Roundup: High School Mock Election, Playhouse Video, More


Bipartisan politicians gathered in front of Staples High School yesterday. The mission: introducing a statewide initiative to educate Connecticut students about the voting process.

All week long, the state Department of Education is partnering with the lieutenant governor to hold a virtual mock election.

Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz headed the dignitaries. She noted that 20% of all 20-year-olds vote in elections — but 80% of 80-year-olds do.

First Selectman Jim Marpe noted that Westport has already received 9,500 requests for mail-in ballots for the presidential election. So far, 4,700 have been returned, via mail or the Town Hall drop box.

State Senator Tony Hwang said that his parents — who escaped from communist China — knew that the ability to vote was “foundational” to a democracy.

Will Haskell graduated from Staples in 2014. Four years later, he was elected to the State Senate. He said that young people are underrepresented in Hartford and Washington, but that “all voices are valued.”

State Representative Jonathan Steinberg — another Staples grad — added that “young people want to be engaged, in positive ways.”

From left: 1st Selectman Jim Marpe, Staples High School principal Stafford Thomas, State Senator Tony Hwang, Lieutenant Governor Susan Bysiewicz, members of Staples’ Social Studies Honor Society, and State Representative Jonathan Steinberg. Also in attendance: State Senator Will Haskell, and Westport 6-12 social studies coordinator Lauren Francese. 


Saturday’s Remarkable Theater screening celebrating 90 years of the Westport Country Playhouse was a smash.

Response was so great — both at the Imperial Avenue drive-in and online — that it will remain available on demand through tonight (11:59 p.m.). Tickets are $25. (Ticket-holders from Saturday: Your unique link is also live through tonight.)

The Playhouse is just $20,000 of their goal for the event. Funds help make up for the loss of the gala this year. Click here for an on-demand ticket, and to make additional gifts.


The Connecticut Conference of Municipalities is hosting a series of online discussions called “CCM CARES – Getting Comfortable With The Uncomfortable.”

CARES stands for “Communities Advancing Racial Equity Series,” On the panel today (Tuesday, October 19, 6:30 p.m.): Westport 1st Selectman Jim Marpe.

To register, click here. You can watch without registering on Facebook Live(Hat tip: Peter Gold)

First Selectman Jim Marpe


And finally … on this date in 1973, Richard Nixon fired Attorney General Elliot Richardson and Deputy Attorney General William Ruckelshaus, after they refused to fire Watergate special prosecutor Archibald Cox. After what became known as the Saturday Night Massacre, Cox was finally fired by Robert Bork, the #3 man at the Justice Department.

 

Westport Writer Stirs “Niche Sports” Hornet’s Nest

A mother whose daughters are fencers — and who compete in cutthroat tournaments nationally — has an epiphany:

It’s the Fourth of July. (My husband is) in Ohio; I’m in California. What are we doing to our family? We’re torturing our kids ridiculously. They’re not succeeding. We’re using all our resources and emotional bandwidth for a fool’s folly.

Yet she

didn’t know how to make the folly stop. The practices, clinics, and private lessons continued to pile up, pushing everything else off the calendar (except for homework; the woman knew her girls had to be outstanding athletes and outstanding students to get into the right school).

“’We just got caught up in it,” she says. “We thought this is what good parents do. They fight for opportunities for their kids.’”

That’s the opening anecdote in a long, harrowing Atlantic story about youth sports.

Titled “The Mad Mad World of Niche Sports Among Ivy League Obsessed Parents,” it focuses on fencers, rowers, and squash, water polo and lacrosse players — “niche athletes” — in Fairfield County.

None of the examples specifically mentions Westport. But the writer — Ruth S. Barrett — lives here. Her stories are not far from home.

The Atlantic illustrated Ruth Barrett’s story with this time-lapse photo by Pelle Cass.

There’s the Darien parent who says, “There’s no more church. No more friends. We gave it all up for squash.”

Barrett writes about the “excessively ornate … circular logic” college sports ecosystem that rewards athletes in once-less-popular sports whose families can pay their own way at private colleges.

The pool of those athletes has grown. But the number of spots on teams has not.

As Barrett notes bitingly:

Alpha sports parents followed the rules — at least those of the meritocracy — only to discover that they’d built the 80th- or 90th-best lacrosse midfielder in the country. Which, it turns out, barely qualifies you for a spot at the bottom of the roster at Bates.

When COVID hit college athletics hard, the rat race seemed over. Inside Lacrosse CEO Terry Foy told Barrett:

The kid who would have gone to Yale now goes to Georgetown. The kid who would have gone to Georgetown now goes to Loyola. On and on. And then eventually you get down to Wentworth. And then you just don’t play college sports.

But it was only a temporary pause. Parents are as determined as ever to have their children — in whom they have invested untold amounts of money, and incalculable hours of driving, cross-country travel and competition-watching — find a spot on a college team.

And — it goes without saying — an elite one.

“What parent wants to have a child who’s going to be playing for a bottom-tier school with bottom-tier academics in the armpit of the United States?” the mother of a water polo player in Stamford asks. “I want to be polite. But there’s no way in hell.”

Barrett is unsparing. She writes:

Amid the shifting norms, there’s a growing sense of unease among suburban parents in niche-sport hubs—a dread that they went too far, failed to read the room. And they’re not wrong.

“It’s easy to stereotype the Fairfield County player,” says Lars Tiffany, the men’s varsity-lacrosse coach at the University of Virginia. “The Fairfield County player is the rich kid who still has his umbilical cord connected: the kid who doesn’t really have to take ownership of his mistakes or actions.”

Tiffany insists he doesn’t buy in to such broad-brush stereotypes. “We try not to care where they’re from,” he says. And yet, “if they’re from a hotbed, there’s an expectation level.”

He elaborates: “Do I hold the Fairfield County lacrosse player to a higher standard? Of course. You just know he’s been coached up. So flash-forward to me watching a [high school] junior on the lacrosse field. The thought is going through my brain that I like his skill set but there’s room for growth.

“But then I think, Wait. He’s already had a lot of people working on these things. He’s a little tapped out. Maybe I’ll take a player from Northern California or Texas. Someone who hasn’t been exposed to such elite coaching. Someone whose best lacrosse could be ahead of him. You try to tell yourself not to overanalyze, but you do.”

There’s much more in Barrett’s Atlantic piece, including a harrowing scene with 2 squash players at Stamford’s Chelsea Piers.

“The vibe was primal and strange,” Barrett writes.

“I was half-expecting Grace to chop off Emma’s ponytail and hold it aloft. This was the junior-squash world at its pre-pandemic apogee—the Hunger Games for the ruling class.”

There’s the example too of squash parents who “install pros off tour in their guest homes or in-law suites, to be available for private instruction on demand.”

How do young athletes cope? Some burn out. Barrett cites an NCAA survey that mentions “off-the-charts” binge drinking and drug use by lacrosse players.

Remember that fencing family in the opening anecdote? Barrett goes back to them. During the pandemic, the mother says:

The girls were lying on the trampoline, finding shapes in the maple trees. I realized that I’d never seen them doing that — just lying down on the trampoline together, giggling about different things. I think they’re going to look back on this period as one of the happiest times of their youth. It feels so good to get off that hamster wheel.

But that did not last. The next month, she took her daughters to a “secret bunker court” no one else knew about.

Barrett writes:

It’s a haunting vision: the ponytailed girls in hidden glass boxes training harder and harder, hitting straight rails along the line, faster and faster, even as the college spots melt away and the cultural sands shift beneath their feet.

(To read Ruth S. Barrett’s full Atlantic story, click here. Hat tip: Fred Cantor)

Pics Of The Day #1281

Near season’s end: Remarkable Theater … (Drone photo/John Videler for Videler Photography)

… and behind the scenes (Photo/Amy Schneider)

Roundup: Remarkable Playhouse, Pop Art, WVEMS, More


Stage and screen met Saturday night. The Westport Country Playhouse’s gala was held outdoors, at the Remarkable Theater.

Doug Tirola and Mark Lamos’ short-form documentary saluted the WCP’s 90-year history, and many of the artists who have appeared onstage.

The evening included filmed performances by Playhouse alumni like Kate Baldwin, a long with Jane Alexander, Lissy Newman, Christopher Plummer, Stephen Sondheim, Richard Thomas and more.

Don’t worry about the photo below: Everyone was masked, except while eating.

(Photo/Molly Alger)


Speaking of stars:

Paul Newman, I Love Lucy, Martha Stewart, Rodney Dangerfield, Robert Ludlum, Redford, Superman, Dennis the Menace, Great Gatsby, Bewitched, Anne Hathaway, Christopher Lloyd, Helen Hunt and gazillions of others — all lived in Westport, had a show based here, or were otherwise connected to our town.

This multi-media original showing them all is now available exclusively at Westport River Gallery (corner of Riverside Avenue and Post Road West).

It was created by songwriter Frankie Vinci. His rock journey has led him to create raw, colorful pop art/mixed media pieces.


Westport Volunteer Emergency Medical Service’s annual fundraising drive is underway.

Nearly 100 volunteers and 6 full-time staff provide superb pre-hospital care to anyone living, working or passing through Westport. They give more than 18,000 hours of their time each year, responding to over 2,300 emergency calls. They also teach CPR, EMT and Stop the Bleed classes.

This year has been especially trying. Because of COVID, over 900 calls meant  donning full PPE. Still, they answered the calls.

WVEMS purchases all of the equipment needed — from a box of Band-Aids to an entire, state-of-the-art ambulance. But they could not do it without us.

Tax-deductible donations make it all possible. Click here to help.

So Westport Volunteer EMS can continue to help us.


And finally … did you know that October is National Pasta Month?

 

Gather ‘Round The Radio — And Dine!

Remember when the family gathered together on Sunday night, sharing dinner while listening to a drama or musical on the radio?

Neither do I.

But Westporters — and anyone else with an internet connection — can enjoy evenings in the coming weeks. Staples Players presents 3 radio shows.

And 3 local restaurants are offering special meal deals, to spice up the fun.

This Sunday (October 25, 6 p.m.), tune in to “The Wizard of Oz.” Little Barn has created a special menu including Wicked Witch Wings, Tin Man Tacos, Munchkin Burger (kid-size), Emerald City Cocktails and more.

Click here and choose “Order later” for October 25. Scroll down to the “Wizard of Oz” menu (after “Entrees”). NOTE: Glinda the Good Witch says you can order from the whole menu if you like!

Little Barn is not in Kansas anymore. Then again, it never was.

On November 8 (6 p.m.), listen to “Pride and Prejudice” whilst dining on Pemberley’s prime rib dinner, complete with Yorkshire pudding, roast potatoes and sticky toffee pudding. It’s all courtesy of (of course) Fairfield’s Gruel Brittania.

Gruel Brittania’s sticky toffee pudding.

Then on November 22, gather round the hearth for the holiday classic “It’s a Wonderful Life.” The comes from a classic Westport spot: Dunville’s.

Call or text Dunville’s owner Steve Carpentieri (203-247-3113) with your order for:

  • George Bailey’s Yankee pot roast dinner for 4 (potatoes, carrots, celery, pearl onions. mixed greens salad)
  • Uncle Billy’s smoked St Louis ribs with fries and coleslaw
  • Mary Hatch’s seafood stuffed sole with mashed potatoes, mixed vegetables and hollandaise sauce
  • Mr. Potter’s New Bedford day boat sea scallops with sautéed spinach, white beans, garlic, extra virgin olive oil.

Dunville’s Yankee pot roast.

Menus are available on the restaurants’ websites within a week of each show. Order ahead; quantities are limited.

(The 3 radio shows can be heard on WWPT, 90.3 FM. For the livestream, click on www.wwptfm.org.)

At Saugatuck Church, Black Lives Matter

Westport has many beautiful churches. But in terms of looks — and denomination — it doesn’t get more New England-y than Saugatuck Congregational.

Old, wooden, white, and set back on a broad lawn in the heart of downtown, Saugatuck Church makes a strong statement to everyone about history and heritage.

Now it’s making a strong statement about current events, and the role of a religious institution in modern society.

A “Black Lives Matter” sign has been hung across the front of the church. 

And it’s not a yard sign, or a banner you must squint to read.

The sign is big. It’s bold. It’s meant to be seen by everyone.

(Photo/Priscilla Long)

Yesterday morning — socially distanced because of COVID, but shoulder to shoulder emotionally — the church blessed the sign. 

Harold Bailey — chair of TEAM Westport, the town’s multicultural committee — spoke briefly.

On Friday, Pastor Alison Patton sent a letter to her congregation. She wrote:

We are getting ready to hang a Black Lives Matter banner on the façade of Saugatuck Church. We do so to support those among us who are black and brown, during a year that has been particularly hard on people of color, and to express our commitment to work against racism. This is a project initiated by our Arts and Ministry Team and unanimously supported by our Saugatuck Church Council.

Among the many inter-locking experiences that have defined 2020 is a heightened focus on systemic racism and its impact on communities of color. In response, many of you have taken steps to deepen your understanding of racism – reading, discussing, marching and asking, “What more can I do?” You have leaned into this moment with courage and curiosity.

Rev. Alison Patton

Together, we have grieved the harm inflicted on those among us who are black and brown. We have prayed, held small group discussions and shared resources to support our collective learning. We’ve begun to explore the uncomfortable reality that those of us who are white have advantages in this culture that are not afforded people of color.

We are only just beginning what is truly a life-long project: to unmask racism, unlearn our own biases, and develop the tools to build diverse, equitable and inclusive communities. As I said on Sunday, this is hard work; it is also heart work. It is uncomfortable and necessary and holy.

Why “Black Lives Matter”?

The work begins when we say, out loud, to each other and to our neighbors, that black lives matter – as much as any other lives. It is a deceptively simple assertion that has stirred up all kinds of discomfort, usually among those of us who are white. Some worry it implies that black lives matter more, or that other lives matter less. 

It might help to know that this line got its start not as a message to white folks, but as a tweet by Alicia Garza, who is black, to her own black community, at a time when they were feeling particularly vulnerable. It was a 16-character love letter.** To repeat her words now is to challenge the systems that have perpetuated inequality in ways that deny the intrinsic worth of black lives.

I know you’ve heard me say this before: I am deeply convinced that we are called to this project as people of faith and, in particular, as followers of Jesus, who insisted on the God-created value of all people and showed us how to love publicly in a world of inequality.

And I believe that church is the perfect place to launch this work: here, where we can wrestle, confess, forgive, learn, listen, stumble, get back up, reach out, and practice loving – ourselves and each other – the whole way through.

During the 2016 election, Saugatuck Church was open for prayer and reflection.

So, What’s Next?

When Council gave its support to the banner proposal, we did so with the recognition that we need to pair the words with real efforts to equip ourselves to confront and dismantle racism. Here are our next steps:

  • On Saturday, 30 members of Saugatuck Church will participate in a racial justice workshop led by Dr. Donique McIntosh, Minister for Racial Justice for our Southern New England Conference.
  • **On Thursday, October 29, our online small group, VOICES, will feature a podcast about the origin and history of Black Lives Matter.

This is just the start. There are more learning opportunities in the works. We will continue to dig deeper, examine our own habits, seek out partners, and ask what more needs to be done to banish racism in our lives, our church and the world. Please reach out to me if you have questions or ideas about these efforts.

Beloved, I am so honored to be doing this work in partnership with you. May God bless our words and our actions, our listening and our learning. May the Christ in our midst keep us curious and brave.

 

Pic Of The Day #1280

Ford Road, this afternoon (Photo/Andrew Colabella)

Photo Challenge #303

Who knew where last week’s photo of a carved owl was? (Click here to see.)

Susan Iseman, Jennifer Piseck and Elaine Marino, that’s “who.”

It’s at Earthplace. It’s just one small part of a magnificent, sometimes overlooked Westport facility. If you haven’t been to the science, conservation and education center off off Stony Brook Road, click here — then check it out in person.

This week’s Photo Challenge shows a different bit of nature. If you know where in Westport you’d see this watery scene, click “Comments” below.

(Photo/Bob Weingarten)

Roundup: CVS, Mistletoes & Margaritas, More


Bob Weingarten is frustrated. He writes:

Yesterday around 9:40 a.m., I called CVS pharmacy. It took them more than 53  minutes to answer.

At about the 45-minute mark I called their customer service (800-746-7287) to complain. They answered within 30 seconds. After I explained the issue, they tried to call the Westport CVS — but could not get through.

They send a note to the store manager, and told me he would answer me within 2 to 4 hours.

Not sure if other readers have had this problem, but I believe they have. When standing in line to pick up a prescription, I always hear calls are “waiting to be answered.”


Friday’s rain was heavy. For most Westporters, it was a minor inconvenience.

For residents of Saugatuck Shores though, it was the usual story: flooding.

Here’s a shot of Canal Road, at midday:

(Photo/Gene Borio)


Adam’s House is based in Shelton. But the organization — which helps youngsters grieving the loss of a loved one — has a strong local presence.

It was started by Allison Wysota. Her husband Adam died suddenly in 2012, when their 3 boys were in Weston schools.

Adam’s House is launching a “Mistletoes & Margaritas” online shopping fundraiser. It will be live November 30.

Area businesses are invited to join the e-commerce site. Bill Taibe is participating as a sponsor/vendor. He will sell gift certificates, and may do a bartending event with Don Memo.

Clem Butt, who sells wines all over Westport, will do a virtual wine-tasting. Jim VElgot will sell his artwork. Adam’s House volunteers hope many more Westport shops, restaurants, artists and others will offer their goods and services too.

Click here for the “Mistletoes and Margaritas” website.


And finally … Esperanza Spalding turns 36 today.

 

Vote! But How?

Alert — and civic-minded — “06880” reader Jeff Seaver wants to vote by mail. But, he says, the state of Connecticut is not making it easy. He writes:

We’re all aware of issues with absentee ballots and voting drop boxes across the US. I assumed Connecticut would be exempt.

But if you choose to vote via absentee ballot from the State of Connecticut, and mail a request, here’s what you see:

1. The paperwork arrives in a fat envelope.

2. Whoever they hired for graphic design, it’s as if they offered a bonus for the least intuitive way humanly possible:

  • Key messages are buried in body text
  • Big headers contain unimportant information
  • There are 5 separate forms
  • English and Spanish versions are crammed side-by-side, and flipped onto both sides of an envelope, with no explanation
  • The paperwork arrives in several different colors (why?).

3. Once you’ve filled out your ballot, you might assume you should put it in the mailing envelope, and lick it shut. Then you figure out that’s the wrong envelope.

4. The ballot must go in a different envelope. (These instructions are buried on the back of a printed pamphlet labeled “General Election Statutes of the State of Connecticut.”)

5. You can’t easily open the mailing envelope, since you just glued shut. So you tear or slice it open. Now, even if you re-seal it with tape, you have a mailing envelope that looks tampered with.

6. After all this, you put the ballot in the smaller (correct) envelope, put that inside the larger (correct) mailing envelope, and seal it for mailing.

7. Then you spot a little purple handout still sitting on your desk that came in the paperwork.

8. The printed handout contains this warning:

IMPORTANT!

To ensure that your ballot is received on time by 8:00 p.m. on Election Day, please place your ballot into the secure drop box located in your town. Once deposited in the secure drop box, your ballot is considered received by the town.

Your ballot should be deposited in the secure drop box no later than 8 p.m. on Nov. 3, 2020.

Town Name                     WESTPORT

Drop Box Location          TOWN HALL, 110 MYRTLE AVE.  — REAR ENTRANCE

9. So: which is it? Do you mail this envelope (it Is clearly marked as a piece of US mail), or do you believe this form, which states you need to deliver the envelope to Town Hall if you want to ensure it’s received on time?

Could I figure all this out? I went to high school and everything. I could probably mail it, but my simple solution is: In an age when “In Everything We No Longer Trust” should be printed on our currency, I’m driving it over to the drop box.