Super Town!


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.”



Pleasure and Power!


My new novel, Pleasure and Power (originally entitled Unintended), is now available in paperback and Kindle editions.

About the book:

Race, sex, and justice…

In 1950, in a world before #MeToo, charming Jake plays fast and loose with the women — until the conservative Alice stops him short. Their romance changes the rogue … or seems to.

On the other side of the tracks, a brain-damaged teen in the “crazy house” delivers a mixed-race baby. Her sister Ruby races to rescue the child — and find the white man who did this.

When the baby brings them all together, each one — Jake, Alice, and Ruby — has secrets to preserve, as they wrestle with rage and fear, doubts and suspicions.

Victims and villains merge and morph in this deeply emotional story of competing and intertwining motives.

Can racism be right? Can sexism be acceptable? Can violence be justified?

Click here for paperback.

Click here for Kindle:


A Friend in Need Is a Friend in Power


When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, Chicago was a fearsome place, especially in Cabrini-Green, an impoverished, crime-ridden South Side housing development notorious for murder, rape, robbery, and gang violence. Not exactly outer Linebrook, but close, if you count fisher cats.

Cabrini-Green urgently needed help, but wasn’t getting it. I mean, would you want to go there, if you were a cop, a social worker, a streetlight fixer, a pothole filler?

Then Chicago elected Jane Byrne, its first-ever female mayor. When Cabrini-Green went into a particularly horrific spasm — 37 shootings in three months, including 11 murders — Mayor Byrne decided to do something.

As an idealistic youth, I thought the mayor of Chicago could just order the cops, the social workers, the streetlight fixers and pothole fillers to get in there and do their jobs. But apparently not. These folks seemed to be focusing most of their time, energy, and resources on the upscale neighborhoods — like the one where the mayor lived. After all, you want to impress your boss.

So Mayor Byrne decided to try an unusual tactic: She and her husband moved into an apartment in Cabrini-Green.

She knew that city services would swarm, if the mayor was there.

And they did. Suddenly, violent gang members were being jailed. Potholes miraculously smoothed out. Once-broken streetlights glowed to life. Like moths to a flame, city workers fluttered around the Mayor’s blond coif.

The memory of the Mayor at Cabrini-Green gives me hope for outer Linebrook. With the exit of Town Manager Robin Crosbie, former selectman Jim Engel has been named “temporary Town Manager” — and he’s my neighbor. Imagine what good things could come my way, with the high priest of Town government living just six doors away?

  • The pothole guys already do a great job, but I can imagine a whole new regime, where potholes disappear in minutes instead of hours. I drive past Jim Engel’s house every day on my way home, and it’s going to be smooth sailing as soon as the pothole guys realize that their new boss lives in this neighborhood. (Will potholes be more of a problem now on High Street, in front of Robin Crosbie’s condo? I can’t say. But pothole guys only have so many hours in a day, you know. So where are they going to slop that sweet, hot asphalt? Out in front of a condo owned by an unemployed former bureaucrat who wields absolutely no power over their careers? I doubt it.)
  • My pal Chief Nikas will be eager to please the new boss on Planet Outer Linebrook. The Ipswich Police Department might set up a round-the-clock speed trap to snag those crazies who drive past my house at 55 instead of the legal 25. If they do, I’ll bring the cops donuts. Based on my unofficial calculations, speeding tickets assiduously issued on outer Linebrook Road could fund the entire Town of Ipswich public safety budget. And fund the donuts.
  • For the safety and security of my 200-year-old house, the so-called “Linebrook Fire Station” at Route 1 could finally actually house fire trucks instead of just ambulances.
  • The Town of Ipswich Electric Light Department might magically appear and make adjustments to that new blindingly bright-white LED streetlight in front of my house. Yes, perhaps it’s keeping our neighborhood safe from criminals — a burglar would have to squint so hard in such a glare, an actual heist would be impossible. But how can late-night drivers, jerking their eyes away from this white-hot laser-torch streetlight, keep their eyes on the winding road ahead? Our accident rate could go up more than our burglary rate goes down. And our burglary rate on Planet Outer Linebrook is already pretty low. Like, zero.
  • Obtaining a building permit for a backyard construction project, which in the past might be expected to take six or more years, could now take three or less!
  • I don’t think it’s even too far-fetched to fantasize about Senior Collections Clerk Ann Wright bringing my new beach sticker to my door. Taking my $20 with a smile. Driving back toward her office at Town Hall, with a blithe wave toward Jim Engel’s house as she passes by.

It’s who you know! And, where you live!

I’m a lucky guy!



How to Become Our Next Town Manager


The power, the glamour, the joyrides in the police boat … I’m sure you’ve considered applying for the Town Manager position recently vacated by Robin Crosbie, right?

A hard act to follow, if you ask me. Robin served as Town Manager for five and a half years — 41 days longer than Richard Nixon served as President, and with even less scandal.

What next for us? The official guidelines released by the Town are clear — except they probably require a bit of interpreting. As follows:

  1. The Town Manager should be “confident, energetic, optimistic, and a strong communicator.”
  • “Confident” means we need somebody who is not afraid of citizens’ query time during Board of Selectmen meetings.
  • “Energetic” means someone who will not leave these meetings so emotionally exhausted that they barely have the energy to trudge home and open a bottle of Chardonnay.
  • “Optimistic” means someone who can listen to an utterly inane question from a hostile citizen and see the silver lining — saying to oneself, for instance: “There may actually be a 50-50 chance that I’ll outlive this person.” Or: “Every minute I sit here listening to this person is another minute my spouse is home dealing with cat puke.” (I only use a sick cat as an example. The new Town Manager may have all manner of alternative household issues to avoid.)
  • And “strong communicator” means someone who can hear the same question multiple times and emphatically repeat the same answer multiple times without giving in to the urge to scream, screech, squawk, or otherwise ruin the audio on ICAM’s live stream.
  1. The new Town Manager must also “demonstrate prior success in leading a complex municipal organization,” the guidelines go on to say. There is no specific definition for “complex,” but it may be a sort of code word for “Hope you’re okay with our 20 boards, 6 commissions, 33 departments, 18 committees, 4 subcommittees, and 25 separate webpages of policies and regulations.” (Warning to all candidates: Drop the ball on #16, “Sewer Betterments,” and you’re out. Also, please prepare to memorize #6, “Determination of Defense Posture When Town Is Named as Defendant.”)
  2. This job is demanding. “The Town Manager must be a visionary and decisive leader who can work collaboratively with the various interests of Ipswich,” the guidelines state. This would be simple, except for the “visionary and decisive” part, and the “work cooperatively” part, and the “various interests” part. Some various interests want the Town Manager’s vision to encompass wonderful advances for our Town, other various interests envision a restoration of what was wonderful about Ipswich a generation ago. Try working cooperatively with those two groups. I guess this is where “decisive” comes in. You have to decide whom to infuriate, and then keep smiling and nodding while they scream, screech, squawk, and otherwise shred you on ICAM’s live stream.
  3. The guidelines do include some seeming anomalies. There’s a bit about the Town Manager being expected to work with “citizens and volunteers.” I never realized these were distinct categories in Ipswich. I’m surprised to learn that we use only non-citizens as volunteers. This puts a whole new twist on the issue of illegal immigration. But at least we can rest assured that the new Town Manager will sort it all out for us.
  4. The end of the guidelines makes me a little nervous, I admit. This is where it says “The Town Manager should have a visible public presence and be highly approachable.” If someone doesn’t have a visible public presence, they’re invisible, right? Which is just spooky. (Plus, if you’re invisible, nobody can approach you anyway, so we can just lose the “be highly approachable” part.) I’m thinking if Ipswich lands an invisible Town Manager, we’ll rival Salem for tourists at Halloween, which has got to be good for downtown businesses. But the rest of the year, in Board of Selectmen’s meetings, won’t it be hard to know exactly where to aim our screaming, screeching, and squawking?

The job is listed at $164,000 but negotiable. I think it’s worth more. Marty Walsh gets $175,000, and managing the factions in Boston can’t be half as exhausting as navigating the factions in Ipswich. Yes, Boston is four years older than Ipswich, but we’ve held on to more of our grudges.

If you’re interested in the Town Manager job, I’d be happy to hear from you via TownManager?Who?Me? You know what they say: If you don’t apply, you can’t complain. Oh, wait — If you do apply, but you don’t get the job, yes, you can complain. Never mind. We have enough complaining already.



Doug Brendel maintains his largely invisible and unapproachable lifestyle on outer Linebrook Road. But you can peek, and interact, by following him here. Click “Follow.”


You Don’t Look a Day Over Eisenhower


I feel badly about this. Here it is, the start of a new year, and my house turned 200 years old this past year, and we didn’t even have a party.

We thought about it, we really did. We talked about it, how fun it would be to have all the other houses over, and the birthday cake, and maybe a piñata. But then life got so complicated and busy. You know how it goes. At the beginning, after the wedding, you’re young and in love, and you imagine all the great things you’ll do when you have a house of your own: trips to the park, to let your house play on the swings — who can go higher, your 1817 Federal or the contemporary from Charlotte Road? All the little houses will play in the sandbox, pretending to dig foundations for new construction, even though they don’t really understand yet where new little houses come from. And they’ll ride the merry-go-round till somebody’s toilet backs up.

But then you actually get your house, and it’s just overwhelming. There are mortgage payments and calls to the electrician and how to arrange a house-sitter on short notice when they call a snow day. And you keep putting off the birthday party, telling yourself that you’ll get those invitations out tomorrow, and before you know it, your house is almost 201.

It really was a simpler time back then, when our house was born. President James Madison had just retired, President James Monroe had just been sworn in with only one dissenting vote in the Electoral College, the War of 1812 had been fought to a draw, Americans were hopeful. The future seemed bright. It was the perfect environment for starting new little houses. A carpenter named Timothy Morse Jr. stood at the front of his several hundred acres, on Linebrook Road between Leslie and Lillian (the streets, not the women they were named for) and said to himself, This will be a good place to raise a house. He put up a standard two-over-two-room structure, with a fireplace in each of the four rooms, then enlarged it by dragging a small 1797 barn from elsewhere on the property and attaching it to the new house.

By the time of the Civil War, the house was really just a child, in house-years. By Ipswich standards, the house was still only a teenager during World War I. After all this house has lived through over the past two centuries, it probably deserved a birthday party. People living in this house likely complained about John Quincy Adams stealing the election of 1824, and were scandalized by Grover Cleveland marrying a woman less than half his age. This house survived the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition and all 86 years of the Boston Red Sox World Series curse. Think of how many Ipswich town managers this house has seen come and go. All of them, actually.

But this year was special. Even in Ipswich, with more First Period homes than any other town in America, it’s not every day that a house turns 200. After a heavy rain, I look at the younger houses in my neighborhood pumping water out of their basements, and I realize, with no small measure of pride, that my house is from good stock. The way it got to be 200 years old is by somehow standing where the water runs around it instead of through it, so it doesn’t flood and rot. It’s the real estate equivalent of a healthy immune system.

So yeah, after 200 years, a birthday party would have been nice, in the same way you throw your grandma a birthday party when she hits 90, just to celebrate the fact that she’s still available to party. But to be honest, when we thought about inviting other houses over for our house’s 200th, I got nervous. You know, the classic party-host anxiety: Will anybody show up? Will the houses born in the 1600s want to come to a party for such a young whippersnapper? Will a 1700s High Street mansion bother to come all the way to outer Linebrook to celebrate such a recent run-of-the-mill residence?

We’ll never know. We didn’t throw a party. Instead, we observed our house’s 200th birthday quietly, with just the family, here at home. Nothing too crazy. Yes, we popped a bottle of Drano, and everyone giggled as the kitchen sink guzzled it. But then it was off to bed — for the 73,000th night in a row.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, grateful that nobody tore down his house in the 200 years before he got to it. Follow Doug by clicking “Follow.”


Keen for Green


I am really happy with the new bright green line along the edge of Linebrook Road. This is a classy-yet-totally-New-England-appropriate touch for our town. I don’t know exactly how the green line came about, but I feel pretty certain that the Design Review Board must have had something to do with it. My wife Kristina used to sit on the Design Review Board, so I know how committed they are to not only preserving the historic look and feel of the Ipswich milieu, but also keeping us on the cutting edge. It was the Design Review Board, for example, that arranged for the Route 1 face of the new Tractor Supply Company building to be so pretty, just like the earliest colonial tractor supply people would have made it.

The green line on Linebrook Road is, in the same way, attractive but also historically appropriate. In the earliest days of our town, cows made paths as they grazed, and the paths became brown and muddy, with green grass remaining at the edges of the mud. What was once a cow path is now Linebrook Road, and our new green line is situated in more or less the same position as the original green grass line. I’ll ask town historian Gordon Harris to confirm this, but I’m pretty sure I’m right.

The green line on Linebrook Road is also highly functional, providing a clear space where bicyclists can do their bicycling. This is a hugely important safety feature, because of the threat of bicyclists crowding cars off the road. I’m also grateful for the new Day-Glo yellow signs featuring a cartoon of a bicycle followed by the admonition “Share the Road.” I certainly hope the bicyclists will comply. I would feel even safer if the town would add a third line, in Day-Glo red, inside the green line, to guarantee adequate space for very small cars, like mine.

Plus, think about this: Boston has a Green Line, and now we do too. This is progress. See? Year after year, there’s more and more stuff right here in Ipswich that you don’t have to go to Boston for.

I’m glad to see Ipswich taking the lead on this trend. As far as I can tell, we’re among the first of all North Shore towns to feature multi-colored lines along the edge of the road. Let’s not stop here. Since we already have a couple yellow lines down the middle, in addition to the white and green lines on the edge, I think a wiggly fluorescent purple line down the middle of each lane in the Doyon school zone would be a nice touch as well. For deer crossings, we could add an attractive blue line that cuts across all lanes. And maybe an orange line that zigzags all over the place for turkeys.

Of course we shouldn’t be disappointed if other towns copy our forward-thinking road-painting strategy. It won’t surprise me at all to see Hamilton marking horse-trotting lanes in upscale taupe, or Rowley using pink paint to indicate permit-free business zones. But we’ll still have the satisfaction of knowing we were first.



Doug Brendel lives on the double-yellow single-white no-green section of outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”