Westport is full of interesting people. Every day since 2009, I’ve told their stories in “06880.”
But hey, this is 2021. It’s time to spread my wings. Let’s add some audio and video to those stories!
Thanks to a partnership with the Westport Library — and their state-of-the-art Verso Studios — today we launch “06880: The Podcast.”
Every other Monday, we’ll release a new casual conversation with one of the many people who make this such an intriguing town. We’ll talk about what got (and kept) them here; what they love (and don’t like) about this place; what they do, how they do it, and what it all means here and in the world.
My first guest is Tom Scarice. Nine months into his gig as superintendent of schools, he chats candidly, passionately (and with humor) about his decision to sign on in the middle of a pandemic; his goals for the district; students and staff today, and how education will change in the future.
I’ll post a new podcast every other Monday, at noon. It will be available simultaneously on the Westport Library website.
Watch or listen at your leisure. Enjoy “06880: The Podcast” — the newest way in which “Westport meets the world.”
The “06880” tagline is “Where Westport Meets the World.”
Today, Westport went beyond. We met outer space.
Let David Pogue — our Westport neighbor/tech guru (New York Times, Yahoo, Missing Manual books)/Scientific American writer, PBS “NOVA” science and tech correspondent, and (most importantly for this story) “CBS Sunday Morning” reporter — tell the tale.
David Pogue , reporting.
Reporting for “CBS Sunday Morning” is the best gig in TV journalism, hands down. The stories are long enough (6 to 9 minutes) to really develop them. There’s enough budget to travel, and shoot multiple interviews for each story. And you can pitch your own segment ideas.
In my 19 years as a “Sunday” correspondent, I’ve been to some exciting places and met some fantastic people. But nothing was as thrilling as making the story that aired this morning.
The idea was to report on an important milestone for the International Space Station: 20 years of continuous occupation by astronauts and scientists. Would NASA help us tell the story?
Yes, they would. They offered to make a 35-minute guided video tour of the station, conducted by Colonel Mike Hopkins and Commander Victor “Ike” Glover. And they offered me an interview with Mike and Ike, in space. A video interview. From my living room in Westport.
When I was 6 years old, my parents shook me awake one night so I could run to the TV to watch the Apollo 11 moon landing. Shortly thereafter, President Nixon, in the White House, made a phone call to Neil Armstrong on the lunar surface. That technological, improbable feat left a powerful impression on my 6-year-old self. He made a phone call to the moon?!
And here I was, about to do the same thing — but over Skype! (Yes, NASA uses Skype. Not Zoom. I’m sure they have their reasons.)
There was a lot of prep. The audio would be 2-way, but not the video. I’d be able to see Mike and Ike on the station, but they would not see me. A couple of days in advance, my producer Alan Golds and I joined NASA for a practice call.
I was determined to make the most of my 20 minutes. I didn’t want to ask questions the astronauts had heard a thousand times. I didn’t want to waste time with queries whose answers anyone could find with a quick Google search. I asked my Twitter followers for suggestions (they came up with great ones). Not so much “Is it fun to float in zero gravity?”; more like “Is there any reason to wear shoes?” and “What do you miss most from Earth?”
I didn’t sleep much the night before the shoot. I really, really wanted to nail this interview. OK, sue me—I’m a space nerd.
Just another day in Westport: calling the International Space Station.
On the day of the shoot, CBS sent a camera crew to the house, to film my end of the conversation from 3 different angles. On the Space Station, they’d have only one fixed camera.
NASA requested that we place the Skype call a full hour before the conversation was to begin—and to place a cellphone call simultaneously, on speaker, as a backup. The interview would be limited to 20 minutes — not because that was all the time Mike and Ike could spare, but because the Space Station orbits the earth once every 90 minutes. Beyond 20 minutes, they’d be out of range of the satellite that beamed their signal back to earth.
NASA had also sent me a script as a Word document, indicating how to begin the call. Every audio or video call to Station begins with this exchange. (Yes, NASA refers to it as “Station,” not “the Station.”) Following the script ensures maximum efficiency and clarity:
Capcom: Station, this is Houston. Are you ready for the event?
Astronauts: Houston, this is Station. We are ready.
Capcom: “CBS Sunday Morning,” this is Mission Control Houston. Please call Station for a voice check.
Pogue: Station, this is David Pogue with CBS “Sunday Morning.” How do you hear me?
Station: (reports voice quality. If acceptable…) We are ready to speak with you.
Finally, at 1:25 ET, Capcom said the magic words — “Please call Station for a voice check” — and that was it. Mike and Ike appeared on my computer screen, and they began the interview.
The delay was about one second; it reminded me of making phone calls to Europe back in the day. But jokes still worked, and the conversation flowed nicely. In what seemed like a couple of minutes, it was time to wind it up.
I had just placed what must be the world’s first Westport-to-space video call. I still feel high as a kite.
Jamie Mann is drawing praise — and viewers — for his role in “Country Comfort,” the Netflix series about a singing family and their nanny.
But he’s not the only Staples High School student in a TV show this spring.
In fact, he’s not the only one in the same family.
Jamie’s freshman brother Cameron’s show “Mare of Easttown” debuts tonight (Sunday, April 18, 10 p.m.) on HBO. It will stream on HBO Max.
The 7-episode series stars Kate Winslet as Mare Sheehan, a detective trying to keep her life from unraveling as she investigates a murder in her small Pennsylvania town.
Cameron plays Ryan Ross, the son of Mare’s best friend. More than a whodunit, the show digs into the complex relationships of a close-knit community, with themes of suffering and redemption.
USA Today says, “Its characters are deeply real and expertly drawn, its sense of place firmly established and specific, and its clues genuinely shocking. It’s intense and satisfying to watch, going to places your average murder mystery wouldn’t aspire.’
Cameron auditioned for the role in September 2019. After sending a tape, he earned a callback with the director and writer in Philadelphia. A final callback followed in New York.
Filming began outside Philadelphia in November 2019 — when Cameron was still at Bedford Middle School — but was shut down by COVID 4 months later. It picked up again in October, and was completed in December.
“Mare” was “cross-boarded” — shot out of order — which complicated things, as the children aged during the long pandemic pause.
One of Cameron’s big scenes in episode 1 — not shot before the shutdown — was cut, probably because it would be too hard to match to the preceding, already-filmed scene when he was a year younger.
His filming took 22 days. But they were spread out, allowing him to continue at both Bedford and Staples. On the days he did work, he was required to spend 3 hours with an on-set teacher.
Cameron Mann took time off from filming to check out the Liberty Bell,
Cameron says that working with Winslet was “amazing. She is very focused and thoughtful about her work. She took the time to meet me, and talk to me about being part of such an intense project. She is super-passionate about acting, and so good.”
This is not the young actor’s first TV show. Cameron has a recurring role on ABC’s “For Life.” He’s been a guest star on “Daredevil” (Netflix) and “New Amsterdam” (NBC), and played former Westporter Melissa Joan Hart’s son in the Lifetime movie “A Very Merry Toy Store.”
And with all that, he found time this winter to play on Staples’ freshman basketball team. Just call the “Mare of Easttown” actor “Cameron of Westport.”
(Meanwhile, Netflix is calculating views, to determine if there will be a 2nd season for Jamie Mann’s “Country Comfort.” All 10 episodes are available now.)
In Death, The Gift of Life — the powerful anthology of 10 Westporters who embraced death on their own terms — has won two 1st place awards in the Connecticut Press Club’s annual communications contest.
The honors were for editing (Dan Levinson and Alison McBain) and design (McBain and Miggs Burroughs). The book now moves on to national competition.
A community-wide book launch will be held at the Westport Library this fall.
Abilis is hiring. The non-profit, which serves more than 800 people with special needs and their families — holds a job fair on Saturday, May 1 (9 a.m. to 5 .m., 50 Glenville Street, Greenwich).
Full- and part-time positions include management and assistant management roles, day program and residential roles. Click here to see open positions. Prospective employees should bring resumes. For more information, call 203-531-1880.
May 1 is also the date of Abilis’ 70th anniversary gala (6:30 p.m., virtual). There’s family entertainment, with comedians, actors, musicians and dancers.
To learn more, register for the show link, see “Giving Garden” needs, check out the online auction or by art by Abilis clients, click here.
An “06880” reader sits for a 4-hour infusion once a month at Norwalk Hospital. It is often cool in the room, so patients are given a hospital blanket.
The other day, she received a real blanket, made by a group at Staples High school called Lovee’s Charity. They’re usually given to pediatric patients, but sometimes they’re handed out in the infusion room.
“It was so nice, soft and comforting,” the reader says. She emailed faculty advisor Natalie Odierna, letting her know how much joy the blanket brought.
Now thousands of other “06880” readers know about the joy Lovee’s Charity brings too.
A Lovee’s Charity blanket.
Major League Soccer has kicked off its 26th season. And for the 5th straight year, Elliot Gerard was commissioned to create the opening day graphic.
The Westport resident Gerard is a founder and creative director with Heartlent Group, a social strategy and creative content agency.
This year’s concept is “Where’s Waldo?” Gerard worked with eMLS to hide Easter eggs in the artwork (below). The campaign is interactive, giving fans the chance to make their own versions on Instagram stories. A customizable background is available. Click for Twitter and Instagram links.
Sure, Baylor beat up on Gonzaga in this year’s NCAA men’s basketball championship game.
But the real winner is A Tale of Two Cities.
And I don’t mean Waco and Spokane.
Charles Dickens’ 1859 novel took first place in a tournament as hotly contested as that other March Madness: Staples High School’s annual Book Bracket.
Every year there’s a theme. Past ones have included Favorite Book Ever (To Kill a Miockingbird) and Best Book to Movie Adaptation (Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone).
Mary Katherine Hocking
Students and staff vote for each round, then watch the winners advance on large posters and via email updates from the organizer, teacher Katherine Hocking and the Staples English Department.
This year’s theme was Best Opening Lines. Seedings for the 32 contestants were done by American Book Review.
Dickens’ “It was the best of times, it was the worst of times …” was ranked high, of course. But George Orwell’s “It was a bright cold day in April, and the clocks were striking thirteen” — from 1984 — was right up there too.
Tournament of Books opening lines also included the terse “Call me Ishmael” (Moby-Dick), “Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way” (Anna Karenina), and the classic “It was a dark and stormy night” (from Edward George Bulwer-Lytton’s Paul Clifford, though few people know that).
Other contenders ranged from The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn and The Catcher in the Rye to Beloved and Don Quixote.
The full Tournament of Books bracket.
A big bulletin board outside the library — courtesy of librarians Jenn Cirino and Nicole Moeller — drew plenty of attention (and, thanks to QR codes, allowed people to vote).
Each book was available for checkout, too. (No one had to read the books to vote, though: The first lines were helpfully added to the board.)
The library display.
David Copperfield (“Whether I shall turn out to be the hero of my own life, or whether that station will be held by anybody else, these pages must show…”) was the Oral Roberts of the Staples tournament. It was the lowest seeded book to make it into the Final Four, but its loss there prevented what would have been an epic Dickens vs. Dickens title match.
Balloting went down to the wire. Ten late votes for A Tale of Two Cities helped Dickens emerge victorious over his fellow English novelist.
For basketball fans and book lovers, springtime at Staples is the best of times indeed.
Amy Oestreicher — a multi-talented artist, performer and writer, who battled unfathomable medical issues with courage, grace resilience and humor — died last week. Her second book, “Creativity and Gratitude” was published a few days earlier. She was just a few days shy of her 34th birthday.
Amy almost died 16 years ago, when she was 18. Her life since then was remarkable — and remarkably inspiring. Here is a story I wrote in 2013.
After years of acting and singing locally, and auditioning in New York, she had just been accepted into the very prestigious University of Michigan musical theater program.
Suddenly, Amy suffered a major blood clot. Her stomach exploded. She lapsed into a coma.
During the 1st week of that nightmare, she had 10 surgeries. Doctors removed her entire stomach. Her coma continued for months.
Through her long siege in ICU, “my father saved my life,” Amy says. (He’s Westport dermatologist Dr. Mark Oestreicher.) Her 3 brothers were constantly by her side. (The experience helped one decide to be a doctor. Jeff is now in his 1st year of residency — as a pediatric gastroenterologist.)
For nearly 3 years, she could not eat or drink. Not one morsel of food, or a drop of water.
The Oestreichers moved to a smaller house near Compo Beach, where they could better help Amy.
She was hungry and thirsty. But as soon as she realized what lay ahead, Amy vowed not to be a permanent patient. “I wanted to live life,” she says.
Curtain Call in Stamford had a casting call for “Oliver!” “I couldn’t eat or drink, and I was as skinny as a pole,” Amy recalls. “I had tubes and bags all over. I could hardly walk.”
But she got the female lead — Nancy — and managed to do the show. By the end of the run, she was drinking 2 ounces of water a day.
The next summer, she landed a role in Staples Players‘ production of “Cats.”
“I was still starving,” Amy says. “I just needed to be around people. Doing that show was great.”
During her long recovery, Amy Oestreicher also painted — in big, bold colors.
Surgeries continued. One took 19 hours, using 3 shifts of doctors and nurses. The outcome was not as good as expected.
Finally, though — 27 surgeries later — Amy can eat and drink.
She’s also — at 26 years old — just been accepted at Hampshire College.
Before she goes away to school, though, she’s working on another project. “Gutless & Grateful: A Musical Feast” is Amy’s 1-woman show.
First performed last October at the Triad in New York, it’s been called “a moving personal history told with grace and humor, and garnished with great songs sung from the heart.”
Amy Oestreicher onstage.
“Doing that show meant so much to me,” Amy says. “I had been so isolated. For 7 years I talked only to my parents and my doctors. Then to perform, and have people I don’t know hug me! It was so rewarding to share my story, and know it inspires people.”
Written by Amy and Jerold Goldstein — based on hundreds of pages of her journals — it returns to Bridgeport’s Bijou Theatre June 1 and 2. On June 16 and 24, Amy takes her show back to the Triad, and on July 16 to Pittsfield, Massachusetts.
“I’ve always written and performed,” Amy says. “So many things have happened to me over the years. I just wanted to tell my story.”
You and I may not call the past 8 years of Amy’s life “funny.” The fact that she does — and sings and talks about it with such intimacy, gusto and pride — is reason enough to put “Gutless & Grateful” on your calendar now.
In the years since that 2013 story was posted, Amy offered mixed media “Show Me Your HeART” workshops (click here for that story), and wrote 2 books. Her first was “My Beautiful Detour: An Unthinkable Journey from Gutless to Grateful.” Click here for those links.
Staples High School 1967 graduate Ron Berler calls his baseball history “checkered.”
Playing in Westport’s Little League, he threw an on-field tantrum when Max Shulman — the author of “Rally Round the Flag, Boys!” but, more importantly for this story, the umpire — “blew a call” (Ron’s words) on a tag play he made at third.
In later years he was cut during tryouts at both Long Lots Junior High and Staples. He joined the only team that would have him: Staples Players theater.
After Northwestern University, he became a writer. The Chicago Tribune Magazine sent him to Arizona to do a “Paper Lion”-type spring training story. He suited up for the Chicago Cubs. Leo Durocher was the manager. Ernie Banks drove Ron from the team hotel to the ballpark each morning.
One day Ron lined a shot to right field, causing a rookie pitcher to be returned to the minors. But after one at-bat in the team’s first intra-squad game, Ron was handed an unconditional release from baseball.
He was, however, offered a position with the Wrigley Field grounds crew. He declined.
That was not the end of his baseball career, fortunately. For 18 years, Ron managed suburban Chicago Little League teams.
His day job included writing a weekly, youth-issues column for the Chicago Tribune. He recently reprised one of those pieces — about the unwanted pressures facing star youth athletes — for Medium. Click here to read “The Cost of Being a Little League Hero.”
As Westport youngsters return to the diamond — and all kinds of other athletic fields — it’s a tale worth heeding.
The state clinics note which vaccine is being offered at each location.
Appointment availability is updated throughout the day. New clinic sites and appointments are added regularly.
A few days ago, “06880” posted a comprehensive list of Connecticut vaccine options, thanks to Sarathi’s HR department. Click here for information on CVS, Walgreens, Yale New Haven Health, Stamford Health and VAMS sign-ups.
In addition to that list, Sarathi adds:
Check your town’s website for information and clinics available only to residents. You may be able to register in advance or receive a call for available appointments or excess doses.
Connecticut’s Vaccine Assist Line (877-918-2224) operates 7 days a week, from 8am-8pm. Agents can schedule appointments at state-run clinics. If you call early and are given the chance to leave a message, you should. They accept a certain number of messages each day, then call those people back throughout the day to assist in booking appointments. Once the maximum number of calls for the day has been reached the message option is turned off.
You can now search additional locations, including supermarkets and local pharmacies. A great tool to see who is administering the vaccine in your area is Vaccinefinder.org. Search a zip code, make note of the providers nearby, then search for booking websites.
Did you miss last night’s webinar on the many housing bills making their way through the state’s General Assembly, and their possible impact on Westport?
Planning and Zoning chair Danielle Dobin gave a comprehensive overview. Our 4 local legislators — Senators Will Haskell and Tony Hwang, and Representatives Jonathan Steinberg and Stephanie Thomas — tackled the pros and cons. Viewers asked questions. It was a wide-ranging, engaging 80 minutes. (And I would say that even if I had not served as moderator.)
It’s now available to watch — or re-watch — at your leisure. Click here for the link.
Everything you wanted to know about zoning — including sewers — and more.
One of the few positive parts of the pandemic: Many more Westporters have had time to walk.
Because we practice social distancing, we’re not always on the sidewalk. And — as Tammy Barry’s photo of Hillspoint Road at Schlaet’s Point shows — the result is some barren patches where grass once grew.
I’m sure saltwater flooding had something to do with t too.
Here’s hoping the town can find some resources to bring this beautiful stretch of waterfront back to what it once was.
Today’s osprey report comes courtesy of Chris Swan.
He wants Westporters to know that there are 3 platforms near Sherwood Island State Park.
One is in the saltmarsh behind the Nature Center, midway to the last house off Beachside Common.
The second is in the saltmarsh on the eastern shore of Sherwood Mill Pond, several hundred feet above the Compo Cove homes. It’s visible from the path on Sherwood Island’s western edge, above the fire gate to Compo Cove.
Both platforms are occupied by returning osprey pairs.
A 3rd location can be seen from the saltmarsh shore of the northeastern corner of the Mill Pond, looking west. This was erected last fall. No osprey pair has yet staked their claim.
A 4th platform is at the entrance to Burying Hill Beach, in the marsh across New Creek. Chris has watched it for 10 years, but has never seen it occupied.
He thinks it’s too low. He believes old utility poles make the best platforms — citing the ones at Fresh Market, Longshore’s E,R. Strait Marina, and Gray’s Creek.
Chris should know: He spent his professional career with Eversource.
The newest osprey platform in Sherwood Island Mill Pond. A house on Grove Point is visible behind it. (Photo/Chris Swan)
Congressman Jim Himes holds a Facebook Live session today (Wednesday, April 7) at 3 p.m. He’ll discuss how constituents can benefit from the American Rescue Plan. Click here to watch live. To watch later, click here.
And finally … on this day in 1940, Booker T. Washington became the first African-American depicted on a US postage stamp.
In November 1944, Booker T. Jones Jr. was born in Memphis. He was named after his father, Booker T. Jones Sr., a high school science teacher — who himself was named in honor of Booker T. Washington, the educator.
Frederica Brenneman — a pioneering Connecticut judge, longtime Westport resident and the inspiration for the popular TV series “Judging Amy” — died peacefully in Woodland Hills, California last month, after a long illness. She was 94.
In 1943, at the age of 16, the Ann Arbor, Michigan native left for Radcliffe College. She fell in love with the East Coast, and made it her home for the next 73 years.
In 1950 was accepted to the first class of women admitted to Harvard Law School. There she met her husband of 65 years, Russell Brenneman. They married in 1951 — the first married couple to graduate from Harvard Law.
Frederica (Freddie) Brenneman.
In 1967, the mother of 3 young children, Frederica was working as a law clerk to the Connecticut Legislature’s Judiciary Committee when the United States Supreme Court, in the landmark In Re Gault decision, held that children facing delinquency proceedings are entitled to due process of law — including the constitutional right to legal counsel. In the wake of this decision, Connecticut’s Juvenile Court doubled in size.
Frederica was appointed to the court, becoming the second female judge in state history. In 1978 she became a Superior Court judge.
Judge Brenneman was an influential figure in the field of juvenile justice, from its modern beginnings in 1967 and throughout her long career. She specialized in abuse and neglect cases, pushed for stronger legal protections for children, shaped clear statewide protocols and case law, trained countless judges, and educated caseworkers, attorneys, parents, and the public on court procedures. In 1979 she helped found Children in Placement, which monitors and supports children in Connecticut’s foster care system.
Over the years, Judge Brenneman and her work were recognized and honored by a wide range of organizations, including the Connecticut Bar Association, Radcliffe College, St. John’s University and Children’s Law Center of Minnesota, among others. In 2013 Harvard Law School lauded her, saying: “Venerable jurist and trailblazer, your distinguished contributions in the field of law as a passionate advocate for juvenile rights set an unparalleled standard for all graduates of Harvard Law School.”
Frederica (Freddie, to her friends) was a passionate lover of the arts, especially theater. She loved Tanglewood, the Oregon Shakespeare Festival and Broadway. She served as a deacon of South Congregational Church in Glastonbury, and Saugatuck Congregational Church.
Rev. Alison Patton says:
Freddie and her husband Russ were longtime Westport residents, and devoted members at Saugatuck Church. The bench next to our labyrinth was placed there in memory of Russ, 3 years ago.
Freddie inspired us all. As Judge Brenneman, she had an immeasurable positive impact on the lives of at-risk children in Connecticut. As Freddie, she gifted us at Saugatuck with her quick wit, clear thinking and abiding friendship. We miss her!
She was an avid traveler (Turkey and Tuscany were favorites) and an engaged alumna of both her undergraduate and graduate schools. From 1999 to 2005 Frederica served as advisor on the television drama, “Judging Amy,” which was inspired by her life and work, and which she co-created with her daughter Amy.
With her dignity, grace, humor and fierce intelligence, Frederica enjoyed a large and diverse circle of devoted friends, family and protégés, both within and outside the legal profession.
Frederica is survived by her sons Matthew and Andrew (Dr. Karen Cruz-Brenneman) and daughter Amy (Brad Silberling), and 5 grandchildren: Granger Brenneman, Charlotte and Bodhi Silberling, and Ava and Charles Brenneman.
Click here to help support “06880” via credit card or PayPal. Any amount is welcome — and appreciated! Reader contributions keep this blog going. (Alternate methods: Please send a check to: Dan Woog, 301 Post Road East, Westport, CT 06880. Or use Venmo: @DanWoog06880. Or Zelle: email@example.com. Thanks!)