You Can Get There From Here


I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to be entering old age — proven by the fact that my youngest child is now at Ipswich High School and recklessly approaching driving age.

Lydia Charlotte will soon need to master driving in Ipswich. Please note that this is not exactly the same as mastering plain old “driving.” Many driving-related phenomena in Ipswich require special skills which are not required — or even recommended — elsewhere.

For example, Lydia Charlotte will eventually need her hair styled. This means she will need to get herself from our home on Planet Outer Linebrook to Detangles on Short Street, where Kathy Gelsomini has been responsible for Brendel family hair ever since we moved to town.

Dear daughter: I offer you this basic primer in getting from here to there.

This journey, of less than five miles, should take only 10 minutes. You simply follow Linebrook Road across Route 1, past Marini, past the Catholic church, to the stop sign at Lord’s Square. All of this can be accomplished with the most rudimentary of driving skills.

Here, however — at Lord’s Square — you will need special abilities, rare insights, and perhaps a dash of luck. For here, you must cross the street, moving from the head of Linebrook Road to the head of Short Street. This is a distance of barely 80 feet, but it is likely to be an extraordinary adventure, vividly remembered for a long time to come, possibly during therapy sessions.

First, prepare yourself for the navigation process. Note that you are crossing not one but two state routes, both 133 and 1A, which means you may be dealing with eastbound traffic from Georgetown competing with southbound traffic from Newbury, as well as westbound traffic from Gloucester competing with northbound traffic from Hamilton. The folks approaching Lord’s Square from your right will likely be disoriented by the sharp curve in the road, as they’re forced to bend toward the dog-leg at High Street. The folks approaching from your left will be even more disoriented, because they will have just experienced the dog-leg at High Street. You may actually catch a glimpse of these drivers mouthing the words “What just happened?”

Even if traffic thins out enough to convince you that you have time to gun the accelerator and bolt across the road to Short Street, please don’t — at least not until you have glanced to your right, to see if anyone is sitting at the head of Liberty Street, also hoping to leap into the fray. Whomever you may see sitting at that stop sign, do not — I repeat, do not, under any circumstances — make eye contact with them. They are trapped on a one-way street which should go the opposite direction but doesn’t, and it’s possible that they’ve been sitting at that stop sign for some number of hours, watching in vain for an opportunity to pull into traffic and get on with their lives. One woman who lives on Liberty Street reportedly raised her five children in her minivan at the Liberty Street stop sign. In such straits, a driver to your right, waiting on Liberty Street, may be fidgety, even desperate, so at any moment they may do something irrational. Or even something emotional — like clasping their hands and miming a plea of anguish — just to get your sympathy. So whatever you do, do not look directly at the Liberty Street driver. Just keep track of them, out of the corner of your eye, so you’re not accidentally broadsided by them when you finally make your move.

When you finally feel that you have enough time to cross the street without being clobbered, I urge you to hit the gas. This is no time for timidity. You have to move your vehicle some 80 feet — nearly two-hundredths of a mile — before you can relax again. In a situation like this, my dear daughter, there is no shame in leaving skid marks on the asphalt. And if you find yourself fainting with fright, uneasy about mashing the accelerator, just remember: Until you get to Detangles, your hair looks terrible.

I’m sorry I can’t teach you in this session everything you’ll need to know about driving in Ipswich, but please know that I love you, I’m committed to you, I’ll pay your hospital bills as necessary — and I promise to keep coaching you as best I can. Future lessons include:

  • How to Survive When Three Drivers Simultaneously Approach the Railroad Crossing in Front of the Ipswich Sports Bar
  • Where You Can Turn Left at Five Corners and Where You Can’t
  • How to Get to the Neck Without a Boat During High Tide

And maybe most important of all:

  • How to Get Off Argilla Road Onto County.




A Nightmare in One Act


Restaurant Owner: [seated at desk, suddenly bolts upright] Health Inspector! I didn’t hear you come in!

Health Inspector: I think you were dozing.

Owner: [stammering] I — I’m — I’m sorry! Is that a violation?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Not at all, my friend, not at all. You’re a hard-working Ipswich business owner. You need your rest.

Owner: [sweating] I don’t! I don’t need any rest! I’m fine! I’m sorry I was dozing! I can handle this business! I need this business! Please don’t shut down my restaurant!

Inspector: [laughing warmly] Oh, my friend, no worries. I’m not here to shut you down. Far from it! [clears throat] Now then. Let’s take a little walk through your kitchen, shall we?

Owner: [mumbling] Oh God.

Inspector: [laughing warmly, as Owner follows nervously] Oh please, don’t call me that.

Owner: [sweating] Sorry. [genuflects] To both of You.

Inspector: [arriving at kitchen, pulls thermometer out of pocket, plunges it into meatloaf] You know, my friend, as I slipped in here a few moments ago, I saw one of your kitchen workers handling food with their bare hands. You know that’s a no-no, don’t you?

Owner: Handling food? With their bare hands?

Inspector: Yes, my friend. When a customer added a cookie to his order at the last moment, the clerk added a cookie to the plate — with her bare hands.

Owner: I’ll — I’ll — I’ll make sure it never happens again!

Inspector: Now let’s check that meatloaf [chuckling], make sure it doesn’t have a fever. [chuckling, retrieves thermometer from meatloaf, examines it] Oh my.

Owner: “Oh my”? “Oh my”? What does “Oh my” mean?

Inspector: This meatloaf is 42 degrees.

Owner: [kneading fingers] 42 degrees?

Inspector: Fahrenheit.

Owner: Oh no! Not Fahrenheit!

Inspector: Yes, I’m afraid so. 42 degrees Celsius would have been legal.

Owner: Oh God!

Inspector: I told you not to call me that.

Owner: No, sorry, I was actually praying.

Inspector: [smiling warmly] You know, of course, that you have to reheat cooked food to 165 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours and throw out cooked food not reheated to 165 degrees Fahrenheit within two hours — right?

Owner: [pulling handkerchief from pocket] Yes! Yes, I knew that! [wiping upper lip with handkerchief; stopping suddenly] Wait — is it legal to wipe my upper lip with my handkerchief?

Inspector: [laughing warmly] Yes, of course! Just so long as you put it back in the same pocket. Without letting it touch anything else. Just like ordinary, everyday, regular, normal people do.

Owner: [breathing a bit heavily, putting handkerchief back in the same pocket] Yes, I’m ordinary. I’m regular. [brightening a bit] We run our business that way! We prepare and serve food the way people do at home!

Inspector: [laughing warmly] Of course you do! That’s what I love about this place!

Owner: [frowning] You do?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Of course I do! [moving to sink] Now, let me draw your attention to this hand sink. [pointing] Look down there. What do you see?

Owner: [looking, frowning] A little piece of food?

Inspector: Yes.

Owner: Uh, so?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Well, you know, I’m sure, that there shouldn’t be any dishes washed, or any food disposed of, in the hand sink. It’s a silly regulation, I know, but the hand sink is only for washing hands. Hands. [holding up hands] Hands. [turning hands around, back and forth] Only hands.

Owner: [looking puzzled] Uh, yes, OK, I totally get that, but, uh, what if the thing the employee is washing off of their hands in the hand sink is food? And a little bit of food winds up in the hand sink?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Let’s move on. I see you have a coffee mug sitting there on your slicer.

Owner: It was tea, actually, but yes — I see it there. Yes.

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Well, that’s not technically allowed. [leaning in to Owner] I know it’s outrageous, but it’s a regulation. [wincing deviously, speaking quietly] Don’t tell anybody, but I set my mug down wherever I damn well please at home! [snorts]

Owner: [chuckling uneasily] OK.

Inspector: [looking around; opening ice machine] See here? There are two spots of mold.

Owner: [backing off, horrified] We empty out that freezer and sanitize it regularly! [peering in] Are you sure that’s not my daughter’s Halloween food coloring?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Maybe you’re right. [opening recycling bin] Look in here. Three flies. And they’re not even alive.

Owner: [peering into the recycling bin] Wow. My bad. I don’t think you can recycle dead flies. Maybe their wings, on “filmy plastics” day?

Inspector: [chuckling warmly] You can’t recycle live ones, either. If they’re in the Ipswich Recycles bin, they’re just not in the right place! See? They need to be over there [pointing] — in the Ipswich Curbside Compost bin.

Owner: [breaking down in tears] I’m doomed! Doomed!

Inspector: [smiling warmly, slipping an encouraging arm around Owner’s shoulder] There, there. Everything is going to be all right.

Owner: [slumping into chair, weeping] All I’ve ever done is prepare and serve food the way people in Ipswich have prepared and served food in their homes for 380 years!

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Now, look. Settle down. I realize I’m a little fixated on “food contact surfaces” being separated from “personal eating, drinking, and smoking.” [growing more and more grim] But if one of your kitchen employees goes out back for a smoke, and they munch a Slim Jim, and there’s fleck of Slim Jim on their face when they come back into your kitchen, and they wash their hands, and that fleck of Slim Jim falls off their face into the hand sink, well, that just freaks me out.

Owner: [leaning away, fearfully] Yes, I can see that.

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Here’s the truth, my friend. You and I both know that a lot of the health regulations are ridiculous. And others are too extreme. A few are important — you want to store food at temperatures where pathogens can’t grow, right? Because pathogens are very bad. But for most part, to tell you the truth, you can cook here in your restaurant kitchen the same way you cook in your kitchen at home, and everything is going to be OK.

Owner: [fidgeting nervously] It is?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] The important thing is, we need to keep you open. Lots of people enjoy this place. Ipswich needs you. We don’t want you to have to close, just because a housefly tried to be recycling martyr.

Owner: [chuckles nervously]

Inspector: [smiling warmly, taking a deep breath] Now then. I’m going to slip outside for a cigarette. I’m going to call my grandchildren in Indiana. It’s Moonglow’s fourth birthday! And then, in about an hour, I’m going to come back in here. With my clipboard. And I’m going to do an inspection. An OFFICIAL inspection.

Owner: [quivers]

Inspector: [smiling warmly] I figure by that time, you’ll have anything and everything ready for me to sign off on. Spit spot! Perfectly perfect! Ready or not! Right?

Owner: [shivers] Right.

Inspector: [leans in to Owner, earnestly, smiling warmly] Because you know what will happen if you don’t pass the OFFICIAL inspection, don’t you?

Owner: [quaking] You’ll shut me down?

Inspector: [hugging Owner warmly with one arm, guffawing] No, of course not! We have so many empty storefronts in Ipswich already, the last thing I want to do is create another one! You silly goose!

Owner: [chuckling weakly]

Inspector: [hugging Owner even more warmly] No, if you don’t pass this inspection, I’m going to tell the Ipswich Chronicle.

Owner: [chuckling even more weakly] The Chronicle?

Inspector: [pulling away; gleam in eye] You’ll be page one news! “Restaurant Fails Health Inspection!” [hugging Owner more warmly than ever, smiling more warmly than ever] Who will want to eat in your restaurant if you get that kind of press? Now we don’t want that kind of trouble, do we, my friend?

Owner: [chuckling more weakly than ever] No, we don’t, do we.

Inspector: [letting Owner go] And of course, for repeat violations, we have no choice but to take even more extreme measures.

Owner: [trembling] More extreme?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] Yes. I’ll have to put a great big notice in your window, detailing every single one of your violations. That would be horrible, now, wouldn’t it.

Owner: [collapsing into chair, breathing hard] A notice in my window.

Inspector: [smiling warmly, placing hand gently on Owner’s shoulder] I’m afraid so, my friend. And that would break my heart.

Owner: [looking up, dazedly] You’re so — so — gentle. You’re — you’re like — Andy Griffith!

Inspector: [smiling warmly, turning to go] That’s the beauty of life in small-town America, my friend. We do everything we can to help each other succeed. [at front door] All right, neighbor, I’ll see you soon. And remember: I’m committed to keeping Ipswich businesses open. The most important thing is to keep you going strong! Bringing in those happy customers! Filling the downtown streets with throngs of devoted shoppers! [opens door to leave] Ta-ta! See you soon!

Owner: [suddenly alert; jumping up, raising an arm] Wait!

Inspector: [stopping, turning back to Owner] Yes?

Owner: [looking utterly mystified] You’re really not going to shut me down?

Inspector: [smiling warmly] No! Of course not! [turns to go]

Owner: [looking utterly mystified] Is this really Ipswich?

Inspector: [turning back, smiling warmly] Yes! [turns again to go]

Owner: Wait!

Inspector: [stopping, turning back again, smiling warmly] Yes?

Owner: [frowning uneasily; pausing a long time] Is this a dream?

Inspector: [pausing, smiling warmly, waving jauntily, turning to go] Yes!

[Inspector exits.]

Owner: [slumping into chair] Thank God. I thought I’d died and gone to heaven.

[Owner wakes up.]



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A Prayer of (Burp) Thanks


Thank You, Lord, that we are safe here in Ipswich.

Thank You for sending beautiful Colleen, patron saint of health regulations, down from her home in faraway New Hampshire to rule over us as our public health director, to keep us safe from Zika, west Nile, black death, botulism, and inadequately polished silverware.

We are grateful that in Your mercy You bestowed upon us St. Colleen’s three angel-minions, our most high Board of Health — Susan and Margaret and Dr. Spencer — so zealously committed to the most excruciatingly arcane health regulations that we are virtually guaranteed never to be laid low by the bubonic plague due to unregistered s’mores or an under-grilled onion. Thank You for sparing us from the horror of any Ipswich eating establishment preparing food the way we do at home, where some of us actually wash our hands and our dishes in the very same sink. Forgive us, Lord.

Thank You for giving us a Board of Health ever vigilant in keeping church fundraising events from serving untagged clams, and deterring B&B’s from serving breakfast out of improperly located refrigerators. Thou hast also kept our Board of Health from the sin of worldly compromise, as they judiciously require an official variance for cheese and crackers served without a bed of ice underneath, because as Thou knowest, cheese can go bad in the twinkling of an eye. I think it was room-temperature cheese that killed my cousin Gary. Or maybe it was the crackers. May our Board of Health never sink to the depravity of the “3 R’s,” for Thou and I both know, Lord, that Realistically Relaxed Regulation would surely be the death of us. Thank you that St. Colleen and the Board of Health angels hath made it so difficult for anyone to cook, serve, or eat food in this town that we are in no danger of imbibing even a single microbe, and maybe not even a calorie. We also thank you, Lord, for the strength to survive without adequate nourishment.

Most of all, we thank You, Lord, that we will no longer be plagued by that scourge of ill health, Five Corners Café & Deli. Only You know, Lord, what infestation might have been hiding between the layers of tomorrow’s daily-special “strada.” And we know, Lord, that Thou wilt comfort the multitudes who adored this popular Ipswich institution, including those who never got sick as a result of eating at Five Corners but kept risking it all these years. Who knows what contagion might have swept through Ipswich if Five Corners Café & Deli had been allowed to continue with that basement floor in such disrepair, or that McDeli sandwich cooked without a thermometer stuck in it, or that spatula washed with ordinary Palmolive instead of Board-approved chemicals, or that delayed paperwork, or those late fees. The goofed-up paperwork was especially likely to start an epidemic, Lord; but You quashed that possibility, and we art grateful. Plus, Thou knowest how much our Town relies financially on those fees, Lord: Verily, they are becoming the backbone of our economy. At the same time, we thank Thee for the additional blessing of another empty storefront — our new trademark, for which Ipswich will soon be known far and wide; and now, thanks to thine agents of bounty and blessing, our Board of Health, we have another.

Thank you that we no longer have to put up with Leslie McCormack’s ceaseless cheer expressed through the window to the kitchen, when we now know she was sowing disease and disaster into our Java Monkey smoothies, endangering our intestinal tracts and possibly even positively affecting our moods. Thank you that the scurrilous Leslie was so exhausted by the health board’s faithful assaults that she decided not to go through the grievous process of appeal hearings and battles with the bureaucracy, but rather simply closed up shop, putting an end to this sad chapter in Ipswich history. The fact that we will never again taste Leslie’s “soup, chowder, and chili prepared fresh daily” is a small price to pay, Lord, compared to our gratitude for Thy wisdom in raising up the Ipswich Inquisition to root out this evil. Thank You for saving us from everything Five Corners foisted on us all these years: the fresh, local, seasonal produce from Marini’s Farm; the warm, fresh bread from Jessica’s Bakery; the fresh dairy products from Richardson’s Dairy; the fresh clams from the Ipswich Shellfish Company loaded into Five Corners’ acclaimed chowder — all produced within a 10-mile radius of the Café, which probably somehow brought in even more germs, now that I think about it.

And finally, I thank you, Lord, for giving my 14-year-old daughter the opportunity, these past few weeks, to work at Five Corners as her very first-ever job, and letting her leave behind that squalid hovel with a first-hand understanding of what it really means to work in the food service industry here in Ipswich: in her own words, “hassles with the Health Department.”

Lord, Thou hast done a good thing, protecting us through thy watchful servants the Board of Health. For no one can get sick at an Ipswich restaurant if there are no restaurants left. And not just restaurants, but inns, B&B’s, church events, school fundraisers, and other dangerous enterprises.

Yea, verily, no one in Ipswich will ever get spoiled food, if no food is available.



Doug Brendel lives on unwashed veggies and undercooked eggs in his home on outer Linebrook Road. Click “Follow” to get “The Outsidah” in your inbox.


Gimme a “B” … Gimme an “I”…


There’s a lot of consternation in town these days, about where to put a new elementary school.

But the earliest skirmishes are now over, and they do indeed seem to have decided one critical question: that a certain park — of the people, by the people, for the people — shall not perish from the earth.

Personally, I’m relieved. Not because I had a strong opinion about a school being situated at Bialek Park, but for a different reason altogether. For a newbie like me, the most vexing question of the entire school-location debate was the same question that has troubled me since the very first time I looked at a map of Ipswich, or drove past the intersection of Linebrook Road and Washington:


I realize this is no problem for folks who have lived here a hundred years. Bialek Park has been here forever. “Everybody” knows how to pronounce it. I’ve read that the park is named for the beloved John Bialek, who served on the Board of Selectmen and Recreation Committee, among other official bodies, co-founded Ipswich Little League, and founded Ipswich Youth Hockey, then died an untimely death in 1977. I’ve also read that his widow Sophie died, at 91, in 2007. The many loving accounts of the Bialeks’ contributions to the Town of Ipswich make me truly wish I had known them.

But as a practical matter, they came and went before I arrived in Ipswich — and, sad to say, none of these news accounts came with a pronunciation key.

The awkward fact is, if you’ve moved to Ipswich sometime in the past century, you have not necessarily heard this name pronounced out loud. You have seen and noted the name of the park, yes; but you have not necessarily said the name aloud, or used it in everyday conversation. You may have said, “Let’s take the kids to the park.” But you have not likely said, “Let’s take the kids to the park that starts with the letter B followed by what appears to be three syllables.” You just stick it in your brain, and it’s there, without pronunciation. Like “misled,” which I once thought was pronounced “myzled,” and said it that way, in my head, for years.

The other awkward fact is that more and more newcomers are moving to Ipswich, and they’re as ignorant as I am. Many newbies are willing to just wing it. They say “Bialek” whatever way they think is right. So there are people in town saying it all different kinds of ways, and you have no way of knowing whether the pronunciation you’re hearing is the authentic pronunciation or some garbled concoction thoughtlessly invented by some insensitive outsidah.

When I lived in Chicago, there was little or no park pronunciation problem. If you were taking your kid to the park, it was Grant Park or Lincoln Park. Two Presidents. Pick one. We did not name a park for Eisenhower because it was too hard to spell. But Ipswich chose Bialek. Mr. Bialek was clearly a treasure to the Town of Ipswich; but from my vantage point as a newcomer, all I can say is, “Sorry! I don’t know how to pronounce your name.”

In fact, if we apply the standard rules of English pronunciation to the letters in this name — BIALEK — there are at least 24 different ways to say it. Among them:

  1. bee-AH-leck — rhymes with “we FROLIC
  2. bye-AL-eck — sounds like “buy ALEC
  3. BEE-uh-leck — rhymes with “SEE the Neck”
  4. bye-AY-leck — sounds like “buy ALE, lick”
  5. bee-AL-eck — sounds like “be ALEC
  6. BYE-uh-leck — rhymes with “BUY the Neck”
  7. bye-ALL-eck — rhymes with “why FROLIC
  8. bee-AY-leck — sounds like “be ALE, lick”

Of course it is possible that my newfound friends here in Ipswich will think me foolish for such cluelessness. But I recently spent 8 days vacationing in the far northern reaches of Maine, and I came to the conclusion up there that the unpronouncibility of place names is directly related to the stagnation of civilization.

To inform my ignorance, please send a pronunciation key to Until then, mum’s the word.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook, an easy-to-spell street. Follow him at this misspelled blog site by clicking on the Follow button right now.


Expect Delays, Plus Bonus Features!


The Linebrook Road project is finally under way, which is a relief, because I was beginning to fear that my part of the $3 million we approved for it was being siphoned off into something else, like a feasibility study for a new beach sticker design. (I just made that up. As far as I know, there’s no plan for a new beach sticker design. Please don’t set up a new Facebook page defending the old beach sticker design.)

With the road work now actually happening, the Town of Ipswich has done the right thing by posting big flashing signs on either end of the construction zone, declaring very clearly (for all drivers who can read; I’m not suggesting whom this might leave out): “Expect Delays.” The lettering on these lighted signs is so big, in relation to the size of the sign itself, that it isn’t realistic for them to describe, at any level of specificity, everything else you should expect. But the fact is, as you approach the construction zone on Linebrook Road, there’s a lot more you should expect than delays. A lot more. A lot.

First, there’s an officer in a lime green vest, who will either motion you to “Come on, come on” or “Wait, whoa, stop, stay there.” If you’re lucky enough to get the “Wait, whoa, stop, stay there” signal, you have an opportunity to sit and ponder the DPW’s fashion decisions. Yes — definitely — you notice the lime green, and this is a good thing, because getting your attention is half the battle when they want you to stop your car before you plow into the front-end loader in the gully they’ve turned the right lane into. But really, lime green? It’s so Laugh-In. Maybe when these outfits finally wear out and it’s time to order new ones, they could go with something more fashionable, say a catchy zebra-stripe. Or sequins would be nice.

Once the fellows in lime wave you through, let me urge you to proceed slowly and carefully. Please. You are likely to be entering a one-lane passageway. It may feel like you’re the king of the road, with a man in a lime-green vest waving you through like a celebrity; but the reality is that the side-to-side space through which you must navigate this work zone is extremely narrow. They call it a one-lane road when in fact it’s something closer to eight-tenths of a lane (the same way Mile Lane is only eight-tenths of a mile long; it’s Ipswich math). Your situation is precarious. On one side of this claustrophobic crawl-through, you have somebody’s front lawn, or what’s left of it. On the other side, you have enormous yellowish-orange machines of varying sizes and functions, which you definitely do not want to challenge to a duel. Furthermore, while you’re driving through this hazardous tunnel of chaos, the enormous yellowish-orange machines are continuing to do their work. Great jaws are swinging to and fro, seeking whom they may devour. Huge wheels are rolling and grinding the earth beneath them. Chunks of New England are being pulverized before your very eyes.

You cannot be too careful. One day last week, I sneaked my tiny car through the one-lane channel like a large red snail, taking every possible precaution not to upset the complicated workings of the DPW, when suddenly a massive construction vehicle swung around into my path. It was a moment of panic for me, so I may not be remembering the details clearly, but as I recall it, this machine was something like a yellowish-orange metallic Tyrannosaurus Rex. It had a massive lower jaw, which could have easily scooped up my very small car and dumped it into the cavernous gorge it was digging along what used to be the curb. I could have been buried in rubble within seconds. I might have been reduced to texting my wife to come dig me out, and hoping she agreed to. I might have gone viral by posting my last words from my iPhone and becoming the legendary “Underground Tweeter.” Legendary, yes, but alas, dead.

So, the bottom line is, it’s not just “Expect Delays.” If they could make a sign big enough to tell you everything, it would say “Expect Delays, Be Patient, Man in Lime Green Will Get to You ASAP, Take Your Time, Prepare to Dodge T. Rex Jaws, No Shoulder, Driving on Neighbor’s Lawn is OK, In Fact, Necessary, Once You Emerge on the Other End of This Mess Please Don’t Spin Your Wheels and Kick Gravel into Man in Lime Green’s Pants Cuffs, Your Tax Dollars At Work, This Project 2% Completed, Enjoy Ipswich, Have a Nice Day.”



Doug Brendel lives on the street in question, and happily. Follow his life-in-Ipswich commentary by clicking “Follow” on this screen.


My Fireworks, ’Tis of Thee


I love my neighbors, here on Planet Outer Linebrook, and never more than on the Fourth of July, when all the illegal fireworks get set off.

This year was better than ever. Yes, outer Linebrook’s vast expanses of woods and meadows were crinkly-dry — a massive tinderbox of fire hazard just waiting to happen — but the wind was blowing gently away from my property on the evening of the Fourth. So I was able to watch the annual neighborhood fireworks from the comfort of my back porch without worrying about the incendiary sparks drifting onto my “back acre,” which at this point in the summer is mostly kindling just waiting to be ignited.

This was a standout year for fireworks out here: well planned, well timed, well executed. In past years, the neighborhood fireworks have been somewhat more amateurish:

Shoot off a few, cops get called, shoot off a few more, cops stop ya, shoot off the last of them, neighbors applaud, it’s over.

This year, it was way better:

Shoot off a few, shoot off some even better ones, shoot off the last of them, neighbors applaud.

Why? I don’t know. Either nobody called the cops, because everybody else in the neighborhood finally decided it was just fun — or the cops are just exhausted trying to tamp down all the illegal fireworks in Ipswich. It’s 32 square miles of land area, for cryin’ out loud. How does a police force of this size clamp down on such a volume of illegal fireworks? It’s like six Davids with billy-clubs against 60 Goliaths with blowtorches.

(Of course, there are also other possible explanations. You understand that fireworks are set off in racks, and if you only have one rack, then you only shoot off a few explosions at a time. If you have multiple racks, you shoot off multiple explosions at a time, and your neighbors go crazy, and you’re a hero. I have the feeling that whoever has been shooting off illegal fireworks in our outer Linebrook neighborhood ever since I moved to Ipswich somehow lost a rack, and this year had to make do with just one. This made the fireworks program a bit less compelling, but it also had the side-effect of confusing the Ipswich police. “Report of illegal fireworks on outer Linebrook.” “Never mind, they’re done.” “Illegal fireworks on outer Linebrook.” “Nope, they’re done.” “Fireworks, outer Linebrook.” “Eh, forget it.” This is a waste of town money. Kickstarter was invented for such a time as this. We could raise money for an Outer Linebrook Illegal Fireworks Rack, to get the illegal fireworks back up to standard, and to give the cops a chance. I’m going to be first in line to contribute.)

If I have one complaint about the illegal fireworks on Planet Outer Linebrook — aside from how it terrifies my cat and sets the neighborhood dogs to frenzied barking for an hour or more — it’s that you’re never quite sure when it ends. You sit on your back porch and comment — “Oh, that was a good one!” “Oh, I love those!” “That was awesome!” — but then you assume something else is coming. (Off in the distance, you may hear the crackling and booming of other illegal fireworks shows, in other neighborhoods, but you know they’re not as good as yours.) So you wait for the next shoosh, the next sizzle, the next whistle, the next flare, the crack, the blast of light, the explosion, the satisfying ka-boom. But when it doesn’t come, when you realize it’s all over for the evening, you have a sickening feeling in the pit of your stomach that you somehow should have timed your last drink to coincide with the end of the show. And since you didn’t, you have no choice but to have another.

We might ask Mr. Hill and Mr. Tarr, our Ipswich representatives to state government, to introduce a bill that says, basically, If you’re going to shoot off illegal fireworks, fine — if you get away with it — but you must finish with something that clearly indicates, “This is the big, final BOOM.” Maybe you could save all the blue ones for the end. In fireworks, we rarely see blue ones. Maybe blue ones are difficult, or expensive, or something. So it would be reasonable to save them for the end.

I hope you had a happy Fourth. We loved it, here on Planet Outer Linebrook.