Where have all the chickens gone, long time pecking?

Free-range chickens are technically illegal in Ipswich but out here on outer Linebrook Road we are already so overrun with ticks, even this early in the season, I believe the law should be changed so that anyone west of Route 1 is actually required to have free-range chickens.

Chickens eat ticks, it’s well known, and chickens roaming free can eat more ticks than cooped-up chickens. Possums also eat ticks, which means setting the chickens free could presumably cut into the possum population’s diet, but I don’t care about starving out the possums because we’re Northerners, not Southerners, so we don’t each much possum. Given the geopolitical divide in our nation these days, I can imagine pushback — claims of malice, “Kill a tick, starve a Republican,” this sort of snark — but I assure you, my goal in releasing the chickens would be nothing more than the freedom to take a simple walk across my backyard without being beset by nasty little parasitic arachnids.

It seems to be the worst tick season in quite a few years. I’ve gone whole summers in Ipswich without finding a single one of the miniature monsters on my pantleg. But with global warming, the tick population is exploding. Ticks can’t mate and reproduce when the temperature drops below 45˚ F, but we have fewer and fewer such chilly periods. Those refreshingly mild days you pray for and luxuriate in? They’re a backdrop for unspeakable tick debauchery on an unthinkable scale.

Of course this is not just about the annoyance of tiresome self-examination — flick icky ticks quick — every time you come in from outdoors. It’s what happens if you fail to pick off one of these mini-devils in time. Ticks give humans Lyme disease. Since 2010, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, cases of tick-triggered Lyme have tripled. Why? More days and hours of tick-sex-friendly temps. And not enough chickens on the job.

We had free-range chickens in our neighborhood for a time, despite the official Ipswich ban. A neighbor had chickens and let them roam; the rest of us neighbors enjoyed them, and the chickens always went home by day’s end, observing a kind of unspoken chicken-curfew. In the meadow between my house and the chicken coop, the chickens ate well, and whole generations of ticks were annihilated. Even today, tick folk singers sing mournful songs about that tragic era.

For us humans, however, life was grand — that is, until another neighbor loved the chickens so much, or so I heard, that she began feeding them actual food. Big mistake. They began congregating happily at this one house, doing all the chicken things chickens do, like scratching and pecking. Chickens roaming over a whole neighborhood don’t make much of a mess, because they’re spread out and on the move; but so many chickens hanging out in a single yard soon took a toll on the flower garden. The outraged owner — apparently feeling betrayed by the chickens she loved — complained bitterly.

The era of technically illegal but generally accepted free-range outer Linebrook chickens was suddenly over. The chickens are now re-cooped, and the ticks are partying.

A whole new cohort of tick singer-songwriters has emerged. No more rueful refrains. It’s straight rock-and-roll now.

Yesterday I walked to the corner of my backyard and by the time I got there I had a whole tiny rock band attached to the leg of my jeans — guitar, bass, drums, and lead vocals, with three tiny backup singers in matching outfits. I remained calm. I sauntered over to my neighbor’s backyard, my steps keeping time with the music, then flicked each member of the band, one by one, into the chicken coop.

Chickens are no fans of rock-and-roll, I guess. They didn’t even wait for the song to end.

Doug Brendel wages war against the insect world from his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Track his exploits via DougBrendel.com.

The squirrel sleeps with the fishes

I ran over a squirrel last week. Not the whole squirrel. Just the half of it that wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way of my front left tire.

There’s that instant of panic when you see the creature darting out onto the asphalt, without any of the requisite small-town New England hand signals and dirty looks that humans use — “I’m crossing, okay? Even though there’s no crosswalk, right? Because the lawsuit will be overwhelming, yes?”

And you can stomp on the brake, to give the squirrel a fighting chance, but it’s usually hopeless. The momentum you’ve built up, even at a stately 35 mph, is no match for a squirrelly rodent who tops out at about 5 ft. per second, or roughly 25 mph, in that last desperate flash of panic. You have 10 mph on the poor sucker. Who’ll win and who’ll lose is not in question. 

It’s not as if I was driving recklessly. I was moving at more or less the speed limit, eastbound from my home in the hinterland, chugging along on Linebrook Road toward Marini Farm. And up ahead, what do I see but a crow. The crow had found some roadkill, apparently annihilated by some heartless driver who came careening down Linebrook Road ahead of me, but without the same kind consideration for creatures great and small that I bring to the automotive experience.

The crow, pecking at his gory prize, heard my vehicle approaching, and made the sensible choice: He temporarily abandoned his lunch, flapping away to some nearby branch where he could keep an eye out and return ASAP.

But coincidentally, a young squirrel, poised at the edge of Linebrook Road, observing the scene, made an ill-fated split-second decision. He’s not interested in chowing down on roadkill — ick! He’s a squirrel, after all; he doesn’t want guts, he wants nuts.

But he does also want to cross the road.

So he says to himself, If the crow can do it, so can I. I can get out of the way in time.

Like a typical youth, he doesn’t consider his own limitations. Like, for instance, he can’t fly like a crow. He’s not a flying squirrel, is he? What are teenagers thinking?

Accordingly, my car whacked him.

It was a traumatic moment for me. I pulled over, my heart pounding. I needed to collect myself.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a greenish shape, like a filthy upside-down salad bowl, lumbering toward me. Emerging from the woods, a snapping turtle. And no young whippersnapper of a snapping turtle. This was a seasoned, mature snapping turtle. A snapping turtle that had been around the block a time or two.

He paused as he approached my car. He arched an eyebrow. I rolled down my window to hear what he had to say.

“Why did the squirrel cross the road?” he began, his voice husky.

I shrugged.

“To prove he wasn’t chicken.”

I had no retort.

“It’s a joke,” the turtle murmured, his turtle mouth curled into a sneer.

He shook his head — peevishly, I thought. Then he looked right at me, one of his little eyes trained directly on me, like an angry grade-school teacher.

“You know how many times I’ve crossed this road?” he rasped. “Cars come screeching to a halt. People get out of their vehicles — Audis, F-150s, it doesn’t matter — and they gather around to help me across. I swear, if I went into politics, I could heal the divisions in this country.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I saw what was happening here,” the turtle chortled, “and not just today. I mean day after day. That squirrel was what we call a ‘young punk.’ He didn’t want to listen to any kind of advice from anybody in ‘the older generation.’”

I couldn’t help but glance at the half of the young punk’s body that wasn’t squished. I shivered.

“I did what I could,” the turtle sighed. “I went to him, weeks ago. I didn’t have to, I had no obligation to him, but out of a sense of community, a sense of family you might say, the animal kingdom, you know what I mean? I went to him; I said, ‘Look, I’m offering you protection. When you want to cross Linebrook Road, come to me first, I’ll go with you. When I start across, traffic will stop. You’ll be safe. You can come and go as you please. You make a small payment to my guys when they come around, and your problems are over.”

To me, at the moment, hearing the turtle say it, it sounded like a good deal.

The turtle shrugged, at least as much as a turtle can shrug, inside that shell. 

“He didn’t listen to me. He was a young punk who wouldn’t pay.”

He nodded at the half-smushed carcass.

“Look at him now.”

I couldn’t help but shudder a bit.

“Turkeys, they get a lot of attention,” the turtle continued. “People stop for them, sure. But turkeys wander around. They don’t stick with one neighborhood. They could help other species get across the road — but do they? No. They’re just in it for themselves. Me, I’ve been here for 40 years. Available to help whoever needs help.”

He began plodding across the road. Then he paused, mid-lane, and looked back at me. His mouth wasn’t curled into that little turtle sneer anymore. It was just a sad, straight mouth of regret.

“But squirrels. Do they listen? No.”

An oncoming Volvo screeched to a halt. The turtle turned back and resumed his slow crawl across the asphalt.

“Squirrels,” I heard him grunt. “They show no respect.”

Doug Brendel lives and drives on Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Look into all his strange multi-species experiences at DougBrendel.com

Wherefish Art Thou Romeo?

The Female: Oh my darling!

The Male: Oh my sweet!

F: I’m so happy to see you!

M: Even if it’s only FaceTime, at least…

F: Yes, at least we can look into each other’s eye. 

M: And then each other’s other eye.

F: It’s probably for the best that our eyes are on opposite sides of our heads….

M: Yes. I’m sure I couldn’t contain myself, looking straight ahead and taking in your beauty with both eyes at once.

F: Oh, you always say the sweetest things.

M: My love for you compels me to pour out my heart.

F: Oh, how I wish your love for me could compel you to pour out something else. Something more than words, and little air bubbles.

M: Well, I would if I could, you know. If I were there, with you, gill to gill, I certainly would give you something more … lasting.

F: Darling! Are you grinning?

M: I fear so.

F: How can you even make your mouth do that? I’ve only ever seen you make the O shape!

M: Love drives one to extremes, I guess!

F: Oh, how I long for you!

M: And I you!

F: If only we weren’t separated by this awful barrier!

M: Horrid barricade!

F: Wretched wall!

M: Damn this dam!

F: Oh my love, don’t speak in such curses, lest we fall under a curse ourselves.

M: What more of a curse could we suffer, than this damnable Ipswich Mills Dam! This massive blockade, repulsing me and my family, not only today, but for generations! Since 1637!

F: Well, to be precise, the current version of the dam wasn’t built till 1908.

M: What is that to me! It’s a dam, and I say, damn it!

F: No! Don’t speak this way! If I only had ears, I would cover my ears with my hands, if I only had hands!

M: How can you be so conservative? Our lives are passing before our very eye! We herrings only live 15 years. How many chances will we have to…?

F: Don’t say it! Don’t say it!

M: Spawn! There, I said it!

F: I told you not to say it!

M: How many chances will we have to make little herrings?

F: You’ll never have a chance with me if you keep talking dirty!

M: I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I guess this dam is making me crazy.

F: My darling, won’t you please try the fish ladder?

M: The fish ladder. Again with the fish ladder.

F: That’s what it’s there for! It’s to get little boy fishies together with little girl fishies.

M: Oh please, don’t talk cutesy. This is not Finding Nemo.

F: Just give it a try. Jump up there. See how it goes.

M: You would really have me trust that? Something devised by the government?

F: You would rather miss out on … you know … with me?

M: The fish ladder is not an option.

F: Why not?

M: Look. My mother laid 20,000 eggs. Only 130 of my siblings survived. We considered ourselves lucky. Hardy stock. But then came time to spawn — er, sorry: “procreate.”

We swam up the Ipswich River. We got to the dam. We found the fish ladder. 

My brother Artie was always a hot shot. He jumped up there. I saw him flopping around. He jumped again. And again. I hope he made it. I never saw him again. 

My brother Chuckie went next. He got up a few steps, then flopped out. He was so exhausted, the current carried him back toward Little Neck, like a Fish Filet waiting to happen. 

Nicky and I looked at each other. He just shook his head and swam away.

I was rattled, I confess. I pulled off to one side, tucked myself in under a corner of the Ebsco parking lot, and tried to get myself together. I caught Zumi’s WIFI and went online — and that’s the day I found you. The day I lost my brothers.

Yes, I could have tried the fish ladder, but only 3% make it. We’re lucky we’re herring, at 3%. My friend Miltie was a smelt. No smelt has ever made the fish ladder. We tried to talk sense into him, but it was no use; he was in love with a cute little Mallotus villosus from Danvers and nobody could convince him otherwise.

Miltie tried for three weeks straight to get up that fish ladder. It was painful to witness. By the end, I think he was actually crying, although it’s hard to tell when a fish is crying, because there’s already so much water around.

But it wasn’t his fault. Smelt are weak swimmers. They’re not built to climb fish ladders. They’re built to get scooped into a net, kippered, and — well, I won’t get into the details.

What I’m saying is, I’m not coming up that fish ladder for you like some herring Romeo. Until they take this dam down, we’re doomed.

Can you understand? Can you forgive me?

F: Gotta go. There’s a barbecue here — they’re grilling copepods, pteropods, planktonic crustaceans, and some awesome larvae. Check ya next week?

Doug Brendel lives on dry ground in an old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check out his many exploits by visiting DougBrendel.com.

And in this corner, the Respectimator!

My friend Tom Murphy, who has served ably as Ipswich Town Moderator for a number of years, is in deep trouble. And everybody’s talking about it. Since our recent Town Meeting, the number of letters to the editor about Tom Murphy has approached Guinness Book levels.

You’ve probably heard the lurid details by now. Like so many colossal tragedies, it began small and simple: Tom Murphy imposed a new Town Meeting rule, Selectperson Linda Alexson didn’t like it, and — kaboom.

It all came down to the question of who talks where when. And why. Or why not. 

I’ll sketch it out for you: There was an official microphone for government officials to express the recommendations of boards and committees on various articles, and then there were “for” and “against” microphones for citizens to use if they wanted to offer their perspectives.

But if a government official was a minority of one on a board or committee — the only member voting in opposition to the rest of the body — they had to use the commoners’ mic to share their view. Linda Alexson’s verdict: “Disrespectful.”

Moderator Tom assures us that this is a rule that other towns use. I actually didn’t quite follow the logic of the new rule. I guess it was something about the symbolism?

Symbolism is a tricky thing. People sort of make it up as they go. This Town Meeting may have been slathered in symbolism without our even realizing it. With the meeting moved from the Dolan PAC to the gym, there was no full-size flag to say the Pledge of Allegiance to; only a miniature version mounted on a wall. Secret symbolism?

And consider this: The high school jazz band, a longtime pre-Meeting fixture in the Dolan PAC days, was absent this time — even after their recent gold medal in the Northeastern District Regionals. Was their banishment an implied call for a “no” vote on the school override question, since the override would fund arts in the schools? (Thank heaven this diabolical maneuver didn’t work. The override passed — so we can hope the jazz band will rise again from the Town Meeting secret-symbolism ash heap.)

Citizens, beware. Let this microphone brouhaha be a cautionary tale. The Moderator is, under the law, quite autonomous. Moderators rule Town Meeting as their almost-exclusive domain.

Yes, there’s a built-in weakness: The Moderator’s term is only one year, so in theory we can vote the devil out annually, and vote a new savior in. But meanwhile, there’s the risk of tyranny, fascism, socialism, anarchy, favoritism, nepotism, and even more despotic symbolism than we’ve already been subjected to. An unprincipled Town Moderator could force us to say the Pledge with no flag at all. I hate to think what happens if citizens of the historic Town of Ipswich are required to say the Pledge of Allegiance to an imaginary Old Glory. Betsy Ross will turn over in her grave.

(Which would be really ironic — maybe even symbolic — since Betsy’s body was first buried in a Quaker cemetery in Philadelphia, then moved after 20 years — for the sake of symbolism — to drive business to a fancier cemetery in town. Some eight decades later, preparing for the 1976 American Bicentennial, city leaders ordered her remains moved to a hotter tourist attraction, the Betsy Ross House, even though historians say she never lived there — but the gravediggers found no human remains under her tombstone. They had to find bones elsewhere in the family plot so they’d have something to put in the grave at the “historical” site.)

The best solution, I think, is to have only one Town Meeting microphone: the Moderator’s mic. Everyone who wants to speak — majority, minority, government official, private citizen, everybody — lines up for the opportunity and goes toe-to-toe with the Moderator, right there up front. True democracy, pure symbolism: one vote, one voice, one mic — and if we must have a rasslin’ match for control of the audio, so be it. 

May the best reverse half-Nelson leglock win.

Doug Brendel lives safely on outer Linebrook Road, far from any Town Meeting fracas. Follow his mild-mannered exploits at DougBrendel.com.

Warp speed, Mr. Sulu, wake me at Whittier-Porter

Ingrid Miles — iconic realtor, former selectperson, and all-around distinguished citizen — was the very first person I met in Ipswich; she was the selling agent for my house on outer Linebrook Road. 

I have always really liked Ingrid, and admired her, but I did almost kill her. 

And not just her. Her husband Stephen, too. 

Not on purpose, of course. But when you kill someone, regardless of whether it was on purpose or not, they’re just as dead.

I was driving my very small car eastbound on High Street, approaching the intersection of North Main, where High becomes East. On my left was the Ipswich Inn, on my right was Ingrid’s house.

Ingrid and Stephen were crossing High Street on foot, heading home at a perfectly appropriate pedestrian pace. I was zipping along the road toward County Street, at something exceeding an appropriate vehicular pace.

Did I notice these vulnerable pedestrians? Not soon enough.

There’s a moment, just before you clobber someone with your car, when your eyes lock with theirs, and you experience in each other’s face a millisecond of intensely personal dialogue. (Later, after the incident, forensic experts can measure the length of the skid marks on the pavement to determine just how many milliseconds the dialogue took.)

You’ve heard that old thing about your entire life flashing before your eyes? No, it’s way more intense and personal than that.

In this case, for example, Ingrid’s eyes were saying, “I sold you your house. I thought you liked that house. How could you do this to me?” 

And my eyes were saying, “I love living here. How could it end this way? Prison is going to be horrible.” 

I’m not quite as sure about Stephen, but I believe his eyes were saying, “I knew I should have bought more insurance.”

Fortunately, there is a God, or at least angels, because someone supernaturally intervened and saved all our lives. The Mileses froze in their tracks, I hit the brake, my car magically swerved, the pedestrians crossed the street unscathed, and I trembled as I drove sheepishly past them, feebly waving my apologies.

Who could blame them for asking the Town of Ipswich for stop signs at that intersection? It came down to one simple equation: Either erect stop signs now or memorial crosses later.

So here come the stop signs, at the head of North Main Street, newly ordered by the Ipswich Select Board: one sign stopping eastbound traffic at the end of High Street, another for westbound traffic at the end of East Street.

Ingrid reports that I am not by far the only reckless driver to have endangered lives there. But I blame myself. If you hate the new stop signs, you can hate me too. In my heart, I know I did this to us. To us all.

Sure, these new stop signs will save lives, and spare countless multitudes from the horrors of mutilation and dismemberment. But geez, how inconvenient.

Now, to get from the 1634 Meadery to Crane Beach, you’ll have to endure one additional full stop.

No more blasting past the Ipswich Inn without stopping in for breakfast.

Or, coming from the other direction, no more careening down from Great Neck, blowing off the 20 mph speed limit, Cuvilly flashing by in a blur off to your right, the Little River Store barely a blip on your left, before you’re bending around onto East Street on two wheels as you head for Dunkin’.

Those freewheeling days are over.

Forgive me.

At first glance, the signs will appear to say simply STOP, like traditional stop signs. But squint a bit and I’m afraid you’ll see that they’ve added small print above and below: This is mostly to STOP Doug Brendel.

(Doug Brendel has not yet been barred from leaving his home on outer Linebrook Road, but the Ipswich police haven’t ruled it out. Follow Doug at high speed by subscribing here at Outsidah.com.)

Pearly Whites, Market Price

There is no question that lobstermen are in cahoots with dental floss makers. It’s not possible to eat lobster without flossing soon thereafter. And sales of dental floss are astronomically higher since people began eating lobster.

Lobster wasn’t a popular food in the U.S. till the mid-1800s. And when was dental floss invented? The mid-1800s. Coincidence? I think not. Cahoots. Look at any lobsterman’s stock portfolio and I bet you’ll find floss futures.

A dentist in New Orleans invented the type of floss we use today. It was silk back then, but who could afford it? Before the century was out, a company now called Codman Neuro began producing floss commercially. (Note the name Codman: Cod is almost as floss-critical as lobster. Cahoots, I’m tellin’ ya.)

Eventually, the Codman company was bought out by Johnson & Johnson, who actually took out the first patent on dental floss. Obviously they saw there was money to be made. People were eating lobster and then going crazy trying to get it out from between their teeth. (It’s no small irony that a lobster’s teeth are in its stomach. We put the lobster in our stomachs and then struggle with our teeth. The lobster gets its revenge.) 

Think of all the stuff you buy and use that’s made by Johnson & Johnson. But where are they making most of their money? I imagine the real cash cows are vaccines and dental floss. Dental floss because we have this lobster habit we can’t seem to break, and vaccines because we have this Covid habit we can’t seem to break.

Flossing, however, didn’t catch on quickly. Let’s face it: It’s tedious and tiresome. As yummy as lobster may be, flossing is equally annoying. But the day came when mass media made flossing a star. The Canadian writer Sadaf Ahsan points out that flossing got its “first moment in the spotlight” in 1918, when James Joyce had Professor MacHugh, one of his Ulysses characters, do it in public: “He took a reel of dental floss from his waistcoat pocket and, breaking off a piece, twanged it smartly” between his “unwashed teeth.” Back then, you could hardly do better than a James Joyce novel to launch a new fad. Then, during World War II, someone figured out that cheap nylon floss worked just as well as expensive silk, and from that moment, the floss boom was probably inevitable. Lobstermen rejoiced.

Today, the race is on to develop new flossing markets.

The Japanese macaque, often called the “snow monkey,” and the long-tailed macaque of Southeast Asia, also known as the “crab-eating macaque,” have both been observed flossing — using feathers, in the wild, and even human hair, in captivity. When a snow monkey can’t find the seeds and plants it prefers to eat, it digs up roots. No roots available? The snow monkey’s food of last resort is fish. Meanwhile, the crab-eating macaque prefers seafood, foraging on beaches to find its favorite delicacy.

We shouldn’t be surprised: Of course a monkey that eats fish or crab needs to floss. And now that the monkeys have figured out how, it’s only a matter of time before someone introduces them to lobster — and waxed mint-flavored Glide. The lobstermen and the floss-makers will both make a killing, and the monkeys will be happier than ever.

Once the monkey market for lobster and floss is well established, I assume someone will surely step them up to the ideal companion consumables: drawn butter and martinis.

(Doug Brendel, a poster child for periodontal health, lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow the faithful flosser here at Outsidah.com.)

No Yield Left Turn Wrong Way Any Time 

I’m applying for a grant from the federal government to fund a major research project which will catalogue, analyze, and explain the signage at Route 1 and Linebrook Road.

A cursory review of the signs visible at that intersection suggests that there are no fewer than 25 distinct messages for drivers to process as they approach — everything from “NO TURN ON RED” to “NEW HOMES e.d. dick group FOR SALE.”

There are signs about driving and not driving, walking and not walking, and how much you’ll pay for a gallon of gas. Signs about parking, not parking, and how to find Marini’s Farm. There’s one sign with type so small you’d have to get out of your car and walk right up to it in order to read it, but it’s positioned at a place with no parking and no sidewalk so no one has ever actually read it.

The grant application will request a clean million dollars. This, I figure, is about what it will take to recruit, train, and deploy multiple teams:

  • A large “language team,” probably English majors who never could find work elsewhere, will meticulously scour the intersection and record every written message. Then they’ll create a spreadsheet to analyze the signage not only alphabetically but by definition, size, color, urgency, and absurdity.
  • An “art team,” probably art majors who never could find work elsewhere, will study the visual impact of each sign, assessing physical dimensions, color combinations, font choices, and absurdity.
  • A “legal team,” probably law students who never could pass the bar, will address the question of how seriously each sign needs to be taken. Each sign will be ranked on a spectrum somewhere between “Obey Under Penalty of Death” and “Ignore This Nonsense.”
  • A “medical team” will assess the psychological impact of this cacophony on area drivers, with separate studies of two demographic groups: area residents who are exposed to the visual barrage repeatedly, and visitors who are expected to navigate the information tangle without any prior preparation. 

(One early theory is that a certain portion of local drivers’ brains go numb; we hope to determine whether this condition is reversible for those who move west and never look back. We also want to investigate rumors that some visiting drivers have suffered aneurysms from taking in so much information before the light changes.)

  • Finally, a “marketing team” will write up an impressive report, to be teased paragraph by paragraph over the course of six months in a series of Facebook posts, and ultimately released at a huge reveal party in the Wolf Hill parking lot, streamed live on YouTube.

I am very much looking forward to the report finally sorting out many of the questions I’ve been wondering about ever since I moved to Ipswich. One prime example is the “ANY TIME” mystery:

On the west side of Route 1 there’s a white sign with red lettering that simply says ANY TIME, with an arrow pointing south. 

On the east side of Route 1 there’s a corresponding white sign with red lettering, identical to the first except that the arrow points north. 

What can these signs possibly mean? 

On the one hand, I hope they’re giving me permission for something delicious, but if so, I urgently want to know what I have permission to do. 

On the other hand, if these signs actually indicate some serious prohibition, I need to know what kind of law I may be accidentally breaking. 

I have nightmares about landing in prison, with my cellmate asking “What’re you in for?” and me forced to confess, “I guess I just never did ANY TIME.”

Watch for news of the grant coming through. We’ll be hiring. That kid of yours, back home from college and living in your basement? They may finally get paying work. And for a good cause!

(Doug Brendel lives eight-tenths of a mile beyond the Intersection of Distress and Death. Follow him at a safe distance on DougBrendel.com.)

At the next exit, bear right and sort your socks

When they invented GPS my wife warned me that if I relied on technology to get around, my brain would atrophy. I knew she was crazy so I ignored her advice and today I can’t get from Marini Farm to Hood Pond without the disembodied voice of a young woman rising up from my phone to guide me.

Technology is a blessing and a curse, at least this is what I’ve heard, but for the most part I’ve experienced the blessings and seem to have avoided anything curse-like. I don’t believe I really needed the part of my brain that has atrophied. If my wife is in the car and I’m ashamed to use Siri, it’s not a problem because my wife is right there to navigate me from Marini Farm to Hood Pond.

Maybe when people speak of the curse of technology they’re just misinterpreting a blessing as a curse — like when one technological blessing overlaps another technological blessing, causing complications.

For example:

My iPhone has a timer function, so I can move a load of laundry from the washer to the drier and ask the phone to notify me in exactly 38 minutes. This is an urgently important feature of my iPhone because you have to pull the laundry out exactly on time in order to avoid wrinkling, and it’s absolutely essential to avoid wrinkling because I have never lifted an iron in my life, and I don’t intend to start now. Grab the laundry the moment it’s ready and hang it up and call it good enough; that’s my strategy. If I show up for a lunch date with you and I appear a bit disheveled, let’s just say I have a “world-weary writer look,” okay? There have been lots of world-weary writers down through history; some have even won Pulitzers. So I’d say I’m in good company.

The iPhone can also be programmed to alert me about recurring events. My daughter needs a ride home every weekday from her candy-making job at Winfrey’s? No problem. The phone reminds me every day, I’m there waiting on the parking lot when she comes out the door, and week by week I’m accumulating a mountain of points for being Superdad.

Yesterday, however, the blessings of technology overlapped in a most unfortunate way. My daughter-pickup alert went off, I zipped out to the garage and jumped in the car — but at that very moment, the laundry-moving alert also went off.

I bolted back into the house, then paused a moment, trapped between two terrible options. Which is worse? Leaving your laundry in the drier to grow cold and crusty, wrinkled beyond repair? Or confronting the pinched scowl of disappointment on your daughter’s face after you’ve stranded her at the chocolate factory?

But it took me only a second or two to make a bold, shrewd choice: Text Mommy, who was elsewhere on the road, and ask her to pick up our daughter. (I knew she’d know how to get there, Siri be damned.)

In the laundry room, I rescued my precious laundry, raced it to my bedroom closet, and began hanging things on hangers with a deftness born of years’ experience. I was intensely focused. Every second counts in this process; wrinkles will begin disfiguring the fabric within a few scant moments.

As I finished the task, I breathed a satisfied sigh of relief and triumph: another laundry-day victory, another week of the ironing board gathering dust.

Then I headed back to my work, smugly resuming my role as a major American writer.

After a while, I heard the back door slam.


Even in this single syllable, I sensed an edge of snideness.

“Why is the garage door up — and the car running — with the driver door standing wide open?”

I gulped and groped for an answer that would preserve my dignity.

“Technology,” I finally muttered. “Technology is a curse.”

Doug Brendel stays close to his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, because wandering too far with no sense of direction can be deadly. Follow Doug, perhaps for his own safety, by clicking “Follow” here at Outsidah.com.

Never Let Me Go

Tony Marino is leaving his post as Ipswich town manager, a lamentable development.

But such a tragedy need not be repeated.

As we begin our search for a successor, we can set up the position parameters in such a way our next town manager will be sure to stay put, and succeed.

The great controversy surrounding Tony, of course, has been his place of residence, which is not Ipswich but Lynnfield. Ipswich requires its town manager to reside in Ipswich within a year of their first contract renewal. Tony is escaping at the last possible moment, taking the manager position in Winthrop, where the rules are looser.

The solution for Ipswich, going forward, is not to align with virtually every town in the region by getting looser, but rather by getting tighter. 

Allow me to sketch out the ideal array of requirements:

(A)   The new town manager must have skin in the game by being an Ipswich resident on Day 1. 

The fact that we don’t pay our town manager enough to live in Ipswich is no excuse. Residency doesn’t automatically indicate homeownership, or even apartment-rentership. Lots of people live outdoors. We have plenty of officially designated open space; it’s one of our finest distinctives. I have a large used tent in very good condition which I’ll sell cheap.

(B)   The new town manager must also shop in town.

No spending your salary, the hard-earned tax dollars paid by conscientious Ipswich citizens, to boost the lifestyles of people in other places. Lynnfield, indeed.

No trips across the Rowley line to save money at Market Basket. There’s nothing at Market Basket you can’t get at Shaw’s, other than a few things, which you probably don’t really need anyway; they’re unnecessary luxuries, and bad for you.

No sneaking around the rule by using Amazon, either. Shop local, pal, or don’t shop at all.

The new town manager will be given a town credit card, a town laptop, and a town smartphone, so all spending can be tracked. All personal credit cards, laptops, and smartphones will be confiscated on Day 1. Also all cash. And coins. Also any uncashed casino chips.

(C)  The new town manager must eat in town.

We have numerous superb eateries and drinkeries. How can our town manager pretend to advance Ipswich interests while wantonly wolfing waffles in Wenham?

There is simply no need to cross into Rowley for Olde Town ice cream, or into Essex for Down River ice cream, when we have a perfectly good Dairy Queen right here on High Street. Plus, from White Farms you can see Rowley. That’s far enough for our town manager. Keep your focus.

(D)  The new town manager must never leave town.

No invisible fence and shock collar; that’s going too far — unless we have a compliance problem at some point, at which point we can consider it. Meanwhile, the manager’s vehicle will be equipped with the LoJack tracking system — at town expense, of course, so no complaining — and monitored by the Ipswich police.

The town manager may ride the train, but only to the town line. Just before crossing into Rowley to the north or Hamilton to the south, the town manager will be obligated to jump from the train.

Town managers often attend conferences, seminars, and other events designed to help town managers learn things that will enhance their performance, but our town manager will already know all those things and won’t need performance enhancement, except possibly a little help on safely jumping from a train.

Our town manager will be able to attend out-of-town events online, or better yet, demand that these events relocate to Ipswich. The genius of this is that attenders will probably buy lunch here, or fill up the tank, boosting our economy and covering the cost of LoJack.

(E)   The new town manager will receive a cemetery plot free of charge.

When we say we want the next town manager to stay, we mean it.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he nurses what former town manager Robin Crosbie called his “morbid fascination with town government.” Follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.