Every smile you fake, I’ll be watching you

I met her a few years ago. To protect her privacy, I’ll call her Gloriana G. Gloriosa. (As far as Google can tell, there is no one on earth named Gloriana G. Gloriosa.)

Gloriana, a retiree, responded to an Outsidah column in the Ipswich Local News, and I invited her to lunch.

I never anticipated subterfuge.

We had a lovely meal and conversation. And since then, Gloriana and I have exchanged a number of pleasant emails.

But then, last week — this.

“Favor to ask,” the subject line said. “Hi, Sorry to bother you,” the email began, “do you order from Amazon?”

“Yes,” I confessed.

“Glad to hear from you,” she replied. “I need you to get an Amazon email gift card for a friend’s daughter who is down with cancer of the Liver, it’s her birthday today and I promised to get it for her today, but I can’t do this now because all my effort purchasing it online proved abortive. Can you get it from your amazon account? I’ll reimburse you back as soon as possible. Please let me know if you can handle this so I can tell you the amount and how to get to her. Await your soonest response.”

Well, I work for a living (my Outsidah columns don’t pay the bills, since they’re totally volunteer) — so I replied to her:

“I’m in client meetings and on the road the rest of today and tonight and can’t work on this till tomorrow, sorry.”

Soon, I heard back:

“Sorry for bothering you, Let me know what time you will be able to order the gift card online so i can send you her email address.”

I haven’t known Gloriana very long, but I do know that she’s a longtime Ipswich professional, well educated — and quite the precise communicator in her rendering of numerous letters to the editor — so it was curious to me that she capitalized “Liver” and didn’t capitalize “amazon” and that she used a phrase like “reimburse you back,” which comes straight from the Dept. of Redundancy Dept.

Also, hasn’t the pronoun “I” been capitalized since around the year 1400? Do you spend your working life as a highly articulate communicator only to give up capitalizing your personal pronouns in retirement? Are you that exhausted? You can’t press the shift key every time you need a capital?

But I wanted to help if I could. I had a next-morning breakfast meeting scheduled, near Ipswich center. We could get together there and make it happen.

“Bring the cash to the Ipswich Inn dining room tomorrow morning,” I replied, “8:45-9 a.m. and we’ll work it out then.”

As I imagined it, this could be fun. Gloriana arrives, maybe she joins my group for breakfast. She hands over the cash, I pull out my iPhone. I click on my Amazon app, her (capital-L) Liver-cancer-friend’s-daughter gets her (small-a) amazon email gift card — and only a day late for the patient’s birthday. I’m a hero!

Hello?

No answer that email.

“Bring the cash”? No answer.

Dang. It seems somebody stole my friend Gloriana’s email address, and her contacts list, and started sending out emails pretending to be her, asking for help, so they could wrangle online gifts to an email address of their choosing.

Oh friends, heed my dire warning. Beware the scam scum: artists of the dark arts.

I am only disappointed that my fake Gloriana G. Gloriosa didn’t stick with me for one more email exchange. I was going to suggest, if she couldn’t be at breakfast, meeting me at 10 at the Ipswich police station.

That would have been such fun!


Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich — No, wait, that’s too much information. Let’s just say somewhere in coastal Massachusetts — Wait, no, that’s too specific. Okay, follow Doug at DougBrendel.com. But please, if you need money, don’t bother asking.

Thoreau could have died here, a T. Rex victim

I am not a horticulturalist, an agriculturalist, a farmer, or even an outdoorsperson. 

I’m not a gardener. 

I love those people, but I ain’t one.

I consider the outdoors something to look at through a glass window or a very, very tight screen, something so tight that even midges can’t get through. 

I am fiercely allergic to midge bites, and my wife has battled Lyme disease thanks to ticks, so if something needs to be accomplished out in the meadow behind my house, I hire the neighbor boy. To him, I’m a hero, a capitalist mentor.

There’s a reason human beings originally gravitated to caves, and then started building primitive dwellings, and then invented doors. It’s because humans are not intended to be outside.

We’re an indoor species. 

My idea of “roughing it” is stepping down to a three-star hotel. 

And believe me, that’s roughing it. No Keurig in the room? Barbaric.

But in spite of my antipathy for the supposedly “great outdoors,” I can bring you with great confidence this word of outdoorsy advice: 

If you want to hide something behind vegetation, and you need something to grow relatively fast, honey locust may be your solution. 

Yes, a tree. A honey locust tree.

I don’t mean you can rob the bank in downtown Ipswich and run home to your place on Little Neck and plant a honey locust tree; you have to plan further ahead. But if you want to sequester over the long haul, thinking in decades instead of minutes, honey locust may be your seclusion salvation.

I understand that Wikipedia calls the honey locust an “aggressive, invasive species.” Sorry. The practical reality is, Gleditsia triacanthos is wondrous. Sue me.

When we first moved to Ipswich, we had a lone honey locust tree in our front yard. Our house was almost 200 years old at the time, and that tall, glorious honey locust was an estimated 100 or so. But when we decided to put solar panels on the front roof of our house — a move that would allow the sun to power our entire household, including both of our cars — there was only one painful sacrifice to be made.

The beautiful century-old honey locust tree in the middle of the front yard was blocking the sunlight that we would need on our roof.

I told myself that the honey locust was approaching the end of its life, so it would have to come down soon in any event. But I wept anyway, as the tree guys power-sawed it.

We left the stump in the front yard, a stubborn monument to the beautiful being we had sacrificed.

Then, the miracle. 

The stump and its roots began producing shoots. 

That first year, seven shoots came up. 

Then, year by year, more new shoots than I could count. New trees!

The honey locust is not your cliché tree. You don’t have big spread-your-fingers leaves like a maple. You don’t get creepy Morticia-Addams-pointy leaves like a pin oak. The honey locust has a zillion tiny leaves, collected in miniature fronds, like a Jurassic Park fern that went berserk.

So you don’t expect shade from a honey locust. Little leaves, little shade; right?

Uh, no.

Today, a few summers later, I can’t see out my front-room windows. They’re completely obscured by a stand of innumerable honey locust trees, all rising up and rejoicing in the muggy July sunshine of another interminable Ipswich summer.

It’s a jungle out there.

If they ultimately surround my house, I hope someone will hack their way in here and save me.

“Honey locust.” Such a conflicted name. Honey is sweet. Locusts are awful.

Beware.

But I’m looking out my living room window at Linebrook Road, and I’m tellin’ ya, if you’re gonna need a hideout a few years from now, plant honey locust trees today.

Because from where I’m sitting, I can’t see a dang thing.


(Doug Brendel lives behind an impermeable stand of dinosaur-era flora on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him, if he survives, at DougBrendel.com.)

How can you be against muskrat love?

“Wetlands.” Huh?

When I was growing up in the Chicago megalopolis, we never used such a phrase. You were either on pavement or in Lake Michigan. Or, depending on your criminal connections, under Lake Michigan. Sure, Chicago has parks, and some of them have fountains, but recycled municipal water splashing on concrete couldn’t possibly qualify as wetlands, could it?

Then I spent nearly a quarter century in the Arizona desert. The idea of putting “wet” and “lands” together in a single word was not in the realm of reality. Something called the Salt River runs through Phoenix, but perhaps the name is intended as a joke, since there’s no actual salt, and usually no water either.

So when I moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, it was disorienting to hear about wetlands, and to learn that they’re protected. If I understand correctly, these are places continuously or frequently flooded, and according to the Environmental Protection Agency, there’s a lot of flora and fauna that depend on this. Muskrats can’t live anywhere else, for example. Put a muskrat in a posh penthouse apartment and he won’t last much past the housewarming party. Those cattails you buy from the florist to accent your décor? They can only come from wetlands; cattails won’t grow anywhere else. Otters, peregrine falcons, and other animals totally depend on wetlands for food, water, or shelter. Sure, there are other places you can get food, water, or shelter, but you’re not an otter. Except maybe emotionally.

Many birds need wetlands for, uh, unmentionable activities. (To explain why in any sort of detail would be inappropriate for a family newspaper.) And for those who don’t use proper protection, the resulting offspring can only be reared in wetlands. Snicker at them if you will for their lax morals, but some migratory birds would become extinct without those sexy wetlands. I would boldly say that losing even one degenerate species would be one degenerate species too many.

A beaver is so urgently dependent on wetlands that it may actually create its own. He’s not building those dams to generate hydroelectricity; he’s instinctively wired with a hopeless wetlands fixation. If there’s no wetlands, he shudders and mutters “Geez, this is too much like Chicago” and starts gnawing on trees. It’s the beaver version of a psychotic episode.

Ipswich has wetlands, and they are indeed protected; so when you build on a property, you have to work around the wetlands. When Mr. Bruni proposed a massive apartment megaplex for Essex Road, for example, he was obligated to order a “wetlands delineation” — which reportedly showed wetlands along an area abutting Gordon Greenhouses.

But here’s another fun fact about wetlands that I never understood before: Wetlands morph. They come and go. They change shape. And the Bruni World approval process has taken so long, the authorities are going to need a new, up-to-date wetlands map before they can greenlight the project.

I overheard some cynical wag suggesting that the simplest way to deny construction of the Bruni abomination would be for concerned citizens to lay extra lengths of garden hose to the edge of the property and enlarge the wetlands so dramatically that there’s no room left for building 191 soulless apartments. At 59¢ a foot for the bestselling garden hose, this is a civic project just about anybody could afford to participate in — although it would of course qualify as vandalism. Plus, it would be a violation of the watering ban now in place as Ipswich battles the current drought. So this outrageous idea absolutely cannot be recommended. A committed environmentalist vandal would instead need to use buckets of leftover “gray water,” wastewater harvested from sinks, showers, etc. Harder work, but certainly more satisfying.

Among those who care about the environment, the EPA says, gray water is increasingly popular, especially as a way to flush toilets. Which may be another way of thinking about stopping the Bruni project.


(Doug Brendel lives lawfully on outer Linebrook Road, where his property is gradually turning brown. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.)

Hounded on High Street

The Ipswich Zoning Board of Appeals has received a request for a variance from local zoning at 236 High Street.

It’s a residential area, but the prospective new owner wants to operate a business.

I hope the ZBA doesn’t move too quickly to approve this request, because numerous types of businesses could go in at this address and make a more positive impact on the neighborhood.

For example, one neighbor suggested to the ZBA that the proposed new business might alter the “quiet and peaceful” nature of the area. Another predicted the new business would be a “noise nuisance.”

So of course the ZBA should opt for something quieter. The Ipswich Fish and Game Association could relocate from Paradise Road. A shooting range does involve occasional sudden decibel spikes, but at least it wouldn’t be constant and uncontrollable.

On the other hand, I understand there’s a business in Saugus looking for a new home — a place that tests those beep-beep-beep units that tell you a piece of heavy equipment is backing up. It’s possible, of course, that neighbors might hear the beep-beep-beeping, but the rhythmic predictability of the beep-beep-beeping would be preferable to what’s currently proposed.

Or, the property could be used as a practice facility for rock bands. It would be noise, but at least it would be music. Ipswich supports the arts.

Neighbors of 236 High Street are not just concerned about noise, however. The ZBA variance application indicates that the new business would be hiring a service called Poop 911. The business name itself implies an excretion emergency, and a significant potential olfactory impact on the neighborhood.

It’s a fact of life that #2 doesn’t wait to smell bad; it smells bad right away. Then there’s the seldom-referenced poop-quantity law of physics: More poop smells worse quicker. (And if the business owner has to call for feces-expertise every day, it’s no longer an emergency, more like a way of life.)

But other, better choices could be made. This property could become an expansion campus of our Transfer Station. We wouldn’t replicate everything currently dumped at the Town Farm Road facility; just the compost. To keep the High Street neighborhood smelling sweeter than it would under the present proposal.

Another possibility would be a petting zoo, with an emphasis on species under-represented in traditional petting zoos. Skunks never get enough attention, and skunk-breeders find it difficult to situate their facilities in other towns; but in our town, a skunk-breeding operation would be welcome because of the alternative we’d be avoiding.

It’s possible, however, that the ZBA will okay the proposed variance as-is. In such a case, the neighborhood will simply have to accept change. Of course, the Clam Box will be gone soon, long outdoor lines of patrons felled by the deadly stench wafting westward from two doors down. But no great loss, since there won’t be many clams to fry anyway. The clam beds will be closed due to a fecal bacteria surge in the groundwater runoff. 

As Shakespeare wrote:

Such noise comes from the front of man’s best friend!
Yet naught more foul than comes from best friend’s end.

Not William Shakespeare; his cousin Larry Shakespeare, from Woofferton.


(Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where the skunks and the antelope roam. Sniff him out at DougBrendel.com.)

Where have all the chickens gone, long time pecking?

Free-range chickens are technically illegal in Ipswich but out here on outer Linebrook Road we are already so overrun with ticks, even this early in the season, I believe the law should be changed so that anyone west of Route 1 is actually required to have free-range chickens.

Chickens eat ticks, it’s well known, and chickens roaming free can eat more ticks than cooped-up chickens. Possums also eat ticks, which means setting the chickens free could presumably cut into the possum population’s diet, but I don’t care about starving out the possums because we’re Northerners, not Southerners, so we don’t each much possum. Given the geopolitical divide in our nation these days, I can imagine pushback — claims of malice, “Kill a tick, starve a Republican,” this sort of snark — but I assure you, my goal in releasing the chickens would be nothing more than the freedom to take a simple walk across my backyard without being beset by nasty little parasitic arachnids.

It seems to be the worst tick season in quite a few years. I’ve gone whole summers in Ipswich without finding a single one of the miniature monsters on my pantleg. But with global warming, the tick population is exploding. Ticks can’t mate and reproduce when the temperature drops below 45˚ F, but we have fewer and fewer such chilly periods. Those refreshingly mild days you pray for and luxuriate in? They’re a backdrop for unspeakable tick debauchery on an unthinkable scale.

Of course this is not just about the annoyance of tiresome self-examination — flick icky ticks quick — every time you come in from outdoors. It’s what happens if you fail to pick off one of these mini-devils in time. Ticks give humans Lyme disease. Since 2010, according to the Infectious Diseases Society of America, cases of tick-triggered Lyme have tripled. Why? More days and hours of tick-sex-friendly temps. And not enough chickens on the job.

We had free-range chickens in our neighborhood for a time, despite the official Ipswich ban. A neighbor had chickens and let them roam; the rest of us neighbors enjoyed them, and the chickens always went home by day’s end, observing a kind of unspoken chicken-curfew. In the meadow between my house and the chicken coop, the chickens ate well, and whole generations of ticks were annihilated. Even today, tick folk singers sing mournful songs about that tragic era.

For us humans, however, life was grand — that is, until another neighbor loved the chickens so much, or so I heard, that she began feeding them actual food. Big mistake. They began congregating happily at this one house, doing all the chicken things chickens do, like scratching and pecking. Chickens roaming over a whole neighborhood don’t make much of a mess, because they’re spread out and on the move; but so many chickens hanging out in a single yard soon took a toll on the flower garden. The outraged owner — apparently feeling betrayed by the chickens she loved — complained bitterly.

The era of technically illegal but generally accepted free-range outer Linebrook chickens was suddenly over. The chickens are now re-cooped, and the ticks are partying.

A whole new cohort of tick singer-songwriters has emerged. No more rueful refrains. It’s straight rock-and-roll now.

Yesterday I walked to the corner of my backyard and by the time I got there I had a whole tiny rock band attached to the leg of my jeans — guitar, bass, drums, and lead vocals, with three tiny backup singers in matching outfits. I remained calm. I sauntered over to my neighbor’s backyard, my steps keeping time with the music, then flicked each member of the band, one by one, into the chicken coop.

Chickens are no fans of rock-and-roll, I guess. They didn’t even wait for the song to end.


Doug Brendel wages war against the insect world from his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Track his exploits via DougBrendel.com.

The squirrel sleeps with the fishes

I ran over a squirrel last week. Not the whole squirrel. Just the half of it that wasn’t fast enough to get out of the way of my front left tire.

There’s that instant of panic when you see the creature darting out onto the asphalt, without any of the requisite small-town New England hand signals and dirty looks that humans use — “I’m crossing, okay? Even though there’s no crosswalk, right? Because the lawsuit will be overwhelming, yes?”

And you can stomp on the brake, to give the squirrel a fighting chance, but it’s usually hopeless. The momentum you’ve built up, even at a stately 35 mph, is no match for a squirrelly rodent who tops out at about 5 ft. per second, or roughly 25 mph, in that last desperate flash of panic. You have 10 mph on the poor sucker. Who’ll win and who’ll lose is not in question. 

It’s not as if I was driving recklessly. I was moving at more or less the speed limit, eastbound from my home in the hinterland, chugging along on Linebrook Road toward Marini Farm. And up ahead, what do I see but a crow. The crow had found some roadkill, apparently annihilated by some heartless driver who came careening down Linebrook Road ahead of me, but without the same kind consideration for creatures great and small that I bring to the automotive experience.

The crow, pecking at his gory prize, heard my vehicle approaching, and made the sensible choice: He temporarily abandoned his lunch, flapping away to some nearby branch where he could keep an eye out and return ASAP.

But coincidentally, a young squirrel, poised at the edge of Linebrook Road, observing the scene, made an ill-fated split-second decision. He’s not interested in chowing down on roadkill — ick! He’s a squirrel, after all; he doesn’t want guts, he wants nuts.

But he does also want to cross the road.

So he says to himself, If the crow can do it, so can I. I can get out of the way in time.

Like a typical youth, he doesn’t consider his own limitations. Like, for instance, he can’t fly like a crow. He’s not a flying squirrel, is he? What are teenagers thinking?

Accordingly, my car whacked him.

It was a traumatic moment for me. I pulled over, my heart pounding. I needed to collect myself.

Then, out of the corner of my eye, I saw a greenish shape, like a filthy upside-down salad bowl, lumbering toward me. Emerging from the woods, a snapping turtle. And no young whippersnapper of a snapping turtle. This was a seasoned, mature snapping turtle. A snapping turtle that had been around the block a time or two.

He paused as he approached my car. He arched an eyebrow. I rolled down my window to hear what he had to say.

“Why did the squirrel cross the road?” he began, his voice husky.

I shrugged.

“To prove he wasn’t chicken.”

I had no retort.

“It’s a joke,” the turtle murmured, his turtle mouth curled into a sneer.

He shook his head — peevishly, I thought. Then he looked right at me, one of his little eyes trained directly on me, like an angry grade-school teacher.

“You know how many times I’ve crossed this road?” he rasped. “Cars come screeching to a halt. People get out of their vehicles — Audis, F-150s, it doesn’t matter — and they gather around to help me across. I swear, if I went into politics, I could heal the divisions in this country.”

I didn’t know what to say.

“I saw what was happening here,” the turtle chortled, “and not just today. I mean day after day. That squirrel was what we call a ‘young punk.’ He didn’t want to listen to any kind of advice from anybody in ‘the older generation.’”

I couldn’t help but glance at the half of the young punk’s body that wasn’t squished. I shivered.

“I did what I could,” the turtle sighed. “I went to him, weeks ago. I didn’t have to, I had no obligation to him, but out of a sense of community, a sense of family you might say, the animal kingdom, you know what I mean? I went to him; I said, ‘Look, I’m offering you protection. When you want to cross Linebrook Road, come to me first, I’ll go with you. When I start across, traffic will stop. You’ll be safe. You can come and go as you please. You make a small payment to my guys when they come around, and your problems are over.”

To me, at the moment, hearing the turtle say it, it sounded like a good deal.

The turtle shrugged, at least as much as a turtle can shrug, inside that shell. 

“He didn’t listen to me. He was a young punk who wouldn’t pay.”

He nodded at the half-smushed carcass.

“Look at him now.”

I couldn’t help but shudder a bit.

“Turkeys, they get a lot of attention,” the turtle continued. “People stop for them, sure. But turkeys wander around. They don’t stick with one neighborhood. They could help other species get across the road — but do they? No. They’re just in it for themselves. Me, I’ve been here for 40 years. Available to help whoever needs help.”

He began plodding across the road. Then he paused, mid-lane, and looked back at me. His mouth wasn’t curled into that little turtle sneer anymore. It was just a sad, straight mouth of regret.

“But squirrels. Do they listen? No.”

An oncoming Volvo screeched to a halt. The turtle turned back and resumed his slow crawl across the asphalt.

“Squirrels,” I heard him grunt. “They show no respect.”


Doug Brendel lives and drives on Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Look into all his strange multi-species experiences at DougBrendel.com

Wherefish Art Thou Romeo?

The Female: Oh my darling!

The Male: Oh my sweet!

F: I’m so happy to see you!

M: Even if it’s only FaceTime, at least…

F: Yes, at least we can look into each other’s eye. 

M: And then each other’s other eye.

F: It’s probably for the best that our eyes are on opposite sides of our heads….

M: Yes. I’m sure I couldn’t contain myself, looking straight ahead and taking in your beauty with both eyes at once.

F: Oh, you always say the sweetest things.

M: My love for you compels me to pour out my heart.

F: Oh, how I wish your love for me could compel you to pour out something else. Something more than words, and little air bubbles.

M: Well, I would if I could, you know. If I were there, with you, gill to gill, I certainly would give you something more … lasting.

F: Darling! Are you grinning?

M: I fear so.

F: How can you even make your mouth do that? I’ve only ever seen you make the O shape!

M: Love drives one to extremes, I guess!

F: Oh, how I long for you!

M: And I you!

F: If only we weren’t separated by this awful barrier!

M: Horrid barricade!

F: Wretched wall!

M: Damn this dam!

F: Oh my love, don’t speak in such curses, lest we fall under a curse ourselves.

M: What more of a curse could we suffer, than this damnable Ipswich Mills Dam! This massive blockade, repulsing me and my family, not only today, but for generations! Since 1637!

F: Well, to be precise, the current version of the dam wasn’t built till 1908.

M: What is that to me! It’s a dam, and I say, damn it!

F: No! Don’t speak this way! If I only had ears, I would cover my ears with my hands, if I only had hands!

M: How can you be so conservative? Our lives are passing before our very eye! We herrings only live 15 years. How many chances will we have to…?

F: Don’t say it! Don’t say it!

M: Spawn! There, I said it!

F: I told you not to say it!

M: How many chances will we have to make little herrings?

F: You’ll never have a chance with me if you keep talking dirty!

M: I’m sorry! I’m sorry! I guess this dam is making me crazy.

F: My darling, won’t you please try the fish ladder?

M: The fish ladder. Again with the fish ladder.

F: That’s what it’s there for! It’s to get little boy fishies together with little girl fishies.

M: Oh please, don’t talk cutesy. This is not Finding Nemo.

F: Just give it a try. Jump up there. See how it goes.

M: You would really have me trust that? Something devised by the government?

F: You would rather miss out on … you know … with me?

M: The fish ladder is not an option.

F: Why not?

M: Look. My mother laid 20,000 eggs. Only 130 of my siblings survived. We considered ourselves lucky. Hardy stock. But then came time to spawn — er, sorry: “procreate.”

We swam up the Ipswich River. We got to the dam. We found the fish ladder. 

My brother Artie was always a hot shot. He jumped up there. I saw him flopping around. He jumped again. And again. I hope he made it. I never saw him again. 

My brother Chuckie went next. He got up a few steps, then flopped out. He was so exhausted, the current carried him back toward Little Neck, like a Fish Filet waiting to happen. 

Nicky and I looked at each other. He just shook his head and swam away.

I was rattled, I confess. I pulled off to one side, tucked myself in under a corner of the Ebsco parking lot, and tried to get myself together. I caught Zumi’s WIFI and went online — and that’s the day I found you. The day I lost my brothers.

Yes, I could have tried the fish ladder, but only 3% make it. We’re lucky we’re herring, at 3%. My friend Miltie was a smelt. No smelt has ever made the fish ladder. We tried to talk sense into him, but it was no use; he was in love with a cute little Mallotus villosus from Danvers and nobody could convince him otherwise.

Miltie tried for three weeks straight to get up that fish ladder. It was painful to witness. By the end, I think he was actually crying, although it’s hard to tell when a fish is crying, because there’s already so much water around.

But it wasn’t his fault. Smelt are weak swimmers. They’re not built to climb fish ladders. They’re built to get scooped into a net, kippered, and — well, I won’t get into the details.

What I’m saying is, I’m not coming up that fish ladder for you like some herring Romeo. Until they take this dam down, we’re doomed.

Can you understand? Can you forgive me?

F: Gotta go. There’s a barbecue here — they’re grilling copepods, pteropods, planktonic crustaceans, and some awesome larvae. Check ya next week?


Doug Brendel lives on dry ground in an old house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Check out his many exploits by visiting DougBrendel.com.

And in this corner, the Respectimator!

My friend Tom Murphy, who has served ably as Ipswich Town Moderator for a number of years, is in deep trouble. And everybody’s talking about it. Since our recent Town Meeting, the number of letters to the editor about Tom Murphy has approached Guinness Book levels.

You’ve probably heard the lurid details by now. Like so many colossal tragedies, it began small and simple: Tom Murphy imposed a new Town Meeting rule, Selectperson Linda Alexson didn’t like it, and — kaboom.

It all came down to the question of who talks where when. And why. Or why not. 

I’ll sketch it out for you: There was an official microphone for government officials to express the recommendations of boards and committees on various articles, and then there were “for” and “against” microphones for citizens to use if they wanted to offer their perspectives.

But if a government official was a minority of one on a board or committee — the only member voting in opposition to the rest of the body — they had to use the commoners’ mic to share their view. Linda Alexson’s verdict: “Disrespectful.”

Moderator Tom assures us that this is a rule that other towns use. I actually didn’t quite follow the logic of the new rule. I guess it was something about the symbolism?

Symbolism is a tricky thing. People sort of make it up as they go. This Town Meeting may have been slathered in symbolism without our even realizing it. With the meeting moved from the Dolan PAC to the gym, there was no full-size flag to say the Pledge of Allegiance to; only a miniature version mounted on a wall. Secret symbolism?

And consider this: The high school jazz band, a longtime pre-Meeting fixture in the Dolan PAC days, was absent this time — even after their recent gold medal in the Northeastern District Regionals. Was their banishment an implied call for a “no” vote on the school override question, since the override would fund arts in the schools? (Thank heaven this diabolical maneuver didn’t work. The override passed — so we can hope the jazz band will rise again from the Town Meeting secret-symbolism ash heap.)

Citizens, beware. Let this microphone brouhaha be a cautionary tale. The Moderator is, under the law, quite autonomous. Moderators rule Town Meeting as their almost-exclusive domain.

Yes, there’s a built-in weakness: The Moderator’s term is only one year, so in theory we can vote the devil out annually, and vote a new savior in. But meanwhile, there’s the risk of tyranny, fascism, socialism, anarchy, favoritism, nepotism, and even more despotic symbolism than we’ve already been subjected to. An unprincipled Town Moderator could force us to say the Pledge with no flag at all. I hate to think what happens if citizens of the historic Town of Ipswich are required to say the Pledge of Allegiance to an imaginary Old Glory. Betsy Ross will turn over in her grave.

(Which would be really ironic — maybe even symbolic — since Betsy’s body was first buried in a Quaker cemetery in Philadelphia, then moved after 20 years — for the sake of symbolism — to drive business to a fancier cemetery in town. Some eight decades later, preparing for the 1976 American Bicentennial, city leaders ordered her remains moved to a hotter tourist attraction, the Betsy Ross House, even though historians say she never lived there — but the gravediggers found no human remains under her tombstone. They had to find bones elsewhere in the family plot so they’d have something to put in the grave at the “historical” site.)

The best solution, I think, is to have only one Town Meeting microphone: the Moderator’s mic. Everyone who wants to speak — majority, minority, government official, private citizen, everybody — lines up for the opportunity and goes toe-to-toe with the Moderator, right there up front. True democracy, pure symbolism: one vote, one voice, one mic — and if we must have a rasslin’ match for control of the audio, so be it. 

May the best reverse half-Nelson leglock win.


Doug Brendel lives safely on outer Linebrook Road, far from any Town Meeting fracas. Follow his mild-mannered exploits at DougBrendel.com.

Warp speed, Mr. Sulu, wake me at Whittier-Porter

Ingrid Miles — iconic realtor, former selectperson, and all-around distinguished citizen — was the very first person I met in Ipswich; she was the selling agent for my house on outer Linebrook Road. 

I have always really liked Ingrid, and admired her, but I did almost kill her. 

And not just her. Her husband Stephen, too. 

Not on purpose, of course. But when you kill someone, regardless of whether it was on purpose or not, they’re just as dead.

I was driving my very small car eastbound on High Street, approaching the intersection of North Main, where High becomes East. On my left was the Ipswich Inn, on my right was Ingrid’s house.

Ingrid and Stephen were crossing High Street on foot, heading home at a perfectly appropriate pedestrian pace. I was zipping along the road toward County Street, at something exceeding an appropriate vehicular pace.

Did I notice these vulnerable pedestrians? Not soon enough.

There’s a moment, just before you clobber someone with your car, when your eyes lock with theirs, and you experience in each other’s face a millisecond of intensely personal dialogue. (Later, after the incident, forensic experts can measure the length of the skid marks on the pavement to determine just how many milliseconds the dialogue took.)

You’ve heard that old thing about your entire life flashing before your eyes? No, it’s way more intense and personal than that.

In this case, for example, Ingrid’s eyes were saying, “I sold you your house. I thought you liked that house. How could you do this to me?” 

And my eyes were saying, “I love living here. How could it end this way? Prison is going to be horrible.” 

I’m not quite as sure about Stephen, but I believe his eyes were saying, “I knew I should have bought more insurance.”

Fortunately, there is a God, or at least angels, because someone supernaturally intervened and saved all our lives. The Mileses froze in their tracks, I hit the brake, my car magically swerved, the pedestrians crossed the street unscathed, and I trembled as I drove sheepishly past them, feebly waving my apologies.

Who could blame them for asking the Town of Ipswich for stop signs at that intersection? It came down to one simple equation: Either erect stop signs now or memorial crosses later.

So here come the stop signs, at the head of North Main Street, newly ordered by the Ipswich Select Board: one sign stopping eastbound traffic at the end of High Street, another for westbound traffic at the end of East Street.

Ingrid reports that I am not by far the only reckless driver to have endangered lives there. But I blame myself. If you hate the new stop signs, you can hate me too. In my heart, I know I did this to us. To us all.

Sure, these new stop signs will save lives, and spare countless multitudes from the horrors of mutilation and dismemberment. But geez, how inconvenient.

Now, to get from the 1634 Meadery to Crane Beach, you’ll have to endure one additional full stop.

No more blasting past the Ipswich Inn without stopping in for breakfast.

Or, coming from the other direction, no more careening down from Great Neck, blowing off the 20 mph speed limit, Cuvilly flashing by in a blur off to your right, the Little River Store barely a blip on your left, before you’re bending around onto East Street on two wheels as you head for Dunkin’.

Those freewheeling days are over.

Forgive me.

At first glance, the signs will appear to say simply STOP, like traditional stop signs. But squint a bit and I’m afraid you’ll see that they’ve added small print above and below: This is mostly to STOP Doug Brendel.


(Doug Brendel has not yet been barred from leaving his home on outer Linebrook Road, but the Ipswich police haven’t ruled it out. Follow Doug at high speed by subscribing here at Outsidah.com.)

Pearly Whites, Market Price

There is no question that lobstermen are in cahoots with dental floss makers. It’s not possible to eat lobster without flossing soon thereafter. And sales of dental floss are astronomically higher since people began eating lobster.

Lobster wasn’t a popular food in the U.S. till the mid-1800s. And when was dental floss invented? The mid-1800s. Coincidence? I think not. Cahoots. Look at any lobsterman’s stock portfolio and I bet you’ll find floss futures.

A dentist in New Orleans invented the type of floss we use today. It was silk back then, but who could afford it? Before the century was out, a company now called Codman Neuro began producing floss commercially. (Note the name Codman: Cod is almost as floss-critical as lobster. Cahoots, I’m tellin’ ya.)

Eventually, the Codman company was bought out by Johnson & Johnson, who actually took out the first patent on dental floss. Obviously they saw there was money to be made. People were eating lobster and then going crazy trying to get it out from between their teeth. (It’s no small irony that a lobster’s teeth are in its stomach. We put the lobster in our stomachs and then struggle with our teeth. The lobster gets its revenge.) 

Think of all the stuff you buy and use that’s made by Johnson & Johnson. But where are they making most of their money? I imagine the real cash cows are vaccines and dental floss. Dental floss because we have this lobster habit we can’t seem to break, and vaccines because we have this Covid habit we can’t seem to break.

Flossing, however, didn’t catch on quickly. Let’s face it: It’s tedious and tiresome. As yummy as lobster may be, flossing is equally annoying. But the day came when mass media made flossing a star. The Canadian writer Sadaf Ahsan points out that flossing got its “first moment in the spotlight” in 1918, when James Joyce had Professor MacHugh, one of his Ulysses characters, do it in public: “He took a reel of dental floss from his waistcoat pocket and, breaking off a piece, twanged it smartly” between his “unwashed teeth.” Back then, you could hardly do better than a James Joyce novel to launch a new fad. Then, during World War II, someone figured out that cheap nylon floss worked just as well as expensive silk, and from that moment, the floss boom was probably inevitable. Lobstermen rejoiced.

Today, the race is on to develop new flossing markets.

The Japanese macaque, often called the “snow monkey,” and the long-tailed macaque of Southeast Asia, also known as the “crab-eating macaque,” have both been observed flossing — using feathers, in the wild, and even human hair, in captivity. When a snow monkey can’t find the seeds and plants it prefers to eat, it digs up roots. No roots available? The snow monkey’s food of last resort is fish. Meanwhile, the crab-eating macaque prefers seafood, foraging on beaches to find its favorite delicacy.

We shouldn’t be surprised: Of course a monkey that eats fish or crab needs to floss. And now that the monkeys have figured out how, it’s only a matter of time before someone introduces them to lobster — and waxed mint-flavored Glide. The lobstermen and the floss-makers will both make a killing, and the monkeys will be happier than ever.

Once the monkey market for lobster and floss is well established, I assume someone will surely step them up to the ideal companion consumables: drawn butter and martinis.


(Doug Brendel, a poster child for periodontal health, lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow the faithful flosser here at Outsidah.com.)