Category Archives: People

40 Years Of Great Stuff

Forty years ago, Lori and Joseph Friedman were casting around for a business to start.

He worked with Caldor. She was a wholesaler in children’s wear, and the mother of 6-year-old twins.

Lori Friedman outside Great Stuff, in the early years.

They decided on a women’s specialty boutique. They wanted a mix of contemporary fashion to accommodates different generations — the latest looks and trends in clothing and accessories, from well-known designers to cutting-edge.

They’d call it Great Stuff — because “great stuff comes in many forms, and can be purchased at different price points.”

The Friedmans found space on Post Road West, behind what was then John’s Best Pizza. (It’s now The Naan, an Indian restaurant.)

“I had no credit. We did cash and carry with jobbers, not wholesalers,” Lori recalls.

In 1980, the hot items were Gloria Vanderbilt jeans and Jack Mulqueen blouses. Lori put tickets on them at home, then brought them to the store.

“It was a work in progress,” says Lori. “I’d shop for things that were interesting, but not over-exposed. I knew who my customers were, and could picture each garment on them.”

Lori Friedman today.

These days, Lori makes 2 or 3 shopping trips a year to Paris. Her husband handles the financial side. The twins — now in their 40s — are in the business too. Dina takes care of buying and merchandising; Adam handles operations.

There are now 5 Great Stuffs (the others are in Greenwich, Rye, Scarsdale and Chappaqua). The Westport location has moved 3 times — to Sconset Square, Main Street, and its current location on the same street, #68 (next to Blue Mercury).

The customer base has evolved. Longtime residents move; new families arrive. Lori and her staff watch them grow up.

For 4 decades, the Great Stuff formula has worked. Congratulations — and on to 2060!

Final Indulgence By Mersene

Alert “06880” readers know that Mersene* is one of my favorite people in the world.

And her store —Indulge by Mersene — is one of the best on the planet.

It’s fun. It’s funky. It’s totally Mersene.

Yet all good things must end. Today, the popular, vivacious, beloved unofficial mayor of Railroad Place announces she’s closing. She writes:

In a few weeks, the corner by the train station will be a little less lively.

There will be one less place to buy pillows, ceramics, plants, chocolates, pasta, copperware, cutting boards, hand towels and anything else you could want — all stashed in a reusable willow basket or hatbox, then tied together with ribbons, bows and twine that looks so lovely you hate to unwrap it.

Mersene has been unfailingly generous and supportive — to “06880” (the blog) and 06880 (the community).

Her closing leaves a hole in our community, and our hearts. Happily, she’ll still be here — online, and in pop-up shops.

So we’ll keep indulging, the unique Mersene way.

*Like Cher, Madonna and Divine, she needs only one name.

Mersene, with a small sampling of her many great items.

MoCA’s New Executive Director Pledges Outreach To Westport

Over the last few years, the Westport Arts Center grew lost its focus on supporting and promoting local artists.

Last year — with a name change to MoCA Westport (it stands for Museum of Contemporary Art), and a move from Riverside Avenue to the former Martha Stewart TV studio on Newtown Turnpike — the organization seemed to become even less connected to Westport.

MoCA, at 19 Newtown Turnpike.

The Artists’ Collective of Westport — developed as part of the WAC, by prominent artists like Miggs Burroughs and Nina Bentley — became the pre-eminent group in town. MoCA’s outreach to local educators and civic groups ground to a halt.

Recently, the handsome gallery space on the Norwalk border — and the educational, music and other programs MoCA sponsored — risked losing its Westport identity altogether.

All that may now change. Westport artists, educators and organizations will hear soon from Ruth Mannes.

Ruth Mannes (Photo/Kerry Long)

She’s MoCA’s new executive director. And one of her first priorities is outreach to the town where the Westport Arts Center began, 50 years ago.

Mannes took over Monday from Amanda Innes. She brings a 20-year career in publishing (including executive managing editor of HarperCollins) and 12 years of involvement with Westport schools (townwide PTA executive board, fundraising for Staples Players), along with a passion for art (ARTnews named her one of the top 30 young contemporary collectors in the country.)

She and her husband began collecting in their West Village apartment, before their children were born. They met artists, gallery owners and dealers. “Art made our lives,” Mannes says.

They knew Derek Goodman through the art world. Soon after moving to Westport, Mannes saw him selling lemonade with his kids. They were neighbors.

Now Goodman has helped bring Mannes to MoCA. The board understood the need for greater engagement with Westporters.

Ruth Mannes, by the MoCA gift shop.

“We’re bringing excellent shows. We have wonderful music programs.” Mannes says.

“We can be a beacon of art and film. But we really need to connect with Westport: the library, PTAs, Westport Public Art Collections — everyone. We want their thoughts on dynamic programming.

“Our art should be accessible. Westport is a community with really curious people. If we bring in great shows, they’ll be engaged.”

As a first step, she’ll reach out to teachers, senior citizens, organizations — and artists. She’ll also look at changes in areas like admission structure and member benefits.

She’s spent this week getting up to speed on all things MoCA: shows, concerts, even a children’s art class that runs during the current school vacation.

She knows that when WAC/MoCA moved from near downtown to the midst of a residential neighborhood, it risked a loss of visibility.

But Mannes points to Beacon, New York as an example. An old train building was converted into a center for minimalist art. It now attracts art lovers from far away. “People sit, have coffee, see art and educational programs,” she says. “Community thrives there.”

Can that happen at out-of-the-way Newtown Turnpike?

“The other day, 3 French people knocked on our door,” Mannes says. “They were in Westport for a business meeting, but wanted to see what we have. They were disappointed we were closed between shows.” (A Helmut Lang exhibition opens March 15.)

Getting ready to hang the Helmut Lang show.

“We have benches outside. We’ll make our cafe area more attractive. If this place is dynamic, people will come. We don’t want it to be an ivory tower.”

Mannes says that MoCA’s educational programs are ready to “explode.” She’s eager to bring back adult programming that was dropped or weeded out.

Mannes says the board — including Westporters like Tom Hofstetter and Michael Kalman — is committed to addressing the alienation that some local artists, and other Westporters, have felt.

“It’s a fresh start,” she says.

(MoCA’s annual gala has a new date: April 25. For details, click here. For more information about MoCA, including exhibitions, programs and other events, click here.)

Larry Perlstein: What Caregiving Means To Me — And You

Today is National Caregivers Day.

A caregiver is an unpaid individual — usually a spouse, partner, family member, friend or neighbor — who assists others with daily living and/or medical tasks.

Westporter Larry Perlstein’s life changed dramatically 3 years ago, when his wife Jacquie had a major stroke. She was 49 years old.

Remarkably, she survived. But she remains significantly disabled. The stroke affected speech and motor control centers. In today’s guest post, Larry raises awareness of the extent of informal caregiving here, and how to acknowledge and support these individuals.

February 21 is National Caregivers Day. I’m not sure how to feel about it since this is a group I never intended to be part of, at least not for the long term.

Sure, I helped take care of my parents in the decade before they passed, as many of us have or will. But now I’m caring for my wife of 13 years, who (hopefully) has decades of life ahead of her.

Larry Perlstein and his wife Jacquie.

In talking about caregivers, most people think of the elderly. There were 40.4 million such caregivers in 2018, and most support and advocacy organizations such as AARP focus on this group.

Importantly, a growing category of caregivers cares for a chronically ill or disabled non-elderly spouse or child. These scenarios are different, because that care can persist for the entirety of the “patient’s” life.

The National Alliance for Caregiving estimates this group could be as large as 25 million people.

Overall, 1 in 5 American adults act as family caregivers.

When a disability is caused by an accident or act of god, the situation often receives news coverage, followed by an outpouring of community support. After the notoriety dies down the situation continues, forgotten.

Over the past 3 years I’ve found many instances of caregiving that go unnoticed from the onset (aside from family and close friends). The family feels uncomfortable about being too public, or lacks the energy or knowledge to reach out for help.

These situations may be all around you. I encourage you to recognize the extended nature of these cases. It’s never too late to offer help or support. When in doubt about what to do, just ask.

Jacquie spends a great deal of time doing physical therapy. This is at Norwalk Hospital Outpatient Rehabilitation.

For example, a local couple in their 40s with 3 school-aged children found themselves in a situation where the main income earner was unable to work. Two years ago he suddenly developed an extremely rare condition, New Daily Persistent Headache.

His spouse now maintains the household, searches for management and resolution of her husband’s condition, cares for the children, and supplements his lost income. Barring a diagnostic breakthrough, this reality is their new normal.

Another family with 3 teens is dealing with the sudden paralysis of their 16-year-old son, from surgery to correct a chronic neurological problem. The father — a truck driver — risks losing his job because of family demands. He is focused on finding a stable, better paying position.

The mother must deal with the needs of her 3 sons, navigating the healthcare system while staving off potential bankruptcy.

Thirteen years ago, at age 66, a husband started developing symptoms of dementia. For that long his spouse, now married 54 years, has cared for him. His decline from an avid tennis player to someone who must be showered, fed, and requires constant care exacts a toll on his spouse and supportive family that few can relate to.

As she deals with her own increasing age she continues to find the energy to battle the healthcare system, manage the family finances, help other caregivers in the community, and find support wherever she can.

In my own case, my family is making the transition from hoping for a complete recovery to recognizing that my wife will require assistance throughout her life.

Jacquie with her daughter Avery, father and 100-year-old grandmother.

Finding supplemental help is difficult and prohibitively expensive. With the assistance of family and friends, I act as her primary caregiver while raising our 12-year-old daughter.

This is important work, and I will do it for as long as I can. But as I age — I’m now 62 — I can only hope that more affordable long-term care support options become available beyond traditional nursing homes.

Ultimately, our long-term care issues will fall to our children if we don’t have a better plan.

The moral of this story is that there are informal caregivers all around us. They need hugs, education, financial support, and medical and insurance systems that acknowledge and support their role. They need to become “formal” caregivers.

We all must be sensitive to the continuing nature of these situations, and recognize that the toughest times are not necessarily right after the event but 1, 2 or more years later when all the attention is gone.

For more information about caregiving in Connecticut, visit the Family Caregiver Alliance website.

Larry writes a blog, Caring for a Spouse, that examines caregiving from a male perspective. The family is assisted by friends and family donations to a GoFundMe campaign that assists with continuing rehabilitation therapy expenses.

Kristan Hamlin: DOJ Alumni Statement Is “A Love Letter To My Colleagues”

They live all over the country. They’ve served under Republican and Democratic presidents. They’ve been United States attorneys, federal prosecutors and other high-ranking officials.

There are nearly 2,600 of them, and they’re unanimous in their belief: President Trump is abusing the power of his office. He and Attorney General William P. Barr are threatening the Department of Justice’s long tradition of impartiality. They want Barr to resign.

Among the signees: Westporter Kristan Peters-Hamlin.

The RTM member — now an attorney in private practice — spent many years in the Washington, DC US Attorney’s office.

She was appointed by Richard Thornburgh, attorney general for President George H.W. Bush.

President Clinton with Kristan Peters-Hamlin.

Hamlin continued serving under Barr — during his first stint as AG — and Janet Reno, President Clinton’s first pick for that post.

Eric Holder — President Obama’s attorney general — was a boss of Hamlin’s in the DC office. Robert Mueller was a colleague.

She prosecuted drug and economic crimes, along with many others.

In the Bush administration, Hamlin says, Barr “seemed like a normal attorney general. There was zero political interference.”

These days, she says, former colleagues “don’t recognize him. It’s like he’s been transmogrified.”

The letter Hamlin signed circulated among a network of former DOJ employees. The signatories share Hamlin’s outrage and sadness at what has happened to the department they love.

“The idea of the federal judiciary being able to check the executive branch goes back to John Marshall,” she notes.

When she read the letter (click here for the full text), she agreed wholeheartedly.

Still, she hesitated momentarily before signing.

“This is a president who retaliates,” she says. “And an attorney general who enables retaliation.”

She wondered about potential consequences for her. Ultimately, she realized, “This was a love letter to my colleagues. We revere the Department of Justice. We’re not willing to see it polluted and corrupted. And there are plenty of people who have sacrificed a lot more than I have to keep it impartial.”

So far, there have been no adverse reactions.

However, the Connecticut Law Journal asked for comment.

And Congressman Jim Himes thanked Hamlin — and the 3 other signees from his district — for “standing up for the rule of law.”

As They Say In Bengali: ধন্যবাদ

Richard Wiese has spent his career bridging cultural gaps.

Traveling to all 7 continents, he’s tagged jaguars in the Yucatan jungles, led expeditions to the Northern Territory of Australia, joined the largest medical expedition ever conducted on Mt. Everest, discovered 29 new life forms on Mt. Kilimanjaro, and cross-country skied to the North Pole.

The Weston resident is host and executive producer of “Born to Explore,” the award-winning PBS television series produced on Main Street. He’s also in his 3rd term as president of the Explorers Club, a 116-year-old international organization dedicated to the 4 corners of the earth — plus oceans and outer space.

Richard Wiese in Borneo, with a wild orangutan.

Yet on Tuesday, Wiese created an important cross-cultural connection with just one person: the woman sitting next to him on a plane, stuck on the tarmac in Oslo.

Via Bangladesh.

The woman was brought on the Norwegian Air flight in a wheelchair. When she was seated, a flight attendant spoke to her in English. It was clear to Wiese that no matter how slowly she talked, his seatmate did not understand a word.

The woman fumbled with her phone. Wiese was able to figure out she was from Bangladesh.

He typed, “Can I help you?” — and then used Google Translate to ask the question in Bengali.

Flying the friendly skies: Richard Wiese and his seatmate.

The woman wanted her son to know she was on the flight, as they waited out a delay.

Wiese contacted her son — in Bangladesh.

Weise then learned she was lactose-intolerant. “That was an unusual translation,” he says. He told a flight attendant, who found a special meal for her.

Wiese texted the woman’s son when they landed, and made sure she got off the plane okay.

A screenshot of Richard’s texts.

“JFK is not the friendliest place in the world,” he notes. It was nice she had someone who cared — even if he “spoke” Bengali only with a smartphone.

“It felt good to help someone,” Wiese adds. “It was as easy for me to do that as it was to answer emails. And it’s nice to know you can use your phone for something other than that, and games.”

Bagel Maven Needs Help

Alex Perdomo is an American success story.

He came to the US at 13, from Honduras. For his first 3 years here, he worked full time to support his parents. At 16 he went back to school.

He’s been married for 27 years. He has 2 beautiful daughters. The oldest just graduated from college. The other is pre-med.

Eleven years ago, Alex bought Bagel Maven. He also bought new equipment to upgrade the popular spot, in the mini-shopping center near Five Guys.

This winter has been tough. Alex fell behind by half a month on his rent. Now, he says, his landlord told him to leave by February 29th — and to leave his equipment too.

“People tell me I should raise my prices,” he says. “I’m not that kind of person.”

Alex asked me to tell his story. But he’s not sure what he wants.

“I don’t know what to do. I’m desperate. This store is my life,” he says.

“I’m 46. It would be hard to start from the beginning.”

Alex Permodo at Bagel Maven.

I suggested that if people stopped in to Bagel Maven, they could talk directly. Maybe someone could help him figure out next steps.

He thought that was a great idea.

Alex has always been there for Westport. He donates bagels and more to any school, organization or event that asks.

Now he’s asking us for help. This is a creative, compassionate community. Let’s see what we can do for Bagel Maven’s bagel maven.

Gambling, Gaming And The Teenage Brain

Gambling is a tough illness.

It takes a gambler’s money, and pride. It’s got the highest suicide rate of any addiction.

It affects a gambler’s entire family, friends and colleagues.

And gambling impacts not just people with too little money to begin with. Connecticut has 50,000 problem gamblers. Plenty live in places like Westport.

We have neighbors who spend their weekends at casinos, where they’re treated like kings.

We have kids who are addicted to gambling via video games. It starts when they buy treasure chests, with their parents’ credit cards. Some become binge gamers.

Rob Zuckerman knows all that, and much more. He’s a recovering gambling addict.

A 1968 graduate of Staples High School with a BFA in photography from the Rochester Institute of Technology, he took over his father’s business after his death in a 1978 automobile accident.

Rob moved the studio to South Norwalk in 1981 — an early pioneer in the new SoNo real estate venture. He ran it successfully for 20 years, before relocating to Fairfield.

During the 2008 recession, and with the rise of smartphones and other technology, the photography business changed dramatically.

In 2009 his son Ben fell off his bike, and was run over by a UPS driver. In the year it took him to recover, Rob got addicted to online gambling.

He got himself clean, and has not gambled in a decade. Along the way, he learned a lot about the disease — and his own compulsive side.

He credits much of his recovery to Renaissance — a Norwalk-based treatment center — and Gamblers Anonymous in Darien.

Rob Zuckerman

To pay it forward, Rob became one of the state’s 5 peer counselor for people with gambling issues. He answers hotline calls, escorts people to GA meetings, and helps with gamblers’ denial, guilt, remorse and anger however he can.

Rob is also a recovery coach at Renaissance.

Now — with plans rolling along for a casino in Bridgeport — Rob wants Westporters to be alert to the dangers of gambling for young people.

Rob is proud that Renaissance is sponsoring a talk on “Youth, Internet Habits and Mental Health.”

Set for Sunday, March 1 (12:30 to 2 p.m., Unitarian Church, 10 Lyons Plains Road), it features Dr. Paul Weigle. An adolescent psychiatrist, he’ll speak about how gaming and screen habits impact physical and mental health of children.

The church’s addictions recovery ministry is a co-sponsor of the event.

He’s seen the effects of gambling first-hand. Rob has seen too the work that can be done — by community organizations and his own church — to help with recovery from addictions.

He’s betting this is an important event, for anyone who lives with or works with young people.

Another Dam Story

Alert “06880” reader Scott Smith is an astute observer of the many wonders of Westport. Today he writes about the dams that “block the migration of fish and otherwise stymie the natural ecology of the 57,264-acre Saugatuck River Watershed — a rich network of 242 miles of waterways that discharge into the Saugatuck River and Long Island Sound.”

The topic came to mind after reading a New York Times story, “It’s Fish vs. Dams, and the Dams Are Winning.” The article noted efforts underway in Connecticut to eliminate obsolete dams from rivers that connect with Long Island Sound,

“Connecticut has about 4,000 dams,” said Stephen Gephard, a supervising fisheries biologist for the state Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, “and the vast majority are obsolete.” The state owns about 100 dams and is reviewing the list to determine which should be removed. Gephard’s team has also identified 20 to 30 privately owned dams it would like to remove to allow fish passage.

That made me wonder if one of those dams under consideration of removal is the one on the Saugatuck that forms Lees Pond. It’s owned by the Westport Weston Family YMCA.

Enjoying the Saugatuck River, at Camp Mahackeno back in the day.

Lees Pond was long an integral part of Camp Mahackeno’s summer activities: swimming, rope swings, canoeing, even a floating pontoon.

In recent years, due to a confluence of factors – insurance, safety, the mythical fear of campers coming home covered by leeches – activities on the pond have greatly diminished.

Judging from the map of current renovations to the property, it doesn’t appear that Lees Pond factors much in that plan.

I wonder if Y leaders’ views of the pond have evolved over the years, and if as stewards of this vital stretch of the Saugatuck, they’d be interested in exploring options to unblock this key local natural resource (whose name literally means “river flowing out”).

I emailed Gephard, writing as a longtime resident of Westport who would like to see our local river rehabilitated as habitat for migratory fish. Of all our town’s jewels, especially natural ones, the Saugatuck seems the most underappreciated.

The river was once renowned for legendary runs of sea lamprey, alewife, blueback herring and American shad. In 1828 the Saugatuck Journal described as “the river of little fishes” because of the many smelt. Over time though, it’s been used and abused.

The Saugatuck River — shown here behind the Willows medical complex, near the Lees Pond dam — has been “used and abused,” says Scott Smith. (Photo/Danny Cohen)

Gephard’s response was impressively detailed, describing the status of dams on the Saugatuck from the head of the tide, just north of downtown, to the natural barrier at Devil’s Den.

He called the Saugatuck “a challenge….Dam 1 (at the head of tide) is the Wood Dam, owned by Aquarion. There is a steep-pass fishway, and we believe it is passing river herring.

“Dam 2 is Lees Pond. Removing this would be challenging. It is owned by the YMCA. Traditionally the Y has used the pond for recreational opportunities, though that may no longer be the case. Twice in the last 20 years, the Y has spent large amounts of money to repair the dam. Additional repairs may be needed. It is expensive to maintain such a tall dam in a heavily developed area.

One view of the Lees Pond dam …

“We own a fishway at the dam—or more accurately—in the dam.  In fact, it is the oldest fishway in Connecticut.  Back in the 1960s, the owner of the pond and dam drained the pond, created a large opening in the middle of the dam and began to mine gravel from the pond bed — without any permits.

“The state and town went after him. He divested himself of the dam, and the YMCA ended up as the owner. But the state got the right to build a fishway in the hole in the dam to close the dam, restore the pond and provide fish passage.

“The fishway is accessed by us via a catwalk through private property, and is not accessible to the public. As originally designed and built circa 1963, the fishway never worked and fell into disrepair.

“In the 1990s, I inherited the care of the facility. I used a grant to gut it and install a newer style fishway (steep-pass). It is still a little steeper than we would prefer (we had to use the space provided in 1963), but we feel it works for river herring and probably sea lamprey.

… and another.

“Dam 3 is Dorr’s Mill Pond at Glendenning. There are 2 fishways there, one at the spillway and one on a stream branch that weaves through Bridgewater’s office complex.

“The DEEP and Nature Conservancy built both, and they appear to be effective.  Dam 4 is privately owned just upstream of Route 57. The owner did not allow us to build a fishway at the dam, but a natural channel bypasses the eastern side of the dam through someone else’s property. Many fish find it and circumvent the dam.

“Dam 5 is River Road Dam, immediately upstream of the River Road Bridge. It has a pool-and-weir fishway on private property, but it can be seen from the bridge.

“Dam 6 is the former Bradley Axe mill dam halfway up to Devil’s Glen and Trout Brook Valley. We had an agreement with the dam owner and spent considerable money designing a cool fishway for that dam. But the owner sold the house before it could be built, and the new owner did not want the fishway.

“The plans remain if the ownership ever changes. If fish get past that dam, they can reach Devil’s Glen, a natural chasm that historically stopped all fish.

Devil’s Glen, in Weston.

“Also, we worked with the Aspetuck Land Trust to have a fishway built on Trout Brook, on the Trout Brook Preserve.  It does not pass anadromous fish, but helps brook trout move around and reach spawning habitat.” (NOTE: This is the only fishway accessible to the public.)

“Furthermore, the Aspetuck River joins the Saugatuck River just upstream of Dorr’s Mill Dam and Route 57. The North Avenue Dam, the first on it, has a simple pool and weir fishway. on private property.

“The second one, the Newman Dam, has a pool-and-weir fishway. It too, is on private property.

“The third dam, the Frankel Dam, was removed by a joint work team of DEEP crew and The Nature Conservancy. That allows anadromous fish to ascend as far as the next dam, a bit upstream of Bayberry.

“After that, there is a dam almost every 300 feet. We would entertain dam removals, but there are so many dams that the cost/benefit is low. We have not made it a priority.

“Farther upstream, we have worked with Aquarion to install a new gate at the Aspetuck Reservoir Dam in Easton. It allows mature silver-phase American eels to pass downstream, avoiding the entrance to the Hemlock Reservoir, which is a dead end for migrating eels. They all die in the treatment plant. These are the females heading out to sea to spawn, so diverting them down the Aspetuck where there are only small dams and no intakes is important.

Aspetuck Reservoir Dam.

“We have done a lot in this watershed, all in partnership with the Nature Conservancy. Fishways are not as good as a dam removal. With a good fishway, you get fish passage of the targeted species. With a dam removal, you get passage of all species plus many other ecological benefits that were outlined in the article, including lower water temperatures, natural stream habitat, natural sediment transport, etc.

“But in Connecticut, many dams are valued, often as aesthetic features in people’s backyards. We cannot force them to remove their dams. All of the work described above was voluntary (except for the Wood Dam, where the fishway was a condition of a permit that Aquarion needed from the DEEP to repair the dam).

“Our first choice is always dam removal. If owners don’t go for that, we fall back on fishways. Often, that works (we get grants and the fishways don’t cost dam owners anything) and sometimes it doesn’t (like in the case of dam 4).

“We do the best we can. When we first began on the Saugatuck, sea-run brown trout were a main targeted species, along with alewife and blueback herring. Since then we have added sea lamprey and American eel (separate passes). Sadly, the reports of sea-run brown trout are on the decline, likely a victim of climate change and the warming of Long Island Sound, and the Saugatuck River no longer hosts a significant run of brown trout.”

Choral Chameleon Pops Up At Unitarian Church

Choral Chameleon is well named.

The New York ensemble works in a dynamic blend of genres and art forms — whatever type of choral music is called for, whenever they’re called to perform.

This year’s tour was inspired by the questions: “Regardless of whether we lean left or right, what if we could just leave the zoo? Would we find utopia, or go back to the never-ending search for meaning we humans have been on since creation?”

Cue: “If I Left the Zoo.”

Choral Chameleon

Using humor, animals and music ranging from the Beatles’ “Blackbird” and “I Am the Walrus” to the world premiere of Westport’s own Edward Thompson’s whimsical a cappella trilogy “Aphorisms of the Zookeeper,” Choral Chameleon returns to Westport’s Unitarian Church this Saturday for their only Fairfield County appearance.

The February 22 concert “explores the primal instincts in humans, and the stories and fables of earth’s creatures and transformations.”

For example, Thompson’s new work includes “Alligators.” It’s based on the saying “When I’m up to my neck in alligators, I remember that my intention was to drain the swamp.”

Animals can teach us about life — and with a bit of humor. Both are much needed these days.

Edward Thompson

Thompson — the church’s music director — has quite a resume. He earned a master’s degree from Juilliard, a doctor of musical arts from the University of Hartford, and did post-doctoral work at Notre Dame Cathedral in Paris.

He has composed dozens of pieces for youth, mixed, women’s and men’s choirs, as well as instrumental works.

But this is his first for — okay, about — animals.

 (Choral Chameleon’s “If I Left the Zoo” tour is Saturday, February 22 at 7:30 p.m. For tickets and more information, click here.)