It may not be widely known, but Jack the plumber has another side to him — Eli the writer.
For a while, it had been a semi-secret that Jack Gismondi, owner of Cutchogue Plumbing & Heating, has quite an interesting side hobby/interest. He’s a writer.
Jack the plumber, it turns out, has written two published novels under a pen name, Eli Stoneman, in addition to essays and short stories. So, for the record, Eli Stoneman is in actuality Jack Gismondi.
“My cover has been exposed,” he said.
Mr. Gismondi, who will turn 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 across recently in a nearly two-hour interview with The Suffolk Times. Along with his plumbing tools, Mr. Gismondi makes use of the utensils that are part of a writer’s craft. And his writing background before he wrote his first novel at the age of 52?
A Brooklyn native who moved to Riverhead in 1977, Mr. Gismondi had an undistinguished career at Riverhead High School. School held little appeal for him. He was bored by it.
But that didn’t mean he wasn’t well-read. He said he read Greek mythology at 7 years of age and the complete works of Edgar Allan Poe before he was 10.
Still, high school wasn’t working out for him. Math and science held no allure. “There wasn’t a lot I liked about going to school,” he said. In four years of high school he totaled 2 1/4 credits, less than he later earned from college courses, he said.
One year after high school, Mr. Gismondi aced his high school equivalency exam. In the summer of 1979, he attended summer evening classes at Suffolk County Community College in Selden. It was there, while taking an English composition course, that he met an instructor unlike any he had before, Vince Clemente.
Mr. Gismondi recalled Mr. Clemente sweating profusely in a second-floor classroom with no air conditioning while teaching enthusiastically. Mr. Clemente made an impact.
“He was just one of those people in your life who tell you you can be something if you believe in yourself and to this day, he’s a guy I think of who made a difference in my life,” said Mr. Gismondi, who remembered Mr. Clemente’s encouraging words, 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,” Mr. Gismondi said. “It was encouraging and it was kind of one of those formative things that stick in your life. There’s always somebody along the way that, you know, changes you one way or another. It could be just in passing. He was the guy.”
Meanwhile, Mr. Gismondi bounced around a variety of jobs, working with carpenters, masons and in the swimming pool business. It was around 1982, he said, when former Times Review Media Group co-publisher Troy Gustavson offered him a tryout as a reporter.
“He gave me an audition and I bombed magnificently, and that was the end of my writing career,” said Mr. Gismondi.
Or so he thought.
A plumber friend opened the door for Mr. Gismondi into that trade, which offered good money, year-round work and respect. “The first week I was a plumber I made 50 bucks one night putting in a faucet for somebody,” he said. “And a light bulb went off. I said, ‘This is a good gig. I could make a lot of money doing this.’ ”
Within 5 1/2 years, Mr. Gismondi had earned a master plumber license. His writing dream dissipated while he worked six, seven days a week, saving money to buy a house in 1990 in Peconic, where he still resides.
“The next thing you know, I’m Jack the plumber and the writing gig was like my friends who wanted to be rock stars and ended up selling shoes or working in Pergament,” he said. “Your life gets in the way and your dreams fade.”
Mr. Gismondi spent several years acting as a caregiver for his late wife, Christine, who had health issues. They had been married for 32 years when she died last year. Ms. Gismondi had written a published volume of her own, “Poetry Emotion.” She signed it using her maiden name, Chrissy Elisabeth Rockson.
Mr. Gismondi said he had found himself getting into a rut. Life was sneaking past him. “I wanted more out of life,” he said. “I was sleepwalking, and I had been sleepwalking for a lot of years, going through the motions.”
One day in 2013, while on a golf trip in Atlantic City with some buddies, Mr. Gismondi met an attractive woman wearing a hat who had a profound affect on him. He said they spoke for three hours.
The experience triggered something in him. When he returned home, he felt compelled to write what became a novel, “The Girl in the Hat,” about a man who meets a woman and “becomes filled with the spirit of what it was to be 21 years old and feel alive.”
Mr. Gismondi said: “It was a cathartic experience for me. I had to get it out of my system. I was bursting with it. I was bursting with the story. It was coming 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 put this on paper. It just couldn’t be repressed.”
The novel, 114 pages long, took three weeks to write and was published in 2015. “It could have gone longer, but when it was done, I was kind of exhausted,” said Mr. Gismondi.
Mr. Gismondi sent 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 when she gave birth at the age of about 27 and she couldn’t read,” he said. “Is that not 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 him a couple of years to write and was published in 2021. The North Fork was the setting for that work of fiction about a man in a conflict with police.
“The second book was proving to myself that I could write another book,” Mr. Gismondi said. “You know the old saying, everyone’s got one book in them? I had to prove to myself that I could do a second one and I did and I put a lot of work into it, a little more polish.”
Mr. Gismondi has written essays and short stories that have been displayed in art galleries. For some short stories he used the pen name J.D. Plumber.
Why the pen names?
He said he wanted to keep his writing separate from his day job and not have it potentially affect his reputation as a plumber. Plumbing has been good to Mr. Gismondi, who has been in the business for 37 years.
“I give my all to my plumbing and I take it very seriously,” the former Southold Kiwanis Club president said. “It’s an important thing. I go to bed every night and say a prayer, ‘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 one thing that I have that I can hold onto that means something to me. Being Eli, I did not want to distract from being Jack the plumber and make a clown out of me.”
Mr. Gismondi, a one-finger typer, wrote the two books by hand, with pen and ink. Lately, he said, he’s been dictating copy into Microsoft Word documents.
“When I write, it exhausts me,” he said. “I can write three or four pages and I am mentally exhausted.”
The writer reads a lot. Mr. Gismondi said he read Herman Melville’s “Moby-Dick” three times and is a big fan of historian David McCullough’s work. John Steinbeck, J.D. 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 about artificial intelligence. “It’s a vast departure and a lot 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. “It’s rough. It’s genuine. To me there’s an appropriate place for it.”
Writing has been enriching for Mr. Gismondi. It’s a twist he hadn’t seen coming in middle age.
“It is a surprise in my later life that I got to fulfill doing this, and I don’t think of myself as a great writer and I’m probably never going on to achieve much with it,” he said. “I enjoy it. I have some people who like my work, but I equate myself to the guy who plays a guitar on a Friday night in a club, at a bar where everybody’s drinking and eating and not really paying attention, but he’s doing 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’s not playing the Garden, but he’s living his dream. He’s doing what he loves.”
“I’m never going to go anywhere with this,” he continued. “I’m going to be Jack the plumber until I die, but I have had a lot of fun with this.”