What did I do to deserve this?

To get from my house, on Planet Outer Linebrook in western Ipswich, to just about anywhere else in town, you have to cross Route 1, eastbound on Linebrook Road.

There’s a traffic light there. Which is basically a good thing, because vehicles barrel up and down Route 1 like refugees from a Mad Max movie, and trying to cross the road without a light would be suicidal. Especially since out here in the hinterland, many of us still use horse-drawn buggies. No, just kidding. Not many, just a few of us.

But the traffic light at Route 1 and Linebrook Road is not perfect. In fact, I suspect some nefarious backstory. Here’s why:

On any average weekday morning, the light will be red for 30 seconds or so, then green for about 15 seconds. Math was my weakest subject, but I think this means, on any average weekday morning, I should have 1 chance in 3 of catching a green light at Route 1. But I’m living in an altogether different reality. I cross that intersection sometimes as often as six times a day, but I haven’t caught the green since April.

I suspect that I’m being singled out for unfair treatment.

It’s almost as if the traffic light somehow knows it’s me. I’ve never heard my neighbors Jim Engel or Judy Field, both former members of the Ipswich Select Board, complain about the light at Route 1. Seems they sail right through. They must have connections. Is it a secret perk of Select Board service that you get a tiny transponder to keep in your car that turns the light green at Route 1? I’m not accusing anybody; I’m just asking questions. Questions about rampant government corruption. Favoritism in high places. Places I’ve obviously never inhabited.

Another possible scenario is that when I got my Covid vaccination, they sneaked a microchip into my bloodstream that alerts the traffic light to my approach. I was a little uneasy about getting my shots at Our Lady of Hope for this very reason. What if the Catholics were targeting us Episcopalians? Again, I’m not saying it happened. But what a coincidence, huh? I get my second shot on March 19th, and by April I’m stranded on Linebrook Road, waiting for the light to change so I can get to church.

However it happens — by some sinister plot or plain old bad luck or anything in between — I never, ever catch the green light at Route 1.

Of course instead of waiting for the red to change, I could illegally sidewind through the Cumby’s parking lot, exit onto Route 1, catch the green at Linebrook Road, turn left, and be on my way, all in less time than I would have spent sitting on Linebrook waiting. 

But would I do it? 

No. I’m a law-abiding citizen. In spite of the fact that the law has it in for me, I consider myself duty-bound to put up with the oppression. Sure, my productivity is a fraction of what it could be — I’m spending hundreds of cumulative minutes cooling my heels when I could be on my way to any number of important business activities which would enlarge the Ipswich tax base — but who am I to complain?


Doug Brendel lives mostly in his car, and not by choice. You can follow him at DougBrendel.com, or just find him most anytime at the intersection of Route 1 and Linebrook Road.

You bug me

The Thursday evening Castle Hill Concerts at the Crane Estate in Ipswich are a very big deal, attended by thousands every summer, and I was hugely honored that The Trustees, who operate the Estate, invited me to emcee this year.

But I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I’m known as the “Outsidah” but that’s about being a newcomer to New England, not about hiking Bradley Palmer or kayaking on Hood Pond or even sitting around a campfire. I grew up in the Chicago area, where people stay in buildings. As far as I can tell, humans are meant to exist indoors, where they can keep an eye on their cats.

Emceeing the Castle Hill Concerts puts me at risk of encountering insects in their natural habitat, where they have the advantage. Mosquitos owned the Crane Estate first, and as far as they’re concerned, they still do. The idea of fabulous concerts on the Grand Allée is offensive to them. But they are an enterprising species. They make the best of a bad situation by feasting on the blood of the concertgoers. When life gives you humans, make humanade.

For many, mosquito bites are simply an annoyance, but in my case, they’re something closer to a crisis. My skin has a wretched allergic reaction to mosquito spit. Other folks get a little pink bump and a few minutes of itching. I get a major red welt, big enough to be seen from New Hampshire, then a week or two of burning itching, during which time my skin — eh, never mind. It’s too gross.

Bottom line, mosquitoes for me are agents of torturous evil. So in preparation for emceeing the first concert of the summer, I sprayed myself with DEET. Many insect repellants proudly advertise that they’re DEET-free. I, on the other hand, search for maximum DEET content. You’re not supposed to be able to buy anything that’s more than 30% DEET, but if I could get it pure and unadulterated, I’d buy it by the gallon.

Even DEET, however, doesn’t deter greenheads. The greenhead is the official Town Insect of Ipswich. Or if it isn’t, it should be. This vicious variety of horsefly is going after the same blood as a mosquito, but forget that tiny needle-nose strategy. The greenhead chomps its way in. I believe a greenhead thrills to the sound of human screaming.

My first night as emcee occurred at the height of greenhead season, between the two full moons of midsummer. So I headed over to Conley’s, the iconic Ipswich drugstore, and stocked up on the only truly effective greenhead repellant, an Avon product called Skin So Soft. The name tells you it wasn’t originally invented as armor, but someone somehow discovered that this smooth, soft oil makes greenheads gag. Conley’s offers you a free spray nozzle so you can turn your bottle of Skin So Soft into a gun. I would have preferred a showerhead, but I took the nozzle and doused myself. By the time the concert began, I was encased in a two-layered oil slick of DEET and Skin So Soft — still nervous about invading the insects’ environs, but determined to do my emcee duty.

Of course, if you miss even one little spot, the bugs will find it. I had stopped short of spraying myself directly in the face with these poisons, and before the concert was halfway over, I had a massive glowing red bug bite in the middle of my forehead. At one point I went up to the roof of the Great House, and a passing jetliner changed course.

At home afterward, I was eager to de-slime myself. But in the shower I discovered, to my dismay, that the combination of DEET and Skin So Soft forms a compound impervious to soap and water. I recommend a paint scraper or, if that doesn’t work, a blowtorch.

See you Thursday night at Castle Hill. I’ll be the guy whose sunglasses keep sliding off because his face is so slippery.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, about as far from greenhead territory as you can get and still be in Ipswich. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.

You must have mistaken me for someone with principles

As long as there have been lawns, there have been laws about lawns. Hence, those signs that say “Keep off the grass.”

But at the spectacular 165-acre Crane Estate on Castle Hill in Ipswich, the Trustees (who own and operate the stunning property) actually want you on the grass. 

The Grand Allée, especially — a vast, breathtaking expanse of green the full width of the Great House mansion, rolling dramatically all the way down to the beach — is perfect for a stroll, a picnic, perhaps a solitary, meditative interlude.

Or a joyride. If you’re an idiot.

A few days ago, staff and visitors at the Great House were astonished to look down toward the water and see a small white SUV heading down the Grand Allée.

A Trustees ranger at the Great House began hoofing it downhill to intercept the wayward vehicle. En route, she used her walkie-talkie to alert the beach ranger. The hill ranger finally caught up to the wrongdoers at Steep Hill, where the beach ranger had corralled them — two senior citizens: a woman, who apparently had been driving said vehicle; and a man, evidently the companion of said driver. The hill ranger proceeded to escort the miscreant couple off the property.

It was no shame-faced perp walk. The woman was jovial. Her excuse for her misbehavior was that she was “old.” (Her companion, perhaps mortified, said almost nothing.) The woman expressed no remorse for her crime, and hardly any for getting caught. She never even fessed up. On the contrary.

The ranger asked the woman about her familiarity with the property. Yes, indeed, she was quite familiar with the area. She proudly reported that she “taught swimming at Crane’s Beach” decades ago.

So, then, you know better than to drive on the Allée, huh? the ranger prompted.

Oh, I didn’t drive on the Allée! the woman fibbed.

I watched you drive down the Allée, the ranger replied.

You couldn’t see me! the woman insisted. How could you see me?

Everyone at the Great House could see you! the ranger advised.

Well, the woman answered, it didn’t happen if you don’t tell anyone. You won’t tell, will you?

The ranger, appalled by the scoundrel’s coy venality, remained benevolently silent — and saw the offenders off the property.

So when you attend the next Castle Hill Concert and cross the Grand Allée looking for a place to spread your picnic blanket but on the way your third-grader trips and plunges into the wide, ugly trench of a tire track, you’ll have that loathsome woman to thank — a person who arrived at a certain age and decided that the rules no longer apply to her, and she’s now somehow free to damage private property for her own misguided pleasure.

I do hope the Trustees won’t overreact to this one rogue visitor’s selfish lunacy and feel obligated to make a tragic “Keep Off the Grass” rule. However, since there are rude, self-absorbed, unprincipled people in our world, the Trustees may have no choice but to add a few signs specifying restraints that the average respectful citizen simply assumes. Besides the obvious “Don’t Drive Your Vehicle on the Grass,” I would perhaps suggest:

“Don’t Pull Up the Garden Flowers. They’re to Look At.”

“Don’t Toss Your Garbage Into the Bushes. Take It Home for Disposal.”

“Don’t Sneak Your Dog Onto the Property. Dogs Aren’t Allowed Here.”

“Don’t Wade in the Fountains. The Piranhas Are Hungry.”

“Don’t Bust the Head Off a Statue. It’s Art.”

“Don’t Spray-Paint Anything. You’ll Make It Ugly.”

“Don’t Relieve Yourself in the Bushes. It’s Gross.”

“Don’t Try to Pull One Over on the Ranger. She’s Married to the Outsidah.”


Doug Brendel lives obediently with a Castle Hill ranger on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.

Laughter can kill you, don’t try it

Life is easy. Comedy is hard.

I didn’t set out to make “The Outsidah” humorous. I originally conceived of this column as a sappy, sentimental commentary on how wonderful life is in small-town New England.

But reality took over.

They say “Write what you know.” Well, I moved from a big city in the desert into a two-century-old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and pretty soon, “what I know” made me chuckle.

At this point, the question is not whether small-town New England will make me laugh. The only question, each day as I awaken, is WHAT will make me chuckle? The traffic, the weather, the wildlife, or local government? For me, these are the four basic food groups.

On the other hand, I’ve taken my share of hits for commenting humorously on my new life as an “Outsidah” in small-town New England. One reader had the temerity to write to me and call me “obnoxious.” And who knows how many readers have considered me obnoxious but didn’t bother to write?

(My advice to those beleaguered readers: Stop reading! My name appears at the top of the blog, not the bottom! Why? So you have ample warning! You can avert your gaze before it’s too late!)

So when somebody else ventures a toe into the fetid humor swamp, I’m always alarmed.

And now our beloved school superintendent has made the mistake of going there.

Last week the Ipswich Local News reported that Superintendent Brian Blake included a piece in his weekly email announcing a job opening: substitute school nurse.

Hilarious proposition, right? Apparently so.

“Have you ever dreamed of the glamorous world of school nursing? Do you love going on field trips? Are you captivated by Band-Aids and cough drops? If so you may be in luck!”

Etc., etc.

Bombarded by complaints, Blake explained that he had simply copied and pasted something written by one of the school nurses.

“I did not attribute it to them,” he confessed.

I may be obnoxious, but at least I write my own stuff.

Still, I sympathize with Supt. Blake. I understand, deep down inside, the allure of comedy. I’ve been there, believe me. You want to be loved. You want people chuckling in an affirming way.

You can either attempt to write humorous material, and risk being called “obnoxious” — or you can steal stuff from a hapless, underpaid school nurse, and go to jail for plagiarism.

Me, I’m sticking with obnoxious.

However, because I have a charitable streak, I’ve reached out to the Middleton House of Correction, where Supt. Blake will be incarcerated, and I’ve volunteered to be his cellmate.

As a good deed, I’m going to be reading him all 344 of my “Outsidah” posts aloud. I figure at about 135 words a minute, I’ll wrap up just around the time they let him out.

That’ll teach him.


Doug Brendel’s presumably funny new novel, “Praying for Mrs. Mombasa,” is available at DragonheadPress.com. Doug will also emcee Castle Hill Concerts in Ipswich every Thursday night beginning July 1st. Contact him at DougBrendel.com, at your own risk.

A Mexican, a Korean, and a bigot walk into a novel

PRESS RELEASE

The Outsidah does it again — Somebody, please, make him stop

Praying for Mrs. Mombasa is the title of a reportedly outrageous new novel by Ipswich writer Doug Brendel.

“It’s a rollicking comedy,” Doug says, “not at all like my previous novel” (Pleasure and Power, released in 2019).

“I would describe this as an irreverent look at how hope works. And it messes with our tendency to stereotype people. Among the characters, there’s a Mexican, a Scandinavian, an African, a Korean, and a Samoan, to name a few. I think it’s a pretty funny story, and a bit edgy in places. We’ll see how it goes over. I may have to leave town, who knows?”

Autographed copies of the newly released paperback are now available to area residents exclusively at Betsy Frost Design, 4 Market St., Ipswich.

Doug will be there in person to autograph books from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 19th, the day before Father’s Day.

“Perfect for people scrambling to find a last-minute Father’s Day gift!” Doug says, grinning fiendishly.

  • With each copy of Praying for Mrs. Mombasa, customers will also receive a free autographed copy of Doug’s previous book, Ipswich in Stitches, comprised of amusing “greatest hits” from his popular humor column “The Outsidah.”

(A book launch party will also take place on Friday evening, August 6th, at Personal Best Training Studio in Ipswich. Doug will be reading selections from Praying for Mrs. Mombasa and autographing copies of the book. Watch for more details here at Outsidah.com.)

For those who can’t make a trip to Ipswich to purchase Praying for Mrs. Mombasa, the book is available online at Lulu.com, and will soon be available on Amazon.

Mental health team to Frozen Vegetables, please

I can now, with certainty, answer the question of how long it takes to form a new habit.

Answer: exactly one pandemic.

Walking into the Market Basket on Route 1 in Rowley is now completely disorienting.

Gone is the forbidding sign at the front door declaring in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS the MASK-WEARING REQUIREMENT.

Now, instead, there’s a delicate little page, taped to the glass, assuring you pleasantly that, if you’re fully vaccinated, you can come on injust as you areno worries!

It feels very weird, standing there on the sidewalk, contemplating the idea of walking through those automatic doors with your face completely exposed.

I do remember, in March of 2020, how awkward it felt to wear a mask into the grocery store. But of course, in March of 2020, I knew this strange new custom would only be necessary for six weeks, eight max.

Now, 15 months later, my face feels naked without the mask. My nostrils seem to burn as I imagine deadly little microbes floating in the air, just waiting for the moment when they can jet up into my sinuses like tiny Luke Skywalkers aiming for the Death Star of my brain.

Eventually, however, I summon my courage, and I walk into Market Basket full-faced.

At which point, it gets even weirder.

Where are the arrows on the floor, at the end of each aisle?

How do I know which way to go, if they don’t give me arrows?

You mean someone can be coming at me from the opposite direction, and I have to navigate around them? No more sullenly pointing to the directional arrow they stupidly failed to notice?

Life was so good back then, during the pandemic, everyone flowing in the same direction at Market Basket — up dairy, down lunchmeats, up dental floss, down deodorant.

Now, people can go whichever way they want, zigzagging all over the store. It’s freedom, sure, but freedom can be nerve-wracking.

I feel adrift. I’ve been to Market Basket three times since they pulled up the arrows, and I still bend left to start my shopping because that’s how we had to do it in the old days.

These 15 months have conditioned my body to look only in one certain direction for each specific item. Coffee to the left. Toilet paper to the right. How could it have ever been otherwise?

This afternoon I got all the way to barbecue sauce (on the right) before realizing I’d failed to pick up pickles (on the left). But instead of turning around, as we’re all free to do in this new era of liberty, I kept going, out of habit. I pushed my cart all the way to the end of the aisle, swung it around to the left, and rolled it down the entire cereal and syrup aisle, past the honey, the rice cakes, the granola bars, just to get back to the pickle side of the store. Only then did I realize I had made the entire journey unnecessarily, and even though nobody was watching me, I blushed at my own stupidity.

Still, I gotta say, after 15 months, it only feels right to pick up pickles on the left. If I had turned around in the middle of the aisle and come back to the pickles, they would have been on the right, and that just feels wrong.

So yes, I’m adjusting. Please don’t worry about me, however. If I keep struggling with the new Market Basket milieu, I’ll absolutely take appropriate action. I promise to speak to my therapist before I get to a crisis point.

In the meantime, though, there may be something to calm my nerves in Aisle 9. On the left, right?


Doug Brendel lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the left side of outer Linebrook Road, depending on whether you’re coming or going. Follow Doug — same direction only, please — at DougBrendel.com.

Transfer Station Royale

You want to impress your relatives, especially if they’re really your wife’s relatives and your wife’s relatives have never quite yet figured out what to think of you.

In my case, that’s three and a half decades of wondering what to think of me.

But I figured my wife’s youngest brother would be easy to impress, maybe the easiest of all.

He was only 15 or so years old when I came swooping into the family. Now, he’s 50 or so, and a successful [redacted].

So when I heard from my wife Kristina that her “baby brother” was coming to visit us here in Ipswich, I was delighted. An opportunity to score points with The Family!

I’ll call him “Eric,” because there may be certain [redacted] which make it [redacted] for me to refer to him by his real name. He is stationed in the Middle East, after all, in the tiny nation of [redacted], in a job he says requires him to [redacted] and [redacted]; and while he can say very little about his actual work, he has assured us that he’s never had to [redacted] assassinations. Of course, when your brother-in-law says, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you,” you don’t pry.

Frankly, I assume he’s CIA, but I’m afraid if I ever write anything too revealing about him, they’ll send their agents here to the North Shore to [redacted] my column, or worse — you know [redacted] or [redacted] or possibly even [redacted]. So, better not even to go there, because it’s such a pain to navigate when you’re reading through all those [redactions].

Even without the threat of government [redacted], I can honestly say that Eric is intelligent, sophisticated — blond, even. He flies first class all around the world. As I observe Kristina’s family, with her many siblings, I might even suggest that Eric is the most intelligent and sophisticated of them all. Trust me, I’m not just flattering him because he’ll likely read this while reviewing some classified dossier, nor because he carries a [redacted] in his suitcase. No, truthfully, let me assure you: I don’t fear him. He’s my brother-in-law. 

I do, however, want to impress him. He’s family, right? Also, possibly, a [redacted].

It was disconcerting to me, then, what happened on Eric’s first day in Ipswich. He was scheduled to arrive while I was out at a meeting, and when I got home I found the house empty and Kristina’s car gone; so I assumed she had taken Eric out to an elegant welcome lunch at one of our town’s many fine dining establishments. But then, after some time, her car pulled into the garage, the trunk popped open, and the two of them began lugging huge bags of mulch into our backyard garden.

The two of them seemed to be chattering happily, even though it was obvious to me that our refined globe-trotting guest was engaged in what could only be described as coarse manual labor.

When they finally came inside, Kristina must have seen the puzzlement on my face.

“We went to the Transfer Station!” she reported, with a big smile.

Sorry, but as a kid growing up in Chicago, we called it the dump.

It was, indeed, time for us Ipswich-resident Brendels to visit the Transfer Station, to retrieve our annual 50-gallon load of freshly composted mulch, which is a benefit of our membership in the wondrous Ipswich curbside composting program.

This is, without question, a tremendous system: You dump your household food scraps, meat, bones, and other organics into a green bin, roll it out to the curb for Wednesday pickup, and a truck comes by to take it all away for composting. It only costs you $1.83 a week — you keep your organics from further clogging our already bloated landfills — and every spring, you get paid back with 50 gallons of gloriously healthy mulch.

It’s always a happy day when a member of our household goes to the Transfer Station to retrieve our beloved mulch — especially because it’s always Kristina, never me, who makes the pickup — and the mulch is spread on Kristina’s gardens of tomatoes, herbs, and other delectables. (Again, not by me; I don’t do the mulch-spreading: Kristina does. But I do applaud. Later.)

Still — the question of the moment was: Today? Did it have to be today? Did you have to collect the mulch today? When our glamorous brother-in-law was coming to town?

To my mind, you don’t introduce a refined, internationally experienced brother-in-law to the charming Ipswich experience by taking him to the dump.

Oh, I know, the Transfer Station isn’t really a “dump.” It’s a fabulous thing, honestly — a terrific recycling station open to anybody with an Ipswich beach sticker. (Or, you can get a special Transfer Station sticker, free of charge, at the Ipswich Department of Public Works office, if you have a valid vehicle registration and proof of Ipswich residency.)

And once you arrive at the Transfer Station, it’s beautiful in its way — a dumper’s Disneyland, with various stations and receptacles designed to receive your [redacted]: books, CDs, DVDs, fluorescent tubes, batteries, plastics, scrap metals, clothing, bedsheets, small pillows, leaves, brush, and the list goes on. (For details, visit IpswichMA.gov— just enter Curbside Composting into the search window.)

There are some no-no’s, certainly: no tarps, no PVC pipes, no water hoses, no inflatable pools, no rocks, no logs, no stumps — but what’s missing from the list is: No brothers-in-law.

Nobody waved Kristina away from taking my [redacted] brother-in-law, the one I was trying to impress, TO THE DUMP.

Back at my house, after the garbage-processing duo had cleaned themselves up, as they sat back down at the kitchen table for a couple [redacted] sandwiches, I tried to remain casual — like that scene in the James Bond movies where the bad guy is deliberately cool and collected. (Still, you know James Bond holds the cards.)

“Your Transfer Station is very interesting,” my brother-in-law said, feigning nonchalance. “I see you have a couple windmills.”

“Yes,” I replied, marvelously casual. “One dead, one alive.”

“I’ve seen them, in my [redacted] reconnaissance imagery.”

I sensed that this was something bigger than it originally seemed to be.

“You didn’t really go to the Transfer Station just to get mulch, did you?” I asked, coolly.

“You’re very observant,” he replied.

“So why did you go to the Transfer Station?” I demanded.

Kristina looked at me sharply, as if I’d made some critical mistake.

“Because you never want to go,” Eric replied, almost sneering. “You never want to lug the mulch. You never want to spread it on the garden. You leave my sister to do it all herself.”

“Stop, Eric,” Kristina said, with quiet tension in her voice. “It doesn’t matter.”

Eric stood up from the kitchen table. “It does matter.”

He reached into a pocket and pulled out his [redacted]. “It’s not enough, Brendel, to pay your precious $1.83 a week for curbside composting,” he said. “It’s not enough to be an environmentalist. You have to be a [redacted] husband, too.”

I confess I felt panicky. After all, he was standing there with his [redacted] in plain view. He could have [redacted] my [redacted] at any moment.

“You know,” he intoned, “if I solve this, right here, right now, in my own way, no one will ever know. We have ways of [redacting] things.”

I gulped.

“But I’m going to give you another chance,” he grumbled, putting his [redacted] back into his pocket. “Just don’t [redact] it up again. Next spring, when it comes time to pick up the mulch again, I want to dial up our satellite and focus its camera on the windmills and see you there picking up the stuff yourself.”

I swallowed hard. “Okay,” I rasped.

He leaned over and kissed Kristina on the cheek. “Gotta go, sis,” he muttered.

He left by the back door. He was probably picked up by a silent, black, specially equipped helicopter that landed in our side yard. I’ll never know.

Kristina and I sat there in silence for a long while. We couldn’t quite look at each other.

Finally, however, I felt I had to give words to the question that was hanging like rotting fruit on a dying tree.

Why the [redacted] did you take him to the DUMP?


Doug Brendel lives at [redacted] in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him at DougBrendel.com, at least until he’s [redacted] by the [redacted].

Ahoy, landlubber! Tie off yer starboard prawn!

I was in Colorado for a couple days last week, and I confess, it was disorienting.

As far as I could tell, Colorado is virtually indistinguishable from Massachusetts, and Denver is practically Ipswich.

You get off the plane at Denver, and it’s a half-hour drive to downtown. Likewise, landing at Logan, and it’s a half-hour drive to Ipswich. 

Only as you pay close attention do you begin to realize which place you’ve landed in.

For example: You might notice, during the Colorado version of this journey, that you’re driving through vast expanses of nothing — as opposed to the Massachusetts version, which features a world-record density of tantalizing restaurants and retail businesses. Every time I return home by air, I must make a conscious effort not to stop in Saugus and spend money. Polcari’s and Kowloon call my name, in different accents. The Denver experience is nothing like that. Colorado has no Saugus.

I suggest getting your bearings even before your plane lands in either location, Boston or Denver. As the aircraft descends, glance out the window. If you see earth below, you’re arriving in Colorado. If you see liquid, and it appears you’re plunging into a watery doom, you’re arriving in Massachusetts. Have no fear: Logan Airport sticks out into Boston Harbor, and the runways are the stick-outiest parts of any airport, so of course your aircraft will glide perilously close to the frigid waters of the Atlantic before touching down at the last possible moment on the reassuring asphalt of your totally safe runway. Not to worry. Hardly any planes have ever gone into the drink.

Massachusetts? Colorado? If you agree that it’s a good idea to be sure where you are when you land, here’s another tactic. After you step outside, look up. Look around. See that? Isn’t it strange? Solid blue, as far as you can see? It’s like someone forgot to hire a decorator. What you’re looking at is something call “sky.” You must be in Colorado. As I deplaned at the Boston airport this past week, I took care to look up and around — just to be sure I’d gotten on the right plane — and here’s what I saw (circling from my left, clockwise): concrete wall, construction crane, high-rise, concrete overhang, NO PARKING NO STANDING TOW ZONE, concrete wall, high-rise, NO STANDING VIOLATORS SUBJECT TO FINE, concrete wall, construction crane, concrete overhang. This was reassuring. Home sweet home.

Perhaps my moment of greatest befuddlement on the entire trip was when I checked into my downtown Denver hotel, clomped into my 9th-floor room, and threw open the curtains. There was the Atlantic Ocean.

Pretty soon, I figured out that it wasn’t actually Crane Beach, because it was obviously a nice, sunny day, and there were fewer than 100,000 people. In fact, there were no people at all. There were only beach chairs, unoccupied, and all in a neat, straight row.

Also, this ocean was directly opposite my hotel room, 9 stories up.

I’m no art connoisseur, but within a couple hours I was pretty sure that this ocean was a work of art, not nature.

 Sure enough, my ocean view turned out to be “Ocean View,” a giant mural splashed across the adjacent building. The artist, as it turns out, is Rob Reynolds, who was born someplace you may have heard of: Massachusetts. About 7 miles west of downtown Boston. So — obviously — when it came to decorating the side of a brick building in downtown Denver, Rob’s heart reached out to his homeland.

Perhaps, even when you’re stuck in Denver, 1,754 miles from Boston, you have an innate longing for ocean from which we sprang, as amoebae, a zillion years ago. I enjoyed my time in Colorado, but I can tell you, after a couple days, I definitely had that amoeba kind of craving: Gimme the concrete overhangs. Gimme the real beach, not the version painted on brick. And please, dear God, gimme the all-you can-eat shrimp at Kowloon.


Doug Brendel is happily back at his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Wherever he may roam, follow him at DougBrendel.com.

Old writers never die, they just lose their batteries

One morning long ago, when I was hiring writers to help me write everything my clients wanted me to write, one of my fellow writers walked into our very casual office looking strange. For no apparent reason, he was wearing a bow tie.

“If I dress better,” he explained, “I’ll write better.”

It didn’t work.

But I was tantalized by the idea that something utterly unrelated to writing might help a writer write better. Superstition, yes, but hey, if it might facilitate higher fees, I’ll try it.

Fast-forward several decades. I’d like my “Outsidah” column to be better. I’d like less hate mail. So my brilliant brother-in-law, a master carpenter, builds me a little writer’s nook — because I feel sure that writing in a writer’s nook will make me a better writer, as opposed to, say, writing hunched over the kitchen table. Certainly you can see how isolating yourself in a small, isolated space designed exclusively for the execution of your craft — eliminating distractions, allowing total focus — is better than trying to replicate Updike only inches away from cupboards full of wondrous treats. Not to mention the leftover pot roast in the fridge.

My tiny writer’s nook, just big enough for me, my standing desk, and narrow wall shelves, is totally enclosed, except for a window overlooking beautiful Ipswich. Well, 20 square feet of beautiful Ipswich, behind the garage. But never mind that. I don’t have to look out the window. I can close myself off from the world, just me and my laptop, and be brilliant.

I christen my writer’s nook the “Art Room” — because my brother-in-law, the builder, is named Art — and I keenly anticipate not only writing better but feeling younger, more vital, cooler, more attractive. I can imagine emerging from a hard day’s work in the Art Room and my wife’s eyes glittering with admiration, perhaps even fluttering a bit, like a cartoon from the ’50s.

Then I actually try it.

After significant experience in the Art Room, I can report that it’s roughly as effective as wearing a bow tie.

The problem isn’t the nook. The nook is wonderful. The problem is the young, vital, cool, attractive parts of the equation.

I’m in the Art Room, being brilliant, when my hearing aid beeps in my ear. This means my batteries are low. It also means I’m probably not young, vital, cool, and attractive — but this detail can be ignored, because I’m all alone in my nook: Who will ever know? All I need to do is replace the battery. No problem. I carry spare hearing aid batteries in my pocket at all times, for just such a moment. (It’s not something I broadcast all the time — because it’s not exactly in keeping with my young, vital, cool, attractive persona — but getting caught without spare batteries when you need them will quickly teach an old dog the new trick of carrying spares at all times.)

In the privacy of my nook, I close the laptop on top of the standing desk, pull out my hearing aid, lay it on the laptop cover, and fish the package of batteries from my pocket. It’s in there somewhere. No, that’s the nail clipper. Okay, there — got it.

Then it’s just a matter of taking the hearing aid out of my ear, opening the battery compartment, tapping the old battery out — well, sorry, wait. I can’t quite see it clearly enough without my glasses. Okay, got the glasses on. There, good.

I’m tapping the new battery out of the package, replacing the old with the new — oh, darn. I have a little arthritis in my thumb joints, making it tricky to handle these tiny batteries. The old battery escapes me, bounces to the floor, somewhere behind the standing desk — eh, I’ll get it later.

Now I’m putting the new battery into the hearing aid — careful, careful — closing the battery compartment, and then putting the hearing aid back behind my ear. Well, actually, the earpiece of my glasses is in the way. I can’t quite put the hearing aid back in place without removing my glasses — yeah, they’re bifocals; so what?

So I remove the bifocals, situate the hearing aid, and replace the bifocals. Just like any young, vital, cool, attractive guy would.

Now it’s time to find that runaway dead battery. I’m crouching down, reaching behind the standing desk, feeling my way along the edge of the floor. Something twists in my lower back.

Dang, this hurts. I don’t think I can straighten up.

I hope my wife misses me, and comes looking for me, because the Art Room is nice, but I don’t want to die here.

Besides, someone else will write my obituary, probably brilliantly — and for a hefty fee.


Doug Brendel is alive and well on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Oh, wait; check that “alive and well” part. Pending further notice, follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.