You Look Like a Million Bucks

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I am not very good at arithmetic. I’m not even sure how to spell it.

So when somebody talks about “a million,” I am not really confident about how many zeroes might be in there.

But if you talk about a million dollars, I can tell you this: I’m impressed.

For my own safety and that of my family, my wife keeps our books — far away from me. I’m not even sure where our “books” are, or what they look like. In any case, however, I have never heard my bookkeeper-wife use the term “million” in any conversation about our family finances. I’ve heard her use phrases like “overdraft” and “severe austerity” and “hand over your MasterCard,” but never “million.”

On the other hand, I am proud to live among millionaires. I didn’t realize, when I scanned the entire planet and chose a town to move to, that Ipswich has millionaires. In fact, we have plenty of millionaires. The Boston Business Journal recently released a “Research Alert” that shows how many people who earn $1 million or more per year live in each Massachusetts city and town.

We made the list! I’m so happy!

And we made a pretty good showing, in my opinion — although without any help from me. We’ve got more million-dollar earners than Topsfield. We beat out Danvers, too. We creamed Newbury and West Newbury. We left Rockport, Essex, and Georgetown in the dust.

And let’s not even talk about Rowley. Rowley only has four million-dollar earners. Ipswich has 41!

Now please understand: These are no mere millionaires. A “millionaire” is defined as someone who has income and assets totaling a million or more. If you’re in a contest, racing to achieve “millionaire” status, you can pile up your house, your savings, your investments — or at least this is what a friend has explained to me; I have no personal experience with the concept of “savings” or “investments.” But anyway, once you add up all this stuff, you get to a million dollars a lot more quickly.

But the Boston Business Journal study looked at people who actually have a million dollars or more coming in every year. This is a lot of money.

And it makes me feel even more confident about living in Ipswich. There’s money flowing in! Plus, we have really good millionaires. Our Ipswich millionaires don’t just make a million dollars. Our Ipswich millionaires make an average of almost $2.5 million a year. Rowley’s millionaires don’t even make an average of $1.8 million. Our millionaires could take their millionaires any day of the week.

The Journal report also shows that here in Ipswich, we have one million-dollar earner every 1.3 square miles. Having struggled to do the math, I believe this must mean, if you take all those Open Spaces out of the equation, you have one million-dollar earner for every 0.65 square miles. Then subtract our 10 square miles of water, and the number is even smaller. Think of it! You can hardly swing a cat in this town without hitting a millionaire!

Of course, the millionaire report didn’t provide the names of the individual millionaires. Keep your eyes open. If you suspect someone of being an Ipswich millionaire, report back right away via Millionaires@DougBrendel.com. Watch for key clues, including but not limited to the following: Gold-plated snowblower. Dollar bills as kindling. Limo to Transfer Station. Helicopter to Town Meeting. Steady stream of visitors from Hamilton. Extravagant use of Town garbage bags.

Once we identify these guys, I’m tellin’ ya, happy days are here again. We have hardly any problems, here in Ipswich, that a few generous millionaires couldn’t solve. I can hardly wait!

Summer’s Almost Here

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We can take them.

We’re Ipswich, after all.

Boston is bidding for the 2024 Summer Olympics. But let’s stay realistic, Boston. Let’s keep in mind that it can be draining for any big city to host the Olympics. Rome hosted the Summer Olympics in 1960, and they’re now expressing an interest in going up against Boston for 2024 — which actually says that Rome, after its last go-round with the Summer Olympics, needed 64 years to heal up.

Sure, Boston can handle it. Nothing against Boston. But I think it would be reasonable to point out that the 2024 Summer Olympics won’t take place for another nine-and-a-half years, and the world will be a different place by then. (During the 2024 Summer Olympics, my middle-schooler will be drinking legally. My wife will be on Medicare. And I’ll be frantically snooping around to unplot any plots being plotted for a surprise birthday party celebrating my 70th.)

What I’m saying is, by 2024, Ipswich could be ready.

The folks pushing for Boston to host the 2024 Summer Olympics are, in my humble opinion, not thinking small enough. The 2024 Summer Olympics should happen here. In Ipswich.

Looking out my window, thinking ahead a decade, I also believe that by the summer of 2024, these mountains of snow may have almost begun to melt.

For the first time in history, the Summer Olympics will feature a giant slalom competition. In my yard. In the snow drifts. You start in Chris and Tammy’s side yard and eventually shoot down to Linebrook Road. If you survive, the podium is over there at Ronnie’s house.

The Ipswich Summer Olympics will also feature a number of other traditional winter sports in classic Ipswich venues: Men’s and woman’s downhill (my yard). Bobsleigh (my yard). Cross-country skiing (my yard). Luge (my yard). Figure skating (Hood Pond).

Biathlon, cross-country skiing and rifle-shooting: Old Right Road.

Curling — do you even know what curling is? It’s not bicep stuff. Curling is something like shuffleboard on ice. (Isn’t it?) It was an Olympic sport in 1924, then they apparently decided it was too silly, and didn’t bring it back till 1998. Anyway, at the Ipswich Olympics, curling will happen on Pitcairn’s Way, just off of Plains Road.

Ice hockey has also been an Olympic sport since 1924. Ipswich will be able to keep it alive — in July. Sadly, our school children will be unable to attend any of our Olympic events, because they’ll still be in school, making up snow days.

Speed skating: High Street.

Look at the many other advantages we bring to the whole Summer Olympics experience:

* We will offer easy access to Logan International Airport, without the problem of how to park in Boston. I’m thinking we position IHS cheerleaders all over the airport handing out attractive little fliers. Headline: “Disembark But Do Not Park!” Underneath the headline, visitors will find

Simple Directions to Ipswich

“1A north (keep left) to 60W (keep right) to 1N (keep left) to 128/95N split (keep right) (Wait! You needed to keep right sooner!) to 1N (no, we were not messing with you; you need to take 1N again, even though you took 1N before: This time, take 1N toward Topsfield) to Ipswich Road (turn right), to downtown — YOUR IPSWICH OLYMPIC VENUE!”

* We can arm Citizen’s Query participants with arrows, and do the official Olympic archery competition in the Board of Selectmen’s room at Town Hall.

* Our boxing and fencing competitions will be cost-free, conducted entirely on Facebook.

* The Olympic Committee will want a badminton event. My desert-rat elder daughter, visiting Ipswich this summer during her senior year at Arizona State, was horrified to find that we didn’t have a badminton net in our backyard. She bought and installed one, and as far as I know, it is still there, under a mass of snow twice as high as any badminton net on the planet. If it emerges in the thaw we all hope eventually happens, we could do the Olympic Badminton event in my backyard. BYO lawn chair.

* I will personally oversee the canoeing event, which by then will have been an official Olympic sport for 88 years. I feel this is only right since I am one of the few people who has personally turned over a canoe in the Ipswich River.

* Equestrian events. No problem. Anything we can’t handle, we subcontract to Hamilton.

* Soccer events will occur on the Mile Lane fields. If additional space is needed, the issue will be taken up at Town Meeting and, I’m sure, speedily approved. After a number of years, perhaps, the space needed for our current student body will also be appropriated.

* Ping-pong, an Olympic event since 1988, will happen in the gym at Town Hall. My mother, who at 82 still beats me at ping-pong, will defend her championship at the age of 94, and successfully.

* Sailing events will commence from the Town wharf. Ipswich boaters who feel they know more than anybody else about sailing will co-officiate. Accordingly, this Olympic event will have more officials than competitors.

The Ipswich Olympics. It’s our future. Additional ideas are welcome via email: Olympics@DougBrendel.com.

How? Snow Way

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The Rotary Club of Ipswich is not a collection of people easily daunted. But then this is not a winter for using the adverb “easily” easily.

The Rotarians were planning to demonstrate their undauntability by participating in a frightful annual fundraising event called the “Polio Polar Plunge.” Three hundred otherwise rational people planned to jump into the frigid waters of Long Beach — not in California; in Gloucester, Massachusetts — on Saturday, January 31st. The ultra-worthwhile cause: eradicating polio in the last three countries on earth where it still plagues us — Afghanistan, Pakistan, Nigeria.

But Mother Nature didn’t give a rip about the cause, worthwhile or not. I imagine she staggered out of bed that morning — hung over, and angry about it — looked out of her smoke-stained bedroom window, gazed down at the Town of Ipswich, growled “This ain’t Nigeria!”, and unleashed that nasty blizzard out of sheer spite.

Consequently, even the crazy extremists — intent on flinging themselves into the icy waters of the Atlantic Ocean — in the dead of winter — couldn’t get through the snow and wind to the fling-point to do their flinging.

So the Rotary Club’s annual Polio Polar Plunge has been moved to Saturday, March 7th, at 10:30 a.m. The weather will almost certainly be better by then. The tragedy of this postponement, of course, is that we may never get to see Rotarians Bob Gravino, George Gray, Keith Harris, Ingrid Miles, and Superintendent of Schools Bill Hart hauled out of the Atlantic Ocean in the form of human popsicles.

Meanwhile, Ipswich remains buried in record-shattering mountains of snow. Ice hockey tournaments have been postponed; apparently you can have too much ice for hockey. Tedford’s sold out of those chemical pellets you use to combat ice dams on your roof; unfortunately none of these customers have yet been able to find their roofs.

The warning sign at Hood Pond — “Caution: Ice May Not Be Safe” — is mostly obscured by snow. The sign seems silly now, anyway, since you would need to tunnel, drill, or somehow burrow through the snow-equivalent of Mount Washington to even reach the ice. It’s also silly to suggest that the ice might not be strong enough to walk on. It’s obviously strong enough to support the 261,360,078 pounds of snow already parked on it.

The waves of snowstorms hitting Ipswich have led to a record number of other cancellations. Kindly take note of the following:

  • The Outer Linebrook Build-a-Snowman competition has been suspended. We are still looking for little Brandon out there somewhere.
  • The annual Bialek Park snowball fight has been postponed until we can find the park.
  • The Heart-Safe Snow-Shoveling seminar will be rescheduled after a successor is found for lecturer Kerwin Fladge, whose funeral is Monday.

Also please note: It has been rumored that operating a snow plow in Ipswich requires a permit from the Town of Ipswich. This can’t possibly be true. Town Hall is an enormous igloo. Someone has dug a tiny tunnel in to the Collector’s window so Ann Wright can sell beach stickers, but beyond this, I don’t know of anything happening at Town Hall.

One final suggestion for those who, out of the kindness of their hearts, wish to continue feeding the birds. Normally you could toss birdseed out onto the snow in your yard. Regrettably, the snow banks are now so high, only Olympic-champion javelin-throwers can get the birdseed launched high enough for the birds to find it. We are happy to offer this simple do-it-yourself solution:

  1. Place a reasonable amount of birdseed into a paper cupcake liner.
  2. Find one of your flip-flops. Yes, that footwear you can almost remember wearing to the beach a hundred years ago, last time it was warm around here.
  3. Turn the flip-flop upside down, and carefully place the cupcake liner of birdseed near the toe of the sole.
  4. Holding the toe firmly, carefully pull the heel end of the flip-flip down. Feel the tension in the rubber? This is a good thing.
  5. Extend your arms at an angle to aim your makeshift catapult at a point above the top of the snow bank.
  6. Let go of the toe. The cupcake liner full of birdseed should be propelled through the air and onto the snow far beyond your view.

Warning: If this procedure leaves you with a load of birdseed in your hair, your angle was too high.

Caution: If your launch is successful, but you subsequently hear a yelp and a stream of curse words, you just nailed your neighbor.

We ARE a Time Capsule, Aren’t We?

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That was pretty exciting, the opening of that time capsule in Boston.

It was assembled in 1795 by no lesser celebs than midnight-rider Paul Revere and failed brewer-turned Governor Samuel Adams (190 years before his name was finally attached to a successful beer).

The time capsule was actually a cigar-box-sized container made of copper, embedded in the cornerstone of the 1798 statehouse on Beacon Hill.

It took a team of supremely patient professional chiselers seven hours to chisel the ten-pound box out, and four more hours just to loosen the screws holding it shut. And before opening the box, the team X-rayed it — maybe they were concerned about a booby-trap?

But finally, the time capsule was opened, and the world learned of its inventory.

Revere and Adams had jammed the time capsule with so much stuff — and the conservators had to be so careful with the possibly-fragile contents — it took another hour to meticulously lift out all the items, using a porcupine quill and an old dental tool.

“It was like brain surgery,” said Malcolm Rogers, director of Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts, although hardly anybody does brain surgery with a porcupine quill anymore.

To tell the truth, some of the thrill of opening this time capsule was diminished by the fact that this wasn’t the first time it had been unearthed and opened. In 1855 (when, by the way, the Governor of Massachusetts happened to be from the Know-Nothing Party), officials took the stuff out, cleaned it all up, put it all back, and then jammed in a few 1855 treasures for good measure.

Ultimately, the stash turned out to include five folded newspapers (the Chronicle not among them), a seal of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, a title page from Massachusetts colonial records, a couple dozen coins, and a silver plate (probably made by silversmith Revere).

I’m a history fan, but I confess, I was disappointed.

I was hoping for some shockers: an embarrassing cartoon of Sam’s cousin John (who happened to be President at the time), or some Congregationalist’s secret Catholic church membership card, or a section of Mrs. Revere’s bodice.

I do believe Ipswich can do better today than Boston did back then.

I’ve begun a list of items for a time capsule, which I believe should be buried under Old Town Hall. We’ll need something significantly larger than a cigar box, however. Perhaps an official Town of Ipswich garbage bag?

Here’s what I have in mind so far:

  1. As a symbol of dedication to public service: Shirley Berry’s sunglasses and baseball cap — the implements that enabled her to persevere for so long as our duly elected selectman even after her unfortunate accident and wretched subsequent impairments. (Label to be affixed to the artifacts: “Devices of Democracy!”)
  2. One (1) green crab, representing the 147 quintillion destroying our aquatic ecosystem — with instructions to destroy the little monster.
  3. To position Ipswich as cutting-edge, if only in its cuisine: One (1) serving of Salt Kitchen’s “fried milk” (where the menu description actually says “Trust us” and nothing more). I imagine a Star Wars-type hologram of Salt’s mad-scientist chef Chris Tighe jumping out of the time capsule in his kitchen hat and apron, crying, “Eat this, Obi-wan Kenobi; you’re my only hope.”
  4. To demonstrate our commitment to the rule of law: One (1) enormous million-terabyte hard drive containing the Ipswich building code and all Ipswich public health regulations — plus maybe a smaller thousand-terabyte thumb drive containing only a comprehensive listing of this past year’s violations.
  5. To certify the veracity of all the stuff in our time capsule: One (1) official Ipswich Town Historian Gordon Harris bobble-head doll.

Please, please: Contact me via TimeCapsule@DougBrendel.com if you have other ideas. I don’t want people opening the Ipswich time capsule 200 years from now to say, “Aw, how lame.”

One (1) final note: I’m not convinced that opening the time capsule every century or so is really adequate. If we can make the Ipswich time capsule big enough, it would be great to dig it up twice a year, and have Town Moderator Tom Murphy jump out of it, crowing, “Hellooooo, Ipswich! It’s time for Town Meeting!”

This could make Town Meeting more of an event, and attendance at Town Meeting more like attending, say, the Oscars.

Doug Brendel lives in an enormous 2-sq.-mi. time capsule known as “outer Linebrook.” His latest book, “Diggin’ Ipswich,” is available at Ipswich Greetings & Gifts on Market St.

And So It Goes

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I haven’t lived here long, but I have lived here long enough to fall in love. And to hurt the way love hurts when someone leaves.

About a week before Christmas, I emailed my pal.

“Hi, Joel! How are you, my friend? I haven’t seen you around for a long time and I think of you often. So I thought I’d check in and see if you’re OK. Hugs from outer Linebrook! Love, Doug.”

As a P.S., I added my phone number, “if I can be of any help to you. Merry Christmas!”

I thought I was being gracious to an old guy.

When my wife Kristina was operating Time & Tide Fine Art on Market Street, Joel was there first, for every gallery event. A senior citizen, a quiet fellow, shortish and roundish and baldish, with large eyes that gave him the look of an eager owl, and a head freckled with age spots. He always arrived early. He wanted to choose a good seat. After witnessing his faithfulness year after year, I only half-jokingly suggested we should present him with a lifetime free pass to Time & Tide events.

You often saw him walking downtown, or found him at the Senior Center in the basement of Town Hall. Conversations with Joel were friendly and serious. He seemed to appreciate, deeply, every effort we were making to support the arts scene in downtown Ipswich. I loved this guy.JoelCaverly

I was most amazed, and most pleased, when Joel showed up for a gallery event intended to benefit New Thing, the humanitarian charity that my wife and I lead in the former USSR. He was eager to receive our emailed photo reports. He wanted to learn. And, I guess, to be involved. From time to time, after that evening, a donation would arrive in the mail: To New Thing. From Joel. I always raced to send a thank-you via email. But he never replied. He was just always there, the next time, around the next corner.

Eventually, vaguely, I realized I hadn’t seen him or heard from him in a while. My chatty Christmastime email went unanswered.

I don’t make it a habit to scan the obituaries in each week’s Chronicle.

You realize how busy you are when you finally think to search online for a friend’s obituary, and find it, and it’s not recent.

“Joel G. Caverly, 74, died Friday, June 20, 2014 in the Ledgewood Rehabilitation Center, Beverly following his brief illness.”

June! Summer! What was I doing, while my friend Joel was suffering, struggling for life? I consulted my calendar. Humiliating results. As Joel was grappling with ultimate questions of eternity, I was deciding how to dodge attending a fundraising event, grousing about my wife’s obligation at a Town committee meeting, and — along with many fellow Ipswich residents — enjoying a leisurely summer’s afternoon at the Ipswich Farmer’s Market.

I wasn’t as close to him, in real life, as I felt to him in my heart. Wasn’t close enough for his family or friends to call me with the news of his departure. Wasn’t really in his world, like he was in mine.

I was stunned to realize that my friend was not only gone, but had been gone for half a year. Half a year? If his name had come up in casual conversation, I would have told you I was in touch with Joel Caverly “all the time” — or at least “frequently” — or certainly “from time to time.” Was my life racing by so fast that an acquaintance could fail to show up on my radar for half a year before I noticed?

His obituary was a revelation. This unassuming guy, an Ipswich native, had been a multi-talented musician, teaching music for more than a quarter-century in Port of Spain, the capital of Trinidad and Tobago, in the Caribbean, where he lived for more than 40 years. By the time he left the islands to return to Ipswich, in 2010, he was something of a celebrity; his departure was big news there, and met with great sadness.

On Monday, June 23, I was sitting in the bleachers, in the gym at the middle school, cheering for my daughter, who won three awards. At the very same moment, a few blocks down High Street, the folks at Whittier-Porter Funeral Home were preparing for Joel’s service later that day. Unbeknownst to me, Joel had already departed.

“And so it goes, and so it goes,” says the old Billy Joel song. “And so will you too, I suppose.”

A couple summers ago, I began attending Ascension Church. I usually sit in the fourth row, on the left, under the historic plaque that commemorates Somebody Appleton Somebody. Behind me, on my left, there was almost always a slender, elegant white-haired lady. She had to move carefully, to and from the altar rail for Communion. Her high, fluty voice was halting. But it was soon more than clear that she was bursting with life. She charmed me with her killer smile, her twinkling eyes, and her love of conversation.

It didn’t take me long to fall in love with Lucy Appleton Potter, age 87.

She was enthusiastically curious. It’s hard not to adore someone who wants to know all about you. She was fascinated by our work in the former USSR, and I was surprised and grateful to see how she pushed her fellow members on the church missions committee to support the cause.

But enough about my stuff. After a year of after-church conversations, I wanted to know more about Lucy. So on her last day in town before Thanksgiving, I took her to lunch. The next day — I was horrified to learn, over lunch — she would drive to Connecticut, to her daughter’s place, for the holiday.

“You’re driving? Alone?”

“Of course!” Lucy squeaked. “I’ll be fine.” Then she paused. “Of course, I do have something of a heavy foot.” Her eyes danced. “I’ve always believed that the safest place on the road is the fast lane.” And she laughed.

Suppressing my alarm, I asked her about her family history. Was she one of the Appletons who appear on so many plaques at the Episcopal church? No, she explained. “The problem was that there were too many Appleton brothers for this small town. So some went to Lowell, and some went to Haverhill.” She rolled her eyes with a mock-smirk. “We were only the Haverhill Appletons.” And she laughed again.

Lucy was an avid traveler — she famously rode a dolphin in the Bahamas, and an elephant in Thailand, in her 80s — and old age was simply an annoyance to her. She loved tennis, and even after knee surgery, she was still intent on returning to the court. “Doug!” she barked. “It wasn’t till I was 86 that I realized, I’m elderly!” And she laughed even more.

A couple Sundays ago, Lucy found me during coffee hour after church. I’d been shooting casual photos of parishioners for a new online church directory, and Lucy was ready for her close-up. I clicked away as she sat on a couch, chatting with my seventh-grader, Lydia. After 24 years as an Ipswich teacher, Lucy wanted to hear about school. Eventually the conversation somehow wound around to a medical issue Lucy had faced in the fall. She was still outraged. “They kept me in the hospital for two weeks!” she fumed to Lydia, chuckling. “Two weeks of my life!”

Then, still smiling, she turned to me. “But that’s how it goes, at this stage of life. I’m not getting in enough tennis!

And she laughed yet again.Lucy

She chose her favorite from among the photos I’d shot, and that afternoon I put it in the directory. Barely 100 hours later, in the midst of a lovely dinner out with a friend, Lucy’s beautiful heart decided it couldn’t keep up with her anymore.

“Life is short,” the minister says at the end of every service, “and we do not have much time to gladden the hearts of those who journey the way with us. So be swift to love, and make haste to be kind.”

Short indeed.

But I’m happy I was in her world. Close enough to get the news, when she slipped away.

Her funeral was Saturday. It was full of laughter. No surprise.

“And so it goes, and so it goes….”