In these shoes? You’ve got to be kidding

I’m exhausted. And reviled. So many people hate me.

Not all over Ipswich, thank God. At least that I know of. But at the moment, what I’m talking about is, mainly, just in one certain neighborhood.

To all of you who live there: My apologies. I didn’t mean to be so annoying. Honestly, I was only trying to be a good citizen, a good person, etc.

But it went awry. I’m so sorry.

How it happened, I can hardly reconstruct it.

I frequently do business in a downtown establishment situated upstairs in a two-story building, and some time ago, a sign went up in the doorway:

“Leave wet shoes downstairs.”

I wanted to comply. Really I did. I’m not one of those automatically petulant anti-authoritarian types, ranting at the imposition of every new regulation, concocting fantasies of conspiracies, like black helicopters hovering over your house to videotape your secret conversations about Joe Biden’s Botox injections and sending the transcripts to the IRS so you’ll get audited every year and charged extra.

On the contrary, when I saw the “Leave wet shoes downstairs” sign, my first thought was one of obedience: Of course I’ll leave wet shoes downstairs.

Perhaps I didn’t understand?

I believe a sign should be clear, concise, and necessary. It’s not easy to craft a sign that meets these criteria. Many signs are clear and necessary but not exactly concise. Instead, they’re overly wordy. (Actually, the phrase overly wordy is itself wordy. See how hard this is?)

Actors backstage come to a door labeled “Stage Door.” It’s clearly a door; why does the door have to say “I’m a door”? The sign on the door could just say “Stage,” and I guarantee you, every actor would still make their cue. Theatre groups are always desperate for money, right? Well, stop painting “Door” on backstage doors, and theatre groups will save millions on their paint budgets alone.

Unclear, wordy, and unnecessary signage occurs in many places, but I’m afraid there’s a concentration of such signage in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Drive through Ipswich and tell me if you don’t find a plethora of unclear, wordy, and unnecessary signage.

(Just one example: A puzzling bright-red sign on High Street declares: “The Old North Burying Ground was founded in 1634. It is one of the oldest in the country.” If you’re walking west on High Street and you miss the turn-off for the cemetery, it’s a full three minutes before you come to this incredibly longwinded bright-red sign — oddly positioned on the opposite side of the road — offering its mini-history of the landmark you recently failed to notice, yet without directions for finding it somewhere back there.)

So — on the door of the establishment I frequent, in downtown Ipswich — I took the sign at face value: “Leave wet shoes downstairs.”

Now, here I am, hours past my deadline for turning in a column for the paper, and still paralyzed.

I have gone door to door, pitifully, and I have yet to find anyone who will help me.

  • “Sorry, but do you have any wet shoes I could borrow?”
  • “Sorry to bother you, but I’m trying to get into that place over there, and to get in, I need to leave some wet shoes…?”
  • “I’m sorry, I don’t know why they require wet shoes. Maybe it’s some funky charity?”

I really don’t know how I got into this mess. But I realize that lots of people who live downtown are fed up with me. It’s possible that more than one of them has filed for a restraining order.

I’m sorry, truly. 

On the other hand, my life isn’t over, I can assure you of that. Do not despair for me. By the time you read this, I’ve managed to move on. I’m down the street.

Yes, there’s another sign here. It says STOP. But no worries. As soon as it says “GO,” I’m outa here.


Doug Brendel was an English major, but that hardly seems possible now. Follow Doug’s post-English-major work at NewThing.net.

Stop, in the name of love, before you break my Hyundai

Every four hours and 20 minutes, on average, someone dies in a car crash somewhere in the U.S.

This is grim reality, yes, but in a way it’s also encouraging. If you’re out driving, you’ve got four hours and 19 minutes of relative safety. I suggest, in that 20th minute, you just pull over and check your messages or something.

Of course, the traffic-fatalities stat doesn’t include mere injuries — whiplash, mutilation, dismemberment — anything that doesn’t totally kill you. So there’s even more incentive to keep an eye out and drive defensively.

Which means it would be wise to avoid driving through Ipswich, Massachusetts, if at all possible.

If you can’t avoid Ipswich entirely, at the very least avoid Lord’s Square. 

Why?

In the first place, it’s deceptively named: It’s not a square; it’s a quagmire. It’s an intersection which appears to have been modeled on an octopus. Lord’s Square can be entered from High Street, Central Street, Liberty Street, Linebrook Road, or the Dunkin’ Donuts parking lot — and once you plunge into the vortex, there’s no telling where you’ll come out. You could wind up on High, Central, Linebrook, or Short Street — or back on the Dunkin’ parking lot. Also the laundromat, don’t forget the laundromat. Driving through Lord’s Square feels like a video game, but during an electrical storm, so the power surges and the screen flashes and the audio crackles and you scream and GAME OVER.

Lord’s Square would be risky enough if everyone who drove through it obeyed basic rules of the road, but those rules were apparently written for Chicagoans or Tanzanians and don’t technically apply here in small-town New England. Or perhaps traffic regulations were originally crafted in ancient times by troglodytes writing in their own mysterious language in dark, secluded grottos, and the only schools that teach Troglodyte are in other parts of the country, the parts where we New Englanders regard the people as, well, troglodytes.

In any case, drivers here don’t appear to be on the same page as the average American. For example: The typical driver traversing Lord’s Square doesn’t seem to grasp the idea that you stop for a red light or a red octagonal sign but not for a simple bend in the road. Where Lord’s Square dumps out onto High Street, there are stop signs for vehicles approaching from either the east or the west — but there’s no stop sign for Lord’s Square traffic. No traffic light. No “yield” sign. Not even a speed bump. There’s just a sharp bend to the left — you’re supposed to sail around that corner unimpeded, past those poor suckers waiting at their High Street stop signs — and continue on your way toward Rowley. But no. Lord’s Square at High Street is where drivers somehow conjure an invisible stop sign and come to a standstill in the middle of the traffic flow, causing multiple near-collisions halfway back to CVS. Just one of 14 ways you can die at Lord’s Square.

I might be inclined to suggest posting warning signs at all the approaches to this labyrinth, but we’ve seen how ineffective such signs can be. As you approach my house on outer Linebrook Road, a safe 4.8 miles from Lord’s Square, there’s an ominous sign that reads DANGEROUS INTERSECTION. It’s describing the corner I live at. Last week, for the umpteenth time, I looked out my window to see a smashed-up vehicle being winched up onto the bed of a tow truck.

Clearly, DANGEROUS INTERSECTION isn’t strong enough language. At each of the numerous approaches to Lord’s Square, we may need profanity. Or at the very least, a pragmatic admonition: ABANDON HOPE ALL YE WHO ENTER HERE.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, where he’s developing plans for a first aid concession stand. Follow his more serious pursuits at NewThing.net.

Next: Border Guards to Keep Town Managers In

We should have seen this coming, the debate about whether the town manager should be required to live in Ipswich.

It was a hot topic four years ago, when the “final” decision was made: Any new town manager must reside in Ipswich within a year of their contract renewal. Not their initial contract, just the renewal of their contract. So if you live in Bulgaria, for example, the key would be to get a really long initial contract — 20, 30 years.

Current town manager Tony Marino didn’t get the Bulgaria deal, however. As a result, he’s due to move to Ipswich by April 23rd, or it’s curtains.

Or — another option — change the rules.

We could have listened to finance committee member Janice Clements-Skelton back in 2017. She predicted at that time that the town would be looking for a new manager or that the charter would have to be changed again.

And here we are.

I’m thinking of asking Janice for advice about lottery numbers.

On May 10th, Ipswich voters will be asked to pass judgment on Article 11 of the town meeting warrant. This article would change the residency requirement and let our town manager live in Ipswich or “within fifteen miles of the perimeter of the town.”

This would keep out the Bulgarians.

It would also let Tony stay.

The alternative will make for a tragic scene at the Dolan PAC on May 10th: a negative vote, Tony making a heartfelt farewell speech, Tony walking gravely up the aisle, Tony clasping hands one last time with tearful friends, Tony acknowledging anguished wails from fervid fans, Tony turning for one final grief-stricken farewell wave before disappearing through the auditorium doors in his stocking feet, because back up there on the stage, in front of an ominously empty chair, are two enormous shoes to fill.

The initial shock and dismay will only be the beginning. Next comes the refugee crisis: other non-resident Town employees and appointees, fearing a government-wide purge, in chaotic ragtag caravans of Volvos and RAV-4s heading for the borders. Many who serve Ipswich in key positions, having come to respect Tony Marino’s leadership, will join the hordes traipsing to the town line in search of employment elsewhere.

Living as I do on outer Linebrook Road — close to the Rowley, Topsfield, and Boxford lines — I expect forlorn evacuees to stream past my house. For the record, let me say I’ll be offering food, water, clothing, toiletries, and other essentials to those in need. And, for those who aren’t in any particular hurry, martinis.

Other towns on the North Shore never have a crisis like this because they let their town managers — and, in many cases, people in other key positions — live within something like 15 miles of their perimeters.

It’s a radically different worldview: trusting that professionals, regardless of their personal zip code, will honorably investigate what’s best for the town they’re employed by and act accordingly — and trusting that if citizens are unhappy with the work, they can use their voting muscle to throw the carpetbaggers out.

Headhunters have told us that the residency requirement makes it hard to find quality candidates for the town manager position. It’s a thankless job anyway, and I can imagine being forced to uproot your life could make it even less desirable. We may assume there are plenty of Ipswich residents capable of doing this complicated, high-pressure work, but these people are our neighbors. We’re supposed to love our neighbors. Don’t make them be town manager.

One final resolution to the conflict occurs to me: Tony, come live in my attic.

But this really shouldn’t be necessary. I hear there’s a town in New Hampshire whose manager lives in Bulgaria. Does most meetings by Zoom, and it’s working out fine.


Doug Brendel lives on the main evacuation route out of Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check out his adventures via DougBrendel.com.

To have and to hold, from Scene 3 forward

Had a lovely note from one of my wives this morning, one of my favorite wives, actually. I’ve had at least ten. I’ve tried making a list but I’m afraid I’ve forgotten one, or maybe more. I was married to Beth as a high school junior, and Nancy, I think it was, in my senior year. I was first married in fourth grade.

Make a hobby of acting in theatrical productions and you sometimes find yourself married, often to a perfect stranger. There’s no ceremony, no honeymoon. It’s just “Rehearsals start Thursday” and you’re suddenly a husband.

It’s certainly easier to be married if your wife never shows up onstage — I was President Benjamin Harrison at Franklin Elementary in Griffith, Indiana, but the First Lady never showed. When I played Felix in The Odd Couple, my wife left me even before I arrived.

But it’s when the wife appears onstage that you feel the real pressure of marriage. I was King Arthur in Gloucester, and in real life my Queen Guinevere was 35 years younger than me. In every scene, I felt that vast generation gap. Yet imagine the stress borne by the queen — played by lifelong Ipswich resident Ashley Whippen: She had to convince the Annisquam Village Players audience that she could actually love such an old geezer. (No wonder Guinevere fell for Lancelot by the end of Act I; he was way less moth-eaten than I was.)

I’ve had good wives, bad wives, loyal wives, and creepy underhanded wives. I’ve treated wives royally and despicably, with varying degrees of affection and guilt. If you’re going to be a husband onstage, you have to be prepared for a wide variety of marital arrangements. In a musical at Stage 284 in Hamilton, my good wife died tragically in the opening moments. By Scene 2, I had a nasty new wife. Dang it, nothing could kill that woman. In a comedy staged at the Crane Estate, my first wife came back as a ghost and killed my second wife; then both ghost-wives turned on me. As if real-life marriage isn’t complicated enough.

Perform in very many plays and you’ll soon find yourself in a tangled web of relationships: Your wife in April turns out to be your mother in August and your daughter by Christmas. Your beloved in one show is your victim in the next. Two actor-friends of mine have been killing each other for years.

Sometimes the stage wife can come to your rescue in the real world. In a new musical staged in Wenham, my wife was played by the brilliant professional Liliane Klein. Early in rehearsals, I was overwhelmed and melting down, but Lili gently and patiently helped me get my head together. The show went well, the marriage ended, a friendship was born.

My real-life wife, the acclaimed director Kristina Grundmann, has sometimes appeared as my stage wife. This can cause additional layers of confusion. In a murder-mystery spoof years ago in Arizona, her character’s name was Jessica. At one point in a scene, I turned to her and boldly exclaimed, “Well, Kristina!…” There is no dialing back from a mistake like this. All you can do is hope the audience didn’t notice — or let them assume that “Kristina” is somehow the husband’s odd pet name for Jessica.

Kristina went on to establish Castle Hill Productions, a paid-amateur theatre group staging shows at the Crane Estate in Ipswich. Her reputation for excellence has contributed to a string of sold-out productions over the years. This season, Kristina is directing the Tom Stoppard play Arcadia. Two weeks prior to opening, every seat for the entire run had already been snapped up.

I’m not entirely stupid. Of all my wives, only one gets the standing ovation.


Doug Brendel lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, with the dazzling theatrical icon Kristina etc., etc. Follow their real-life exploits leading a humanitarian charity in Belarus at NewThing.net.

FUNNIEST BOOK OF THE YEAR!

News for Release

Tuesday, March 8, 2022

North Shore author Doug Brendel, known for his Outsidah.com commentary on life in small-town New England, is now an award-winning novelist.

His new book Praying for Mrs. Mombasa has won the gold medal in the equivalent of the Self-Published Books Olympics, receiving first prize in the Reader Views Literary Awards competition, Humor Division.

In other words: Funniest Book of the Year.

“There’s a Mexican, a Scandinavian, an African, a Korean, and a Samoan, for starters,” says the author. “People say it’s a pretty funny story, and a bit edgy in places. We’ll see how it goes over. I may have to leave town, who knows?”

North Shore residents can purchase Praying for Mrs. Mombasa (and receive the Outsidah’s “greatest hits” book Ipswich in Stitches as a free bonus) at three North Shore bookstores: Betsy Frost Design (4 Market St., Ipswich); Dogtown Books (132 Main St., Gloucester); and Copper Dog Books (272 Cabot St., Beverly).

For those who can’t make a trip to the North Shore to purchase Praying for Mrs. Mombasa, the prize-winning novel is available in paper, Kindle, or audio by way of DragonheadPress.com.

Which may be why they call it “poker”

We survived February, but only barely. Killer cold, mammoth snows, hordes of mosquitos.

Yes, mosquitos. Before the cold and snow, there was that one weird Wednesday, a week ago, when it was 70ºF. A day that will go down in history, because it finally settled the longstanding scientific debate about how long it takes a mosquito to wake from winter hibernation. Answer: about two minutes.

I’m appalled that I got a fresh mosquito bite in the middle of my forehead in the dead of winter.

I imagine a mosquito — the female, the one that bites — in her flannel pajamas and an Abigail Adams bonnet, tucked in for the winter, snuggled under the covers, dreaming sweetly of swigging bloody Marys at the Crane Beach snack shack. And then, with the long, reluctant onset of the New England spring, as temperatures crankily creak upward, the mosquito gradually stirs from her slumber.

Still groggy, she slides four of her legs to one side and drops them over the edge of the bed, feeling around on the floor for her fuzzy slippers. Then it’s make a pot of coffee, bring in four months’ worth of papers from the front steps, do something with that awful bed-head.

In other words, she’ll need several hours to get in gear. She can’t even think about a vampiring venture till at least mid-afternoon. Maybe Tuesday.

But no. Turns out, this isn’t how it is at all. The mosquito does not settle down for a long winter’s nap. The mosquito is on alert practically around the clock, ready for the weather to shift in her favor at any moment. Sure, she may take a power nap now and then, but mostly she’s sitting up with the gals, playing poker, drinking strong coffee, smoking tiny cigars, and watching the weather app on her iPhone.

Then, thanks to humankind crashing the climate, a freak warm front arrives out of nowhere. The mosquito flings her cards to the table and zips out the door. Within seconds, she’s at that tiny tear in my porch screen, and aiming her proboscis at my epidermis.

Which is how it happened. She attacked. Slow to react, I smacked — but with the speed I lacked, she escaped intact.

In no time at all, she was back at the poker table. Feeling bloated but self-satisfied, even holding a 2, two 3’s, and two 6’s.

(Then the sun set, the wind kicked up, and all those windows we had opened at midday had to be closed because the bitter New England weather was now making frost on our house plants. Soon, snow was falling, plows were roaring, and the Ipswich EMA people were transmitting parking-ban instructions: “Parking is available in the MBTA lot for parking.” Redundant? I don’t know. Maybe they want to make sure you don’t park there for some other reason. Like opening a B&B or something. Maybe a bug-spray dispensary.)

My snowblower had no problem with the big Friday snow. It just took a bit longer than usual. I had to stop every once in a while and scratch.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in the place with the hole in the screen. Follow Doug at DougBrendel.com or NewThing.net.

Speed Limits: The Final Frontier

My wife and I have religious differences. One might regard religion as a question of Whom to obey. Kristina obeys the speed limit.

I’m generally in too much of a hurry to obey the speed limit strictly. I’m certainly against egregious speeding, especially along my stretch of outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, where maniacs routinely treat the 25 mph speed limit as if they’re dyslexic. Slow down in my neighborhood, folks. Speeding is dangerous because it cuts your reaction time. Speeding is rude because your vehicle is noisy. Speeding is wasteful because you’re burning more fuel. Moderation, people.

But of course, it’s possible to take moderation to extremes.

Kristina drives the speed limit or just a bit under. She has clearly bought into a conservative definition of “limit.” But the word actually comes from the French, in the 1500s, when it was used to describe a “frontier,” or a ridge between two properties. Aren’t we as Americans fond of exploring new frontiers? Isn’t a ridge something you have to go over? That 25 mph speed limit sign feels a bit different now, doesn’t it? Welcome to a new speed frontier! Let your adventure begin!

I believe it’s reasonable to go the speed limit or just a little over. Maybe by a couple mph. Possibly three. Or four. Five mph isn’t out of the question. Six is okay, I think. Seven — and that’s my final offer.

Four mph over the posted speed limit is just enough to back down from, the moment you spot a cop. By 7 mph over the speed limit, it’s iffy. Going 7 over, my chest is a little tight with the knowledge that I’m engaged in criminal activity. Guilt kills heart muscle, you know. Not all at once, of course, just bit by tiny bit. At my funeral, people will shake their heads and say, “He would have lasted another couple days if he’d only gone the speed limit.” But think of all the extra stuff I will have squeezed in to my life by getting places 7 mph sooner! From Route 1 to Zumi’s is 4.5 miles. I get to my decaf americano a minute and a half sooner by going 7 over. I’m saving half an hour a month! By the time I reach my predicted life expectancy, I will have saved a solid week. So don’t mourn me for my heart giving out two days early. I finished with a net gain of five decaf americanos.

It helps, of course, to know where the speed traps are. There are a few nooks where Ipswich cops like to hide, but I drop back to 4 mph over the limit as I approach them, and if one of them is sitting there, I drop down to the legal limit, all innocence, by the time I glide past them. I could get a commendation from the police department as a model citizen. Or from the Cultural Council for my brilliant acting.

My marriage is pretty good, in spite of our irreconcilables. The key is to avoid traveling together. If there’s no choice but to get in the car with her, my good-husband strategy is simple: Let her drive, and leave early.


Follow Doug Brendel — if you can keep up — at DougBrendel.com.

Mouse House Murder, Film at Eleven

It is a source of constant embarrassment to me that we have four cats, especially because it’s my fault that we have four cats. Over a certain period of time, my response to being unhappy with a cat was to get another cat and see if that cat could make me any happier. Doing the same thing again and again hoping to get a different result is the definition of insanity, and fortunately after four cats I got my meds adjusted. So the nightmare if not ended is at least suspended at four cats. No more. Absolutely not. Now it’s just a matter of outliving them.

There are precious few benefits to having four cats in the house but one benefit is the near-complete absence of rodents. For some evolutionary reason I don’t understand, cats are crazed with hatred toward some 40% of the world’s mammals: small hairy creatures with short limbs, long tails, and continuously growing incisors. (A rodent has to keep gnawing on things in order to keep its teeth from growing into enormous scimitars — which would be impressive, sure, but would also complicate scurrying and other activities.)

Cats murder mice? You won’t hear me complaining. Here in New England, as I’ve learned the hard way, there are lots of very old houses, and very old houses tend to be porous. Warped wood, busted brick, corners that haven’t met since Calvin Coolidge — they’re all just tiny pest-passageways. The vermin come and go as they please, toll-free. When lawmakers began regulating truth in advertising, they considered requiring New England realtors to reveal rodents-per-square-foot. Perish the thought. A law like that would have killed the Ipswich economy. 

Mice in our neighborhood clearly think of my 205-year-old house not in terms of Doug’s domicile but of rodents’ recreation. A family of voles once set up a sort of bucket brigade to convey Meow Mix, a single kernel at a time, from our cat’s food bowl to their storage unit under our kitchen. The voles were so successful that a couple teenage mice on break from school signed up to help.

A single cat couldn’t keep up with the intrepid interlopers. But four cats turn your home — even the most permeable old place — into a virtually impenetrable fortress. We used to see or hear the occasional telltale skittering in the ceiling or behind the couch, but no more. Rodents have learned to avoid the Death Zone. At night, they gather around a tiny campfire in the woods out back, and grownups tell scary mouse-murder stories to keep the young’uns from getting any crazy ideas.

Still, kids will be kids. A few weeks ago I relayed the heartbreaking news that mice had invaded a storage bin in our garage and ruined our Christmas nutcracker collection. Many human readers responded with kindness and compassion. (One dear friend consoled me in my loss by delivering a lovely gift: a small mouse-proof nutcracker, made of solid metal.)

But young punk rodents, reading the same account, got cocky, I guess. They decided life in my garage storage bins — which is a cushy life for a rodent, if you ask me — wasn’t good enough for them anymore. I don’t know what the tipping point was — alcohol or drugs or maybe anti-vax misinformation on Facebook — but something tragically snapped in one of those young rodent minds, and they made the brash decision to go where the mouse maps clearly say “There Be Cats.”

It was a Sunday morning. I will never be able to un-see it. I came downstairs from my bedroom, heading bleary-eyed toward the coffee pot, when I stopped short. There on the living room carpet was the corpse of a mouse. You can tell a mouse is dead because it’s not doing anything annoying.

One of our four cats, in full uniform, was standing nearby. On duty, but trying to look nonchalant. Cats on patrol enjoy their work, but they also know that humans are unpredictable when it comes to cleaning up cadavers. There’s always the possibility of someone going “Eew! What’d you do?”

I gave Puck a high-five.

P.S. Ipswich Curbside Compost takes mouse carcasses.


Doug Brendel and the felines live on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow them all via DougBrendel.com.

Eat, Crow

Last week The Guardian reported that a Swedish firm has trained the crows of Stockholm to pick up discarded cigarette butts.

Not pet crows. Wild crows.

The crow picks up a cigarette butt, deposits it in a certain machine, and out comes a tasty morsel of something — presumably crow-healthy — in exchange.

This isn’t the crackpot venture of a Swedish mad scientist. This is a serious civic project born of urgent necessity.

Stockholm is drowning in cigarette butts.

The Keep Sweden Tidy Foundation estimates that a billion cigarette butts are tossed on Sweden’s streets every year — 62% of all Swedish litter. Cost of cleanup: more than $8.70 for every 100 cigs.

Of course, you have to pay for all that crow food. So yes, it does cost something to rig a big cig gig. But the crows apparently work cheaper than members of the Swedish street cleaners’ union — because with the butt-for-a-bite machine, the cleanup cost comes down to something like $2.17 for 100 cigs, $2.18 tops.

Scientists say adult crows are as smart as 7-year-old humans. They not only learn to love the cig-exchange program quickly, one crow will teach other crows. And there’s no risk of them eating the cigarette butts, because they don’t like the taste. Not even the menthol ones.

The tragedy, of course, is that you can train crows to pick up cigarette butts but you can’t train people not to throw them down in the first place. Although depending on what kind of snacks the machine dispensed, I might be interested in serving as a test subject. Cheez-its? I’m in. Or foie gras.

The success of the Swedish crow cleaning crew obviously sets the stage for other applications. Here in Ipswich, we have plenty of crows — an enormous clan based in my own backyard — and I’d suggest training them to take snacks in exchange for greenheads. Also midges, mosquitos, and mice. Depending on the size of the crow, there are some noisy dogs we might add to the list.

But if crows are so smart, let’s consider broader projects. Let’s train them to salt icy roads. Fill potholes. Listen to the police scanner and peck out reports for the local press. It couldn’t happen overnight, of course — training takes time, and of course you have to find the right crow for each job. Not every crow will be keen on taking a bit of fried-clam breading in exchange for doing school crossing duty. But as more crows discover the natural joys of the open market, I believe others will flock to new opportunities.

And then, in any of these endeavors, as the birds achieve a certain skill level, they can free up our talented human workers to focus on more sophisticated challenges, and activities too big and complex for crows, like tree removal and election monitoring and finishing my basement.

There are other smart members of the animal kingdom, of course. If crows pay off, we could move on to other species. The next time our town faces an existential crisis — the ocean rising due to climate change, soul-crushing over-development, drive-throughs at eating establishments — no worries. We can just convene our best and brightest to figure out how to solve the problem: our smartest rat, our shrewdest pig, and our exceedingly clever octopus. Or simply pull together several of our standout second-graders.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, in a house he shares with cats he’s trained to wake him when they’re hungry. Follow Doug’s hapless adventures via DougBrendel.com.

Forecast: There be dragons

That was a lot of snow we survived this past Saturday, an overwhelming amount of snow for a single snowfall, and a lot of people across New England suffered in a lot of different ways, but frankly, I was relieved that it was only snow.

We were warned otherwise.

The Ipswich EMA, the Emergency Management Agency, has set up a very good system of calling residents automatically when a crisis is approaching or a disaster is under way, so Saturday morning my wife’s phone rang. She is not one to carry her phone everywhere — a point of conflict between us, a conflict as old as the invention of the mobile phone — so she missed the call. No problem; it went to voicemail. She uses Google Voice, and as part of their service, if you miss a call, they send you an email with a transcript of the voicemail message.

Please understand, it’s not like when people my age were young, and a transcript was typically generated by a female secretary sitting at a typewriter. A transcript these days can be generated by an app, automatically, without any human involvement. That young woman who would have typed up your transcript back in the day is now officiating NFL games or operating an articulated boom lift and paying union dues.

So the Google Voice software transcribed the voicemail, and when my wife opened her inbox, she was understandably alarmed. The message began with an ominous announcement:

“This is an important message regarding the lizard that will impact our area tomorrow.”

My wife is normally a courageous person — I go limp in an emergency, while she lays hold of a weapon or a tool and prepares for heroics — but I know she understood the extraordinary threat we were facing, because she forwarded me the email.

I want to say I didn’t panic, but the truth is, I staggered before the news. What hath global warming wrought, if a massive lizard was about to come stomping around eastern Massachusetts! I could understand it happening in Florida, or Arizona, where it’s normal to have lizards, but not New England, and not in the dead of winter. Yet here it was. I could picture some version of Godzilla wearing enormous snowshoes clomping over the Choate Bridge and biting the steeple off of First Church, the bone-jarring thud-thud-thud of his gargantuan feet making even the clients at Whittier-Porter jump.

What a three-story-tall gecko would actually do to Ipswich, I couldn’t guess, of course, and how to prepare for such an unprecedented visitation? It was terrible timing, you have to admit, since we were also expecting record volumes of snow the same day. Could my very large, very noisy snowblower perhaps frighten off the mega-lizard, and send him down the road to destroy the homes of people with no defensive implements except shovels? Or would Godzilla consider my machine a worthwhile challenge and angrily thrash my 200-year-old house into a pile of antique splinters?

Fortunately, apps are not foolproof, and no monster materialized. Perhaps it saw the weather forecast and decided to commandeer a Boston Duck Boat and head south before the white stuff hit.

In any case, we survived Snowmageddon, we sidestepped Godzillageddon, and no apps were harmed in the transcribing of this column.


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, under the protection of his fearless wife. If he ever ventures out, he can be followed at DougBrendel.com.