Monthly Archives: February 2013

Ann Royal Nicholas Mines Westport For “The Muffia”

Madelyn Scott-Crane is a smart, 42-year-old professional and single mom. After 22 months of self-imposed abstinence, she’s having the best sex of her life — thanks to her all-female book club (The Muffia), and their latest read.

But on their 2nd date, as Maddie and her mysterious Israeli heartthrob Udi come together (so to speak), Udi collapses on top of her. Dead.

That’s the start of The Muffia, Ann Royal Nicholas’ latest book.

And because “06880” is more than a blog about suburban women and gratuitous sex, here’s the local angle: The author grew up in Westport.

Anna Royal Nicholas

Ann Royal Nicholas

And her real Los Angeles women’s book club (“think ‘Sex and the City’ meets Jane Austen,” she says) evolved out of a group in New York, in the early 1980s. It was filled with post-grad women from Westport.

Ann/Annie (as she was known then) loved growing up here — though, like many, she did not realize it until she left. She hung out at Compo Beach and Klein’s. Her teenage years were “filled with longing for love,” starting with Jim Ainsworth as he sang “Something” at a Long Lots Junior High 8th grade dance.

An avid reader who became an actor, playwright, screenwriter, journalist, essayist and finally novelist, Ann loves fiction because she “writes for one person at a time.”

Throughout her life, she says, “I’ve been lucky to find tribes of incredible women.” After college, she landed in New York “to begin an unsuccessful modeling career.” She reconnected with a group of girls from Westport. Calling themselves the Borneo Society, they met once a month to share stories and food from a country one of them had visited (or wanted to).

Years later, in LA, she and a friend formed the Muffia. (This was “long before promoters of lesbian porn and militant English mums got hold of the name.”) Their gatherings are “always X-rated, and fantastically fun.”

Anna royal Nicholas book coverAt one point, she asked if anyone minded if she wrote about the group. She promised to change names and other sensitive information. The result, 5 years later: The Muffia.

Like any good writer, Ann mines her entire life for material. Mrs. Sperry — her 2nd grade instructor at Burr Farms Elementary — is the face Ann sees when she writes about a teacher.

“I think of Remarkable Book Shop even when I’m writing about Book Soup on Sunset Boulevard,” she says. “I have no idea if there was an erotica section at Remarkable. Was there?”

The Muffia is about “the sexy, funny women in my book club,” Ann adds. “They are very much like my friends from Westport, and women everywhere.”

The book was also written for those women. Her typical reader is “approaching middle age — if not already there — with loads of life left.

“She could be married, but not necessarily. She’s smart, likes sex — quite a bit, actually — but can live without it.

“And she likes to read, often choosing a book and a ‘toy’ over yet another internet date.”

A few of Anna Nicholas' readers.

A few of Ann Royal Nicholas’ readers.

Ann says that those women are “huge in number, but underserved. Women like me tend not to be the ones novels are written about. Usually we’re relegated to supporting roles.”

The Muffia, she says, “makes us heroes.”

She herself is a hero. She will donate 10% of all profits to girls’ and women’s charities.

Ann is already at work on Muffia II. She’s also started a new series of books.

“I can’t reveal much,” she says. “But they’re part 50 Shades of Gray, set in exotic locations. And part personal experience.”

Which no doubt makes her Westport friends — and many worldwide readers — quiver with anticipation.

Westport Stands For The Troops

When an all-star cast — James Naughton, Leslie Orofino, Robin Batteau, David Buskin and Chris Coogan — takes the stage at the Unitarian Church on Friday, March 15, they’ll do more than sing and entertain.

SFTT logoThe “Spring Fever” concert (plus auction, gourmet food and wines) is a fundraiser for Stand For The Troops. The organization does great work nationally — helping soldiers and veterans through Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, traumatic brain injury and suicide prevention programs — but next month’s event has strong local connections.

The family of Tyler Hicks — the Pulitzer Prize-winning photographer who has spent years covering wars across the globe — is on the Honorary Committee for Spring Fever, and will attend. Tyler’s sister Darcy spoke last year on his behalf. This year, her son’s band will perform.

Leslie Orofino’s father served in  World War II. He returned home with PTSD, a condition that had a profound effect on his family.

Dr. Paul Epstein — a Westport naturopath, meditation teacher and therapist — works with PTSD. He’s on the Westport chapter’s medical task force and honorary committee. His father, too, suffered from PTSD in World War II — and it too impacted his family.

James Naughton and Leslie Orofino

James Naughton and Leslie Orofino

Eilhys England — Stand For The Troops’ co-founder — has seen Westport’s outpouring of support. The wife of co-founder Colonel David Hackworth (America’s most valor-decorated soldier), she hopes to make this town a base for their organization. She will attend this year’s Spring Fever.

The March 15 event is for troops returning home. Some are local; many are not. Wherever they are, Spring Fever provides one more example of Westport meeting the world — and doing it with talent, passion, and plenty of action.

(For ticket information, click here or call 203-629-0288.)

Replacing The Irreplaceable Terry Giegengack

Normally, when a Westport town department — say, Human Services — replaces an employee who’s leaving — say, Terry Giegengack — the process is simple.

The director posts the position. She includes the job description. Candidates apply, and the best person is chosen.

Replacing Terry will be a bit tougher than that.

In 8 years as assistant director, she’s done so much — and added so many responsibilities, most on her own initiative — that director Barbara Butler first must review and revise the job description.

That’s the easy part. Replacing Terry — who leaves Thursday, to become Fairfield’s director of social services — will be far more difficult.

Terry Giegengack at work...

Terry Giegengack at work…

She’s been a mainstay of Westport’s Human Services Department for 23 years. Actually longer, if you count the years before her maternity leave.

Terry handles client services. She oversees all social workers, and client programs. Many of those programs she developed herself, or brought to Westport.

Take tax preparation assistance for low- and moderate-income people. Working with AARP, Terry gets over $200,000 a year in refunds. That’s money Westporters are entitled to — and need — but would otherwise not receive.

Or Jump Start. An education program for lower-income clients (though open to all), it helps parents manage finances, children, households and more.

Terry brought the Career Coach — a bus with nearly a dozen workstations, where unemployed or underemployed people can work with individual “coaches” to learn Excel, resume-writing and other job skills — to Westport every month.

Recently, she wrote a $150,000 grant for Child First, an early intervention/ school readiness program.

Terry also excels at one-on-one problem-solving.

...and working with a client.

…and working with a client.

“There’s no one better at casework,” praises Barbara, her boss. “She is so wonderful at counseling individuals.

“She meets people where they are, and helps them move on to independence and self-sufficiency, so they don’t need us.”

Terry tackles the most difficult cases. They may be multi-generational, with complicated issues involving childcare, eldercare and financial problems. She solves them all, with creativity and compassion.

Terry supervises 5 case workers. She also deals with youth workers in areas like bullying and eating disorders, and coordinates programs and projects with other town departments.

Oh, yeah. She’s the municipal agent for people with disabilities, too.

Finding someone to do all that — and do it with Terry’s quiet competence and passion — is Barbara Butler’s big task.

“She’s a unique combination of talents and skills,” Barbara says. “She’s an incredible worker, with high energy. On top of all that, she is a lovely person.

“Terry will not be easy to replace.”

I Hate It When…

Westporters — “06880” included — love to complain.

There are never enough check-out people at Fresh Market.

The coach plays my kid on defense, but he’s really a midfielder.

People take up extra spaces in the parking lot.

They seem like legitimate complaints.

They’re not.

As we return from vacation — The lift lines were so long! I got selected for special screening at the airport! The infinity pool was closed for maintenance! — and head back to our normal Westport lives — The traffic light by Winslow Park seems mis-timed! The teacher didn’t say this was going to be on the test! I had to walk so far to get to my Y exercise class! — we should all take a deep breath. We should all look around this beautiful town.

And we should all spend one minute watching the YouTube video below. (Click here if your browser does not link directly to it.)

Sunday Morning With Linda Hunt

Every week, another person tells me to watch “CBS Sunday Morning.” Every week, it seems, there’s some great interview, story or factoid.

If I had watched this morning, for example, I would have seen an intriguing interview with Linda Hunt.

And buried there, halfway through the piece, was this: the 67-year-old, 4-foot-9 star of “NCIS: Los Angeles,” 1984 Oscar winner for “The Year of Living Dangerously,” and (of course) narrator in the God of War video franchise grew up in Westport.

Linda Hunt

Linda Hunt

“Everybody either wanted to take care of me or push me around,” the woman born Lydia Susanna Hunter told Lee Cowan. “I was teased a lot…. Fourth grade, fifth grade, sixth grade, everybody was taking their spurts except me. I was not growing up.”

A form of dwarfism stunted her growth, “Sunday Morning” said. But when her parents took her to her first Broadway show — a production of “Peter Pan” — Hunt realized the stage was a place where she might feel taller. There, she could pretend to be anything.

Wikipedia says that Linda’s mother, Elsie Doying Hunter, taught piano at the Westport School of Music, and accompanied the Saugatuck Congregational Church choir.

Yahoo! Movies  says she “took her first stab at acting at age 12 while performing in a production of ‘Flibbertigibbet’ at Westport’s famed Silver Nutmeg Theater.”

Linda attended the Interlochen Arts Academy— s0 it appears she’s not a Staples grad — and the Goodman School of Drama in Chicago.

In 1969 she returned to Westport to study acting with Robert Lewis at Bambi Lynn’s studio, says. The next year her career took off. She played Joan of Arc in a 1-woman show at Long Wharf.

Linda Hunt, with her Oscar.

Linda Hunt, with her Oscar.

Since then she’s been a 2-time Obie winner, and a Tony nominee. She played alongside Arnold Schwarzenegger — as opposite from her as anyone can be — in “Kindergarten Cop.”

She’s been in a 26-year relationship with Karen Klein. They married in 2008.

And now?

Her current contract will take her into her 70s. “CBS This Morning” concluded:

Not bad for a woman whose own parents feared might be too small to stand out on stage. Half a century later, their small wonder still has audiences looking up.

And — thanks to a show nearly everyone but me seems to watch — looking back on a career that began 55 years ago, right here in Westport.

(Click here for a great photo of Linda Hunt as a Saugatuck Elementary School 1st grader — standing next to future first selectman Gordon Joseloff.)

George Balanchine “And The Others”: The Westport Years

In the early 1950s, according to Barry Katz’s Weston Arabesque,  an “unimposing cottage” at 10 Ridge Road in Weston became, “in a quiet way, the center of the ballet world.” It was home to George Balanchine, perhaps the greatest choreographer of the 20th century.

In 1946 Balanchine had purchased 7 acres of land there, for $8,500. After he married ballerina Tanaquil Le Clercq — she was his 4th or 5th wife, depending on how you count — “they began the arduous task of taming the wildly overgrown property,” Katz writes.

George Balanchine

George Balanchine

“Later that same year they put up a house. It was a modest, one story pre-fab – all they could afford at the time – but it suited their needs exactly. Weston proved to be the ideal retreat from the pressures of the city, and the couple spent as much time there as they could.”

They gardened together, and Balanchine built a tool shed with his own hands. “He was an avid and ambitious gourmet cook, and even enjoyed doing laundry,” Katz says.

“Part of his time in Weston was devoted to reading scores…. And he created new ballets in his head while breathing the fragrant country air.”

In 1956, on a New York City Ballet tour of Europe, Le Clercq contracted polio. She spent the last 45 years of her life in a wheelchair.

Balanchine added a ramp to their Weston house. He did not work for a year after her diagnosis, caring for her himself.

In 1969 the couple divorced. Balanchine had fallen in love with a new ballerina, Suzanne Farrell. But, Katz says, he “always remained deeply concerned for her welfare and stayed in close touch. In fact, he remained close with all his ex-wives.”

That intriguing bit of Balanchiniana is relevant now — 40 years later — because tickets go on sale this week for a new play, Nikolai and the Others. Commissioned by Lincoln Center Theater — with previews beginning April 4 — it takes place in 1948.

And the setting is Westport.

Nikolai and the Others

In Richard Nelson’s play at the Mitzi E. Newhouse Theater, a close-knit group of Russian emigres — including Balanchine, composer Igor Stravinsky, his wife Vera, conductor Serge Koussevitsky, and composer Nikolai Nabokov — eat, drink and talk.

Playwright Nelson imagines the relationships between Balanchine and Stravinsky — and their friends, lovers, wives, ex-wives, partners, supporters and dancers — while the duo collaborates on their historic ballet Orpheus.

The play also examines American art and institutions as the Cold War began, and the State Department’s subtle role in that era’s cultural scene.

While Balanchine spent many years in this area, I’m not sure about Stravinsky, Koussevitsky, or “Nikolai and the others.”

But I remember that Deathtrapthe longest-running comedy-thriller on Broadway — was set in Westport.

Here’s wishing that same luck — удача — to Nikolai and the Others.

Parker Kligerman And The News From Daytona

The media focus in the week leading up to Sunday’s Daytona 500 NASCAR race was on Danica Patrick — the 1st woman to snag a pole position at the Sprint Cup series.

The focus now is on today’s Nationwide race. A frightening multi-car crash moments before the end of the last lap sent one car airborne, into the fence separating the track from the stands. An engine landed in the grandstand, on fire. At least 6 fans were injured.

Fortunately, Westport’s Parker Kligerman kept his cool. The 2009 Staples grad avoided trouble, and finished 5th.

Parker Kligerman

Parker Kligerman

Mike Kulich Comes Through

Poor Earlie Johnson.

The 43-year-old Muskegon, Michigan man lost 3 flat screen TVs in a robbery Tuesday afternoon.

Plus his entire porn collection.

And not just any porn collection.

Earlie had “every African American that’s ever been in porn, from the 70s up until now,” he claimed.

His collection was “the best in Michigan.” And that just wasn’t the proud porn owner talking. “A guy in Connecticut told me that,” Earlie said.

But that’s not the “06880” tie-in. Oh, no. It goes far deeper than that.

Mike Kulich

Mike Kulich

Mike Kulich — Staples Class of 2004, now owner and CEO of Monarchy Distribution, one of the nation’s leading distributors of adult DVDs and a 15-time nominee for industry awards — rode to the rescue.

Mike offered Earlie one copy of every title Monarchy has ever released. Monarchy distributes 40 titles a month, so that’s more XXX material than even Hugh Hefner can handle.

But wait! There’s more! Monarchy also sent Earlie 2 free passes to the AVN Adult Entertainment Expo next year.

Mike Kulich to the rescue.

Mike Kulich to the rescue.

CNN, Fox, the Huffington Post and TMZ have all covered this story — Earlie’s loss, and Mike’s gift.

“We were extremely saddened to hear about Earlie’s misfortune,” Mike said.

“Our fans and customers keep us in business. DVD is tough nowadays because of the internet and tube sites, and people like Earlie are few and far between.

“We felt it was our civic responsibility to offer to help him replenish his collection.”

Just one more story of a former Westporter, lending a helping hand to a man in need.

Westport’s Warden: Not A Tree-mendous Job

Between school vacation and the news story’s placement on an inside page (below the fold), many Westporters may have missed a very interesting Westport News piece on Wednesday.

Jarret Liotta described Westport’s Tree Board — a 3-person body “hoping to plant the seeds of renewal for its role in town government,” in areas ranging from education and outreach to political action.

Westporters are very protective -- but also ambivalent about -- our trees.

Westporters are very protective — but also ambivalent about — our trees.

Trees are on every Westporter’s mind these days. We don’t like them toppling power lines whenever the wind blows. But we also were upset when a number of them suddenly disappeared from Main Street just before Thanksgiving.

Westport’s Tree Board is seeking ways to influence public discussion of trees — and to get the public interested in the board itself.

But perhaps the most interesting info in Jarret’s story was buried near the end: the fact that Westport has only a 1-day-a-week tree warden.

Also of note (though not mentioned in the article): The tree warden lives about 20 miles away.

First Selectman Gordon Joseloff’s proposed 2013-14 budget includes $170,000 “to create a full-time tree warden position and to increase the town’s overall tree work,” Jarret wrote.

But right now — today, as we all love and fear them — there is almost no money for monitoring, removing, planting and pruning trees.

Or for anyone to oversee them.

Shake Shack: A Very Important Restaurant

Shake Shack is one of the 20 most important restaurants in America.

That’s not me talking. The declaration comes from Bon Appetit.

The New York-based chain is right there at #16 — nestled between Seattle’s The Walrus and the Carpenter (?!) and Austin’s Franklin Barbecue. #1 is Momofuku.

A summer's night, at a very important restaurant.

A summer’s night, at a very important restaurant.

The magazine notes that these are not the nation’s best restaurants. They’re the ones that “define how we eat out.”

Here, Bon Appetit-ically speaking, is how we eat out at Shake Shack:

Danny Meyer didn’t just redefine the fast-food experience — the meal, the look, the level of service — he created a damn good burger. With its custom-blend patty (and nostalgic nods like gooey American cheese and a soft bun), it is a burger worth standing in line for—and you will likely have to, for up to an hour.

The Shack Burger

The Shack Burger

Like all fast-food chains, consistency is king, but here that means beef supplied by meat guru Pat La Frieda; cool, urban-chic spaces by architecture firm SITE; and a definitive menu, though they do tailor the “concretes” (frozen custard with mix-ins) to each location. (We’ll have the “Fudge-eddaboudit.”)

In under a decade, they’ve grown to 22 locations, from NYC to Dubai. Look for 5 more in 2013, including Istanbul.

Right now, there are only 2 Shake Shacks in Connecticut. Ours opened in 2011; New Haven followed last year.

Five Guys did not make the cut.

What are they — chopped liver?