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 here.) 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 offered a small green-crab-trapping bounty, but it was laden with enough small-town conditions and regulations to discourage even the most ebullient environmentalist: 20¢ a pound (with your own trap; a nickel less if you use official Town traps), paid to a maximum of five trappers, and only if they applied in person at the Ipswich Police Department within a single 100-hour period (over a holiday) bearing a daunting, fully-filled-out application form, complete with Roman numerals. Then, trappers and their equipment had to be approved by the town fathers. Afterward, there were specifications about how and when the Shellfish Constable would officially weigh the catch. Finally, the program topped out at a total of $8,900 — which seems chintzy, except that our esteemed townsfolk only approved a maximum of $15,000.
This tiny bounty-hunting program was 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.” Unfortunately, a lovesick green crab throws back a couple beers and 22 tons of babies happen before you know it. What we need is the opposite approach to green crab trapping: the joyful approach. Instead of five hapless clammers jumping through bureaucratic hoops to make 20¢ a pound, we need to 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.
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 live here really like all the other people who 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 she doesn’t like another of my friends — even though they’ve both been in Ipswich a very long time — and she doesn’t like it that I like the friend she doesn’t like. But when she says mean things about my other friend, I just sit silent and wait for her to finish, because I don’t want to disagree with her and make her even unhappier with me, but I can’t agree with her 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 she’s finished, since I like Friend Two, and I like Friend Three, too.
Friend Three, I’m sad to report, doesn’t like my first friend. I mean really, really doesn’t like her. 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 with her. I’ll just sit silent till she’s finished, 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:
- Friend One says Friend Two is a bad egg because Friend Two used to be friends with Friend Three.
- Friend Two, as far as I can tell, might still be friends with Friend Three to her face, even though she says bad things about her to me.
- Friend Three might still be friends with Friend Two, I’m not sure — unless Friend Three knows that Friend Two says bad things about her — although Friend Three wouldn’t know this from me, because I just sit silent and wait etc., etc., etc.
- This part I’m sure of: Friend Three doesn’t like Friend One because she says that she said something she shouldn’t have said she said.
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.
Please note: All characters appearing in this work are fictitious. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead, is purely coincidental. Not available where prohibited by law. No animals were harmed in the making of this column. The Outsidah reserves the right to deny service to anyone at any time for any reason. Employees of the Outsidah and members of the Outsidah’s immediate family are not eligible to participate and win. All visitors must report to office. Video surveillance in use. Attention: Moving sidewalk ends. No shirt, no shoes, no service. No sleeping in the museum. No feeding the animals. Any description, rebroadcast or reproduction of this column without the consent of the NFL is strictly prohibited. Employees must wash hands before returning to work. Enter at your own risk. Caution: Choking hazard. Not suitable for children under 3. Keep off the grass. May cause drowsiness. Images simulated. Closed course, do not attempt. Do not use alcohol in excess with Cialis. May be hot when heated. Names have been changed to protect the innocent. And maybe some genders.
I was in New York City last week, and the experience was terribly confusing. That place disturbed me, I’m telling you. It is virtually indistinguishable from Ipswich, with only the slightest of peculiarities differentiating the two towns.
New York, for example, appears to be built on a grid, with long, straight streets criss-crossing the city like a stretched-out checkerboard. These people would not know what to do with Lord’s Square. There would be traffic jams.
Also, their street-numbering system is a tragedy, shockingly unimaginative for a town that is home to the world’s greatest advertising agencies. Do we number our streets in Ipswich? No, we do not. (Except for First, Second, Fourth, Fifth, and Sixth. After that, it’s totally names.) We give our streets delightful names, like Labor in Vain, and Heartbreak, and Turnpike.
But in New York, au contraire. Numbered “Streets” run east-west, numbered “Avenues” run north-south, so our hotel at West 34th Street and 8th Avenue was boringly easy to find. There is nothing in New York City like the place in Ipswich just before Hood Pond where Linebrook Road becomes Boxford Road unless you turn left off of Linebrook Road onto Linebrook Road. There was no hope of finding a great Bed & Breakfast by driving to the end of North Main Street where High Street becomes East Street, and the next-door neighbors are suing you for the “& Breakfast” part.
I missed Ipswich.
Another distinguishing mark of New York City was that New Yorkers seemed to be more than willing to inconvenience me. As I walked down the street, people moving in all directions frequently cut in front of me or bumped me, or both. I was repeatedly obligated to hesitate, change my gait, alter my course, or, on a number of occasions, rub my shoulder.
This was a constant reminder to me: “We’re not in Ipswich anymore, Toto.” But it was also somehow satisfying to realize: New Yorkers could not function in Ipswich. Not at Five Corners. Or even Depot Square. Heck, they couldn’t even make a left turn off of Town Farm Road. New Yorkers lack the requisite Ipswich skills: (a) making eye contact with a total stranger, (b) making primitive hand signals in order to communicate with that stranger, and (c) (most important of all) understanding the unwritten rule that the other person, no matter how grossly they are violating the most basic of traffic laws, MUST — GO — FIRST.
(Now that I have seen a few Broadway shows, my dream is to write a theme song for the Town of Ipswich. The main lyric will be something like: “No, please, / you go. / Go ahead. / I insist. / I can’t / pull out first. / It is pointless / to resist.” Of course, this is just a first draft. I’m open to suggestions.)
Furthermore, in New York City, no one greeted me warmly. No one greeted me at all. Nobody said, “Hi, Doug. Loved your column this week.” And not a single person said, “Hi, Doug. Your column this week was odd. Are you feeling OK?” So I knew I wasn’t in Ipswich anymore.
Here’s something else I learned: In New York City, if you hear English being spoken, you’re the one talking.
Also, I visited FAO Schwarz; it’s billed as the biggest toy store in the world, but it’s obviously just New York’s answer to Green Elephant. I almost missed Macy’s, which at first I mistook for Family Dollar, until I noted that Macy’s actually puts displays in their display windows. (Apparently this is an old-fashioned idea, to which Macy’s still clings, not having stepped up to Family Dollar’s superior modern display-window strategy. I trust before long, Macy’s will also feature the backs of cabinets and cases in their windows on 34th Street.)
In spite of how disconcerting New York was, I did have some thrills. I went up in the Empire State Building — climbed the last six flights with my very own legs, to avoid the line for the elevator — the Big Apple equivalent of the cupola atop the Crane estate. And I took a cruise around the Statue of Liberty, where my grandfather arrived at Ellis Island exactly 88 years before, on his way to finding my grandmother. Not exactly a world-changer like John Winthrop Jr. arriving at Ipswich on his way to finding clams, but a pretty big deal to me.
I also saw Aladdin, Pippin, The Phantom of the Opera, and A Gentleman’s Guide to Love and Murder. (Broadway is fabulous. Almost IPAC-quality.) And I had a late-night dinner at Sardi’s, with Joan Rivers. (Although she was at another table. With some other people. Non-Ipswich people.) Sardi’s is pretty good, but they could learn a few things from Ipswich’s dear departed Chris DeStefano. Also, they have caricatures on the walls, but none of people from Ipswich.
So. There. I have been to New York City. To be honest, all things considered, I can’t really recommend it. For the most part, other than being disorienting and expensive, it’s basically just Ipswich, but without the charm.
Also, they don’t have Town Meetings. How do they vote anything down?
Oh, wait. It’s New York. Anything goes.
It was my understanding, upon moving to Ipswich, that I could “go all the way.” By train, that is. To New York City, I mean.
This seemed too good to be true, however; and indeed, I found that it wasn’t quite as simple as getting on a train and going all the way to New York. This fact became clear shortly after I finally found the website of the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, generally referred to as the “MBTA.” (For several months I didn’t understand what “MBTA” was; I thought perhaps people were saying a French word, “embitiez,” except that “embitiez” isn’t French for anything.)
I quickly discovered that, here in coastal Massachusetts, the train is not necessarily “the train.” The MBTA website has “Rider Tools,” including a “Trip Planner,” which will help you navigate between commuter rail, subway, bus, and boat. Boat! I’ve never lived close to the ocean before, but I am pretty sure that a boat is not a train.
The MBTA website is where I learned that Ipswich is on something called the Newburyport/Rockport Line, and if you catch the commuter rail at Ipswich Station heading toward Boston, you’ve made a good start. But you can’t just stay on the train and get off at New York. You can only stay on the train till you get barely inside Boston. At North Station, they make you get off. Unfortunately, the train that goes on to New York does not leave from North Station. It leaves from South Station. So you need to get from North Station to South Station.
These two stations are less than a mile and a half from each other, so it should be simple. According to Google Earth, you can walk. Take Canal Street down to Federal Street, cut across to Congress Street, past City Hall, past (ironically) the First National Bank of Ipswich (at State Street, on your right), past Jayne’s Flower Shop (at Franklin, on your left; promotional fee paid), passing a total of 14 Starbucks and 96 Dunkin’ Donuts, and 25 minutes later, you’re there.
But no, I was on a quest. I wanted to stay on the train. Come on, gimme the train that runs from North Station to South Station. Imagine my surprise, then, encountering the shocking truth: In 384 years of existence, with one of the oldest railway systems in America, and 394 miles of rail lines, the City of Boston has never put in the 7,392 feet of track it would take to connect North Station directly to South Station.
The solution, for travelers like me, turns out to be the subway, the beloved “T.” In my studies, I discovered that the T is not necessarily simple, but it does come in a number of pleasant colors: the northerly-southwesterly Orange Line, the southerly-northwesterly Red Line, the dashing easterly Silver Line, the northeasterly Blue Line (which I want to take simply because it winds up at “Wonderland”), and the venerable granddaddy of the system, the westerly Green Line.
To get from North Station to South Station? No problem. You have choices. You can take the Orange Line to Downtown Crossing, then change to the Red Line for South Station. Or you can take the Green Line to Park Street, then change to the Red Line. (Amtrak officially recommends, if you have luggage or children in tow, just forget the train thing and take a taxi. When a railroad service warns you against taking the train, you gotta pay heed.)
Finally, however, by some means or another, you are likely to wind up at South Station, where you can get on a train bound for New York City, and in something like four hours, you’re supposed to be there.
So, last week, this was my plan. I arranged to be dropped off at Ipswich Station, and my adventure began. (Ipswich Station is a thrill in and of itself, a visually exciting ridged metal roof suspended at a daring angle over a series of artsy benches mounted on world-class concrete.)
The train came.
I climbed on. It was something of a rush, I confess.
I found a seat. I looked out the window with a deep-down sense of satisfaction.
Soon the conductor was calling out the next stop.
I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I could have sworn that Rowley was north of Ipswich, as opposed to, say, New York, which is, for example, south of Ipswich.
The most important lesson I learned on this trip is that when you’re waiting for a train at Ipswich Station, you’re facing west. So if you want to get from Ipswich to New York by train, you have to get on a train that goes from right to left. Not left to right. The train going left to right is going to Newburyport.
The second most important lesson I learned on this trip is that it takes 14 minutes to get to Newburyport, and once you’re there, it takes 16 minutes for the train to start back again. And another 14 minutes to get back to Ipswich.
In other words, it takes 44 minutes to go nowhere.
[A mosquito, a tick, and a midge are sitting in the hotel bar on the first evening of the annual Ipswich Pest Convention.]
BARTENDER: What’ll ya have?
MOSQUITO: Bloody Mary.
TICK: Bloody Mary.
MIDGE: Bloody Mary. [turning to the others, chewing her gum] So how was you gals’es year?
MOSQUITO: [wiping her proboscis primly with her napkin] Mine was quite terrible, actually. A deplorable year, by any reasonable measure. It’s not just people with their psssht! psssht! spray cans. Now it’s the state. The Commonwealth — of Massachusetts! They’re flying airplanes over the marshes, creating pesticide clouds. Honestly! When I first heard about it, I said to myself, ‘What is this? Syria?’
Every other week in the Chronicle, it’s West Nile, West Nile, West Nile! And these liberals, dear me — with all their direct-mail solicitations from humanitarian charities in Africa — they’re fixated on malaria. Waterborne diseases! From mosquitoes! I look at my husband and children, and I find myself asking, What are we? Monsters? We don’t carry diseases. We come from a long line of respectable New England mosquitoes.
[She smoothes her skirt over three of her knees.] My great-great-grandmother bit Kitty Dukakis. All she left was a red welt and an itch. That was all. Truly. It was gone in a day or two. Our family always does things properly.
MIDGE: [after a long, hard look at the mosquito] Kitty Dukakis? Really? That’s the best you got?
MOSQUITO: [slightly deflated] My aunt was once swatted by Mitt Romney.
[A long pause.]
MOSQUITO: But that was at a lake in New Hampshire.
MIDGE: [turning to the tick] OK, good-lookin’, whatchou been up to this year?
TICK: [checking her lipstick] Well, my year’s been pretty good, in spite of the bad press. You know how it is. Sure, Lyme is bad. But the P.R. is terrible. Just terrible. People panic. Just like with anything, you know? The Dunkin’ drive-through? I was totally for that. [She snaps her compact shut.] So everybody’s like, Ticks! Lyme disease! Yes, of course, some ticks carry Lyme disease. But please. My boyfriend was complaining about the bug spray — I told him, “Larry! It’s the generalizations that are killing us!” I don’t have Lyme. I keep myself clean. Larry and I only dine in respectable places. Those ticks west of Route 1, where people don’t even realize it’s still Ipswich, they’re the worst.
MIDGE: There’s Ipswich west of Route 1?
TICK: [rolling her eyes] I’m trying to be serious here. This is my point: People think us adult ticks are causing the Lyme problem. They don’t understand that this is a juvenile problem, and we in the tick community are working on it with our youth. We just need time to change our system, ya know? It’s politics. The tick community doesn’t welcome change. We’re still trying to get a skate park for our nymphs. God, I wish it could still be like it was when I was a kid, out around Hood Pond. When I was a larva, Hood Pond was heaven.
[The tick takes a long, soulful draw on her Bloody Mary. She turns to the midge.] So how was your year?
MIDGE: [with a broad smile, revealing a missing tooth] I thought you’d never ask! Best year ever! I sympathize with you plus-size chicks. You can’t get through the screens. Ha! Yeah! They’re makin’ the screens tighter and tighter! Me? Zip! I’m in there.
[She scratches her belly.] I love them upstairs windows. These antique houses, no central A/C. They have to leave the windows open to survive the summer nights. Humans! Yeah! I love the fat ones while they’re sleeping. They don’t even notice. [She slurps her drink.] Last week I got a guy on outer Linebrook about eight times, all around his hairline. By the time I flew away, he looked like a tacky red light-up Statue of Liberty souvenir.
MOSQUITO: [sniffing] Oh, please. I don’t appreciate subterfuge. It’s hypocrisy. I go in the open, as the sun begins to sink — the most beautiful time of the day. I focus on a lovely expanse of human flesh — the females are best, with their sleeveless sundresses — especially during a backyard cocktail party, with plenty of music and laughter. I settle onto that lovely epidermis, just above the clamshell bracelet. From this point, it’s a matter of surgical-precision timing: In! Suction! Eyes up! I’m watching for her other hand to come sailing in — here it comes — and at the last possible moment — Nose up! Fly away!
[She sighs.] I love the sound of her slapping her own arm as I’m buzzing off. It’s proof that the system is working. I made a human smack herself. Again! All is right with the world.
MIDGE: That’s sick. But I love it.
MOSQUITO: [slumping a bit] My only worry is, the older I get, the harder it is to fly off with such a big belly full of hemoglobin. Perhaps I should think about settling down at our place on the swamp, up in Byfield. Let my children take care of me. But if I’m entirely honest with myself, there is still the thrill of the kill. [She glances at the others.] Am I a beast?
[A greenhead walks in and sits at the bar. The mosquito, the tick, and the midge all silently turn away.]
MOSQUITO: [under her breath] Drinking problem.
TICK: [muttering] Floozy.
MIDGE: [quietly] Two hundred eggs every time she takes a drink.
BARTENDER: [to the greenhead] What’ll ya have, lady?
GREENHEAD: Bloody Mary.
On a hot, sunny day, I was mowing my little stripe of front yard along Linebrook Road when a long gray automobile slowed to a stop next to me. The driver, an elderly gentleman with bright eyes, leaned over to the open passenger window.
“I have a gravestone,” he said.
Forget the hot, sunny day. A chill went through me.
“Your linden is dead,” he continued.
I was confused. I have two lindens, at the front corner of my property, and they’re both perfectly healthy, thank you very much.
“It’s hanging over my gravestone,” the gentleman went on. Then he smiled a sweet, almost boyish smile. “Would you mind, very much, taking it down?”
Ah! The mystery began to dissolve. He was talking about the opposite corner of my property, a tangle of trees and undergrowth at the edge of the Linebrook Cemetery. And he had started out so spookily — “I have a gravestone” — only because his vehicle was standing on Linebrook Road, and if he took time for the usual pleasantries, he would soon be blocking traffic.
“I’ll see what I can do,” I replied. “What’s the name on the gravestone?”
“Willis,” he replied, and drove off.
I trudged across the meadow to a little break in the crude stone wall that separates my land from the land of the dead. On the other side, it didn’t take long to find Mr. Willis’s gravestone. His beloved Geraldine had already been laid to rest, her name and numbers engraved in the smooth gray marker. Her husband Robert, sharing the marker, had only a name and birth date.
And looming overhead, like a refugee from a Disney movie, was the creepiest, spindliest, blackest dead tree I’ve ever seen. Its bare, claw-like branches were bent over the Willis gravestone like an amateur actor trying to be “menacing.” No wonder Mr. Robert Willis wanted the tree to come down. His dear departed wife was being guarded by a creature from Lord of the Rings.
When I learned how much a professional would charge me to cut down the dead linden, I decided to do the job myself, with a hand saw and a pair of work gloves and a prayer for good luck. The only potential trouble was, if the tree fell toward the cemetery, it would smash Mrs. Willis’s gravestone to smithereens. I needed the tree to fall the opposite direction, onto my property.
My wife decided to come watch.
“I’ve seen them do this in cartoons,” she offered cheerfully. “Whichever side you cut into, the tree falls the opposite way.”
This seemed advice as wise as any. So I slashed into the cemetery side of the tree, until it started to groan — or maybe that was me groaning — and sure enough, just like in the cartoons, the dreadful linden came crashing into my yard. Stand in front of Mrs. Willis’s gravestone now, and the trees framing the background are lush and green and pleasant.
After that, I noticed, almost every day, a long, elegant gray car gliding into the cemetery, slowing to a stop where the linden used to be. From time to time, I walked over, through the break in the stone wall, to say hello to Mr. Willis. As time went by, wonderful stories unspooled. The New Jersey kid, discovering the museums of Manhattan. Getting his wings just in time for World War Two to be over. Falling in love with Geri.
It turns out that my charming friend Mr. Willis was one of the world’s most prominent mechanical engineers. In the Cold War of the 1960s, he worked on a team that designed a high-speed hydrofoil boat to interdict enemy submarines. (He started the project by going to a local store and buying an erector set.) He can show you miles of black-and-white photos of engines and gears and crankshafts and other stuff I will never understand. (I even saw a photo of what they actually built with the erector set!) If you want to see the photos and hear the stories, contact me via Outsidah.com, and I’ll get you in touch with the good man himself.
I called him Mr. Willis once too often. “I’m Bob,” he finally insisted.
And so, here we are. Death brought us together. Death isn’t fun, but I’m glad this worked out the way it did. A wife gone, a tree gone. Yet on the edge of the graveyard, a well-found friendship. Bob and Doug.
Old stories bring new life. We should ask for them more often. Those who arrived ahead of us have more experience, perhaps more wisdom to share.
Case in point. Last week I saw Bob again, heading back from one of his frequent trips to the gym. He’s well into his 80s.
“Man, you’re still rockin’ the workouts,” I said.
He pointed to my belly. “You need to lose that.”
He’s right, of course.
Doug Brendel lives a mostly sedentary life next door to a cemetery on outer Linebrook Road. Visit Doug at his “Only in Ipswich” booth at Olde Ipswich Days on the South Green this weekend.