Becoming a prostitute?



Greetings, friends of “The Outsidah”!

I’m working on a new theatre production — at the Firehouse in Newburyport….

In the course of 90 minutes, I’ll become Vincent Van Gogh, his brother, and, for moments at a time, his cousin, his uncle, his doctor, his neighbor, Paul Gaugin, Toulouse Lautrec, two art critics, and a prostitute.

I hope you’ll join me for this amazing adventure!

Click here for info. Thanks!

Doug Brendel



After you, after you, after you, after you


There’s a downside to being an Episcopalian in Ipswich.

The venerable 150-year-old Ascension Memorial Episcopal Church, as you may know, sits in that clump of churches downtown. I guess in the old days, all the churches huddled together in one neighborhood to protect themselves from the secularists. There’s the Congregationalist First Church, up on the hill. Then just across the street, to the south, is the Methodist Church, whose sanctuary ceiling recently came crashing down into the pews. Backing up on the Methodist Church, on a diagonal, further to the south, is the Episcopal Church — where the Methodists are now holding their Sunday services as well, till their ceiling gets healed. (And closely monitoring all three churches, like a cranky nun with a ruler bent over a trio of untrustworthy schoolboys, is the Ipswich Public Library, sitting smack between the Episcopalians and the Methodists, and scowling across the street at the Congregationalists — except that Library Director Patty DiTullio is nothing like a cranky nun with a ruler.)

Here’s what all this geography means to you. If you’re (a) an Episcopalian — or, at least temporarily, a Methodist — and (b) you’re heading to or from Ascension Church on a Sunday morning — and (c) you live anywhere to the north, east, or west of the church — you’re likely to find yourself at a four-way stop, at the intersection of County and Green Streets, about 300 feet from Ascension. People will be out and about on a Sunday morning, driving their vehicles to and fro, picking up sundries from Cumby’s or enjoying the cool and the quiet of the small-town weekend. A few will even be heading to some church. Maybe even yours. In any event, as you approach the four-way stop at County and Green, you will find other vehicles approaching the intersection from other directions, or perhaps already there, waiting for you.

Now the great question of your day materializes: Which of these vehicles will go first? Leading, of course, to the second question: Will you get to church on time? Or (if you’re heading the opposite direction) home anytime soon?

This shouldn’t be a difficult situation. The law regarding right-of-way is quite clear, and quite simple. At a four-way stop, according to our plainspoken friends at the official Massachusetts Registry of Motor Vehicles (, the right-of-way goes to the person who gets there and stops first. But, you ask, what if you and another vehicle arrive and stop at the intersection simultaneously? Well, then, the RMV says, the vehicle on the rightgets to go first. Easy-peasy.

At County and Green, however, none of this seems to apply. It appears that no one in the vicinity has gotten the memo about right-of-way. And somehow, County and Green has become a super-popular destination on Sunday mornings. Who knows who’s selling what in this neighborhood. But anyway, just about every week, as I approach this four-way stop, at least one other vehicle is approaching it too. Sometimes two. Sometimes there are actually four of us, sitting there looking at each other.

Going with the basic right-of-way rules would be so simple. But no. Here in Ipswich, apparently it’s not a question of who got to the intersection first. It’s a question of who’s the nicest. If you’re nicer than the other person, you’ll let them go first, right? Even if they’re not on your right. Maybe especially if they’re not on your right, because giving the right-of-way to the person who doesn’t have the right-of-way is the nicest way to be nice of allthe nice ways to be nice. Unless, of course, there are four vehicles stopped at the intersection, in which case the nicest person is the person who goes last, regardless of anything and everything in the entire universe.

And the unwritten rule seems to be that you can’t just wait out the other people and go last when there’s no one left to wait for. This doesn’t get you any niceness points. No, you must actually assignthe right-of-way to another driver. And ideally you should do this with a certain casual flourish: a gentle smile, a friendly nod, a decidedly nonchalant wave of the hand. I believe some long-time Ipswich residents practice this move in the mirror at home, to make sure it’s perfect: the smile shouldn’t be too big and crazy (this is New England, after all); the nod has to be perfectly balanced, somewhere between bossy and obsequious; and the wave of the hand absolutely cannot signal any annoyance, which means not too fast, but also not too slow, and not too far, but far enough to be noticeable, because if the other driver can’t see it, what was the point of doing it. Got all that?

It’s a spiritual dilemma for me. On your way to church, or just coming from church — with the liturgy still echoing in your ears, and the memory of that stained-glass Jesus still peering down upon you — you certainly feel like you oughtto be the nicest driver at the four-way stop. Church people should never be second-nicest, should they? On the other hand, if you’re an Episcopalian, I don’t think you’re really obligated to be as nice as, say, an Evangelical. Those folks take “turn the other cheek” and “do unto others” literally, whereas we Church of England people like to think of Scriptures as recommendations, the sort of guidance you get from a wise, wealthy uncle — canny, but not compulsory.

So here I sit, at the four-way stop, trying to figure out how and when to proceed, and trying not to lose my religion in the process, as other drivers go through their assorted gesticulations — instead of just obeying the dang law.

I tell you, it’s enough to make a person a Buddhist.



Doug Brendel lives a saintly life on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow.”


Nothing to Fear But


Yes, there are snakes in Willowdale.

You might not like it, but they were here first.

You can go hiking or running on Willowdale State Forest’s miles of lovely trails for hours, even years, and never see a snake.

Or you might.

Depending on how you like snakes, you may or may not want to avoid Willowdale.

My long-time personal trainer, Jen Tougas of Personal Best Studio in Ipswich, is conflicted.

She’s a world-class runner — she’s done the Boston Marathon yawning, that’s how good she is — and she loves Willowdale.

But she hates snakes.

No, that’s not strong enough language. Jen is terrified of snakes. Paralyzed by the sight of one. This otherwise strong, muscular, marvelously athletic health professional — in something like the 99.99th percentile for physical fitness — sees a snake and goes all wiggly-wobbly in the legs. Also, she screams. And tries not to faint.

The solution, of course, is to be accompanied by a big strong man. I know it’s not politically correct to talk about a woman needing a big strong man, but in this case, it’s exactly true. So Jen has linked up with Rob Martin, the owner of Ipswich Ale Brewery and the Brewer’s Table restaurant. Rob Martin is also a long-time running champion — as I understand it, he runs marathons yawning while fighting pneumonia, in his bare feet, carrying a huge cooler of beer on his back. If ever there was someone who could keep a maiden safe from snakes in Willowdale, it’s Rob Martin.

So last week, Jen headed out onto the trails of Willowdale with her protector, Rob Martin. Unfortunately, sure enough, Jen saw a snake. She screamed bloody murder, of course, which scared the daylights out of the snake. It vanished. But Jen was already traumatized. So, in order to keep Jen from turning back and ruining a perfectly good day of running, Rob Martin took the necessary action. He agreed to go first the rest of the way.

This, however, from Jen’s perspective, was not satisfactory. Another deadly serpent could leap from the underbrush and ravage her savagely at any moment. So Rob Martin really had no choice but to take extraordinary measures.

Now picture this. A big strong man is running down the trails of Willowdale flapping his arms like a pterodactyl, stomping his feet as heavily as possible, and shouting, “Clear out, snakes! Get away! We’re coming through! Your days are numbered! We’ll crush you!” And other equally scary words. And there’s a wobbly-legged woman tiptoeing behind him, crying for him to slow down. Not a pretty picture.

They survived, however. I know this because I saw Jen in her studio the next day. She was still in the process of recovering. But she had collected her wits enough to see the bigger picture. Running in Willowdale is not really about running, at least not for Jen Tougas. It’s not about getting in touch with nature. It’s not about physical fitness.

It’s about love.

Rob Martin flapped his arms for her.

“That man really loves me,” Jen said, her voice still shaky a day after the incident.

I’ll say. Would I flap my arms for the woman I love? In private, maybe, but not out in public, in front of God and everybody.

But Rob Martin has limited options. He probably isn’t going to switch girlfriends. And getting Jen into therapy for her snake phobia will be expensive.

So what’s left? Nothing but to flap.

So, a word to the wise: If you visit Willowdale, and you see a big, buff fellow flapping his arms, don’t be alarmed. Don’t call the cops and request a mental-health evaluation. Because it’s not what it appears. It’s not insanity. It’s something simpler. Something sweeter.

It’s love.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road and avoids physical exertion except in the confines of the Personal Best fitness studio. Follow him at a leisurely pace from the safety of your own computer by clicking “Follow.”


Say Cheese


I have a favorite red shirt, and I tend to like khaki trousers, but I have learned the hard way not to wear this outfit to Market Basket, because people think you work there, and they ask you where things are.

I never gave much thought to the Market Basket employees’ standard uniform — the workers always look nice, they’re neat and clean, and I was vaguely aware that they all wear the same thing; but I couldn’t tell you, without looking, what the colors were — until the day a little old lady touched me near the burger buns.

“Excuse me, young man,” she warbled, “but can you point me to the gouda?”

There were three problems with this question, right off the bat. First of all, I’m not exactly a young man, even by comparison to this old lady. I’m probably at least three-quarters of her age. Maybe even seven-eighths, depending on how recently she Botoxed. Of course, being called a “young man,” I could have received this little gift as sort of a soul-cleansing moment; I’d been mopey ever since I qualified for the senior discount at a museum last week. And yes, her description did make me reflexively break into a schoolboy grin. But still, to call me a “young man” is fundamentally inaccurate, even if it’s intended as flattery. So that was one strike against her.

Second, my hearing isn’t great, and at first I thought she said “Buddha” instead of “gouda.” It took me a long moment to realize she wasn’t on a religious pilgrimage. She was hunting for cheese, not enlightenment. Which reminded me, I needed to go next door to CVS and get hearing aid batteries.

Third problem: I don’t work at Market Basket. I just dress like I do, apparently.

So here I was, standing in the bread aisle at Market Basket, with a little old lady and the three problems she had presented to me — four, if you count the gouda.

In this kind of scenario — there’s a misunderstanding, and you knowit’s a misunderstanding, and you can correctthe misunderstanding, but it’s not that bigof a misunderstanding, so you couldjust sort of go with the misunderstanding — you make all these mental calculations in a split-second. It seems cruel to say “Sorry, I don’t work here,” because after all, you’ve accidentally fooled this person — by way of your red shirt and khaki pants — into thinking you’re an employee. On the other hand, if someone asks a question I don’t have the answer for, and I have to say, “Sorry, I don’t know,” and they think they’re getting this dumb non-answer from a Market Basket employee, it besmirches Market Basket’s reputation, because then this customer thinks Market Basket has employed a loser who doesn’t even know whether we carry unscented super-clumping cat litter and where to find it if we do. Or, as in this case, where to find the gouda.

You’re thinking about it right now, aren’t you? You’re imagining Market Basket, you’re walking yourself up and down the aisles, you’re looking hither and yon for the gouda. Well, it just so happens, I know where the gouda is, and I told the old lady.

But I’m not going to tell you. At least, not until you call me young.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, 13,728 feet from the Rowley Market Basket, where he spends an inordinate amount of time giving directions to strangers. Follow the Outsidah by clicking “Follow” on this screen.


Hello, Linebrook, What Is Your Emergency?


An actual report from an actual friend, an actual former Ipswich selectman (back when they were still called selectmen):

His adult daughter lives in my neighborhood, a neighborhood which I described (in a recent “Outsidah” column) as having a somewhat inscrutable layout of streets and street names, including the remarkable distinctive of three — yes, three — intersections of Charlotte Road and Randall Road in the space of about 30 houses.

So yeah, it’s confusing.

So my friend, the former selecthuman, was coming to my neighborhood, to visit his daughter, when he saw, in his rear-view mirror, an ambulance approaching from behind.

So my friend, the selectguy — oh, not giving him a name is awkward; to protect his privacy, I’ll just give him a random pseudonym — let’s call him, say, Pat McNally — so Pat dutifully pulled over (former selectpeople always obey all the laws, I’m told) and the ambulance passed him. The ambulance then made its way around a corner, out of sight, and Pat continued toward his daughter’s house.

This should have been the end of it. No Outsidah column here; move along.

But within moments, as Pat continued driving toward his daughter’s house, he was surprised to see the same ambulance heading back toward him, as if leaving the neighborhood.

Wow, that was a fast pickup, Pat said to himself. Some speedy EMT work! CPR, paddle-zap, ka-boom, done! These guys are good!

Uh, no. After the ambulance passed Pat, it slowed. Pat — ever the sensitive citizen — was watching in his rear-view mirror. Seeing the ambulance finally come to a halt, Pat pulled to a stop himself. He dropped his car into reverse, slowly backed up alongside the ambulance, and rolled down his window.

“Looking for someone?” Pat asked.

The ambulance driver was by no means masking his bafflement. “Yes, I am.”

It occurred to Pat that there didn’t seem to be much of an emergency. “What address do you want?” he asked the driver.

The ambulance driver scowled at a wad of paperwork, cleared his throat, and read out the address.

Of course Pat — intimately familiar with the entire neighborhood, as he is — could instantaneously envision the driver’s intended destination. At this point, then, it was just a matter of giving the driver proper directions, in simple English, the way New Englanders have been giving directions for centuries.

“Go back up here,” Pat began, pointing northwest. (I’ve forgotten most of the details Pat related to me, but I’m sure it was almost exactly like this.) “The road curves around. Then you want to take your first possible turn. If you miss it and take the second turn, you’ll know, because it doesn’t go anywhere. In which case, you’ll have to turn back, and go the opposite way you came. Anyway, go as far as the road will take you, follow it around, and go on up. You’ll see it there. Can’t miss it.”

I haven’t lived here long, but I can tell you, Pat’s directions were spot-on.

The ambulance driver was clearly a lifetime New Englander, because his face lit up with the joy-light of complete comprehension.

“Thank you!” he exulted. Then he pulled the ambulance around and headed, uh, northwest? I think so.

This incident makes me nervous, for multiple reasons.

Big Question #1: If I need an ambulance on Planet Outah Linebrook, can they find me?

Big Question #2:Before it’s too late?

Big Question #3:Are the house numbers painted on my mailbox, and on the historical marker on the front of my house, BIG ENOUGH FOR THEM TO SEE?

Big Question #4:Is there some reason New England ambulance drivers don’t use GPS? I know GPS works in my neighborhood. I have GPS. (I’ve programmed mine to speak to me with a female voice in a sexy Russian accent. I call her Olga. My wife hates her.) If there’s an ambulance driver servicing the Outah Linebrook area who has some kind of problem with GPS — technology paranoia, or a numeral-reading disability — I’m willing to donate my Olga to that ambulance driver. Please, Mr. Ambulance Driver, don’t be afraid. Come forward. Olga will read to you, in soothing tones. You don’t have to process any numerals or understand any technology. Just do what she says, and you’ll find yourself magically arriving, in the shortest possible time, at the home of the person who’s desperately clinging to life and hoping you’ll get there! The life you save could be my own!

Big Question #5:Did the ambulance driver who got lost in my neighborhood get there in time? Were Pat’s directions clear enough? Was the individual in need able to hold out long enough? Were they adequately insured? And maybe most important of all, did the ambulance driver understand the difference between “Beverly Hospital” and “Beverly Hospital Danvers”? I sure hope so. I still sometimes get them mixed up. Which one is for X-rays again?



Doug Brendel is feeling fit, utterly without need of emergency medical attention, except occasionally, after a party, at his home on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking the little “Follow” button, which will NOT lead you to directions by Pat McNally, so no worries.


Like, a Coyote Guarding the Henhouse


Last Thursday, I saw a coyote in my backyard, here on outer Linebrook Road.

I posted a minute-long video of it. (You can see it on my Doug Brendel Facebook page, or at

Within seconds of posting the vid, I was swamped with feedback from my legions of Facebook followers, nearly all 17 of them. It was not, they assured me, a coyote. It was a fox.

Like this matters. Fox or coyote, it’s going to eat your cat.

In the end, as it turns out, the joke’s on all of us. It wasn’t a fox after all, and it wasn’t a coyote either. Here’s how I know:

Later that afternoon, I was traipsing about my property, as I occasionally do. (This is the habit of a Chicago boy who lived for decades in Arizona; I still marvel like a thumb-sucking child at the wondrous New England flora and fauna. So….)

I was just rounding the corner of my house (where my wife’s bevy of irises were blooming beautifully, I must say), when I heard voices in the thicket of the lilacs. Snickering little voices. Sort of snarly, lip-smacking little voices.

Coyote, he said!”

“I know!”


“I know, right?”

“Then somebody else was, like, fox!

“I know!”

“But it was foxyou were going for, right?”

“Yes! But still.”

“I know, right?”

“I’m amazed at the gullibility. I mean, like, you can pull this orange fur over your back, stick on these pointy ears, dab a little white paint on your tail, and suddenly they think you’re, like, a professional predator.”

“They’re all, like, ‘Bring your pets inside!’ ‘Don’t let them maul your pets!’”

“I know! They’re, like, lighting up the Internet!”

“Ha! And we’re, like, hunkered down here in the bushes, sharing a joint.”

(At this point, the wind happened to shift, and yes, I did detect a faint whiff of cannabis. Entirely legal now, of course, so no worries.)

“Honestly, I admit, I didn’t think it would be this much fun.”

“What do you mean?”

“I thought we’d go out, do the fox and coyote routine, no big deal, head downtown for a couple of drinks, call it a night. But this stuff has gone viral, bro. Look.”

(Through the scraggly branches of the lilacs, I could make out the whitish flicker of what seemed to be an iPhone screen.)


(A certain amount of giggling ensued.)

“So now, the question is, what next?”


“Duh, yeah! We did the coyote/fox thing. Boom. What next? A YouTube channel? Podcasts? A Netflix series?”

“Dude. Chill. This was a thing. One bit. One day. This isn’t our future. This isn’t our life. We’re, like, just a couple of, like, cats.”

“You totally don’t get it, bro. This is opportunity knocking. We can be selling content on Amazon Prime Video by September.”

“Eh, I don’t know.”

“You wanna go back to a life of stale chicken-tuna Purina in a rusty tin bowl, with tapwater recycled in that ridiculous little high-tech bowl plugged into the wall in the kitchen?”

“Well … I don’t know how secure we would be, doing the fox-and-coyote thing fulltime.”

“You are such a wimp.”

“Seriously! Cats have been dumped at shelters for less than this!”

“Come on! When have you ever known a cat to be dumped at a shelter for impersonating a canid?”


“A mammal of the dog family. From the biological family canidae. What kind of an ignoramus are you?”


“Never mind. What I’m saying is, we don’t have to subsist as ordinary felines.”


“Subsist. Manage to live. Geez, you are hopeless.”

“Look, I only thought we were out for a good time. One afternoon, that’s all. Fox costume. Dash around outer Linebrook for a few minutes. Then we go home. Fun and done.”

“You disgust me.”

“I’m sorry.”

“This is how great partnerships break up, you know.”

(There were a few moments of silence in the lilac bushes.)

“Like, Simon and Garfunkel.”


“Sonny and Cher?”


“Tom and Jerry.”

(Another few moments of silence in the lilac bushes.)

“They broke up?”




Follow the Outsidah by clicking the “Follow” button.




You Gonna Finish That?


I’m in crisis, and the fault lies entirely with the Town of Ipswich.

Two years ago, I weighed almost 250 pounds. I believe this was the Town’s fault, mostly, because I never weighed so much in any of the other places I’ve ever lived — not in Georgia, where I was born; not in Illinois, where I was a baby; not in Indiana, where I grew up; not in Missouri, where I went to college; not in Ohio, where I began my writing career; nor in Arizona, where I went to thaw out from Ohio — so it must be the fault of Ipswich, Massachusetts, where I came to rehydrate from Arizona.

I think I gained so much weight because of all the good food for sale in Ipswich, all the attractive and unique presentations of said food, and the utter lack of state-sponsored obesity prevention and recovery programs.

The day finally came when I realized that I weighed 25 pounds more than my father had ever weighed, and he was supposedly the fat one in the family. So something had to be done.

I determined to reduce. I began living religiously according to the dictates of the “MyPlate” calorie-counting app from LiveStrong. And I was cheered on by the friendly finger-wagging of my long-time personal trainer, Jen Tougas, of Personal Best Fitness Studio, situated above the Ipswich Ale Brewery’s “Brewer’s Table” restaurant, which must certainly be the world’s only fitness studio located in a brewery. See what I mean about good foods uniquely presented? But I digress.

Of course, as anyone knows if they’ve attempted to lose a great deal of weight, the more you lose, the harder it gets to shed more pounds. For some reason, as you become lighter, your body panics and starts hanging on to fat for dear life. So you have to consume fewer and fewer calories per day in order to continue losing weight at the same rate. When I first set up the calorie-counting app, weighing 248 pounds, the app allowed me to consume well over 1,900 calories a day. As my weight has come down over the past two years, that 1,900-calorie figure has shrunk incrementally. This past Saturday morning, as I weighed in at 185 pounds, the app gave me the worst news ever: I would need to live on no more than 1,302 calories per day — only until next Saturday’s weigh-in, of course, when the number would get even smaller.

So today, I’m 90% of the way to my objective. I have only seven pounds to go against a 70-pound weight-loss goal. Since these will clearly be the most difficult seven pounds to lose, I’m making a simple request of the Town of Ipswich:

Lay off with the food thing.

Not forever. Just for the month of June. By the end of June, if I stick with this plan, I think I can get down to 178 pounds. So help me out. Please.

I’m going to need Choate Bridge Pub to close down. Also Salt Kitchen. And Heart & Soul. And Brown Dog. Bunz has already closed, but Ipswich House of Pizza makes the best burger in town, so they’re gonna need to take the month off. Please, no more breakfast service at the Ipswich Inn. Zumi’s and Dunkin’s can serve black coffee, but that’s it. Make mine decaf.

There are 219 calories in a double martini, which means I have sipped far too many calories at the bar at Ithaki, as some of my friends can attest. Riverview, please: No pizza for the next month. No more steaks at Hart House. Ipswich Clambake, Clam House, andClam Box will all need to kindly close their doors. Ignore that banging on the front windows; that’s just me, having a fried-clam withdrawal episode. The Ipswich Sports Bar, another source of wonderful fried clams, will need to set up barricades.

For the next month, no Mexican food at En Fuego, no Thai food at Spice, and nothing at all from Georgia’s. Subway? No way. We’re going to need a town-wide Asian-food ban, from May Flower to Good Taste to Majestic Dragon. No more of Chef Miles’s delectables at Brewer’s Table. No more roast beef from Zeno’s, no more Super Subs on the Hammatt Street parking lot. No more guilty indulgences at Pomodori — and stop offering to deliver! That kills me!

For one solid month, I’m just going to re-read the marvelous menu from Ipswich River Provisions, and dream of the heavenly offerings at Ipswich Shellfish. Breakfast bagels at Jetties? Out of the question. A single plain bagel with nothing on it — which is outrageous, because you have to put something on it — lops off nearly a quarter of my daily calorie allowance! This means living the rest of the day on fewer calories than my cat consumes in 20 minutes. What are you trying to do, torture me?

It would also help if Shaw’s could please close down, and if all three of our liquor stores could cut me off.

And please, people — I know Ipswich is a friendly place, but whatever you do, between now and the end of June: DO NOT FEED THE DIETER. If you’re driving along Linebrook Road and you see me staggering down the new sidewalk, looking gaunt, don’t roll down your window and hand me what’s left of your Marini bakery cinnamon roll. Because I’ll take it, I swear I will.

And when I miss my end-of-June weight-loss deadline, it will be your fault.



Doug Brendel lives in an antique house on outer Linebrook Road, where the floorboards are no longer at risk of giving way when he crosses the room. Follow him by clicking “Follow” on this screen.