Monday, November 30, 2009

Much Ado about Everything (12/02-04)

Wednesday December 2:
That's Rita Parisi and she is your hostess for an "Edwardian Christmas Tea" at 12noon in the Hubbard Room of the Russell Library. In her guise as "Mrs. Gordon", she'll transport you back to 1908 and give one and all an appropriate picture of what life was like during the holiday season at the turn of the 20th Century. Ms. Parisi, founder of Waterfall Productions, creates these great shows that highlight her love of theater and costuming. Her presentation is part of the Library's "Lunch & Learn" series so bring a bagged lunch and the Russell staff will provide the dessert and beverages (perhaps tea and crumpets will be the order of the day.) The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 860-347-2528, extension 135.

South Congregational Church, 9 Pleasant Street, welcomes students of Wesleyan University organist Ronald Ebrecht for the first of 4 consecutive Advent Organ Recitals to be held each Wednesday of December
(except 12/30) at 12:10 p.m. There is no admission charge but an offering will be taken for the Church's Organ fund. The Wednesday before Christmas, the organ recital will feature Professor Neely Bruce.

Thursday December 3:
The Mansfield Freeman Center for East Asian Studies at Wesleyan welcomes Kim Kono, Assistant Professor in the East Asian Languages and Literatures Department of Smith College for a 4:30 p.m. talk titled " Dangerous Companions: Cultural Cross-Dressing in Colonial Manchuria." Here's the department's description of the talk: "How dangerous is it to wear the clothing of another culture? Focusing on Imamura Eiji's short story "Companions" (Dtktsha, 1938), this talk will explore representations of Japanese and colonized subjects in colonial Manchuria attempting to "pass" as cultural others. While each of these characters tries to conceal his cultural identity through clothing, the effects of their cross-dressing differ because of their positions within colonial hierarchy. Kono will argue that these instances of cultural cross-dressing ultimately underscore the destabilizing effects of colonial assimilation policy, reveal the fragility of cultural identity and potentially pose a threat to both its participants and the colonial project." The event is free and open to the public. For more information, call 860-685-2330.

The Elia Kazan Centennial Film Series at Wesleyan comes to its logical conclusion with the final movie of the director's long and somewhat controversial career. "The Last Tycoon" (1976), starring Robert De Niro, Tony Curtis, Robert Mitchum, Jeanne Moreau, Jack Nicholson, and Anjelica Huston, is based on F. Scott Fitzgerald's final novel (unfinished at the time of his death) - the screenplay was created by playwright Harold Pinter. De Niro plays a brilliant movie studio executive (based on MGM head Irving Thalberg) who has to deal with many different issues, from stubborn actors to fussy directors. It's a fascinating, if slow, look at Hollywood in the 1930s, unsentimental yet involving. The screening, which takes place at 8 p.m. in the Goldsmith Family Cinema of the Center for Film Studies on Washington Terrace, is free and open to the public. For more information, call 860-685-2220.

The Theater Department at Wesleyan presents "Our Day Will Come" Thursday through Saturday at 8 p.m. in the Patricelli '92 Theater. The play is based on Seamus Heaney's "The Burial at Thebes", the Irish playwright's retelling of Sophocles' "Antigone." This production, the Senior Thesis Project of Ariela Rotenberg '10, is the culmination of three months of field research exploring music and other genres in the construction of narrative oral tradition in the Irish neighborhoods of Chicago. Heaney's play exemplifies the intersection of Greek drama and Irish oral tradition. David B. Jaffe, Visiting Professor of Theater, is the director. The event is free but one needs a ticket to attend. Call the Box Office at 860-685-3355 for more information.

Friday December 4:
The public is invited to the Mayor's Annual Holiday Celebration in the Foyer of the Council Chambers in City Hall. The event,, which begins at 9:30 a.m., is free and features music by the Joey Milardo Trio.

Singer-songwriter-guitarist Kenn Morr brings his songs and band to The Buttonwood Tree for an 8 p.m. show. Morr, whose voice is reminiscent of Greg Brown (less raspy, more melodic), writes little vignettes about daily life, about love, and other contemporary yet timeless themes. Joining him will be Bob Gaspar (drums), Dan Hocott (bass, guitar, vocals) and Tom Hagymasi (fiddle, button accordion.) For more about Morr, go to To reserve a seat or 2, call 860-347-4957.

Boney's Music Lounge welcomes Autopilot, a quartet based in Chester, who play an infectious blend of blues, Southern Rock, and r'n'b. They'll get going around 9 p.m.

Fiddling Around At Broad Street Books

A set of musicians, three of whom reside on Pearl Street, serenaded patrons at Red & Black Cafe, in Broad Street books as part of the Music Monday series at the eatery. The core combo featured Wesleyan grad Josh Van Vliet on guitar, Wesleyan student Emily Troll on fiddle and Rani Arbo, of Rani Arbo and Daisy Mayhem on fiddle. The group started with a set of swing tunes, and segued into a set of Irish and old-timey tunes. The series has been featuring music from 6:30-7:30 every Monday.

WPCA Votes to Increase Sewer Rate

After a public hearing, attended by no member of the public, the Water Pollution Control Authority voted Monday to increase sewer usage fees by 12%. The average homeowner will see a semi-annual increase of approximately $13.

Water and Sewer Commissioner explained that the increase in rates is projected to be sufficient to cover expenses for three billing periods.

Russo emphasized that the rate increase has nothing to do with the current shortfall in the Water and Sewer Department budget. That shortfall is expected to be rectified by aggressive collection techniques, including the threat of foreclosure, if the Common Council agrees.

According to Russo, based on a proforma budget projected for the next year, which he characterizes as a "flat" budget, the increase will cover the drop in usage that the department now projects in coming months.

"We'll be taking the budget and dividing it out among fewer units sold," Russo said.

Russo indicates that the drop in usage, or conservation, is the prime culprit in the need to increase rates.

"The response to the rate increase among the public is universally negative," WPCA and Common Council member David Bauer said. They are asking about accountability and they are asking what value they are getting for the increase."

Russo countered that he is happy to answer and question, in any venue, about accountability and value, and that the budget he is projecting reflects deep cuts.

Bauer voted for the increase, as a measure of necessity, as did all the members of the WPCA.

H1N1 Flu Clinic on Thursday

The eighth in a series of H1N1 flu clinics sponsored by Mass Dispensing Area 36 (MDA 36) is scheduled:
Thursday, December 3
Noon - 6:00 PM
Middletown Municipal Building Council Chamber.
The clinic is free and open only to residents of Cromwell, Durham, Haddam, Middlefield, and Middletown. The vaccine will be given out by appointment. Proof of age and residency will be required.

Most of the H1N1 flu vaccine will be administered by nasal spray. Residents eligible to receive the nasal spray must be 2 - 24 years of age in good health, or healthy individuals who live with or care for infants younger than 6 months of age, or are certified emergency medical personnel (license required) who are in good health, or healthcare workers (including school nurses) who are in good health and have direct patient contact (especially with children).

Only one dose of nasal spray is needed to protect adults against H1N1 flu. However, children under the age of 10 who receive the vaccine mist must receive a second dose in about 30 days (parents or guardians should check with their health care provider to determine if the vaccine is appropriate for their child). Children who have already received their first dose, and due for another, can receive their second dose at this clinic (influenza vaccination card must be presented). The spray does not contain preservatives such as thimerisol and does not cause the flu.

Pregnant women cannot receive nasal spray but can get the vaccine by intramuscular injection (shot). Individuals who live with or care for children less than 6 months of age, all children 6 months - 6 years of age, children and young adults 7 - 24 with high - risk medical conditions, certified emergency medical personnel (license required), or healthcare workers (including school nurses) with direct patient care (especially with children) can receive an injection. Persons aged 25 - 64 who have underlying medical conditions that put them at higher risk for influenza-related complications are also eligible to get a shot. People who have a severe allergy to eggs should not receive the vaccine.

The H1N1 vaccine is not effective against seasonal influenza.

More H1N1 flu clinics are expected to be scheduled for other segments of the population. The clinics are sponsored by MDA 36: the City of Middletown and the towns of Cromwell, Durham, Haddam and Middlefield.

For more information or to schedule an appointment, call (860) 344-3474.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Holiday Craft Show @ Wadsworth Mansion 12/5

Zip in Town

Zipcar that is. Our household got its very own ZipCard that unlocks either a Toyota Prius or a Honda hybrid parked on Church Street on the Wesleyan campus. Join Zipcar for a small yearly fee of $50 and an application fee of $25 and you too can rent one of these fine cars for an hourly rate $8, which includes gas, insurance and 180 miles of travel. If you are part of the Wesleyan University community, the yearly fees and application fees are less. We joined through Yale University (where my husband works) and received $35 worth of free rentals in the first month of membership.

The Zipcar is ideal for people who just need a car occasionally for a few hours – to go to the mall or other errand. (Probably why they work so well in college communities.) If you need a car for the week or the weekend; Zipcar is not the most economical choice.

According to the Zipcar website many people go “carless” or downsize to one car after joining. We know two New Haven Residents who have done just that and reported saving thousands annually.

We tried Zipcar out this past week, renting the Prius to pick up my daughter at the airport for a Thanksgiving visit. After joining up our membership card was mailed to us. We made the reservation on the website which told us what car or cars were available in the area. The fact that the Zipcar location (The Allbritton Center, 222 Church Street) is within walking distance of the Village District and downtown is a huge plus. Unlocking the car was as simple as waving the membership card in front of the windshield. After a uneventful ride up and back, we simply returned the car to its parking place on campus. We did need to make sure we returned the car with at least ¼ tank of gas. If we had needed to purchase gas, a gas card, which works at any gas station, is stored in the glove compartment.

Right now there are only two Zipcars in Middletown to rent but more are likely to arrive here if this service becomes popular. Zipcar rentals are also available in Hartford on the Trinity campus, New London on the Connecticut College campus and in New Haven on the Yale campus. Available at more than 100 locations Zipcars are found throughout the country----I’m thinking we may use Zipcar on our vacation. I saw on the Zipcar website that you can purchase gift cards for memberships or driving. Hum…who on my holiday list would like that for Christmas?

From 1934: Wrubel Introduced to Strand Audience

This article is from 75 years ago today, published in the Hartford Courant on November 29, 1934.

"Allie" Wrubel is one of our city's most famous native sons, as a charter inductee into the Songwriter's Hall of Fame in 1970 (Phileas Fogg mentioned Elias Paul Wrubel among other famous Middletown musicians). He was born in Middletown in 1905 and attended Wesleyan before heading to New York and Europe to pursue a musical career. He played saxophone in dance orchestras, including the Paul Whiteman Orchestra, and toured Europe with his own band. In 1934, at the age of 29, he moved to Hollywood and wrote songs for film musicals. He had a slew of hits and won an Academy Award for the song, "Zip A Dee Doo Dah."

From 1946 until his death in 1973, Wrubel lived on a 400 acre estate in Twentynine Palms, a town in the southern California desert.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Holiday on Main Street

Holiday on Main Street sponsored by the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce, the city of Middletown and several area businesses and organizations continued Saturday with "hayrides" down Main Street, and a story hour with Curious George and Mayor Sebastian Giuliano. The celebration continues every Saturday until Christmas.

Next week Fire Chief Gary Oulette and Clifford the Big Red Dog greet families to a story hour at Middletown Fire Department on Main Street, and Wesleyan and the Connecticut Commission on Culture and Tourism sponsor a free showing of the Disney film Mickey's Christmas Carol at the Goldsmith Family Cinema.

Friday, November 27, 2009

Tree Lighting to Take Place As Scheduled

Trevor Davis, Chairman of the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce Central Business Bureau, announced “Holiday On Main Street” will kick-off today, Friday, November 27 from 1:00 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. The CBB Holiday on Main Committee, chaired by Al Santostefano and co-chairman Rich Greco, in conjunction with the Middletown Commission on the Arts, invites everyone to ring in the holiday season by attending the three tree-lighting ceremonies along Main Street, Middletown.

Festivities will begin on the South Green at 5:00 p.m. with a carol sing and the first tree-lighting will take place on the Green at 5:45 p.m. and will be led by Mayor Sebastian Giuliano and Santa. Also on hand on the South Green will be the Middletown High School band and chorus along with the Woodrow Wilson Middle School chorus. Last year, over 1,000 people were able to enjoy the holiday sights and sounds on the South Green and more are expected this year.

After the tree-lighting, there will be free pictures with Santa and free horse and carriage hayrides until 8:00 p.m.

Also, there will be a parade up Main Street to the Chamber where the tree on the roof will be lit at 6:15 p.m. for the second tree-lighting of the night followed by free pictures with Santa.

After the second lighting at the Chamber, there will be festivities in front of Eli Cannon’s Tap Room at 695 Main Street for the third and final tree-lighting of the night, at 8:15 p.m. Here, Santa will arrive to light the tree and there will be elves on hand to provide all children with complimentary popcorn, cookies, hot chocolate and other treats.

Each tree-lighting is free of charge to the public. Holiday on Main Street Continues every Saturday until Christmas.

Eye on the Air, November 27

Eye on the Air, broadcast 1-2 PM on WESU, 88.1 FM.

Host: Ed McKeon

Guest: Historian and author Dione Longley who talks about the scandalous early history of Middletown.

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Alpaca Farm Open House 11/28 and 11/29



November 28 & 29
(Saturday and Sunday)
10 am to 4pm

Rte. 155 toward Durham. Turn LEFT onto Millbrook Road. Turn RIGHT onto LIVINGSTON RD. Turn LEFT onto MARGARITE RD EXT. We are about a ¼ mile on the left. Our sign is posted at the end of the driveway.

Durham Dairy to hold Holiday Festival on Saturday

Deerfield Farm is a vibrant, beautiful dairy in Durham. They are a delight to visit on any day, but after a day or two in the house with relatives and food, their Holiday Festival sounds like a wonderful opportunity to get out of the house.

Ballet for the Holiday

Joseph Albano first choreographed "The Nutcracker Suite" in 1960, combining the handsome music of Tchaikovsky with stunning visuals.

The Hartford-based choreographer created his Dance Company in the early 1970s and this work has been a staple of its repertoire ever since.

The Greater Middletown Concert Association, tirelessly guided by Barbara Arafeh, brings "The Nutcracker" to the Performing Arts Center of Middletown High School, LaRosa Lane, this Saturday at 4 p.m. for one show. Tickets are still available for the show and can be reserved by calling 860-347-4887 or going online to

In other Performing Arts Center news, the Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Edward Cumming, music director, brings its "Holiday POPS Spectacular" to MHS for 2 shows on Friday December 19 and Saturday December 19 (both nights at 8 p.m.) Joining the HSO will be the Hartford Chorale, Richard Coffey, music director. According to the press release, the evening promises "sparkling carols, seasonal chestnuts and spirited choruses, all gloriously performed with the Hartford Symphony. Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas!, O Come All Ye Faithful, Sleigh Ride, Little Drummer Boy, O Holy Night, music from Nutcracker, Messiah, and more."

For ticket information, go to

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Conversations on Health 11/25

Wednesday, November 25, 4:40 PM on WESU 881. FM.

Post-Turkey Day Fun

Friday November 27:
The 54th Annual Wesleyan Potters Exhibit & Sale begins on this day at 10 a.m. Not sure if this work pictured on the left created by Priscilla Palumbo will be on sale but it's pretty to look out. Works by over 200 artists will be on display and on sale for the next several weeks and the show is truly a highlight of this (or any) Holiday season. To find out more, go online to or give at call at 860-347-5925. Regular hours are Thursday and Friday, 10:00 a.m. - 9:00 p.m. as well as Saturday through Wednesday, 10:00 a.m. - 6:00 p.m.

Middletown's "Holiday on Main Street" begins this weekend with a slew of events for people of all ages. During the early afternoon on Friday, there will be free Fun Train rides for the young ones while at 4 p.m., you can start taking free hayrides. At 5 p.m., Mayor Sebastian Giuliano heads down to the South Green to dedicate the new gazebo, to light the Christmas tree and to announce the "One Book, One Middletown" selection for 2010 (more on that in a later posting.) Joining him will be Ronald McDonald and Santa Claus with emcee Don DeCesare from WMRD & WLIS. At 6 p.m., there will be a parade heading to the Middlesex County Chamber of Commerce office for the lighting of the second tree (atop the building.) That's not all - at 8:15, there's yet another Tree Lighting in front of Eli Cannon's Tap Room in the North End (a perfect time for hot chocolate and mulled cider, though, by this time, Santa and his helpers might prefer a Samuel Smith's Winter Welcome.) All these events are free - for more information, call 860-347-6924.

There are those people who say "If you can't come to Collinsville, Collinsville will come to you!" (I'm not at liberty to say who "those people" are.) The Buttonwood Tree heeds that call and presents a intriguing double bill at 7:30 p.m. Singer-songwriter Jason Krug bring his acoustic folk ensemble Citizen Spy to the performance space. Krug's recent electric endeavor, DayDrug, released a very fine CD last year - his songs are witty, sardonic, and makes one ponder on the foibles of everyday life (really.) Also on the bill is poet-author-essayist David Leff. I have his latest book, "Deep Travel", by my bedside and it's a fascinating true story of the author (and several companions) retracing Henry David Thoreau's trip on the Merrimack and Concord Rivers. The book pictured on the left, "The Last Undiscovered Place", is Leff's loving portrait of his adopted hometown (yes, it's Collinsville.) His book of prose-poems, "The Price of Water", was issued in 2008 by Antrim House Books. For more information about this event, go to Below is a piece from Leff's book of poems (printed courtesy of Antrim House.)


The dark stone canyon walls of Hell’s Kitchen are fractured horizontally, in cracks that grin and leer at hikers. Laurel clings to life on the precipitous ledges where plump mosses drip alongside the last fading tusks of winter ice. Water seeps invisibly through the jumbled rocks beneath the trail, briefly revealing itself as a sparkling stream and disappearing again. It echoes in rocky chambers, trickling and percolating in multiple voices. I bend and listen to the liquid speech suddenly joined by the melodic weet, weet, weet, weet, tsee, tsee of a flagrantly yellow warbler perched in the leafless brush like a light bulb. Other birdsong and the hum and buzz of insects will soon harmonize in an accidental orchestra prophesizing a season of the migrant, temporary, and intermittent.


Perhaps the only thing that can rouse you from your turkey leftovers is a healthy dose of "the Dead." You're in luck because Shakedown, "New England's Premier Grateful Dead Cover Band", returns to Boney's Music Lounge for several sets of Garcia/Lesh/Weir/Robert Hunter-inspired rock and soul (the quintet also plays music by The Meters, Bob Marley, Bob Dylan and others.) They'll start "rocking the room" at 9 p.m. For more information, call 860-346-6000.

The Weekly Eater: Harbor Park

Today we introduce a new dining review column by a pair of Middletown foodies with experience in the food industry. They shall remain anonymous, known only as The Weekly Eaters, as they share their local dining experiences with us through the Middletown Eye.

A Ship Sans Rudder

The collective consciousness of the Middletown cognescenti has long dreamed of a restaurant at the river’s edge that would provide fine foods, beverages, and a warm place for a romantic interlude to complement its superb location at the bend in the river.

Let us imagine such a restaurant. It would be large enough to host a celebration, like a wedding, yet designed to provide nooks and alcoves where couples could dine in privacy. There would also be open, gregarious spaces where thirty-somethings could see and be seen. Maybe even a small dance floor. Lighting would be indirect so as not to cause reflections or glare that would obstruct the nighttime view from expansive windows looking up river towards a picturesquely illuminated bridge, or down river towards the dabs of light along River Road. Music would be live and soothing or piped in gently to the alcoves and booths. Tabletops would be dressed in white linens while stemware and silverware would be elegant and worthy of its patrons. Fully leaded crystal wine glasses, flatware of substance, napkins of cloth. Do we need every plate to match? Do we need every knife to brother-up with every spoon? No, we do not. As long as they are quality, bought even at a second-hand store if necessary, they will provide their own unique character to the setting.

And what about the food? Of course we want good value. We want the same for the wine and beer list. Do we dream of $30 entrees and $100 bottles? No, we do not. We dream of something chosen with care by someone who has put his or her heart and passion into the choosing. We want a menu that reflects someone’s good taste, experienced palate and a chef’s consummate skill. Do we want an extensive menu of frozen and reheated foods? No, we do not. Let’s have a small menu with freshness as its key ingredient. We want a wine list of favorites that are consumed by someone who actually drinks wine and actually eats from the menu in order to pair the beverages with the flavors of the food. Let that wine list be populated with the honest produce of family-owned wineries, not that stuff squeezed through a lab coat in Modesto, Parma, Adelaide or Lyon. We want beer - of course we want beer - but please make it varied and not simply different brands of “light” beer. Is that too much to ask in this golden age of the micro-brew? I think not. Let’s have beer that a man or woman would be proud to pound.

And what about the general appearance of this imaginary restaurant? Should it have the smell of lavatory cleanser upon entering? When you pass the live lobster tank, should it have more than two tired looking miniature lobsters in it? When you trudge up the stairs to the Dining Hall should it shine with bare, lacquered wood tables while above it, on the third floor, as if in heaven itself, you can wistfully see through the glass the white linen almost waving from a dark dining room? Should the lights be draped with a month’s worth of cobwebs? Should you have to be seated by the chef because the hostess is en absentia? Do we really need to have our chair pulled out for us? No, we do not. But it would be nice. Do we have to listen to the commercial radio station blaring from the open kitchen? Apparently we do. Do we need a fire in the gorgeous fireplace? Apparently we do not. Do we need food with flavor? Yes. Please. That is our dream.

As for Harbor Park, dream on Middletown, dream on.

Just the facts:

Two appetizers, one entrée, one beer, one bottle of wine = $68.04

Our waitress was excellent.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

People in Our City

In the last few years of my father's life, I became his designated driver. We had to take his keys away, it peeved him greatly, so the one who held the keys was the person who drove him to the market, to the barber, and, of course, to the doctor.

I also was his companion at funerals. One by one, his brother passed, then his best friends and old acquaintances and people who he knew from his many years of business. At first, he would joke a bit, saying "At least, I'm here to say goodbye and we can go eat afterwards." Later, his refrain changed, became darker as he began to wish out loud for his own demise. Despite a loving family, his children were always busy and he hated to bother us.

I have come to an age where the funerals have become more frequent. Since September of this year, the Middletown community has said farewell to such fine people as Matilda "Tillye" Itkin (long-time owner of the home decor store that bears the family name, educator and reading advocate Susan Rubel, the joyful voice and spirit of Shirley Stern, William "Bill" Simpson (who did so many things to help young people) and, just this week, the long-time Latin teacher at Middletown High School, Ruth Montgomery.

Mrs. Montgomery, wife of librarian and composer Chris Montgomery, loved to teach, loved languages, really appreciated students who took the time to study classical languages, the building blocks of modern grammar and speech. When our younger daughter Rachel attended MHS, Mrs. Montgomery helped her in many ways. Rachel has a natural aptitude for languages, loves Latin and, in her junior and senior years, created independent study courses in the language supervised by her teacher. Mrs. Montgomery kept her on task, allowed great breadth in her subject matter and was thrilled by the results.

Besides our personal relationship, Ruth Montgomery helped to create the Elizabeth Swaim Memorial Strings Program in the Middletown Public Schools. Many fine young violinists and cellists have developed under the watchful and caring eyes of this program. Ruth and Chris attended many concerts and plays in and out of town - she was generous in her praise and overjoyed when her former students excelled.

I did not know her well so her obituary (which you can read here) was very revealing, especially the early years. She will be remembered for her activism in support of language arts, for her love of teaching and the positive effect she had on so many young lives. Ruth Montgomery may not produced hundreds of Latin scholars but she very successfully passed on her curiosity for learning, for going beyond the printed page and for making an ancient language relevant to younger minds.

As we gather for Thanksgiving, the table seems a bit emptier with the loss of such fine people.

Governor's Budget Cuts Will Impact City

As reported Tuesday afternoon on CT News Junkie, Governor Jodi Rell has released a Deficit Mitigation Package that cuts $337 million from the $37.6 billion passed by the legislature three months ago. Some of these cuts must be approved by the legislature.

Among the cuts are $84 million in municipal aid.

"It's kind of a 'I told you so' moment," said Mayor Sebastian Giuliano, referring to the pleas of several Connecticut mayors during the budget process to spare the cities. "They didn't solve the problems at the state level. They just kicked them down the road. If they had addressed the issues at the state level, we wouldn't be faced with this now."

The budget cuts were the subject of a conference call among Connecticut mayor's this morning.

"The general consensus, among the mayors is that we hope that the state doesn't attempt to solve their problems on our backs," Giuliano said.

If promised funding is not available in some areas, the city will have to turn to the General Fund to meet shortfalls.

"We're already in the hole by half a million dollars," Giuliano explained. "Our budget was based on funding that the legislature and the governor cut after our budget was passed. Now that budget is going to get hit again, and for more than we planned.

"At the city level the projections made in our budget are already being adjusted, and we don't normally see that kind of adjustment until late Winter, early Spring," Giuliano explained, citing and adjustment in projected energy costs, for which the city has to dip into the General Fund to cover.

"We are going to have to have each city director take a good hard look at their budgets, in conjunction with the city's Finance Director," said Democratic Common Council member Vinnie Loffredo. "It would be my suggestion to the mayor and my fellow councilors that we consider budget not expended, and positions that have been financed but not yet filled. We need to look for places where we can afford to make savings.

"It's going to be a tough year," Loffredo admitted. "And it's going to be a tougher budgeting year next year. Tougher than the one we just faced."

In addition, Giuliano noted that some of the other cuts to services in health, senior services, mental health services and other areas, while not directly affecting the city budget will have an indirect effect.

"If people can't get services that they normally get from the state, who are they going to turn to?" asked Guiliano. "They're going to turn to us."

Rave at Laser Tag Business Ends in Arrests

Based on a tip from State Police, Middletown Police raided a Sunday-night rave being held at A New World Laser Tag, on Main Street, and arrested three individuals with possession of a hallucinogenic drug, sale of those drugs, or intent to sell.

The rave was not sponsored by New World Laser Tag. The space was leased to independent producers who hired DJ's, and managed the event as an independent event.

The rave, a kind of dance event which typically draws participants by invitation only - often over the web, drew hundreds to Main Street on Sunday night.

At 11:00 PM, detectives who were conducting surveillance at the event, observed that there "were numereous narcotics being used and sold at the party."

Three individuals were arrested. According to a press release from the Middletown Police Department they are:

Kevin Boyd, age 24, of #105 Spring Trail Drive in Coventry CT, was arrested and charged with Possession of a hallucinogenic drug, possession of a hallucinogenic drug with intent to sell, and interfering with an officer.

Alexander Schroeder, age 19, of #415 Mohegan Avenue in Quaker Hill CT, was arrested and charged with Possession of a hallucinogenic drug, and sale of a hallucinogenic drug.

Michael McDonough Jr., age 30, of #1 Harned Road in Somerdale NJ, was arrested and charged with Possession of a hallucinogenic drug, and possession of a hallucinogenic drug with intent to sell.

All individuals were released on $5000 dollar bonds and issued court dates of 12/4/09.

In total Street Crime Detectives seized 23.1 grams of hallucinogenic mushrooms, 3 dosage units of Ecstasy (MDMA), and 0.3 grams of Ketamine; all 3 narcotics are powerful hallucinogenic substances.

Russo Clarifies Sewer Rate Increase

"The proposed rate increases have nothing to do with our current delinquencies," Water and Sewer Commissioner Guy Russo said in an interview yesterday. Russo indicated that the department is planning to take care of that problem with budget cuts, a revolving loan from the Water Fund Balance.

"We've already cut $550,000 out of this year's budget," Russo said. "And in preparing next year's budget, increases in spending will only be nominal. It will essentially be a flat budget."

The $30,000 loan from the Water Fund Balance to handle expected foreclosures is expected to be fully repaid through the foreclosure process.

The proposed 3% mid-term increase in sewer rates is required to cover an expected drop in usage going forward, according to Russo.

A public hearing on the proposed rate increase will be held Monday, November 30, 5:15 PM at the Water and Sewer Department.

Substance Abuse Action Council Hosts Youth Seminar

From the Middlesex Chamber of Commerce

The Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council (MCSAAC) held its tenth annual Youth Conference on November 18, 2009 at Middlesex Community College in Middletown. A crowd of 150 student leaders and their advisors from across the county attended leadership workshops that focused on preventing substance abuse and risky behaviors. High school students learned about heroin and prescription drug abuse, internet safety, getting involved with MADD, and media literacy and advocacy. Adult advisors participated in a special session on mental illness and drug abuse.

Presenters included Detective Brian Hubbs from the Middletown Police Department Street Crimes Unit, Sergeant James Smith from the Connecticut State Police Forensic Laboratory, Catherine LeVasseur from the Governor’s Prevention Partnership, Lauren Iannucci from Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and Dr. Stephen Wyatt from Middlesex Hospital Behavioral Health. Presenters donated their services and the Middlesex County Community College donated facilities.

Participants enjoyed a special performance by the improbable PLAYERS, a professional acting troupe based in Boston, which consists solely of actors in recovery. The young, former drug abusers and alcoholics delivered riveting and authentic stories and answered audience questions immediately after the performance.

Anyone interested in becoming involved with MCSAAC is welcome to contact the Middlesex County Substance Abuse Action Council at (860) 347-5959 or to visit

Monday, November 23, 2009

Kiwanis and Salvation Army Distribute Thanksgiving Baskets

"It says a lot to me about love and the people of Middletown," Pat Britton said in a muted Southern drawl, as she accepted a turkey and basket at the Salvation Army Monday morning. "I just lot my husband. He was an MP in the service."

Members of the the local Kiwanis, assembled and delivered turkeys and food baskets to the Salvation Army on Main Street Monday morning where 33 families gathered to accept the holiday food.

Kiwanis members, and other individuals and organizations delivered the baskets and they were distributed immediately to families who had signed up.

Mike Dipiro and Christopher Conley of the accounting firm Gilmartin, Dipiro and Sokowloski carried in a large basket from their offices a few doors away from Salvation Army headquarters, and immediately helped a woman who said that she'd be feeding a family of six on Thanksgiving day.

It's a busy season for the Salvation Army, according to Salvation Army Rick Starkey who manages the bell-ringer holiday collections outside of area grocery and department stores, and is gearing up for the annual holiday toy drive for families in need.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Hangin' Around the Observatory

On this weekend before Thanksgiving, Middletown was particularly inviting. Another unseasonable warm weekend inspired a neighbor and me, simultaneously to take our kids on a hike. She suggested Wadsworth Falls. I told her I had the "Leatherman cave" in Maromas in mind.

We settled on the cave, and drove out to the twin reservoirs East of Connecticut Valley Hospital, and walked out the state road into the rocky hills dotted with oak, mountain laurel, and large outcroppings sparkling with quartz, mica and feldspar.

I had called former Common Council member Earle Roberts to pinpoint the location of the cave, and he called back as we were within quarter of a mile of the cave. He came over to direct us, and feted us with tales of his battles with the mining company who were leasing the feldspar quarry, and how he eventually prevented them from encroaching on the outcropping which forms the "cave," but not before blowing a significant chunk of it down in a blast that was apparently set for spite.

The cave is not a cave, but a rock shelter like many in the hills of Connecticut, caused by erosion and tumbling boulders and slabs. For decades, perhaps centuries, it was likely used as a shelter by the native Americans who lived by the river. In the mid-nineteenth century it became a well-known shelter for the locally infamous wanderer known as the Leatherman.

Indeed, the shelter has been re-shaped by the blast. I filmed there in 1984 when I was helping produce a short documentary about the Leatherman, and the blast dropped boulders on either end of what was once a spacious rock room, and is now less so.

Roberts directed us to a trail which lead to an outlook above the cave from which we could look Northeast over the old quarry, and West, over the trees of Maromas. Another ridge side trail took us back to the state gravel road and the reservoirs.

In the evening, a pot luck with neighbors who live near Wesleyan was capped by a walk to the Van Vleck Observatory which was open and celebrating the 400th anniversary of Galileo's telescopic study of the sky. We waited in lines to view Jupiter and its two moons, which hung between branches in the Western skies, and to see a blur of stars in a cluster that is millions of light years away.

Today, I walked to the theaters downtown to take in Planet 51 with my kids, and while there I spotted Councilman Phil Pessina.

Joking, I asked him if he was there to see the new vampire movie.

I was surprised when he said he was.

Turns out that Pessina is a big fan of the Twilight series of novels about teen vampires, and is equally appreciative of the movie versions.

"It's another side of me," Pessina confided.

From 1974: Main Street Project Wins Council Favor

The following article is from 35 years ago today, published in the Hartford Courant on November 22, 1974.

A narrower Main Street between Washington and Union streets, to be beautified with trees and shrubs, has won tentative approval from a majority of city councilmen.

The beautification plan would cover the entire length of the street, including the section north from Washington Street owned by the state.

The city now has one of the widest main streets in the country, but, under the new plan, it would be narrowed to two lanes, with parking restricted to coves set in the narrowed sides. Chamber of Commerce officials want to make certain the proposed loop roads of Broad Street and DeKoven Drive would carry the added traffic that probably would be eliminated from Main Street. The new proposal was seen as a compromise of other plans which had included closing the portion of Main Street and also for creating half moon curves to slow the traffic in another plan.

The plan is seen as improving the streets appearance, officials said, and creating greater pedestrian areas.

According to articles in the Courant, the idea of reducing automobile traffic on Main Street (including some proposals to make it a pedestrian only mall) was quite vigorously debated for many years. In a September, 1976 article about the new president of the Chamber of Commerce ("CofC Leader Has Eye on Main Street"), the Courant reported that the narrowing of Main Street was still under consideration, but it had "met with substantial opposition..." Interestingly, the new president in 1976 was Robert G. Comstock, who had been executive vice president of the Greater Keene (NH) Chamber of Commerce. Keene had been the one town with a wider Main Street than Middletown, and Comstock told the Courant that one of his accomplishments in Keene was to narrow Main Street to form a semi-mall situation. He was apparently unable to accomplish the same thing in our city.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Two-wheel Turkey Delivery

Hundreds of motorcycles and their riders crowded Broad Street as turkeys were unloaded for the annual turkey run for the Red Cross sponsored by the Renegade Pigs motorcycle club Saturday around noon.

Ways to Serve the Community - Vacancies on Town Committees and Commissions

Mayor Sebastian Giuliano has said more than once in public, if you want to get involved in helping make the city a better place, volunteer to serve on a municipal committee or commission. There are several vacancies now open, some with party restrictions, and anyone interested in serving is advised to call the mayor's office, 80-344-3400. The following vacancies and potential reappointments are pending:

Exipiration of term - reappointment possible

Board of Ethics: Shaw and Stein (a 3 year appointment and a 5 year appointment available)

Board of Health: Raven Fenmore (appointment expired 7/09)

Cable Advisory Committee: J. Pulino, D. Russo, J Schilke, A Sicuso, B. Wilson (expired 7/09). This committee of six has party restrictions, with a maximum of four seats for one party.

Citizens Advisory Committee: V. Amato, E. Jackson, A Watson

Committee Concerning People with Disabilities: S. Shapiro, alternate (expired 4/09). Cannot be a Democratic appointment.

Harbor Improvement Agency: W. Sheil (expires 1/10)

Human Relations: Boyce, DeFrance, Monarca, Joseph (expires 1/10)

Inland/Wetland and Water Courses Agency: J. Pieper, alternate (expired 10/09)

Long Hill Estate: R. Kennedy

Juvenile Review Board: Mike Foster (expired 9/08), C. Jacobucci, T. Termine, B. Viela (expired 9/2009)

Middletown Preservation and Design Review Board: B. Kronenberg, B. Shoemaker

Park and Recreation Commission: R. Romano (expired 11/09)

Retirement Board: Richard Simone (expired 5/09)

Sanitation District: Seb Santacroce (expired 10/09)

Standardization and Specification Committee: Phil Cacciola, Donna Imme, Geen Thazhampallath

Transit District: S. Shapiro (expired 7/09), R. Gatehouse (expired 11/09)

Urban Forestry: A. Marino (expires 12/09)

Youth Services: E. Nocera, L. Owens (expired 9/09)

Zoning Board of Appeals: E. Russo (expired 7/09), Annabel Resnisky (expires 11/09)


Citizens Advisory Committee (1 vacancy - banking insurance seat) A non-Democratic appointment must be appointed.

Conservation Commision: Alternate vacancy - non-Democratic.

Connecticut River Assembly: Vacancy.

Inland Wetlands and Watercourses Agency: 2 vacancies, 1 alternate vacancy.

Resource Recycling: 2 vacancies.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Board of Ed Reduces Public Comment Time

At Tuesday night's Board of Education meeting, the Board voted on several policy changes, including a change to the Bylaws of the Board to reduce the amount of time individuals have to speak from 5 minutes to 3 minutes during the "public session" portion of the agenda.

The Board also updated its Directory Information Policy (5145.15) to say that "The District may disclose any of the items listed as "Directory Information" without prior written consent, unless notified to the contrary." Parents have 10 days after receiving the Student and Parent Handbook to notify the school principal that they do NOT want such information to be released.

"Directory information" means one or more of the following items: student's name, address, telephone number, date and place of birth, major field of study, participation in officially recognized activities and sports, photograph, computer and/or video images, grade levels, electronic mail address, weight and height of a members of an athletic teams, dates of attendance, degrees and
awards received, including honor roll publication, and the most recent previous public or private school attended by the student, parent's name and/or email address."

BOE member Renee Johnson-Thornton objected to the new policy, stating that it was not OK for her 10-year-old's address and email address to be publicly released without her consent. She couldn't understand why this policy had to be changed to put the burden on parents to opt out instead of the school not releasing such information without specific exception. BOE member Sally Boske said it was "a paperwork nightmare" for administrators...keeping track of a small number of people who DON'T want such information released is easier than the large numbers of parents who don't protest. Johnson-Thornton asked about what kind of notice is sent home to parents to explain this policy, and she was told that "it's in the parent handbook...parents are supposed to read that."

The BOE also considered a new policy on transgender athletes. Taken from the Connecticut Interscholastic Athletic Conference (CIAC) rules and regulations, the policy requires transgender student athletes to compete in the gender of their birth certificate unless they have undergone sex reassignment (either before puberty or at least two years after all surgical and anatomical changes have been completed).

Bylaws of the Board 9000 - Role of the Board and Member (Powers, Purposes, Duties) was amended to state: "Electronic mail, including personal, sent of received by Board Members may be considered public record subject to public disclosure or inspection.

During the public comment session, 2 parents asked about the replacement program for PROBE (and I was one of the two). You may not remember, but both PROBE teachers retired this last year, and the program for gifted and talented children (based on CMT scores) was canceled. During the budget struggles this past spring, Asst. Superintendent Barbara Senges told the BOE that the elementary school principals WANTED to cancel PROBE, and they WANTED to redesign the program to be more efficient, less costly, and better suited to reach more gifted and talented students based on their individual needs. This new program would be developed during the 2009-2010 school year based on collective efforts by the Elementary School Principals.

Said program has not yet started, but the Superintendent confirmed to me via email that a summary of the new program would be available soon - I'll share as soon as I get it. I've been unhappy about the rumors I've heard about the replacement program (or lack thereof), but I'll sit on it until I can get the full story.

Macdonough PTA President Jennifer Alexander (a frequent EYE contributer and Middletown super-star in so many ways) urged the BOE to exercise great caution in relying on JCJ's report. She pointed out several errors in the report (especially those pertaining to Macdonough) and asked the Board to think carefully about what conclusions it could draw from JCJ's data. North End Action Team (NEAT) President Izzie Greenberg echoed Alexander's comments, stating that the BOE needed the most current information to make a good decision, and that the public couldn't be left out. Yesterday's Hartford Courant ran a piece on this subject: check out the article here.

In other news, there will be a new Robotics Course offered at MHS, with the equipment needed for the course funded by a Perkins Grant. The class will be open to all interested students.

Finally, the Board voted to hold its regular monthly meetings in the City Council Chambers, and if that location wasn't available, to hold meetings in the MHS Media Center.


While the main focus of the meeting seemed to be on the JCJ Architecture presentation (covered in a separate EYE story), I struggled to understand why the BOE would shorten the amount of time it allows the public to comment on important issues. The public has repeatedly pressed the BOE for more transparency and better communication, but now has less time to provide feedback in return. At a time when JCJ's recommendations will undoubtedly shape what our school system looks like for a good long time, how does this make sense? How can the BOE make the best decision possible for our children on this or any other issue if it limits parental feedback options?

Granted, there will be two public forums in the beginning of December to enable parents to interact with the BOE directly, but I'm thinking long term consequences, not just the immediate subject of the District Utilization Study.

For example: JCJ's study points out that we can solve our over/under capacity issues by redistricting, but only if we're OK with totally messing up the district's racial balance. But, Middletown is already on notice from the State because Macdonough Elementary is out of compliance with Scheff v. O'Neill. That case mandates that any one school in a district cannot have more than a 25% difference in its minority population from the District's average minority population. The Nov. 11 memo reported Macdonough to have a 68% minority population to the District average of 41%. Then again, Macdonough only has 211 students, so it would really take just a few individuals to swing the population back into compliance.

On the flip side, the JCJ report also noted that Farm Hill has a minority population of about 36%, which is the lowest in the District. The proposed re-districting would give Moody the lowest minority population (28%) but bump Macdonough's average minority population to about 75%.

One possible solution to both problems is to close Macdonough. That would just be unfair and mean-spirited to all those in the North End who have poured their hearts and souls into turning their community around (while winning all kinds of awards for their efforts too). Parents who face losing a community school while their children suffer long bus rides across town to "balance" other school populations aren't likely to invest much in the education process either.

There is another option: to convert Macdonough into a magnet school. On November 11, 2009, Superintendent Michael Frechette sent a memo to the Board of Ed, outlining "a study to explore a magnet school option at Macdonough Elementary", the purpose of which would be:

  1. To create an exceptional learning environment at Macdonough Elementary that preserves the integrity of the school, builds on progress and recognizes the gains that have been made by the current leadership.

  2. To build a strong partnership between Macdonough Elementary, Wesleyan University and Capital Preparatory Magnet School that builds on each organization's assets.
Now, whether the District can "exempt" itself from Scheff v. O'Neill requirements by creating a magnet school remains to be seen. I will say that I was excited to read how this proposed "non-traditional methodology to create a pedagogy that focuses on successful education practices for children from urban, economically under-resourced, ethnically diverse communities" might be just the ticket for the North End. But then I had a completely different thought right after hearing at least one BOE member verbalize surprise that such an option had gotten far enough in the planning stage for a meeting between interested parties without anyone from the BOE knowing anything about what was being suggested.

Here's my thought: what's so special about a magnet school that gets everyone excited to get in line to go there? Why don't we feel that way about ALL the schools in our district? Why don't we act like all our schools are magnet schools?

I guess what I'm after is that I'm worried that a "simple" little action like reducing public comment time will only make it harder to create the kind of community partnership between parents, Board of Education members and School Administrators that must exist for our school system to flourish. There must be open and transparent communication in both directions: we have eight elementary schools, all of which want to preserve that "community school" feeling that still exists. Yet the simple fact that we have eight elementary schools in the same town also means that we can trend toward a "cookie-cutter" mentality for simple administrative ease. It's just easier to decree from on high or to let "professionals" decide what to do.

We cannot fall into this trap. Middletown's greatest charm is its city amenities tempered with small-town feeling and community pride. I love the rural quality to my part of town, but I also adore Main Street bustle and the Wesleyan connection. We live in a city, but our schools have that small town feeling, and that's a great thing to have.

So then, the balancing act that the School Administration and the BOE must do to maintain the "big-city-budget-with-small-town-feel" legitimately is hard. But our children are worth it, and JCJ's $138,000 study is sounding like that's what parents are saying. Why can't we then go a step further to use this moment in time as an opportunity to remold our district according to the same principals that we'd apply to the creation of a magnet school? If we have to re-district, and if the Administration has admitted that we need a more challenging curriculum, and if we do spend more than the state average per student on transportation, plant operation and instructional staff and services costs but less than the state average on everything else, why can't we just go for it and overhaul the whole system? Did you know that Middletown's elementary students have just 27 hours of PE in a week compared to the state average of 40 hours? We're not even giving our kids a chance at developing healthy habits, yet I heard the Asst. Superintendent tell the BOE that "we'd love to have a longer instructional day." What's holding us back?

This moment won't come again for a long time, and when it does, it will be harder, more costly and we'll have much further to go to get to where we'd like to be. We also run the risk of chasing young families away from Middletown because the school system "isn't what it used to be." Let's not be that kind of city...let's be the town that could...and did.

Holiday Craft Show @ Wadsworth Mansion 12/5

Vendors listed below - click on vendors to see their work

Artists for World Peace
Barb's Bags
Bela Designs
Bittersweet Ridge
Dancing Shakti Yoga and Gifts
From My Neighbor's Garden
Hometown Bakery
Jacqueline White Fine Art
Killam & Bassette Farmstead
Kim's Cottage Confections
Meriano's Bake Shoppe
Middletown Garden Club
Pamela Roose
The Purple Pear by Tina
Rotters Potters
The Shade Tree, LLC
Silver Moon Herbals
Susan Parks Soap
Twigs & Tweeds
Wendy Black-Nasta Designs
Westmont Mosias
Windgate Farms
Woolen It Be Nice