Ipswich Thanketh Thee


Dear Lord, we bow our heads as we prepare to partake of this bounty, this undeserved and literally unexpected plenteousness — I’m referring, of course, to this awesome turkey, which as You know (since You know everything, if I understand correctly) we thought we were going to buy at Marini, but then that flock of wild ones, who usually parade all over the Crane estate, for some unknown reason came strutting down into town, and I guess I wasn’t watching the road, or maybe I was doing 40 in a 25 mph zone — I don’t think that’s a sin, is it? It’s just what Ipswich drivers do. Anyway, in that split-second, it simply wasn’t possible to avoid all those turkeys, and that one unlucky one was no match for the front bumper of my Volvo, I tell ya. That bird got bumpered right up into the air and dropped on our moon-roof like a gift. The turkey never felt any pain, I am sure, and for this, we are thankful. Also for the free meat. We had never plucked a turkey before, but we looked it up on YouTube, and we made it a family project, and except for the beheading, when Norman passed out and knocked Paula’s iPhone out of her hand, which ruined the video, it was a great experience. For which we are also thankful.

We also want to express our gratitude for the many blessings you have bestowed upon us over the course of this whole year, including our not having any run-ins with the Building Inspector, which we recognize could only happen by You helping us not get caught building that little room out there in the garage. I think Grandma is going to be very happy, provided the space heater doesn’t go all sparky again. So we would also ask You to help Grandma catch the fire in time again. Thank You.

You have blessed us more than we can say, Lord, by arranging things so that our family would come to live in this lovely little town. We realize that many folks around the world don’t have the conveniences and opportunities and advantages that we have, living here in Ipswich as we do. We never have to worry about finding a sub sandwich, or someplace to have our hair done, or an architect. We have complete peace of mind. Also, Lord, we want You to know, we never take for granted the constant, reassuring sense of safety and security that we enjoy here, thanks to the diligence of all the Ipswich police officers still on the force.

Thank You, Lord, for helping us all year long to dodge the worst of the potholes on Linebrook Road without crossing the center line into oncoming traffic, which we clearly recognize as a supernatural miracle of Your grace because it defies the laws of physics. We also thank you for the $3 million voted by the majority for that total redo on Linebrook, and we humbly ask that you send your angels with swords of blazing fire and strike the Town authorities with boils and leprosy to encourage them to get the work going, before another cyclist breaks a tooth jouncing along the shoulder.

And now, as we begin this glorious meal, we ask only two things: first, that you make us worthy of such gifts as You have seen fit to grant to us; and second, that the cranberries won’t make us sick, since the folks we bought them from sort of dodged the Food Inspector.

We lift a toast to the Board of Selectmen, who grant our liquor licenses and bring us so much happiness. Amen.


A Traveler’s Guide to Planet Outer Linebrook


Don’t be afraid. Come on over. It’s okay. You can cross Route 1. Outer Linebrook is a friendly place. Here, I’ll show you.

When you come to what you think is the end of Linebrook Road, it’s not the end. It’s only the beginning of your adventure. While you’re waiting at the interminable red light at Route 1, pause to take in the natural beauty of this Gateway to Outer Linebrook. On your right, there’s a family of guinea hens. They’re free range, totally illegal, and charming as hell. Occasionally they like to wander across Linebrook Road, usually single-file so it takes longer (because they’re essentially show-offs, peacock wannabes); but don’t worry about the time this is costing you, because the red light won’t be changing to green anytime soon.

On your left, there’s a historic brown house, empty and forlorn and, it appears, competing for a position on the National Registry of Decomposition. Which is a shame, because according to Ipswich Town Historian Gordon Harris, this was once a rollicking tavern. If it were still a rollicking tavern, you could stop off here for a stiff drink to help you overcome your fear of crossing Route 1 and passing over into the realm of Outer Linebrook. As things stand now, there’s no legal way to imbibe while you wait for the guinea hens.

Eventually you will find yourself crossing the border of Outer Linebrook, a quasi-historic state thoroughfare officially designated in 1922 as “Route 1.” You’ll experience the sweet, bright promise of Wolf Hill Home & Garden Center on your left, and Cumbys on your right. Don’t you feel more secure now, knowing that you’re within reach of a lawn gnome or an original flavor Slim Jim if you need one?

Contrary to rumors, a visa is not required to cross over into Outer Linebrook. Nor do you need a passport. Nor even a driver’s license, unless, of course, you’re driving. In fact, we don’t even ask for a photo ID. You can be your undocumented self here. Planet Outer Linebrook is all about individuality, and diversity. However, for your safety, please keep your hands, arms, and legs inside the vehicle at all times. Young children should be accompanied by an adult. Also, for the comfort of those around you, we request that there be no flash photography, eating, or drinking in any attraction.

Also please note, as you proceed, there’s a very pleasant speed limit sign on your right. It has numerals on it, two tall black numerals which you don’t often see side-by-side on other planets: 2 and 5. That’s right, the speed limit here on Planet Outer Linebrook is 25 mph. I know it seems strange, but please, don’t exceed the 25 mph speed limit. Contrary to vicious propaganda, Outer Linebrook does not deploy snipers who crouch on barn roofs and pick off speeders. However, we do have a local militia devoted to digging potholes which will rack your pinion.

As you begin your trek along Outer Linebrook Road, you’ll notice immediately, on your left, a solid, sturdy brick building with a large, reassuring sign in all caps: LINEBROOK FIRE STATION. We don’t have any fire trucks here, however. This is where we keep our ambulances. It’s a clever bit of subterfuge designed to fool bandits from Topsfield notorious for stealing fire trucks. Unfortunately, there is no corresponding building with a LINEBROOK AMBULANCE STATION sign housing fire trucks. With no close-at-hand protection against fire, residents of Outer Linebrook tend to be paranoid about things like matchbooks, propane tanks, and flint.

Continue traveling along Outer Linebrook Road and you’ll begin to experience the many fascinating features of our unique little triangle at the westernmost point of Ipswich, Massachusetts. You know those massive award-winning pumpkins that astonish visitors at the Topsfield Fair? Look to your left as you round the first curve in the road, and you may catch a glimpse of one of the contenders. It lives right here, on Planet Outer Linebrook! Sometimes seen parked on a wagon not far from the street, and now in its twilight months, this esteemed Outer Linebrook resident is rotted to the point of looking very much like a vegetable version of Jabba the Hutt. Wave hello as you go by!

We also have our very own “Selectmen’s Area” on Planet Outer Linebrook. Here, a current selectman lives directly across the street from a former selectman. In years to come, the configuration of our Outer Linebrook Selectmen’s Area is likely to morph and grow quite dramatically. We’re planning exhibits of “Distinguished Selectmen,” “Disgraced Selectmen,” and possibly “Disturbed Selectmen,” pending the outcome of a top-secret psychiatric study now under way.

Keep driving and you’ll see a church on the right: Linebrook Church is the oldest independent church in the country. It seems they never got around to officially joining the actual official Congregationalists, who founded Ipswich. And truth be told, one day a couple centuries ago, after we foolishly gave up the chunk of land that became the Town of Rowley, and Outer Linebrook found itself churchless, we picked up this church building and moved it back across the line, to keep it inside Ipswich. We were willing to live on an untamed frontier. We were not quite willing to live on a godless untamed frontier.

And now, as your tour of Planet Outer Linebrook continues, you will pass a couple cemeteries, “new” and “old.” We like to keep things current here on Planet Outer Linebrook, so at the “new” Linebrook Cemetery, we only allow bodies dating back to about 1850.

Ladies and gentlemen, as we start our descent, please make sure your seat backs and tray tables are in their full upright position, your seat belt is securely fastened, and all carry-on luggage is stowed underneath the seat in front of you, or in the overhead bins.

Finally, as your tour comes to an end, we introduce a bit of suspense. You keep driving westward, the road forks, and there’s no sign. Where am I? you ask yourself. You’re on Planet Outer Linebrook. Exotic Land of Mystery. Unbeknownst to you, Linebrook Road bends sharply to the left. You, however, will keep going straight — on what you think is Linebrook Road. But in reality, you’re now on Boxford Road. But pretty soon, at the Topsfield town line, the road changes names again. And where are you now? You’re on Linebrook Road again!

Yes, it’s magical. It’s inexplicable. It’s Outer Linebrook.

Please come again.


Doug Brendel, our intrepid correspondent, wears a World War I helmet as he taps out his reports by Morse code via an old-fashioned telegraph machine from Planet Outer Linebrook. Follow this blog by clicking “Follow.”

Help Me, Obi-Wan Ke-Newbury


Whew. I am so relieved. We’re safe now.

At the last minute (literally), Town Meeting voters shot down Joni Soffron’s proposal to ban non-residents from serving as voting members of Ipswich boards and committees.

Such a ban would have severely diminished our Town’s potential, by limiting control of our boards and committees to Ipswich residents only. No, the quorum declared. No indeed. Passage of that nefarious article would have cut off the possibility of our boards and committees being steered by leading thinkers of Rowley, and Saugus, even Byfield. We can thank our lucky stars we won’t have to depend on the thin experience, the spotty expertise, the bogus education, and the inferior intellectual capacity of our own people to guide our fair Town into the future.

Ipswich is a town of barely more than 13,000 people. It is not realistic to expect us to produce, for example, eight adequately educated residents to fill the positions currently open on our Government Study Committee. This would mean nearly 0.062% of our population tied down to Committee meetings. Who will farm the fields?

We have dodged a bullet.

Supporters of the ban postulated that some devil from Essex could pretend to be expending his time and effort on our Shellfish Advisory Sub-Committee out of the goodness of his heart, only to seize control of the which-are-better-Ipswich-clams-or-Essex-clams debate. Now, finally, we can be assured of full representation by the Essex clam industry in our Ipswich clam regulation process. No question it was touch-and-go before, trying to regulate those clammer-hooligans of ours, without any help from neighboring towns.

We urgently need out-of-town wisdom, as clearly evidenced by our Public Health Director, who prudently pulls the plug when our misguided churches attempt to offer dangerous home-cooked meals, then punches the clock and slips out of town at the end of the workday, returning to her happy home in New Hampshire. No greater model of discretion and wisdom need be offered.

In the Town Meeting debate on the residents-only article, some offered the seemingly plausible suggestion that non-residents could ably serve our interests as ex-officio members of, or non-voting members of, or simply advisers to, mere consultants to, our Town boards and committees. Outrageous. Just imagine members of the Ipswich Electric Light Sub-Committee grappling with a complicated question about, say, our streetlights, without Mr. Folger Peltergroin from Wabash, Indiana, at the table as a full voting member.

“You know, Wabash had the first electric streetlights in the nation,” the eminent Mr. Peltergroin will rumble, drumming his fingers on the lapels of his vest. “We’ve had electric streetlights since 1880, and we’re willing to share the wealth of knowledge we’ve acquired during this time.”

The Ipswich-resident members of the Sub-Committee will look at each other and nod somberly, silently grateful not only that this expert outsider is a member of their group, but also that he can — thank heaven — cast a vote. Thank God the article was voted down, and Mr. Peltergroin wasn’t demoted to mere ex-officio non-voting adviser-consultant status, they will murmur. Mr. Peltergroin’s vote will show us the way!

Now that Ipswich has avoided the residents-only disaster, we can get down to the business of filling the open seats on our boards and committees — made infinitely simpler by the fact that we can now call on virtually any of the 322,069,731 people in the USA, minus illegal aliens.

  • It will be no problem whatsoever to find people to fill the seven open seats on our Commuter Rail Committee — anyone who rides the train to and from work, even a New Yorker, will be able to offer insights aplenty.
  • No worries about those five Ipswich Library Trustees we need. To find people who can read, and know how to use a library, and can be trusted, you need go no further than Swampscott.
  • For those eight spots on the Government Study Committee, we can tap members of the United States Congress who are clearly available because they rarely if ever show up for votes.
  • For our Agricultural Commission, there’s my Uncle Johnny, who raises sheep in Wumber Corners, Ohio, plus my Aunt Carol and their kid, my cousin Wendell, who is of age, I assure you, in spite of how he looks. Bingo! Three vacant seats filled. Plus cousin Priscilla Jane for the empty alternate spot, assuming she comes out of her surgery okay.

Bottom line: We can all exhale now. Ipswich is set. The tragic consequences of that pernicious ban on out-of-towners have been averted.

It is a shame, however, that our Selectmen have chosen to limit boards and committees to American citizens. Scientists have discovered water on Mars, a very stormy place, yet there’s no evidence of a storm water problem on that planet. Filling the six openings on our Storm Water Advisory Committee would have taken just three two-headed Martians.

But aliens are still banned.

Doug Brendel lives on Planet Outer Linebrook. Follow this blog by clicking “Follow.”

How Did You Vote? Here’s How


Due to an anomaly in the newspaper production calendar, this column had to be written before Town Meeting, even though it has to appear in the Ipswich Chronicle after Town Meeting.

This scheduling situation required me to put the finishing touches on my commemorative “Back to the Future II” time machine, travel forward in time about 48 hours, land on Tuesday evening, park the time machine on School Street, sit through Town Meeting, take notes, get back in the time machine, travel back to Sunday evening, park the time machine back behind my garage (please don’t pull over on Randall Road and get out of your car just to peek under that blue tarp), and write this column.

It’s possible that my time machine is not yet entirely functional — I’ve consulted certain experts in Town Hall, who suggest that my time machine is essentially imaginary — but in any case, I’ll tell you what I think I saw at Town Meeting, and you can draw your own conclusions, and feed back accordingly.


Fifteen or so articles came before the voters. I won’t bore you with all the details — you’ve already sat through Town Meeting, and believe me, once is enough — but here are the highlights:

  • Voters were asked what to do with the extra $60,000 that the Commonwealth of Massachusetts graciously bestowed upon the Town of Ipswich this year. Our selectmen proposed putting it aside for contingencies, but there was a massive outcry from the citizenry, who voted overwhelmingly to spend the whole $60K on a feasibility study.
  • Selectmen proposed lowering the age of eligibility for property tax exemptions from 70 years to 65 years. The meeting was temporarily disrupted when wailing was heard from the back row, as a certain Ipswich resident, who will turn 70 next month, grieved over the five years of taxes he just finished paying.
  • Our Cemetery & Parks Department wanted to buy a mini-excavator for $65,000. The grave-diggers’ lobby prevailed.
  • The Planning Board proposed that all solar panels be regulated — no more exemptions for residential units. This article was inspired by a solar panel that reflected sunlight so intensely onto a neighbor’s property, the lawyers had to wear welding helmets. Town Meeting voters approved the residential regulations, but added an amendment stipulating that schoolboys can still use magnifying glasses to fry ants.
  • A related article was intended to protect access to sunlight for people who install solar panels: no fencing or hedge-planting to keep out the glare. The fence-building union and the Hedge-Planting Division of the Ipswich Shade Tree Beautification Committee mounted a massive campaign to kill this article.
  • In the never-ending conflict over inns and B&Bs, the Planning Board proposed a novel solution: a new kind of permit, but to be granted only after a new kind of hearing. At Town Meeting, the people spoke. They recognized that the Planning Board, in their wisdom, had not only untied the Gordian knot of the inn-and-B&B issue, but also addressed a much larger problem: Ipswich’s sad shortage of permits and hearings. Article approved! Another permit! Another hearing! We’re safe now. Ipswich will not be overrun by outsiders setting up inns all over Ipswich. This is far more efficient than the alternative idea, occasionally bandied about by gatherings of concerned citizens at Sofia’s and Zumi’s: A huge wall could be erected around the entire town, which would avoid the obvious most dangerous risk — hordes of illegal immigrants coming in and setting up even more inns, which would give even more tourists, God forbid, even more places to lodge, God forbid, while visiting our fair town — thereby drawing into our town even more suspect out-of-towners and even more polluted tourist dollars. The obviously valid idea of a massive protective wall to keep our local economy free from the contamination of tourist dollars will certainly be considered again in the future, I imagine.
  • Article 10 was housekeeping stuff intended to fix ambiguities, omissions, and inaccuracies in the zoning bylaws. The article failed because voters couldn’t understand it.
  • The article preventing non-residents from sitting on town committees was amended to specify that non-residents could serve but not vote, and — and this was the crucial amendment — non-resident members of town committees would have to clear their opinions in advance with The Outsidah.
  • A proposal to ban “certain types of knives with blades or weapon-like objects” was voted down because it would stand in the way of folks from driving over to their friends’ houses for potlucks where they planned to stab their lovers’ spouses.

Doug Brendel tinkers with his backyard time machine on outer Linebrook. Follow him by clicking “Follow” on your screen now.

History Defeats Itself


The 379th meeting of the Ipswich History Police will now come to order.

Do I have a motion that the minutes from the last meeting be sealed in a time capsule and buried in an unmarked grave to avoid any chance of future generations knowing we were here? Thank you. Do I have a second? All in favor? The motion is carried.

Let’s deal with Old Business first. We have a proposal here to erect a work of art in a historically significant location. All opposed? Let the record show, the vote was unanimous.

Excuse me? Oh, I’m sorry, you’re right. I did forget to say “All in favor?” Well, yes, as a matter of fact, you’re right, I also forgot to open the floor for discussion. Was there something you wanted to discuss?

Oh, that. Well, I don’t think there’s any question about the matter. We have a solemn obligation to preserve the historic spaces in this town. This is one of the most historically significant towns in America, and if we don’t preserve our history, we might not have any significance.

Yes, I know that old photos show that park benches were installed on at least one of our historic locations at some point. You’re right, those benches were not historically appropriate to the site. But I’m sure they were entirely necessary. I believe members of the History Police actually sat on those benches in round-the-clock shifts, monitoring that historical space for unwanted sculpture installations.

No, of course we can’t preserve every detail of our town exactly the way it was in 1634. We’re not that narrow-minded. Some things have to look different, I realize that. Just look at the plaque on County Road, the one about the original Agawam residents. When you drive into town from Hamilton, that plaque jumps right out at you! You can read the headline from your car! Don’t you think people passing that sign say to themselves, “Wow, it sure ain’t 1634 anymore. That plaque was made with very modern manufacturing processes.” Yes, they do. I know I do. I wish County Road could look exactly the way it did in 1634, but it’s just not possible. We needed that plaque. To remind us of the people we bought the land from. That plaque celebrates the first in a long line of real estate developments.

So don’t tell me we’re trying to freeze Ipswich in the past. We just want to be very careful about how much of the present we celebrate. In case a hundred years from now, it turns out that what we’re doing right now wasn’t actually all that great. That would be embarrassing, wouldn’t it!

Well, certainly it’s possible that we might someday approve something that alters one of our most revered historical spaces. It’s happened before. We have quite a number of monuments, for example. Just look around. That one over there is a monument to boys who went off to war and died. And look at that one over there: it also commemorates boys who went off to war and died. And so does that one. Well, yes, that one does too. What are you, un-American? Don’t you think we should honor our boys who went off to war and died? We named a school after a boy who went off to war and died. Do you realize what this means? One of the names most often spoken aloud in the town of Ipswich is the name of a boy who went off to war and died! It’s beautiful!

No, I don’t think historians a hundred years from now will look back at Ipswich in 2015 and figure that all we did was send our boys off to war to die. I think they’ll figure we did a darn good job of preserving our history — and didn’t clutter up our public spaces with anything less important than boys going off to war and dying!

What’s this? You don’t have to hand me this on a piece of paper. I’ve seen this many times. It’s quite famous. It’s part of a letter from John Adams to his wife Abigail:

“I must study Politicks and War that my sons may have liberty to study Mathematicks and Philosophy. My sons ought to study Mathematicks and Philosophy, Geography, natural History, Naval Architecture, navigation, Commerce and Agriculture, in order to give their Children a right to study Painting, Poetry, Musick, Architecture, Statuary, Tapestry and Porcelaine.”

So what’s your point? Yes, I know Ipswich is now home to many, many artists. Yes, wonderful artists, I agree. Well, I never thought of it that way, but yes, I guess you could say John Adams’s dream has come true in Ipswich. So you want to celebrate this? By erecting fabulous works of art smack in the middle of our historical spaces?

I’m very disappointed in you, Gordon. I thought you were one of us.

Is there a motion to adjourn?

Doug Brendel lives among numerous works of contemporary art in a 198-year-old house on outer Linebrook. Click “Follow” to get his posts in your inbox

Meet Me in Meats


I’m so grateful to the Town of Rowley for setting up the Ipswich Community Center.

I’m talking about the Market Basket on Route 1. This is truly a convenient, and inexpensive, gathering place for Ipswich residents. I almost never visit Market Basket without bumping into friends or acquaintances from our fine town.

It’s a good thing to have a community center. It fosters, uh, community. You can catch up on the latest neighborhood gossip while waiting for your number to be called at the deli counter. You can slander selectmen in Sodas. Swap start-of-school-year stories between Sugar and Spice. Maybe you’ll be lucky enough to swing around the end of the deodorant section and find yourself face-to-face with that special someone who’s been avoiding you because they still owe you money. (Ahem: You know who you are.)

Market Basket is really the only feasible place for an Ipswich community center. Every other possibility has some disqualifying hindrance:

  • The Performing Arts Center is out; it’s too big, and you have to rent it in advance. You don’t have to rent Market Basket; you can walk in anytime it’s open, totally free of charge. No need to plan ahead! Drop in and see who’s there! Say! Stevie! S’happenin’?
  • Zumi’s and Sofia’s are out; they can’t handle more than a few of our 13,175 residents at once, and neither takes plastic. Market Basket, on the other hand, can accommodate hundreds of Ipswich residents at once. I know this because of the hundreds of Ipswich residents I’ve run into there on a single grocery run. Plus, at Market Basket, you can pay with an actual modern-day debit or credit card. Imagine!
  • Shaw’s is out. Sure, it’s more or less centrally located in our town, just 1.2 miles from the geographical center of Ipswich; but some folks feel Shaw’s is too small too, or too pricey, or the selection too limited. At Market Basket, you can find pretty much whatever you want — and they have aisles wide enough for a four- or five-neighbor confab. I haven’t actually seen Tammy and Tanya set up camp chairs in Canned Vegetables and turn the kids loose for an hour or two, but I think it’s theoretically possible.
  • The library is out; you have to be quiet there. At Market Basket, when you happen to notice a fellow Ipswich resident, even if you’re squeezing avocados and they’re all the way up in Potatoes, you can call out their name — “Yo, Billy!” “Dude!” — and nobody will shush you. Rowley hardly requires any permits.

You think you have a better location in mind for an Ipswich Community Center? I’d like to hear it. Forget En Fuego; what if someone doesn’t like Mexican food? Forget the Visitor Center; crowds make the volunteers nervous. Forget Old Town Hall — unless you’ve got a couple million lying around for renovations. I think we can also rule out anyplace that does fancy weddings or secret handshakes — so don’t even think Hellenic or Masonic.

Some say the Ipswich Farmers Market, on Memorial Green, is the perfect community gathering place. I agree — up to a point. But it’s only on Wednesday afternoons, and sometimes you may want to chit-chat with your neighbors on, say, a Saturday morning, when you don’t have a thing in the house to feed the kids, or a Thursday evening, when you suddenly realize you’re out of toilet paper. A community center is also better without mosquitoes. Plus, by the end of October, the Farmers Market will pass on to wherever farmers markets go in winter. (Woburn?) Soon thereafter, our Green will be a craggy, frozen subcontinent, like a massive slick of tragically spilled mud-flavored Italian ices — and Market Basket will still be toasty warm, with staffers smiley and perky and inviting.

So make no mistake, the place to meet your Ipswich pals is Market Basket. In Rowley. Also, because Market Basket is in Rowley, you get all these wonderful benefits without costing the Town of Ipswich one thin dime.