Militant Unitarian Extremists to the Rescue


Be not deceived. That massive Greek Revival building at Elm & South Main Street in downtown Ipswich, the one that says DISTRICT COURT over the front door, isn’t a court building at all. You cannot go there to get a rowdy neighbor reined in, or fight a fine for flying your kite in a piping plover habitat.

Sorry. That building claiming to be DISTRICT COURT is actually something folks call “Old Town Hall,” because it used to be Town Hall but isn’t anymore. A Beverly-based theatrical impresario bought the building a few years back, hoping to make it into a performing arts showcase, but then came the Great Recession and the plan fell through. So the building is empty, and rotting, and the subject of a lawsuit by the Town of Ipswich against the Beverly showman for letting a historic building deteriorate.

All of this could have been avoided, of course, if the Unitarians had been more on the ball. They’re the ones who built the building, back in 1833, but they only held church services there for a decade. Sadly, they faltered, slinking out of town, never to return. If the Unitarian Church of Ipswich had grown instead of shrinking, we might be saving thousands of dollars in legal fees today.

Of course, as a former clergyman, I can tell you firsthand, growing a church is tricky business, and nowhere trickier than in New England. Church promotion is generally frowned on as unseemly, improper, even tacky. Please: A church is not a used car dealership. Of course, promotion can also be disliked because it’s expensive, and God forbid a church should spend any of the money that people are giving to it. Fundraising events can be fun — parishioners might donate the fixings for a fish fry, for instance, and invite the public to pay $10 a head — but such events rarely make enough money to justify the slaughter and sacrifice of all those fish, or the injurious consumption of all that deep-fried cholesterol.

Also, let’s face it, promotion can fail. A big advertising campaign, even featuring a “Come Grow With Us!” banner over Central Street, will not necessarily move skeptical New Englanders into your pews. And it’s probably too late for an Ipswich Unitarian Ice Bucket Challenge to take off. No, I think the Unitarians of 1833, in order to make it in Ipswich, would have needed the hard-hitting recruitment strategies of radical militants in the Middle East. Some of these ideas, in fact, might still work today.

For example: Unitarians are known for their commitment to tolerance. This is OK as far as it goes, but it’s a soft idea, not very sexy. What they needed to do was swarm the town with muskets loaded, circling rival churches and shouting, “Tolerate or die!” Come to think of it, a number of the Ipswich Unitarians may have migrated to New Hampshire and started a license-plate factory.

They could have also attacked specific forms of worship. Catholics, Episcopalians, and the Orthodox could be seized and placed in right-arm-only stocks, to keep them from genuflecting. Militant Unitarians could fasten mittens on Pentecostals to keep them from clapping their hands. All it would take to sap the spirit of the Baptists and Presbyterians would be to padlock their kitchens.

And how to convert those ubiquitous Congregationalists? I don’t know. Maybe the only viable tactic would be intermarriage. A heavy price to pay, but isn’t that what religious fanaticism is all about?

I realize that some folks won’t warm to the idea of an aggressive Unitarian reign of terror. But this may be the only way we get Old Town Hall back.

Doug Brendel piously observes the Town’s religious ways from his outer Linebrook home. And he saith unto thee, “Follow me at” Amen.

Invaders on Our Shores


Don’t call them “illegal aliens.” It’s politically incorrect.

They are, however, transgressing, and they are nothing if not alien. And let’s be honest: They are costing us dearly. They’re draining us of our resources. They’re already undermining our quality of life. If we don’t turn them back, what we leave behind for our children and grandchildren will be a pale shadow of what we had the privilege of enjoying. If we don’t find a way to put a stop to this toxic influx, they will destroy our entire way of life. Bounty and blessing will be but bittersweet memory, thanks to these newcomers who — let’s face it — don’t belong here.

I refer, of course, to green crabs.

These wretched little savages are a scourge, an invasive species gobbling up our clams, our mussels, our oysters, our scallops — basically, all my favorite foods, except for Taco Bell. These greedy greenies feast first on the baby bivalves, diminishing our future harvests; then they move on to the adult animals, which really offends me, because they’re eating my next dinner out. (Along the way, they’re gobbling up the food sources for other species as well.) Green crabs even eat lobsters, attacking their vulnerable joints. When they run out of seafood, they move on to the eelgrass — which is really cruel, because eelgrass is the nursery bed for baby crustaceans. Who destroys a baby’s bed? I’ll tell you who. Green crabs, that’s who.

Such a creature can get out of control fast, especially since a female green crab looks ultra-hot to a male green crab, and this species is notoriously lax about birth control: A single green crab strumpet produces 185,000 eggs at a time. Sadly, nothing in Ipswich Bay craves a 185,000-egg omelet. So the sheer numbers of green crabs are overrunning our waters.

I put two dead fish in a crab trap, lowered it into the water near Crane Beach on a Sunday morning, and pulled up more than 500 green crabs ten hours later. (See the amateur video at The fish were picked glistening-clean, the bones left brilliant-white and smooth. If I’d put six or eight fish carcasses in there, I might easily have snagged 2,000 of the devilish little deviants.

This summer, the Town of Ipswich took the initiative to offer a green-crab-trapping bounty, officially designed to take more than 22 tons of the green gremlins out of Ipswich waters, “enabling juvenile clams to mature for harvesting in future years.” But a lovesick green crab throws back a couple beers and 22 tons of babies happen before you know it. We need an even broader approach to green crab trapping: Throw the crab-trap doors open and let everyone in Ipswich climb on board! Every kid in town should have a crab trap; every family should be tossing one into the water: “Hey, kids! Look at this!” This should be a beloved pastime in Ipswich. Crab-killing contests. “Krab Killers Are King” T-shirts. A huge green crab boil on the Town Common at the Farmers Market every Friday. (“Grill a green on the Green”?) Yes, green crabs are generally too small to be economical as a food source. But I took some of my catch to Chris Tighe, the brilliant mad-scientist chef at Salt Kitchen on Market Street, and he turned them into a scrumptious crab stock, with no special magic tricks required. (He was thrilled, because crab stock is normally one of the most painfully expensive ingredients in his arsenal.)

Meanwhile, any crabs not cooked can be composted. Appleton Farms will take them. But we buried the remainder of my 508 green crabs in our backyard, and our crabapple tree has found new life. It cried out to me last night: “Thank you, dear human! Thank you for sharing the life of the crab! Oh, the greenness!”

If we think creatively, green crabs might also have the potential to bring our town together, healing painful wounds of controversy. We could give everyone in Ipswich a choice: You pay $500 toward a school budget override, or you trap the equivalent in green crabs: 2,500 pounds.

Either choice you make, you’re helping to prevent the Decline and Fall of Ipswich.


Any Friend of Yours


I am very happy that I’ve been able to make friends since I moved here to Ipswich. I realize that this is New England, where the people have a longstanding reputation for being somewhat standoffish about newcomers. I assumed that New Englanders are standoffish about newcomers because the people who already live here really like all the other people who already live here, and they don’t want someone they don’t like coming in and ruining this place full of people they do like. However, it might not be that simple.

I recently discovered that one of my friends here in Ipswich is unhappy with me. It turns out that he or she doesn’t like another of my friends — even though they’ve both been in Ipswich a very long time — and he or she doesn’t like it that I like the friend he or she doesn’t like. But when this first friend says mean things about my other friend, I just sit silent and wait for it to be over, because I don’t want to disagree with Friend One and make him or her even unhappier with me, but I can’t agree either, because, I’m sorry, I can’t help it: I like my friend, and I like Friend Two, too.

Friend Two, I’m sorry to say, doesn’t like a third friend of mine, even though Friend Three has been in Ipswich much longer than me, and as I said, I thought New England is negative about newcomers, not old-timers. Friend Two doesn’t like it that I like Friend Three, but Friend Two and I don’t talk about it much. Why? Because whenever Friend Two starts ragging on Friend Three, I just sit silent till it’s over, since I like Friend Two, and I like Friend Three, too.

Friend Three, I’m sad to report, doesn’t like my first friend. As in really, really doesn’t like. But Friend Three doesn’t even bother talking trash to me about Friend One anymore, because Friend Three knows by this time that I won’t agree. I’ll just sit silent till it’s over, because I like Friend One as much as I like Friend Three. It’s all quite troubling. I want to show proper respect to Three — and to One, certainly — and, of course, to Two, too.

I realize that all these puzzling repugnances can be very confusing. Let me try to sort it all out for you:

  1. Friend One says Friend Two is a bad egg because Friend Two used to be friends with Friend Three.
  2. Friend Two, as far as I can tell, might still be friends with Friend Three to Three’s face, even though Two says bad things about Three to me.
  3. Friend Three might still be friends with Friend Two, I’m not sure — unless Friend Three knows that Friend Two says bad things about Three — although Friend Three wouldn’t know this from me, because I just sit silent and wait etc., etc., etc.
  4. This part I’m sure of: Friend Three doesn’t like Friend One because he or she says that he or she said something he or she shouldn’t have said he or she said. Clear?

Yes, New England is a harsh environment. (I mean the weather, of course.) But our forefathers were able to survive the rigors of such a place thanks to tolerance and mutual understanding. Perhaps when they couldn’t agree, they simply sat silent. Which could account for such phenomena as Calvin Coolidge.

Today, we have the privilege of following in their footsteps. Be careful not to trip over the bodies.

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