Hamlet said “Thinking makes it so,” but voted nay

An Open Letter to Ipswich Selectperson Tammy Jones:

Tammy, don’t quit. Retract your resignation. Rescind your reversal. Rethink your recalculation. Revoke it, repeal it, repudiate it. Renege! You won’t regret it.

I know you love the job; you said so yourself. You’re only quitting because of those damnable personal and professional obligations. I get it, I really do. I know how distracting and draining it can be to deal with annoying life-details like mental health and children and that ominous hissing under the hood of the Saab.

And I know the $1.25 per meeting that the Town of Ipswich pays you for Select Board duty just doesn’t go far enough in the checkout aisle at Shaw’s.

Let me help.

I bring you good news. You don’t need to quit. Sure, they scraped your name off the Ipswich Select Board webpage within minutes of your resignation announcement, even though it won’t be official till October 26th. Still — regardless — I assure you, Tammy — there is hope.

Donald Trump gives us hope.

Yes, we have our nation’s actual second-term president to thank. How so? Well, our awesome leader has recently established the fact that the nation’s chief executive can declassify top-secret materials just by thinking about it. This is fact, not fake. “When the president does it,” Richard Nixon declared, “it is not illegal.” (According to at least three current Justices of the Supreme Court, it’s already “settled law.”)

How does this breakthrough in governance relate to you, Selectperson Tammy Jones? Here’s how: 

“Thinking it makes it real” is not merely a federal matter. Thanks to the beautiful reality of trickle-down economics (invented in the Reagan era and indisputably verified ever since then), whatever our true president says on Truth Social universally applies to every level of government, top to bottom — all the way from the supreme halls of ultimate power at Mar-a-Lago, where a great man was robbed of the presidency, to the humble office of the lowliest local police chief who once dreamed of becoming an interim town manager. And everywhere in between. Which includes you, dear Tammy.

This means that you don’t need to attend those tiresome Select Board meetings. It’s a whole new world. You don’t even really need to log on via Zoom. They send you the meeting agenda in advance; click on it when you feel like it. Wherever you are. 

Maybe you’re lounging with your iPad in front of the fire, in an elegant evening dress. Maybe you’re on the toilet, on your phone. Doesn’t matter. Scan the agenda items at your leisure. 

“One Day All Alcohol License for the Baptist Church.” Waddaya think? Blip. You just voted. 

“Four million dollars for the Bruni Project Backward Time-Travel Feasibility Study.” Waddaya think? Blip. You just voted.

You need to report on the progress of the Market Street Traffic Misdirection Subcommittee? Blip. You just delivered your speech. And it was awesome.

Tammy, I’m so glad for you. Glad that you’re serving on our Select Board now, when “thinking makes it real,” instead of, say, seven or eight years ago, back when it had to be real first. With this new system, you can stay on the board without ever showing up, and make a greater impact than ever.

Of course we would rather see you there in person, at Select Board meetings. But if it’s not possible to have you physically present, we would still be grateful for the benefit of your perspectives on Town issues. You’ve contributed well. We need your thinking.

Think positive, Tammy. These days, thinking is all it takes!

(Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. At least he thinks so. Track his meanderings via DougBrendel.com.)

I am wherever I am

I live in Ipswich, I love Ipswich, I chose Ipswich, I prefer not to leave Ipswich. 

In fact, I prefer not to leave my bedroom.

Working from home as a writer, my chosen commute is bed to toilet and back. Work uniform: bathrobe.

But my work takes me out of town, out of state, out of the country, and far too often. 

This past week, I found myself in Los Angeles. That’s California, if you’re not familiar with U.S. geography. California, which, if not technically “out of the country,” is pretty darn close to it.

On the other hand, in this globalized world of ours, far-flung cultures have mushed together, so that one place is more and more like the next place, and the previous place, and every other place. In the iPhone age, you can visit the Taj Mahal while sitting on the toilet. And someone living near the Taj Mahal may be looking at you as well.

Apparently, we’re all in this together.

Over time, each culture bleeds into all the others. Have you recently spent the night in a hotel? They give you lotion. Squint at the bottle. What do they call it? “Sage and avocado”? “Citrus and gasoline”? It doesn’t matter. All hotel lotion smells the same, from Motel 6 to the Ritz. Forget about uniqueness. The world is global now.

Our cultural mashup didn’t start with the Internet. No, we have Dwight Eisenhower to blame for this mass mess. He’s the president who gave us the interstate highway system, with its standardized rectangular green interchange signs and square yellow “Exit 25 mph” signs. Thanks to Dwight, every mile of the United States looks like every other mile of the United States. Drive Montana, and the signage makes it practically Massachusetts.

So this past week, when I was on the West Coast, I had to pinch myself each morning to get reoriented to the new reality, because L.A. is virtually indistinguishable from Ipswich. If I didn’t keep my wits about me, I might go down the skyscraper elevator and out the automatic hotel doors and into the world of castoff syringes and crazies chanting end-of-the-world warnings and mistakenly think I was at a Planning Board meeting.

(There was a guy on the sidewalk selling Universal Studios tour tickets. He seemed familiar. I think I may have seen him on the Ipswich Community Giving page on Facebook.)

Getting through the day in L.A. was a challenge, I confess, as I repeatedly lost track of where I was. I stood paralyzed at Hollywood & Vine, trying to figure out how to get to Zumi’s. And why is the ocean on the wrong side? Oh, wait. It’s L.A. Not Ipswich. L.A.  But how to tell them apart?

Here is there. There is here. Everywhere is everywhere.

You can get “Ipswich clams” at Connie & Ted’s, in West Hollywood. And you can get a “California burger” at Rudy’s in Somerville. If I type a casual preference for Caffeine-Free Diet Coke in a note to a friend via my laptop keyboard, a dozen ads for Caffeine-Free Diet Coke delivery services roar into my life.

The utter equivalence of every environment — every phone, every screen, every tweet, every conversation — is turning us into robots. We have no unique experiences. We have only corporate experiences.

So, see? Why bother with travel?

“Cinnamon and asphalt.” Smells like the Hilton to me. Or the Ipswich Inn.

Exit 70A, 25 mph.

See you there. Or here. Wherever.

(Doug Brendel, intrepid road warrior, officially lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, although he spends far too little time there. Track him down, please, by following NewThing.net.)

A drought is worth one thousand two hundred twelve words

I can’t look at numbers. They’re meaningless to me. I understand there’s something called a spreadsheet. To me this sounds like bedding. In high school, I got my only D in math. And I got it from Ms. Dibblee, whom I loved, and who loved me, but she had no choice because I was so hopeless.

Numbers. A curse. In our system, I understand there are 10 of them, starting with something called zero, which is nothing — so why don’t they just call it nothing? Then these numbers go all the way up through 9. 

But then you run out of them, so you have to start grouping them together: 10, 11, 12. Each with its own unique name. Maddening. 

And eventually you run out of the two-number numbers and you’re forced to further complicate matters with three-number numbers: 100, 101, 102. 

Followed by the four-number numbers, which require commas: 1,000 and 1,001 and 1,002, and it’s even more mind-boggling after that.

So when they start talking about drought in terms of numbers, I’m afraid my eyes glaze over. The U.S. Geological Survey reportedly recorded the Ipswich River flowing at a mind-boggling 0.07 cubic feet per second. It’s mind-boggling to me because it’s three numbers and a decimal point. But basically, the river is going slow, right?

“Basically,” says Ipswich River Watershed Association executive director Wayne Castonguay, “zero.”

Ah, zero! I remember this one. That’s the same as nothing.

“The river is dead,” Castonguay says.

Actually, he adds, the river’s flow for the past few weeks has been registering as “negative.”

Which is another entire set of numbers, with minus signs in front of them. Worse than zero, then. Less than nothing. The water that would normally be flowing downstream is actually seeping into the ground because the earth is so thirsty.

My eyes are crossing. 350,000 — a huge number — is how many people and businesses the Ipswich River provides drinking water for. But 35 — a relatively small number — is how many miles long the river is.

80 is the percentage of water exported, so it can’t help replenish the watershed. 90 is the percentage of these withdrawals exempt from regulation. 13 is the number of towns the river flows through before it even gets to Ipswich.

And 15,000,000 — a number so big, it needs not one but two commas — is how many gallons of water are wasted per day thanks to outdoor watering, according to an American Rivers report last year.

No wonder we’re in negative numbers for flow.

The drought is hell for math-challenged persons.

The U.S. Drought Monitor organization ranks droughts from D-zero (abnormally dry) up to D4 (exceptional drought). The Commonwealth of Massachusetts ranks droughts from Level 1 (mild) to Level 4 (emergency). Ipswich at this writing is at Level 3 (critical), which seems plenty bad enough. 

The EEA also publishes a color-coded map of the state, apparently for people like me. I’m grateful. It shows, without using numbers, which areas are droughtier. The current map is essentially orange, orange, and orange. I understand perfectly.

The numbers may be a blur to me, but I do get the vibe. I think, taken all together, the numbers bring me a mystical message:

“Stop wasting water. Turn off the tap while brushing your teeth or shaving — you’re squandering almost 2.5 gallons a minute. Stick a bowl in the sink when you wash produce; use the wastewater for your houseplants. Wait till you have a full load before running your washing machine or dishwasher. Take a quick shower instead of filling the dang bathtub. And for Pete’s sake, let your stupid lawn go.”

Heed the voice of the numbers, my people! saith the failed math student. If all 13,785 Ipswich residents make a 96.81% effort, we might get our river back. Or at least a 24.62% trickle.

(Doug Brendel lives adjacent to a bone-dry, snow-white grass meadow on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Explore his parched world at DougBrendel.com.)

In the event of a water landing, float your bunny

My 205-year-old house leans a bit to the east. So that’s where the water runs off.


Builder Timothy Morse Jr. may have put gutters on the house in 1817; gutters have been around at least since the time of Christ, and V-shaped gutters were popular here in Massachusetts in the early colonial era. But by the time I moved into Timothy Morse Jr.’s house, the gutters were in disrepair, and my parsimonious approach to replacing the gutters was to remove the gutters.

Remember Labor Day? When it rained on our drought?

My wife has to work on Labor Day, so she asks a favor of me. Marriage is an endless system of favors, large and small, and after 35 years I’m completely prepared to say “yes,” because I’ve learned that most of the favors are small.

Please harvest the rainwater, she says.

She normally does this herself, I guess. I’ve never been involved. Collect the rain in a 5-gallon bucket where it flows off the roof, and carry it to the rain barrel, because there’s more rain flowing off the roof than is dripping into the rain barrel. (Ah, the rain barrel. I take such pride in this big bright blue rain barrel. Just the fact that it’s sitting there next to my house makes me a good environmentalist!)

It’s raining so steadily, she says; maybe harvest the rain once an hour.

No problem, darling. I’m on it.

Sometimes the 5-gallon bucket is too heavy for me, she says. I have to dump some water out before I can carry it to the rain bucket.

Okay, no problem, I reply. (Good husband.)

It’s raining pretty hard, she says. Maybe every 45 minutes.

No worries. I obediently set my iPhone alarm for 45 minutes.

Love you! Have a good day!

She doesn’t warn me that a 5-gallon bucket of water weighs 41.7 lbs. I’ve carried a 50-lb. suitcase before, but at our house, the water is pouring off the roof into a bucket situated behind an enormous Japanese stewartia tree, and to get there, you have to re-enact that scene from Sleeping Beauty where Prince Charming hacks his way through the thicket, and do it carrying a 41-lb. bucket of water.

And the rain barrel — the destination for this sloshy cargo — is not on the east side of the house, but the west. To get there means lugging your liquid freight to the north corner of the house, across the breezeway, around the screen porch, out into the backyard, past the sugar maple, through a thicket of honey locust trees that I didn’t even plant, they just sprang up to prove that Malcolm was right in Jurassic Park when he said, “Life will not be contained. Life breaks free, it expands to new territories and crashes through barriers, painfully, maybe even dangerously, but, uh, well, there it is.”

So I get my bucket to the rain barrel and dump it, and trudging through the rain I return the empty bucket to the east side of the house. The rain intensifies, I reset my iPhone alarm for 35 minutes, I do it all again, I reset to 25 minutes. I lay a fire in the living room, I stand in front of it to dry out. I try to calculate how long my wife’s work shift is. Is she working a 50-gallon shift? 100 gallons? I dump another bucket of rainwater into the barrel, it seems to be splashing over the sides. Did I actually overfill an entire rain barrel in a single Labor Day downpour?

A rabbit lives under a shrub next to our rain barrel. Today, through our kitchen window, I look out to find him looking back at me. He’s soggy. You know how a rabbit’s mouth naturally turns down, in something like disapproval? This rabbit’s mouth is turned down even more, more than you thought a rabbit’s mouth could ever turn down.

Through the window, I can read his lips:

“Gutters? Gonna finally put in gutters? Please?”

Doug Brendel is still attempting to dry out in his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check him out at DougBrendel.com.

How this will translate into Canadian, I’m not sure

My colleague Bob Waite got good coverage last week with the release of his nostalgic book Ipswich on My Mind.

He’s technically a colleague because we’re fellow columnists for the Ipswich Local News, but really I just like calling him my “colleague” because it sort of brings me up to his level.

Bob is a remarkable fellow for a lot of reasons. Even a cursory inventory of his accomplishments would run me over my 700-word limit. But high on my list of reasons to admire Bob Waite is that he served as press secretary for two standouts of American political history: the late Massachusetts Senator Ed Brooke, whom I admired, and the late Kansas Senator and presidential candidate Bob Dole, whom I didn’t, but whom I voted for nevertheless because he ran back when I still thought Democrats had horns and tails.

I am also impressed by Bob Waite because of his journalistic gymnastics. He writes, by his own reckoning, “an ‘Insidah’ column as a kind of companion to the popular ‘Outsidah’” — yet he doesn’t live in Ipswich. He doesn’t live in Massachusetts, nor even in the United States of God Bless America. You see what a world we live in when the Outsidah lives in town but the Insidah lives in a foreign country. One more thing to blame Trump for.

Not a complaint, though! I look forward to Bob’s column every week, with pleasure. Sure, the occasional Canadian spelling error may slip past the editors, but I can figure it out without much effort. I have Google Translate on my phone.

But because of Bob Waite’s eminence, I confess to having felt some pressure. I certainly want to serve the newspaper well; I don’t want to be a slacker, a hanger-on. And I do want to be a worthy colleague to the internationally adroit Bob Waite. (The pressure is nothing serious, really; nothing requiring medical attention. It’s just that if I don’t stay resolutely focused during the day, my thoughts tend to wander: How to be more like Bob, how to be more like Bob?Then, in the dark of night, OMG. The dreams! When I’m Bob, I’m awesome.) 

So it occurred to me that it might be good for the paper — and it might be fantastic for my own pitiful insecurities — if I were to file a column from overseas.

Of course, since Covid struck, I haven’t engaged in any international travel whatsoever, unless you count South Dakota. (I learned there’s a reason they call them the Badlands.)

On the other hand, my work has sometimes led me into foreign countries in the past — and as luck would have it, I was needed in just such a place this very week. And just in time for my Ipswich Local News Outsidah deadline.

So here I am! Hello! I’m over here!

Unfortunately, I’m on a confidential assignment for a professional client and can’t release the details of my location — which undercuts the hole “how to be more like Bob” thing, I know. Bob’s totally out there, bold and unapologetic, openly writing from Toronto week after week. I love that. But my hands are tied, eh?

All I can do is give you some vague parameters as to my whereabouts. For instance, I’m east of Ipswich, so that heat wave we had a week or two ago is here now, but I’m far enough north that the people here have no idea what heat is, nor how to survive it, so on a day with a predicted high of 86, they officially warn the populace of “disruption due to extreme high temperatures.” Disruption of what, they don’t say. 

I can also tell you, as I’m sauntering freely down the quaint cobblestones of an Old World boulevard, I find myself longing for the endless agony of navigating Five Corners.

And there’s not a fried clam for kilometers around.

Hope to be home soon. See you in Ipswich. Anyplace they have normal coffee — sheesh!

Doug Brendel lurks in a house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, wearing a fedora and trenchcoat. Follow Doug discreetly at DougBrendel.com.

What goes down must come up

The dammed Ipswich River is wide and high upstream. The water goes right up to the real estate, and that’s good for the real estate. If the dam comes down, we can assume the river will come down some too. So some of the real estate will go from “riverfront” to “river view.”

We may also get views of other stuff. Let Lake Mead be a lesson.

Out west, back in the 1930s, they built Hoover Dam on the Colorado River, and the backup formed Lake Mead, spanning the Arizona-Nevada border. Lake Mead became the biggest-volume reservoir in the U.S., with more than 9 trillion gallons of water.

Of course when you dam a river, you can never be entirely sure where all the bottlenecked water will go, and as Lake Mead formed, the town of St. Thomas, Nevada, went under. 

Apparently named for Jesus’ doubting disciple, St. Thomas had been founded right after the Civil War by Mormons who thought they were setting up shop in Arizona. After they learned that they had actually landed just a bit on the other side of the Nevada line, they bailed out — maybe their prophet foresaw the gambling, and was appalled — but other settlers soon occupied the abandoned houses and shops, and St. Thomas became a thriving community of 500. Until the damming. Then, in no time at all, it was glug-glug-glug. (I imagine the ghost of Doubting Thomas hovering over the waters wagging his finger and murmuring, “I told you so.”)

But fast-forward a few decades. What with global warming, record-shattering drought, and don’t forget the near-continuous watering of Arizona’s critically important golf courses, Lake Mead began to shrink. And shrink, and shrink. At this writing, the lake is reportedly at about one-quarter capacity.

And you can see what became of St. Thomas.

Yes, Lake Mead is now so low that you can see the ruins of the town from the road. I haven’t been there personally, but Wikipedia says it’s so, so I believe.

But poor old St. Thomas isn’t all you can see. The receding lake has revealed some particularly curious secrets. For example, a few sets of human bones. In one case, human remains that still included “organ tissue.” One body — with a gunshot wound — was found stuffed in a barrel. 

The implications for Ipswich are clear. If the dam comes down, declining riverfront real estate values could be the least of people’s problems. In addition to a muddy hellscape of irate turtles and confused fish, decades’ worth of local mysteries will be suddenly and perhaps gruesomely solved.

Children playing on the newly dried-out riverbank find a soggy box containing copies of John Updike’s novel Couples rounded up and chucked into the river by outraged neighbors in 1968. 

Hikers otherwise minding their own business stumble upon the carcass of that noisy dog that mysteriously disappeared from your neighborhood a couple years ago.

It will be scandal after scandal. 

Someone will find your babysitter’s bar tab. A heartbreaking number of piping plover skeletons cynically wrapped in kite fabric. The original, previously undiscovered town charter, specifying that the town manager must actually live in town.

A 1980s pothole crew member’s lifetime collection of bribe offers and salacious love notes from residents desperate to get on the calendar. A laundry bag full of mismatched socks. 

A stash of fake driver’s ed graduation certificates — which may finally explain why nobody understands right-of-way in this town.

I only arrived in Ipswich a short time ago, but if the dam comes down, I’m going to learn a lot about what I missed, and quickly. Sure, it may make a lot of folks uncomfortable, but I think it will be fascinating. Town historian Gordon Harris may need a bigger laptop just to post all the findings.

So enough debate. Take down the dam. Here’s my sledgehammer! Let’s get started!

Doug Brendel lives high and dry on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. To discover his shameful secrets, plumb the depths of DougBrendel.com.

The Beautiful and the Damned

Nobody told me there’d be days like these. Summertime in Ipswich. Days of sorrow.

No Chowderfest this October. Ipswich Lions Club won’t be doing it.

And the air is thick with poison: mosquito-spraying by the expert exterminators at Northeast Massachusetts Mosquito Control and Wetlands Management District (NEMMC).

Of course, it’s not a sad time for the clams. The clams are celebrating.

The mosquitos, meanwhile, are burying their dead.

With no Chowderfest, the Ipswich clam mortality rate drops by 47%.

With the NEMMC’s toxin-tanks rolling through town, the mosquito mortality rate skyrockets. In tiny mosquito hospitals, tiny mosquito nurses dissolve in tears just trying to keep up with the paperwork. Tiny refrigerated mosquito trailers transporting heartbreaking numbers of insect cadavers wait in seemingly endless traffic jams trying to get their dear departed cargo into tiny mosquito funeral homes.

The contrast here — between the immediate situation of the Ipswich clams and the immediate situation of the Ipswich mosquitos — could not be more painful.

But longer-term … can these two species continue to co-exist?

What if we could get them together for a conversation?

A clam and a mosquito walk into a bar….

Eh — not feasible. Clams can’t walk. And good luck getting up onto a bar stool. Gotta try someplace else.

A clam and a mosquito meet on a clam flat….

(Cue sad violin music.)

Some hapless mother mosquito, devastated by the loss of her children in the Wetlands Management District purge, is staggering onto the beach, hoping for solace.

And there’s a clam. (Cue guitar riffs.) Probably some smart-aleck teenage clam. Some whippersnapper clam who doesn’t appreciate the holocaust they’ve just avoided, never knew the joy us old guys felt, in the Vietnam era, the day Richard Nixon canceled the draft.

“Yo! Mosquito!” the clam cries out. 

Ms. Mosquito doesn’t have the heart, or the strength, to reply. She settles onto the damp wet sand of the clam flat, a surface strange and uncomfortable to her. She’s only accustomed to warm human flesh, and the room-temperature walls of humans’ homes after they’ve swatted her away.

The clam tries again. “No Chowderfest!” 

No response.

“Strange days are these, pretty mama!” the clam punk cries gleefully.

The mosquito is inert.

“Par-tay, baby!”

The mosquito finally arches a tiny eyebrow.

“It’s not ‘Strange days are these,’” she sneers, then adds, with a tiny snort: “‘Pretty mama.’ Geez.” 

The clam chokes a bit.

“It’s ‘Strange days indeed,’” the mosquito continues. “‘Most peculiar, mama.’” Her head droops again in sadness.

The teen clam, shamed by his ignorance of John Lennon lyrics, declines to say anything more.

After a long moment, the mosquito looks up. Her little head swivels sideways to take in the callow, pimply youth.

“Did you see the videos of Joni Mitchell?” she asks. “From the Newport Folk Festival?”

The young clam brightens. “Yes! That grandma — in the glasses! She was trending!”

The mosquito ventures a bit of a smile, and lets her gaze drop back to the ocean before her.

There’s a long silence, and then, very softly, very quietly, she begins to sing — not for an audience, just for herself, and for the universe:

“I’ve looked at clams from both sides now….”

Summertime in Ipswich. Two species, no matter their differences, find common ground.

Maybe there’s hope for us humans.

(Follow Doug’s more serious work at NewThing.net.)

Stop! Thief! And pick me up at Pavilion Beach on your way

The so-called “revelation” of Police Chief Paul Nikas’s new contract was “shocking” and caused a great “hue and cry.”

That’s a lot of quotation marks, but quotation marks can be helpful, and this “breaking story” needs help.

Quotation marks may indicate that a term is being deployed sardonically, and I don’t want anyone reading this to think news of the Chief’s new contract was actually a revelation. It was on the website in May.

As I understand it, it’s entirely within the realm of the Ipswich Town Manager’s responsibilities to settle on a contract with the Police Chief, so “revelation” of the contract could only be “shocking” to those who weren’t “paying attention”. In this case, perhaps, the Ipswich Select Board — who, uh, have 24/7 access to the Town website.

Fortunately, quotation marks are free, because they have a lot more uses than just “discreetly” indicating sarcasm.

Quotation marks can also indicate a term not commonly used, or a term the writer wants to call particular attention to.

Like “hue and cry,” in paragraph 1.

“Hue and cry” is a 13th century English phrase, co-opted from Old French: huer meant “to shout” (more quotation marks); crier meant “to cry out.” When someone broke the law and made a run for it, the English sent up a “hue and cry” which legally required everyone within earshot to help chase down the perpetrator.

Ipswich was not the ideal place for Marino and Nikas to hatch their “nefarious plot” because “hue and cry” has been an Ipswich specialty from the beginning. Make one false step, baby, and you’re going to get “hued and cried” on.

Ipswich, as you may know, was the birthplace of American independence, with a tax revolt against Mother England 88 years before the Declaration of Independence. This historic hue and cry got them depicted in a metal sign on County Street, AND a huge painting in the Ipswich post office, PLUS a prime spot on Ipswich Town Historian Gordon Harris’s HistoricIpswich.org blog.

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to have witnessed quite a number of hues and cries. There was the hue and cry over selling Little Neck. The hue and cry over one-elementary-school-or-two. The hue and cry about the budget override (it failed), then another hue and cry about the next year’s override (it passed). A drive-in at Lord’s Square? Hue and cry. A donated sculpture to honor Ipswich artists? Hue and cry. Washington Street bump-out. Bialek skate park. Pavilion Beach ticketing. THE END OF THE WORLD!

Remember the Chicken Lady? We had a hue and cry over the question of a new Ipswich chicken quotient: How much poultry per square foot can people reasonably be expected to tolerate?

These days, we have hues and cries over the Bruni project on Essex Road, and the Ora project on Waldingfield Road, and now, the Police Chief’s contract. I’m exhausted. It feels to me like we need a hue-and-cry limit: two at a time, max. One waxing, one waning; beyond that, it’s not feasible to expect people to care.

Or, if someone really cares about every hue and cry, it’s not healthy. So for the sake of town-wide quality of life — or “quality of life” — we should combine our hues and cries, to make the anxiety at least manageable.

Because the Outsidah is deeply committed to the Town of Ipswich — in spite of my flimsy standing as a newcomer — I want to address our current glut of hues and cries and offer my problem-solving expertise.

My proposed solution is deceptively simple: We have three major hues and cries of the moment? Merge them.

Move the Bruni project to Waldingfield Road, and put Chief Nikas in charge of it all. The guy can do it. Traffic tangles, water table depletion, economic devastation, whatever — Problem solved.

See how simple that was?

(Doug Brendel, who counts Chief Nikas as a “friend,” hopes to get some “special consideration” for renting a unit at the fabulous new Bruni-Waldingfield mega-complex. Until then, follow Doug at your own risk via DougBrendel.com.)

This above all, from thine own porch be true

There’s never just one chipmunk, of course. 

You know there are families of them, right? Or tribes, or whatever you call them. Flocks of chipmunks. Hordes. Oh, wait: Google says they’re a “scurry.” Well, this should have been obvious.

But how often do you actually see a scurry of chipmunks? I can’t recall ever seeing more than one at a time. 

I’ve seen one chipmunk sitting on the rock wall in the backyard garden, chewing on a seed. 

Or a lone chipmunk flitting about in the summer grass, looking for a seed to chew. 

A single chipmunk poised on a step at the back door, as if he’s posing for an Instagram pic, or he somehow hears a seed, somewhere in the distance, that needs chewing.

I figure they only let one chipmunk out at a time; he scouts the territory, chews a seed or two, and goes back to report to the rest of the family, tribe, flock, or horde.

Meanwhile, our cats love to sit on the screen porch and watch Chipmunk TV. Or maybe it’s torture for them. I can’t tell which.

They line up with their noses pressed to the screen, watching the chipmunk-seed-chewing, the chipmunk-flitting, even the chipmunk-posing, and their feline nervous systems quiver with frustration.

To a cat, there is nothing more delicious than the idea of coming back from a hunt with fresh chipmunk. I’ll have mine rare, please. 

Of course, with our exclusively indoor cats, this idea is total fantasy. Which may make it all the more delicious, I don’t know; I’m not a cat. I’m the cruel cat-owner who won’t let them off the screen porch to decimate the chipmunk population.

This summer, Chipmunk TV has been more or less continuous. There’s always a chipmunk out there offering entertainment, a card-carrying SAG-AFTRA-member chipmunk with obvious theatrical experience. Always doing a solo gig, of course, which for any performer is the best kind of gig there is. Usually on the rough-hewn stone steps leading up to our screen porch. “All the world’s a stage, / And all the chipmunks merely players: / They have their exits and their entrances; / And one chipmunk in his time plays many parts.” (As You Like It, Act II, Scene VII, Rodent Version.)

So I realize, yes, what happened to me this week was silly.

I’m sitting on the screen porch, laptop on my lap, cats sitting in position, waiting for the next episode of Chipmunk TV. I hear the postal carrier pull up out front, I put down the laptop, stand up, and head toward the stone steps, through the porch door. The cats watch in surly silence; they clearly resent me for always shooing them away from the door and going out alone.

But the porch door isn’t quiet. It squeaks, or screeches — I’m not sure what to call it — it makes a freaky sound every time I open it.

And what I couldn’t know was that a scurry of chipmunks — an entire tribe, a huge flock, our entire massive horde of backyard chipmunks — take their breaks between scenes in a cozy secret place under the stone steps.

So as I plunge out onto the stone steps, the shrieking of the porch door sends the entire chipmunk population exploding into the backyard. It’s way more than scurrying. It’s like fireworks, but furry.

And I’m so startled — a mass of tiny creatures zigzagging like electricity under my feet — that I lose my balance and tumble, sprawling into the grass.

The chipmunks vanish instantaneously.

But before I can recover, another backyard population perks up.

“To bite, or not to bite?” asks the leader of the ticks rhetorically. “No question.”

As I scramble to pick myself up, flicking away the parasitic little arachnids as fast as I can, I can’t help but overhear the cats’ cynical review of the show.

“Uneasy lies the head that wears the crown,” one sneers. (King Henry IV, Act III, Scene I, Feline Version.)

Doug Brendel lives in the jungles of outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow his slings and arrows of outrageous fortune at DougBrendel.com.

Did Ray Morley actually cook an omelet on the East Street pavement?

It was hot last week.

The weather angels have now shut down two Thursday evening Castle Hill concerts in a row, and most recently not just because of the threat of lightning, but because of deadly heat.

I would suggest that the weather angels are annoyed because we keep talking about the “weather gods,” when the weather angels are the ones who really have to do all the work.

The weather gods sit in their executive conference room on their throne-like leather chairs and make all the decisions, but they’re detached from the actual machinery of weather-making and have little or no appreciation for what the weather angels go through to execute all the executives’ executions.

The Trustees, who host the weekly summer concert series at the Crane Estate, repeatedly express their hope that “the weather gods will cooperate.” It’s prayer, for all practical purposes. But it’s misguided, because in reality, the weather gods are not processing the prayers. They’re sipping scotch and smoking cigars and making minimal effort — typical bureaucrats — issuing the most general of instructions to their underlings: “Summer sunshine.” “Warmer today.” “Breezy.” The yeoman weather angels, meanwhile, get little or no oversight from the weather gods, so they ad-lib the actual details of the weather, mostly based on their mood.

And because it vexes them to hear all this beseeching of the weather gods — as if the weather angels don’t even exist, for heaven’s sake! — they finally get fed up and clobber us.

Like last week.

I have not lived here in Ipswich long, but long enough to know the summer heat shouldn’t surprise us. Where I used to live, in a suburb of the Great Sonoran Desert known as Scottsdale, Arizona, heat is the painful norm. The heat sits down on you in April like Jabba the Hutt — it was 112ºF at 4 p.m. one day last week — and doesn’t stand up to stretch till at least November. (In December, Jabba may just lean forward a little to let you breathe, but he doesn’t lean very far, and you don’t get to breathe very deeply, before it’s March and the torture begins all over again.)

Here in coastal Massachusetts, it’s different. As I’ve discovered during my brief time here, Jabba the Heat has more of a rhythm. It’ll hit you, and it’ll go away. But first, it’s gonna hit you.

You’re sitting on your screen porch in early July, counting your blessings, perhaps noting mentally that the weather has been quite beautiful, when suddenly Jabba swirls in, thunderboomers roiling behind him like boisterous backup singers, and then kapow, Jabba the Heat has plopped into your lap. You might spill your frozen marguerita except that it’s already so hot, there’s nothing in the glass but tequila soup. And it’s steaming.

So, yeah. It was hot last week.

  • It was so hot that some kind of lizard knocked on my back door and asked for a drink of water.
  • It was so hot that high tide on the Ipswich River was lower than low tide, and low tide was gravel.
  • It was so hot that the new stop signs at the top of North Main Street began drooping toward South Main Street.
  • It was so hot that kids selling street-corner lemonade on outer Linebrook Road had to edit their “Lemonade” sign to read “Just Add Water.”
  • Ipswich residents with property in Florida were heading back south to cool down.
  • Marini’s corn started popping in the fields.
  • Our fruit trees were producing pies.
  • It was so hot that Clam Box kitchen personnel were sent home because the clams were frying themselves.

Bottom line — Heed thou mine admonition: 

Pray thee to the weather angels, not the weather gods, and things will get better.

(Doug Brendel is sitting in his underwear with what’s left of a cool drink somewhere on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. At his current lethargic pace, he won’t be hard to track. Start at DougBrendel.com.)