I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to gauge the community’s character.
If you write an occasional newspaper column and pay attention to the feedback, you get a sense of what people really care about. Over time, patterns emerge.
Depending on the opinions you express, people love you — or despise you. More commonly, however, they just don’t give a rip.
What excites the public imagination in Ipswich, Massachusetts?
I can write a column suggesting that we solve the persistent speeding problem on outer Linebrook Road by stationing snipers on the top of Linebrook Church, and nobody objects.
I can write a column speculating about bombing the Ipswich River dam in order to get rid of that anachronistic, environmentally pernicious dam thing, and I hear nothing. Not a nod. Not a yawn. No salutes. Not even any hate mail.
I can write a column about the Ipswich School Committee fiendishly ransacking the high school theatre program (as they did some weeks ago, effectively canning the lone theatre teacher and canceling all theatre classes) — first condescendingly lauding theatre students, in an official School Committee meeting, for passionately expressing the need for theatre classes; and then proceeding, in the face of those very students, to vote unanimously in favor of eradicating theatre faculty and classes — and what changes? Nothing. As I write these words, every anti-theatre member of the Ipswich School Committee, which is all of them, are still unopposed for re-election — including any members whose own children came up through the school theatre program, yet which members voted to kill theatre classes. So theatre classes are still kaput.
Over the years, I’ve written about Ipswich potholes, parking, permitting, and plovers; Ipswich recycling and composting and garbage pickup; Ipswich dogs and chickens and greenheads; Ipswich Select Board citizen’s queries; the Ipswich Board of Health; Ipswich bug-spraying and bicycling and baked goods. Even caffeine-free Diet Coke. Hardly anybody cares about any of this stuff, apparently. It’s the same stuff that’s been happening in this town since the original Mr. Winthrop played poker with Masconomet to win Castle Hill. (No beating a royal flush.)
But when I make one innocent, passing remark about how much I hate bologna, there’s a firestorm.
I express a pallid preference for turkey over bologna, and it breaks the Internet.
Since that day, a few weeks ago, when I had the apparently insane idea of expressing my preference for Market Basket’s deli-sliced Jennie-O honey roast turkey, I’ve been deluged with commentary from besotted bologna-backers. I’ve received emails, texts, old-fashioned letters. Messages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. There are pro-bologna dances on TikTok now, and it’s my fault. I hear Friends of the Ipswich Library are lining up a series of bologna lectures; they’re planning a special day for selling bologna books.
People have reached out to me with all manner of bologna-eating advice. I’ve been taught about the superior brands of bologna, and the brands to avoid at all costs; the proper way to eat bologna, and the condiments to avoid under penalty of death. I’ve received photographs, videos, maps to the most excellent bologna stores. I’ve waded through swamps of people’s childhood bologna-eating stories. At my door, face-to-face with the UPS delivery person, I had to sign for a strange-smelling package.
I’m beginning to get a sense of what’s important around here.
I realized, soon after arriving in Ipswich, that people were passionate about clams. People will argue loudly about whose clams are best. You can raise the question of “best fried clams” and soon there will be fisticuffs. Clambox people will crush Woodman’s people every time.
But opinions about clams are NOTHING compared to opinions about bologna. Oscar Mayer could make millions livestreaming a heavyweight bout at the Ipswich Tavern. The Deutschmacher-Kretschmar-Kunzler bologna people could face off against the Ekrich-Swift-Selter Sweet Lebanon team.
No actual boxing, you understand. You just eat bologna sandwiches till you die. Last one standing wins.
Doug Brendel eats turkey, and that’s about it, at his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Click “Follow” to get all the Outsidah posts in your inbox, even the stuff the papers are too horrified to print.