Tree Out, Friend In

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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.

For Love and/or Money

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Whatever you do, don’t make fun of EBSCO. Don’t get them mad at you. Don’t do anything that could even remotely be misconstrued as disrespect toward Ipswich’s biggest employer. Look at any gathering of 13 people in this town, and chances are — literally, statistically speaking — one of them works at EBSCO. This is a major American company. It appears to be totally legit. There is almost no chance whatsoever that EBSCO is a front for a Colombian drug cartel’s money-laundering operation.

Keep EBSCO happy, I’m telling you, because we need these people. It’s not just that they graciously donate the use of their patio for our Down Town Tuesdays concerts. It’s not just that they let the public park for free on their employee parking lots after work hours (one of the best-kept secrets in Ipswich). It’s that EBSCO is making tons of loot, and a lot of it is sticking here. Every Ipswich resident who works there is kicking back part of every paycheck to the Town in taxes. And the rest of EBSCO’s employees come in from out of town to go to work, and find themselves buying lunch here, buying gasoline here, buying last-minute gifts here because they forgot it was their anniversary, and if they get off the train in Beverly without something in hand, the marriage is in trouble.

So we never, never, never want EBSCO to leave. You know they have a Topsfield location too, right? It’s their “place down south,” I guess. God forbid they should decide they like it better there, because of the climate or something. We want them here. We need them here. Like EBSCO. Love EBSCO. When possible, perform random acts of kindness for EBSCO.

Don’t let it bother you that you don’t really understand what they do. Officially, they provide “a complete and optimized research solution.” This has something to do with things called “e-journals,” “e-books,” and “research databases.” If you think this sounds like a very large and very fancy Kindle hooked up to a very large and very expensive Google, I’m with ya. But I suspect it’s really much more sophisticated than that, and you and I just don’t get it.

But whatever they’re doing in those buildings, I’m for it. And they seem to keep doing it in more and more buildings. They started out in that wonderful building on the river (and commissioned Alan Pearsall to adorn it with a fantastic history-of-Ipswich mural); then they added the place on Route 1 in Topsfield (“Tired of Your Commute? Work Local”); then they added their “Annex” here in Ipswich, right where Washington Street scissors into the mash-up between Hammatt Street and Depot Square. But these three facilities are only the North Shore tip of the global EBSCO iceberg. The EBSCO.com website lists offices in such exotic locales as South Africa, China, Spain, Brazil, New Zealand, even Alabama. Even New Jersey.

And now, once again, opportunity knocks. The Zodiac paint store at the corner of Market and Union is closing down. There’s going to be a beautiful glassy corner-location storefront available for lease. It’s about 14 steps from EBSCO’s headquarters building. It’s perfect.

How could EBSCO use this space? I humbly offer these suggestions:

1. There’s so much window space, you could put a couple of representative workers in there, and let them do their work, and let the rest of us stand on the sidewalk and watch. Maybe we would finally understand what EBSCO does.

2. Put the bosses in there. Let Ipswich residents just drop by to stand on the sidewalk and admire them and applaud. We could actually sign up for shifts. I would applaud the EBSCO guys from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. every Saturday.

3. Back up the EBSCO money truck to the front door and dump all the money in there. At 8,020 square feet, the Zodiac building has enough space for nearly $1.2 billion in neatly stacked singles.

Assuming all goes well, this EBSCO money showcase could become a huge tourist draw. Little old ladies will tumble off the CATA bus to feast their eyes on $1.2 billion. CNN will send Anderson Cooper to shoot a feature. “EBSCO Money Mania” will become schoolchildren’s favorite field trip of the year. Market Street businesses will be happily overrun with foot traffic, hordes of out-of-towners viscerally inspired by the money exhibit and inexplicably eager to spend their own.

Just think! We’ll have even more to thank EBSCO for than we do now!

 

Hitched!

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The Outsidah salutes the bride, Ipswich Town Manager Robin Crosbie, and the groom, Frank Tripoli. They were married Friday, July 11th, at Stage Fort Park in Gloucester, State Representative Brad Hill officiating. Congratulations to the lovely couple!

Cover Me

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You take the woman you love to the beach. This is half the reason for moving to Ipswich in the first place. (The other half is Town Meetings. Love those things. I think they should be quarterly.)

So you take your woman to the beach. Especially on a cool, cloudy day, when hardly anybody else is there.

But you do not wear shoes. And you certainly do not wear socks with your shoes. No self-respecting beachcomber wears shoes to the beach, let alone shoes and socks.

It’s not easy being a nerd.

I grew up in Chicago. You don’t go barefoot in Chicago. You have to protect yourself against the jagged shards of a thousand shattered wine bottles and the venomous needle points of a million discarded syringes. At least you did in my neighborhood. Not everywhere, of course. Just on the sidewalks. And on the basketball courts.

I thought my shoes were OK for the beach. I heard someone call them “deck shoes,” and the boardwalks (which take you from the parking lot over the protected dunes to Crane Beach) are really just long, skinny decks. The signs actually encourage you to use “footwear” on the boardwalk, because there’s a risk of splinters. Footwear! Shoes are footwear! (And don’t talk to me about flip-flops. Flip-flops are an abomination. No nagging little stem of rubber is going to ride between my toes, no sir. It’s unnatural. It’s shoes for me. Shoes all the way.)

But shoes are meant to be worn with socks. Sophisticated people do not wear shoes without socks. I grew up painfully average, longing to be sophisticated; so I never got into the tacky habit of wearing shoes without socks. Accordingly, when I went to the beach with the woman I love, I was, I confess, wearing shoes, and yes, I confess, I was also wearing socks.

Just over the boardwalk, she deposited her sandals near the edge of the dune grass. If she expected me to leave my shoes and socks there, she had another think coming. In Chicago you don’t leave your shoes anywhere. You go to a beach on Lake Michigan and leave your shoes, and they’re in a pawn shop window by the time you come looking for them.

So there she was, the woman I love, sauntering along the water’s edge, in her lovely bare feet, and perhaps glancing from time to time at my shoes, and my socks, and my long pants — oh, wait. Did I mention my long pants? Look, my mother raised me to be careful. You never know when a sudden squall will come up, and you’ll wish you had long pants. And a hoodie. It doesn’t matter that it’s 70 and sunny. Things change fast in New England.

She did make me leave my hoodie in the car.

It was a lovely stroll. Of course, she wanted to saunter through the shallows, and I wanted to stay up where the sand was firm, and if you’re holding hands, you can’t have it both ways. So much for holding hands. Remove my shoes and my socks, and actually carry them? The thought never entered my mind.

I would have gotten away with the shoes and socks, I do believe, if it hadn’t been for the tide. As the tide goes out, it often forms long rivulets, streams cutting through the sand from the upper beach to the receding bay. These rivulets form pretty quickly, and widen even more quickly, and deepen as they widen. So maybe you’ve walked a long way along the water’s edge toward Essex, and then you turn around to head back — and you find that you’ve got a series of gushing channels to traverse. If you’re barefoot, it’s not an issue. But you don’t want to get your shoes and socks wet, do you?

All the way back, as we came to each gushing tributary, I was reduced to hunting for the narrowest place, then leaping from edge to edge, like a terrified cat. It was an untidy business, as I landed each time in soft, sopping wet sand, which caked all over my nice shoes, and sometimes even got on my nice socks.

“You could take off your shoes,” she suggested quietly. I was silently horrified. And I knew she would get her come-uppance when we finally got back to the base of the boardwalk. I was quite sure that by now, her sandals had been stolen.

The sun had come out, and the beach was filling up with people. She had trouble finding her sandals, among the dozens of other pairs there.

Are there no criminals in Ipswich? Does no one recognize quality merchandise?

I love it here. But I am still adjusting.

 

 

Doug Brendel stays fully dressed, most of the time, at his outer Linebrook home. Choose “Follow” and get The Outsidah delivered to your inbox most Wednesdays.

 

Please Pull Forward

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Everybody’s raving about the new Ipswich Farmers Market, and rightly so.

I was there the first two weeks, and it was pretty excellent.

All summer long, every Friday from 4 to 7 p.m., local folk are offering their local wares on the Town Common. You didn’t know we have a Town Common? Well, that’s the latest name for the wide open grassy space adjacent to the Visitor Center. This is the perfect name for it, since we already have a “North Green” and a “South Green,” and “Middle Green” is just a bit too Hobbitty. Besides, most other towns in New England have a Town Common. To be the only town in New England without a Town Common would be an embarrassment.

(Also: There’s something called The Town Common, which more or less approximates a newspaper; but it’s published in Rowley, so I say it’s high time Ipswich redeemed the name.)

At the wonderful new Ipswich Farmers Market, there are strawberries for sale, and cilantro and homemade aprons and henna tattoos and you name it. It’s casual, it’s fun. Musicians make music, Frisbees get tossed around, children blow bubbles, dogs happily lead their masters around on leashes. People do clumsy gyrations in hula hoops and laugh a lot. People hang out and talk. People drive by and see that something’s happening and they pull over and check it out. There’s free parking on the street, and all along the edge of the Common.

The Ipswich Farmers Market is a beautiful thing.

Of course, it’s also a disaster. For some of us.

What if you don’t have time to pull your car into a parking space on South Main Street and put it in park and turn off the ignition and open the door and get out and close the door and lock it behind you (because it’s such a tough neighborhood) and dodge Ipswich’s overwhelming rush-hour traffic to get over to the Common?

What if you’re on too tight a schedule to engage in pleasant, casual chit-chat and get to know the neighbors you’ve spent years living in the same town with but never learned the name of?

What if it’s not physically feasible for you to walk your bad hip from booth to booth and dodge a wayward Frisbee and angle your groin away from the nose of an inquisitive black Lab whose owner thinks it’s cute how he does that?

All of these tragic contingencies and awkward inconveniences lead me to a certain conclusion: There is only one thing missing from the marvelous new Ipswich Farmers Market.

We need a drive-through.

A drive-through solves all these problems, and maybe even more. From the comfort of your driver’s seat, with nothing but a flick of your window button, you can have your farm-fresh honey and buy your cut-fresh flowers and grab your cooked-fresh hot dog without so much as a slurp from a Shar Pei. Frisbees will bounce harmlessly off your paint job. You will be spared virtually any risk of casual chit-chat. If “community” is contagious, you will escape the Ipswich Farmers Market germ-free. All thanks to the drive-through.

It’s a shame, really, that Town Meeting didn’t approve the multi-million-dollar public safety building for the adjacent property. As part of that plan, as I understand it, they would have paved a driveway smack down the middle of the Town Common. What serendipity! It would have been far more than a simple, gleaming stripe of black asphalt slashing through the grassy field. It could have doubled as our Ipswich Farmers Market drive-through. Sometimes you cast your vote, and you just don’t foresee the sad side-effects.

P.S. If the Ipswich Farmers Market gets a drive-through, and Dunkin Donuts has a booth, will doughnuts be the only product you’re required to get out of your car for?

 

Doug Brendel lives so far out on outer Linebrook Road, he’s closer to the Dunkin Donuts in Rowley than to the one at Lord’s Square. However, as an Ipswich resident, he’s banned from using the drive-through. Follow this blog and get the latest from The Outsidah most Wednesdays.

Town Meeting Travesty

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It’s no secret that some of our esteemed citizens came away from Town Meeting unhappy. Some were displeased with the outcome of various votes. Some were unhappy about the dizzying plethora of Articles on the Warrant. Some were frustrated by the arcane language of some Articles, or annoyed by the inane comments of their fellow citizens.

But I was unhappy about the furniture.

Not our furniture. Not what we citizens were sittin’ in. No, I love the IPAC, and we’re privileged to have it. Our chairs were fine.

I’m talking about the furniture on the stage.

I know whose fault it is. The Town Moderator, under the law, oversees Town Meetings with dominion and authority of virtually biblical proportions. He can choose the onstage furniture, and he can arrange the furniture however he likes. Personally, I really like him. But this time he’s gone too far.

When I first began attending Town Meetings, the newly elected Moderator, Mr. Tom Murphy, Esq., allowed a single podium, with the various boards and committees seated at long tables. This was, I believe, the same arrangement that had been used for years. When it came time for a Town leader to speak, he or she had no choice but to rise from his or her chair and traipse all the way to the podium. The meeting lasted four hours or more, including a cumulative 47 minutes of traipsing.

At a subsequent Town Meeting, we were treated to a multiplicity of microphones on the onstage tables. This afforded our Town officials the freedom to address the citizenry without so much as lifting a cheek. This also cut back on traipsing time. Unfortunately, the array of microphones turned out to be something of a nightmare for the hapless sound engineer, and absolutely a nightmare for the ears of the citizenry. The dutiful soul in charge of managing audio on that tragic evening made a valiant effort to corral the sound-storm, but to little avail. Sometimes we civilians leaned forward, straining to hear, with the onstage speaker looking like a lip-synching act gone badly awry. Other times we recoiled in horror at the electronic screeching. Both my hearing aids melted in my ears. The million-mic experiment, I am happy to report, seems to have faded into the failure files.

Our most recent Town Meeting was a different kind of trial. It was disturbing to see what our esteemed Town leaders were being put through. Speakers were obligated to walk to a microphone and stand not at a podium, but before a lowly music stand. A music stand, indeed! People in Ipswich know that I am the biggest-ever fan of our Board of Selectmen, so I realize that my opinion is biased; but to see a respected selectman pitching a $30 million budget in front of a cheap black metal apparatus with a sliding neck, a music stand which only hours earlier had been used by an eighth-grade French horn player, was heartbreaking to me. (Thank God we don’t live in Danvers. Horrors. They have twice as big a budget, yet their Town leaders have to sit out in the auditorium with the commoners!)

It is my conviction that our Ipswich Board of Selectmen, if not our School Committee and FinCom, should be shown proper reverence at Town Meeting. A few suggestions:

1. I would recommend hiring a feng shui consultant to arrange the onstage furniture for the best possible Zen. The music stands will almost certainly be placed at pleasing angles.

2. I’ve heard about a town-government special at Ikea; I’ll explore this and get back to you.

3. I would utilize the considerable fly space above the stage, and have our venerable selectmen dramatically lowered into their seats as Town Meeting begins. (Just before the Pledge of Allegiance.)

And finally: There is a breathtakingly beautiful ecclesiastical throne, for the most part unused, sitting in a quiet corner of Ascension Church. I would rent that gaudy monster for Town Meetings, just for the Moderator.

 

Doug Brendel lives and breathes for Town Meetings, and waits glumly between them in his outer Linebrook home. Follow this blog and get The Outsidah delivered automatically to your inbox, most Wednesdays.

 

Stampede Guaranteed

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There’s nothing like the stench of hot tar in the morning. And the grinding of massive truck gears outside your front window at 6 a.m. And the shrill beep-beep-beep of an asphalt loader backing slowly into the marvelous mammoth machine which — once the two behemoths have coupled — lays a whole new road before your bleary eyes.

Someone in Ipswich town government (bless them) found some money somewhere and hired a wonderful crew to strip my cherished section of Linebrook Road, from Newbury to Randall, down to the original dirt, and then lay down a totally new, start-from-scratch roadway. Potholes of historic dimensions, potholes so big they had their own echo, potholes mistaken by grieving out-of-town relatives as the final resting place of their loved ones, are no more. The wondrous Street Guys have given us a long, smooth, shiny black work of art. I am heterosexual, but I have never felt such affection for a group of big, beefy men.

(To see two delicious minutes of outer Linebrook Road going from colonial-era cowpath to slick, ultra-modern boulevard, visit DougBrendel.com/road.mov. It’s what I witnessed from my bedroom window. If you’ll be offended seeing one machine injecting another with asphalt, don’t go there.)

But of course, while the work is going on, there’s a price to be paid. You get a very thoughtful notice from the Ipswich Department of Public Works, several days in advance, warning you that there will be a critical one-hour interlude during which you cannot get onto or off of your driveway. During this time, you will be trapped in your house — or trapped in your car, in front of your neighbor’s house, muttering, “Why, oh why, didn’t I get home 20 minutes earlier?” Which is a euphemism for “Why, oh why, did I stop at the bar on my way home?”

I got out in the morning, before the quarantine began. But as I attempted to return home — for the record, I had an actual meeting to attend; I was not slumming at Club 498 — I was stopped a few hundred years from my home by a member of Ipswich’s Finest. Up ahead, our section of outer Linebrook was reduced to a single lane. An officer was stationed at each end of the work zone, walkie-talkie in hand. They alternated, like kids on a seesaw, either (a) letting cars through the narrow passageway, or (b) making them wait while the cars coming from the opposite direction snaked through.

I happened to arrive during a segment of (b) making them wait. So there I was, hanging out at the edge of the construction area, with my personal Ipswich cop. With a vision of smooth sailing on my beloved street, I was feeling gushy. I lowered my window.

“I’m so happy,” I said, “getting a whole new road! No more rack-and-pinion- contorting sinkholes!”

The officer arched an eyebrow. “Yes,” he said, “but we’re worried, sir.”

“We?”

“The Ipswich Police Department, sir.”

“Worried about what?”

“Speeders, sir,” he replied. “Smooth road — people speed. It was bad enough before, but——“

He sighed heavily, and squinted into the sun, like a young Clint Eastwood.

“With this stretch of slick new pavement, we’re going to have to be out here with radar constantly.”

Of course, as you can imagine, a surge of civic responsibility immediately swelled within me. I wanted to help. Ipswich is my chosen hometown. If there’s a way I can ease the burden on Ipswich’s Finest, I want to do it.

“Maybe there’s a simpler way,” I offered. “A sniper, crouching on my roof, could pick off speeders very easily.”

The officer’s face clouded. I could tell he was tempted.

“Violence,” he finally replied, “would be frowned upon, sir.”

I had to admire his response: Ipswich police officers are a model of propriety.

Ultimately, as we chatted — waiting for the officer at the other end of the construction zone to (a) let cars through — the friendly Ipswich cop and I arrived at the ideal solution to the speeder problem. A much more efficient, and compassionate, solution. Which I am happy to present here now.

No radar. And no death by sniping. But yes, a gunman will be situated on the roof of my house. (Site donated by me.)

The sniper will use a paintball gun. (Also donated by me.)

Think of it this way: It’s a good thing. No lives will be lost. It’s just this: You speed on outer Linebrook Road, and your car gets messed up. Bad. The speed limit on outer Linebrook Road is 25 mph. Come roaring through on this glossy new asphalt at 35 or 40 or 45 mph, and your paint job will never be the same.

Disclaimer: If you’re on a Harley, we’ll do our best to squirt your machine. However, if we happen to accidentally splurp paint on your beard, your helmet, or your bicep tattoo — well, sorry.

It’s 25 mph around here. Even on brand-new asphalt. Slow down, bro.