Let’s All Go to School!

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For too long, Ipswich has been a town divided. Two elementary schools, two-and-a-half miles apart. East side kids and west side kids growing up in rival gangs. Every September, two worlds collide as brand-new sixth-graders come together at Ipswich Middle School practically speaking different languages. Hood Pond? What’s that? Sally’s Pond? Who’s Sally?

Soon, all this division will be nothing but a bittersweet memory. The School Committee has done its homework, they’ve surveyed parents and teachers, they’ve rendered their decision, and an extra-special Town Meeting has confirmed their call: We shall have a single, glorious, half-paid-for-by-the-Commonwealth elementary school, rising like a beacon of walkability on the current Winthrop site.

Of course, walkability is as walkability does. West side kids will still come in by bus, just like they did to Doyon. After their long trek over Marini Hill, they’ll be dropped off right at the door of the new one-size-crams-all Winthrop-site school. Kids who live too close to take the bus are officially expected to walk; but of course many parents will choose to drive their children to school. With one elementary school instead of two, the number of driver-parents will effectively double, so the intensity of traffic congestion will ratchet up. With such a crush of cars vying for the school zone, even more parents will drive their little ones to school, just to reduce their odds of being squashed. Since it will be nigh unto impossible to get your first-grader to the door of the school, you’ll finally give up, drop her a block or two away, and offer up a prayer for her safety. Providential side-effect: Ipswich will become a more prayerful place.

Unfortunately, adverse consequences will also ensue. During our twice-a-day downtown gridlock, emergency vehicles will be trapped. While you pray for the children picking their way through the mass of mostly-motionless minivans, please also pray that no fires break out anywhere in town around the start or end of the school day. Police officers will need to plan ahead and station themselves outside the traffic snarl; otherwise we can expect crafty criminals to take advantage of the dual daily paralysis, leading to a spike in burglaries, murders, and maybe even graffiti.

Commuters from other towns who used to drive through Ipswich on their way to and from work will be surprised to find much more traffic choking their regular route. Soon they’ll learn to swing around through Hamilton, which regrettably means fewer of them will be contributing to the Ipswich economy by buying their breakfast snacks here. Another sad side-effect is that they’ll no longer have access to the steady stream of important breaking news offered via the big banners hanging over Five Corners. This may cut significantly into attendance at Chowderfest, Olde Ipswich Days, and vacation Bible schools.

Still, one man’s walkability is another man’s windfall. Sensing opportunity, I am hoping to launch a couple of new enterprises.

  • My new company, Winthrop Kid-Drop, will pick up children from designated sites around town and parachute them directly onto the rooftop of the new school building. At the end of the school day, our helicopter will drop one end of a very large tube onto the school grounds, and our high-powered vacuum sweeper will suck your child up in a jiffy. Winthrop Kid-Drop not only keeps your child safe from the angry swarms of competing drivers on the downtown streets, it also keeps you from having to be one of them! Register today!
  • Gloucester residents who work in towns beyond Ipswich will enjoy Candlewood Catapult, a service that hurls you directly from the Golf Club to the Dairy Queen — and back again at the end of the workday — entirely bypassing the mess on Central Street. Due to tricky wind patterns, we’re still working out logistics for a similar service to benefit people who commute into Gloucester. Sadly, during testing, we accidentally plunked a couple of volunteers from Rowley into the marsh. If you come across them, please contact me immediately.
  • For your generous online contribution, my new charity, Traffic Jam Gram, will deliver a gentle note of encouragement to that blockhead of a driver ahead of you. For a small extra fee, we offer customized cussing.

 

Doug Brendel comes to you from Planet Outer Linebrook, a place 11 minutes from Winthrop, except when it’s 32. Follow him by clicking “Follow” on your screen now.

 

 

Wasn’t That Special!

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Well, here you are, reading this. Which I guess means you survived that “special” Town Meeting last week.

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to know the difference between an ordinary Town Meeting and a special one.

  1. The springtime “Annual Town Meeting,” which probably shouldn’t be called “ordinary,” is ordered under the laws of the Commonwealth of Massachusetts. It has to happen. (I don’t know what happens if we don’t have the legally mandated Annual Town Meeting — Tom Murphy goes to jail?)
  2. Technically, any Town Meeting other than the Annual Town Meeting is a “Special” Town Meeting. Traditionally, the Town of Ipswich has held only one Special Town Meeting each year, in the fall. But the truth is, under the law, the Board of Selectmen have the freedom to call a Special Town Meeting anytime they darn well please. They could call a Special Town Meeting every single day if they wanted to. Wouldn’t that be fun!

With the Pony Express land purchase question and the Winthrop single-school location question, however, the Selectmen decided this would be the year for an extra Special Town Meeting.

And it was extra-special, wasn’t it! So popular that traffic backed up practically to Rowley. A Newbury couple in a Kia trying to get to Salt Kitchen for dinner were trapped on High Street, between a Volvo driven by a Groveland woman hoping to visit her sick cousin at Riverbend, and a New Hampshire man in the Ford F-150 trying to smooth things over with his wife by taking her to the Ipswich Inn B&B. The sick woman was well by the time her cousin got there, and the guy in the pickup gave up and pulled into Dairy Queen. That relationship is pretty much over.

I was trapped myself, at an appointment in Merrimacport, and arrived at the Dolan PAC a half-hour late. The High Street parking lot was jammed, with an enormous black Ipswich police vehicle ominously standing guard lest latecomers park illegally. Fortunately my car is very, very small, so I ended up tucking it in between the rear tires of the cruiser and sneaking into the building.

The volunteers manning the voter-sign-in tables were cheery as ever. I picked up my official neon-orange ballot, no problem, and greeted Election Constable Ron Graves at the auditorium door. He smiled his usual constablesque smile, took me by the shoulder, and turned me around with a solemn one-word admonition: “Cafeteria.”

Yes. It was way too late to squeeze into the already-voter-choked auditorium. I was condemned to the outer reaches, the netherworld, of the Extra-Special Town Meeting. And the cafeteria was no less congested. When I arrived in this Meeting Place of the Damned, every little plastic-disc seat securely attached to its sturdy linoleum table was already more than occupied by the ample backside of yet another voter who hadn’t left home early enough to vie for a cushy seat with all the early-birds in the big-people’s room.

A huge screen loomed over the room, a massive continuously morphing image of the goings-on in the beautiful, comfortable, but off-limits auditorium, a presentation clearly designed to taunt us for having arrived late. Town Moderator Tom Murphy looked like a rock star. I kept hoping he would smash a guitar.

In the makeshift cafetorium, those who were lucky enough to have an actual seat leaned smugly on the cafeteria tables, as if to say to rest of us, “I may have been late, but I wasn’t as late as YOU … you SLACKER.”

The rest of the latecomers huddled at the edges of the room, the crust of humanity. Under such dire circumstances, life takes on a kind of new normalcy. As the big-screen debate dragged on, one couple spread a picnic blanket, sat cross-legged, and noshed. People pitched tents, played cards, texted their children at home, traded valuables for scraps of firewood, all the normal activities you’d observe in a refugee camp.

Speaker after speaker came and went on-screen. I grew numb, then dizzy. At some point I seem to remember someone in the auditorium moving to table the motion to move the motion that the motion be tabled. Eventually, our cafeteria confinement got to be too much for some. A woman with eyes bulging had to be wrestled to the floor when she lunged menacing at the screen with a fingernail file. She was frothing at the mouth as we held her down. “Call the question!” she rasped, shuddering. “Call the question!”

I was a fool to think that it would all be over quickly. An “ordinary” Town Meeting might have 20 articles, and takes perhaps four hours. An extra-special gathering like this, then, with only two articles, ought to take about 24 minutes, right? Uh, no.

We were in the process of setting up our own police and fire departments and electing our own mini-Town Manager when it all came to a merciful end. Democracy had done its job. We had survived our time in solitary. But I felt badly for Moderator Murphy. He only makes $250 a year. In a good year, that’s $125 per Town Meeting. This year, with three Town Meetings, we’ve effectively cut him to $83.33 per. Please, Ipswich, have some compassion. Maybe we could take turns delivering meals to his house.

 

 

You Can Get There From Here

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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

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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

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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.

Amen.

 

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”…

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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:

HOW DO YOU PRONOUNCE “BIALEK”?

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 Bialek@DougBrendel.com. Until then, mum’s the word.

 

 

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