Sit Down, Stand Up, Rah Rah Rah!

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The Ipswich Zoning Board of Appeals has finally settled one of the most agonizing questions of our time: the question of how many people can sit in the dining room at the Ipswich Inn, and how many people can stand up.

The answer turns out to be quite simple, really. The Inn henceforth will be allowed to have 36 people sitting, or 52 standing. I for one am relieved. For the time being, at least, the people of Ipswich are no longer in danger of a 37th person sitting down in the dining room at the Ipswich Inn, nor a 53rd person standing up.

Of course innkeeper Ray Morley now bears the burden of compliance — or, though I hesitate to use the term, enforcement. He will have his hands full. What if there are 36 people seated at breakfast, and someone stands up to use the restroom? They’re over the limit. I’m not sure of the liability question, but I believe Ray is going to have to drag that person, still in their chair, into the hallway, where they’re legal to stand up.

Or maybe I have the math wrong. The numbers are intimidating. I assume if Ray can have 36 sitting or 52 standing, then he could also have half of each number: 18 sitting and 26 standing. It gets complicated. If one of the 26 sits down, I think Ray will have to haul one of the 18 to their feet. But wait — will this be OK — 27 standing, 17 sitting? I don’t think so. According to the ZBA formula, a seated person is taking up 1.44 as much space as a standing person. Every person who sits down will require 1.44 people to stand up. This is silly. It’s not physically possible for 44% of a person to stand up, leaving the remaining 56% seated. I’m afraid this person will have no choice but to crouch.

Or perhaps it would be OK to round off the numbers: a ratio of 1-to-1.44 is nearly the same as a ratio of 1-to-1.50. Which is exactly the same as 2-to-3. This could work: When two people sit down, three people stand up. It’s not exactly the ZBA formula, but it’s pretty darn close. It will make the Inn dining room into a huge game of whack-a-mole, but at least, thank goodness, there will be compliance.

Let me warmly urge you not to let these new regulations frighten you into avoiding the Ipswich Inn for breakfast. I was there this past Friday; everything seemed normal. And I’ve urged Ray to get a slide rule. He can meet you at the door and let you know whether you’ll be starting your meal sitting or standing. Also, his sidekick Becky Gayton can put an app on her iPad to track diner movements and predict how long it will be before you’re asked to change positions. True, you might start in on your “McMorley special” at a pleasant table overlooking the lawn, only to finish it standing in the corner near the coat tree. But have no fear. You can lean quite comfortably against the wall. So far, the ZBA has not ruled against leaning.

I’m in “Into the Woods”

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If you live on the North Shore, you’re invited to this fascinating and beloved musicale. (I play the Mysterious Man.) You saw the movie? There’s more to the story than you saw on the screen! Email me via unconventional@dougbrendel.com today for tickets. This show will almost certainly sell out!

show flyer large-2

Rumor Has It

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Rumors are awesome.

They’re better than television.

The Internet is rumor-driven, but just think about those rumors even before they get to the Internet. That’s pure rumor. That’s 200-proof rumor. This is the kind of rumor that gives you a rush. Makes your head light. This is the kind of rumor you shouldn’t drive after. Or post on Facebook after.

Like the rumor I heard about Winfrey’s, on Market Street, and the Ipswich Board of Health.

Yes, I know. Just seeing this combination of proper nouns has caused your heart to palpitate, hasn’t it. You can hardly wait for me to tell you the rumor, can you? See? Pure rumor. Strong stuff.

OK, here’s the rumor, the original fairy tale, as it first came to me:

Wondrous Winfrey’s, the popular manufacturer of wondrous chocolates, decided to branch out from their Rowley headquarters and open a wondrous retail outlet on Market Street in Ipswich. Fantastic! Shoppers will throng to such a place! Downtown Ipswich will blossom!

But then came Colleen Fermon, our town’s Public Health Director, swooping down on the candy-maker and ruling that they would have to put in a full commercial kitchen — Full! Commercial! Kitchen! — before opening their store on Market Street. Just to sell pretty little boxes of chocolate! Which they had already made! At their factory all the way over in Rowley! ROWLEY!

So of course, Winfrey’s — balking at the horrendous cost of setting up a Full! Commercial! Kitchen! — backed out of the deal. Which means they would be keeping their tax dollars flowing to the Town of Rowley — and choking off any hope of improving the Ipswich downtown retail experience.

Outrageous. Tragic.

Also, as it turns out, a teensy-weensy bit untrue.

The rumor was so delicious, so fantastic, so extreme, I just couldn’t bring myself to spread it all over town. Oh, I wanted to. What a gusher of vitriol I could uncork on social media!

But first, just to confirm that this incredible fiasco had actually happened, I had to make a few inquiries. At Town Hall. With the realtor. With Winfrey’s.

Turns out, the rumor mill did get a few tiny little details just a tiny little bit wrong.

Like, for example, it wasn’t our dear Public Health Director’s call. When you’re handling food in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts — like placing individual pieces of candy in a display case — the state steps in, no matter what the Town’s rules may be, and insists on compliance with its public health regulations.

Let’s see, what else? Oh yeah. The state requirement isn’t exactly a Full! Commercial! Kitchen! What the state requires is a hand sink. Oh, and a mop sink. Slightly less burdensome than a Full! Commercial! Kitchen!

Then there was the minor matter of who was renting the space. Winfrey’s, right? Uh, no. The store was to be owned and operated by a young lady who would be contracting with Winfrey’s to sell their chocolates.

And why did the project fold? Why did the hand-drawn “Winfrey’s” sign come down out of the window? Was it the onerous regulations? Some jaded backroom politics? The Town’s crushing anti-business bureaucracy?

No. Actually, the young lady planning to sell Winfrey’s chocolates unexpectedly got an offer she couldn’t refuse: a job — with way better pay.

Darn.

So, let’s recap.

Our Public Health Director (DIDN’T) descend on the (OUT-OF-TOWN CHOCOLATIER) with an (UNREASONABLE IPSWICH TOWN RULE) forcing an (OUTRAGEOUSLY EXPENSIVE REGULATION) on someone (STRUGGLING TO START A BUSINESS).

Otherwise, the rumor was absolutely, entirely true.

I mean, yes, it was about chocolate.

And we should be outraged. Totally. Chocolate on Market Street would have been so cool.

Sales Are Good

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It’s all over the Internet — so it must be true: A man in Manchester, Mass., is selling snow.

Mr. Kyle Waring is taking orders for authentic New England snow from people trapped in warmer climates and longing for winter. Last I checked his sophisticated website, ShipSnowYo.com, Mr. Waring was willing to ship you 6 pounds for $89, or 22 pounds for $199 — or you can get on a waiting list for cheaper rates later. (I don’t quite understand why the price would go down later, when presumably he’ll have more trouble obtaining snow. But that’s his problem, not mine.) He started out offering a plastic 16.9-ounce bottle full of snow for $19.99, but he had a meltage problem. (“Your snow may arrive as water,” his website warns.) Later he offered a 10-pound package for $119. Apparently, however, if you’re crazy enough to pay for 10 pounds of snow, you’re crazy enough for 22.

Of course it’s ridiculous for Ipswich to sit around and let Manchester rake in all the snow money. I think we got more snow this winter than Manchester did — we got more snow this winter than anybody did — which would mean that Mr. Waring will run out of inventory before we do. We can start selling snow now and still be making money when he’s stuck sitting in his bare driveway with nothing but a bunch of temperature-controlled shipping crates.

But friends, listen up: Ipswich can do even better. Snow is only the beginning. I can’t help but think of Humphrey Bogart playing a con man in the 1955 Christmas classic We’re No Angels: “We sold bottled air to those whose doctors advised a change in climate. We had three kinds: sea air, mountain air, and all-purpose air just for breathing!”

Think of the possibilities for Ipswich. Stimulating, inspiring Crane Beach air — $12.50 a bottle. Fresh, invigorating Willowdale State Forest air — $14.99. Historic, dust-laden Doug-Brendel’s-basement air — $22.75. We could bottle the air from the fryers at the Clam Box. People could spray it around their homes, or use it as a uniquely Ipswich version of “new car smell,” to remind them of summer in Ipswich.

Let’s figure this out. If there are people who would buy snow — and we know there are, because Mr. Waring sold out of his first batch — there must be a market for other readily available resources. I would welcome your feedback on my initial range of ideas:

* Historic New England dirt. This dirt was dug up from a property that was actually walked on by actual colonists, the people who founded our nation. This is patriotic dirt, trod by patriots, even before there was football. This is the dirt that made America great. $50 per pound, one dollar for every state in the Union.

* Authentic New England fireplace ash. Nobody in America burns more wood in more fireplaces than New Englanders do, because no place has a greater concentration of people trying to cut their heating oil bills. The fireplace ash we offer you today is ideal for throwing on an icy driveway, to minimize slipperiness and avoid personal-injury lawsuits, or for spreading on the gnarled remains of a garden, in the form of almost-magical compost, as many deluded New Englanders do. $17.50 for a one-gallon plastic baggie full of the stuff.

* Unique Ipswich dryer lint fashioned into a masterpiece of impressionist art by a Doyon 4th-grader. $1.25 million, designated for the school budget.

* The actual vacuum cleaner bag, complete with contents, from the vacuum cleaner used to sweep the Board of Selectmen’s room at Town Hall last Monday night. I think $35 would be fair.

* One-of-a-kind kitty litter compilation, fresh from a house where John Updike once lived. $20 firm.

* Special eBay offering: Complete collection of Town Meeting ballots swept from under the seats of the Ipswich Performing Arts Center. Bidding begins at $1,000. (“Buy now” for $2,500.)

As I said, I’m open to other ideas. Depending on what we come up with, there may even be a federal grant from the Small Business Administration to apply for.

Whatever money we can make this winter can help pay for next year’s woodpile.

Step on a Crack, Break the Outsidah’s Back

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Superstition is ridiculous, I know.

Like, for example, there for quite a while, every time I took my Honda in for an oil change, Pat McNally got re-elected. But then he retired from the Board of Selectmen, and I got my oil changed, and nothing in particular happened. So, see? Silly superstition. Nothing more.

I was never even remotely superstitious before I moved to Ipswich.

I never knocked on wood, or threw salt over my shoulder, or carried a rabbit’s foot. I never crossed my fingers or wished on a wishbone. I never worried about breaking a mirror, or opening an umbrella indoors. I took a black cat into my home. I walked under ladders with impunity, even on Friday the 13th.

But after I arrived here in town — which is, after all, where the whole Salem Witch Trial thing actually started — I began to notice that some things actually did seem to mysteriously happen in association with other things happening.

We bought too much Halloween candy last year, so for a long time, our mudroom featured a plastic pumpkin full of little bags of M&Ms, plain and peanut. I would reach in for a bag as I headed in or out of the house. Sometimes I got plain, sometimes peanut. But for a long time, I swear I’m not making this up, whenever I got peanut, the ZBA put off its Ipswich Inn decision again. When they finally handed down their ruling, I looked in the pumpkin and — you guessed it: The nuts were finished.

Silly superstition? You decide.

For a time I was superstitious about driving westbound on Central toward Lord’s Square, because one day I realized that if I happened to blink my eyes, the car in front of me would slow down as it approached High Street, as the driver determined whether to stop — even though, as you know, there’s no stop sign, and no traffic signal.

Then one day I noticed that I happened to blink twice, and the car in front of me stopped altogether at High Street — even though, if you stop, you’re totally breaking the law.

And then — here’s the really weird thing — one day I happened to blink three times, and the car in front of me not only came to a dead stop, but the driver began giving wild hand-signals to the drivers of the cars at the east- and westbound High Street stop signs.

I started experimenting with different numbers and patterns of blinks. One day I think I made a woman touch her brake 14 separate times as she approached High Street.

But what I really needed was some magical way to get people to keep going — not to stop, not to slow down, but to keep driving straight on through, the way Lord’s Square is supposed to be driven through.

I tried coughing, yawning, scratching my nose, drumming my fingers on the dashboard. I tried various curse words and inappropriate gestures. One day I tried squeezing my eyes shut very, very tightly. This also didn’t work. However, I did bump into the car ahead of me, which had stopped at High Street.

(On the other hand, that driver will never stop at High Street again. So maybe there’s something to be said for superstition.)

You may not be superstitious at all, and to tell you the truth, I’m with you. I’m not comfortable regarding myself as superstitious. But ultimately, there actually is some stuff that just can’t be coincidence, in my opinion. For example:

  • The price of gas at Cumby’s directly correlates to my blood pressure.
  • If Section A of the Chronicle happens to have exactly 8 pages, on Thursday, you’re going to see someone you know in the Pub on the weekend.
  • Watch what happens when someone walks out of the post office. If they pause before they take that first step down the stairs, there will be a squirrel in your backyard before sundown. If the person coming out of the post office doesn’t break stride, but goes marching right down the steps to Market Street — no squirrel.

Do you see how difficult it is to deny superstitions?

  • Jamie Wallace’s column appears at the top of the page, and mine appears at the bottom of the page, only if I’ve sneezed on Wednesday. As an unpaid columnist, eager for any smidgen of compensation, I try desperately not to sneeze on Wednesday.
  • Blue jays are the first birds to appear in my backyard whenever I put out meat scraps.
  • If the CNN.com headline starts with any letter other than X, my teenage daughter wakes up grumpy.
  • And it snows in Ipswich every time I — Oh, no.

Oh, my.

Oh my, my, my.

I am really, really sorry.