Future Shock


Welcome back to the Evening Report, this Tuesday, September 1, 2020.

Now it’s time for North Shore News, with correspondent Robert Dalbertson.


[Reporter on location]

Thanks, Cassie. This breaking story, just in: The historic town of Ipswich, Massachusetts has now made history in a new way. As the fall 2020 school semester began today, it became evident that Ipswich has managed to become the first town in history to see 100% of its students choice out to other districts.

[Cut to interview video]

“We didn’t really think it would come to this,” says K-through-12 social studies teacher Elmo Trinker. “Classes began shrinking back around 2015, when the override failed the second time in a row, and everyone seemed happy for a while. Too many kids in each class was one of our problems back then.”

“But let’s face it,” says K-through-12 math teacher Trina Pascuelo. “When we got down to just math, science, English, and social studies, there were lots of reasons for families to choice their kids out.”

“Eventually we only had enough students in the whole town for one English class,” says K-through-12 English teacher Lonnie Guggenfez. “It was a little weird trying to teach five-year-olds to read by going through The Grapes of Wrath, but what choice did I have? I couldn’t ask those three seniors to write persuasive essays on See Spot Run.”

How many students were enrolled last year?

“Six,” Trinker reports. “We started the year with eight, but the Flellker family finally got their short sale and moved to Rowley. And Jennifer Kronston won the lottery in January, so she was able to move little Jamie over to Pingree.”

[Reporter on location]

I caught up with the Flellker family at their new home in Rowley, and asked about their short sale.

[Cut to interview video]

“Well, our property values just kept going down,” Herman Flellker says. “Once they cut down the languages and arts and sports programs, families weren’t moving in. The larger businesses, like EBSCO and BioLabs, couldn’t recruit new employees. When those big guys moved out of town, I guess there weren’t enough tax dollars coming in to fix the roads or the street lights, or dredge up the police boat after it rusted out and sank at the wharf last year. We needed better education for our children, but when we put our house on the market, potential buyers in smaller cars kept falling into the pothole in front of our place. Finally, a couple senior citizens pulled up in a 1985 Ford LTD, and it was big enough to straddle the pit.”

[Reporter on location]

Meanwhile, up in Rowley, the next town to the north, times are good. I visited with Caroline Kennedy, who recently left her post as U.S. Ambassador to Japan and began her term as a member of the Rowley Board of Selectmen.

[Cut to interview video]

“You know, I want to, you know, live someplace that’s really, you know, committed to education, and growing, and, you know, building for the future, and, you know, Rowley is, you know, really that kind of place.”

[Reporter on location]

I will say this, Cassie. My grandmother lived in Rowley, we used to come up here as kids to visit her, and the Rowley of today is nothing like the Rowley I remember. Last year, they opened a brand-new theatrical venue in the heart of town, then they christened a new world-class art museum, now they’ve landed Microsoft’s new East Coast headquarters, and of course they just opened that beautiful junior-league football stadium where the Patriots will be playing during their latest five-year suspension.

[Anchor in studio]

Robert, before you go, just one question: Now that there are no students left, will the Ipswich school district be letting all of its teachers go?

[Reporter on location]

I spoke with the new Ipswich Town Manager. He’s led the campaign every year for several years against increases in taxes for schools. He says he’s outraged that the town is spending money on salaries for the four remaining faculty members in the district when they don’t even have any students to teach, and he’s organizing a citizen’s petition to lay them off and turn the Ipswich school buildings into bowling alleys, to draw young people back to the area.

[Anchor in studio]

Thanks, Robert, for this fascinating report. And good luck getting home.

[Reporter on location]

Thanks, Cassie, good timing for wrapping this up. They’re winching my VW out of the pothole right now.

Fortune Kooky


Welcome, friend. I’m glad you’re here. I sense that it was necessary for you to come to me. In my trance, I saw you heading down High Street to me here. I felt a disturbance in your aura. You are troubled. About many things, but mostly about Town Meeting. Sit here, across from me. Put everything out of your mind, even Town Meeting. I shall gaze into my crystal ball. You have nothing to worry about now. You are here, in my care. All I need is twelve dollars, and I will peer into your future and tell you all. Twelve dollars. Cash or plastic. Ah, thank you. Is this credit or debit? OK, let me just swipe this. Sign here, please. Ah, I see your upstroke is very open. And your descenders are in the seventh house. This is a good sign. Positive events will come your way. At least until Town Meeting. And maybe even after. Here’s a list of bars that will still be open that late.

Now let me see your palm. Ah, yes. Your life line points straight to the IPAC. You will attend Town Meeting. But see how your heart line bends away? You will attend Town Meeting, but you may not survive it. No, wait — look here: Just below the heart line is the head line, and your head line tapers off. This means you will nod off during Town Meeting, and thereby survive the experience.

However, you will not fall asleep before voting on Article 17: “Occupational Licenses — Fortunetelling for Money.” As I peer into my crystal ball, I see you there, in the 17th row, very alert and aware. You are brimming with good citizenship. You are paying attention even as the entire Article is being read aloud. Now I sense a disturbance in your life-force. At first, you can’t believe that there is actually an Article about “Occupational Licenses — Fortunetelling for Money.” Now, I sense that you’re concerned. A cloud of gloom is descending upon you, as you hear what they want to do the fortunetellers. Yes, I see you shifting uncomfortably in your seat as Chief Nikas presents his proposal that working fortunetellers be required to apply for a license from the Town of Ipswich. And be photographed! And fingerprinted! Like a common criminal! I haven’t been fingerprinted since that night at Saugus, after that one party.

Now I’m seeing grief. Yes, you’re grieving. Grieving that the Town of Ipswich would take such hateful action against honest, hardworking, diligent people simply trying to make a living in forecasting, especially when the weatherman and your stockbroker do it all the time, and Lisa Mennino says “This will look great on you” 50 times a day at Gifts 4 Soul on Market Street, and your mother at this very moment is predicting to your father how long it will be before you phone.

Now I’m sensing rage. You’re enraged by how far they’ve gone to suffocate us poor, unfortunate fortunetellers — specifying in Section 4b of Chapter XIV all the different ways we’ll be banned from making our living without a license: “by means of any occult, psychic power, faculty, force, clairvoyance, cartomancy, physchometry” — look, they misspelled it — “phrenology, spirits, tea leaves, tarot cards, scrying, coins, sticks, dice, sand, coffee grounds….”

Yes, my spirit is one with yours. We are in total agreement: Using coffee grounds to tell fortunes would be dumb. I also have a low opinion of sticks. Although in fortunetelling school I saw a guy from New Hampshire predict the outcome of a dorm-room spitting contest using nothing but Pez dispensers.

Wait, now — the scene is changing. The crystal ball is in transition. The time of the voting is growing near. I hope it’s not a voice vote; my crystal ball has no audio. Yes — there it is, I see it now — the Town Moderator has asked to see ballots. I see a flickering sea of brightly colored rectangles, fluttering above the people’s heads. I see color, lots of color. Yes, the Town Moderator still has a thing for neon, doesn’t he?

And there you are, with your ballot high in the air. You’re confident. Defiant. You’re voting no. No to police harassment of innocent fortunetellers!

Now I see them counting. Counting the ballots. Counting, counting. Oh, I’m sorry. The meter has expired on my crystal ball. I’m going to need another twelve dollars.

What? You wanted to know about the override vote? Oh come now. That doesn’t take a crystal ball. If the override fails, Ipswich has no future.

Let It Snork


My neighbor drove past my house and rejoiced. The fence at the edge of my property was finally peeping through the top of the mountainous snowbank. It wasn’t really a full-on “spring,” but at least there was a glimmer of hope.

My neighbor’s heart was still singing, an hour later, as she went about her normal routines at home. But then came the scream. A blood-curdling shriek of pain from her six-year-old on the other end of the house. My neighbor raced toward the awful sound, envisioning a blood-splattered scene of tragedy. As she flung herself around the final corner, she found her daughter standing in the middle of the room, the back of one hand over her horrified open mouth, the other hand clenched and pointing wildly at the window. Mommy’s face jerked toward the outdoors to see what ghastly site had terrified her little one.

There it was: a silent, gentle, almost whimsical wisp of a snowfall.

“More snow!” the youngster bawled.

Barely an hour earlier, her mother had been singing to herself, brimming with sweet anticipation. Now, without warning, New England had cruelly violated her little girl. Just six years of age, yet the Winter of ’15 had damaged her soul. Maybe permanently.

It was heartbreaking to me, hearing of this incident after the fact. Not only because of the pain both mother and daughter had suffered, but also because it was completely unnecessary. If I had only been there, I could have helped them avoid such a trauma.

Not that I’m a licensed psychologist, or even a meteorologist. But I am a newcomer to New England, a refugee from two decades the desert, and as such, I have paid extremely close attention to snow. Native New Englanders are so used to winter weather, they normally don’t take much note of the fluffy stuff falling from the sky. So when a bizarre winter comes along — like the one we’re still trying to extract ourselves from — many New Englanders are blindsided.

It need not be.

I am happy to provide a primer, free of charge, to help you effectively observe, accurately define, and emotionally process the varieties of New England snow.

(You’ve heard, of course, the old saying that the Eskimos have 200 different words for snow. This is absolutely not true. It’s New Englanders who have 200 different words for snow; most of them just haven’t learned the words. It’s time, folks.)

The snow that fell last Saturday, for example, need not have troubled anyone, least of all an innocent six-year-old on outer Linebrook. What fell from the sky on Saturday was not really “snow”; it was snork. Actually, this isn’t how you spell it: this is just how you pronounce it. The actual spelling is snorc — which stands for “Snow of NO Real Consequence.” Snow can fall thick and fast and seem extremely threatening, but if it doesn’t stick to the ground, it’s not snow. “Don’t freak, little girl. It’s only snorc.”

Then there’s the type of snow that accumulates just enough to make for treacherous walking and driving, but not quite enough to trigger the snow-plow guy you contracted with last autumn. This type of snow is called dydadec. This stands for “Does You Dirty And Doesn’t Even Care.”

The snow whose only function is to spread a pretty white layer over the ugly black stuff along the edge of the road is called prettybut. This is short for “Pretty But It Would Be Better Just Not To Have Any More Snow At All.”

For purposes of this introductory lesson, let me offer just one more entry for your New England snow glossary. There’s a kind of snow that waits till after all the previous snow has melted, then it arrives out of the blue, just to make you crazy. This type of snow is called — wait, never mind. You don’t really need to take up any brain space memorizing the term for this type of snow, because the snow we have on the ground already is never going to totally melt. Because of all the snorc.

The Outsidah onstage!


Pssst! Hey! You there! Come over here! I got somethin’ to show ya! You want some of this? It’s good stuff. I’ll make you a deal!…


Buy now, and I’ll sell you tickets for $15 apiece (not $17). Wait! Look out — here comes the Witch. Gotta run! Contact me for tickets! I’m outa here!

Sit Down, Stand Up, Rah Rah Rah!


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”


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


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.


So, let’s recap.


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.