, but you could always see the humorous side of it," Tabb explains. As for Greenwich, Tabb says he hated it in the 1970s but doesn't know what the town is like now because he lives in Phoenix and his family members moved from Greenwich many years ago.

"I have very mixed feelings about Greenwich," he says, explaining that on the one hand he wants to write off the town as a place where people treated him horribly 30 years ago and on the other, he knows it is a beautiful place and hopes that the snobbery and racism he faced here are dissipating. Hillel Silverman, rabbi emeritus of Temple Sholom, where Tabb occasionally attended religious school, says the town has changed even since he moved here in 1981.

"Times have changed. Of course there are vestiges of anti-Semitism everywhere, I suppose. I know that since I've been here there's been a tremendous decrease in anti-Semitism," Silverman says. "I think people have become much more understanding and much more tolerant."

Tabb's book was released this spring, and he says he already is working on his next, another memoir that focuses on the tribulations of his struggles through high school in Florida. With any luck, his second book will be as enjoyable and insightful as his first.