It was, many might say, a most unlikely gathering place for a local “men’s club.” The former Plain Jane’s Restaurant in Bethel boasted no wide-planked wood floors, dark oak paneled walls or mahogany bars. Rather, the popular eatery featured a bright and inviting dining room, colorful artwork, small tables, good food and the chummy chatter of dozens of luncheon guests. In fact, it was probably fair to say that women diners regularly outnumbered the men. Still, for the gentlemen artists, writers and businessmen who assembled here once a week at the large oblong table by the front picture window, it was perfect.
I was a latecomer to this unique group that had been meeting for years. What started as a weekly luncheon for a cadre of professional cartoonists had, over the years, gradually morphed into simply a group of friends with similar interests and like-minded political persuasion. I was invited to join because of my wife Muriel’s friendship with Cynthia Farris, wife of the group’s unofficial chairman, Joe Farris.
To be sure, artists and cartoonists were still well represented when I arrived. Joe was a well-known and prolific cartoonist for The New Yorker magazine, having published thousands of cartoons over an illustrious career. He was also an impressive Fine Arts painter. When I published my first two novels, Joe was gracious in allowing me to use two of his works as my cover art. Another cartoonist-member, Dana Fradon, was equally well-known for his contributions to The New Yorker. He also had published an illustratedseries of young-adult books about life in the middle ages, and had himself descended from a Friar Fradon who lived around that time. A third member, Orlando Busino, was also a well-known cartoonist and illustrator, widely recognized for his contributions to the many glossy feature magazines that were so popular back in the day.
The rest of us at the time were from varied backgrounds: Gerard Brooker, an educator, world traveler and author of dozens of books; Ed Rosenberg, a college mathematics professor; Frederick Carpenter, teacher and artist; John Smallwood-Garcia, an artist and filmmaker; Bruin Lipman, an insurance executive and accomplished classical musician and conductor; Bob Perliss, a talented engineer who worked on the Hubbell Telescope, and myself, a retired press relations manager for IBM writing a series of novels about early Christianity.
Our discussions at those luncheons could be as colorful and as animated as might be expected from such a diverse group. And more than once, as a voice was raised in excitement to make a point, we were justifiably met with a “shush” from a nearby table. It was a special time. It was wonderful to be with such good friends.
But time changes everything. Over the years, through circumstances, age or illness, the group gradually faded. But not the memories. They endure as if it were just last week that we were all sitting together at Plain Jane’s. Our waitress, Amy, was announcing the day’s specials and taking our order. A conversation started up again as she walked away. I remember Bruin leaning over to me, smiling, and in a low voice saying, “Please don’t tell these guys, but I love them.”
Barry Connolly was a writer, editor and manager of media relations for the IBM Corporation before starting his own marketing communications business. A succession of bible study classes at St. Mary Church helped inspire him to write a series of novels about the earliest Christians. Barry is an amateur radio operator and volunteers with Bethel's Community Emergency Response Team (CERT). He and his wife, Muriel, have two married sons and have been Bethel residents for over 45 years.