Passage to Infamy


This is about a friend of mine, who shall remain nameless, and who, like me, hasn’t lived in Ipswich long, and who, like me, lives in an antique house, one of those quirky places added to, revised, and generally cobbled together over the centuries in such a way that the resulting residence is something like the interior of an old lady’s handbag. A monument to perplexity. Why does this nook lead to that cranny? How can all the kitchen doors be too narrow to get this fridge in or out?

In this particular house, you had to traipse through a bathroom to get from one side of the house to the other. You can imagine the awkward moments. If someone is, shall we say, using the facilities, you can’t really go in. You’re trapped, either in the front of the house, or the rear. Of course you can wait for the, uh, user to finish, ahem, using. If you’re short on time, however, your options are limited. Even if it’s only someone in the shower, and you open the bathroom door very, very quietly and try to tiptoe through, it’s possible that you’ll suddenly get to know the person taking the shower a bit more intimately than either of you would have preferred at that moment.

Your other option is to go outside, walk around the house, and come back in on the other side. This option is particularly unpleasant when your sardonic neighbor, noticing you from the adjacent property, won’t leave it alone. “How’s it goin’, Larry? Betsy’s in the shower, eh?” Also: Take your key. It’s awkward enough to be seen stalking around your own house, out one door and in the other, but it’s humiliating to arrive at your destination, find yourself locked out, and have no choice but to go back and do it all over again. “How’s it goin’, Larry? Locked out with Betsy in the shower, eh?” Not that I’ve ever experienced this myself, you understand.

So my friend, handyman that he is, employed a simple but ingenious solution. He cut off one edge of the bathroom by erecting a new wall, complete with door, forming a convenient corridor. You no longer have to interrupt whatever someone’s doing in the bathroom (I hesitate to be more specific) in order to cross from the front of the house to the back. Which is a huge relief. Not that I’ve ever experienced this relief personally, you understand. We’re talking about my friend’s house.

The new hallway is attractive: it’s painted, it has baseboards and crown molding and ample lighting. And the new wall is sturdy. If you happen to stumble in that hallway — I’m not speculating as to why you might be stumbling, but let’s just say you stumble — this new wall will hold you up. Not that I’ve tried it out, mind you. But I can say on good authority that even after an inordinate number of martinis, or if you lose your balance because that third floorboard is somewhat wobbly and sometimes takes you by surprise — no matter how or why you fall down like a fool and crash against the new wall — you cannot knock this wall down.

It may, however, have to come down.

A longtime Ipswich resident happened to be visiting recently.

“Look at the new wall I built!”

The friend looked the new wall up and down, frowning.

“You get a permit for this?”


As it turns out, there are some 2,114 pages of building code in the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, and an additional 189 pages or so just for Ipswich; and as any longtime Ipswich resident knows, every paragraph of these regulations must be consulted, every detail of a project approved, before anything gets built in Ipswich. The Town of Ipswich Building Department’s own website actually lays it on the line: “Anything other than paint and paper will probably require a Building Permit.”

Who knew?

However, it’s probably not feasible to tear down the wall and do it all over again legally. Simpler to pay the friend to keep quiet.

To keep up with the hush-money payments, a collection box has been installed in the illegal hallway. Every time you cross from one end of the house to the other, you put in a dollar. And thank God He’s protected you from Mr. Sperber for one more day.

Please don’t tell.



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