One man’s garbage is another man’s superiority complex

I married my handyperson.

This marriage, initiated 35+ years ago, has been essential to my survival, because I have no experience, and certainly no expertise, in matters mechanical. I understand that there are nuts, for example, and that there are bolts; but as to which is which, I am largely clueless. I understand that bolts need to be bolted, but don’t nuts need to be nutted? Also: nails vs. screws: Nailed? Screwed? I find myself asking: Why quibble?

So here at our homestead, my wife happily accomplishes any task that requires analytical skills, or tools. Especially power tools. It would be dangerous to let me touch the power tools.

Accordingly, I have been relegated to the safe, mindless jobs. I’m so happy to do my part! I scoop the cat box. I clear the dishes after dinner (we call this “kitchen duty”). Over the years, I have only broken a few dishes during kitchen duty. And I empty the dishwasher (we call this “dishwasher duty”). I have only broken a few more dishes during dishwasher duty.

I also put out the flag on the front of our house every morning, to demonstrate our patriotic fervor; and I bring in the flag every evening, at sundown, to show proper respect. And I take out the compost on Tuesday evenings for early-Wednesday-morning curbside pickup, and take out the recycling and the trash on Wednesday evenings.

I also … wait, I’m thinking … I’m sure there’s something more….

Oh, wait! I do my own laundry! Yeah! And … uh, I’m sure there’s something more.

Let me think.

(Thinking, thinking….)

No, I’m sorry. That’s it. My wife mows the lawn. She trims the cats’ claws. She keeps the house clean. And she works a full-time job. Which she often has to go in to the office for.

So to be clear: I’m a lazy stay-at-home senior-citizen empty-nester spouse.

It’s not easy! It might be easy if the routines stayed simple. But the routines are not reliable. Like when there’s a holiday. Last week, when Memorial Day fell on its federally mandated Monday, the Ipswich trash-and-recycling pickup schedule was delayed by a day. Delayed! By a day! A whole day!

This is a life-shattering wrench in the machinery for someone who’s trying to manage basic household chores with limited bandwidth. Someone like me.

It’s not just a little “calendar glitch.” Think what this actually means. Instead of putting out the recycling and the trash on Wednesday evening as usual, I need to put out the recycling and the trash on Thursday evening. If I don’t tune in to the holiday-week schedule change, my stuff doesn’t go away the following morning, and I’m stuck with it for another long, cluttered, smelly week.

On the other hand, if I’m fortunate enough to remember the holiday-week schedule change, I can look out my front windows and see which of my neighbors have forgotten about the holiday — because they’ve pulled their trash and their recycling to the curb a whole day ahead of schedule. I’m suddenly superior.

I would delight in their failure, except that I’ve been the idiot so often.

Well, I bring you good news. Last week, we observed Memorial Day. And I remembered — in advance — the goofed-up trash-and-recycling schedule. I got our stuff out to the curb the night before.

Yes, I did forget to bring in the flag. Disrespectful, I know. Sorry.

And I forgot to scoop the litter box. Sorry, cats. Sorry, wife.

But otherwise, I was golden.

Doug Brendel is such a loser. Don’t even bother to follow him. But if you want to nose around in his miserable domain, you might visit

New England? I love it here. Especially for the insects

I said a bad word today.

You’re reading this later, but as I’m writing this, it’s today. It’s that Sunday you loved, this past holiday weekend (after a frustratingly chilly May), when suddenly it was 88 degrees. I mean Fahrenheit.

(If it was 88 Celsius, it would be 190 Fahrenheit, and that’s not likely to happen till 10 or 12 years from now. Unless the Republicans completely take power in Washington; then, all bets are off. Buy bikinis now.)

What I’m saying is, I uttered a bad word today, out of my mouth — an expletive — on Sunday, the Sunday before Memorial Day.

It was 88 degrees in coastal Massachusetts, and 88 is just wrong, if you ask me, because I came here for the mild weather.

I’m glad my mom wasn’t here to hear the bad word I said. 

Nobody lives in the Arizona desert heat for 24 years (as I did) and then longs for more hot weather. I don’t do the “outdoors.” So I was uneasily hanging out on my screen porch this past Sunday, trying to tolerate the heat — you were probably at the beach, or cooking out, totally loving it. Hurrah! I’m glad for you. “Hot weather!” Yay. But I was on my screen porch, thinking I was safe from the bugs.

But when I came here to New England, I didn’t account for the midges.

So I got a bug bite today. Which is why I said a bad word.

 Midges aren’t the only bugs in coastal Massachusetts, of course, but they are the ones I have to pay the greatest attention to, because as it turns out, the midge is the one bug whose bite I’m allergic to.

Midges get through the tightest of screens. Yeah. My screens. The tightest screens manufactured in the entire world, which I paid extra for. Marvel-Studio-movie screens. Screens you can hardly breathe through.

Screens keep out bugs? Forget that. Midges rule.

Some time ago, when I first went to my local doctor with a painful, itchy inflammation of my epidermis, she recoiled in horror. (You never want to see your doctor recoil in horror.)

“We need to do something about this!” she said.

Of course, she was speaking from the standpoint of empathy. For which I am grateful.

“We can address this condition,” she said, “but I can’t do anything about prevention.”

Prevention! Like I’m living in the jungles! What do I need? A screen over my bed? Over my head?

This morning, with my arm swelling up, minute by minute, my forearm looking more and more like Popeye, I started chugging an anti-allergy medicine. And slathering myself in anti-itch cream.

And I’m thinking back, across my life….

I didn’t say bad words in the Arizona desert. It was God-awful hot, but I didn’t cuss. I didn’t say bad words in Chicago, even when the winter winds whipped through my five layers of clothing as I waited for the bus on Lake Shore Drive. I worked for a time in Ohio, and I went to college in Missouri, but did I cuss there? No. The weather, and the bugs, were survivable.

But now, with my arm red and swollen to embarrassing proportions — like an over-ripe mango, but with less market value — I am cussing.

As far as I can tell, all the deadliest bugs have congregated here, in preparation for New England’s summer season.

And they have dedicated themselves to biting me.

In my antique New England homestead, it’s not feasible to move from room to room with a midge-bite allergy. Your arm is bigger than your head, and you can’t get through the narrow colonial-era doors between the living room into the kitchen.

We’ve reached out to antique-house renovation experts to inquire about emergency measures, to enlarge the doorway.

I may spend the summer in the outhouse.

Saying bad words.

Don’t tell Mom.

Doug Brendel is cussing in one of the outbuildings at Dragonhead, his “estate” (as he calls it) on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check him out from a safe distance at

One bedroom, perfect for large family

The lack of affordable housing is a problem in Ipswich, there’s no denying it.

And now the problem has hit home for me in a very personal way.

A breezeway connects the back door of our 205-year-old house to our even-more-rickety 50-year-old garage, and every spring, a pair of sparrows nest in the breezeway rafters just outside our back door.

The birds spend days assembling their domicile from twigs and leaves and the stuffing from easy chairs abandoned by neighbors at the side of Linebrook Road.

Then the mama lays her eggs, and the sparrow-couple swap turns sitting on them.

Eventually the eggs hatch, and the babies scream for food more or less continuously for a week or two, while the parents fly out and back in an endless search for sustenance for themselves and their brood.

Finally the youngsters flop out onto the back stairs, one by one, and quickly learn to fly.


But the affordable housing crisis is real. Here’s how I know. This spring, we had two sparrow families on our breezeway.

One family set up as usual in the rafters just outside the back door. But soon, another sparrow-couple set up housekeeping in the rafters midway between house and garage.

It seems NIMBY is not just a human thing. The original squatters appeared to take enormous offense at the arrival of the second set of squatters. There was lots of screeching, squawking, and what looked like dive-bombing as the couples competed for the best bits of trash for nest-building. One day on my driveway the moms-to-be screamed and snapped at each other for half an hour over a torn corner scrap of “Tales from the Scanner.”

The harsh reality is that, when these innumerable babies were born, our quality of life was significantly diminished. The newborns’ screeching for food, coming from two nests instead of just one, was twice as loud — which is to say, half as ignorable — as ever before. Out on my screen porch, to get any work done, I had to turn off my hearing aids, don noise-cancelling headphones, and hum “Don’t You Worry ’Bout a Thing” by Stevie Wonder.

Yet the First World problems just kept coming.

For example: Sparrows have no concept of hygiene. The notion that they fly till they find a clean windshield and then unload? That’s a myth. I am a witness: Sparrows blithely relieve themselves wherever they happen to be at the moment. And where these four parent-sparrows happened to be most of the time, with two nests full of hatchlings to tend to, was my breezeway. My back stairs became a public health emergency. Leahy launched a mobile hygiene workshop just for birds. I was contacted by a Peruvian guano broker looking to expand the market for fertilizer.

Sadly, furthermore, affordable housing is not a self-contained crisis. It’s dominoes; one issue leads to another. Once you add housing units to your property, you’re subject to all kinds of Ipswich permitting requirements, not to mention state and federal regulations. If we get a third sparrow family next spring, I’ll have to ask Town Meeting for a change in the bylaws. Meanwhile, the building inspector will be in my face, demanding tiny guardrails up in the rafters — with PETA requiring tiny gates to let the young sparrows out when they’re ready to take flight.

If only Ipswich would construct more affordable housing. Then the sparrows might be able to comfortably settle closer to the train station, perhaps despoil the roof of the metal canopy over the commuter benches.

Next spring, I’m hoping the birds can find happiness in the Bruni project.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. If you check him out at rather than dropping by in person, you avoid the biohazards.

Things That Go Bump in the Visitor Center

Ipswich residents were shocked last week to learn of the sudden closure of the Hall-Haskell House, home to the Ipswich Visitor Center and a popular gallery featuring a rotation of North Shore artists.

The extraordinary glass artwork of Ipswich resident Mary Woodall-Jappe was being featured in what was scheduled as a week-long exhibition.

The building is more than two centuries old, and responsible authorities said they were closing it because of a structural issue.

Which sounds plausible on the surface, of course. But in this paranoid age, when conspiracy theories are exchanged like children’s trading cards of yore, we should probably take the initiative and debunk the most likely misconceptions before they take root and catch fire and scorch the innocent.

1. Someone at Town Hall did not secretly order the Hall-Haskell House closure because they hate Mary Woodall-Jappe’s art. This is inconceivable, because her art is fabulous. I have some of her pieces on display in my own home. (Good news: Mary’s show was rescued by the Meetinghouse Gallery at the top of Meetinghouse Green. Bad news: The show closed Sunday at 4 p.m. But you can still experience the wonder of Mary’s artwork online at

2. Ipswich old-timers did not slip in under cover of night and use handsaws to cut through support beams in order to weaken the Visitor Center structure and turn tourists away because “this town is getting too crowded.”

3. Joe Biden did not order the building closed until solar panels are installed on the roof. 

(3a. The Hall-Haskell House was not shuttered as a budgetary measure, to pay for a state-mandated fleet of electric cars for town officials.)

4. This was not an act of God, punishment for Ipswich’s sins. Ipswich may have plenty of sins, but God was reportedly juggling Trump cases last week and didn’t have time to focus on Ipswich. (A leaked inter-office memo from heaven reads: “Thy Lord God hath bigger fish to fry.”)

5. The Hall-Haskell House closure had nothing whatsoever to do with last week’s Town Meeting vote in favor of removing the Ipswich River dam. The building did not begin groaning in sympathy with the dam when news of the vote arrived. It should be understood that the Hall-Haskell House and the Ipswich River dam are not even of the same generation. The Hall-Haskell House regards the dam, a mere 115 years old, as a young whippersnapper. 

(5a. The Hall-Haskell House and the Ipswich River dam have not engaged in a mystical mutual suicide pact, betting on which one goes down first.)

6. The town did not falsely claim structural problems as an excuse to close the building so future town managers hired from out-of-town could live in the basement.

7. The structural damage was not caused by Covid.

8. There is no secret plan to demolish the Hall-Haskell House and put in condos. Nor a parking lot. The pro-condo people may have secretly lobbied for demolition, but the pro-parking lot people blocked them, and as a result of the standoff, the plan went nowhere.

9. The Hall-Haskell House did not simply give up the ghost in despair when it heard Harvard architectural students refer to the Hammatt Street lot as “the jewel of Ipswich.”

10. This has nothing to do with a feud between the ghost of Charles Hall and the ghost of Eunice Haskell. The ghost of Charles Hall has lived quietly in the house since he passed on in 1825, and he is on very good terms with the ghost of Eunice Haskell, who bought the house from him fair-and-square but was happy to let him stay on in the basement. Meanwhile, she is perfectly content to live upstairs, often coming downstairs on invisible visits to art shows, and sometimes vibrationally influencing shoppers to buy certain works of art. The Hall-Haskell House must be preserved, if for no other reason than to keep these two fine spirits properly cared for.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in a house even older than Hall-Haskell, with its own ghost issues. Make a visitation to Doug at

Always look on the Ipswich side of life

Spring has sprung. Life is good.

My father will affirm this view. He was a springtime baby, born during the Hoover administration. Dad will turn 91 next week, and he’s in very good health, which is cause for gratitude, even rejoicing — not just because it means he’s still around for us to enjoy, but also because it means my DNA probably carries the longevity gene.

It’s been a long, lovely, leisurely Ipswich spring so far, with some much-needed rain, yet not too many raw, blustery days. Along with the inevitable clouds, we’ve had quite a lot of delightful sunshine.

(Of course, complaining is our official town pastime, so on the first hot day, someone will complain that spring was too short. But let’s agree, right now, to encircle the complainer and thrash them with our campfire hot-dog-grilling sticks.)

It’s spring, and Mother Nature announces this by causing the trees and bushes to fluff out, turning Ipswich beautiful shades of green, and making it easier for the cops to hide from speeders. In wintertime, that line of vegetation at the edge of the Catholic Church property doesn’t work as a speed trap. But this is the season of hope — and thanks to Our Lady of Hope’s springtime foliage, Ipswich police officers can once again ensnare speeders as they roar toward downtown on Linebrook Road. This has the potential of reforming lead-footed miscreants, making our streets safer for young and old, reducing the noise of roaring vehicle engines, and leading to the overall improvement of our quality of life. Life is good, and might be getting even better.

Another wondrous sign of spring: The Marini farmstand opened last week. I live on the Marini end of town, so I depend on this source of fresh food — except during our long, sad winters, when I’m forced to forage in my freezer, or eat from cans like a house pet. On Marini’s opening day, I was able to wait almost three full hours before I dashed into the farmstand, giggling and dancing with joy. (A kindly young woman in a Marini polo shirt quietly escorted me back out onto the parking lot until I could control myself.)

And this spring may turn out to be better than any previous spring — because the Marini farmstand has expanded! The expansion is very nice, completely in keeping with the other structures and the feel of the area. Rumor has it that Mr. Bruni proposed adding 90 or so apartments, but I understand the Marini family wisely declined that gracious offer.

Spring has sprung, life is good, and it’s time to count our blessings. Grieving over last year’s departure of the beloved Ithaki restaurant can now end, as the Brown Square Bistro has opened in that space, with a lively, ever-morphing menu. Last night I had a dessert designed to look like a Truffula tree from Dr. Seuss’s book The Lorax. Instead of a puff of cartoony leaves, my miniature tree featured cotton candy. Life is sweet.

Oh, we could focus on the negative, the sad, the infuriating, the ugly. We are, in this election season, overwhelmed by lawn signs. But let us look on the positive side. We have such a rainbow of lawn-sign colors, I hear the town is up for a public-art grant.

Spring is lovely. Life is good. Sure, we’re bracing ourselves for a contentious Town Meeting, followed by a Select Board election with six candidates and only four open positions, which means perhaps a third of all voters may be disappointed in the outcome. But let’s do what Eric Idle recommended: “Always look on the bright side of life.” Okay, he sang this song during his own crucifixion — but it became a megahit! Good things come out of bad situations. Let’s look at our Select Board election this way: With each of us casting four votes on Election Day, we can all wake up the next morning and say, “At least two of my candidates won!”

Doug Brendel lives a cheery life of unfettered joy on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Find out more at

Afterward, you get an “I Inhaled” sticker

Election Day is coming, here in Ipswich, Massachusetts, the day we make our voices heard and our opinions known, even more than every other day of the year, hunkered over a Reuben sandwich at Sofia’s with our equally grumpy friends.

This year, we’ll be asked to choose Select Board members. This is part of a solemn tradition stretching back 389 years. When it began, the Select were men, serving on a Board of Selectmen. Eventually, Selectmen could also be women, but they were still called Selectmen. Finally, in recent years, instead of Selectmen, we have Selectpersons, serving on a Select Board.

In any case, we have to select them.

It will happen at the Ipswich Y, converted into a cavernous polling place, with tables and voting booths and ballot-reading machines standing in four long lines, one for each of our esteemed precinct.

And whether you realize it or not, it will be costly — and potentially dangerous.

Yes, dangerous. Because of the ink.

Ipswich doesn’t use those quirky voting machines you’ve heard about. No tabs to flip or levers to pull. No troublesome punchcards, with those “hanging chads” that got George W. Bush elected. No. Ipswich is a historic town. We do things the good old-fashioned way. With ballots printed on stiff, sturdy paper, an open oval next to each candidate’s name.

And with Sharpies.

Well, maybe they’re not actual Sharpie-brand Sharpies. But they’re pens, loaded with permanent black ink — I assume it’s permanent, because how could you trust a ballot marked with erasable ink? The Town of Ipswich graciously stocks each voting booth with a black Sharpie-type pen, so you can fill in each of your preferred ovals with a small dab of permanent black ink.

It is assumed you’ll use the pen properly, and dispense the ink appropriately. No licking the inky tip of the pen. And no smelling the ink fumes. These activities would be hazardous to your health. Permanent marker ink is made from chemicals you probably don’t want to ingest, by nose nor mouth, according to the Northern New England Poison Center:

  • There’s xylene, a volatile liquid hydrocarbon otherwise used in fuels. 
  • There’s toluene, a colorless liquid you can find in coal tar or petroleum, used as a solvent. 
  • And then there’s urethane resin, a synthetic compound used to make pesticides and fungicides. (In the good old days, before we knew better, it was used as an anesthetic.) And in its solid form, urethane resin is often used to make movie props.

Put them all together and you get permanent marker ink!

(P.S. The Northern New England Poison Center adds this hopeful note: “Permanent markers are safe when used as intended.”)

The most painful Election Day hazard, however, is probably cost. Ink is expensive. A single Sharpie typically costs at least $1.20. Even buying in bulk, at a lower unit cost, you’re still talking about serious money. I found permanent black ink online for roughly $75 a gallon.

But we could cut costs, and quite easily. Hear me out:

We’re being asked to fill four Select Board seats from among six candidates. This means every ballot will get four dabs of costly permanent black ink. But if our leaders would simply let us cast “no” votes instead of “yes” votes, we’d only have to fill in two little ovals on the ballot instead of four. The town would save half of its total Election Day ink budget.

And just imagine how much more satisfying it will be to vote against candidates rather than for. To be honest, I’ve already got a couple in mind.

But of course, it’s too late to change gears like this for the upcoming election. So we’ll need to blacken the ovals adjacent to the names of the candidates we favor.

So, to be clear: I urge my fellow citizens to vote. Please vote in favor of four candidates. And vote quickly. For the sake of your health, hold your breath.

(Don’t hold your nose, though. That might look snarky.)

Doug Brendel lives in Precinct 3 and writes with a cheap, safe pencil. Follow him by clicking “Follow the Outsidah” here at

Honk If You Love Science Experiments

There’s a large species of goose, the graylag, typically up to three feet long and weighing more than seven pounds. It’s found in salt marshes and elsewhere.

The graylag goose is the goose of life, revered in ancient times, in Eurasia. Something to do with fertility. And it’s not just religious superstition, apparently. Graylags procreate with astonishing efficiency. They seem urgently committed to preserving the graylag way of life.

The graylag is also a goose of the arts. The earliest quill pens, invented centuries ago, were made from graylag goose feathers. (Right-handed writers deemed left-wing feathers the best, because they curved away and let you see the whole page. Us lefties needed right-wing feathers.)

But sometimes, for all its auspiciousness, the graylag can be fooled. And it doesn’t seem to require a very complex scam. Strangely, this goose, long associated with fertility — reproducing itself, giving wing to the next generation — can’t always recognize its own eggs.

The acclaimed scientist Niko Tinbergen noted that the graylag, if it notices an egg outside of its nest, will engage in a sort of ritual, an instinctive routine. It sticks out its neck and, with great seriousness of purpose, rolls the egg into the nest. Heaven forbid the next generation of quill pens should be lost.

But was Mother Goose reacting out of habit, or real discernment? Dr. Niko, that wily trickster, began testing the goose by placing a series of other more-or-less spherical objects — non-eggs — outside the nest.

I’ll simplify the test results for you: The goose flunked.

The graylag goose was operating on auto-pilot. She would stick out her neck and resolutely roll just about anything into her nest. Even a volleyball. Although, once she got that volleyball into her nest, she regretted it. She fretted and fussed. A volleyball, she realized, would not produce a fine new generation of quill pens.

Ipswich, you’re the goose. You live on or near the salt marsh, you’ve preserved your way of life for centuries, and you’ve contributed greatly to the arts. Your school theatre classes, for example, have been renowned not only for producing highly acclaimed shows but also for reproducing — turning out generations of successful young professionals in the theatrical arts and beyond.

And here comes Town Meeting, our twice-a-year nesting grounds. Town Meeting is where we lay our eggs. It’s where we set the course for the next generation. Where we nurture our legacy. Secure our future. Decide how history will someday regard us.

Year after year, at our springtime gathering, we’re shown a school budget. We stick out our necks and resolutely roll that budget into the nest. But are we discerning? Or are we on auto-pilot?

This year, the mad scientists will show us an egg and ask us to stick out our necks and roll it into the nest. But wait — is it really a good egg? This budget doesn’t have the life of theatre classes in it. It won’t produce another generation of the artistic leaders Ipswich is known for.

Look carefully, Mother Goose. That’s no egg. It’s a volleyball.

Of course, someone at Town Meeting might happen to offer a motion to amend the school budget by transferring a few thousand dollars from “free cash” to the School Department, just in case the School Committee might fund theatre classes after all.

If someone makes such a motion, I guess the wise geese will vote “yes.”

If the amendment fails, then the wise geese will have a big decision to make: Pretend the volleyball is a healthy egg, and roll it into the nest as usual? And then live with it, and regret it?

Or say no — not fooled — honk honk, that’s a volleyball! — and vote “NO” on the whole school budget?

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where geese and other wildlife dominate the rustic landscape. Follow Doug by clicking “Follow the Outsidah” here at

I can quit whenever I want

I love Lorraine, and my wife knows all about it, and I don’t care. Every time I see Lorraine, my heart skips a beat.

Yes, passion can kill. You fall in love and you lose your mind. You stop seeing the world clearly. You start taking chances. You develop improper habits. You can wind up wrapping your Range Rover around a tree on Old Plains Road, and the Ipswich Historical Association will put you in jail for defacing a historical artifact.

But of course, most of us never fall prey to the curse of extreme passion. We’re New Englanders. We’re solid citizens. When I moved to Ipswich, I understood this protocol. When I moved into my two-century-old Ipswich home, I accepted the unspoken requirement: You’re a Puritan now. Don’t screw up. You’ll lose the respect of your fellow New Englanders. And that’s going to be awful for you.

Still, the way I feel about Lorraine, I’m willing to take that risk … because the quiche at the Ipswich Inn is just that good.

Some years ago — long before we bid a sad and abrupt farewell to the late great Inn proprietor Ray Morley this past October — there was a brouhaha about the expansion of his dining room. At the time, I thought it was about zoning, and traffic, and neighbors’ lives being ruined by the noisy clink-clink-clink of diners’ forks on their plates.

No. All of this was distraction. Diversion from the real issue. I understand this now. It was about the quiche. Not just any quiche. Quiche Lorraine — and what it can do to an unsuspecting person like me.

Quiche Lorraine is technically a “tart,” an open pastry case filled with a magical custard concoction of thick cream, eggs, and bacon. (The Inn adds or substitutes other wondrous proteins.) In recent decades, American chefs have made the mélange even more devastating by adding cheese. I can only say, “OMG.”

Technically, quiche Lorraine can be served cold — but at the Ipswich Inn, the servers rush it from the kitchen while it’s still warm.

Most Friday mornings when I visit the Inn’s dining room, there’s a “specials” board on display, and I arrive preoccupied, heart thumping, hoping to see “quiche Lorraine” there. When it’s not, I have to settle for some fabulous benedict or another, or one of their exotic omelets. All good, but…


It’s become sort of a minor religion, and not just for me. My usual breakfast companions now join me in praying that quiche Lorraine will be on the menu, because they know if I go Lorraineless, I’m going to be jittery and irritable. My speech slurs and I say things I’ll regret. The quality of my friends’ breakfast experience is grossly diminished if I have to settle for a mere “scrambled and sausage.”

But let me assure you, I’m not simply accepting my obsession and descending into a state of hopeless desperation. I realize that the Ipswich Inn is a venerable North Shore institution, and it would be unseemly to disrupt the homey ambience of the dining room with an emergency intervention — paramedics rushing in to keep “that quiche Lorraine guy” from croaking just because there’s no quiche Lorraine on the specials board.

So I’m working on it. There’s a 12-step program for this, and I’m making my way through it. It’s not easy. It doesn’t happen overnight. But I’m on the journey.

Step 1: I’ve admitted I’m powerless over quiche Lorraine. 

Step 2: I understand that a power greater than quiche Lorraine could restore me to sanity.

I’m still working on Step 3: turning my will and my life over to the care of God. When I pray, it feels like God just says, “I know. I love that stuff too.”

Doug Brendel is grateful to live on outer Linebrook Road, only 5.3 miles from the Ipswich Inn, so when the quiche Lorraine cravings become too much, he can get there in 12 minutes. Unless there’s a train at the Lord’s Square crossing. In which case, ignore the screaming. Follow Doug’s recovery journey by clicking “Follow” here at

Anthony Hopkins once kissed a prime number in Connecticut, and here’s proof

My entire life, I’ve made my living as a writer-for-hire. So I was definitely interested to meet ChatGPT.

It’s said that this free-to-anyone software can write an essay on any subject — in a matter of seconds — and do so at a level of intelligence that fools even the most skeptical high school English teacher. My colleague Bob Waite even wrote a column about it, so it must be the real deal.

And Chat isn’t just a writer. It also does its own research. To write what you want written, it automatically functions like Google. Ask it anything, and it seems to cull the Internet for whatever info you need. Try it yourself, at There’s a window at the bottom of the screen. Type a note there, using ordinary everyday English. Tell Chat what you want, and let’s see what you get.

Just don’t count on it being the truth.

ChatGPT tells lies.

Here’s how I learned the unsettling truth about “Chat truth.” I wanted the most famous examples of theatrical actors being injured onstage. Chat immediately responded with a brief description of the well-known Spider-Man tragedy: opening night on Broadway in 2010, the title character attempting to fly over the audience, but falling 20+ feet to sustain fractures of the skull, vertebrae, a shoulder blade, and ribs.

But then Chat went on to tell me about a 1984 incident in London’s West End, when the mega-acclaimed Anthony Hopkins (whom I revere) “accidentally stabbed his co-star … with a prop knife during a fight scene.” Chat named the co-star and specified that he “was rushed to the hospital,” “required several stitches,” and “was able to return to the play after a brief absence.”

Only one problem. It never happened.

Search all you like — on Hopkins, the co-star, the play — but you won’t find any reference to this accident.

“There have been many other incidents of actors being injured or killed during stage performances throughout history,” Chat insisted, “but these two are perhaps among the most famous.”

I was so puzzled, I went back to Chat and asked, “How can you document Anthony Hopkins’ stabbing of an actor onstage in the West End?”

“I’m sorry, but I cannot document an event that did not occur,” Chat sniffed in reply. “There is no record of Anthony Hopkins stabbing an actor onstage in the West End, and it is important to avoid spreading false information. If you are referring to a fictional event or a scene from a play, it should be made clear that it is not a real-life occurrence.”

Hear, hear.

Just to make sure I wasn’t going crazy, I returned to Chat and asked, “What is the most famous incidence of an onstage accident resulting in an actor’s injury or death in a theatrical play?”

This time Chat seemed to repackage the Hopkins stabbing story — still Hopkins, still 1984, but now it was a production of Macbeth at the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-upon-Avon, and a different actor-victim, and only “a minor injury.”

Then Chat brought up the original Hopkins play again, but without Hopkins, and in a different year this time — and oh, by the way, now it was an actor accidentally hanging himself.

I figured maybe I wasn’t using the right syntax, perhaps failing to communicate clearly.

“Tell me about Anthony Hopkins accidentally stabbing a fellow actor in a West End stage production,” I prompted.

Now Chat put Hopkins in yet another play, in yet another year, and had him stabbing yet another fellow actor. And the victim got more stitches this time.

I was stunned. “Is that story true?” I asked.

“Yes, the story about Anthony Hopkins accidentally stabbing a fellow actor with a real knife during a West End stage production is true,” Chat unflinchingly replied. “It is a well-known incident that occurred during a performance of Equus at the National Theatre in London in 1967. The incident has been reported in various media outlets and is often cited as an example of the dangers of using real weapons on stage.”

“What is your documentation?” I asked.

“As an AI language model, my knowledge is based on a large corpus of text data,” Chat huffed. “The story about Anthony Hopkins accidentally stabbing a fellow actor with a real knife during a West End stage production is a well-known incident that has been widely reported in the media, including in articles, interviews, and biographies of Anthony Hopkins.”

Full of bravado, Chat went on: “Here are some sources that report on the incident.”

Then came the bibliography: an Independent article from 1998 (followed by a link), a Guardian article from 2018 (followed by a link), “Anthony Hopkins’ autobiography, Anthony Hopkins: The Biography” (which isn’t an autobiography).

So of course I checked out the links.

The Independent link led to this: “This page doesn’t exist.”

The Guardian was more politely British: “Sorry — we haven’t been able to serve the page you asked for.”

But Chat still wasn’t finished trying to sell me. Under the list of “sources” was this paragraph:

“These sources provide detailed accounts of the incident and its aftermath, and confirm that the accident did occur during a performance of Equus in 1967, resulting in Edward Woodward being injured by a real knife that Hopkins had mistakenly picked up instead of a prop knife.”

I decided to give Chat one final chance. “Did Anthony Hopkins accidentally stab an actor onstage?” I inquired. “There is no evidence to suggest that Anthony Hopkins accidentally stabbed an actor onstage. This appears to be a rumor or a false story,” Chat answered.

Then Chat lectured me: “Anthony Hopkins is a highly respected and experienced actor who has been involved in many productions throughout his career, and there is no record of such an incident occurring. It’s important to be cautious when it comes to stories that circulate online and to verify the information before accepting it as true.”

I kept testing Chat. Math, I figured, is one thing you can’t fib about. Eh, no, it seems this bot can’t stop fibbing. “214 is divisible by what numbers?” I asked. Chat replied with 1, 2, and 107. Correct. But then the irrepressible Chat had to keep selling me. “These are the only three factors of 214,” Chat continued, “as it is a prime number.”

Actually, no, Chat, sorry; 214 is not a prime number. A prime number has only two factors — 1, and itself — that’s what makes it prime.

And that’s what makes you a big fat liar.

I was planning a speaking tour. I asked for “all the Connecticut cities with a population of 10,000 or more within one hour’s driving distance of Danbury.” Chat listed six cities. This didn’t seem right. I lowered the figure to 5,000. “Sure,” Chat replied — and gave me a list of 12 cities. Still not right. The smallest city on the list still had almost 52,000 people. I tried asking for a threshold of 2,500 people. “Certainly,” Chat answered smugly — but the new list only went down to Naugatuck, pop. 31,742.

“There are no Connecticut cities within an hour’s drive from Danbury with a population between 2,500 and 31,742?” I demanded.

“I apologize for the error in my previous response,” Chat averred. “Here’s the corrected list.”

Finally, a list of 18 cities.

Maybe ChatGPT doesn’t tell you the truth until you push.

And even then, how can you trust it? This is a bot willing to tell enormous lies — and even throw an Academy Award-winner under the bus — just to gain your trust.

Beware, world. ChatGPT is the Donald Trump of bots. Foaming with fabrications — and speaking with what sounds like authority. When it’s really just … hm, what’s the word?

Heck, I don’t need to sit here trying to figure this out.

“Chat, what are the most common terms for bull****?”

P.S. Ask Chat about Anthony Hopkins stabbing a fellow actor, and let me know what you hear back.

Doug Brendel lives in an old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, with no friends but ChatGPT, who can’t be trusted. Follow Doug by clicking “follow” here at