All I Want for Christmas (or: 17 Ways to Make Ipswich Even Better)

Glad tidings! ’Tis the season for ’em.

The Ipswich Local News has brought us a great report on the value of our beloved town: If you add up all its taxable property, Ipswich is now worth more than $3.06 billion.

This is awesome. What a bargain. There is no longer any question what I want for Christmas.

I want Ipswich.

No, you don’t have to buy it for me. And my wife sure won’t. She is such a miser. Doesn’t matter. If it’s only $3.06 billion — okay, okay, a little more than $3.06 billion, but let’s not split hairs — I think I can swing this purchase.

The Institution for Savings is a very generous bank; they obsessively sponsor stuff all over the North Shore — so I believe they are going to be very open to my grant application. But even if the grant doesn’t work out, and I have to apply for a conventional loan, no problem. A $3.06 billion loan, at, let’s say, 3.5% over, let’s say, a 30-year term, means monthly loan payments of only $13.74 million a month. If IFS will give me a sweeter interest rate, this gets even easier. If I can get a few key friends to go in with me — I’m thinking Winthrop, Wasserman, Wigglesworth, a couple other names of renown (they don’t all have to start with W) — I believe this is doable. (I will want my partners to take minority positions, of course.)

It’s a very attractive proposition, when you think about it: By the time this loan is paid off, as I approach my 100th birthday, I will have paid significantly less than $5 billion in principal and interest.

And look what I get out of it! I will essentially own the finest town on the North Shore. A historical landmark. An exquisite beach. A model of civic engagement. Just look at how polite people are, in the weekly police log, and at Select Board meetings.

But life is going to become even more idyllic here, when I own the whole thing. Just you wait and see:

  1. I’ll lift the ban on free-range chickens. Because chickens clucking through your yard are charming.
  2. Most of those pesky permits that you need to start a business in Ipswich? Gone. Ipswich residents won’t have to go to Rowley to become successful business owners anymore. Imagine Village Pancake House on Central Street! We might get our own Winfrey’s!
  3. Farmers’ market on the Green every weekend, with plenty of food for sale. Health inspector’s approval no longer required.
  4. Ipswich churchgoers will finally be free to cook their own barbecue at home and serve it at church events. This single breakthrough will improve our quality of life immeasurably.
  5. Our downtown area will finally get commonsense zoning, thanks to me. We’ll increase foot traffic by bringing restaurants, gift shops, and novelties to our storefronts, and steering the ho-hum low-traffic offices of realtors, lawyers, and other professionals to nearby but decidedly ho-hum low-traffic locations.
  6. We’ll extend the Riverwalk all the way, with no break for those annoying offices near the dam. The owners of those annoying offices will get dibs on the best of the ho-hum low-traffic spaces.
  7. Marty’s will be miraculously resurrected. Donuts for everybody!
  8. All new construction will be outfitted for solar power. This should have happened already, but sometimes you just need a dictator to get things done. To keep costs low, solar panels will be installed by passionate Ipswich High School Environmental Club student-volunteers.
  9. The two electric-vehicle charging stations on the Elm Street lot are nice; but since my car is electric, we’ll be installing charging stations absolutely everywhere.
  10. Five Corners? That’ll be a rotary. Actually sort of a hexagon. To make space for it, we’ll need to relocate the Appleton office building and the Christian Science church, and we’ll scoot that cute little war memorial up the hill.
  11. Lord’s Square will finally get straightened out. Our traffic safety record is gonna skyrocket.
  12. We’ll also turn Liberty Street around, so it’s one-way going away from Lord’s Square, and the people who’ve been trapped there for years trying to get into traffic can finally get on with their lives.
  13. The dam on the Ipswich River? Bye-bye. And when, as a result of our beloved river’s damlessness, riverfront properties no longer have a river on their fronts, we’ll make the Riverwalk even longer. Before long, you may be able to take the Riverwalk all the way to the Walmart in North Reading.
  14. On Linebrook Road, the green line will be replaced with a white line, and the white line will be replaced with a green line. This will decrease confusion and increase safety for bicyclists, except for the color-blind ones.
  15. On my first day, I’ll place an order for a left-turn signal at Argilla Road. I won’t be surprised if they rename Crane Beach in my honor out of sheer gratitude.
  16. Mandatory curbside composting. Our health inspector, with nothing else to do, will come around and check your garbage for stuff that could have been composted. Slackers have to put in a week slaving at the transfer station.
  17. You’ve seen the Galickis’ fabulous Christmas light display on Linebrook Road? We’ll pay them to do that in everybody’s front yard.

I think you can see now why the Town of Ipswich is all I want for Christmas. Life is going to be so beautiful with me in charge.

“Hello, Institution for Savings? Loan Department, please.”



Doug Brendel lives in a fantasy world on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. He also endangers other cultures: Follow his overseas exploits at


Loser? That would be me

I have a complicated relationship with money.

For one thing, by the time I met my wife, who was a professional bookkeeper at the time, my finances were in such disarray, she could only take me on as a charity case. And a husband.

She spent decades getting me out of debt — this is not hyperbole, it’s literally true. So as a courtesy to her, out of sheer gratitude that I’m not languishing in a debtor’s prison in some Dickens novel, I try to be careful about money. Paper receipts are carefully deposited in the appropriate tray on her desk in our home. The plastic cards I’m allowed to carry around — well, I understand that the moment I use one, my wife’s phone goes ding! and she checks her bank app. So, basically, yeah: We have no secrets.

In the old days, people didn’t have plastic cards, or apps. It was just a matter of what you had, and what you could stuff in your pockets. Nail clippers, comb, inkpen, cough drops. I grew up in a world of extreme post-Depression materialist paranoia: If you leave home and it’s not in your pocket, you’re destined for shame or — God forbid — inconvenience.

Hence, my years of carrying around a wallet that could rival an NFL offensive lineman at weigh-in time.

I realize there was a Seinfeld  episode about a super-fat wallet making George Costanza’s back hurt because he was sitting on a small mountain, but I don’t think that’s funny because I had to pay a chiropractor in Newburyport to tell me that my back was hurting because I was sitting all day every day on the super-fat wallet in my right rear pocket. He used the term scoliosis. Whether my distended wallet caused my curvature of the spine or just called my attention to it, either way, my wallet was thicker than it was wide. Like a Wendy’s triple: vaguely rectangular, but definitely bulbous.

If there is a bloated-pocket addiction, and there’s insurance coverage for the condition, I’m probably eligible.

Thus it was from the beginning. When I was in my early 20’s and started my first fulltime job, I was one of three writers on a media staff. (It was the 70’s, so they didn’t call us “media staff”; they just called us “the writers.”) We writers were all in our 20’s, but of course one of us was the coolest, and it wasn’t me. The coolest one, Dennis, called me “Bulgepockets.” This was because not only was my wallet obese (predating Seinfeld  by more than two decades), but I religiously stuffed all my other pants pockets with as much stuff as could possibly be stuffed in there. Handkerchief, notepad, keys (car, home, office), tiny flashlight, mini-notepad, Juicy Fruit, spare change, chapstick — God, don’t let my lips crack for lack of a tube of Blistex! Desperate to be cool like Dennis, I tried hard to leave stuff at home, but it was really hard. The day you leave that Swiss army knife on your dresser, a beautiful woman is absolutely going to bat her eyelashes at you and ask you if you can pry something open for her.

A few years ago, I started seeing a counselor. It wasn’t about my bulgepockets but the bulgepockets couldn’t have helped. Counseling turned out to be extremely valuable for me, and one of the side-effects was that I relaxed somewhat. I was able to start doing more of that thing they call “go with the flow.” One evening I took everything out of my wallet. I looked at each item and calculated, based on my personal history, the odds that I would need that thing the next day. My New England Aquarium membership card could probably stay behind. If my family were planning a trip to the New England Aquarium, the chances were good that I would remember to take my membership card. Those business cards, ragged at the edges from being carried around for years, would probably not be of use at Market Basket. One by one, the treasures I had carried around in my hip pocket for decades went into a little box on my dresser.

For the few items I would need often — driver’s license, credit card, Charlie card for the T — my fashionable high-schooler daughter got me a cool leather cell-phone case with a couple very slender pockets. I gave myself permission to carry a comb in my front right pocket. Otherwise, I was free.

The only remaining question was, Where do I put my cash? Not that my bookkeeper-spouse lets me carry great wads of cash, but a few greenbacks can come in handy when, say, the Google Pay reader at Zumi’s is on the blink.

For one of those birthdays I had back in the 60’s, someone gave me a money clip. I found it in a junk drawer. I folded my meager supply of bills into it, and it slipped sleek and flat into my front left pocket.

Change is difficult. I was irrationally nervous about carrying cash apart from a wallet — as if cash in a money clip were somehow easier to lose than cash in a wallet. But I determined to memorize the money clip’s location — front left pocket, front left pocket  — and I could pat my front left pocket anytime I wanted, to feel the money clip through my pants and reaffirm my financial security.

Last week I had special permission to take $200 from the ATM — I had to run a few errands where I would need cash — and it was a little unnerving how thick those ten folded twenties were. It’s a serious responsibility to carry around that much cash, at least in my  marriage, so if you crossed my path that afternoon and noticed me patting my leg, that’s why. But I zigzagged from place to place, made my cash purchases uneventfully, and headed home.

Which is when I had my crisis.

I got home, slipped off my jacket, hung it on its mudroom peg, stepped into the kitchen, patted my leg — and the fabric was perfectly flat.

Paranoia comes true.

There are not many ways to break into an instant sweat in New England in November, but this is one of them. I dug my hand into my pocket, hoping against hope to find the money clip there, but no. I raced back to the mudroom and went through my jacket pockets. I went out to the garage with a flashlight and peered under the seats in my car. I retraced my steps, searching the floor. We have a cat who’s been known to steal stuff — but he, for once, looked totally innocent.

My heart was pounding with panic at the idea of telling my wife I had lost my cash. My brain maniacally sorted through excuses. Look! This is what comes of counseling. Relaxing is deadly!

But the money was gone.

I was doomed.

Later, when my wife got home, I was extra-affectionate. She was understandably suspicious. But I couldn’t bring myself to tell her.

The rest of the day, I tried to act normal and go about my regular activities. But a threatening cumulonimbus cloud of guilt and dread hung over me.

Finally, the awful day drew to its grim conclusion. I headed to the bedroom to undress for bed. I stood before my dresser, defeated. What used to be an elaborate pocket-emptying ritual only takes a second or two these days. Phone case, check. Pocket comb, check.

But wait. There was something else in there, with the comb.

I had somehow stuck my money clip in the right pocket instead of the left.

Stupidity isn’t easy. But you learn to live with it. You celebrate the little victories — like when you’re stupid but you don’t get caught. And even a stupid person can learn incremental lessons. Like, don’t confess until you absolutely have to.

It would be easy to relapse. To overreact to this single crisis and go back to being Mr. Bulgepockets. But no, I won’t. I am stronger than that. I am a mature adult. I can learn from this mistake, and go forward from here.

I’ll just pat both legs from now on.



Find even more fun and interesting stuff from Doug Brendel at and


What time is it? Is it really? In Celsius, even?

Sometimes you just have to put 2 and 2 together.

  • Ipswich Town Meeting was scheduled to start at 7 o’clock Tuesday evening, but as Ipswich’s new local newspaper reported, only 147 people had signed in by 7:10, and by law you need at least 200 before you can start conducting business.

It was 7:30 — a full 30 minutes after the announced start time — when Town Moderator Tom Murphy announced attendance at 199.

Finally the 200th person sauntered in.

Then, incredibly, the entire slate of warrant articles was dispensed with in 70 minutes.

The whole thing was over by 8:40.

It’s a little sad, though, that everyone could have been on their way to the bar at Choate Pub by 8:10, if the citizenry had only been on time.

  • A scant five days later — the opposite problem.

Just like every year at about this time, numerous disgruntled Ipswich churchgoers this past Sunday morning found themselves sitting in the pews a full hour ahead of schedule. Why? Because they failed to reset their clocks as Daylight Saving Time expired. These are perhaps the same cranky, shame-faced people you find arriving at church an hour late at the onset of Daylight Saving Time in the spring.

(Of course, yes, a few of the devout often arrive early for services just to sit and pray and reflect and so forth. But let’s face it: If you didn’t actually intend to arrive early to pray and reflect and so forth, it’s really annoying to arrive at church an hour early. It sort of brings out the devil in you, don’t you think? Which, as you can imagine, pretty much wrecks the whole idea of the church experience.)

So here we are.

This is one of those magical moments when the random coincidence of two unrelated actions produces a valuable insight — something like finding mold in a laboratory culture plate and inventing penicillin.

(By the way, our local Board of Health would have jailed that guy for the mold. So you should be glad that the sloppy lab was nearer to Ipswich, England than to Ipswich, Massachusetts. Because otherwise, that infection you get next week is going to be exceedingly serious.)

Here, then, is the breakthrough concept, expressed in all the glory of its simple components:

  • Town Meeting: People are late.
  • Daylight Saving Time ends: People are early.
  • So: Ipswich just needs to move its fall Town Meeting to the Sunday when Daylight Saving Time.

The churchgoers will show up early, and we’ll have a quorum by starting time.


Thank me later. Maybe, like, exactly an hour later.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich. Way out there. Practically in a different time zone. For laughs, click “Follow” here at For a chuckle every morning, click “Follow” at To tune in to what’s really important, look at Doug’s charity, in the former Soviet Union.


On Earth, As It Scams in Heaven

My priest had to send out a scam alert this past week.

Not because our church was running a scam, you understand.

And not because someone was scamming the church, either.

It was because someone had the audacity to scam people by pretending to be with the church, asking people to send money or gift certificates to the priest — but of course the link didn’t go to the priest, it went to the scammer.

I would be inclined to exclaim “How dare they!” except that obviously they did dare, and they did the deed.

What’s even more astonishing to me is that, as our priest reported, this particular scam has been repeated numerous times with numerous parishes.

In other words, if at first you don’t succeed, etc., etc.

There’s a part of me that’s impressed, in a way, by someone who has the nerve to go up against God like this.

It would be one thing to attempt a scam of a mere mortal business — offering fake gift certificates to Zeno’s, for instance (which I would be totally susceptible to) or Vapor Zone (not so much). But to pull a con using the Almighty and implicating His holy representatives here on earth is gutsier than I could possibly be.

I would worry that on that fateful day when I arrive at the Pearly Gates, St. Peter would have some very intimidating questions for me:


St. Peter (frowning at his screen, stroking his beard): Doug, during your time on earth, did you run some kind of a scam?

Doug (wide-eyed with innocence): Scan? Like a medical procedure?

St. Peter: No, scam. A con. A trick, to make money illegally.

Doug: I have no idea what you’re talking about.

St. Peter: Doug, you know that lying can keep you out of heaven.

Doug: Well, just for the sake of conversation, could you be more specific? I mean, I understand that if you’re a liar on earth, you can’t go to heaven, but at this moment, I’m no longer on earth, so if I lied just now, would that necessarily keep me out? Because if so, I think this should be specified in the rulebook. At least in a footnote somewhere.

St. Peter: So what you’re saying to me is, you’re lying to me now.

Doug: By no means. I’m just attempting to ascertain the parameters of the regulations governing admittance.

St. Peter: Huh? Look, I was a fisherman. Didn’t you read Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John? In fact, I was a fisherman before there were regulations. So I don’t really do four-syllable words.

Doug: Let me simplify for you. Better yet, forget about words. Let me show you — just a little demonstration. This will make it totally clear. Let’s say you give me a $20 bill. Do you have a 20 on you?

St. Peter (searching the pockets of his robe): I think so. Uh, yeah. (hands it over) Here.

Doug (taking the 20): Okay, great. Now let’s say I come to you and I’m like (holds out the $20 bill), “Hey, Pete! Can you change a 20?”

St. Peter (searching his pockets): Uh, I don’t think so, let me look. (fishing out some singles and a $10 bill) I only have $18 here.

Doug (taking the $18 and handing him the $20): You know what? You’re a friend. I’m not gonna quibble over $2. Here. You keep the $20. I’m sure in the same situation, you’d do the same for me. Maybe someday you can buy me a drink.

St. Peter (pocketing the $20): Thanks, sure.

Doug: So that’s all I’m trying to say, Pete.

St. Peter: Huh?

Doug: I’m saying that people are too suspicious these days. If I’m willing to take $18 and leave you with $20, does that make me a bad guy? Of course not. Didn’t Jesus say “Turn the other cheek” and all that? This is how corrupt our culture has become. Look: I’m willing to give you a $2 advantage, and yet I’m the one who falls under suspicion? That isn’t nice, is it? I say it’s about time we opened our hearts to the goodness in our world, and stop looking for the bad. Don’t you agree?

St. Peter (a little dazed): Well, I guess so.

Doug: Of course. So there’s no problem at all with me coming in.

St. Peter (trying to focus on his screen): Uh, I’m just trying to zero in on this scam. It was Ascension Church, in Ipswich, Massachusetts, back in October of 2019.

Doug: Oh, that! (he snorts) Episcopalians! They fall for stuff. (sailing past the Pearly Gates) See you at the bar. I’ll buy.



Doug Brendel, a full-fledged Episcopalian, runs a so-called fundraising business from his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow his Outsidah posts at, and his even snarkier daily commentary at


I Rest My Case

I have been known to complain, from time to time.

Like, continuously.

For 60 years or so.

I think I picked up this approach to life as I was growing up in the Chicago area. I perhaps observed that there’s a lot wrong with the world — Chicago does have that pesky reputation for murders, for example, so you can see how a kid might acquire a negative perspective — and I instinctively felt it might be helpful if I commented. Not just on the murder rate, however. On everything.

I never liked to think of my temperament as a “complaining” temperament. I have always tended to frame it in more justifiable terms. I had “a keen sense of right and wrong.” I had a “sharp mind,” an “acute sense of justice.”

At worst, I was willing to confess to a “prosecutorial personality.” Prosecutors are professionals, see. With college degrees and government paychecks. Some go on to become district attorneys, or Dick Tracy. Or politicians, even.

In any case, I complained. About traffic, about the temperature, about the cat. About the idiosyncrasies of my clients, about the scarcity of my favorite coffee, about the size of the type (not to mention the choice of font) on the microwave buttons.

When we got a new cat, I complained that the new cat wasn’t more like the old cat.

When we left Scottsdale, Arizona, and moved to Ipswich, Massachusetts, I had the audacity to complain about the twisty roads (“Didn’t these people ever hear of master planning?”). If the Town demonstrated a reluctance to embrace some newfangled approach to an issue (say, putting up signs to point visitors to the Riverwalk), or if my neighbors offered a less-than-thrilled response to a thrilling opportunity (say, the donation of the Silverman tree sculpture downtown), I was occasionally known to grumble. When a coyote killed the cat I complained about before, I complained about the coyote.

For the most recent half of my life, the one person on the planet who has borne the greatest brunt of my complaining habit is my wife. She is naturally even-tempered, longsuffering, and quiet. She did not grow up in the Chicago kill zone, where you had to form opinions as a self-defense tactic. She grew up in a family where people, to this very day, calmly observe, and patiently listen to each other, and then — if necessary — diplomatically express a well-reasoned point of view, for consideration only.

So the day finally came (inevitably, I guess) when she let the truth slip.

“You complain,” she said.

I was aghast. I had never tuned in to this charming detail about myself.

And you know how it is, in that moment when somebody criticizes you, how your brain flashes through a million rationalization and justification options. She’s just having a bad day. She remembers something I did in 1997, and she’s blown it all out of proportion. She’s comparing me to her “nice” brother. Or George Clooney.

But then I realized what really happened: I must have recently developed this unpleasant habit. Just in the past few weeks, right? Months, at the most?

No. As it turns out, I’ve been complaining since before the wedding. Unfortunately for her, that was a third of a century ago.

And then, there’s the worst moment of all, when that person who’s criticizing you offers the KILLER EXAMPLE. Which she did. As follows:

We met in community theatre, all those years ago, she directing, me acting. When Kristina founded the “Castle Hill Productions” theatre group for The Trustees at the Crane Estate in Ipswich, she of course directed, and I of course acted. But last winter, with various family schedule conflicts, we agreed that I would not be involved in her next production. I attended the opening-night performance, of course, and saw her before the curtain.

And I pointed out a problem with the temperature in the room.

And I pointed out a problem with that noisy antique clock on the wall.

And she pointed out that she had made it through the entire rehearsal schedule — eight glorious weeks — without listening to my complaining.

Yes, it’s automatic. I complain.

And so, today, I acknowledge my sin. I also commit to reforming. I will not complain to my wife. I will not meet you for breakfast at some North Shore eatery and ruin the meal by complaining.

Perhaps I cannot realistically commit to never again complaining. But I can make a solemn commitment.

I will isolate my complaining. I will keep it under wraps. I will only let it out here. As “The Outsidah.”

And you, dear reader, will experience it, in all its glory.

What? You don’t want to hear complaining? Why ever not? What’s wrong with you? People are so sensitive these days. It’s impossible to write anything without being criticized. It wasn’t like this in the old days. I don’t know why I even try….



Doug Brendel lives a sweet, sunny life at Dragonhead, his (viciously named) home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him here at, and follow his even more prosecutorial daily blog at For Doug’s more significant pursuits, visit


From Bugs to Eternity

I’m really worried about the bug spray people.

For one thing, they’re risking their lives. After all, North Shore residents have been instructed to stay inside during the spraying, to avoid breathing in the poison. But the sprayers are out there, and even with special training, you can only hold your breath so long. Maybe they wear gas masks, I don’t know. I hope so.

But beyond that, they’re going to be exhausted. In Ipswich, for example, the Town’s Public Health Department announced on Thursday that the spraying would be conducted “starting at 6:45 p.m. and ending when the temperature drops below 56 degrees Fahrenheit.”

But with our recent unseasonably warm temps, those crews could be trapped out there for days on end. If the overnight temps only get down to 57 or 58, you’re going to see bleary-eyed workers driving around for days. If you see Town trucks zigzagging unsteadily, stay clear, whatever you do. These guys can’t be held responsible for their driving.

Eventually they have to run out of bug spray — unless, to fulfill the 56-degree cutoff rule, the Commonwealth of Massachusetts sends in helicopters to refuel the trucks while they keep working, like those aerial tankers that stick a mosquito-like probe into an F-16 in flight. That should be something to see! Except you’re not supposed to be outside till they’re done spraying. To be safe, wait for the video on Facebook.

During the crisis — I mean the spray-truck-driving marathon — please respond with compassion. If you happen to look out your living room window and you see a spray truck careening down the road, occasionally crossing the center line or clipping mailboxes, be a good citizen. Wave the driver over, take a deep breath, run a few sandwiches out to the crew, and hurry back inside. If you hold your breath through it all, you’ll probably survive. And you’ll be keeping our intrepid bug spray people alive, to spray another day.

Thank you, and God bless America.


Doug Brendel lives locked up in an airtight antique house on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich. Follow him here at by clicking “Follow,” and at


No Exit, Right This Way


“Feed the cats.” “Scoop the litter box.”

This is not rocket science. It is barely any kind of science. (Zoology, maybe, if you squint.)

So as my wife and I planned to go out of a town for a couple days, it didn’t seem unreasonable to ask our friend Vicki to come over once a day and do feline-maintenance duty.

This being New England, however, it turned out to be a tangle of complications.

Problem #1: guiding Vicki through the house to find the cats, the cat food, the litter box, and the compost bin where that disgusting used litter winds up.

Not easy.

Our house is 202 years old, except for the parts that are 222 years old. It seems Mr. Timothy Morse Jr. built a more or less normal Federal-style two-over-two house in 1817, and then decided to drag a 1797 barn from somewhere over near Rowley and attach it to the back of the house. Then someone — either Morse or a subsequent owner — decided to cut up the 1797 part of the house into two floors and various rooms and innumerable twists, turns, nooks, crannies, and whatever you call spaces that are even smaller than a cranny.

It would have been complicated enough under normal circumstances, but then, as we prepared to leave town, things got complicateder. Our water heater decided it had labored long enough — I believe it may have been the oldest continuously operating water heater in America — and it died a cruel death. So we arranged with some trusty professionals to come in and replace it. They would do the work while we were gone.

Our cats are of the indoor-only variety, and the workers would be coming and going through a variety of doors, so we had to isolate the cats by closing them into the downstairs guestroom and the stairwell to the second floor. This meant Vicki would have to come through the back door, close it behind her, choose the correct door to exit the mudroom, turn left in the kitchen, take the cat food out of the pantry, locate the passageway that leads toward the guestroom but doesn’t quite get you all the way there, choose the correct door (No! Not that door!), and navigate a sharp right through a dark nook (or is it a cranny?) through the door into the guestroom.

And there’s no turning back, after this point — I mean literally, because the door to the guestroom locks behind you, for lack of a latch on the opposite side. (Geez, I keep meaning to fix that.) So you feed the cats in the guestroom, and scoop the litter box, then leave (with the little paper sack of gross stuff) through the other guestroom door, which is the only way out, but which is almost impossible to open because it sticks, so you have to pound with your fist at a certain place on the door, and if it opens, you find yourself in the entryway of the 1817 part of the house, where you go through another door into the living room, and please be sure to close it behind you, and then cross diagonally to the passageway that leads you back into the kitchen, but on the opposite side from where you came in. And you’re not anywhere close to the compost bin yet.

Good luck.

There was no good way to explain it all — a fact which I have just now demonstrated — but my wife has spent four years as a tour guide at the Crane Estate, so she knew just what to do. She reverted to that sure-fire failsafe mistake-proof apparatus deployed by generations of pioneers: Post-It Notes.

When Vicki arrived, she found Post-It Notes on various walls and doors, with directions indicated in both words and arrows: “to cats” (arrow pointing straight ahead), “to cats” (arrow pointing left), “the way out,” “fist here” (X marks the spot), “other way out” (with not one but two arrows, one to the right, one turning the corner), “to compost” (bent arrow starting straight but veering left), and as a bonus, “recycling” (arrow pointing straight down).

We returned, after a total of about 72 hours, to find Vicki huddled in a corner, emaciated and quivering, nibbling Meow Mix. The cats were lounging on the guest bed, chewing gum and snickering.

The friendship is over, but the new water heater is working just fine.



Doug Brendel lives mostly in the 1817 part of his house on outer Linebrook Road. You can usually find him at (arrow pointing straight ahead) (bent arrow starting straight but veering left) (X marks the spot). To follow him more easily, click “Follow” here at — and check out his even simpler blog at