Pumpkin Panic

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“9-1-1. What is your emergency?”

“Pumpkin!”

“Excuse me?”

“Pumpkin!”

“Sir, I haven’t been called Pumpkin in a long time.”

“I’m being chased by a pumpkin!”

“Where are you, sir?”

“Downhill from it!”

“No, sir, I mean what town are you in?”

“Ipswich!”

[Brief silence. Heavy sigh.] “I should have known.”

“Linebrook Road! A pumpkin escaped from Marini Farm!”

“And the pumpkin is chasing you, sir?”

“It’s rolling down Linebrook Road!”

“I’m sorry, sir, I just want to understand the situation before I call out the National Guard, the Coast Guard, and President Obama’s drones on your behalf. Are you for some reason unable to outrun the rolling pumpkin?”

“I’m not running! I’m driving!”

“So you’re in your car, and the pumpkin is chasing you.”

“It’s a very small car! It’s a very large pumpkin!”

“Sir, try to settle down.”

“I can’t settle down! OBJECTS IN MIRROR ARE LARGER THAN THEY APPEAR!”

“Sir, I’m trying to help you. But I’ll have to get some information.”

“Help me now! I’m about to become pumpkin pie!”

“Wait a minute. Is this Doug Brendel?”

“Excuse me?”

“Are you the guy who writes the Chronicle column?”

“Well, yes, thank you for noticing.”

“I think you’re the guy who called in last week about the turkeys.”

“There were turkeys! Turkeys! Walking down Linebrook Road!”

“They were in your way.”

“They were sauntering!

“Sir, you can’t call 9-1-1 every time traffic slows down in front of you.”

“Turkeys are not traffic! Not even in New England! Turkeys are a safety hazard! In front of everybody else, they cross the road. In front of me, they walk down the right-hand lane!”

“Mr. Brendel, you seem to be calling 9-1-1 every time traffic is moving too slow for you or too fast for you.”

[Unintelligible.]

“Mr. Brendel, you’ll have to lower your voice.”

“Why?”

“Because my headset is getting hot.”

“I’m being chased — in my very small car — by a very large pumpkin — down Linebrook Road!”

“Are there any identifying marks on the pumpkin?”

“Gah! I can’t tell! It’s rolling! It’s in my rear-view mirror! It looks like a massive swirling vibrating orange Indiana Jones boulder!”

“What direction are you going on Linebrook Road right now, sir?”

“Southwest! No! Northwest! No! Southwest!”

“Don’t mess with me, Doug.”

“The road keeps turning! Edge Street! Howe Street! Belle Street! I’m telling you, this is one fast pumpkin!

“It must be a very large pumpkin, to be rolling so fast.”

“Yeah! Did you see this week’s Time magazine?

“No.”

“The Topsfield Fair was featured for the winner of its heaviest-pumpkin contest! It was 1,900 pounds! Heavier than my car!”

“Really?”

“Yeah. Smart Car: 1,800 pounds. Erck!”

“Excuse me?”

“Sorry, the pumpkin and I just crossed Route 1 against the light. People at Cumby’s were covering their eyes.”

“Doug, tell me the truth. Were you short of ideas for a column this week? I mean, really. A pumpkin?”

“I’m telling the truth! A huge pumpkin escaped from Marini and rolled down Linebrook and—— aaaaah!

“Sir, I’m sending help. Try to stay calm. Sir? Sir?”

Cashless Ipswich

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Great news, Ipswich. Our money troubles are over.

Let me explain.

Have you driven into Boston lately? It’s a whole new world. Forget about stopping to pay a toll on the Tobin Bridge, crossing the Mystic River on 1A into the city. The Bridge is alive, apparently. And it has an accounting degree! It will calculate what you owe — and bill you!

If you’ve equipped your vehicle with an EZ-Pass transponder, you pay $2.50 —electronically, automatically — to get into Boston on the Tobin. (To get your transponder, Google “MassDot” and you’ll probably see an EZ-Pass link. Or use the “Highway” tab at the MassDot website.)

On the other hand, if you don’t have a transponder stuck to the windshield behind your rearview mirror, you pay $3. How? Here’s how. The bridge’s cameras take a photo of your license plate as you wheel through, then they mail you a bill. If you don’t pay, something bad happens. I don’t think it’s actually SWAT teams in Registry of Motor Vehicles jumpsuits converging on you with AK-47s, but it’s bad. Don’t do it. Pay your bill.

So the technology for cashless collections is totally available. Here in Ipswich, it can change everything for us. I suggest we offer a transponder designed to look like a clam, and it would sit like a bobble-head doll on your dashboard. (When you drive beyond New England on vacation, people in parking lots walking in front of your car will say, “How cute.”)

At key points all over Ipswich, your Dash-Clam™ will auto-collect fees. Its work will be silent, instantaneous, and painfully apt.

For example: No more pleading with voters for school money: As you drive through a school zone, if you voted “yes,” you sail through free of charge. If you voted “no,” you get a bill for $500.

Ipswich drivers will be charged the price of an ice cream cone as they pass White Farms heading toward Rowley — because we know, if you don’t stop at White Farms, you’re heading to Down River.

Drivers leaving the downtown area via Lord’s Square have to pay $250 if they stop at High Street. (The first government employee to erect a “DO NOT STOP / KEEP GOING / NO STOP HERE” sign at that intersection gets a night out on the town with the Outsidah, all expenses paid.)

The Town will collect a total of $10,000 a day from drivers who, when the light turns green, make a left turn against oncoming traffic. If you’re the only one who commits this grievous violation of the right-of-way, you pay the whole $10,000 for the day. If you’re one of two, you each pay $5,000. But on a typical day in Ipswich, you can count on getting a bill for something in the neighborhood of five bucks.

And finally, if you go past my house at 45 mph, even though the posted speed limit has been 25 mph for nearly a mile, your Dash-Clam sends you a bill for $1.2 million.

Carry Me Out From Old Virginny

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Last week I nearly lost my life for the sake of New England.

I was visiting friends in Virginia. This is a state where the local folk don’t actually pronounce the name of their state correctly. They typically say “Vuh-ginia.” It’s outrageous. Any New Englander can tell you it’s “Virginier.”

My hosts are not Southerners. One of their employers made them move there. It was not technically a demotion, but draw your own conclusions.

They invited a number of their neighbors for a cocktail party, and I tried to be friendly. As each one arrived, I shook hands and introduced myself. It was clear that my hosts had previewed them about my visit. Their responses were quite uniform: “Oh,” they invariably said, “you’re the one from Baw, Stun.”

“Well, uh, not exactly Boston,” I invariably replied. “I live outside Boston.”

“Uh huh,” they invariably answered, looking me over for a long moment before heading toward the bar.

They were nice, mostly. I found myself in a number of conversations, and I understood most of what I heard. I think I understand now why life tends to be somewhat slower in the South. It’s not the heat. It’s not the humidity. It’s the speech patterns. People often employ two syllables where the rest of the country only needs one.

“Way-ull,” they might explain, “thay-ut’s just how we taw-uck.”

See how long this takes? Nine syllables, when six would do.

I also observed that Virginians are not in any hurry when it comes to names. I don’t believe there is anyone called Tom in the state of Virginia. You must announce your middle name. You can be Thomas Lester, or Tommy Lee, or at the very least, Tom Bob. There is no such thing as abbreviation. There is no Charleston, Virginia. It’s Charles City. And if you live outside the line, you’re in Charles City County. Maybe you’ll find a condo for rent in Charles City County Heights. No? Try over yonder, in Lower Charles City County Heights. (Sure, I can give you directions. Head down along the Lower Charles City County Heights Creek, and cross over the Lower Charles City County Heights Creek Bridge. Just on the other side you’ll see a sign pointing toward Lower Charles City County Heights Creek Bridge Hollow. Don’t go that way. You’ll just wind up at Southwest Little Lower Charles City County Heights Creek Bridge Hollow Village Valley Center Rock Flats Gulch Roost Corners. Not a good neighborhood.)

The cocktail party almost wrapped up without incident. But then a good ol’ boy named Terry Beauregard-something, well into his half-dozenth bourbon, cornered me. His face was red, his eyes were glistening, his lips were curled in a permanent snarl, and if I remember correctly, his solid gold snaggletooth was filed to a menacing point. Or maybe my memory is skewed by the retroactive terror.

“You ruined mah world,” Terry Beauregard rasped.

“I beg your pardon?” I answered weakly.

“You’re from Baw, Stun. Up nawth. You people came down heah and destroyed a beautiful way of lahf.”

“You mean in the Civil War?”

“The War of Nawthun Aggression,” he growled.

I tried not to stare at the Glock in his pants.

“Actually, I’m not really from Boston,” I offered.

Terry Beauregard cocked one eyebrow.

“My father was in the Air Force. I was actually born in south Georgia, on the base.”

He sighed, his nose a good three inches from mine.

“Way-ull,” he grumbled, his gold tooth twinkling, “Ah s’pose Ah’ll let you lee-uv.”

O Death! Where Is Thy Rodent?

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chipmunk2I probably should not have attended. Just because you feel badly about the “dear departed” does not necessarily mean it’s appropriate for you to show up at the funeral. For example, if you happen to have some measure of responsibility for the dear departed’s departure.

Which in this case, I guess I did.

I did not personally assassinate the chipmunk. My cat did the deed. My cat, Hercules Frank Brendel, is a skilled hunter, but a gentle giant: too much of an innocent to kill what he catches. He faithfully patrols our 200-year-old house, inside and out, with an unswerving devotion to a single, simple mission: Any uninvited creature must be chased and caught, then dropped, chased and caught again, then dropped again — over and over, until, inevitably, the weary little critter gets away for good.

Herc’s sister, Queen Anne, is in charge of insect invaders. She’s too classy to swat at anything bigger than a dragonfly. But Hercules is fiercely efficient at scaring off Mammalia, Reptilia, and those feathered, winged, egg-laying vertebrates. He does not murder the mice. He does not slaughter the snakes. He does not finish off the finches. He just pummels them, like a feline Rocky Balboa, until they decide to go somewhere else.

It’s a shame, in a way. Herc has the cool of a hit man. He could make it as a killer, if only he had the instincts to take it all the way. (He seems to have a particular contempt for voles — which doesn’t bother me, because so do I.) He bounds into the meadow behind our house and emerges with a furry, squirming mouthful. He marches to the part of our backyard that he has designated as his own private Roman Coliseum, and he proceeds to play with his prey. I must say, as a city boy, there’s something deeply pleasing about knowing that the rodent being smacked like a soccer ball this afternoon won’t be crunching the cashews in my kitchen cabinet tonight.

But this week, Hercules made a little error. He was off his game a bit. He momentarily lost his light touch. Perhaps as he prepared to carry his latest victim out of the meadow and into the backyard, he somehow tripped in the tall grass, or stumbled over a stone. Maybe he was a bit hung over, after staying out too late the night before with the cat from across the street, slurping Sam Adams empties tossed out by rude drivers on Randall Road.

Whatever the reason, Hercules did something unfortunate.

He chomped a chipmunk.

Bit a bit too hard. Crunched a crunch too crunchy. Snapped something in that little guy’s anatomy that wasn’t designed to snap.

So when Hercules dropped it in the backyard, it went thunk.

I’ve been accused of heartlessness when it comes to wildlife, but this was not an easy moment for me. Chipmunks are cute. Everyone agrees that chipmunks are cute. Whoever thought up “Alvin” was brilliant. So when Hercules marched out of the meadow to the Coliseum with a chipmunk in his teeth, I already felt a bit of a catch in my throat.

But when I realized the chipmunk had already passed over into that great burrow in the sky … when I realized that this little guy had stuffed his cheeks with goodies from my garden for the last time … when I realized that my cat had snuffed out a universally beloved, iconic, cartoonish, delightful symbol of playfulness, cheer, and happy-go-lucky nonchalance…

Well, I had no choice. I had to go to the funeral.

It was a small affair — I mean, the attendees were small. It was a big affair in terms of number of attendees. Clearly the deceased was greatly loved. There in a circle around the grave were his five children from the summer litter; four slightly larger children from the spring litter; ten adult children from last year’s litters; nine more from the litters of the year before last; and of course, one very weary widow. There were lots of little sniffles, and plenty of moist, red-rimmed little eyes, as the little chipmunk clergyman squeaked out some tiny Scriptures.

I stayed well off in the background. I didn’t care to be seen at all. Unfortunately, however, just as the service ended — right after the eight little chipmunk pallbearers had lowered the little chipmunk coffin into the ice cream carton-sized hole in the ground — the grieving widow caught a glimpse of me. She never looked away. She turned her steely little eyes on me and marched all the way up to me in her tiny black dress, her tiny black veil quivering with each step of her tiny black Diego di Lucca heels.

“You have some nerve,” she rasped.

“I’m sorry,” I replied quietly.

“It’s too late for apologies,” she answered sharply. “You let your cat out. To commit murder.”

“I don’t think it was technically murder. Murder is intentional. I think this might have only been——” I gulped. “—chipmunkslaughter.”

“Uh huh,” she grunted. “Once a cat, always a cat.”

She turned and stalked away. For a moment, I didn’t move. Then, suddenly, I heard the whirr of sleek feathers cutting through the air. A beautiful blue-gray Cooper’s hawk swooped out of nowhere, grasped the chipmunk widow in its talons, and lifted her into the sky without so much as a pause.

The widow shrieked at me as they disappeared together: “I suppose this is your bird, too!”