Lights! Camera! Answers!

At first I thought it was another fantastic idea from Ipswich’s Recreation Director, Kerrie Foley Bates. The night before the lighting up of Ipswich Illuminated, wouldn’t it be just like her to use lights and smoke and mirrors to conjure up ethereal images of Ipswich icons from days gone by? Maybe each figure from the past interviewed by town historian Gordon Harris?

But no, this wasn’t a Kerrie Bates hologram, with thanks to our generous sponsor, Institution for Savings. This appeared to be the real thing.

“Bill?” I asked timidly. “Bill Wasserman? Is that really you?”

“Hi, Doug,” Bill replied with a smile. “Yes, it’s me.”

“Wow! But I shouldn’t be surprised, I guess. You were always known as an indomitable spirit.”

“Eh, you know, I’ve never had much use for flattery. I believe in facts. So of course I’m back! I’m an indomitable spirit!”

“Terrific, Bill. I’m happy to see you. But I gotta say, I’m surprised you’re back so soon. You only passed over a couple days ago.”

“I couldn’t wait any more. I left the day before that damn movie started shooting downtown. Big mistake, I guess.”

“You don’t approve of the movie shoot?”

“On the contrary, Doug. You know I’m always in favor of anything that helps Ipswich. And as far as I’ve been able to determine, shooting a movie helps a community.”

“Actually, Bill, to be honest, I’ve heard quite a few people here in Ipswich complaining about the inconvenience.”

“Nonsense! The money the movie business brings into town more than compensates for any minor, temporary logistical hassles.”

“Then I’m confused, Bill. What’s your problem with the movie?”

“The plot, my friend, the plot!” he replied.

“It’s a Stephen King story, Bill. I don’t think even the legendary Bill Wasserman can question a Stephen King story.”

“Doug, I spent my entire life questioning stories. A newspaper man knows that the story is everything. You don’t build a newspaper empire by shying away from questioning stories.”

“But the movie is ’Salem’s Lot,” I insisted. “It’s fiction.”

“That’s the problem,” Bill answered, a chuckle in his voice.

“You know Stephen King is a horror writer, right?” I persisted. “’Salem’s Lot isn’t a documentary. A guy returns to his hometown after years away and finds that all the people are turning into vampires.”

“Not believable. But it could be, with a minor adjustment. Sometimes a minor adjustment is all an editor needs to suggest to make a story great.”

“Golly, Bill. What do you have in mind?”

“It’s a simple fix. The guy returns to his hometown after years away and finds that all the people are turning into journalists.”

“Journalists?”

“Reporters, with ominous-looking notepads, and frighteningly sharp pencils, descending on anyone and everyone, investigating the facts! Discovering the truth!”

“Frighteningly sharp pencils?”

“And in the epidemic of fake news, the tide begins to turn.” Bill’s eyes were twinkling. “It’s not just more believable — because journalists are real, vampires aren’t — it’s also hopeful. It’s inspiring! It’s the restoration of the American dream! The lies and propaganda are finally washed away. Truth in media returns!”

“I don’t know if a director will be open to rewriting a script when the movie is already shooting,” I said. “But I guess it’s worth a try. What steps will you take?”

“A spirit doesn’t take steps,” Bill replied. “I’m going to float over there to the director’s place in the middle of the night and have a few words with him.”

Bill began to glide off into the darkness.

“Farewell, great man!” I cried after him.

“No flattery!” I heard him call back. “Just facts!”

Duly noted, Bill. So here’s a fact:

You’re an indomitable spirit.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, next door to a cemetery, where he keeps tabs on those who have gone before. Follow Doug’s adventures, mostly among the living, at DougBrendel.com.

Ipswich Robocops?

My wife is an honors student at UMass Lowell, soon to graduate with a degree in Literature, but they fool you sometimes in academia, and instead of just making you read books, they make you watch movies.

So for some class or another, Kristina had to watch the 2014 Robocop, and I watched it with her, because at our house, if there’s a movie, there’s popcorn.

In Robocop, they connect a guy’s brain to the entire database of the Detroit Police Department so he can pull up any criminal case in a nano-second, complete with grainy security video, but of course there’s a problem, because without a problem, there’s no movie.

The problem for the Robocop occurs when the upload of the police database cases gets to his own case — when somebody tried to murder him, but ended up only mutilating him, which is how we got to this charming story in the first place. Robocop freaks out, he can’t handle absorbing the awful details of his own near-death, he melts down, chaos ensues.

Here in Ipswich, we have no Robocops. We have only Chief Nikas and his band of merry men.

They do superhuman work, but they are humans. 

They don’t work in a place as tough as inner-city Detroit, but they certainly do work in a human-unfriendly environment: Our Ipswich police station was built during the Great Depression. And it looks it, in spite of our fine public servants doing their best, under daunting circumstances, to keep the place in tip-top shape.

Years ago, I toured the decrepit police station, and found police files stuffed into old beer boxes. There was literally no place else to keep the stuff. 

Our current police station was not even originally built as a police station. It was a storage facility for the Electric Light Department — a place to park your inventory of light bulbs and extension cords. (Wait. Did they have extension cords in the Great Depression? Maybe everyone was so poor, they only had short cords?)

The reality is, even cops in the middle of the Great Depression would have shown up for work in Ipswich only to say, “What the ****? I can’t work this way.”

You’ve seen enough police movies to know that police work isn’t just cruisers on the streets and sirens blaring and blam-blam-blam. It’s been a long time since we had blam-blam-blam on Heartbreak Road. Police work requires a basic workspace, just like you and I require during our ordinary everyday jobs. A floor you can roll your office chair across. An electrical outlet in a reasonable place because you have to plug in. Need wi-fi? Yes. Duh.

Ipswich, come on. It’s been more than a century — 100 years — since we built anything for our public service people, police and fire and the teams that support them.

God forbid Hollywood makes another Robocop movie, where that guy uploads the Ipswich police records, because I can tell you, he’s gonna choke when the upload finally comes to 2021.

He’s staggering out of the Ipswich police station, choking and falling down and writhing on the floor, and finally he gasps:

“I can’t — I can’t — [more choking] — I can’t find my records in those catacombs!”

And the bad guy smokes him.

Ipswich melts down, chaos ensues.

(Sad music.)

(Fade to black.)

Years from now, some UMass grad student will find my wife’s honors thesis online, and read about Robocop, and the light will go on.

“Oh!” they’ll exclaim. “So that’s why Ipswich looks so much like Detroit!”


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, which is way, way out there; but he depends on the Ipswich Police Department to be there for him. Follow Doug at DougBrendelcom.

Is there a TOOTH fairy?

Music seems magical, but it takes hard work and skill and discipline and some other words I’m largely unfamiliar with.

Growing up in Ohio in the 1940s, my mother took accordion lessons, and we have ancient home movies of her happily playing the instrument, fingers flying, the pleated bellows breathing in and out, in and out. No way to know if she was any good; the old home movies are silent, and we can’t ask her audience because most of them are dead, although presumably not because of the accordion music.

She eventually became a mother — I saw to that — and she insisted that a child must learn to play a musical instrument in order to achieve “well-roundedness.” Piano was designated as the ideal starter instrument. I was in fourth grade when I began private lessons. Even at this tender age, I was a rebellious devil, so in the course of nine months I managed to drive off three piano teachers.

My frustrated mother would only allow the third piano teacher off the hook if I chose a different instrument to learn. The public elementary school in our small Indiana town featured a band program starting in the fifth grade. Perfect timing after the carnage of my fourth-grade piano lessons.

We attended the orientation meeting at Franklin School, and Mr. Sohn — already a demigod in Griffith, Indiana — outlined the various instruments a fifth-grader could start on. Basically, any band instrument was fair game except French horn, which was considered too difficult for a fifth-grader.

Having no interest in learning any instrument, I saw my opening. I insisted to my mother that the only instrument I could possibly study would be French horn. She was undaunted. She went to Mr. Sohn, he quizzed my previous teachers — those creeps exposed me as an extraordinary student — and he carved out a first-ever exception for me. Little Dougie Brendel would study French horn from Day One.

I lugged that wretched thing — 13 coiled feet of brass, 18 miserable pounds, plus a bulky, heavy case — back and forth to school for 8 solid years. Rehearsal every school day, multiple concerts every year, innumerable battles with my mother over my home practice, or lack thereof.

If you’re looking for a sentimental happy ending here, forget it. The day I graduated from high school, I turned in my rented French horn and never looked back.

But of course I did learn a lot, in spite of myself. I learned that dazzling music doesn’t just happen; it requires a massive investment by dedicated people, people who have some special quality that eludes me.

So when a magical musical experience comes along, I recognize it — I can’t do that stuff, but I can love that stuff.

Which is why I found my heart soaring on a recent Friday evening at the Dolan Performing Arts Center in Ipswich. It was a truly astonishing world-premiere presentation of original musical and visual works by six Ipswich composers — produced by The Orchestra On The Hill.

Yes, those initials spell T.O.O.T.H., and these folks wear the silly moniker proudly. But there is nothing silly about TOOTH, the brainchild of artistic director Tom Palance. The Friday event was only the most recent of their consistently excellent musical and visual offerings. Magical stuff, every time.

Yet for a moment or two, sitting in the twelfth row on Friday evening, I thought there might actually be real magic afoot.

As I looked at the stage, where the entire Orchestra was seated, I saw Julie Meneghini. Not all of her, just her face. She was mostly hidden by a thicket of string players.

Julie, a longtime friend, is an acclaimed clarinetist. So I knew the time would soon come when we’d hear a clarinet, and I would see Julie blowing brainily and beautifully into that classy black stick.

Then, before long, it happened: a wonderful, winding clarinet solo. It was lovely. I squinted past the violins and cellos and focused on all I could see of Julie’s face, a tiny square in the Orchestra’s back row.

And then, a chill fell over me. Goosebumps. The clarinet’s melody was wafting magically over us all, but I saw Julie just sitting there. Like any ordinary mom waiting calmly at the bus stop. No clarinet in sight.

Incredible! Julie Meneghini was playing her clarinet telepathically. TOOTH fairy! Truly magical music!

As the thrilling concert came to an end and the house lights came up, I dug into the printed program. I wondered if Julie would get at least an asterisk after her name, honorable mention for playing her clarinet with nothing but mental control.

Instead, I was deflated.

Julie had been assigned bass clarinet for this concert.

She’s not TOOTH fairy for nothing. Besides the five variations of clarinet, she plays alto and tenor sax, flute, violin, bassoon, and — horrors — piano.

That beautiful clarinet solo? Turns out it was played by Marguerite Levin, the old-fashioned way: she puffed into a mouthpiece with nothing but her mouth and worked the keys with nothing but her fingers. Ho hum. Human.

Yet TOOTH made magic. Thank you, Orchestra on the Hill.

Glad they’re here. With or without a tooth fairy.


Visit TheOrchestraOnTheHill.org. Meanwhile, Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, still recovering from the trauma of his childhood music lessons. Find him at DougBrendel.com.

A little more, a little more, you’re good

There’s clearly a serious labor shortage. Everywhere you go on the North Shore, you see Help Wanted signs.

Now I know where all the workers went.

My longtime best friend David G. Brown came up from Virginia to visit me over the Labor Day weekend, and I took him to Crane Beach on Saturday morning. As I pulled my vehicle onto the vast gravel parking lot, we were greeted by a long string of parking lot attendants. Every few feet, there was another able-bodied worker, swinging arms, gesturing and gesticulating, pointing us toward that one parking spot deemed acceptable for my little car. Their goal was clear: squeeze as many cars onto the parking lot as humanly possible. 

Of course I immediately saw the flaw in this setup. These parking attendants are all people who could be making your donuts or walking your dog or cleaning your teeth but no, they’re guiding cars into place at Crane Beach.

To send these parker-people back into town to respond to our Help Wanted crisis would not have to mean chaos on the Crane Beach parking lot. There are alternatives. And most of the alternatives would be highly economical.

For example, as I suggested to my companion David G. Brown: For far less than the cost of employing hordes of parking lot attendants, you could paint lines on the parking lot — make them really narrow if you want to, to squeeze in the maximum number of cars — and let people self-park.

My friend David G. Brown, however, has experience in parking lot work. He makes his living running information security at a huge hospital in the D.C. area, but at the beginning of the Covid vaccination process, he and other hospital personnel volunteered as parking lot attendants to help manage the multitudes of vehicles descending on the hospital. David G. Brown was out there 20 hours a week, experiencing parking-lot dynamics firsthand, and his natural intelligence soon led him to become the team leader. Now he wasn’t just waving his arms at drivers; he was teaching other parking attendants how to wave their arms.

I can’t say exactly how many parking attendants were employed: 60? 70? Maybe 200; I’m not sure. A lot, anyway. Who knows, this may be where we got the term “parking lot.”

And he saw for himself why just painting lines won’t get the maximum number of vehicles onto the parking lot.

“People don’t park inside the lines,” he observed sadly.

The best friendships are between people whose temperaments complement each other’s. David G. Brown is insightful and gentle and full of grace. I balance him out.

Unwilling to settle for a fat payroll full of parking attendants, I proposed a simple alternative. Hire a single parking attendant, equip them with a blade, and have them patrol the lot for cars parked across the lines. You wouldn’t have them just slash the tires savagely; this isn’t Detroit, after all. They would carefully cut from top to bottom, excising only the part of the tire that crosses the line. Word would get out pretty quickly, I think, and people would start parking with extreme care, wouldn’t they?

But once again, David G. Brown demonstrated his insight and gentleness and grace. He countered with a superior idea, a plan that would avoid violence yet achieve a similar deterrent outcome:

Simply give the parking attendant a can of paint and a brush, and where a car is parked across the line, let the line be painted again, right over the car.

The wisdom of Solomon, I’m telling ya. Too bad this guy doesn’t live here. We could use such brilliant, balanced discernment in so many local situations.

To submit your own dilemma for David G. Brown to resolve, at low cost and with minimal violence, email PracticallySocrates@DougBrendel.com.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where there’s plenty of space for parking.

Here it comes!

It’s ridiculous — and perhaps wonderful.

A 2-day marathon, this weekend (Aug. 28-29), during which I will perform, live and online, my entire new comic novel, Praying for Mrs. Mombasa … to benefit NewThing.net.

I hope you’ll pledge $2 or more for every hour I read (estimated at 10 hours, end-to-end), to help orphans, abused and abandoned children, foster families, the homeless, children and adults with disabilities, the elderly, and others in need in Belarus.

Saturday, August 28, 1-9 pm EDT
Sunday, August 29, 1-9 pm EDT

You can come and go anytime, in person or online: Click here for Facebook, or here for YouTube. (Recommended for mature audiences 18+)

Hope you can join us, and help people in Belarus! Thank you!

Regional Dispatch to the Rescue

Official transcript:

9-1-1. What is your emergency?

There’s a (screeching sound) in my (screeching sound).

Sorry, can you repeat that?

No, I’m being (screeching sound) by a (screeching sound).

You’re being hished by a hish?

I was just walking my dog downtown and (screeching sound). This is an emergency! Can you please help me?

Sorry, what address are you calling from, please?

Central Street!

Sorry?

Central Street! Central Street!

Sorry, there are a number of Central Streets all over our region. Are you calling from Central Street in Middleton?

Okay then! Never mind! It’s chasing me! I’m at Liberty!

At liberty to do what, please? Sorry, I don’t understand.

Forget liberty! I’m on Maple Street!

Maple Street in Middleton? Speak slowly and distinctly if possible.

I can’t speak slowly and distinctly! I’m being (screeching sound) by a (screeching sound)!

Forgive me. I need more information. This is New England, as you know. Poplar could be Middleton or Ipswich. Randall Road could be Middleton or Ipswich. School Street? It’s all so imprecise. Warren Street? Washington Street? I need to know where to send the police. Or the ambulance. Or the fire truck. Whatever. Amesbury, Essex, Middleton, Topsfield, Wenham; those are your choices. We’re regional now, you know. I know it’s not Beverly. Beverly dropped out before the merger.

Send them all!

Sorry, what is your emergency?

Gaaah! This dog is gnawing on my leg! Where are you?

I’m right here, my friend.

I mean where do you work? (Down, Fido!) I mean, where are you sitting, right now, talking on your phone, or your headset, or your earbuds, or whatever the heck you talk on?

Well, I’m at home, if you must know. Since the pandemic, we’ve all been working from home.

Yes. Home. Where is home, may I ask?

Helsinki.

Finland?

Yes, my friend. I don’t think there’s another Helsinki in the world.

So — (Stop it, Fido!) — You’re not familiar with Ipswich?

I had a girlfriend there once, between my sophomore and junior years.

That would be Ipswich in the east of England?

No. I’ve never been to England.

You don’t mean Ipswich in the east of Australia?

No. Never been.

So, uh, you had a girlfriend in Ipswich, Massachusetts?

No. South Dakota. Exchange student.

South Dakota?

Yes. Ipswich, South Dakota. But at least that’s in northern South Dakota.

So let me ask you — not to be too personal, of course, but since I called you about my emergency — (Down, Fido!) — I feel I have a certain freedom.

Yes, of course, please, go on.

Do you have any clue about the layout of Ipswich, Massachusetts? Our seacoast, our river? The state forests? The public beaches? Our 33-square-mile land mass?

Square miles? Sorry, no. Here in Finland, we went metric in 1880. Let me check my calculator app; I can figure that 33-square-mile land mass in no time.

Please. Don’t bother. I’m going to text my wife and ask her to drive over and get this dog off my leg. Or what’s left of it.

What’s left of the dog? Do I need to call the MSPCA?

No! My leg! What’s left of my leg!

Oh, I see. Is this Charlie? I read about your bad dog some time ago, in the Ipswich Local News.

You’re in Finland!

Well, the Ipswich Local News is online, you know. So, yes. I can contact Ipswich emergency services and get you some help. Is there anything else I can do for you?

No, never mind. I think I’ll be moving to Middleton. Just to be closer to the emergency dispatch guys.


Doug Brendel lives so far out on outer Linebrook Road, in case of emergency he calls upstate New York. Follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.

And sometimes the fish eats you

It’s helpful to have grown up learning Bible stories in Sunday school because when you’re an adult you can identify what’s happening when you find yourself in a disaster of biblical proportions.

I’m just such an adult.

I was born a fourth-generation Pentecostal, a church with a strong Bible-teaching emphasis. Even today, six decades later, I can tell you most of the stories found in the Bible, not just the famous ones but the obscure ones as well. (I always loved those 42 teenage boys getting mauled by a couple bears in chapter 2 of the Second Book of Kings.)

So are you familiar with Jonah? He’s the guy God ordered to go to the wicked city of Ninevah and preach some repentance into them. Jonah didn’t want to mess with the Ninevites, so he hopped a ship in the opposite direction.

God was not a happy camper. He sent a massive storm, the crew panicked, the ship was gonna go down — but Jonah knew this was no ordinary storm. Finally he told the captain, Throw me overboard and the storms will cease.

The crew was just desperate enough to try it. They threw Jonah overboard, the skies cleared, the winds calmed. That’s when Jonah got swallowed by a huge fish — but he ended up surviving too. And going to Ninevah, in the end. Because after you’ve been tossed overboard in a storm at sea, swallowed by an ocean creature, and puked back out after three miserable days, you know better than to mess with God.

Fast-forward to modern times. More than 20 years ago, the Trustees — owners of the Crane Estate at Castle Hill in Ipswich — launched Castle Hill Concerts on Thursday evenings each summer, a brainchild of longtime Trustees gem Trina Schell. These delightful open-air musical experiences on the Grand Allée behind the Great House have become a beloved summertime feature for multitudes of North Shore residents. Blankets on the grass, chatter and laughter, food and drink and dancing under the stars.

Of course, over the years, bad weather has occasionally forced cancellation of a concert. Yet even in the very worst of years, the usual ten-concert series has never been reduced by more than three. Mother Nature can be only so cruel.

But this year, Trina and the Trustees made a grave error.

They invited me to emcee this summer’s concerts — and look what happened.

The first concert of the season was rained out. Had this ever happened before? I don’t know. I haven’t been around very long. I’m an outsidah.

Then the second concert of the season was rained out. Had both the first two concerts of the summer ever been canceled before? No. I got this on good authority, from Trina herself.

Now we’re at the midpoint of the season, and we’ve had a record-shattering FOUR Castle Hill Concerts rained out. Every Thursday, the clouds gather, the skies darken — and somewhere in Ipswich Bay, an enormous fish circles hungrily.

I am Jonah. I don’t know how or why, but my vast knowledge of Bible stories makes it uncomfortably clear to me: This must be my fault.

I went to Trina, my captain, and gave it to her straight: Throw me overboard and the storms will cease.

Trina just laughed. 

But was it an “Oh, don’t be silly” laugh? 

Or was it that little chuckle you chuckle to mask your apprehension? 

I can’t be sure.

If I don’t show up at the next Castle Hill Concert — and especially if it’s rained out — please send a boat out to rescue me.

Look for the biggest fish you can find. I’ll be the guy inside.


Doug Brendel lives 85 feet above sea level on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.

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.