Where Am I? Where Are You? And Why Am I Here, and Not There?

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I’m going to be rich, and I’m so happy.

There’s something of a meadow on my property, and I’ve come up with something to do with it.

I’m going to put a gas station on it.

Not just any old ordinary gas station.

This gas station will service all those poor suckers who get lost in my neighborhood.

Why do they get lost, you ask?

It’s because of the street names.

It’s not really that big of a neighborhood, so it shouldn’t be all that hard to navigate. There are only 50 or so houses in our “subdivision” — the former farmland owned a couple of centuries ago by Mr. Timothy Morse Jr., who built my house in 1817. So this isn’t a sprawling tangle of streets like Boston, or an incomprehensible spoke-and-wheel layout like Washington D.C.

Our neighborhood is more of a paper clip.

Well, not exactly a paper clip.

More like a paper clip that did too much LSD in college, but eventually tried to get straightened out, and didn’t quite succeed.

So here’s why visitors get lost. When you turn off of outer Linebrook Road into my neighborhood, you’re on Randall Road. Then you come to Charlotte Road. If you take Charlotte Road to the right — well, you can only take Charlotte Road to the right, so if you take Charlotte Road — you soon come to Roberts Road. There’s no street sign for Roberts Road; you just have to know that it’s Roberts Road. But let’s say you’re not looking for Roberts Road, so you don’t turn there. You stay on Charlotte Road. Now, almost before you know it, you come to Randall Road.

Wait. You were just on Randall Road. Randall Road is what you turned off on, when you left outer Linebrook Road. Where am I now? you wonder. Nothing looks familiar. You can’t be back where you first discovered Randall Road. You must be someplace different.

Yes.

Welcome to my neighborhood.

So what choice do you have, but to keep going?

So you ignore this new Randall Road, and pretty soon you come to Howard Street. If you’re not looking for someone who lives on Howard Street, what do you do? You keep driving. And now, within a few seconds, even driving at a completely legal 20 mph pace, you find yourself — yes, you guessed it — arriving at the intersection of Randall Road. Again. But not where you were. Someplace new.

There are no less than three intersections of Charlotte and Randall in my neighborhood — and we haven’t even gotten anywhere yet. In fact, when you get to your third successive intersection of Charlotte and Randall, you’re barely three doors away from Linebrook Road again. If you don’t drink and drive, this is a drive that will drive you to drink. My friend Nikki lives in our neighborhood, but she’s on Chestnut Street. How do you get to Chestnut Street? I don’t know. One time I was jogging and found it by accident. Sometimes I see Nikki at the gym, and I have no idea how she got there. Our gym is on Brown Square, which is off of Hammatt, but if you miss the turn for Brown Square, and you keep driving, pretty soon you come to Brown Square. If you turn on any Brown Square you happen to see, chances are you’ll get to our gym. But Chestnut Street? No. Sorry.

This is not a modern problem. It didn’t just start all of a sudden with the modernists who arrived in Ipswich 200 years ago and started naming streets willy-nilly. You can get lost even on High Street, which has been here as long as there have been cemeteries. You can drive toward the river on High Street, and if you happen to glance away from the road at the Ipswich Inn, you’re not on High Street anymore. You’re on East Street. There’s no warning. There’s no reason. You’re just there, looking for High Street. And it’s gone.

So in my neighborhood, where newcomers drive and drive and drive on Randall Road, and never get where they’re going, I figure they’re going to run out of gas, sooner rather than later.

And I’m going to pump it for them. In the meadow behind my house.

I’m going to be rich. And happy.

Because I — thank heaven — know where I am. I stay home.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives near the intersection of Linebrook Road, Randall Road, Charlotte Road, and some other roads, somewhere in Ipswich. Follow him, if you can, via GPS. Or by clicking “Follow” on this screen.

 

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And Now for Something Completely Rewritten

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Everyone’s a critic.

You’d think, after 250 “Outsidah” columns — yes, this is my 250th “Outsidah” column — I could finally reliably write a first draft that doesn’t need to be edited, adjusted, corrected, or otherwise savaged. Or salvaged.

If I had more nerve, I would just write the thing and send it off “as is.” But I don’t have that kind of nerve. I’ve been writing for more than 40 years (you can search for “Doug Brendel” on Amazon and see the evidence), and in that time the greatest wisdom about writing I’ve managed to acquire is this: Your first draft probably isn’t final-draft quality. Or, to put it another way: Without an editor, you’re just an idiot waiting to happen.

So my wife Kristina reads the first draft of every one of my “Outsidah” columns, and suggests any changes she feels are needed. I typically go ahead and make her recommended cuts, because it’s exceedingly uncomfortable to sleep in the garage.

I live with editors in my professional life, too. I make my living writing direct-mail fundraising letters (let’s not call it “junk mail”) for charities and non-profit organizations. Every few hours, over the course of my work week, I’m making a different case for a different project for a different charity. It’s like being a defense attorney, arguing on behalf of a new defendant in every court hearing. Except that my clients, thank heaven, aren’t bloodthirsty murderers or savage rapists. Most aren’t, anyway. Most are committed to worthwhile causes, and doing good work. Housing homeless moms, feeding hungry families, enriching the culture with beautiful music, and the list goes on.

When I turn in the first draft of a fundraising letter, I feel confident it will work. It will raise money. Donors will respond to it. I know this because I’ve been successful at this kind of work for more than four decades. But inside that charitable organization, there are folks who somehow don’t think of me as God. They’re jittery about the words I’ve written. They want to change some of them. Sometimes, they want to change a lot of them. It’s outrageous, I know, but that’s how it is. And some charities don’t just have one person wearing reading glasses sitting at a desk passing judgment on my writing. They have 14. And each one has unique idiosyncrasies. (“I don’t like negatives.” “I don’t like contractions.” “I hate repetition, I just hate repetition!”) As a result, my first draft — that brilliant, impassioned, perfectly crafted masterpiece — spends the rest of its life as a faded archive somewhere deep in the recesses of my laptop. Meanwhile, a butchered, broken, bastardized version of it goes out to the donors, and raises, by my estimation, about 12% of what my first draft woulda.

I wish I could report that “Outsidah” columns and fundraising letters represent my only encounters with vicious, unnecessary censorship. But that would be fake news. Long before the “Outsidah,” I spent 15 years as a clergyman, and out of sheer paranoia about making a fool of myself in the pulpit, I gave the first draft of every one of my sermons to Kristina. She has no divinity degree, and no formal editorial training. But she is the one I would have to come home to after a sermon crashed and burned. So I always invited her to offer her feedback in advance. She would invariably scan down to about the fifth page, draw a big line across the text, and say, “Start here.” She was apparently living by the ancient principle of “The less religion, the better.” On the other hand, maybe my writing just took too long to get going. I mean, look how long you’ve already been reading this, and where has it gotten you?

These days, I’m holding my breath in anticipation of a new level of complaint about my writing: I’m about to release my first novel. The novel, Pleasure and Power, is a huge departure from the types of writing I’ve done previously. It’s a domestic drama, with a certain amount of sex, violence, and cussing. I had high anxiety about the first draft, so I asked about 20 people to preview it. Of course I was prepared for 20 raves — “Loved it!” “Don’t change a word!” — but did I mention these were intelligent, thoughtful, well read people? So I got loads of feedback. Good suggestions. So many, in fact, I really had no choice but to rewrite.

Rewriting your novel is like doing plastic surgery on your baby. Sorry, maybe that was too graphic. But hey, if you’re reading this, it means Kristina didn’t cut it from my first draft. Blame her.

La Salle 2 SkyeAnyway, I rewrote my novel, and today, months later, the book is finally ready. Well, I mean it’s ready for you. You can find Pleasure and Power on Amazon, in both paperback and Kindle editions.

Go ahead, read it and carp. Nit-pick to your heart’s content. I’m used to it.

Okay, that’s not true. I’m quivering with trepidation.

You never get used to it.

 

 

Doug Brendel writes whatever he feels like writing, from his home on outer Linebrook Road. And then his wife gets hold of it. Follow Doug’s heavily redacted posts by clicking “Follow.”

 

Super Town!

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I could not have seen this coming.

“Marino chosen as Ipswich Town Manager.”

For a world class NFL quarterback to take on the challenge of serving as Ipswich’s Town Manager — it’s unthinkable.

Consider the odds. Dan Marino, arguably the greatest quarterback never to win Super Bowl, coming to our humble town to serve as Town Manager. To manage us. Like a football team. Adroitly. Intelligently. And with lots of bashing of the other guys.

The way he marshaled his forces, in only his second year in the league. Breaking nearly every NFL single-season passing record. Marino was “Mr. Quick-Release” before anybody had ever even heard of Tom Brady. Marino had never been sacked in the playoffs before he got into the 1985 Super Bowl. Marino was God. Proven by the fact that he went on to become an on-air CBS sports analyst.

So the very idea that we could snag such a superstar to lead us, to guide us, to oversee us as Town Manager, it’s almost unthinkable. I can only imagine the muscular quarterback barking orders at Town Hall (our governmental line of scrimmage), pushing the building inspector into his proper position. Or barking orders to Food Inspector Maureen. (“Church barbecue OK! Barbecue OK!”) Or influencing Selectpersons at will, with crowds cheering — many on their couches at home, via ICAM — on a glorious New England summer Monday evening. (“Yes, it bit two people! Charlie Surpitski’s dog is dangerous!”)

Marino as Town Manager. I weep with gratitude at the very idea. How did God, in His infinite mercy, bestow such a gift on us? I follow sports news pretty faithfully, but I didn’t even know Marino was considering a shift from sportscasting to local government work. This just proves that people are inherently good, doesn’t it? The very idea that a guy could make millions of dollars in the NFL, and then go on to a glamorous life as a nationally renowned sportscaster, but then still, in the end, make the decision to devote himself to public service, at the local level, to serve a small town like ours, with only a couple of traffic lights, and not even a sensible downtown zoning policy — it just makes you grateful. It makes you thank God — assuming, of course that Dan Marino, who went to a Catholic high school, was praying to the right Guy. (Otherwise, to be honest, whom should we thank?)

So let us look to the future with high hopes. Ipswich will be led by a star. Ignore the fact that Marino quarterbacked for the Patriots’ division rival Miami Dolphins. He was a star, come on. A superstar. Not a Super Bowl-winning superstar, but close. Just another 22 points in that one big game in 1985, and he would have been a Super Bowl-winning superstar.

Dan Marino. Our new Town Manager. Not that Bob Markel wasn’t brilliant. Not that Robin Crosbie wasn’t fantastic. Not that temporary Town Manager Jim Engel wasn’t awesome in his handling of the record-breaking three nor’easters that came down from the heavens like a punishment from God during his brief tenure. (Come to think of it, why did we have three nor’easters in two weeks during Jim Engel’s tenure as Town Manager? Was it because he’s a Pennsylvanian? Did we violate some ancient New Englander code by putting him in charge?)

Now that Ipswich is on the map — I mean, we’re Hollywood now; we’re Tinseltown — we’re going to have to deal with a lot of new issues. Limousines crowding Central Street, Spielberg needing multiple rooms at the Ipswich Inn, that sort of thing. But let’s agree in advance that these are “good problems.” We’re growing. We’re blooming.

Wait — I beg your pardon?

Oh. It’s not Dan Marino, it’s Tony Marino.

Never mind.

 

 

Doug Brendel follows town government with an eagle eye from his perch on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”

 

Pleasure and Power!

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My new novel, Pleasure and Power (originally entitled Unintended), is now available in paperback and Kindle editions.

About the book:

Race, sex, and justice…

In 1950, in a world before #MeToo, charming Jake plays fast and loose with the women — until the conservative Alice stops him short. Their romance changes the rogue … or seems to.

On the other side of the tracks, a brain-damaged teen in the “crazy house” delivers a mixed-race baby. Her sister Ruby races to rescue the child — and find the white man who did this.

When the baby brings them all together, each one — Jake, Alice, and Ruby — has secrets to preserve, as they wrestle with rage and fear, doubts and suspicions.

Victims and villains merge and morph in this deeply emotional story of competing and intertwining motives.

Can racism be right? Can sexism be acceptable? Can violence be justified?

Click here for paperback.

Click here for Kindle:

 

A Friend in Need Is a Friend in Power

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When I was a kid growing up in the Midwest, Chicago was a fearsome place, especially in Cabrini-Green, an impoverished, crime-ridden South Side housing development notorious for murder, rape, robbery, and gang violence. Not exactly outer Linebrook, but close, if you count fisher cats.

Cabrini-Green urgently needed help, but wasn’t getting it. I mean, would you want to go there, if you were a cop, a social worker, a streetlight fixer, a pothole filler?

Then Chicago elected Jane Byrne, its first-ever female mayor. When Cabrini-Green went into a particularly horrific spasm — 37 shootings in three months, including 11 murders — Mayor Byrne decided to do something.

As an idealistic youth, I thought the mayor of Chicago could just order the cops, the social workers, the streetlight fixers and pothole fillers to get in there and do their jobs. But apparently not. These folks seemed to be focusing most of their time, energy, and resources on the upscale neighborhoods — like the one where the mayor lived. After all, you want to impress your boss.

So Mayor Byrne decided to try an unusual tactic: She and her husband moved into an apartment in Cabrini-Green.

She knew that city services would swarm, if the mayor was there.

And they did. Suddenly, violent gang members were being jailed. Potholes miraculously smoothed out. Once-broken streetlights glowed to life. Like moths to a flame, city workers fluttered around the Mayor’s blond coif.

The memory of the Mayor at Cabrini-Green gives me hope for outer Linebrook. With the exit of Town Manager Robin Crosbie, former selectman Jim Engel has been named “temporary Town Manager” — and he’s my neighbor. Imagine what good things could come my way, with the high priest of Town government living just six doors away?

  • The pothole guys already do a great job, but I can imagine a whole new regime, where potholes disappear in minutes instead of hours. I drive past Jim Engel’s house every day on my way home, and it’s going to be smooth sailing as soon as the pothole guys realize that their new boss lives in this neighborhood. (Will potholes be more of a problem now on High Street, in front of Robin Crosbie’s condo? I can’t say. But pothole guys only have so many hours in a day, you know. So where are they going to slop that sweet, hot asphalt? Out in front of a condo owned by an unemployed former bureaucrat who wields absolutely no power over their careers? I doubt it.)
  • My pal Chief Nikas will be eager to please the new boss on Planet Outer Linebrook. The Ipswich Police Department might set up a round-the-clock speed trap to snag those crazies who drive past my house at 55 instead of the legal 25. If they do, I’ll bring the cops donuts. Based on my unofficial calculations, speeding tickets assiduously issued on outer Linebrook Road could fund the entire Town of Ipswich public safety budget. And fund the donuts.
  • For the safety and security of my 200-year-old house, the so-called “Linebrook Fire Station” at Route 1 could finally actually house fire trucks instead of just ambulances.
  • The Town of Ipswich Electric Light Department might magically appear and make adjustments to that new blindingly bright-white LED streetlight in front of my house. Yes, perhaps it’s keeping our neighborhood safe from criminals — a burglar would have to squint so hard in such a glare, an actual heist would be impossible. But how can late-night drivers, jerking their eyes away from this white-hot laser-torch streetlight, keep their eyes on the winding road ahead? Our accident rate could go up more than our burglary rate goes down. And our burglary rate on Planet Outer Linebrook is already pretty low. Like, zero.
  • Obtaining a building permit for a backyard construction project, which in the past might be expected to take six or more years, could now take three or less!
  • I don’t think it’s even too far-fetched to fantasize about Senior Collections Clerk Ann Wright bringing my new beach sticker to my door. Taking my $20 with a smile. Driving back toward her office at Town Hall, with a blithe wave toward Jim Engel’s house as she passes by.

It’s who you know! And, where you live!

I’m a lucky guy!

 

 

How to Become Our Next Town Manager

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The power, the glamour, the joyrides in the police boat … I’m sure you’ve considered applying for the Town Manager position recently vacated by Robin Crosbie, right?

A hard act to follow, if you ask me. Robin served as Town Manager for five and a half years — 41 days longer than Richard Nixon served as President, and with even less scandal.

What next for us? The official guidelines released by the Town are clear — except they probably require a bit of interpreting. As follows:

  1. The Town Manager should be “confident, energetic, optimistic, and a strong communicator.”
  • “Confident” means we need somebody who is not afraid of citizens’ query time during Board of Selectmen meetings.
  • “Energetic” means someone who will not leave these meetings so emotionally exhausted that they barely have the energy to trudge home and open a bottle of Chardonnay.
  • “Optimistic” means someone who can listen to an utterly inane question from a hostile citizen and see the silver lining — saying to oneself, for instance: “There may actually be a 50-50 chance that I’ll outlive this person.” Or: “Every minute I sit here listening to this person is another minute my spouse is home dealing with cat puke.” (I only use a sick cat as an example. The new Town Manager may have all manner of alternative household issues to avoid.)
  • And “strong communicator” means someone who can hear the same question multiple times and emphatically repeat the same answer multiple times without giving in to the urge to scream, screech, squawk, or otherwise ruin the audio on ICAM’s live stream.
  1. The new Town Manager must also “demonstrate prior success in leading a complex municipal organization,” the guidelines go on to say. There is no specific definition for “complex,” but it may be a sort of code word for “Hope you’re okay with our 20 boards, 6 commissions, 33 departments, 18 committees, 4 subcommittees, and 25 separate webpages of policies and regulations.” (Warning to all candidates: Drop the ball on #16, “Sewer Betterments,” and you’re out. Also, please prepare to memorize #6, “Determination of Defense Posture When Town Is Named as Defendant.”)
  2. This job is demanding. “The Town Manager must be a visionary and decisive leader who can work collaboratively with the various interests of Ipswich,” the guidelines state. This would be simple, except for the “visionary and decisive” part, and the “work cooperatively” part, and the “various interests” part. Some various interests want the Town Manager’s vision to encompass wonderful advances for our Town, other various interests envision a restoration of what was wonderful about Ipswich a generation ago. Try working cooperatively with those two groups. I guess this is where “decisive” comes in. You have to decide whom to infuriate, and then keep smiling and nodding while they scream, screech, squawk, and otherwise shred you on ICAM’s live stream.
  3. The guidelines do include some seeming anomalies. There’s a bit about the Town Manager being expected to work with “citizens and volunteers.” I never realized these were distinct categories in Ipswich. I’m surprised to learn that we use only non-citizens as volunteers. This puts a whole new twist on the issue of illegal immigration. But at least we can rest assured that the new Town Manager will sort it all out for us.
  4. The end of the guidelines makes me a little nervous, I admit. This is where it says “The Town Manager should have a visible public presence and be highly approachable.” If someone doesn’t have a visible public presence, they’re invisible, right? Which is just spooky. (Plus, if you’re invisible, nobody can approach you anyway, so we can just lose the “be highly approachable” part.) I’m thinking if Ipswich lands an invisible Town Manager, we’ll rival Salem for tourists at Halloween, which has got to be good for downtown businesses. But the rest of the year, in Board of Selectmen’s meetings, won’t it be hard to know exactly where to aim our screaming, screeching, and squawking?

The job is listed at $164,000 but negotiable. I think it’s worth more. Marty Walsh gets $175,000, and managing the factions in Boston can’t be half as exhausting as navigating the factions in Ipswich. Yes, Boston is four years older than Ipswich, but we’ve held on to more of our grudges.

If you’re interested in the Town Manager job, I’d be happy to hear from you via TownManager?Who?Me?@DougBrendel.com. You know what they say: If you don’t apply, you can’t complain. Oh, wait — If you do apply, but you don’t get the job, yes, you can complain. Never mind. We have enough complaining already.

 

 

Doug Brendel maintains his largely invisible and unapproachable lifestyle on outer Linebrook Road. But you can peek, and interact, by following him here. Click “Follow.”

 

You Don’t Look a Day Over Eisenhower

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I feel badly about this. Here it is, the start of a new year, and my house turned 200 years old this past year, and we didn’t even have a party.

We thought about it, we really did. We talked about it, how fun it would be to have all the other houses over, and the birthday cake, and maybe a piñata. But then life got so complicated and busy. You know how it goes. At the beginning, after the wedding, you’re young and in love, and you imagine all the great things you’ll do when you have a house of your own: trips to the park, to let your house play on the swings — who can go higher, your 1817 Federal or the contemporary from Charlotte Road? All the little houses will play in the sandbox, pretending to dig foundations for new construction, even though they don’t really understand yet where new little houses come from. And they’ll ride the merry-go-round till somebody’s toilet backs up.

But then you actually get your house, and it’s just overwhelming. There are mortgage payments and calls to the electrician and how to arrange a house-sitter on short notice when they call a snow day. And you keep putting off the birthday party, telling yourself that you’ll get those invitations out tomorrow, and before you know it, your house is almost 201.

It really was a simpler time back then, when our house was born. President James Madison had just retired, President James Monroe had just been sworn in with only one dissenting vote in the Electoral College, the War of 1812 had been fought to a draw, Americans were hopeful. The future seemed bright. It was the perfect environment for starting new little houses. A carpenter named Timothy Morse Jr. stood at the front of his several hundred acres, on Linebrook Road between Leslie and Lillian (the streets, not the women they were named for) and said to himself, This will be a good place to raise a house. He put up a standard two-over-two-room structure, with a fireplace in each of the four rooms, then enlarged it by dragging a small 1797 barn from elsewhere on the property and attaching it to the new house.

By the time of the Civil War, the house was really just a child, in house-years. By Ipswich standards, the house was still only a teenager during World War I. After all this house has lived through over the past two centuries, it probably deserved a birthday party. People living in this house likely complained about John Quincy Adams stealing the election of 1824, and were scandalized by Grover Cleveland marrying a woman less than half his age. This house survived the Roaring Twenties and Prohibition and all 86 years of the Boston Red Sox World Series curse. Think of how many Ipswich town managers this house has seen come and go. All of them, actually.

But this year was special. Even in Ipswich, with more First Period homes than any other town in America, it’s not every day that a house turns 200. After a heavy rain, I look at the younger houses in my neighborhood pumping water out of their basements, and I realize, with no small measure of pride, that my house is from good stock. The way it got to be 200 years old is by somehow standing where the water runs around it instead of through it, so it doesn’t flood and rot. It’s the real estate equivalent of a healthy immune system.

So yeah, after 200 years, a birthday party would have been nice, in the same way you throw your grandma a birthday party when she hits 90, just to celebrate the fact that she’s still available to party. But to be honest, when we thought about inviting other houses over for our house’s 200th, I got nervous. You know, the classic party-host anxiety: Will anybody show up? Will the houses born in the 1600s want to come to a party for such a young whippersnapper? Will a 1700s High Street mansion bother to come all the way to outer Linebrook to celebrate such a recent run-of-the-mill residence?

We’ll never know. We didn’t throw a party. Instead, we observed our house’s 200th birthday quietly, with just the family, here at home. Nothing too crazy. Yes, we popped a bottle of Drano, and everyone giggled as the kitchen sink guzzled it. But then it was off to bed — for the 73,000th night in a row.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, grateful that nobody tore down his house in the 200 years before he got to it. Follow Doug by clicking “Follow.”