Shall I Bring Thee Thy Slippers?

aapraying phone call from GodEpiscopalians get a bad rap.

They’re supposedly stiff, stodgy, stilted, unimaginative traditionalists with no capacity for creativity, no inclination toward innovation, no tolerance of new ideas.

Well, they’re wrong about us.

Look at George Washington. He was an Episcopalian, and he made some pretty jazzy moves to outfox Cornwallis and win the war. Look at Robin Williams. He was anything but a stiff, stodgy, stilted, unimaginative traditionalist. Fred Astaire. Barbara Bush. Would you have called Barbara Bush stodgy? I mean, to her face.

Here in my chosen hometown of Ipswich, Massachusetts, our Episcopal Church is blessed to have a non-stiff, quite imaginative priest, the Rev. Bradford Duff Clark, who parties by the name of Brad. Brad is the ever-exploring mastermind behind such Ascension Church quirks as “PJ Day” (wear your pajamas to church), a day for bringing your pets and livestock to church (I would have drawn the line at rodents, but no, Brad is a liberal), and an assortment of other oddities.

So when coronavirus sent everyone home, and Ascension Church canceled its public services (like most other churches did), Brad took this past weekend’s services to Facebook Live (as a few other churches did). Which is how I found myself at home at 10:15 on Sunday morning in my bathrobe, lounging in my favorite over-stuffed chair, a cup of French vanilla decaf on the side table, and dialing up the church’s Facebook page on my phone.

Of course it wasn’t quite the same as driving from my antique house on Planet Outer Linebrook into the center of town and being there with all the other supposedly stiff, stodgy, stilted, unimaginative traditionalists. But it was pretty great to be there virtually, with the enormous stained-glass Jesus in the background, just like always, his arms outstretches by his sides, either saying “Welcome, my child” or “What in the world were you thinking?”, I can never be sure.

The camera stayed in a fixed position — no “live action-cam” following this or that worshiper dancing in the aisles. Yes, we’re an energetic bunch, but not quite that way. Let’s call this something more along the lines of quiet energy.

On the whole, it was almost like the real thing: There was Brad, in his non-party vestments, leading us through the liturgy; and Scripture readings by Ted Flaherty, our junior warden (not that we’re a prison, supervised by wardens, but who knows what churches were like back in the day, when Episcopalians assigned these names?). Dr. Frank Corbinprovided music, with solos by the remarkable John Petre-Baumer. Just about everything an Episcopalian could possibly want in a Sunday morning, except for snacks afterward in St. Matthew’s Parlor, and hugs from friends.

Oh, and the Eucharist. Sometimes known as “communion.” It was not feasible for Brad to thrust a wafer of bread through the screen into our hands — let alone a sip of wine, which has been banned anyway by the Diocese of Massachusetts till further notice. I feel sure that the brains at Apple are working on CommunionCam, however — the wafer pops out from a slot that used to be there for DVDs, remember? — and when that’s available, I’m going to be an early adopter.

Mostly doing church via Facebook Live was great because I never had to get anywhere close to my Sunday-go-to-meetin’ clothes. Those black dress shoes are still gathering dust in my closet. If Jesus came for the common man, then church in your bathrobe makes total sense.

The online service wrapped up a little before 11 a.m., and I tapped the little X in the corner of the window with a sigh of satisfaction. Just about that time, my 18-year-old daughter emerged from her bedroom.

“I just went to church!” I reported cheerfully.

She looked me over, blinking sleepily.

“Was it PJ Day?”

 

 

Doug Brendel lives mostly in his bathrobe on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. You can follow his foolishness here at Outsidah.com, or his serious stuff at NewThing.net.

 

Blizzards Build Character, Shut Up and Shovel

You thought football season was over, but this year, it wasn’t, and it isn’t, and it isn’t going to be, at least not for a while.

In case you missed it, you are now living in the inaugural season of the XFL, a new professional football league.

So while the NFL world is writhing like a decapitated garden snake over the location of Tom Brady’s next mansion, football is continuing to be played, every Saturday and every Sunday, for the benefit of us football junkies.

Yes, America, you can now watch pro football starting with the NFL preseason in August and keep watching it straight through the XFL championship game (the poor man’s Super Bowl) on Sunday, April 26th. So we now have barely 100 days a year without professional football.

I confess to having watched a few XFL games already, and here’s what I’ve observed:

(1) Good changes to the NFL rules, making the game faster, safer, and even more entertaining than when it was slow and dangerous.

(2) Snappy helmets and uniforms; the XFL clearly hired good graphic-design people.

(3) Fans in the stands are usually rooting for the correct team.

Let me explain (3).

When the NFL plays football, the weather is generally cool — the regular season starts in September — and getting cooler, until finally you get the Super Bowl, which happens at the beginning of February, and it’s so cold outside that the NFL almost always puts the championship game either in a nice safe temperature-controlled dome or in a sunshiny outdoor stadium in, say, Miami.

But most of the NFL season happens during that part of the year when northern cities have cool or cold weather. Which means while you’re watching an NFL game broadcast from a warm-weather city, you see quite a lot of fans in the stands rooting for the visiting team.

Yes, the visiting team.

In fact, sometimes, mostly all  of the fans in the stands.

The warm-weather home team comes out onto the warm-weather home-team field, expecting to feel the warm-weather home-team love, and they get booed  instead of cheered.

This happens because so many people who live in northern cities have the sense to go south for the winter, like butterflies, and robins, and geese, and other species with smaller brains than us. And these people, who can afford to move from north to south when the weather doesn’t suit them, can also deal with the exorbitant price of NFL game tickets.

So fans in the stands rooting for the Steelers during the Dolphins home game are not just perversely risking death at the hands of beer-crazed Floridians, who would happily commit murder if they were only sober; these Steelers fans are folks who wisely bailed out of Pittsburgh in October and they’re not going back till May, no matter what, and you can’t make them.

Hence, this: You see Buffalo Bills fans at a game in New Orleans. Chicago Bears fans going crazy in the stands at Tampa Bay. In any game broadcast from Phoenix, fans from any and every market cheering against the home-team Cardinals. Not just because the Cardinals are awful. This is something deeper.

But this is how you know New England is special:

You almost never see New England fans in the stands when the Patriots play away from home.

Why?

Because New Englanders never leave New England.

We’re flinty Puritans. We’re hardy Pilgrims. We have pinched noses, red from the cold, and squinty eyes that got that way from hours of shoveling snow during hurricanes. We’re people who came to the New World and found a place with rocky soil and vicious nor’easters and ice slashing like waves of daggers from the sky, and we said, “This place is perfect. This is home!

And we stayed.

Some folks who arrived in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where I live, were here on Day One, some 380 years ago, and they’ve never left. My friend Fred Winthrop is a direct descendant of the Winthrop who founded Ipswich, in 1634, and you will never find Fred acting like a fool rooting for the Patriots at a Jaguars game in Jacksonville. What nonsense. When Fred wants to go on vacation, he doesn’t head to some namby-pamby tropical island. He goes skiing. He hikes trails. He goes to mountains. He doesn’t go south; he goes north. He goes to Maine. Maine doesn’t even have  an NFL team.

New Englanders are here to stay. When my wife and I chose Ipswich as the town we wanted to live in, it took six years before anyone put their house up for sale. Finally our realtor, who had spent most of her career sitting at a desk doing crossword puzzles, called and said a place had come available on Linebrook Road. “We’ll take it,” I said. “Don’t you want to see it first?” she asked. “Offer the full asking price!” I shouted. “I’ll send it by PayPal!”

Now, we’re New Englanders too. It doesn’t matter that we’re transplanted New Englanders. We know what’s expected of us. We will never leave. You can’t make us. If we need a vacation, we’re looking at an Airbnb yurt in Labrador.


 

 

Doug Brendel is staying put in his 202-year-old house on Linebrook Road in Ipswich. Following him won’t be hard, since he’s not going anywhere. Click “Follow” here at Outsidah.com, or subscribe to his cold-weather charity at NewThing.net, and follow NewThingNet on Instagram.

 

 

Then There Was the One About Greenheads Dating

Stop reading.

Stop, I said.

Why are you still reading?

It’s amazing, in a way, that you’re still reading.

This is the 300th time I have elbowed my way into the consciousness of unsuspecting readers as “The Outsidah.” Yeah, 300 columns. Sheesh.

I came up in Chicago in the days when great newspapers — the Tribune, the Sun-Times, the Daily News  (R.I.P.) — featured famous columnists: Mike Royko, Irv Kupcinet, Siskel & Ebert, the complicated Bob Greene. People on the train would say, “Did you see what Royko said today?” I wanted to be Royko! I still do. Of course, he wrote 7,500 columns in his lifetime, which puts me some 7,200 behind him. If you haven’t stopped reading yet, something tells me you’re not going to last another 7,200 rounds of this stuff.

But let us pause and consider who, or what, “The Outsidah” really is.

In theory, each of my 299 previous columns has offered something approximating commentary on life in small-town New England from the viewpoint of a newcomer.

In reality, I’ve basically just sat in my bathrobe in my house in Ipswich and said whatever came to mind.

This endless slow-motion fiasco began with Dan MacAlpine. He only asked for 500 words at a time, and only once a month; but it all got out of hand. It takes me 500 words just to clear my throat. And after my lifetime in big cities like Chicago and Phoenix, I found life in Ipswich so entertaining, “The Outsidah” could have been daily. Maybe hourly. Sue me; I’m loquacious.

When the Ipswich Chronicle  merged with two other papers to become the Chronicle & Transcript, one unintended side-effect was that now, six towns instead of just one were subjected to the Outsidah’s nonsense. This gave me a vast swath of the North Shore to comment on, which was almost certainly a mistake. Instead of only a few thousand Ipswich residents squirming as, for example, I considered the Ipswich train station and proffered a proposal on porta-potty potential — which I still say is a grand idea — now there were housewives in Hamilton, widows in Wenham, and various readers in Boxford, Topsfield, and Middleton, all at risk of being rankled, or simply bewildered, by the Outsidah’s odd opinions.

Anyway, for me, it’s been a hoot.

For my readers, eh, maybe not so much.

My wife Kristina — who is an honors student in Literature at the University of Massachusetts, so she should know — observes that my 300 columns have really been just four columns ceaselessly regurgitated. There’s (1) the column about local traffic, (2) the column about local weather, (3) the column about local wildlife, and (4) the column reflecting what former Ipswich town manager Robin Crosbie called my “morbid fascination with local government.”

I don’t prefer to think of The Outsidah in such irksome terms. I would say The Outsidah has been 300 brilliantly variegated essays which have just happened to clump around four utterly captivating themes. With varying results.

For example, in these 300 columns:

  • I have interviewed a cigarette-smoking deer, a mosquito on vacation, and a grieving chipmunk widow, and eavesdropped on a squirrel-couple’s domestic dispute.
  • I’ve insulted both Rowley and Saugus so often, it’s become a contest, with prizes, and a parade.
  • I’ve been flamed (more than once) for my wisdom about right-of-way on North Shore thoroughfares.
  • I’ve publicly accused a Town Manager of stealing my garbage can. (Charges later dropped.)
  • I’ve offered major public-service reporting, like my exposé on feral chickens.

And so on. You can see how I’ve contributed to the quality of life around here, right?

It feels strange, in a way, to have 300 columns behind me. “The Outsidah” has outlasted the Little Neck controversy (during which I patiently taught non-local readers how to pronounce “Foeffees”), the perchlorate crisis (also featuring a pronunciation lesson), the endless “almost finished” construction of Ipswich’s High Street bridge (which was good for, I don’t know, three or four dozen columns), and the appearance of a bear in someone’s backyard. I’ve commented on and survived countless nor’easters, potholes, and lawn-watering bans — and weathered multiple local elections and Town Meetings — all, I’m happy to say, without losing more than a couple hundred friends. The Outsidah has had something to say about New Hampshire drivers, cell phones in church, the vending machine at Ipswich Town Hall, and dog poop.

Where else could you get all this valuable stuff?

Yes, I know, it’s been mostly silliness. There are far more important things in life than whether Topsfield wins the Chowderfest competition. So I’m going to try to have it both ways: celebrating 300 “Outsidah” columns AND doing something meaningful.

Here’s the plan:

I’m going to release a new book, Ipswich in Stitches: The Outsidah’s Greatest Hits So Far. Illustrated as always by lame cartoons, this book will feature — if not the funniest columns, then at least the least lackluster columns, of the first 300.

To launch the new book, I’ll throw a party at Personal Best Training Studio, high atop the Ipswich Ale Brewery at 2 Brewery Place in Ipswich, beginning at 7 p.m. on Wednesday, March 25th. You’re invited.

The new book won’t be off the press by then. But to pre-order an autographed copy of Ipswich in Stitches that evening, you can make a $30 tax-deductible contribution to NewThing.net, the humanitarian charity I lead in the former USSR. See how we’re turning this into something meaningful?

Anyone who donates $30 or more between now and March 25th can also receive an autographed copy on request — and if you’re an Ipswich resident, I’ll be happy to deliver your copy in person.

Questions, comments, complaints, hate mail, and/or snarky rejoinders will be happily received; just email 300@DougBrendel.com. Also feel free to send up to 7,200 ideas for new columns.

Okay, NOW you can stop reading. I’m done for the day.

 


Yes, Doug Brendel really does write in his bathrobe. Good luck trying to un-see that now. Follow Doug’s ongoing nonsense here at Outsidah.com, or his less nonsensical stuff at NewThing.net.

 

I’m a Quitter

 

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Tell me, would you trust this creature with your car? I can only offer one answer … YES! Dear Lord, please! YES!!

If all goes as planned, by the time you read these words, I will be within a few hours of quitting my job.

I don’t mean I’m quitting my “paying work,” as a freelance direct-mail copywriter for non-profit organizations.

And I don’t mean I’m over my “passion,” which is my charitable work with NewThing.net in the former Soviet Union.

Of course I don’t mean I’ll stop posting my snarky blogs at ComplicatedEnglish.com, where I whine about other people’s grammar, syntax, and punctuation.

And I certainly don’t mean I’m through with Outsidah.com; how could I cease offering witty commentary on life in small-town New England from the standpoint of a newcomer — when I’ve been doing it for nearly a decade, and with a minimum of hate mail in response?

No, I’m talking about a job I’ve held three times in my life, one for each kid.

I’m talking about Teen Taxi Driver.

If God smiles on me, next Thursday, I’m done.

Our third and final child, Lydia Charlotte, is scheduled to take her driving test with Triad Driving School in Georgetown, and I’m praying they taught her well. I wouldn’t know, personally, because over the course of all those hours of behind-the-wheel training that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts requires for a teen to get a license, Lydia Charlotte’s mother was in the passenger seat. I was cowering, eyes clamped shut, in the back seat.

Not that Lydia Charlotte is a bad driver. I hear from Mom that our daughter is actually quite competent. She did the whole 30 required hours of live classroom instruction, the whole 12 hours driving in the company of a certified instructor, and 6 hours observing another student driver from the back seat. (Geez! Massachusetts! Legislate much? Don’t you realize the kid in the back seat is spending those 6 hours on Snapchat?) I also attended the requisite 2-hour “content of driver education” class as Lydia Charlotte’s “parent or guardian.” (I’m definitely her parent; look how identical our scowls are.)

So please don’t misinterpret my quivering blindly in the back seat. This isn’t a matter of the driver’s skills. This is a matter of the passenger’s nerves. Seeing an automobile as a “death machine,” as I do, I have a really hard time letting anyone else drive, other than me. I’m not so delusional as to think I’m a better driver than everyone else on the road; it’s just that if I’m going to die a tragic accidental death, I prefer the person delivering the eulogy to say, “It’s almost ironic that he went this way, after a lifetime of fearing automobiles.” As opposed to having no choice but to say, “He might still be here with us today, if he had just trusted his paranoia, if he just hadn’t climbed into that passenger seat.” In any moment of crisis, give me a steering wheel to grasp. For me, a false sense of control beats actual lack of control any old day.

But I digress.

I enjoy my children. During my cumulative 4.72 million hours as Teen Taxi Driver, I’ve found them to be mostly pleasant driving companions. I’ve been Teen Taxi Driver first for Natalie, then for Kristofer, and now for Lydia Charlotte. But soon — maybe tomorrow, even, depending on how early in the day you read this — I won’t be Teen Taxi Driver, ever again.

There will be no more “I need to go to Julian’s for our project; it’s due tomorrow.”

No more “Can you take me to Mae’s party? Everyone’s going to be there except me.”

No more “Dad, wake up; your alarm didn’t go off; we have to leave NOW.” That’s the worst. Driving down Linebrook Road in my pajamas. Embarrassing.

I’m about to be free. I’m feeling almost giddy. Once I’m free, nothing can un-free me. My wife is 60. No matter how hard we try, we can’t make another teenage driver.

And what with college tuition looming, we’re too broke to adopt, so don’t even think about that.

 

_______________

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he only pulls his car out of the garage when it’s absolutely necessary. Follow him by clicking “Follow” here at Outsidah.com.