Is there a TOOTH fairy?

Music seems magical, but it takes hard work and skill and discipline and some other words I’m largely unfamiliar with.

Growing up in Ohio in the 1940s, my mother took accordion lessons, and we have ancient home movies of her happily playing the instrument, fingers flying, the pleated bellows breathing in and out, in and out. No way to know if she was any good; the old home movies are silent, and we can’t ask her audience because most of them are dead, although presumably not because of the accordion music.

She eventually became a mother — I saw to that — and she insisted that a child must learn to play a musical instrument in order to achieve “well-roundedness.” Piano was designated as the ideal starter instrument. I was in fourth grade when I began private lessons. Even at this tender age, I was a rebellious devil, so in the course of nine months I managed to drive off three piano teachers.

My frustrated mother would only allow the third piano teacher off the hook if I chose a different instrument to learn. The public elementary school in our small Indiana town featured a band program starting in the fifth grade. Perfect timing after the carnage of my fourth-grade piano lessons.

We attended the orientation meeting at Franklin School, and Mr. Sohn — already a demigod in Griffith, Indiana — outlined the various instruments a fifth-grader could start on. Basically, any band instrument was fair game except French horn, which was considered too difficult for a fifth-grader.

Having no interest in learning any instrument, I saw my opening. I insisted to my mother that the only instrument I could possibly study would be French horn. She was undaunted. She went to Mr. Sohn, he quizzed my previous teachers — those creeps exposed me as an extraordinary student — and he carved out a first-ever exception for me. Little Dougie Brendel would study French horn from Day One.

I lugged that wretched thing — 13 coiled feet of brass, 18 miserable pounds, plus a bulky, heavy case — back and forth to school for 8 solid years. Rehearsal every school day, multiple concerts every year, innumerable battles with my mother over my home practice, or lack thereof.

If you’re looking for a sentimental happy ending here, forget it. The day I graduated from high school, I turned in my rented French horn and never looked back.

But of course I did learn a lot, in spite of myself. I learned that dazzling music doesn’t just happen; it requires a massive investment by dedicated people, people who have some special quality that eludes me.

So when a magical musical experience comes along, I recognize it — I can’t do that stuff, but I can love that stuff.

Which is why I found my heart soaring on a recent Friday evening at the Dolan Performing Arts Center in Ipswich. It was a truly astonishing world-premiere presentation of original musical and visual works by six Ipswich composers — produced by The Orchestra On The Hill.

Yes, those initials spell T.O.O.T.H., and these folks wear the silly moniker proudly. But there is nothing silly about TOOTH, the brainchild of artistic director Tom Palance. The Friday event was only the most recent of their consistently excellent musical and visual offerings. Magical stuff, every time.

Yet for a moment or two, sitting in the twelfth row on Friday evening, I thought there might actually be real magic afoot.

As I looked at the stage, where the entire Orchestra was seated, I saw Julie Meneghini. Not all of her, just her face. She was mostly hidden by a thicket of string players.

Julie, a longtime friend, is an acclaimed clarinetist. So I knew the time would soon come when we’d hear a clarinet, and I would see Julie blowing brainily and beautifully into that classy black stick.

Then, before long, it happened: a wonderful, winding clarinet solo. It was lovely. I squinted past the violins and cellos and focused on all I could see of Julie’s face, a tiny square in the Orchestra’s back row.

And then, a chill fell over me. Goosebumps. The clarinet’s melody was wafting magically over us all, but I saw Julie just sitting there. Like any ordinary mom waiting calmly at the bus stop. No clarinet in sight.

Incredible! Julie Meneghini was playing her clarinet telepathically. TOOTH fairy! Truly magical music!

As the thrilling concert came to an end and the house lights came up, I dug into the printed program. I wondered if Julie would get at least an asterisk after her name, honorable mention for playing her clarinet with nothing but mental control.

Instead, I was deflated.

Julie had been assigned bass clarinet for this concert.

She’s not TOOTH fairy for nothing. Besides the five variations of clarinet, she plays alto and tenor sax, flute, violin, bassoon, and — horrors — piano.

That beautiful clarinet solo? Turns out it was played by Marguerite Levin, the old-fashioned way: she puffed into a mouthpiece with nothing but her mouth and worked the keys with nothing but her fingers. Ho hum. Human.

Yet TOOTH made magic. Thank you, Orchestra on the Hill.

Glad they’re here. With or without a tooth fairy.


Visit TheOrchestraOnTheHill.org. Meanwhile, Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, still recovering from the trauma of his childhood music lessons. Find him at DougBrendel.com.

A little more, a little more, you’re good

There’s clearly a serious labor shortage. Everywhere you go on the North Shore, you see Help Wanted signs.

Now I know where all the workers went.

My longtime best friend David G. Brown came up from Virginia to visit me over the Labor Day weekend, and I took him to Crane Beach on Saturday morning. As I pulled my vehicle onto the vast gravel parking lot, we were greeted by a long string of parking lot attendants. Every few feet, there was another able-bodied worker, swinging arms, gesturing and gesticulating, pointing us toward that one parking spot deemed acceptable for my little car. Their goal was clear: squeeze as many cars onto the parking lot as humanly possible. 

Of course I immediately saw the flaw in this setup. These parking attendants are all people who could be making your donuts or walking your dog or cleaning your teeth but no, they’re guiding cars into place at Crane Beach.

To send these parker-people back into town to respond to our Help Wanted crisis would not have to mean chaos on the Crane Beach parking lot. There are alternatives. And most of the alternatives would be highly economical.

For example, as I suggested to my companion David G. Brown: For far less than the cost of employing hordes of parking lot attendants, you could paint lines on the parking lot — make them really narrow if you want to, to squeeze in the maximum number of cars — and let people self-park.

My friend David G. Brown, however, has experience in parking lot work. He makes his living running information security at a huge hospital in the D.C. area, but at the beginning of the Covid vaccination process, he and other hospital personnel volunteered as parking lot attendants to help manage the multitudes of vehicles descending on the hospital. David G. Brown was out there 20 hours a week, experiencing parking-lot dynamics firsthand, and his natural intelligence soon led him to become the team leader. Now he wasn’t just waving his arms at drivers; he was teaching other parking attendants how to wave their arms.

I can’t say exactly how many parking attendants were employed: 60? 70? Maybe 200; I’m not sure. A lot, anyway. Who knows, this may be where we got the term “parking lot.”

And he saw for himself why just painting lines won’t get the maximum number of vehicles onto the parking lot.

“People don’t park inside the lines,” he observed sadly.

The best friendships are between people whose temperaments complement each other’s. David G. Brown is insightful and gentle and full of grace. I balance him out.

Unwilling to settle for a fat payroll full of parking attendants, I proposed a simple alternative. Hire a single parking attendant, equip them with a blade, and have them patrol the lot for cars parked across the lines. You wouldn’t have them just slash the tires savagely; this isn’t Detroit, after all. They would carefully cut from top to bottom, excising only the part of the tire that crosses the line. Word would get out pretty quickly, I think, and people would start parking with extreme care, wouldn’t they?

But once again, David G. Brown demonstrated his insight and gentleness and grace. He countered with a superior idea, a plan that would avoid violence yet achieve a similar deterrent outcome:

Simply give the parking attendant a can of paint and a brush, and where a car is parked across the line, let the line be painted again, right over the car.

The wisdom of Solomon, I’m telling ya. Too bad this guy doesn’t live here. We could use such brilliant, balanced discernment in so many local situations.

To submit your own dilemma for David G. Brown to resolve, at low cost and with minimal violence, email PracticallySocrates@DougBrendel.com.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where there’s plenty of space for parking.

Here it comes!

It’s ridiculous — and perhaps wonderful.

A 2-day marathon, this weekend (Aug. 28-29), during which I will perform, live and online, my entire new comic novel, Praying for Mrs. Mombasa … to benefit NewThing.net.

I hope you’ll pledge $2 or more for every hour I read (estimated at 10 hours, end-to-end), to help orphans, abused and abandoned children, foster families, the homeless, children and adults with disabilities, the elderly, and others in need in Belarus.

Saturday, August 28, 1-9 pm EDT
Sunday, August 29, 1-9 pm EDT

You can come and go anytime, in person or online: Click here for Facebook, or here for YouTube. (Recommended for mature audiences 18+)

Hope you can join us, and help people in Belarus! Thank you!

Regional Dispatch to the Rescue

Official transcript:

9-1-1. What is your emergency?

There’s a (screeching sound) in my (screeching sound).

Sorry, can you repeat that?

No, I’m being (screeching sound) by a (screeching sound).

You’re being hished by a hish?

I was just walking my dog downtown and (screeching sound). This is an emergency! Can you please help me?

Sorry, what address are you calling from, please?

Central Street!

Sorry?

Central Street! Central Street!

Sorry, there are a number of Central Streets all over our region. Are you calling from Central Street in Middleton?

Okay then! Never mind! It’s chasing me! I’m at Liberty!

At liberty to do what, please? Sorry, I don’t understand.

Forget liberty! I’m on Maple Street!

Maple Street in Middleton? Speak slowly and distinctly if possible.

I can’t speak slowly and distinctly! I’m being (screeching sound) by a (screeching sound)!

Forgive me. I need more information. This is New England, as you know. Poplar could be Middleton or Ipswich. Randall Road could be Middleton or Ipswich. School Street? It’s all so imprecise. Warren Street? Washington Street? I need to know where to send the police. Or the ambulance. Or the fire truck. Whatever. Amesbury, Essex, Middleton, Topsfield, Wenham; those are your choices. We’re regional now, you know. I know it’s not Beverly. Beverly dropped out before the merger.

Send them all!

Sorry, what is your emergency?

Gaaah! This dog is gnawing on my leg! Where are you?

I’m right here, my friend.

I mean where do you work? (Down, Fido!) I mean, where are you sitting, right now, talking on your phone, or your headset, or your earbuds, or whatever the heck you talk on?

Well, I’m at home, if you must know. Since the pandemic, we’ve all been working from home.

Yes. Home. Where is home, may I ask?

Helsinki.

Finland?

Yes, my friend. I don’t think there’s another Helsinki in the world.

So — (Stop it, Fido!) — You’re not familiar with Ipswich?

I had a girlfriend there once, between my sophomore and junior years.

That would be Ipswich in the east of England?

No. I’ve never been to England.

You don’t mean Ipswich in the east of Australia?

No. Never been.

So, uh, you had a girlfriend in Ipswich, Massachusetts?

No. South Dakota. Exchange student.

South Dakota?

Yes. Ipswich, South Dakota. But at least that’s in northern South Dakota.

So let me ask you — not to be too personal, of course, but since I called you about my emergency — (Down, Fido!) — I feel I have a certain freedom.

Yes, of course, please, go on.

Do you have any clue about the layout of Ipswich, Massachusetts? Our seacoast, our river? The state forests? The public beaches? Our 33-square-mile land mass?

Square miles? Sorry, no. Here in Finland, we went metric in 1880. Let me check my calculator app; I can figure that 33-square-mile land mass in no time.

Please. Don’t bother. I’m going to text my wife and ask her to drive over and get this dog off my leg. Or what’s left of it.

What’s left of the dog? Do I need to call the MSPCA?

No! My leg! What’s left of my leg!

Oh, I see. Is this Charlie? I read about your bad dog some time ago, in the Ipswich Local News.

You’re in Finland!

Well, the Ipswich Local News is online, you know. So, yes. I can contact Ipswich emergency services and get you some help. Is there anything else I can do for you?

No, never mind. I think I’ll be moving to Middleton. Just to be closer to the emergency dispatch guys.


Doug Brendel lives so far out on outer Linebrook Road, in case of emergency he calls upstate New York. Follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.

And sometimes the fish eats you

It’s helpful to have grown up learning Bible stories in Sunday school because when you’re an adult you can identify what’s happening when you find yourself in a disaster of biblical proportions.

I’m just such an adult.

I was born a fourth-generation Pentecostal, a church with a strong Bible-teaching emphasis. Even today, six decades later, I can tell you most of the stories found in the Bible, not just the famous ones but the obscure ones as well. (I always loved those 42 teenage boys getting mauled by a couple bears in chapter 2 of the Second Book of Kings.)

So are you familiar with Jonah? He’s the guy God ordered to go to the wicked city of Ninevah and preach some repentance into them. Jonah didn’t want to mess with the Ninevites, so he hopped a ship in the opposite direction.

God was not a happy camper. He sent a massive storm, the crew panicked, the ship was gonna go down — but Jonah knew this was no ordinary storm. Finally he told the captain, Throw me overboard and the storms will cease.

The crew was just desperate enough to try it. They threw Jonah overboard, the skies cleared, the winds calmed. That’s when Jonah got swallowed by a huge fish — but he ended up surviving too. And going to Ninevah, in the end. Because after you’ve been tossed overboard in a storm at sea, swallowed by an ocean creature, and puked back out after three miserable days, you know better than to mess with God.

Fast-forward to modern times. More than 20 years ago, the Trustees — owners of the Crane Estate at Castle Hill in Ipswich — launched Castle Hill Concerts on Thursday evenings each summer, a brainchild of longtime Trustees gem Trina Schell. These delightful open-air musical experiences on the Grand Allée behind the Great House have become a beloved summertime feature for multitudes of North Shore residents. Blankets on the grass, chatter and laughter, food and drink and dancing under the stars.

Of course, over the years, bad weather has occasionally forced cancellation of a concert. Yet even in the very worst of years, the usual ten-concert series has never been reduced by more than three. Mother Nature can be only so cruel.

But this year, Trina and the Trustees made a grave error.

They invited me to emcee this summer’s concerts — and look what happened.

The first concert of the season was rained out. Had this ever happened before? I don’t know. I haven’t been around very long. I’m an outsidah.

Then the second concert of the season was rained out. Had both the first two concerts of the summer ever been canceled before? No. I got this on good authority, from Trina herself.

Now we’re at the midpoint of the season, and we’ve had a record-shattering FOUR Castle Hill Concerts rained out. Every Thursday, the clouds gather, the skies darken — and somewhere in Ipswich Bay, an enormous fish circles hungrily.

I am Jonah. I don’t know how or why, but my vast knowledge of Bible stories makes it uncomfortably clear to me: This must be my fault.

I went to Trina, my captain, and gave it to her straight: Throw me overboard and the storms will cease.

Trina just laughed. 

But was it an “Oh, don’t be silly” laugh? 

Or was it that little chuckle you chuckle to mask your apprehension? 

I can’t be sure.

If I don’t show up at the next Castle Hill Concert — and especially if it’s rained out — please send a boat out to rescue me.

Look for the biggest fish you can find. I’ll be the guy inside.


Doug Brendel lives 85 feet above sea level on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.

What did I do to deserve this?

To get from my house, on Planet Outer Linebrook in western Ipswich, to just about anywhere else in town, you have to cross Route 1, eastbound on Linebrook Road.

There’s a traffic light there. Which is basically a good thing, because vehicles barrel up and down Route 1 like refugees from a Mad Max movie, and trying to cross the road without a light would be suicidal. Especially since out here in the hinterland, many of us still use horse-drawn buggies. No, just kidding. Not many, just a few of us.

But the traffic light at Route 1 and Linebrook Road is not perfect. In fact, I suspect some nefarious backstory. Here’s why:

On any average weekday morning, the light will be red for 30 seconds or so, then green for about 15 seconds. Math was my weakest subject, but I think this means, on any average weekday morning, I should have 1 chance in 3 of catching a green light at Route 1. But I’m living in an altogether different reality. I cross that intersection sometimes as often as six times a day, but I haven’t caught the green since April.

I suspect that I’m being singled out for unfair treatment.

It’s almost as if the traffic light somehow knows it’s me. I’ve never heard my neighbors Jim Engel or Judy Field, both former members of the Ipswich Select Board, complain about the light at Route 1. Seems they sail right through. They must have connections. Is it a secret perk of Select Board service that you get a tiny transponder to keep in your car that turns the light green at Route 1? I’m not accusing anybody; I’m just asking questions. Questions about rampant government corruption. Favoritism in high places. Places I’ve obviously never inhabited.

Another possible scenario is that when I got my Covid vaccination, they sneaked a microchip into my bloodstream that alerts the traffic light to my approach. I was a little uneasy about getting my shots at Our Lady of Hope for this very reason. What if the Catholics were targeting us Episcopalians? Again, I’m not saying it happened. But what a coincidence, huh? I get my second shot on March 19th, and by April I’m stranded on Linebrook Road, waiting for the light to change so I can get to church.

However it happens — by some sinister plot or plain old bad luck or anything in between — I never, ever catch the green light at Route 1.

Of course instead of waiting for the red to change, I could illegally sidewind through the Cumby’s parking lot, exit onto Route 1, catch the green at Linebrook Road, turn left, and be on my way, all in less time than I would have spent sitting on Linebrook waiting. 

But would I do it? 

No. I’m a law-abiding citizen. In spite of the fact that the law has it in for me, I consider myself duty-bound to put up with the oppression. Sure, my productivity is a fraction of what it could be — I’m spending hundreds of cumulative minutes cooling my heels when I could be on my way to any number of important business activities which would enlarge the Ipswich tax base — but who am I to complain?


Doug Brendel lives mostly in his car, and not by choice. You can follow him at DougBrendel.com, or just find him most anytime at the intersection of Route 1 and Linebrook Road.

You bug me

The Thursday evening Castle Hill Concerts at the Crane Estate in Ipswich are a very big deal, attended by thousands every summer, and I was hugely honored that The Trustees, who operate the Estate, invited me to emcee this year.

But I’m not really an outdoorsy person. I’m known as the “Outsidah” but that’s about being a newcomer to New England, not about hiking Bradley Palmer or kayaking on Hood Pond or even sitting around a campfire. I grew up in the Chicago area, where people stay in buildings. As far as I can tell, humans are meant to exist indoors, where they can keep an eye on their cats.

Emceeing the Castle Hill Concerts puts me at risk of encountering insects in their natural habitat, where they have the advantage. Mosquitos owned the Crane Estate first, and as far as they’re concerned, they still do. The idea of fabulous concerts on the Grand Allée is offensive to them. But they are an enterprising species. They make the best of a bad situation by feasting on the blood of the concertgoers. When life gives you humans, make humanade.

For many, mosquito bites are simply an annoyance, but in my case, they’re something closer to a crisis. My skin has a wretched allergic reaction to mosquito spit. Other folks get a little pink bump and a few minutes of itching. I get a major red welt, big enough to be seen from New Hampshire, then a week or two of burning itching, during which time my skin — eh, never mind. It’s too gross.

Bottom line, mosquitoes for me are agents of torturous evil. So in preparation for emceeing the first concert of the summer, I sprayed myself with DEET. Many insect repellants proudly advertise that they’re DEET-free. I, on the other hand, search for maximum DEET content. You’re not supposed to be able to buy anything that’s more than 30% DEET, but if I could get it pure and unadulterated, I’d buy it by the gallon.

Even DEET, however, doesn’t deter greenheads. The greenhead is the official Town Insect of Ipswich. Or if it isn’t, it should be. This vicious variety of horsefly is going after the same blood as a mosquito, but forget that tiny needle-nose strategy. The greenhead chomps its way in. I believe a greenhead thrills to the sound of human screaming.

My first night as emcee occurred at the height of greenhead season, between the two full moons of midsummer. So I headed over to Conley’s, the iconic Ipswich drugstore, and stocked up on the only truly effective greenhead repellant, an Avon product called Skin So Soft. The name tells you it wasn’t originally invented as armor, but someone somehow discovered that this smooth, soft oil makes greenheads gag. Conley’s offers you a free spray nozzle so you can turn your bottle of Skin So Soft into a gun. I would have preferred a showerhead, but I took the nozzle and doused myself. By the time the concert began, I was encased in a two-layered oil slick of DEET and Skin So Soft — still nervous about invading the insects’ environs, but determined to do my emcee duty.

Of course, if you miss even one little spot, the bugs will find it. I had stopped short of spraying myself directly in the face with these poisons, and before the concert was halfway over, I had a massive glowing red bug bite in the middle of my forehead. At one point I went up to the roof of the Great House, and a passing jetliner changed course.

At home afterward, I was eager to de-slime myself. But in the shower I discovered, to my dismay, that the combination of DEET and Skin So Soft forms a compound impervious to soap and water. I recommend a paint scraper or, if that doesn’t work, a blowtorch.

See you Thursday night at Castle Hill. I’ll be the guy whose sunglasses keep sliding off because his face is so slippery.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, about as far from greenhead territory as you can get and still be in Ipswich. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.

You must have mistaken me for someone with principles

As long as there have been lawns, there have been laws about lawns. Hence, those signs that say “Keep off the grass.”

But at the spectacular 165-acre Crane Estate on Castle Hill in Ipswich, the Trustees (who own and operate the stunning property) actually want you on the grass. 

The Grand Allée, especially — a vast, breathtaking expanse of green the full width of the Great House mansion, rolling dramatically all the way down to the beach — is perfect for a stroll, a picnic, perhaps a solitary, meditative interlude.

Or a joyride. If you’re an idiot.

A few days ago, staff and visitors at the Great House were astonished to look down toward the water and see a small white SUV heading down the Grand Allée.

A Trustees ranger at the Great House began hoofing it downhill to intercept the wayward vehicle. En route, she used her walkie-talkie to alert the beach ranger. The hill ranger finally caught up to the wrongdoers at Steep Hill, where the beach ranger had corralled them — two senior citizens: a woman, who apparently had been driving said vehicle; and a man, evidently the companion of said driver. The hill ranger proceeded to escort the miscreant couple off the property.

It was no shame-faced perp walk. The woman was jovial. Her excuse for her misbehavior was that she was “old.” (Her companion, perhaps mortified, said almost nothing.) The woman expressed no remorse for her crime, and hardly any for getting caught. She never even fessed up. On the contrary.

The ranger asked the woman about her familiarity with the property. Yes, indeed, she was quite familiar with the area. She proudly reported that she “taught swimming at Crane’s Beach” decades ago.

So, then, you know better than to drive on the Allée, huh? the ranger prompted.

Oh, I didn’t drive on the Allée! the woman fibbed.

I watched you drive down the Allée, the ranger replied.

You couldn’t see me! the woman insisted. How could you see me?

Everyone at the Great House could see you! the ranger advised.

Well, the woman answered, it didn’t happen if you don’t tell anyone. You won’t tell, will you?

The ranger, appalled by the scoundrel’s coy venality, remained benevolently silent — and saw the offenders off the property.

So when you attend the next Castle Hill Concert and cross the Grand Allée looking for a place to spread your picnic blanket but on the way your third-grader trips and plunges into the wide, ugly trench of a tire track, you’ll have that loathsome woman to thank — a person who arrived at a certain age and decided that the rules no longer apply to her, and she’s now somehow free to damage private property for her own misguided pleasure.

I do hope the Trustees won’t overreact to this one rogue visitor’s selfish lunacy and feel obligated to make a tragic “Keep Off the Grass” rule. However, since there are rude, self-absorbed, unprincipled people in our world, the Trustees may have no choice but to add a few signs specifying restraints that the average respectful citizen simply assumes. Besides the obvious “Don’t Drive Your Vehicle on the Grass,” I would perhaps suggest:

“Don’t Pull Up the Garden Flowers. They’re to Look At.”

“Don’t Toss Your Garbage Into the Bushes. Take It Home for Disposal.”

“Don’t Sneak Your Dog Onto the Property. Dogs Aren’t Allowed Here.”

“Don’t Wade in the Fountains. The Piranhas Are Hungry.”

“Don’t Bust the Head Off a Statue. It’s Art.”

“Don’t Spray-Paint Anything. You’ll Make It Ugly.”

“Don’t Relieve Yourself in the Bushes. It’s Gross.”

“Don’t Try to Pull One Over on the Ranger. She’s Married to the Outsidah.”


Doug Brendel lives obediently with a Castle Hill ranger on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.

Laughter can kill you, don’t try it

Life is easy. Comedy is hard.

I didn’t set out to make “The Outsidah” humorous. I originally conceived of this column as a sappy, sentimental commentary on how wonderful life is in small-town New England.

But reality took over.

They say “Write what you know.” Well, I moved from a big city in the desert into a two-century-old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, and pretty soon, “what I know” made me chuckle.

At this point, the question is not whether small-town New England will make me laugh. The only question, each day as I awaken, is WHAT will make me chuckle? The traffic, the weather, the wildlife, or local government? For me, these are the four basic food groups.

On the other hand, I’ve taken my share of hits for commenting humorously on my new life as an “Outsidah” in small-town New England. One reader had the temerity to write to me and call me “obnoxious.” And who knows how many readers have considered me obnoxious but didn’t bother to write?

(My advice to those beleaguered readers: Stop reading! My name appears at the top of the blog, not the bottom! Why? So you have ample warning! You can avert your gaze before it’s too late!)

So when somebody else ventures a toe into the fetid humor swamp, I’m always alarmed.

And now our beloved school superintendent has made the mistake of going there.

Last week the Ipswich Local News reported that Superintendent Brian Blake included a piece in his weekly email announcing a job opening: substitute school nurse.

Hilarious proposition, right? Apparently so.

“Have you ever dreamed of the glamorous world of school nursing? Do you love going on field trips? Are you captivated by Band-Aids and cough drops? If so you may be in luck!”

Etc., etc.

Bombarded by complaints, Blake explained that he had simply copied and pasted something written by one of the school nurses.

“I did not attribute it to them,” he confessed.

I may be obnoxious, but at least I write my own stuff.

Still, I sympathize with Supt. Blake. I understand, deep down inside, the allure of comedy. I’ve been there, believe me. You want to be loved. You want people chuckling in an affirming way.

You can either attempt to write humorous material, and risk being called “obnoxious” — or you can steal stuff from a hapless, underpaid school nurse, and go to jail for plagiarism.

Me, I’m sticking with obnoxious.

However, because I have a charitable streak, I’ve reached out to the Middleton House of Correction, where Supt. Blake will be incarcerated, and I’ve volunteered to be his cellmate.

As a good deed, I’m going to be reading him all 344 of my “Outsidah” posts aloud. I figure at about 135 words a minute, I’ll wrap up just around the time they let him out.

That’ll teach him.


Doug Brendel’s presumably funny new novel, “Praying for Mrs. Mombasa,” is available at DragonheadPress.com. Doug will also emcee Castle Hill Concerts in Ipswich every Thursday night beginning July 1st. Contact him at DougBrendel.com, at your own risk.