Address Correction Requested

When I was a kid growing up in the suburbs outside Chicago, the mailman (they were all men back then) had to hike his route on foot, and walk all the way from the sidewalk to the house to reach our mailbox, which was attached to the front of the house, next to the front door. Every house in town was set up like this. The only time you ever saw a mailbox on a post by the side of the road was when you drove out into “the country.” You certainly wouldn’t want your mailbox to be situated out at the roadside, because that would make you something of a hillbilly.

By the time I moved to master-planned Scottsdale, Arizona, in my 20’s, women had joined the ranks of the mailmen, and you were supposed to call them all “letter carriers” (which is a faulty designation, because they also carry packages and other stuff) or “mail carriers” (not to be confused with male carriers). And in Scottsdale, the letter carriers had apparently organized, and put a stop to that nonsense about walking up to every house to deliver the mail, or even pausing your vehicle at each house. In Scottsdale, there was a bank of mailboxes for the whole neighborhood — a big, gray, rectangular unit with numerous identical little doors, each with a key lock and a unique number. You had to stop at the mailbox station on your way home from work, get out of your car, unlock your little door, retrieve your mail, re-lock your little door, get back in your car, and drive the rest of the way to your house. An unspeakably inconvenient system. The only alternative was to send your kid to get the mail, which would mean listening to all that whining.

Then I moved to outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where apparently most of us are hillbillies, because we all have mailboxes on posts by the side of the road. Also, in my opinion, a mailbox on a pole by the side of the road is an accident waiting to happen. Well, it’s more than just an opinion. I seem to have the worst mailbox luck in the world. My mailbox is an accident magnet. 

We inherited what appeared to be an ordinary mailbox mounted on an ordinary wooden pole. When we hired a local contractor to do some work, he promptly backed his truck into the pole. A mailbox standing at a 45-degree angle is interesting, certainly, but not practical. The contractor, to his credit, made it right.

Then I awoke one morning to find that my mailbox had been knocked off its pole and mangled. Was it a passing car? Or did somebody really, really hate an Outsidah column, and they got their revenge by perpetrating this hate crime?

We replaced the mailbox, but I didn’t know that we had slipped into some bizarre mailbox-tragedy vortex. A few weeks later, the new mailbox was also clobbered, busted up and knocked into the street, along with a couple broken pieces of a Toyota’s side-view mirror.

Now it was time for serious resistance. We not only bought a new mailbox; we ordered a 400-lb. granite post, an imposing monolith sure to intimidate even the most daring driver. This mammoth pillar would need a four-foot-deep hole, but I wasn’t worried. My wife could dig that kind of hole in no time.

(Toward the end of the process, she had to lie flat on the ground to reach the bottom of the hole. The next week, the Ipswich police log included an item about a woman lying on the ground on Linebrook Road, apparently in distress. Wasn’t it nice of some passing driver to call the cops, even though they were in too big of a hurry to stop and check on the party in trouble?)

But the new mailbox was mounted on the front of the granite post, not on the top, so it stuck a little further out toward the road. To ward off any drifting drivers, I affixed bright red reflectors to the side of our new mailbox. It didn’t work. Last week, we were struck by yet another hit-and-run driver. The mailbox, crinkled like a Kleenex, had gone cartwheeling into our driveway.

My wife, the hole-digger, insisted that the 400-lb. post would need to be relocated further from the road. This would require a new hole, to be dug immediately behind where the post was now standing. I couldn’t stand the guilt of making her dig a second hole all by herself. And we have no more children living at home. So I reluctantly went out there to supervise.

By the time you read this, we’ll have yet another new mailbox, positioned further off the road, with bright red reflectors, and maybe I’ll add a nightlight. But I have no faith for any of this to work. There will still be people swerving along outer Linebrook Road after visiting the Ipswich bars, heading home to Topsfield, where it’s almost impossible to get a drink.

Maybe instead of a granite post … rubber?

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he tends America’s oldest continuously operating mailbox graveyard. To follow Doug, visit DougBrendel.com.

Zip-A-Dee-Dooms-Day

Here’s something I’ve learned in nearly a decade of writing a newspaper column:

You can write about politics, money, sex, crime, or little old ladies’ undergarments, and nobody flicks a tweet.

But write about the Market Basket deli workers pressing the label over the ziplock, and it’s World War III.

All I said in my column a couple weeks ago was that the deli workers shouldn’t press the label over the ziplock. Was this an end-of-the-world issue? No. Labels over ziplocks are what we call a First World problem. People in Namibia are going hungry. They have no delis. They may have no ziplock bags; I don’t know. (If they have no ziplock bags, they may be somewhat more advanced than us, environmentally speaking. But that’s another subject, for another column.)

Meanwhile, here in Ipswich, Massachusetts, it’s increasingly clear that we don’t have enough life-threatening issues, because the moment I came out against Market Basket deli-sticker ziplock suppression, all heck broke loose. It seems everyone on the North Shore has a strong opinion about the sticker over the ziplock:

  • It’s a bad idea.
  • It’s the worst idea in modern history.
  • It’s not just a bad idea; it’s a curse, with religious significance.
  • No, it’s actually a good idea.
  • It’s a necessary evil.
  • And why, or why not.
  • And if not, then what’s the alternative?

Someone who goes by “Denise R.” found me at Outsidah.com and — while professing her love — still snickered at the very idea of the column. “The reason they put the stickah on the zippah? It’s quite simple.”

(See? Snickering.)

“Because people are so petty, and try to steal cold cuts by getting two of the same and then putting them in one bag.”

Reading this, I was shocked. People try to steal cold cuts from my beloved Market Basket? I was fumbling for my pacemaker controls, twisting the knob to keep myself from going into A-fib. Okay, I don’t really wear a pacemaker; but if I did, I would have been fumbling for the controls.

“So by putting the label on the zippah,” Denise R. continued, “they are able to control the scumbags.”

Control the scumbags. It never occurred to me that any of those lovely people I see in Market Basket on an average Thursday are scumbags. Except, of course, the ones who blithely go the wrong way down the one-way aisle.

(I had just finished searching unsuccessfully for “ground cloves” when I was blocked from exiting the spice aisle by an obviously ancient woman commandeering a grocery cart. When she realized she was going the wrong way, she snarled at me: “Just be glad I’m not driving a car!”)

  • There’s apparently now a faction lobbying for the hiring of Market Basket deli police. “Achtung! Show me your liverwurst!”
  • Some folks want to eliminate the stickers entirely; otherwise who want to add stickers to everything: like hermetically sealed Lucky Charms, to keep hungry low-life shoppers from chomping handfuls of breakfast cereal as they saunter down the toilet paper aisle.
  • One reader wrote to me anonymously via WordPress, adopting the pseudonym “Free the Deli Zipper.” We may be on the cusp of revolution.
  • A guy read my column online and emailed from south Florida, growling that I should just hand the bag to the deli manager and demand that they try to open it without shredding the bag. (As if I had the courage to go up against those big burly butchers!)

Anyway, as I write these words, I confess, I’m feeling hungry. Just thinking about the Market Basket deli department makes my stomach growl. So I think I’ll take a break here, and head to the fridge….

Oh, dang.

Someone tore this bag open, some time ago.

Is honey ham supposed to be this creepy iridescent green?


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, 2.6 miles from the Rowley Market Basket, 6 minutes by Chevy, a little under an hour on foot — which he would absolutely do if he ran out of Deutschmacher liverwurst and the Chevy wouldn’t start. To follow Doug, visit DougBrendel.com.

Death by Bruni

At this moment, for Ipswich residents anyway, it’s worth repeating:

Please visit https://dougbrendel.wordpress.com/2019/01/23/pay-no-attention-to-that-phantasmagoria-behind-the-curtain/https://dougbrendel.wordpress.com/2019/01/23/pay-no-attention-to-that-phantasmagoria-behind-the-curtain/

…And here’s the petition to sign: https://www.change.org/p/ipswich-zoning-board-and-town-officials-ipswich-citizens-opposed-to-essex-rd-proposalhttps://www.change.org/p/ipswich-zoning-board-and-town-officials-ipswich-citizens-opposed-to-essex-rd-proposal

Let My Lunchmeat Go!

Well, it’s over. At least according to the calendar, Election Day is behind us. Now it’s just howling, political maneuvering, legal wrangling, existential crises, subterfuge, conspiracies, turmoil in the streets, democracy teetering on the brink of self-destruction — in other words, all the stuff we had leading up to Election Day.

So perhaps it’s time for a quiet discussion about something completely different. Something equally important, something absolutely earth-shaking in its significance, but something mercifully nonpolitical.

Perhaps it’s time to address the issue that has dogged us here on the North Shore for years, perhaps decades: Market Basket deli workers slapping the label over the ziplock instead of on the side of the bag.

Don’t get me wrong. I adore Market Basket, and I am particularly fond of the workers behind the deli and seafood counters at the Rowley store on Route 1. They’re the ones who repeatedly satisfy my fetish for honey roast turkey breast, sliced thin, and Deutschmacher liverwurst, sliced thick. These are the people who will happily steam you a lobster, hack you a half-pound of haddock, or stand there patiently while you ponder the pros and cons of 14 variations on bologna.

But requesting something at the Market Basket deli counter is always a moment of high anxiety and personal conflict for me, since I’m preparing to receive a plastic bag which can’t be recycled (according to Ipswich recycling guru Paula Jones, who points us online to How2Recycle.info/sdo). Which means I’m probably contributing to some massive stinky landfill, or dooming a whale to indigestion. If Market Basket courageously shifted from plastic to paper, I would cheer. And the whales might even sing.

But for now, my hunk of yellow American cheese, on sale at a 50¢/lb. discount, is going to come to me in a see-through, environmentally toxic ziplock bag. First, the worker weighs the product, and the scale produces a self-adhesive label with the date, the product name, its weight, and its cost. The worker sticks the product in the bag, slides the ziplock closed — and then comes the crucial, tragic moment.

The label could  be applied to the side of the bag. In fact, if you slap the label on the side of the bag, it’s a single motion. But oftentimes, the workers, for some unknown reason, go to the trouble of folding the label over the ziplocked edge of the bag, and tamping it down on both sides — twice the work. They go home exhausted at the end of their shift, and it’s sadly unnecessary.

Then I get home, with my label-fortified ziplock bag, and I try to open it. I can’t just zip the zipper. The label is in the way. If I try to force it, the flimsy plastic shreds. If I try to peel the label away, the adhesive is almost always too sticky-stuck — and the plastic shreds. Either way, the entire purpose of the ziplock — reusing the bag till the Deutschmacher is devoured — is defeated. (Defeated as definitively as that candidate who — oh wait, never mind. No more politics.)

Here is the heart of the question: What, I ask you, is the rationale for wrapping the label over the ziplock?

Are we afraid the half-pound of sale-priced yellow American cheese is going to slide the zipper open and escape to Boston’s North End with a rogue salami? 

(Warning to the salami: Your family will never accept an American cheese. Provolone maybe, but not American.) 

Let’s look at this logically. The zipper is actually on the outside  of the bag. Once you’re inside the bag, and it’s zipped, you’re stuck. Were there studies back in the 1950s, where lab mice were sealed inside ziplock bags, and they figured out a way to unlock the zippers? There’s no way my cheese can get out. My cheese has no paws and no claws. There may be a mad scientist somewhere, developing a cheese that behaves like a mouse — but until such a cheesy Frankenstein rises from the table, we can be pretty confident, I think, that our deli products are safe inside their ziplocked bags, without the added protection of an adhesive label.

And who might break in? Is it conceivable that I could empty my grocery bags in my kitchen and find the ziplock savagely slashed open, my chicken breast burgled? Someone, somehow, had arranged a grocery heist worthy of Ocean’s Eleven — between Market Basket on Route 1 and my home on outer Linebrook Road?

I’m willing to take that risk.

Please, Market Basket: Switch to paper. Or at the very least, stick the dang label on the side of the bag.

In any case, in such a world of chaos, let us simplify.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, at least physically. Emotionally, he appears to be stuck at the deli counter at Market Basket in Rowley. To follow Doug, start searching at DougBrendel.com.

Huh? Sorry? What? Can’t Hear You

Muting the microphones, in that last presidential debate, turned out to be a good idea, I think.

But it wasn’t a foregone conclusion that muting the mics would solve the problem of candidates interrupting and talking over each other. 

If Trump had understood the basics of how sound travels, he might have shouted his interruptions even without having a live mic. The television audience would have heard him in the background of Biden’s answers — and just think how unnerving it could have been for Biden himself! 

Personally, I felt that a mic-cutoff strategy was inadequate, and what we really needed was to put each candidate in a soundproof clear-plexiglass booth. 

Yes, in the runup to the debate, a member of the President’s staff might have sneaked him the information about how sound travels — in which case, the President might have taken to pounding his skull against the plexiglass, so at the very least there would be a thud thud thud  in the background during Biden’s answers. 

But my soundproof clear-plexiglass booth setup would have an additional advantage: With each interruption, the moderator could cut off a little more of the offending candidate’s oxygen. 

It is possible that politicians these days are like sci-fi aliens that don’t really need oxygen; but if they do  need oxygen, then an oxygen-cutoff system could be even more effective than a mic-cutoff system. 

At what point would either candidate stop screaming and pounding on the plexiglass? For those who have come to abhor the ghastly spectacle of presidential politics, such a vision is delicious.

Alas, we cannot bring mic-cutoff into our personal lives. 

  • There is no mic-cutoff at the Ipswich Town Meeting. (Imagine how much shorter our most recent five-hour marathon might have been with mic-cutoff.) 
  • There is no mic-cutoff at Select Board meetings on Monday evenings.
  • Today at Market Basket, I could not cut off the mic of the eager youngster bagging my groceries. (The youngster was not wearing a mic; he was just doing real-world chattering.)
  • If you’re online on your laptop, you can turn off the audio; but then you’re going to lie awake in the middle of the night, wondering what that guy with the rabbit and the corkscrew was saying.
  • You cannot cut off the mic on your teenager. You can, but there will still be a college bill.
  • You cannot cut off the mic on your neighbor. There is no technology, at least not yet, that supersedes the reality of the person who lives next door to you. 
  • You can mute your television, but while you’re lipreading the people on the screen, your decaf is getting cold.
  • You cannot cut off the mic on your spouse or partner. I mean really. Don’t stop listening to this person. This is the person who sits on the other seat of your life teeter-totter. Even if they annoy you, you should keep listening to them, because sooner or later they will say something that you’ll wish you had taken into consideration, before those guys came and carted off your furniture.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Why? Because it’s so quiet. Follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.

And make mine extra-dry

In hard times, we make sacrifices for the common good. During World War Two, for example, people cut back on their use of sugar. I believe this enabled our troops to provide sugar to French candymakers, who gave free treats to the Nazis, causing innumerable cavities and untold suffering in the German lines. The war was won with bullets, bombs, and bad bicuspids.

Today, here in Ipswich, Massachusetts, we have plenty of sugar, but hardly any water. The Atlantic Ocean lies nearby, of course — 82,000,000,000,000,000,000 gallons, to be exact (that’s 82 billion billion). But hardly any of that water is available for us to use in our homes, because it’s full of salt, fish, and whatever fish produce for lack of toilets.

The skies have not produced much rain lately, so those romantic little streams that start up in the mountains of Vermont and New Hampshire haven’t been sending water downhill to us. Also, 12 other towns are siphoning water out of the Ipswich River, and the waterways that flow into the Ipswich, before the water gets to us. We think we’re great in lots of ways; but in terms of fresh water, we’re “the end of the line.”

Consequently, Vicki Halmen has declared a “water emergency” here in Ipswich. Vicki is our water and wastewater director. I believe we specify “water” as distinct from “wastewater” to make sure there’s no confusion between what comes in and what goes out.

A declared water emergency means our reservoir levels have fallen below 40% of normal conditions. (Coincidentally, in the pandemic, our emotional reservoir levels have also fallen below 40% of normal conditions. Facebook, however, has not yet declared a vitriol emergency.) We already couldn’t do any outdoor watering (fines up to $300), when it wasn’t yet an “emergency.” But now, we’re also being asked to conserve water indoors.

At my house, we’re doing our part.

  • We’ve dispensed with those silly myths about personal hygiene. There is really no need to do laundry so often. I’ve found that I can wear a shirt four or five times before moss begins growing on the fabric. And then, to be honest, the moss grows mostly under the arms and inside the collar, which means hardly anybody notices.
  • I’ve broken my showering habit too. This idea that you need a shower every day is really just the product of propaganda campaigns by soap and shampoo companies. In the Middle Ages, people typically bathed once a week, and usually in a river. Here in Ipswich, with the river dangerously low, it wouldn’t be prudent to use river water for your weekly bath — the water sticking to your body might have been needed at Zumi’s, to make a cup of coffee. But no worries; this is what cologne was invented for. Various brands work best at various stages of stink. As I understand it, for example, Versace Eros blends perfectly with the slime that occurs naturally on your skin after five days. Yes, there is a cumulative effect when an entire family avoids bathing, but it’s not all bad. Yesterday a skunk showed up in our backyard and was repelled by the stench.
  • My wife has taken to showering with her clothes on, addressing both the bathing and the laundering issues simultaneously.
  • Dishwashing consumes huge amounts of water, and unnecessarily. Use your silverware to scrape every possible ounce of food from the plate, lick your silverware thoroughly, and put your plate on the floor for your pets. When the animals are finished, stack the used plates in a special place. Next meal, use fresh plates. Eventually, you’ll run out of plates. But by this time, microorganisms will have cleaned the used plates, and moved on. Those plates will be just about good as new.
  • All of these measures, however, still fall short. So we’ve decided to send our kid to New York for college. This will cut our household water consumption by about a third.
  • And the cats’ water bowl? No problem. I’ve switched them to gin.


 Doug Brendel lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on Linebrook Road, soon to be renamed Linegulch Road because a brook requires water and there ain’t any. Visit Doug virtually at DougBrendel.com.

What’s a Million Zillion or Two Between Friends?

When we arrived in the lovely town of Ipswich, Massachusetts, not very long ago, we inherited an enormous honey locust tree, faithfully standing guard over us in the front yard. A tree to be adored. Of all the trees on our property, it was the last to leaf out in the spring, as if to make us appreciate it more, and the first to drop its leaves in the fall, like a petulant movie star going reclusive on her fans. But for those few bright weeks of the Massachusetts summer, our honey locust was magnificent. Sprawling, preening, regal.

A honey locust has the teeniest of leaves. You might expect such minuscule leaves to let plenty of sunlight through, casting a jittery shadow, if any at all, like a scrawny lace doily held up to a window by an ancient dowager. But no. I would conservatively estimate that our honey locust had about a million zillion leaves. Maybe two million zillion. So even with such microscopic leaves, it was a huge, fluffy tree, effectively blocking the sun from shining on the front of our roof.

Which turned out to be a problem, when we got our solar panels. Solar panels need sunlight — I got low marks in science class, but I believe this has something to do with photosynthesis — and honey locust plunging our roof into gloomy darkness would render the solar panels pointless.

The honey locust would have to come down.

This species of tree typically lives only 120 years or thereabouts, so I tried to tell myself that, at a century old, this tree was practically a goner anyway. Any day now, it might have a fatal heart attack and crash into our house. Since our house is twice as old as the tree, this was likely to be a lose-lose encounter. It would be a mercy to take the tree out — a mercy to the tree and to the house.

But still, it was a lump-in-the-throat experience to see those tree guys out there with their savage power-saws and that massive mulching machine, hacking our elegant honey locust into bits and pieces.

I thought my neighbors would sympathize with my loss. I thought wrong. The wind around here is mostly north-westerly, which blows stuff from my property onto the property of my neighbor directly to the south and east. He’s a lovely person; he has consistently come to my aid over the years, whenever I’ve had some urgent household problem or another. But now he came over and surveyed the devastation — a century’s worth of branch amputations, a blanket of twigs and splinters, all splattered across the war zone of my front yard. He was smiling.

“Thank God!” he chuckled. “I’ve hated that tree for 25 years!”

Well, yeah, I can see why. When those two million zillion leaves come down every autumn, they wind up mostly into his yard, with his house serving as a backstop, so they have no way of moving on to the next neighbor down the line. Think about it: Two million zillion leaves per year, over the course of 25 years, is something in the range of 50 million zillion leaves. That’s a lot of leaves, regardless of whether you intend to rake, blow, or ignore.

The horror ended. The scraps were scooped up. At our request, the big chunks were left in the side yard to be cut up later for firewood. At least our treasured honey locust would lie in state for a season, and then warm us for another year.

And we left the stump, rather than having it excised. The proud, round stump, on display in the middle of the front yard, could perhaps serve as a kind of memorial to the wonderful tree who gave her life for the sake of our solar-powered environment-consciousness. We looked out at our front yard and saw the stump and sighed. This was a Monty Python scene. It was a former tree. It had ceased to be. Expired. Gone to its maker. A stiff. Bereft of life. Resting in peace. Pushing up the daisies. It had kicked the bucket. Shuffled off its mortal coil. Run down the curtain. Joined the bleedin’ choir. This was an ex-tree.

But we missed one detail, I think.

The tree was listening, maybe.

In that moment when my neighbor revealed his animosity toward the zillion-leafed honey locust, he may have sown the seeds of a whole new nightmare.

After months of grieving, knowing that we had overseen the demise of our cherished front-yard friend, we noticed something strange happening out in the grass between the house and the street. Around the stump of the former ex-tree, little shoots were shooting up. Tiny honey locust trees were springing up — from the remaining roots of the mother tree, I presume. And wow: Have you ever seen a baby honey locust tree? They are absolutely furry with those tiny leaves. This is not a sugar maple situation, where you spend five or six years waiting to get the first seven or eight timid leaves. Apparently, baby honey locusts are born with all their clothes on.

You know what this means. Look around. It’s New England. The leaves are turning. Before very long, they won’t just be turning. They’ll be falling. A bit of a November gust will come puffing through Ipswich, and 14 million zillion little honey locust leaves will explode off of these tiny shoots, and my neighbor will try to open the door of his house, and find that he’s barricaded inside.

Because he is such a fine neighbor, however — and the 14 million zillion leaves are, ultimately, my fault — I will dig him out.


Doug Brendel lives behind the stump and the seven little trees on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Click follow here at DougBrendel.com.

Type No Evil

You can’t just say everything you think.

I mean, you can. But somebody will kill you.

I’m about to conclude 30 continuous years of under-roof parenting. Our “baby” will leave for college in New York City about a month from now. Which means I will finally come to the end of three decades of advising my children not to say everything they think. After that, they’re on their own. All three of them. Say whatever you want, kids; I don’t care. Well, actually, I do care. But at this point, I recognize the reality: I have no say in what you say. So go ahead; say whatever you think. I’ll cry at the funeral. But I’ll also be muttering, under my breath, “Told ya so.”

There is no better way to learn this lesson — You can’t just say everything you think — than to become a small-town newspaper columnist. Do not write about a school budget override. Do not write about Selectperson bobblehead dolls. These are no-brainers. People will hate you.

I can express the most innocuous, the most insignificant, the most meaningless opinion in an Ipswich Local Newscolumn — and God knows, I have done more than my share of expressing innocuous, insignificant, meaningless opinions in Ipswich Local News columns — and no matter how innocuous, insignificant, and meaningless my opinion is, someone will come roaring in, leading unwashed hordes bearing torches and pitchforks, to thrash me. Affordable housing. Squirrel suicides. Kids playing on the war monuments. To write about these topics was the height of stupidity. Or the depth. I’m never sure which way stupidity goes: up, or down?

Anyway, based on various unpleasant experiences over the years, I’ve acquired a kind of sixth sense for topics to avoid. If I ever need to revisit the topics I’ve decided (for my own safety) never to write about, I can always pay a visit to my “rejected ideas for columns” vault. It’s actually a ratty old briefcase made of cracked leather and smelling of mothballs, matted with spider webs, locked behind a secret door down a narrow passageway at the back of a forgotten closet in a part of our house we don’t even remember is there. Not really — but wouldn’t this make a great column?

When I land upon an idea for a column I can’t possibly write, because it would almost certainly mean leaving scraps of my under-insured carcass strewn across outer Linebrook Road, I simply make my way to the vault, open the old briefcase, and deposit the moist, wrinkled, stained cocktail napkin on which the bad idea was scribbled. Then I snap the briefcase shut, a little mushroom of dust puffing into the air, and I turn back to resume my safe, normal life. No harm done. As long as you don’t write the bad columns, bad things don’t happen to you.

Here, I’ll show you what I mean. Let me just pull a few ratty little scraps out of the briefcase, at random:

  • Dogs are loathsome creatures and unfit to join humans even for COVID-safe outdoor dining.
  • “A Shark’s-Eye View of Crane Beach.”
  • The greatest tragedy in Ipswich’s 386-year history was our failure to seize upon that golden opportunity we had to straighten Lord’s Square in exchange for letting Dunkin’s build a drive-through.
  • Ideas for dealing with people who steal Black Lives Matter signs: #1 — Add “This sign infused with COVID” stickers.
  • People don’t bring their cats to restaurants. Why should people bring their dogs to restaurants?
  • People who don’t wear a mask during a global pandemic are just dumb; but when they tell you that you shouldn’t wear a mask either, it’s even more dangerous, because they’re spraying their potentially germ-laden droplets onto your mask. But you can’t talk sense to these people, because they already have the first stages of COVID brain death. (Check CDC posts to confirm details.)
  • Central, Market, and Main Street foot traffic crisis: Retail and restaurants, good. Lawyers and realtors, bad.
  • Anything about The Trustees.
  • “Seven Reasons Dogs Should Never Be Allowed Off-Leash in Public.” (Edit the 22 reasons to seven.)
  • The Ipswich permitting process is a thing of beauty. (Interview architects.)
  • It’s not widely known that piping plovers are poisonous to fisher cats; yet a fisher cat will always catch and kill a small bird if one is available. This makes the case for catching fisher cats and releasing them on Crane Beach. Kill two birds, etc. (Check Poison Control Center to confirm details.)
  • Shaw’s. Market Basket. Discuss.
  • “I’ve been married 35 years, so if I live to be 100, I’m halfway through this marriage, and I hope I make it.” (Find another way to say this.)
  • Ideas for dealing with people who steal Black Lives Matter signs: #2 — On each sign, mount miniature unmarked aerosol spray bottle (black is preferred; empty is okay).
  • Banning kite-flying on Crane Beach to keep the piping plovers from experiencing anxiety is like banning bagpipes to keep funeral-goers from feeling sad. (Wait. A bagpipe ban would be awesome. Find different analogy.)
  • “This thing in the fridge: Does it smell okay to you?”
  • Road kill as a Rorschach test.
  • “I don’t care if you’re almost 19 years old; I’m paying the bills around here.”
  • The big new development on Linebrook Road is an abomination, but the people who live there are potential subscribers. How to finesse my hypocrisy?
  • Ideas for dealing with people who steal Black Lives Matter signs: #3 — Sprinkle signs with talcum powder; start “Ipswich Anthrax Crisis” Facebook page.
  • “In my dream, Ray Morley was dancing with KelleyJane Kloub.”
  • Maybe a column about dogs? Dog owners are always good for a laugh.
  • Ipswich Board of Health. Gestapo. Discuss.
  • Anything about EBSCO.
  • “Concentration Camps for Conservatives.”

See? It’s simple to stay out of trouble. Most of what you’re thinking, just don’t say it. And absolutely don’t write it down.


Doug Brendel lives in a bunker under his house on outer Linebrook Road. Good luck tracking him down. You can start by trying DougBrendel.com.

Repeat After Me: “Four Tea Bee”

It would be outrageously inappropriate to be enthusiastic about a disease, especially a disease that kills more than a million people a year — so when you hear the phrase “for TB,” it’s not because someone prefers tuberculosis to COVID-19.

And since Tom Brady defected from the glorious New England Patriots dynasty to the losingest team in the history of the NFL, if you hear the phrase “for TB” here in Massachusetts, it better not be someone admitting that they’re still rooting for that aged turncoat pretty-boy huckster quarterback. Some New Englanders may actually be “for TB,” but who would risk a pummeling in a sports bar by saying so out loud?

No, if you hear the phrase “for TB” here in Ipswich, you’re hearing it wrong. It’s not “for TB”; it’s “40B.” It’s almost certainly a reference to the controversial Massachusetts state law mandating each town to offer at least 10% of its real estate as “affordable” housing. Affordable housing is an issue almost as complicated and contentious as the pandemic or the Patriots.

On top of which, 40B is a clumsy law. In a town that hasn’t met the 10% threshold, 40B developers can designate 20% to 25% of their units as “affordable” and get around a town’s zoning regulations. This means they can erect massive developments in otherwise quaint, charming New England locales. (Think “Bruni World” on 133.)

40B, then, is a subject better left alone by any sensible columnist.

So let’s dig in.

Ipswich can’t avoid this touchy subject at the moment, because it’s on the Warrant at our upcoming Town Meeting. Why? Because Ipswich set up an “escape hatch” some time ago: A developer who doesn’t want to set aside 10% of their project as “affordable” can give the Town of Ipswich a chunk of money instead — money that goes into something called the Affordable Housing Fund. What happens to this money, and who decides where it goes, or when, who knows?

We’re making progress toward the 40B goal, of course. When I first arrived in Ipswich, more than a decade ago, our Town leaders were assuring us, “We’re almost there.” And hey, I just realized this: I can actually track our Town’s progress on 40B by reviewing our Town leaders’ assessment over the course of each year I’ve been here:

  • Year 1: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 2: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 3: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 4: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 5: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 6: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 7: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 8: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 9: “We’re almost there.”
  • Year 10: “We’re almost there.”

This is heartening. We’re a 386-year-old town. We clearly value consistency.

On the other hand, it would be disturbing to imagine that Ipswich is actually trying to keep low-income people out. So, yeah, maybe we need to finally get past “almost there” and get “there.”

40B may be a blunt instrument, but the goal is worthwhile: The goal is making a place for people with low incomes. When we get to 10% affordable housing, we won’t have to let Godzilla developers plunk down massive Soviet-style developments in the heart of our historic town. We’ll be able to provide affordable housing for those who need it, and welcome them with open arms. The way we’ve welcomed the Polish, the French, the “outsidahs,” down through the years. Not to mention, in recent years, the refugees, the Ghanaians, the Somalis, the doesn’t matter where you’re froms.

So when our socially distanced Town Meeting happens on Saturday, October 17th, at 9 a.m., we can vote against the “payment in lieu” loophole — by voting YES on the citizens’ petition, Article 18.

Of course, if you really do want to keep low-income people out of town — if you really do  want to let developers pay to keep low-income people out of town — if you really do  want to keep saying “We’re almost there,” but in reality, we’re okay with keeping our affordable housing inventory below 10% — yeah, go ahead and vote no.

Which, I guess, would be sort of like voting for TB.


Doug Brendel responds to his readers, both those who agree and those who disagree, on Instagram @DougBrendelIpswich and on Facebook via Facebook.com/DougBrendel.


This helpful letter appeared in the Ipswich Local News to answer the question about the Affordable Housing Fund.

That’s Why They Call Them Kids

You’ve seen those signs in people’s yards, right? “Goats to Go.” Maybe you haven’t noticed them, because after all, we are in an election season, and you may have a tendency to tune out yard signs. “Goats to Go” could be just another clever slogan recommending removal of whoever’s in office at the moment.

But no. “Goats to Go” is about actual goats. According to their website, they’re a family-owned-and-operated service based at Great Rock Farm in Georgetown, Massachusetts. When they deliver goats to your place, the goats gobble up your poison ivy, weeds, and perhaps anything else goats eat. Got any old clamming boots you don’t want to add to a landfill?

For best results, the website says, bring the goats in before Labor Day, to catch the bad vegetation during growing season. During the long, lazy Labor Day holiday weekend, I found my under-utilized brain pondering other ways to make use of the Go-Goats.

Which led me to thinking about Muldoon. Yes, I mean Ipswich Local News founder and editor John Muldoon. To my twisted psyche, the connection between Muldoon and the goats is obvious.

Give me two minutes; I’ll sort this out for you.

In his other life, John Muldoon is a teacher. A college professor, actually. Because he’s brilliant, absolutely brilliant (and not just because he has to decide whether to run this column or not), he could teach just about anything. But one of the courses the college has him teaching is Introduction to Computers. I’m old enough to remember when computers were actually “introduced,” but that was so long ago, I’m amazed that there’s actually still a course called Introduction to Computers. Yet there is — mainly for elderly people who have finally had enough of the pandemic lockdown, enough of their grandchildren not being flown in from Topeka to visit them, so they’ve finally caved in and decided they have to learn to Zoom.

This semester, John Muldoon’s professional challenge is teaching seniors, who are technically freshmen, how to use that strange machine they’ve been avoiding since before Jimmy Carter was an ex-president.

Ironically, Professor Muldoon has to teach his aged pupils online, which means as they arrive for class, they’re struggling to use the very machine he’s supposed to be introducing them to.

“This is a mouse. No, not an actual mouse. The mouse moves the cursor. No, there’s no actual cursing. Until Facebook. Now if you hover over the link — no, Martha, please, stay seated. It’s not actual hovering.”

The harsh truth is — and I hope nobody tells the college, because Muldoon needs the paycheck — this class is really unnecessary. We have children. Seat any three-year-old in front of a computer and they’ll grab the mouse, log in, launch the app, curse the cursor, whatever you do on a computer. I know this to be true. I’ve asked a three-year-old for computer help. In my experience, they’re awesome. And they’re cheap.

The solution for our beloved senior citizens is not Introduction to Computers. The solution for our beloved senior citizens is “Tots to Go.” The Goats to Go business model is perfect here. Especially as pandemic-era restrictions begin to ease, and working parents try to figure out how to return to their actual away-from-home workplaces, Tots to Go can offer a valuable social benefit: keeping your toddler occupied, while helping some confused grandma re-tweet conspiracy theories.

Yes, I realize some helicopter parents will be uneasy about this approach to daycare — and nervous about possible prosecution under child labor laws. They’ll come around once the kids’ wages are high enough. But until we can develop a big enough workforce to meet the demand, we simply go back to the goats. Goats are intelligent, they learn fast, they adapt well to new situations — so a session or two of Introduction to Computers, with Professor John Muldoon, and I think they’ll be good to go.

Grandma, meet Maisey.

“Why, hello, Maisey!”

“Maaaaaah!”


Doug Brendel is an aspiring business development consultant living on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow his nonsensical stuff here at Outsidah.com. Or check out his sensical stuff at NewThing.net.