Pic Of The Day #1563

Asher Marcus’ recent bar mitzvah — in the family’s backyard on the Saugatuck River, for which kayakers and paddle boarders slowed down to enjoy — got his mother Bonnie wondering: Has there ever been a Torah that close to the river before?

Roundup: Kings Highway Bridge, Masks, Sip & Swap …

=======================================================

First the bad news: The Kings Highway North project (connecting Main Street and Canal Street) will not be paved until next spring.

Now the good news: It won’t be closed that long.

Public Works director Peter Ratkiewich says his department (and the rest of the country) has run into supply chain issues. As soon as some piping comes in, they’ll finish the water line. The road will reopen then.

The reason final paving must wait until 2022 is to let all the utility work settle.

Paving of the lower portion of Main Street — where utilities are also going in — may wait until spring too. Ratkiewich said it’s possible to do it in November, but he does not want to disrupt prime shopping season.

Bottom line: All roads will be open, hopefully soon. They just won’t be just-paved smooth.

Once upon a time, traffic flowed easily on Kings Highway North. (Photo courtesy of Google Street View)

=======================================================

The latest COVID advice from the CDC: Even if you’re vaccinated, you should wear masks indoors if you live in a place with “substantial” or high virus transmission.

The CDC classifies a community as having “substantial transmission” if there are 50 to 99 weekly cases per 100,000 residents or if the positivity rate is between 8.0 and 9.9%.

NPR has a handy tool that lists risks in every US county. As of yesterday, Fairfield County was “moderate” — in other words, below the “substantial” threshold.

Not in Fairfield County? Click here to see how your county is doing.

COVID transmission rates across the US.

=======================================================

Longtime Westporter Charlene Zeiberg has organized a great women’s clothing “sip and swap” for next Tuesday (August 3, 6 p.m., Unitarian Church parking lot).

There’s a lot going on. It’s a chance to see old friends and meet new ones while trading — not buying! — clothing and accessories. There are adult beverages and nibbles. And voluntary charitable cash donations to the Domestic Violence Crisis Center of Connecticut will be gratefully accepted. Any leftover items will be donated to charities.

Swapper alert: This is not an unload-your-junk tag sale. It’s for high-end, designer-type goods. Each participant must bring at least 10 items. And it’s ladies apparel only — not men’s or children’s. (Of course, all are welcome to attend.)

The deadline to register is this Friday night. Click here for details.

Get rid of your slightly worn gowns on August 3.

=======================================================

Adam Kaplan is taking the big leap.

The 2008 Staples High School graduate has been cast in Fox’s “dance dramedy “The Big Leap.”

The show-within-a-show “takes viewers on a journey of self-acceptance, body-positivity and empowerment at any age.” It’s described as “a modern tale about second chances, chasing your dreams and taking back what’s yours.”

The show revolves around a group of diverse, down-on-their-luck characters attempting to change their lives by participating in a potentially life-ruining reality dance show that builds to a live production of Swan Lake.

Kaplan’s role is Simon Lovewell. He is a talented dancer, has confidence to spare, and is wildly ambitious. He’s “comfortable in his queerness and likes to challenge expectations about gender in both his attitude and appearance.”

“The Big Leap” is in production in Chicago. It premieres on Fox on September 20 (9 p.m.). Click here for more details.

Kaplan recently wrapped a supporting role in “Mr. Russo,” directed by Ray Romano. He also appeared in a lead role in A Bronx Tale on Broadway opposite Chazz Palminteri, directed by Robert De Niro and Jerry Zaks.

Adam Kaplan

======================================================

Earlier this week, “06880” noted Melissa Shapiro’s upcoming appearance (Saturday) on “Good Morning America.”

You can also see the Westport veterinarian Melissa Shapiro live. Next Tuesday (August 3, 7 p.m., Zoom) she’ll discuss her book “Piglet: The Unexpected Story of a Deaf, Blind, Pink Puppy and His Family. It’s the story of how fostering the unwanted dog transformed her, her family, and countless admirers.

Piglet (and Melissa) have been featured in People Magazine, and on NBC Nightly News, CNN, CBS News and more. Click here to see our neighbor (virtually). The event is sponsored by the Westport Library; autographed copies of the book are available here.

=======================================================

Today’s “Westport … Naturally” orchids come courtesy of Molly Alger, on Whitney Street:

=======================================================

And finally … if you’ve followed these “And finally …” videos for any amount of time, you know that Bruce Springsteen is one of my all-time favorite rockers.

His wife, Patti Scialfa, is no slouch herself.

She joins Bruce every night for a few songs at his Broadway show. From my 2nd-row pre-pandemic seat*, it was a riveting performance.

Today is Patti Scialfa’s 68th birthday. Hope she has a brilliant one.

Eat your heart out

 

Jimmy Pitaro: Worldwide Sports Leader Leads From Westport

On March 11, Jimmy Pitaro worked at his home office in Westport. He’d just finished a senior staff meeting, examining different scenarios for his company in the onrushing COVID crisis.

That night, the National Basketball Association announced the suspension of its season.

The decision jolted Pitaro. The company he chairs is ESPN.

The next morning — as sports leagues around the world followed the NBA’s lead — Pitaro and his programming team began planning for every possible scenario.  Their goal: keep the global sports network in business, when the business of sports had suddenly changed around the globe.

Jimmy Pitaro, at ESPN headquarters. (Photo/Joe Faraoni)

Pitaro gives his team plenty of credit. They obtained rights to WWE wrestling, and partnered with Korean baseball. They accelerated development of “The Last Dance,” a 10-part docuseries about Michael Jordan and the 1997-98 Chicago Bulls.

Behind the scenes, ESPN scrambled to set up in-home production systems for more than 550 on-air men and women.

The moves kept programming going 24/7, in more than 200 countries. That kept anxious advertisers at bay.

When live events slowly started again, ESPN found ways to cover them remotely. Gone were gigantic production trucks; in their place were producers, play-by-play announcers and analysts covered competitions from studios and homes.

Some of those changes may continue, post-pandemic. So will demand for sports documentaries. ESPN’s features on martial artist Bruce Lee, bike racer Lance Armstrong and baseball sluggers Sammy Sosa and Mark McGwire found ready audiences.

The number of outside filmmakers pitching ideas now is “off the charts,” Pitaro says.

ESPN is looking for those that are “big, bold and needle-moving. We’re asking: How can we capture the zeitgeist? Where can we make an impact?”

The network is as much about story-telling and investigative reporting as it is about showing games and matches. Pitaro says he surrounds himself with “great people,” then trusts them to deliver.

Among them: fellow Westporter and ESPN producer Andy Tennant. The other day, over breakfast at The Granola Bar, they discussed shows like “E60,” the newsmagazine that Pitaro says combines “substance, heart and humor.”

Pitaro became chair of ESPN in 2018, after 8 years at its parent, the Walt Disney Company. From his first days at “The Mouse,” Pitaro and Disney chair Bob Iger talked about sports, and Pitaro’s opportunities there.

His athletic background is strong. A Scarsdale native who played football at Cornell University, Pitaro grew up in a house where “ESPN SportsCenter was the soundtrack of my life.” New York Yankees, Giants, Knicks and Rangers games were always on. His sister, Lara Pitaro Wisch, is now general counsel for Major League Baseball.

Jimmy Pitaro, mid-pandemic. (Photo/Phil Ellsworth)

Pitaro’s wife, meanwhile, is actress Jean Louisa Kelly (“Uncle Buck,” “Mr. Holland’s Opus,” “Top Gun: Maverick”). When Pitaro joined ESPN he commuted to headquarters in Bristol, Connecticut from Los Angeles.

That was unsustainable. In mid-2018 the couple, and their 2 children, moved to Westport.

“It’s perfect,” Pitaro says. “My wife needs to be near Manhattan. It’s right between New York and Bristol. We love the water. We had friends here — including the woman who introduced me to my wife 27 years ago. We fell in love with the town.”

Their son Sean, a rising Staples High School senior, is a boxer who trains at Rich Dean’s Post Road studio. Daughter Josy, a rising sophomore, is active in Staples Players, and studies acting, voice and dance with Cynthia Gibb’s Triple Threat Academy. She also enjoys tennis, with Beth Norton at the Westport Tennis Club.

“We love it here. We couldn’t be happier,” Pitaro says.

Countless sports fans across the planet say the same thing about ESPN’s pandemic pivot. At a time of crisis, the company scored.

Pic Of The Day #1562

Harbor Road bus shelter, Saugatuck Island (Photo/Dane Lonsdale)

Wildlife In Crisis: Tribute To “Bear 211”

It’s not often that an organization writes a tribute to an animal.

But “Bear 211” — the animal, named for its State of Connecticut tag, that lumbered through Westport for the past several weeks — touched many hearts.

“Bear 211” was struck and killed by a hit-and-run motorist yesterday, in Easton. Weston-based Wildlife in Crisis posted this tribute on social media:

He was known as “Bear 211” due to the unsightly plastic tags pierced through his beautiful ears. He had a Facebook page. He was beloved by residents of Westport, Weston and surrounding towns.

He swam in pools, he sat on porches, he lingered on lawns and he roamed. He weighed 120 pounds, a yearling bear. He touched the hearts of many during his short time on this earth.

Close encounter of the bear kind, near Weston Road. (Photo/Denny Galindo)

On July 26th, this majestic bear was critically injured after being hit by a car and local police officers ended his suffering. We are heartbroken at Wildlife in Crisis.

We’ve raised orphaned bear cubs and know first-hand just how endearing this species can be. We are proud of our community for their compassion for this bear.

There is much we can learn from Bear 211. As suburban sprawl has overtaken Fairfield County, we are now more than ever stewards of the wild animals that live amongst us. We can all make a difference for wildlife from bears to butterflies, by being good stewards.

Enlighten your neighbors. Leave mature trees standing. Don’t use pesticides, rodenticides or herbicides, and work towards banning them. Allow half your lawn to grow into a life giving meadow. Don’t trap wildlife, leave them be. Keep cats indoors and supervise your dogs.

The bear on Old Hill. (Photo/Stella Wong)

It’s really easy and so fulfilling to live in harmony with nature. We must teach our children to be tolerant and respectful of our ecosystem.

Incessant development killed this bear and so many other wild animals. Lack of foresight has caused the overdevelopment of our towns.

Traffic is out of control. There’s no time for bureaucracy, there is no time for procedures; the time is now to preserve what little is left of open space. All privately owned land will be lost to development unless it is permanently protected. The most meaningful thing we can do as a community to honor Bear 211’s memory is to actively preserve remaining open space.

Black bears now live amongst us. Or we live amongst them, depending on your point of view. The maturation of our forests in Connecticut have given rise to a growing bear population.

This bear roamed Westport in 2019. (Photo/Alec Shutze)

Unfortunately, these forests are now bisected by roads and endless suburban sprawl. Black bears are omnivores, with a preference for succulents, greens, roots, nuts, seeds and berries. They will prey on fish and occasionally newborn fawns in the spring, bringing natural balance to our ecosystem. They vary in color from white to brown to black.

Mating season is in May and June with delayed embryo implantation happening in the fall once female bears have sufficient fat reserves. They only breed every other year, and only if they are fit enough to raise young. One to five cubs are born in the mother’s winter den and remain with her for 18 months. 2 cubs are the norm.

These charismatic megafauna are at the center of folklore and fairy tales. In real life we need to admire them at a distance. A bear habituated to humans will eventually be killed. Black bears will almost always retreat from humans. If they are nervous they will sometimes bluff charge-pounce once, slam their front feet down, blow loudly, and sometimes smack their lips.

In 2013, Cablevision News 12 aired this shot of a black bear in Westport.

Blustery bears are not about to attack, they are simply showing their discomfort around humans before they retreat or tree. Keep your distance from bears and they will do the same. Don’t run from a bear, simply walk away. Bears are easily scared by clapping, yelling and a water hose if necessary. Just use common sense.

Keep bird feeders far from your house. Supervise your dogs! Keep garbage in bear proof containers or closed securely in your garage. A little ammonia in a garbage can will mask food odors.

Bears have an incredible sense of smell and are now bulking up for winter. They are not true hibernators, they will emerge from dens on warmer winter days, especially if they are on the thin side.

Let’s appreciate these magnificent creatures by respecting their space and keeping remaining trees standing, especially old growth trees that produce vital life giving mast. Live and let live.

PS: Much appreciated donations in Bear 211’s memory can be made on our website.

Donations will be put towards our bear program and the care of our thousands of patients hit by cars every year. Protecting habitat is the most important thing we can do for wildlife.

We urge people to make it abundantly clear to their elected officials, that open space preservation is a quality of life issue for people and wildlife. We need to preserve more open space pronto!

We have a Wildlife in Crisis Land Trust. Anyone who wishes to contribute towards the purchase of open space can specify that it go towards our land trust. Wild animals cannot live without proper habitat, especially large animals like bears.

Thank you for your compassion and support. Rest in Peace 211, we will never forget you!

Remembering Roberta (Bobbie) Lee

Longtime Staples High School math teacher Roberta (Bobbie) Lee died on Saturday. She was 82.

The Bridgeport native graduated from Mary Washington College, and earned a aster’s degree in Connecticut. She spent 36 years at Staples, from 1966 to 2002.

A former student said, “She influenced me in ways I cannot repay, except to pay it forward, which I have done as a teacher. She was a very practical and caring teacher who did not, however, tolerate BS.

“She never gave homework on weekends but worked us hard during the week. She had no problem tossing you out of class for chewing gum, but those lessons were learned quickly.

Roberta (Bobbie) Lee, in the 1995 Staples High School yearbook.

“She commanded a great deal of well-deserved respect. She is the only teacher in my life, including college and grad school, that I chose to have again. She had a great deal of influence when I chose my career.

“I carry the lessons she taught me, not only in math but in life. To this day I am grateful for her friendship later in life.

“Roberta loved animals (especially my dogs). We had many lunches and get- togethers over the years. She will be missed every day.”

Her favorite teams — the Boston Red Sox and University of Connecticut women’s basketball Huskies — provided her with many hours of enjoyment in retirement. So did her Morningside garden.

Roberta is survived by her twin sister, Alberta Lee Chappell of Lynnfield, Massachusetts,  as well as many members of her extended family, friends, and professional colleagues.

A memorial luncheon gathering of family and friends will be celebrated on Friday, August 6 at 11:30 a.m. at the Milford Yacht Club, 131 Trumbull Avenue, Milford. Internment will be private.

In lieu of flowers, memorial contributions may be made to the Roberta E. Lee Memorial Scholarship Fund for the benefit of high school students pursuing higher education in the field of mathematics, c/o Christopher Carveth, trustee, 926 Orange Center Road, Orange CT 06477.

Roberta’s family wishes to thank the caring professionals at Smilow Cancer Hospital for their compassionate care. To leave an online tribute, click here.

Unsung Hero #200

With big parties out during our past year of isolation, Westporters celebrated special occasions with big lawn signs.

In-person celebrations are back in. But the lawn sign trend continues.

After Wesporter Jodi Rosnick Ross created a “Mazal Tov” sign for her son’s bar mitzvah in May, she had an idea: spread congratulations to others.

The sign.

Through a local social media page on Facebook, Jodi offered her sign to anyone else with an upcoming celebration.

Responses poured in. Bonnie Marcus was the “winner.” But after her own event, she wanted to share the sign with as many people as possible. She suggested writing the name and date of each celebration on the back of the first letter, to show how many lives it’s touched.

The celebrations.

Since May the sign has been to 6 parties in Westport. Bonnie wants to keep the chain of congrats growing. It’s eco-friendly, she says, and a great way to build community.

(NOTE: “Mazal Tov” — an acknowledgment of good fortune — has already been used for graduations as well as bar mitzvahs. The sky’s the limit.)

The sign is already reserved for a celebration at the end of August. But who wants it next? Click “Comments” below. Bonnie will pass the “moving Mazal Tov” sign on to whoever needs it.

Roundup: Bear, SUP, Marco (Polo!) …

=====================================================

Westport’s most famous bear is dead.

Westport Local Press reports that “Bear 211” — the black bear tagged with that number by the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, and reported at various sites in northern Westport and environs over the past 2 months — was struck by a car and killed yesterday, on Route 136 in Easton. The driver left the scene.

Click here for the full story.

This was the scene off Weston Road recently. The bear has now been struck and killed. (Photo/Denny Galindo)

=====================================================

I’ve seen plenty of things in Westport.

But never — ever — have I seen anyone swimming off Schlaet’s Point, the area just north of the Soundview Avenue jetty.

Clamming and fishing, yes. Wading out at low tide, sure. Couples making out on the rocks, check. But people swimming? Not a chance.

Okay, so playing water polo is not actually swimming. But that’s what’s gone on recently. An area water polo club has put up a portable court in the public, lifeguard-less inlet. Young players have been practicing there, preparing for a tournament in Dallas.

Which, presumably, will be indoors. The Gulf of Mexico is 600 miles from there.

(Photo/Kathleen Fazio)

=======================================================

Speaking of Compo: Yesterday’s beach story was about vandalism of benches. Today’s is about a paddleboard theft.

This year, for the first time, Mitch Raboy has stored a standup paddleboard near the kayak launch area.

On Sunday, his wife took it out on the water. She then secured it to the rack with a heavy-duty cable lock.

Now it’s gone. Only the security metal loop and chain remain.

The Raboys called the police. An officer said this kind of theft is not common.

There are no security cameras in the area, Mitch says. He’d like “06880” readers to be aware of what happened — and hopes the town will install cameras there.

My wife went out in the board on Sunday and secured it to the rack with a heavy duty cable lock afterward. On Sunday we went to check on it and found it had been stolen. The security metal loop and chain remained.

A cable (lower left) is all that’s left of the Raboys’ standup paddleboard.

=======================================================

We (you) did it!

Sustainable Westport surpassed its goal of $7,500 in challenge grant donations.

That earns them over $15,000. They’ll use the funds to inform, educate and engage residents about food scrap recycling, decreasing food waste. and diverting edible food from the incinerator to food insecure residents.

Congratulations, Westporters. And thanks to Sustainable Westport, for all you do.

======================================================

If you’re a Star Wars fan — and who isn’t? — mark next Monday (August 2).

“Star Wars IV: A New Hope” descends on the Remarkable Theater.

Showtime is 8:30 p.m. Gates open at 7:30 for tailgating. Click here for tickets and details.

======================================================

There’s a great back story behind today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo.

Dorothy Fitton writes: “We spotted this bald eagle overlooking a gathering of Boston College students in our yard last week. It may be a sign that our BC Eagles will have a great senior year!”

(Photo/Dorothy Fitton)

=======================================================

And finally … in honor of today’s “Westport … Naturally” photo above:

Gramps Has A Ponytail

It’s been more than 20 years since Bonnie Behar Brooks lived in Westport.

But the multi-talented teacher/TV producer/media director’s latest project had its roots here. And — with 16 grandchildren of her own, and 9 great-grandchildren — Bonnie knows it will resonate with her many “grand” friends still in town.

As well as anyone else looking for a fun book for young kids that includes a connection to one of the most noted session musicians in the world.

“Gramps Has a Ponytail” is the bilingual (English and Spanish) story of a young girl who spends her birthday in the recording studio with her grandfather. He’s Bonnie’s husband, Harvey Brooks.

The bassist has played and/or recorded with Jimi Hendrix, Richie Havens, Stephen Stills, John Sebastian, Seals & Crofts, Mama Cass Elliot, Boz Scaggs, Judy Collins, Loudon Wainright III, Phoebe Snow, John Cale, Phil Ochs, Al Kooper, Mavis Staples, and Peter, Paul and Mary.

He’s featured on Miles Davis’“Bitches Brew,” the best-selling jazz album of all time. He laid down some of the most famous lines in music history — including “Like a Rolling Stone” — and his work was the hook on the Doors’ “Touch Me.”

This is the second marriage for both. They were friends growing up in 1950s Queens. But she only dated college guys. He figured she was out of his league.

In the late ’80s, Bonnie contacted Harvey. They reconnected, a bit awkwardly at first. It took a while for Bonnie’s daughters to warm up to this new man. She herself was not ready to commit to a guy who had lived all around the world, and still enjoyed a free, unfettered life.

But they had great chemistry. Harvey moved into Bonnie’s Compo Road North home. Her girls eventually came to love him too. They lived happily ever after, even after 2 moves: one cross-country, the second overseas.

Bonnie and Harvey Brooks

Bonnie was well known in Westport. After teaching at Saugatuck Nursery School, she was one of Cablevision’s first community access producers. Interviews with the likes of Paul Cadmus and Ann Chernow turned into a project now at the Smithsonian. She also produced the first TV pilots for Martha Stewart.

Bonnie served as media director for Bridgeport’s Discovery Museum, In 1988 she created “Rock & Roll: Art and Artifacts,” the first exhibition covering the relationship between art and rock. It included Hendrix’s guitar, the original “Yellow Submarine” model, photos by Annie Leibovitz, and works by Andy Warhol, Keith Haring and Ron Wood.

The exhibit led to Bonnie’s reconnection with Harvey. Their relationship was solidified as she fought breast cancer. She had surgery before the wedding, chemo and radiation right after.

Years ago, Bonnie wrote a children’s book starring her first granddaughter, and Harvey. (At the end of the day with “Gramps” she gets a tambourine, and everyone sings “Happy Birthday”).

She shopped it around herself, without an agent. No publisher was interested.

“I loved my Westport life. But I married a musician,” Bonnie says. In 1998 they moved to Tucson, a music and arts town that promised adventure. Seven years later they moved again — to Jerusalem. Her oldest daughter lives there.

“It’s another adventure. We’ve made a great life here,” Bonnie says. Their multi-cultural neighborhood is “like the UN.”

Bonnie and Harvey Brooks speak to “06880” via Zoom, from Jersualem.

Last year, Tangible Press published Harvey’s memoir, “View From the Bottom: 50 Years of Bass Playing With Bob Dylan, The Doors, Miles Davis and Everybody Else.”

Now they’ve published Bonnie’s book too. Reviews call it “a delightful story told with great illustrations,” “fresh and fun,” “warm-hearted and engaging.” It also fills a small niche: books about music that grandparents can read with their grandkids.

Whether anyone has a ponytail or not.

Pic Of The Day #1561

Canal Road sunset (Photo/Michael Tomashefsky)