You can’t just say everything you think.
I mean, you can. But somebody will kill you.
I’m about to conclude 30 continuous years of under-roof parenting. Our “baby” will leave for college in New York City about a month from now. Which means I will finally come to the end of three decades of advising my children not to say everything they think. After that, they’re on their own. All three of them. Say whatever you want, kids; I don’t care. Well, actually, I do care. But at this point, I recognize the reality: I have no say in what you say. So go ahead; say whatever you think. I’ll cry at the funeral. But I’ll also be muttering, under my breath, “Told ya so.”
There is no better way to learn this lesson — You can’t just say everything you think — than to become a small-town newspaper columnist. Do not write about a school budget override. Do not write about Selectperson bobblehead dolls. These are no-brainers. People will hate you.
I can express the most innocuous, the most insignificant, the most meaningless opinion in an Ipswich Local Newscolumn — and God knows, I have done more than my share of expressing innocuous, insignificant, meaningless opinions in Ipswich Local News columns — and no matter how innocuous, insignificant, and meaningless my opinion is, someone will come roaring in, leading unwashed hordes bearing torches and pitchforks, to thrash me. Affordable housing. Squirrel suicides. Kids playing on the war monuments. To write about these topics was the height of stupidity. Or the depth. I’m never sure which way stupidity goes: up, or down?
Anyway, based on various unpleasant experiences over the years, I’ve acquired a kind of sixth sense for topics to avoid. If I ever need to revisit the topics I’ve decided (for my own safety) never to write about, I can always pay a visit to my “rejected ideas for columns” vault. It’s actually a ratty old briefcase made of cracked leather and smelling of mothballs, matted with spider webs, locked behind a secret door down a narrow passageway at the back of a forgotten closet in a part of our house we don’t even remember is there. Not really — but wouldn’t this make a great column?
When I land upon an idea for a column I can’t possibly write, because it would almost certainly mean leaving scraps of my under-insured carcass strewn across outer Linebrook Road, I simply make my way to the vault, open the old briefcase, and deposit the moist, wrinkled, stained cocktail napkin on which the bad idea was scribbled. Then I snap the briefcase shut, a little mushroom of dust puffing into the air, and I turn back to resume my safe, normal life. No harm done. As long as you don’t write the bad columns, bad things don’t happen to you.
Here, I’ll show you what I mean. Let me just pull a few ratty little scraps out of the briefcase, at random:
- Dogs are loathsome creatures and unfit to join humans even for COVID-safe outdoor dining.
- “A Shark’s-Eye View of Crane Beach.”
- The greatest tragedy in Ipswich’s 386-year history was our failure to seize upon that golden opportunity we had to straighten Lord’s Square in exchange for letting Dunkin’s build a drive-through.
- Ideas for dealing with people who steal Black Lives Matter signs: #1 — Add “This sign infused with COVID” stickers.
- People don’t bring their cats to restaurants. Why should people bring their dogs to restaurants?
- People who don’t wear a mask during a global pandemic are just dumb; but when they tell you that you shouldn’t wear a mask either, it’s even more dangerous, because they’re spraying their potentially germ-laden droplets onto your mask. But you can’t talk sense to these people, because they already have the first stages of COVID brain death. (Check CDC posts to confirm details.)
- Central, Market, and Main Street foot traffic crisis: Retail and restaurants, good. Lawyers and realtors, bad.
- Anything about The Trustees.
- “Seven Reasons Dogs Should Never Be Allowed Off-Leash in Public.” (Edit the 22 reasons to seven.)
- The Ipswich permitting process is a thing of beauty. (Interview architects.)
- It’s not widely known that piping plovers are poisonous to fisher cats; yet a fisher cat will always catch and kill a small bird if one is available. This makes the case for catching fisher cats and releasing them on Crane Beach. Kill two birds, etc. (Check Poison Control Center to confirm details.)
- Shaw’s. Market Basket. Discuss.
- “I’ve been married 35 years, so if I live to be 100, I’m halfway through this marriage, and I hope I make it.” (Find another way to say this.)
- Ideas for dealing with people who steal Black Lives Matter signs: #2 — On each sign, mount miniature unmarked aerosol spray bottle (black is preferred; empty is okay).
- Banning kite-flying on Crane Beach to keep the piping plovers from experiencing anxiety is like banning bagpipes to keep funeral-goers from feeling sad. (Wait. A bagpipe ban would be awesome. Find different analogy.)
- “This thing in the fridge: Does it smell okay to you?”
- Road kill as a Rorschach test.
- “I don’t care if you’re almost 19 years old; I’m paying the bills around here.”
- The big new development on Linebrook Road is an abomination, but the people who live there are potential subscribers. How to finesse my hypocrisy?
- Ideas for dealing with people who steal Black Lives Matter signs: #3 — Sprinkle signs with talcum powder; start “Ipswich Anthrax Crisis” Facebook page.
- “In my dream, Ray Morley was dancing with KelleyJane Kloub.”
- Maybe a column about dogs? Dog owners are always good for a laugh.
- Ipswich Board of Health. Gestapo. Discuss.
- Anything about EBSCO.
- “Concentration Camps for Conservatives.”
See? It’s simple to stay out of trouble. Most of what you’re thinking, just don’t say it. And absolutely don’t write it down.
Doug Brendel lives in a bunker under his house on outer Linebrook Road. Good luck tracking him down. You can start by trying DougBrendel.com.