How Much Time Will You Waste Reading This?

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There was snickering in heaven the day God, or his management team, got to the agenda item of Creating Doug Brendel. First they arranged for me to inherit my father’s efficiency gene; then they put me in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

My father, now 86 and sharp as ever, was never an efficiency expert officially or professionally, but he has always been oriented to efficiency. He’s interested in getting the most done in the shortest length of time with the least possible expenditure of energy. Lay out all your tools, in the order you’re going to need them, before you start the job, so you don’t have to zigzag back and forth across the garage over the course of the project. That sort of thing.

To this day, as a result of Richard Irving Brendel’s DNA imprint, I have a hard time walking through my house.

  • If I’m crossing the living room on my way to the kitchen, and I see a magazine on the couch that ought to be on the coffee table, I have to grab it and toss it on the coffee table on my way by.
  • If then I happen to see a scrap of paper on the floor — perhaps something turned into a cat toy by our enterprising felines, and now abandoned — I have to pick it up too, en route to the kitchen because, after all, that scrap of paper needs to go into recycling, and the recycling bin is in the pantry, in the kitchen, where I’m headed. (Where I’m headed at that very moment! What luck!)
  • A stray baseball cap left by our teenager on the armrest of the couch? That will need to wind up on a peg in the mudroom, which is beyond the kitchen, so it makes sense to pick that up on the way as well.
  • That book I’ve been meaning to dive back into, which I’ll read later on the screen porch? Pick that up too, because the screen porch is beyond the kitchen too. Getting it as far as the kitchen counter will move it closer to its eventual destination. Efficiency!

At this rate, a trip from the bedroom to the screen porch can take 20 minutes. Nothing is simple for an efficiency nerd. But at least no movement was wasted! God forbid any unnecessary backtracking!

Consider the essential daily (or multiple-times-daily) challenge of making a pot of coffee. Our obsolete little 10-cup Philips machine — they don’t even make this model anymore — sits on the kitchen counter just under the cupboard where the coffee lives in its designated canister, next to a tall, slender porcelain vessel which I have designated for holding the black plastic spoon which I have designated for coffee-scooping. Also in this cupboard, in the spot I have designated for it, is the plastic bag full of Market Basket #4 filters. (Keep these guys standing up against the left wall of the cupboard, please, tucked in there next to my tea-drinking daughter’s tea canister, so they don’t fall down and — most important of all — don’t take up any more space than they need to.)

Now, take note: The sequence of somesteps of the coffee-making process cannot be negotiated. You must, for example, put the filter into the machine’s little basket before you put the coffee in. But there arecertain details in this process which are wide open to examination, if you’re looking to save time. Here’s one critically important question: Do you put the water into the machine and thenput in the coffee, before throwing the “on” switch to start the brewing process? Or do you put the coffee in first, thenthe water, and finally turn the machine on? One approach saves multiple millisecondsover the other, my friend, based on which item is left in your hand at the moment it’s time to flick the switch. Think! Think carefully! Don’t squander cumulative minutes of your life making your morning coffee inefficiently! (Answer: water first, then coffee. Throw the switch while the spoon is still in your hand; then put the spoon away.)

A trip to the mailbox is an exercise in multi-tasking. That little package you’re sending to your kid at camp should definitely notbe carried all the way to the mailbox on the street until you’re sure you don’t have anything else that needs to be mailed. On the other hand, you have to get out there before the mailman comes. If it’s garbage day, bingo!You can put your daughter’s package under your arm, swing through the garage, grab the handle of the garbage bin with one hand, the recycling bin with the other, drag them both to the street, stick the package in the mailbox, and head back to the house — all in a single, fluid motion. Brilliant! You just saved yourself 128.9 feet round-trip. Do it every week, and you’ve saved yourself more than a mile and a quarter over the course of a year. That’s half an hour of walking time. Half an hour — that’s enough time to dash to Cumby’s, or phone your mother, or make a macramé plant hanger. Anything you want! It’s yours! Free time!

The invention of GPS was a boon. No more taking the obvious main roads, when a cut-across on Mill will get you to Beverly 45 seconds sooner. God forbid you should arrive in Beverly 45 seconds later than you had to!These three-quarter-minute savings add up, I tell you. Over the course of a week, you can write another novel in the time you save.

Now superimpose this low-grade obsessive-compulsive behavior over a simple journey through Ipswich, Massachusetts. I’m driving down Linebrook Road from the west, heading toward Ipswich Center. Up ahead is a Marini Farm vehicle. These are fabulous vehicles, with a top speed sometimes approaching 18 mph. I love Marini Farm. I’m grateful for their farm stand, and their commitment to growing corn for me and my family. But my next novel will come out a year later than scheduled because I live in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and got caught behind a tractor.

Efficiency? Don’t get me started on Lord’s Square. Or Depot Square. Or that anguished dogleg at High Street and Town Farm Road — an impossible hairpin if you’re coming from the northwest. (Of course, it’s a beautiful glide if you’re coming from the southeast — and zipping past all those unfortunate folks lined up on Town Farm waiting to get out onto High Street.)

And that place where County Street becomes County Road, and South Main can’t decide whether to go straight into Poplar Street or bend south into County? You could grow old sitting at that intersection wondering whether it’s your turn to go.

Oh, for a helicopter!

I’m sure my father could figure this out.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road. How to get there? Don’t even ask. From where you are now, it’s probably impossible. Just follow Doug here at Outsidah.com. Click “Follow.” It’s efficient.

 

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Obnoxious, Derogatory — Yet Pleasantly Paranoid

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Van Gogh was such a baby.

At least, that’s what I used to think.

I’ve studied Van Gogh, lived with him, actually, in a way, because I’ve performed Vincent, a full-length two-act one-man show about this eccentric artist, in multiple North Shore venues — and this coming weekend, September 8th and 9th, I’ll be doing three more performances at the Firehouse in Newburyport. (You’re invited: visit Firehouse.org for info.)

I first performed this play — written and originally performed by Leonard Nimoy (of Mr. Spock fame) — in 2011, which means I’ve been steeped in all things Vincent for a long time. His passion. His paranoia. His quirks. His genius. His “illnesses.” His “insanity.” His self-mutilation. His self-destruction. And to tell you the truth, I sort of came to feel he might have been something of a whiner. When he was misunderstood, and reacted badly to it, I didn’t cut him much slack. Buck up, Vincent, I sneered silently. Everybody’s misunderstood at some point.

But that was before the anonymous complaint.

“Doug you are not really that funny only rather obnoxious,” said the unsigned email, in mid-July, after the appearance of my Outsidah blog post about love and snakes in Willowdale.

I tried to take it in stride. “Good to hear from you!” I replied. “Tell me more.”

I didn’t hear any more till early August, after my blog post complaining about the four-way stop near the Episcopal Church, which ended with “It’s enough to make you a Buddhist.”

“I’m glad I’m Buddhist,” the subject line said. “How derogatory your comment on Buddhism,” the email began. “Did it ever occur to you, comedy is not your forte. Do you have another talent, such as playing the spoons or basket weaving from grass clippings.”

Somehow this email didn’t seem to square with the spirit of Buddhism, but maybe I don’t get Buddhism. Certainly this reader seemed to misunderstand my sense of humor. But now I’m not sure whether I’m being misunderstood, or I’ve misunderstood things myself. Is this a Donald Rumsfeld-type case of “You don’t know what you don’t know”? Maybe I need to tune in to the clues. Sure, I thoughtI was humorous; but here are the facts: My writing is so awful it makes even a Buddhist lash out.

I am now beginning to grasp Vincent’s paranoia. Thinking back on all those years of people saying they enjoyed my writing — “Hilarious!” “Laughed till I cried!” — all the people who came to my book launch events, and laughed when I read aloud, and bought piles of my Only in Ipswich books — it’s possible that they were just a vocal minority. People are happy to tell you if they like you, but avoid telling you if they don’t. So are there actually thousands of silent Outsidah-haters out there? Have I been spreading misery to multitudes all these years? Are there people who wince as they visit TheLocalNe.ws, hoping against hope that my name won’t appear? Or when it does, do they read it aloud from their phones to their family at the dinner table just so everyone can howl with derision? Am I personally responsible for a decrease in the number of TheLocalNe.ws followers? Do people move to New Hampshire because they can’t stand my writing? Am I a drain on the local economy?

Maybe I should post one of those online surveys to get a clearer sense of the situation, with various menu items, so readers can indicate how they feel about “The Outsidah”:

  • Gags me.
  • Insults my intelligence.
  • Brilliant, but in a stupid sort of way.
  • Occasionally makes me smile, although I hesitate to admit it because so many of my friends are gagging.
  • Ho-hum.
  • A waste of screen space.
  • A waste of screen time.
  • Je ne lis pas l’anglais.
  • I like it because it gives me something to complain about to my colleagues at work even on those rare days when things are going well at work.
  • Often inspires me to fling myself into Lord’s Square traffic.
  • Has brought me into emotional harmony with the wildlife in my backyard and, to some extent, the rodents in my kitchen.
  • I prefer greenhead season.
  • Infuriates me when he writes about the weather, the traffic, the animals, and town government. Otherwise, he’s okay.
  • Motivates me to avoid a career as a writer.
  • Once made my skin break out.
  • I like it when he writes about talking with that deer in his backyard, and the deer smokes cigarettes.
  • I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m new in town, so I’m an outsider too; but on the other hand, I’m reluctant to be a fan of someone who’s universally despised.
  • Non-binary.

Vincent, I apologize. I’m not a genius like you, not by a long shot; but I think I can relate a little bit to how you felt. A little sad, a little nervous, a little misunderstood. I don’t think I’ll cut off my ear, though, or do that other thing you did.

Instead, I guess I’ll just do a show about you, buddy, this coming weekend at the Firehouse — and with a little more sympathy than before.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, where an elocutionist teaches him to speak tongue-in-cheek. Follow him by clicking “Follow” in the lower right corner of this screen.

 

Ipswich, Awesome, Totally

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Dude! I promise! I will notwrite about the new Ipswich marijuana dispensary in STONER JARGON. Dude! Really!

Okay, so, I’m not really sure how I feel about medical marijuana, or recreational marijuana, or private vs. commercial marijuana; it’s all sort of a haze to me — but not thatkind of a haze, because I’m not a user. I can relate to Bill Clinton claiming never to have inhaled, because honestly, I can’t inhale anything but straight air. Try as I might, anything else absolutely gags me. Accordingly, even though I urgently want to be totally cool and totally participate, smoking dope is just not my thing. But neither is fighting people who smoke dope. I’m sort of dope-neutral. (Do they still call it “dope”? I don’t know. That’s how dope-ignorant I am.)

But let’s get this straight — no pun intended: Of all the people in Ipswich, I live closer than almost anyone else to the incoming medical marijuana dispensary, soon to appear at 31 Turnpike Road, which is Route 1, if you’re thinking straight — no pun intended.

The process of establishing a new registered marijuana dispensary at that address seems to be moving along at Town Hall. The folks who plan to open a dispensary there (at 31 Turnpike Road, I mean; not Town Hall) are officially known as New England Patient Network, or, to simplify matters, NEPN, although if you’ve been smoking their stuff, the initials are no easier than the name itself. (By the way, do you have any chips? Pretzels?)

The NEPN plan is, according to news reports, extremely complicated, if you ask me. They plan to take over about 25% of the Jaquith Carbide building. That’s a fraction, a percentage. It’s mathematical. Which is hard enough to calculate when you’re not stoned. I got D’s in math. Then they plan to buy the building outright afterthey secure the necessary permits — which sounds like a lot of advance planning, which I can hardly ever do, even as a non-drug-user. The NEPN folks reportedly say they’ll sell medical marijuana only, and won’t cultivate marijuana on site. I hope they’ll be able to keep all of these rules straight — er, uh, I don’t mean “straight”; I mean “organized.” To me, as someone who has struggled mightily to inhale a total of perhaps four and a half choking puffs of marijuana over the course of six decades, and most of them in my 20’s, it seems absolutely impossible to manage the combination of complex concepts like “25%” and “medical only” and “buy after” and “necessary permits” all coming together in a cohesive, rational business plan. Can it happen? Can what happen? What were we talking about? Which is a question I’ve asked repeatedly. Even though, I assure you, I am not a drug user. Except for martinis. One of which I’m drinking as I write this.

Bottom line: The hours of operation at the new medical marijuana dispensary — which is closer to my house than yours, I bet — will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. In other words, pretty much anytime you want.

I’ve read that three other marijuana facilities will be open in the same 3.7-mile stretch of Route 1, so it’s hard to tell whether there will be a run on ours. And then there are the four stores planned for Salem, one in Danvers, and eight in Lynn. Lynn is awesome, dude!

According to published reports, Planning Board chairwoman Heidi Paek said in a recent hearing that the board was “worried about parking.” Yes, so am I. I have trouble parking my very small car in standard-sized spaces on Market Street. But on Route 1? In a cloud of medically necessary necessary — wait, I just typed that word twice — oh well, you know what I mean, right?

Anyway, whatever. Vote yes. Wait. Sorry. There’s no vote coming. Did you take my? Huh? Oh. Never mind.

 

Doug Brendel keeps his head clear at his drug-free-except-for-gin home on outer Linebrook Road. Occasionally he lowers himself to the level of writing a truly cheap post, and this was one of them. Still, you’re invited to follow him here at Outsidah.com, because he sometimes does better. Dude: click “Follow.” See what happens.

 

Becoming a prostitute?

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Vincent-Doug

Greetings, friends of “The Outsidah”!

I’m working on a new theatre production — at the Firehouse in Newburyport….

In the course of 90 minutes, I’ll become Vincent Van Gogh, his brother, and, for moments at a time, his cousin, his uncle, his doctor, his neighbor, Paul Gaugin, Toulouse Lautrec, two art critics, and a prostitute.

I hope you’ll join me for this amazing adventure!

Click here for info. Thanks!

Doug Brendel

 

After you, after you, after you, after you

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There’s a downside to being an Episcopalian in Ipswich.

The venerable 150-year-old Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church, as you may know, sits in that clump of churches downtown. I guess in the old days, all the churches huddled together in one neighborhood to protect themselves from the secularists. There’s the Congregationalist First Church, up on the hill. Then just across the street, to the south, is the Methodist Church, whose sanctuary ceiling recently came crashing down into the pews. Backing up on the Methodist Church, on a diagonal, further to the south, is the Episcopal Church — where the Methodists are now holding their Sunday services as well, till their ceiling gets healed. (And closely monitoring all three churches, like a cranky nun with a ruler bent over a trio of untrustworthy schoolboys, is the Ipswich Public Library, sitting smack between the Episcopalians and the Methodists, and scowling across the street at the Congregationalists — except that Library Director Patty DiTullio is nothing like a cranky nun with a ruler.)

Here’s what all this geography means to you. If you’re (a) an Episcopalian — or, at least temporarily, a Methodist — and (b) you’re heading to or from Ascension Church on a Sunday morning — and (c) you live anywhere to the north, east, or west of the church — you’re likely to find yourself at a four-way stop, at the intersection of County and Green Streets, about 300 feet from Ascension. People will be out and about on a Sunday morning, driving their vehicles to and fro, picking up sundries from Cumby’s or enjoying the cool and the quiet of the small-town weekend. A few will even be heading to some church. Maybe even yours. In any event, as you approach the four-way stop at County and Green, you will find other vehicles approaching the intersection from other directions, or perhaps already there, waiting for you.

Now the great question of your day materializes: Which of these vehicles will go first? Leading, of course, to the second question: Will you get to church on time? Or (if you’re heading the opposite direction) home anytime soon?

This shouldn’t be a difficult situation. The law regarding right-of-way is quite clear, and quite simple. At a four-way stop, according to our plainspoken friends at the official Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (MassRMV.com), the right-of-way goes to the person who gets there and stops first. But, you ask, what if you and another vehicle arrive and stop at the intersection simultaneously? Well, then, the RMV says, the vehicle on the rightgets to go first. Easy-peasy.

At County and Green, however, none of this seems to apply. It appears that no one in the vicinity has gotten the memo about right-of-way. And somehow, County and Green has become a super-popular destination on Sunday mornings. Who knows who’s selling what in this neighborhood. But anyway, just about every week, as I approach this four-way stop, at least one other vehicle is approaching it too. Sometimes two. Sometimes there are actually four of us, sitting there looking at each other.

Going with the basic right-of-way rules would be so simple. But no. Here in Ipswich, apparently it’s not a question of who got to the intersection first. It’s a question of who’s the nicest. If you’re nicer than the other person, you’ll let them go first, right? Even if they’re not on your right. Maybe especially if they’re not on your right, because giving the right-of-way to the person who doesn’t have the right-of-way is the nicest way to be nice of allthe nice ways to be nice. Unless, of course, there are four vehicles stopped at the intersection, in which case the nicest person is the person who goes last, regardless of anything and everything in the entire universe.

And the unwritten rule seems to be that you can’t just wait out the other people and go last when there’s no one left to wait for. This doesn’t get you any niceness points. No, you must actually assignthe right-of-way to another driver. And ideally you should do this with a certain casual flourish: a gentle smile, a friendly nod, a decidedly nonchalant wave of the hand. I believe some long-time Ipswich residents practice this move in the mirror at home, to make sure it’s perfect: the smile shouldn’t be too big and crazy (this is New England, after all); the nod has to be perfectly balanced, somewhere between bossy and obsequious; and the wave of the hand absolutely cannot signal any annoyance, which means not too fast, but also not too slow, and not too far, but far enough to be noticeable, because if the other driver can’t see it, what was the point of doing it. Got all that?

It’s a spiritual dilemma for me. On your way to church, or just coming from church — with the liturgy still echoing in your ears, and the memory of that stained-glass Jesus still peering down upon you — you certainly feel like you oughtto be the nicest driver at the four-way stop. Church people should never be second-nicest, should they? On the other hand, if you’re an Episcopalian, I don’t think you’re really obligated to be as nice as, say, an Evangelical. Those folks take “turn the other cheek” and “do unto others” literally, whereas we Church of England people like to think of Scriptures as recommendations, the sort of guidance you get from a wise, wealthy uncle — canny, but not compulsory.

So here I sit, at the four-way stop, trying to figure out how and when to proceed, and trying not to lose my religion in the process, as other drivers go through their assorted gesticulations — instead of just obeying the dang law.

I tell you, it’s enough to make a person a Buddhist.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives a saintly life on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”

 

Nothing to Fear But

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Yes, there are snakes in Willowdale.

You might not like it, but they were here first.

You can go hiking or running on Willowdale State Forest’s miles of lovely trails for hours, even years, and never see a snake.

Or you might.

Depending on how you like snakes, you may or may not want to avoid Willowdale.

My long-time personal trainer, Jen Tougas of Personal Best Studio in Ipswich, is conflicted.

She’s a world-class runner — she’s done the Boston Marathon yawning, that’s how good she is — and she loves Willowdale.

But she hates snakes.

No, that’s not strong enough language. Jen is terrified of snakes. Paralyzed by the sight of one. This otherwise strong, muscular, marvelously athletic health professional — in something like the 99.99th percentile for physical fitness — sees a snake and goes all wiggly-wobbly in the legs. Also, she screams. And tries not to faint.

The solution, of course, is to be accompanied by a big strong man. I know it’s not politically correct to talk about a woman needing a big strong man, but in this case, it’s exactly true. So Jen has linked up with Rob Martin, the owner of Ipswich Ale Brewery and the Brewer’s Table restaurant. Rob Martin is also a long-time running champion — as I understand it, he runs marathons yawning while fighting pneumonia, in his bare feet, carrying a huge cooler of beer on his back. If ever there was someone who could keep a maiden safe from snakes in Willowdale, it’s Rob Martin.

So last week, Jen headed out onto the trails of Willowdale with her protector, Rob Martin. Unfortunately, sure enough, Jen saw a snake. She screamed bloody murder, of course, which scared the daylights out of the snake. It vanished. But Jen was already traumatized. So, in order to keep Jen from turning back and ruining a perfectly good day of running, Rob Martin took the necessary action. He agreed to go first the rest of the way.

This, however, from Jen’s perspective, was not satisfactory. Another deadly serpent could leap from the underbrush and ravage her savagely at any moment. So Rob Martin really had no choice but to take extraordinary measures.

Now picture this. A big strong man is running down the trails of Willowdale flapping his arms like a pterodactyl, stomping his feet as heavily as possible, and shouting, “Clear out, snakes! Get away! We’re coming through! Your days are numbered! We’ll crush you!” And other equally scary words. And there’s a wobbly-legged woman tiptoeing behind him, crying for him to slow down. Not a pretty picture.

They survived, however. I know this because I saw Jen in her studio the next day. She was still in the process of recovering. But she had collected her wits enough to see the bigger picture. Running in Willowdale is not really about running, at least not for Jen Tougas. It’s not about getting in touch with nature. It’s not about physical fitness.

It’s about love.

Rob Martin flapped his arms for her.

“That man really loves me,” Jen said, her voice still shaky a day after the incident.

I’ll say. Would I flap my arms for the woman I love? In private, maybe, but not out in public, in front of God and everybody.

But Rob Martin has limited options. He probably isn’t going to switch girlfriends. And getting Jen into therapy for her snake phobia will be expensive.

So what’s left? Nothing but to flap.

So, a word to the wise: If you visit Willowdale, and you see a big, buff fellow flapping his arms, don’t be alarmed. Don’t call the cops and request a mental-health evaluation. Because it’s not what it appears. It’s not insanity. It’s something simpler. Something sweeter.

It’s love.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road and avoids physical exertion except in the confines of the Personal Best fitness studio. Follow him at a leisurely pace from the safety of your own computer by clicking “Follow.”

 

Say Cheese

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I have a favorite red shirt, and I tend to like khaki trousers, but I have learned the hard way not to wear this outfit to Market Basket, because people think you work there, and they ask you where things are.

I never gave much thought to the Market Basket employees’ standard uniform — the workers always look nice, they’re neat and clean, and I was vaguely aware that they all wear the same thing; but I couldn’t tell you, without looking, what the colors were — until the day a little old lady touched me near the burger buns.

“Excuse me, young man,” she warbled, “but can you point me to the gouda?”

There were three problems with this question, right off the bat. First of all, I’m not exactly a young man, even by comparison to this old lady. I’m probably at least three-quarters of her age. Maybe even seven-eighths, depending on how recently she Botoxed. Of course, being called a “young man,” I could have received this little gift as sort of a soul-cleansing moment; I’d been mopey ever since I qualified for the senior discount at a museum last week. And yes, her description did make me reflexively break into a schoolboy grin. But still, to call me a “young man” is fundamentally inaccurate, even if it’s intended as flattery. So that was one strike against her.

Second, my hearing isn’t great, and at first I thought she said “Buddha” instead of “gouda.” It took me a long moment to realize she wasn’t on a religious pilgrimage. She was hunting for cheese, not enlightenment. Which reminded me, I needed to go next door to CVS and get hearing aid batteries.

Third problem: I don’t work at Market Basket. I just dress like I do, apparently.

So here I was, standing in the bread aisle at Market Basket, with a little old lady and the three problems she had presented to me — four, if you count the gouda.

In this kind of scenario — there’s a misunderstanding, and you knowit’s a misunderstanding, and you can correctthe misunderstanding, but it’s not that bigof a misunderstanding, so you couldjust sort of go with the misunderstanding — you make all these mental calculations in a split-second. It seems cruel to say “Sorry, I don’t work here,” because after all, you’ve accidentally fooled this person — by way of your red shirt and khaki pants — into thinking you’re an employee. On the other hand, if someone asks a question I don’t have the answer for, and I have to say, “Sorry, I don’t know,” and they think they’re getting this dumb non-answer from a Market Basket employee, it besmirches Market Basket’s reputation, because then this customer thinks Market Basket has employed a loser who doesn’t even know whether we carry unscented super-clumping cat litter and where to find it if we do. Or, as in this case, where to find the gouda.

You’re thinking about it right now, aren’t you? You’re imagining Market Basket, you’re walking yourself up and down the aisles, you’re looking hither and yon for the gouda. Well, it just so happens, I know where the gouda is, and I told the old lady.

But I’m not going to tell you. At least, not until you call me young.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, 13,728 feet from the Rowley Market Basket, where he spends an inordinate amount of time giving directions to strangers. Follow the Outsidah by clicking “Follow” on this screen.