Jack Gismondi pictured at his home in Peconic. (Source: Steve Wick.
It may not be common knowledge, but Jack the plumber has another side to him – Eli the writer.
It has been a semi secret for a while that Jack Gismondi, owner of Cutchogue Plumbing & Heating, has a rather interesting hobby/side interest. He’s a writer.
As it turns out, in addition to essays and short stories, Jack the Plumber has also published two novels under the pseudonym Eli Stoneman. So, for the record, Eli Stoneman is actually Jack Gismondi.
“My cover has been exposed,” he said.
Mr Gismondi, who turns 62 on July 14, has been told he looks a little like Ernest Hemingway and Sean Connery. He is personable and a deep thinker. Very deep.
That came out in a recent nearly two-hour interview with The Suffolk Times. In addition to his plumbing tools, Mr. Gismondi uses the paraphernalia of a writer’s trade. And his writing background before he wrote his first novel at the age of 52?
Mr. Gismondi, a native of Brooklyn who moved to Riverhead in 1977, had a minor career at Riverhead High School. School held little attraction for him. It bored him.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t well read. He said he read Greek mythology by the age of 7 and the entire works of Edgar Allan Poe before he was 10.
Still, high school didn’t work out for him. Math and science had no attraction. “There wasn’t a lot I liked about going to school,” he said. In four years of high school, he earned a total of 2 1/4 credits, fewer than he later earned through college courses, he said.
A year after high school, Mr. Gismondi passed his high school equivalency exam. In the summer of 1979 he attended summer evening classes at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. There, during an English composition course, he met a teacher he had never met before: Vince Clemente.
Mr. Gismondi recalled that Mr. Clemente had been sweating profusely in a second-floor classroom without air conditioning while enthusiastically teaching. Mr. Clemente made an impression.
“He was just one of those people in your life who tell you that if you believe in yourself you can become anything and to this day I think he’s a guy who changed my life,” Mr Gismondi said , who remembered Mr. Clemente’s words of encouragement, telling him he had the talent to be a writer.
“Pretty heady stuff for a 19-year-old, you know, who bombed out of high school,” said Mr. Gismondi. “It was encouraging and one of those defining things that stays in your life. There is always someone along the way who will change you in one way or another. It might just be incidental. He was the guy.”
In the meantime, Mr. Gismondi hopped around in a variety of jobs, working with carpenters, bricklayers and in the swimming pool business. It was around 1982, he said, when former Times Review Media Group editor Troy Gustavson offered him a trial as a reporter.
“He gave me an audition and I bombed great, and that was the end of my writing career,” Mr Gismondi said.
Or so he thought.
A plumber friend introduced Mr. Gismondi to this profession, which offered good money, year-round work and respect. “The first week I was a plumber, I made $50 one night installing a faucet for someone,” he said. “And a lightbulb went out. I said, ‘That’s a good gig. I could make a lot of money with that.’ ”
Within 5 1/2 years, Mr. Gismondi had earned a master plumber’s license. His dream of writing dissolved while he worked six to seven days a week and saved money to buy a house in Peconic in 1990, where he still resides.
“Next thing you know, I’m Jack the plumber and the writing job was like my friends who wanted to be rock stars and ended up selling shoes or working in parchment,” he said. “Your life is getting in your way and your dreams are fading.”
Mr Gismondi spent several years caring for his late wife Christine, who was struggling with health. They had been married for 32 years when she died last year. Ms. Gismondi had written her own published volume entitled Poetry Emotion. She signed it with her maiden name, Chrissy Elisabeth Rockson.
Mr Gismondi said he got into a rut. Life slipped past him. “I wanted more out of life,” he said. “I was sleepwalking, and I’ve been sleepwalking and going through the moves for many years.”
One day in 2013, while on a golf trip in Atlantic City with some friends, Mr. Gismondi met an attractive woman in a hat who made a deep impression on him. He said they talked for three hours.
The experience triggered something in him. Returning home, he felt compelled to write a novel, The Girl in the Hat, about a man who meets a woman and is “filled with the spirit of being 21 years old and… to feel alive. ”
Mr Gismondi said: “It was a cathartic experience for me. I had to remove it from my system. I burst out. I burst from the story. It came out of me. Thirty years of pent up feelings and it came out of me and suddenly here I am writing a book. I didn’t see it coming, but it happened. I was almost manic in my need to get this down on paper. It just couldn’t be suppressed.”
“When I write, it exhausts me. I can write three or four pages and I’m mentally exhausted.”
The 114-page novel took three weeks to write and was published in 2015. “It could have taken longer but by the time I finished I was kind of exhausted,” said Mr Gismondi.
Mr. Gismondi mailed a copy of the book to the real “girl in the hat.” She later told him her friend had read it and couldn’t put it down.
Why didn’t she read it?
“She had a brain aneurysm at birth around the age of 27 and couldn’t read,” he said. “Isn’t that the ultimate irony? You write a book about a girl and then find out she can’t read it.”
The woman wore a hat because she had a scar on her head.
Mr Gismondi’s second book, the 184-page Slipping Into The Sea, took a couple of years to write and was released in 2021. The North Fork was the setting for this work of fiction about a man in a conflict with the police.
“The second book proved to me that I could write another book,” said Mr. Gismondi. “You know the old saying, everyone has a book inside them? I had to prove to myself that I could do a second one and I did it and I put a lot of work into it, a little more polish.”
Mr. Gismondi has written essays and short stories that have been exhibited in art galleries. For some short stories he used the pseudonym JD Plumber.
Why the pseudonyms?
He said he wanted to keep his writing separate from his day-to-day work and not tarnish his reputation as a plumber. Plumbers have been good for Mr Gismondi, who has been in the business for 37 years.
“I give my all to my plumbing job and I take it very seriously,” said the past president of the Southold Kiwanis Club. “It’s an important thing. I go to bed every night and pray, ‘God bless my work.’
“I have a lot of insecurities about my writing. I still feel like an amateur.
“My calling is Jack the plumber. It’s the only thing I have to hold onto that means anything to me. As Eli, I didn’t want to distract from being Jack the plumber and make a clown out of myself.”
Mr. Gismondi, a one-finger typist, wrote the two books by hand, with pen and ink. Lately, he said, he’s been dictating copies into Microsoft Word documents.
“When I write, it exhausts me,” he said. “I can write three or four pages and I’m mentally exhausted.”
The author reads a lot. Mr Gismondi said he had read Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick three times and was a big fan of historian David McCullough’s work. John Steinbeck, JD Salinger and Sinclair Lewis are also among his favorite authors.
What’s next for Eli the writer?
Mr Gismondi said he was about 50 pages into a third novel on artificial intelligence. “It’s a massive departure and far more ambitious than anything I’ve written,” he said. He also hopes to publish a collection of short stories.
Mr. Gismondi is not averse to using profanity in his writing, especially when expressing emotion. “I consider vulgarity or profanity to be the spice of language. I like it,” he said. “Its hard. It is real. For me there is an appropriate place for it.”
Writing was an enrichment for Mr. Gismondi. It’s a turn of events he didn’t see coming in middle age.
“It’s a surprise later in life that I was able to accomplish that, and I don’t see myself as a great writer and I probably won’t ever accomplish much with it,” he said. “I enjoy it. I have some people who like my work, but I compare myself to the guy who plays guitar in a club on a Friday night, in a bar, where everyone’s drinking and eating and not really paying attention, but he does it and I give him credit for that. Fifty-five, 60 years old and he always wanted to be a musician and he is. He doesn’t play the garden but he lives his dream. He does what he loves.”
“I’m not going anywhere with this,” he continued. “I’ll be Jack the plumber until I die, but I had a lot of fun with it.”