Stranger Danger Re-Arranger

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My identity was stolen last week, and I’m so grateful.

When my bank notified me that someone had appropriated my Visa, I was horrified — because they wanted to prosecute the devil who did it.

“No!” I cried. “Wait!” I immediately realized that this might be my big chance. Could I let this guy keepmy identity? Take over the lease payments on my car? Answer my telemarketing calls? Put my kid through NYU? Could this be a way around buying my own Town of Ipswich surplus-garbage bags? There might even be a way to finesse this person into taking my workouts at the gym.

There was no issue about getting my money back. My bank offers “fraud protection.” (As it turns out, this phrase doesn’t mean what it actually says. They don’t protect fraud. They protect you fromfraud. It would be silly, I guess, to protect fraud. It’s illegal, after all, and presumably doesn’t deserve protection — at least not beyond “You have the right to remain silent” and all that.)

But I wasn’t really eager to get my money back; I was more interested in answers.

  • Who was this person?
  • What drove them to such a heinous crime?
  • How much of my precious money did they spend?
  • Did they get anything good?

I imagined somebody shady but glamorous: an international playboy, wearing an Armani suit, using my Chase bankcard to lease a Learjet for a flight to meet his Czech mistress at his villa in Rio. The kind of fellow Pierce Brosnan would have played in a movie, except it would be a hit.

As it turned out, my fantasy was only a fantasy. My credit card, bank investigators advised me, had been used to obtain $27 worth of dental work. I thought this must be a typo. At the very least, an identity thief would spend 27 HUNDREDdollars and get a full set of dentures. What can you get from a dentist for $27? Now I imagine investigators searching for a middle-aged part-time parking lot attendant with bad teeth. I feel sad for him: a guy lucky enough to score someone else’s identity, but unable to hightail it for Tahiti because he’s got too many cavities, and possibly gum disease.

I figure when they finally zero in on the perpetrator, my iPhone will buzz, and a bank detective will ask me if I want to press charges. Well, I’m not going to be too hasty to respond. Maybe this craven criminal would be open to negotiation? You can keep my identity if, for example, that means you’ll take my kitten in for its last two vaccinations. Or maybe clear the mountain of dead oak leaves piled up against my garage door. And then there’s the matter of that ongoing little disagreement with my neighbor about the rats in the compost heap; if you can sort that out, take my identity, andthe rats, and more power to ya.

Meanwhile, I’ll take on a brand-new identity. If you see a guy skipping lightheartedly down Central Street — a guy who appears to be utterly carefree, possibly even debt-free — a guy who waves back at you when you yell “Hey there, Chester Moschloskowicz!” — that’ll be me.

I think Chester Moschloskowicz will be one of those people who always pays cash.

 

 

Doug Brendel, alias Chester Moschloskowicz, lives on outer Linebrook Road, at least till his identity replacement moves in. Follow Chester by clicking “Follow” on this screen.

 

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I Am Wherever I Am

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I was sitting at the bar in Choate Bridge Pub when I met a married couple I’ll call Chauncey and Clementine, who recently moved to Ipswich from someplace out West — Billerica, I think.

As it turns out, Chauncey and Clementine are neighbors of mine, sort of: fellow residents of outer Linebrook. In fact, they live further out than I do. I wasn’t surprised to learn this, because of that telltale dazed look on their faces. They’re still trying to get their bearings here in our marvelous, terrifying wilderness, where Ipswich, Topsfield, and Boxford all mash together. Chauncey and Clementine are in the process of making adjustments that most Ipswich residents will never have to make, because the vast majority of Ipswich residents live east of Route 1, where there be no dragons.

You can imagine how unsettling it must be for them. No matter how comfortable and contented they try to seem — Welcome to our home! We love it here!— a stomach-churning miasma of disturbing questions swirls sickeningly in the murky backrooms of their minds: How does one live here, on the frontier, in “the sticks,” in the neighborhoods where folks once settled their differences by accusing each other of being witches? How do you survive in a place where there are more groundhogs than people, a strange netherworld where the four seasons are leaf blower, snow blower, lawnmower, and Weber grill?

Actually, however, as I explored the matter with Chauncey and Clementine, I discovered that the look of bewilderment on their faces was related mostly to the fact that they have found themselves living on the Mysteriously Disappearing Street — which is also the MysteriouslyReappearingStreet — also known as outer Linebrook Road.

It’s true. (I offer the following simply as a public service — so if you’re ever heading from “Ipswich proper” out to, say, Tractor Supply, and you decide to take a detour into Cumberland Farms for a cup of iced coffee, and then while pulling back out of the parking lot you get confused and turn the wrong way, you ultimately find yourself passing Hood Pond on the left and wondering where the heck you are, and how long it will be before a Sasquatch descends upon you and defiles your Volkswagen.)

In order to properly orient you to your new outer Linebrook reality, let me provide you this primer:

If you’re driving west on Linebrook Road, about 4 minutes west of the Route 1 Cumberland Farms, you’ll pass Pillowlace Lane on the right, and that’s the moment to start paying close attention, because you’re about to arrive at the Mysterious Point of Linebrook Road Disappearance. In a few hundred feet, you’ll be invited to take a left. The street sign says you’re turning left on “Linebrook Road.” In other words, if you keep going straight on Linebrook Road, you’re no longer on Linebrook Road. You’re still in Ipswich, but now you’re on Boxford Road.

And as you keep going on Boxford Road, things get even weirder — because about 500 feet before you arrive at Route 97, you cross the invisible line into Topsfield — and what do they call those last 500 feet of Boxford Road? They call it “Linebrook Road.” Why? I think they just did it to mess with us.

They also decided to give Route 97 the most confusing possible name. What do they call it? Ipswich Road.Thank you very much.

All of this means that when Chauncey and Clementine visit Mawmaw in Billerica and then return to their new home here in Ipswich, they drive up something called Ipswich Road, turn left on something called Linebrook Road, then it’s no longer Linebrook Road, then it’s Linebrook Road again, and then — well, let me just put it this way: I think Chauncey and Clementine are very brave to move here from Billerica.

 

 

Doug Brendel is grateful to live on east outer Linebrook, because it’s so much simpler than west outer Linebrook. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”

 

How Much Time Will You Waste Reading This?

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There was snickering in heaven the day God, or his management team, got to the agenda item of Creating Doug Brendel. First they arranged for me to inherit my father’s efficiency gene; then they put me in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

My father, now 86 and sharp as ever, was never an efficiency expert officially or professionally, but he has always been oriented to efficiency. He’s interested in getting the most done in the shortest length of time with the least possible expenditure of energy. Lay out all your tools, in the order you’re going to need them, before you start the job, so you don’t have to zigzag back and forth across the garage over the course of the project. That sort of thing.

To this day, as a result of Richard Irving Brendel’s DNA imprint, I have a hard time walking through my house.

  • If I’m crossing the living room on my way to the kitchen, and I see a magazine on the couch that ought to be on the coffee table, I have to grab it and toss it on the coffee table on my way by.
  • If then I happen to see a scrap of paper on the floor — perhaps something turned into a cat toy by our enterprising felines, and now abandoned — I have to pick it up too, en route to the kitchen because, after all, that scrap of paper needs to go into recycling, and the recycling bin is in the pantry, in the kitchen, where I’m headed. (Where I’m headed at that very moment! What luck!)
  • A stray baseball cap left by our teenager on the armrest of the couch? That will need to wind up on a peg in the mudroom, which is beyond the kitchen, so it makes sense to pick that up on the way as well.
  • That book I’ve been meaning to dive back into, which I’ll read later on the screen porch? Pick that up too, because the screen porch is beyond the kitchen too. Getting it as far as the kitchen counter will move it closer to its eventual destination. Efficiency!

At this rate, a trip from the bedroom to the screen porch can take 20 minutes. Nothing is simple for an efficiency nerd. But at least no movement was wasted! God forbid any unnecessary backtracking!

Consider the essential daily (or multiple-times-daily) challenge of making a pot of coffee. Our obsolete little 10-cup Philips machine — they don’t even make this model anymore — sits on the kitchen counter just under the cupboard where the coffee lives in its designated canister, next to a tall, slender porcelain vessel which I have designated for holding the black plastic spoon which I have designated for coffee-scooping. Also in this cupboard, in the spot I have designated for it, is the plastic bag full of Market Basket #4 filters. (Keep these guys standing up against the left wall of the cupboard, please, tucked in there next to my tea-drinking daughter’s tea canister, so they don’t fall down and — most important of all — don’t take up any more space than they need to.)

Now, take note: The sequence of somesteps of the coffee-making process cannot be negotiated. You must, for example, put the filter into the machine’s little basket before you put the coffee in. But there arecertain details in this process which are wide open to examination, if you’re looking to save time. Here’s one critically important question: Do you put the water into the machine and thenput in the coffee, before throwing the “on” switch to start the brewing process? Or do you put the coffee in first, thenthe water, and finally turn the machine on? One approach saves multiple millisecondsover the other, my friend, based on which item is left in your hand at the moment it’s time to flick the switch. Think! Think carefully! Don’t squander cumulative minutes of your life making your morning coffee inefficiently! (Answer: water first, then coffee. Throw the switch while the spoon is still in your hand; then put the spoon away.)

A trip to the mailbox is an exercise in multi-tasking. That little package you’re sending to your kid at camp should definitely notbe carried all the way to the mailbox on the street until you’re sure you don’t have anything else that needs to be mailed. On the other hand, you have to get out there before the mailman comes. If it’s garbage day, bingo!You can put your daughter’s package under your arm, swing through the garage, grab the handle of the garbage bin with one hand, the recycling bin with the other, drag them both to the street, stick the package in the mailbox, and head back to the house — all in a single, fluid motion. Brilliant! You just saved yourself 128.9 feet round-trip. Do it every week, and you’ve saved yourself more than a mile and a quarter over the course of a year. That’s half an hour of walking time. Half an hour — that’s enough time to dash to Cumby’s, or phone your mother, or make a macramé plant hanger. Anything you want! It’s yours! Free time!

The invention of GPS was a boon. No more taking the obvious main roads, when a cut-across on Mill will get you to Beverly 45 seconds sooner. God forbid you should arrive in Beverly 45 seconds later than you had to!These three-quarter-minute savings add up, I tell you. Over the course of a week, you can write another novel in the time you save.

Now superimpose this low-grade obsessive-compulsive behavior over a simple journey through Ipswich, Massachusetts. I’m driving down Linebrook Road from the west, heading toward Ipswich Center. Up ahead is a Marini Farm vehicle. These are fabulous vehicles, with a top speed sometimes approaching 18 mph. I love Marini Farm. I’m grateful for their farm stand, and their commitment to growing corn for me and my family. But my next novel will come out a year later than scheduled because I live in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and got caught behind a tractor.

Efficiency? Don’t get me started on Lord’s Square. Or Depot Square. Or that anguished dogleg at High Street and Town Farm Road — an impossible hairpin if you’re coming from the northwest. (Of course, it’s a beautiful glide if you’re coming from the southeast — and zipping past all those unfortunate folks lined up on Town Farm waiting to get out onto High Street.)

And that place where County Street becomes County Road, and South Main can’t decide whether to go straight into Poplar Street or bend south into County? You could grow old sitting at that intersection wondering whether it’s your turn to go.

Oh, for a helicopter!

I’m sure my father could figure this out.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road. How to get there? Don’t even ask. From where you are now, it’s probably impossible. Just follow Doug here at Outsidah.com. Click “Follow.” It’s efficient.

 

Obnoxious, Derogatory — Yet Pleasantly Paranoid

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Van Gogh was such a baby.

At least, that’s what I used to think.

I’ve studied Van Gogh, lived with him, actually, in a way, because I’ve performed Vincent, a full-length two-act one-man show about this eccentric artist, in multiple North Shore venues — and this coming weekend, September 8th and 9th, I’ll be doing three more performances at the Firehouse in Newburyport. (You’re invited: visit Firehouse.org for info.)

I first performed this play — written and originally performed by Leonard Nimoy (of Mr. Spock fame) — in 2011, which means I’ve been steeped in all things Vincent for a long time. His passion. His paranoia. His quirks. His genius. His “illnesses.” His “insanity.” His self-mutilation. His self-destruction. And to tell you the truth, I sort of came to feel he might have been something of a whiner. When he was misunderstood, and reacted badly to it, I didn’t cut him much slack. Buck up, Vincent, I sneered silently. Everybody’s misunderstood at some point.

But that was before the anonymous complaint.

“Doug you are not really that funny only rather obnoxious,” said the unsigned email, in mid-July, after the appearance of my Outsidah blog post about love and snakes in Willowdale.

I tried to take it in stride. “Good to hear from you!” I replied. “Tell me more.”

I didn’t hear any more till early August, after my blog post complaining about the four-way stop near the Episcopal Church, which ended with “It’s enough to make you a Buddhist.”

“I’m glad I’m Buddhist,” the subject line said. “How derogatory your comment on Buddhism,” the email began. “Did it ever occur to you, comedy is not your forte. Do you have another talent, such as playing the spoons or basket weaving from grass clippings.”

Somehow this email didn’t seem to square with the spirit of Buddhism, but maybe I don’t get Buddhism. Certainly this reader seemed to misunderstand my sense of humor. But now I’m not sure whether I’m being misunderstood, or I’ve misunderstood things myself. Is this a Donald Rumsfeld-type case of “You don’t know what you don’t know”? Maybe I need to tune in to the clues. Sure, I thoughtI was humorous; but here are the facts: My writing is so awful it makes even a Buddhist lash out.

I am now beginning to grasp Vincent’s paranoia. Thinking back on all those years of people saying they enjoyed my writing — “Hilarious!” “Laughed till I cried!” — all the people who came to my book launch events, and laughed when I read aloud, and bought piles of my Only in Ipswich books — it’s possible that they were just a vocal minority. People are happy to tell you if they like you, but avoid telling you if they don’t. So are there actually thousands of silent Outsidah-haters out there? Have I been spreading misery to multitudes all these years? Are there people who wince as they visit TheLocalNe.ws, hoping against hope that my name won’t appear? Or when it does, do they read it aloud from their phones to their family at the dinner table just so everyone can howl with derision? Am I personally responsible for a decrease in the number of TheLocalNe.ws followers? Do people move to New Hampshire because they can’t stand my writing? Am I a drain on the local economy?

Maybe I should post one of those online surveys to get a clearer sense of the situation, with various menu items, so readers can indicate how they feel about “The Outsidah”:

  • Gags me.
  • Insults my intelligence.
  • Brilliant, but in a stupid sort of way.
  • Occasionally makes me smile, although I hesitate to admit it because so many of my friends are gagging.
  • Ho-hum.
  • A waste of screen space.
  • A waste of screen time.
  • Je ne lis pas l’anglais.
  • I like it because it gives me something to complain about to my colleagues at work even on those rare days when things are going well at work.
  • Often inspires me to fling myself into Lord’s Square traffic.
  • Has brought me into emotional harmony with the wildlife in my backyard and, to some extent, the rodents in my kitchen.
  • I prefer greenhead season.
  • Infuriates me when he writes about the weather, the traffic, the animals, and town government. Otherwise, he’s okay.
  • Motivates me to avoid a career as a writer.
  • Once made my skin break out.
  • I like it when he writes about talking with that deer in his backyard, and the deer smokes cigarettes.
  • I’m torn. On the one hand, I’m new in town, so I’m an outsider too; but on the other hand, I’m reluctant to be a fan of someone who’s universally despised.
  • Non-binary.

Vincent, I apologize. I’m not a genius like you, not by a long shot; but I think I can relate a little bit to how you felt. A little sad, a little nervous, a little misunderstood. I don’t think I’ll cut off my ear, though, or do that other thing you did.

Instead, I guess I’ll just do a show about you, buddy, this coming weekend at the Firehouse — and with a little more sympathy than before.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, where an elocutionist teaches him to speak tongue-in-cheek. Follow him by clicking “Follow” in the lower right corner of this screen.

 

Ipswich, Awesome, Totally

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Dude! I promise! I will notwrite about the new Ipswich marijuana dispensary in STONER JARGON. Dude! Really!

Okay, so, I’m not really sure how I feel about medical marijuana, or recreational marijuana, or private vs. commercial marijuana; it’s all sort of a haze to me — but not thatkind of a haze, because I’m not a user. I can relate to Bill Clinton claiming never to have inhaled, because honestly, I can’t inhale anything but straight air. Try as I might, anything else absolutely gags me. Accordingly, even though I urgently want to be totally cool and totally participate, smoking dope is just not my thing. But neither is fighting people who smoke dope. I’m sort of dope-neutral. (Do they still call it “dope”? I don’t know. That’s how dope-ignorant I am.)

But let’s get this straight — no pun intended: Of all the people in Ipswich, I live closer than almost anyone else to the incoming medical marijuana dispensary, soon to appear at 31 Turnpike Road, which is Route 1, if you’re thinking straight — no pun intended.

The process of establishing a new registered marijuana dispensary at that address seems to be moving along at Town Hall. The folks who plan to open a dispensary there (at 31 Turnpike Road, I mean; not Town Hall) are officially known as New England Patient Network, or, to simplify matters, NEPN, although if you’ve been smoking their stuff, the initials are no easier than the name itself. (By the way, do you have any chips? Pretzels?)

The NEPN plan is, according to news reports, extremely complicated, if you ask me. They plan to take over about 25% of the Jaquith Carbide building. That’s a fraction, a percentage. It’s mathematical. Which is hard enough to calculate when you’re not stoned. I got D’s in math. Then they plan to buy the building outright afterthey secure the necessary permits — which sounds like a lot of advance planning, which I can hardly ever do, even as a non-drug-user. The NEPN folks reportedly say they’ll sell medical marijuana only, and won’t cultivate marijuana on site. I hope they’ll be able to keep all of these rules straight — er, uh, I don’t mean “straight”; I mean “organized.” To me, as someone who has struggled mightily to inhale a total of perhaps four and a half choking puffs of marijuana over the course of six decades, and most of them in my 20’s, it seems absolutely impossible to manage the combination of complex concepts like “25%” and “medical only” and “buy after” and “necessary permits” all coming together in a cohesive, rational business plan. Can it happen? Can what happen? What were we talking about? Which is a question I’ve asked repeatedly. Even though, I assure you, I am not a drug user. Except for martinis. One of which I’m drinking as I write this.

Bottom line: The hours of operation at the new medical marijuana dispensary — which is closer to my house than yours, I bet — will be 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. Mondays through Saturdays, and 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Sundays. In other words, pretty much anytime you want.

I’ve read that three other marijuana facilities will be open in the same 3.7-mile stretch of Route 1, so it’s hard to tell whether there will be a run on ours. And then there are the four stores planned for Salem, one in Danvers, and eight in Lynn. Lynn is awesome, dude!

According to published reports, Planning Board chairwoman Heidi Paek said in a recent hearing that the board was “worried about parking.” Yes, so am I. I have trouble parking my very small car in standard-sized spaces on Market Street. But on Route 1? In a cloud of medically necessary necessary — wait, I just typed that word twice — oh well, you know what I mean, right?

Anyway, whatever. Vote yes. Wait. Sorry. There’s no vote coming. Did you take my? Huh? Oh. Never mind.

 

Doug Brendel keeps his head clear at his drug-free-except-for-gin home on outer Linebrook Road. Occasionally he lowers himself to the level of writing a truly cheap post, and this was one of them. Still, you’re invited to follow him here at Outsidah.com, because he sometimes does better. Dude: click “Follow.” See what happens.

 

Becoming a prostitute?

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Vincent-Doug

Greetings, friends of “The Outsidah”!

I’m working on a new theatre production — at the Firehouse in Newburyport….

In the course of 90 minutes, I’ll become Vincent Van Gogh, his brother, and, for moments at a time, his cousin, his uncle, his doctor, his neighbor, Paul Gaugin, Toulouse Lautrec, two art critics, and a prostitute.

I hope you’ll join me for this amazing adventure!

Click here for info. Thanks!

Doug Brendel

 

After you, after you, after you, after you

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There’s a downside to being an Episcopalian in Ipswich.

The venerable 150-year-old Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church, as you may know, sits in that clump of churches downtown. I guess in the old days, all the churches huddled together in one neighborhood to protect themselves from the secularists. There’s the Congregationalist First Church, up on the hill. Then just across the street, to the south, is the Methodist Church, whose sanctuary ceiling recently came crashing down into the pews. Backing up on the Methodist Church, on a diagonal, further to the south, is the Episcopal Church — where the Methodists are now holding their Sunday services as well, till their ceiling gets healed. (And closely monitoring all three churches, like a cranky nun with a ruler bent over a trio of untrustworthy schoolboys, is the Ipswich Public Library, sitting smack between the Episcopalians and the Methodists, and scowling across the street at the Congregationalists — except that Library Director Patty DiTullio is nothing like a cranky nun with a ruler.)

Here’s what all this geography means to you. If you’re (a) an Episcopalian — or, at least temporarily, a Methodist — and (b) you’re heading to or from Ascension Church on a Sunday morning — and (c) you live anywhere to the north, east, or west of the church — you’re likely to find yourself at a four-way stop, at the intersection of County and Green Streets, about 300 feet from Ascension. People will be out and about on a Sunday morning, driving their vehicles to and fro, picking up sundries from Cumby’s or enjoying the cool and the quiet of the small-town weekend. A few will even be heading to some church. Maybe even yours. In any event, as you approach the four-way stop at County and Green, you will find other vehicles approaching the intersection from other directions, or perhaps already there, waiting for you.

Now the great question of your day materializes: Which of these vehicles will go first? Leading, of course, to the second question: Will you get to church on time? Or (if you’re heading the opposite direction) home anytime soon?

This shouldn’t be a difficult situation. The law regarding right-of-way is quite clear, and quite simple. At a four-way stop, according to our plainspoken friends at the official Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (MassRMV.com), the right-of-way goes to the person who gets there and stops first. But, you ask, what if you and another vehicle arrive and stop at the intersection simultaneously? Well, then, the RMV says, the vehicle on the rightgets to go first. Easy-peasy.

At County and Green, however, none of this seems to apply. It appears that no one in the vicinity has gotten the memo about right-of-way. And somehow, County and Green has become a super-popular destination on Sunday mornings. Who knows who’s selling what in this neighborhood. But anyway, just about every week, as I approach this four-way stop, at least one other vehicle is approaching it too. Sometimes two. Sometimes there are actually four of us, sitting there looking at each other.

Going with the basic right-of-way rules would be so simple. But no. Here in Ipswich, apparently it’s not a question of who got to the intersection first. It’s a question of who’s the nicest. If you’re nicer than the other person, you’ll let them go first, right? Even if they’re not on your right. Maybe especially if they’re not on your right, because giving the right-of-way to the person who doesn’t have the right-of-way is the nicest way to be nice of allthe nice ways to be nice. Unless, of course, there are four vehicles stopped at the intersection, in which case the nicest person is the person who goes last, regardless of anything and everything in the entire universe.

And the unwritten rule seems to be that you can’t just wait out the other people and go last when there’s no one left to wait for. This doesn’t get you any niceness points. No, you must actually assignthe right-of-way to another driver. And ideally you should do this with a certain casual flourish: a gentle smile, a friendly nod, a decidedly nonchalant wave of the hand. I believe some long-time Ipswich residents practice this move in the mirror at home, to make sure it’s perfect: the smile shouldn’t be too big and crazy (this is New England, after all); the nod has to be perfectly balanced, somewhere between bossy and obsequious; and the wave of the hand absolutely cannot signal any annoyance, which means not too fast, but also not too slow, and not too far, but far enough to be noticeable, because if the other driver can’t see it, what was the point of doing it. Got all that?

It’s a spiritual dilemma for me. On your way to church, or just coming from church — with the liturgy still echoing in your ears, and the memory of that stained-glass Jesus still peering down upon you — you certainly feel like you oughtto be the nicest driver at the four-way stop. Church people should never be second-nicest, should they? On the other hand, if you’re an Episcopalian, I don’t think you’re really obligated to be as nice as, say, an Evangelical. Those folks take “turn the other cheek” and “do unto others” literally, whereas we Church of England people like to think of Scriptures as recommendations, the sort of guidance you get from a wise, wealthy uncle — canny, but not compulsory.

So here I sit, at the four-way stop, trying to figure out how and when to proceed, and trying not to lose my religion in the process, as other drivers go through their assorted gesticulations — instead of just obeying the dang law.

I tell you, it’s enough to make a person a Buddhist.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives a saintly life on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”