Dig Them Clams

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I never met a clam I didn’t love.

Of course it’s not a matter of romance.

It’s not champagne and sex I’m dreaming of—

Although, come to think of it, champagne would be good for washing down a bucket of steamers.

 

You eat a clam, it’s like you kiss the ocean,

The pungent, salty sweetness of the deep,

A magical, intoxicating potion—

Although, come to think of it, they are sort of chewy, and some people are grossed out by them.

 

With clams, I don’t care how they are presented.

I’ll gladly eat them fried, or steamed, or raw.

As long as they’ve been killed, I’ll be contented—

Although, come to think of it, I wouldn’t have a problem with killing one myself, if that’s what it took; somebody’s got to do it.

 

Clams aren’t the only reason I live here,

But pretty close, to tell the whole darn truth.

There’s not much else I hold so near and dear—

Although, come to think of it, if it came down to clams or eternal life, it would be really close; what’s life without clams?

 

Amazing how so small a thing delights.

I want them by the pound, or by the bucket.

Clams take me to unreasonable heights—

Although, come to think of it, ten dollars a pound is a lot of money for steamers, and fried clams are even more, and I’m about out of money, thanks to these little devils.

 

 

 

Doug Brendel lives 9 minutes by car from the nearest clam shack, or 1 hour 22 minutes on foot, which is why he owns a car. Follow him here at Outsidah.com.

 

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Undertaker to the Squirrels

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I was sitting in a local bar, which shall remain nameless, and the guy on the stool next to me was a squirrel. Not an ordinary squirrel, it seemed to me. More like a hard-bitten squirrel, world-weary, hunched over his tiny whisky, staring into the alcohol in an unfocused way, tapping the end of his tiny cigarette on the bar.

“You know you can’t smoke in here,” the bartender said.

The squirrel didn’t look up.

“What do I look like, an immigrant? I live here, I know the law.”

He sighed heavily, or at least as heavily as a squirrel can sigh, with its tiny squirrel lungs.

“I blame Clinton. Bill, not Hillary. You could smoke just about anywhere before him. The ultimate hypocrisy, if you ask me. The faker who claims he ‘didn’t inhale’ goes on this huge self-righteous no-smoking campaign.”

The squirrel glanced at me, but I didn’t say anything. He looked back into his tiny squirrel whisky.

“It’s like Jimmy Carter,” he finally continued, “forcing us all to turn down our thermostats during that oil crisis. Carter! A Southerner! Of course his people wouldn’t mind turning down their thermostats. It’s warm all year round in Georgia! Sheesh. Here in New England, we were freezing our asses off.”

This, I realized, was a very knowledgeable squirrel.

He fell silent, except for the tiny thumping sounds of his tiny squirrel cigarette on the bar. He didn’t seem self-conscious at all, even sitting on a tower of folded cloth napkins stacked up on the stool to get him to bar height. I guess if a place is classy enough for cloth napkins, you don’t make judgments about a customer being short, or a rodent.

It began to feel uncomfortably quiet at the bar, like it was my turn to speak, but I didn’t have anything to say. Finally I cleared my throat and asked, “What do you do for a living?”

He shrugged a tiny squirrel shrug.

“I’m an undertaker.”

My face must have given me away.

“Ah, I know,” he said. “‘You don’t seem like the undertaker type.’ I get that all the time.”

He took a swig of whisky from his tiny squirrel glass.

“The way undertakers are at funerals, you think they’re always that way? No, we’re normal guys. We stop off at the bar, we snicker at Trump, we fight with our wives, we hide acorns. That sad, official face on funeral day, that’s acting. It’s just the job.”

I found myself being sort of astonished by all this.

“How did you get started, uh, undertaking?” I asked.

The squirrel shrugged again. “I needed money, I looked around for opportunities. What do you see all over the roads in Ipswich? Dead squirrels. Sure, sometimes a possum, or a cat. Maybe a raccoon, or even a deer. But nothing close to the numbers we get in squirrels.”

He shrugged his signature shrug.

“It’s a volume business.”

I thought about it. “Yes, I guess I do see a lot of dead squirrels on the roads.”

“You don’t see the half of them,” he sneered. “I got my teams out there scraping them off the pavement as fast as we can. We contact the family, offer a beautiful memorial service, proper burial, the works. I’m known as the ‘Undertaker to the Squirrels.’ Get it? ‘Undertaker to the Stars’ — “Undertaker to the Squirrels’?”

I had nothing to say to that. He snorted a tiny squirrel-snort.

“Anyway,” he went on, “if you see a dead squirrel on an Ipswich road, it’s only because my teams haven’t gotten there yet. If you see the same dead squirrel two days in a row, it’s only because their family was too cheap. Sleazy, if you ask me.”

“Huh?”

“What decent family wouldn’t fork over a few bucks for even a basic funeral and burial?” he growled. “We get to the deceased, we’re ready for action, let the family start healing — that’s my line, ‘start the healing process’— but then the family says no!”

“Well, if they can’t afford it,” I began.

“It’s not the money,” he shot back. “I’ll tell you what happens. The mom says to the teenager, again and again: ‘Don’t run across the road. Use the power lines. Avoid the street.’But the kid, he thinks he knows everything. He thinks he’s invincible. He runs across the road. Kaboom.”

The squirrel shook his head and glared into his glass.

“And that’s my business,” he sighed.

We sat in silence for a few moments. Then he swiveled his little squirrel face toward me and sort of squinted.

“It’s ironic, isn’t it? A squirrel spends his life burying nuts in the ground; then in the end, he’s the nut who gets buried in the ground.”

“Wow,” I said, “that’s pretty cold.”

“Aw, I never say this kind of stuff in front of the family,” he replied, lifting his tiny squirrel chin and waving a tiny squirrel claw at the bartender. “It’s all ‘Your loved one’and ‘the dearly departed’and blah blah blah. But still—”

He tapped his empty little squirrel glass; the bartender nodded.

“Ya gotta admit,” the squirrel continued, “it ispretty ironic, right?”

 

 

Doug Brendel honors the dead of all species at his home on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow” on this screen.

 

Vote Early, Vote Often

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With Town Meeting coming up, and Town elections a week later, there’s a lot of chatter about the Articles that will appear on the Warrant. Which can be disorienting for a newcomer. Where I come from, an “article” is either a piece of clothing, or a piece of writing, or an insignificant word like “a” or “the” sprinkled throughout the English language as a means of confusing the Russians. And a “warrant” is what the cops are supposed to get before they search your drawers.

But now that I understand the Ipswich meaning of the terms, I’d like to point out that the school thing, important as it is, is not the only “Article” on the “Warrant.” There are other issues before us that nobody seems to be discussing — expressed in Articles I’ve recommended, and I trust they’ll appear on the Warrant as I’ve requested.

For example:

  • Regarding the official designation of the elected leaders formerly known as the Board of Selectmen

They voted to call themselves Selectpersons, but that’s just what other towns have done. Ipswich is unique, and I would hope that we could come up with a unique name for our lawmaking body. “Selectpersons” is not the only alternative.

  • “Selectcreatures” would work, except that it could be regarded as setting up an unhealthy “us and them” dynamic between the creatures and their Creator.
  • “Selecthumans” might solve this problem — “Selectbeings” is also a possibility — although either of these could be seen as unacceptably intolerant of lower life forms. And “Selectorganisms” could be hurtful to inanimate objects.
  • Likewise, “Selectmortals” discriminates against immortals, including angels, demons, and certain rock stars.
  • “Selectindividuals” is probably out because it’s potentially offensive to people with multiple personalities.
  • We could just call them “The Select,” unless this would be too easily mistaken for “The Elect” (a biblical term describing a group of people who could never be mistaken for our Board).

In any case, the question should be debated and voted on. We’re the ones who have to refer to these people, after all, in our letters to the editor and our rants on social media. We should get to name them ourselves. I think it’s important that Town leaders submit to the will of The People — er, uh, The Persons.

  • Regarding my suggested non-binding resolution about citizens’ queries at Monday-evening Select Board meetings

I’d like voters to choose between five options:

  • The querying citizen must sit in a special mechanized, spring-loaded chair. The longer the citizen talks, the more the spring tightens. When the citizen stops talking, sproinnnnng!— like the guy who gets shot out of a cannon at the circus. The longer you talk, the harder you splatter against the ceiling. This gives the querying citizen plenty of incentive to keep it brief.
  • The chair is still mechanized and spring-loaded like a pilot’s ejector seat, but instead of popping up when you stop querying, it’s like that Push & Pop game: You never know when it will go off. All you know is that the longer you talk, the worse it’s going to be. So you really, reallyhave incentive to keep it brief. This option has the advantage of cutting off many querying citizens mid-query.
  • Substitute a jolt of electricity for the spring. Not a deadly jolt, just enough to make your hair frizzy. Or, if it’s already frizzy, then frizzier.
  • Substitute a trap door. (Too cliché? Maybe.)
  • Put a soundproof Plexiglas booth over the chair. Make that an airtightsoundproof Plexiglas booth.
  • Regarding my oft-repeated request for a cash bar at Town Meeting

The only downside is that people who sell hip flasks will lose business. In fact, if this Article doesn’t pass, I’m going to set up a hip flask rental cart out front next time.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, where he dreams of a few final minor improvements to an already practically-perfect Ipswich. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”

 

The Trash Can, My Friend, Is Blowin’ in the Wind

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You realize, of course, that Mother Nature has it in for Ipswich. I’ve written about this before, in my book Ipswich Unzipped, so I’m sure you already knew. She sits in an ancient La-Z-Boy on her celestial screen porch, drinking gin, smoking Winstons, and conversing in her raspy voice with her Corona-drinking, undershirt-garbed husband, St. Peter. You knew they’re married, right? Sure you did, because you’ve read the book.

They hate Ipswich — because of the noise. There’s an almost constant array of road noises coming up to their place from below (mostly caused by speeders ignoring our town-wide default limit of 25 mph). So she sends snow, ice, sleet, hail, fog.

And in the springtime, wind.

I’m certain that Mother Nature chooses Thursdays for high winds in my neighborhood, on outer Linebrook, because it’s garbage pickup day. Last week, for example, after the garbage guys came and went, I was reminded of her wrath as I was chasing my empty 32-gallon Rubbermaid down the street. And let’s face it, there is no fighting Mother Nature. All you can do is figure out ways to accommodate her.

So I’m pondering my options.

One idea would be to sink a concrete block into the ground by the side of the road, at the edge of my property, with a big strong metal eyehook sticking up out of it; then somehow attach a long, springy cable to the bottom of the garbage can, and attach it to the eyehook. The garbage guys could pick up the garbage can as usual, dump the contents into the back of their truck as usual, and toss away the empty bin as usual. Then, when Mother Nature sends her gale force winds, my garbage can won’t roll to Rowley. It will only be able to go the length of the cable. It may plaster a passing Plymouth, but at least I’ll be able to retrieve it without mounting a new Lewis & Clark expedition.

Another idea would be to mount a magnetic square by the side of the road, and mount a metal plate on the bottom of my garbage can. The garbage guys would have to snap the can off the magnet, and I would have to hope they put it back when they’ve emptied it. Or maybe it could be an electromagnet, controlled by a switch inside my house — so when the garbage guys toss the can away, I flip the switch and zwoop!The can returns to its base. Just hope there’s no innocent rodent in its path at that moment. It would be sad to add to Ipswich’s already-prodigious smushed-squirrel count.

I’d build a little shed out there to put the garbage can in, but would the garbage guys open the door, empty the can, and put it back? They’re busy, they’re in a hurry, they can’t be expected to follow a lot of complicated rules. Possibly if the little shed was big enough to include a small snack bar, they’d have incentive to bring the empty can back. It could be a deposit system, like for empty glass milk bottles at the farm store at Appleton. In this case, it could be something like: Turn in the empty garbage can, get a fried whole-belly clam plate. Or a double scotch.

We could re-design the garbage can. Instead of being circular, it could be an aerodynamic teardrop shape, so instead of catching a gust and blowing away, it automatically changes position based on wind direction. Of course, for this to work, it would have be standing upright. If the garbage guys toss it, this is not likely. So in addition to the new aerodynamic shape, it would need a weighted base, like those “Weebles that wobble but they don’t fall down.” All this engineering design will obviously cost money, which would require a Kickstarter campaign, or an Institution for Savings grant. But it could be worth it, to avoid the foolish feeling I get sprinting down Linebrook Road in pursuit of my garbage can.

At the very least, I could embed a microchip in my garbage can, so I can track it with GPS when Mother Nature sends it swirling into the netherworld. A “Where’s My Can?” app couldn’t be all that difficult to create, could it? I know, this isn’t as good as hanging onto the darn trash can in the first place, but it could cut down on my Rubbermaid replacement budget, which is a significant.

Please feel free to pursue any of these ideas. And if you come up with other ideas of your own, please clue me in, by emailing Garbage@DougBrendel.com. Whatever you do, however, don’t rely on the old-fashioned method of sending your kid out to fetch your empty can before it blows away. I thought I could get away with this, and lost two teenagers. Who knows where they landed? Yes, it’s cheaper with two less teenagers, but the guilt is considerable.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on the windswept plains of outer Linebrook Road. Follow him from the relative safety of your own home, by clicking Follow on this screen.

 

Where Am I? Where Are You? And Why Am I Here, and Not There?

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I’m going to be rich, and I’m so happy.

There’s something of a meadow on my property, and I’ve come up with something to do with it.

I’m going to put a gas station on it.

Not just any old ordinary gas station.

This gas station will service all those poor suckers who get lost in my neighborhood.

Why do they get lost, you ask?

It’s because of the street names.

It’s not really that big of a neighborhood, so it shouldn’t be all that hard to navigate. There are only 50 or so houses in our “subdivision” — the former farmland owned a couple of centuries ago by Mr. Timothy Morse Jr., who built my house in 1817. So this isn’t a sprawling tangle of streets like Boston, or an incomprehensible spoke-and-wheel layout like Washington D.C.

Our neighborhood is more of a paper clip.

Well, not exactly a paper clip.

More like a paper clip that did too much LSD in college, but eventually tried to get straightened out, and didn’t quite succeed.

So here’s why visitors get lost. When you turn off of outer Linebrook Road into my neighborhood, you’re on Randall Road. Then you come to Charlotte Road. If you take Charlotte Road to the right — well, you can only take Charlotte Road to the right, so if you take Charlotte Road — you soon come to Roberts Road. There’s no street sign for Roberts Road; you just have to know that it’s Roberts Road. But let’s say you’re not looking for Roberts Road, so you don’t turn there. You stay on Charlotte Road. Now, almost before you know it, you come to Randall Road.

Wait. You were just on Randall Road. Randall Road is what you turned off on, when you left outer Linebrook Road. Where am I now? you wonder. Nothing looks familiar. You can’t be back where you first discovered Randall Road. You must be someplace different.

Yes.

Welcome to my neighborhood.

So what choice do you have, but to keep going?

So you ignore this new Randall Road, and pretty soon you come to Howard Street. If you’re not looking for someone who lives on Howard Street, what do you do? You keep driving. And now, within a few seconds, even driving at a completely legal 20 mph pace, you find yourself — yes, you guessed it — arriving at the intersection of Randall Road. Again. But not where you were. Someplace new.

There are no less than three intersections of Charlotte and Randall in my neighborhood — and we haven’t even gotten anywhere yet. In fact, when you get to your third successive intersection of Charlotte and Randall, you’re barely three doors away from Linebrook Road again. If you don’t drink and drive, this is a drive that will drive you to drink. My friend Nikki lives in our neighborhood, but she’s on Chestnut Street. How do you get to Chestnut Street? I don’t know. One time I was jogging and found it by accident. Sometimes I see Nikki at the gym, and I have no idea how she got there. Our gym is on Brown Square, which is off of Hammatt, but if you miss the turn for Brown Square, and you keep driving, pretty soon you come to Brown Square. If you turn on any Brown Square you happen to see, chances are you’ll get to our gym. But Chestnut Street? No. Sorry.

This is not a modern problem. It didn’t just start all of a sudden with the modernists who arrived in Ipswich 200 years ago and started naming streets willy-nilly. You can get lost even on High Street, which has been here as long as there have been cemeteries. You can drive toward the river on High Street, and if you happen to glance away from the road at the Ipswich Inn, you’re not on High Street anymore. You’re on East Street. There’s no warning. There’s no reason. You’re just there, looking for High Street. And it’s gone.

So in my neighborhood, where newcomers drive and drive and drive on Randall Road, and never get where they’re going, I figure they’re going to run out of gas, sooner rather than later.

And I’m going to pump it for them. In the meadow behind my house.

I’m going to be rich. And happy.

Because I — thank heaven — know where I am. I stay home.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives near the intersection of Linebrook Road, Randall Road, Charlotte Road, and some other roads, somewhere in Ipswich. Follow him, if you can, via GPS. Or by clicking “Follow” on this screen.

 

And Now for Something Completely Rewritten

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Everyone’s a critic.

You’d think, after 250 “Outsidah” columns — yes, this is my 250th “Outsidah” column — I could finally reliably write a first draft that doesn’t need to be edited, adjusted, corrected, or otherwise savaged. Or salvaged.

If I had more nerve, I would just write the thing and send it off “as is.” But I don’t have that kind of nerve. I’ve been writing for more than 40 years (you can search for “Doug Brendel” on Amazon and see the evidence), and in that time the greatest wisdom about writing I’ve managed to acquire is this: Your first draft probably isn’t final-draft quality. Or, to put it another way: Without an editor, you’re just an idiot waiting to happen.

So my wife Kristina reads the first draft of every one of my “Outsidah” columns, and suggests any changes she feels are needed. I typically go ahead and make her recommended cuts, because it’s exceedingly uncomfortable to sleep in the garage.

I live with editors in my professional life, too. I make my living writing direct-mail fundraising letters (let’s not call it “junk mail”) for charities and non-profit organizations. Every few hours, over the course of my work week, I’m making a different case for a different project for a different charity. It’s like being a defense attorney, arguing on behalf of a new defendant in every court hearing. Except that my clients, thank heaven, aren’t bloodthirsty murderers or savage rapists. Most aren’t, anyway. Most are committed to worthwhile causes, and doing good work. Housing homeless moms, feeding hungry families, enriching the culture with beautiful music, and the list goes on.

When I turn in the first draft of a fundraising letter, I feel confident it will work. It will raise money. Donors will respond to it. I know this because I’ve been successful at this kind of work for more than four decades. But inside that charitable organization, there are folks who somehow don’t think of me as God. They’re jittery about the words I’ve written. They want to change some of them. Sometimes, they want to change a lot of them. It’s outrageous, I know, but that’s how it is. And some charities don’t just have one person wearing reading glasses sitting at a desk passing judgment on my writing. They have 14. And each one has unique idiosyncrasies. (“I don’t like negatives.” “I don’t like contractions.” “I hate repetition, I just hate repetition!”) As a result, my first draft — that brilliant, impassioned, perfectly crafted masterpiece — spends the rest of its life as a faded archive somewhere deep in the recesses of my laptop. Meanwhile, a butchered, broken, bastardized version of it goes out to the donors, and raises, by my estimation, about 12% of what my first draft woulda.

I wish I could report that “Outsidah” columns and fundraising letters represent my only encounters with vicious, unnecessary censorship. But that would be fake news. Long before the “Outsidah,” I spent 15 years as a clergyman, and out of sheer paranoia about making a fool of myself in the pulpit, I gave the first draft of every one of my sermons to Kristina. She has no divinity degree, and no formal editorial training. But she is the one I would have to come home to after a sermon crashed and burned. So I always invited her to offer her feedback in advance. She would invariably scan down to about the fifth page, draw a big line across the text, and say, “Start here.” She was apparently living by the ancient principle of “The less religion, the better.” On the other hand, maybe my writing just took too long to get going. I mean, look how long you’ve already been reading this, and where has it gotten you?

These days, I’m holding my breath in anticipation of a new level of complaint about my writing: I’m about to release my first novel. The novel, Pleasure and Power, is a huge departure from the types of writing I’ve done previously. It’s a domestic drama, with a certain amount of sex, violence, and cussing. I had high anxiety about the first draft, so I asked about 20 people to preview it. Of course I was prepared for 20 raves — “Loved it!” “Don’t change a word!” — but did I mention these were intelligent, thoughtful, well read people? So I got loads of feedback. Good suggestions. So many, in fact, I really had no choice but to rewrite.

Rewriting your novel is like doing plastic surgery on your baby. Sorry, maybe that was too graphic. But hey, if you’re reading this, it means Kristina didn’t cut it from my first draft. Blame her.

La Salle 2 SkyeAnyway, I rewrote my novel, and today, months later, the book is finally ready. Well, I mean it’s ready for you. You can find Pleasure and Power on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Go ahead, read it and carp. Nit-pick to your heart’s content. I’m used to it.

Okay, that’s not true. I’m quivering with trepidation.

You never get used to it.

 

 

Doug Brendel writes whatever he feels like writing, from his home on outer Linebrook Road. And then his wife gets hold of it. Follow Doug’s heavily redacted posts by clicking “Follow.”

 

Super Town!

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I could not have seen this coming.

“Marino chosen as Ipswich Town Manager.”

For a world class NFL quarterback to take on the challenge of serving as Ipswich’s Town Manager — it’s unthinkable.

Consider the odds. Dan Marino, arguably the greatest quarterback never to win Super Bowl, coming to our humble town to serve as Town Manager. To manage us. Like a football team. Adroitly. Intelligently. And with lots of bashing of the other guys.

The way he marshaled his forces, in only his second year in the league. Breaking nearly every NFL single-season passing record. Marino was “Mr. Quick-Release” before anybody had ever even heard of Tom Brady. Marino had never been sacked in the playoffs before he got into the 1985 Super Bowl. Marino was God. Proven by the fact that he went on to become an on-air CBS sports analyst.

So the very idea that we could snag such a superstar to lead us, to guide us, to oversee us as Town Manager, it’s almost unthinkable. I can only imagine the muscular quarterback barking orders at Town Hall (our governmental line of scrimmage), pushing the building inspector into his proper position. Or barking orders to Food Inspector Maureen. (“Church barbecue OK! Barbecue OK!”) Or influencing Selectpersons at will, with crowds cheering — many on their couches at home, via ICAM — on a glorious New England summer Monday evening. (“Yes, it bit two people! Charlie Surpitski’s dog is dangerous!”)

Marino as Town Manager. I weep with gratitude at the very idea. How did God, in His infinite mercy, bestow such a gift on us? I follow sports news pretty faithfully, but I didn’t even know Marino was considering a shift from sportscasting to local government work. This just proves that people are inherently good, doesn’t it? The very idea that a guy could make millions of dollars in the NFL, and then go on to a glamorous life as a nationally renowned sportscaster, but then still, in the end, make the decision to devote himself to public service, at the local level, to serve a small town like ours, with only a couple of traffic lights, and not even a sensible downtown zoning policy — it just makes you grateful. It makes you thank God — assuming, of course that Dan Marino, who went to a Catholic high school, was praying to the right Guy. (Otherwise, to be honest, whom should we thank?)

So let us look to the future with high hopes. Ipswich will be led by a star. Ignore the fact that Marino quarterbacked for the Patriots’ division rival Miami Dolphins. He was a star, come on. A superstar. Not a Super Bowl-winning superstar, but close. Just another 22 points in that one big game in 1985, and he would have been a Super Bowl-winning superstar.

Dan Marino. Our new Town Manager. Not that Bob Markel wasn’t brilliant. Not that Robin Crosbie wasn’t fantastic. Not that temporary Town Manager Jim Engel wasn’t awesome in his handling of the record-breaking three nor’easters that came down from the heavens like a punishment from God during his brief tenure. (Come to think of it, why did we have three nor’easters in two weeks during Jim Engel’s tenure as Town Manager? Was it because he’s a Pennsylvanian? Did we violate some ancient New Englander code by putting him in charge?)

Now that Ipswich is on the map — I mean, we’re Hollywood now; we’re Tinseltown — we’re going to have to deal with a lot of new issues. Limousines crowding Central Street, Spielberg needing multiple rooms at the Ipswich Inn, that sort of thing. But let’s agree in advance that these are “good problems.” We’re growing. We’re blooming.

Wait — I beg your pardon?

Oh. It’s not Dan Marino, it’s Tony Marino.

Never mind.

 

 

Doug Brendel follows town government with an eagle eye from his perch on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”