A Mexican, a Korean, and a bigot walk into a novel


The Outsidah does it again — Somebody, please, make him stop

Praying for Mrs. Mombasa is the title of a reportedly outrageous new novel by Ipswich writer Doug Brendel.

“It’s a rollicking comedy,” Doug says, “not at all like my previous novel” (Pleasure and Power, released in 2019).

“I would describe this as an irreverent look at how hope works. And it messes with our tendency to stereotype people. Among the characters, there’s a Mexican, a Scandinavian, an African, a Korean, and a Samoan, to name a few. I think it’s a pretty funny story, and a bit edgy in places. We’ll see how it goes over. I may have to leave town, who knows?”

Autographed copies of the newly released paperback are now available to area residents exclusively at Betsy Frost Design, 4 Market St., Ipswich.

Doug will be there in person to autograph books from noon to 2 p.m. on Saturday, June 19th, the day before Father’s Day.

“Perfect for people scrambling to find a last-minute Father’s Day gift!” Doug says, grinning fiendishly.

  • With each copy of Praying for Mrs. Mombasa, customers will also receive a free autographed copy of Doug’s previous book, Ipswich in Stitches, comprised of amusing “greatest hits” from his popular humor column “The Outsidah.”

(A book launch party will also take place on Friday evening, August 6th, at Personal Best Training Studio in Ipswich. Doug will be reading selections from Praying for Mrs. Mombasa and autographing copies of the book. Watch for more details here at Outsidah.com.)

For those who can’t make a trip to Ipswich to purchase Praying for Mrs. Mombasa, the book is available online at Lulu.com, and will soon be available on Amazon.

Mental health team to Frozen Vegetables, please

I can now, with certainty, answer the question of how long it takes to form a new habit.

Answer: exactly one pandemic.

Walking into the Market Basket on Route 1 in Rowley is now completely disorienting.

Gone is the forbidding sign at the front door declaring in ALL CAPITAL LETTERS the MASK-WEARING REQUIREMENT.

Now, instead, there’s a delicate little page, taped to the glass, assuring you pleasantly that, if you’re fully vaccinated, you can come on injust as you areno worries!

It feels very weird, standing there on the sidewalk, contemplating the idea of walking through those automatic doors with your face completely exposed.

I do remember, in March of 2020, how awkward it felt to wear a mask into the grocery store. But of course, in March of 2020, I knew this strange new custom would only be necessary for six weeks, eight max.

Now, 15 months later, my face feels naked without the mask. My nostrils seem to burn as I imagine deadly little microbes floating in the air, just waiting for the moment when they can jet up into my sinuses like tiny Luke Skywalkers aiming for the Death Star of my brain.

Eventually, however, I summon my courage, and I walk into Market Basket full-faced.

At which point, it gets even weirder.

Where are the arrows on the floor, at the end of each aisle?

How do I know which way to go, if they don’t give me arrows?

You mean someone can be coming at me from the opposite direction, and I have to navigate around them? No more sullenly pointing to the directional arrow they stupidly failed to notice?

Life was so good back then, during the pandemic, everyone flowing in the same direction at Market Basket — up dairy, down lunchmeats, up dental floss, down deodorant.

Now, people can go whichever way they want, zigzagging all over the store. It’s freedom, sure, but freedom can be nerve-wracking.

I feel adrift. I’ve been to Market Basket three times since they pulled up the arrows, and I still bend left to start my shopping because that’s how we had to do it in the old days.

These 15 months have conditioned my body to look only in one certain direction for each specific item. Coffee to the left. Toilet paper to the right. How could it have ever been otherwise?

This afternoon I got all the way to barbecue sauce (on the right) before realizing I’d failed to pick up pickles (on the left). But instead of turning around, as we’re all free to do in this new era of liberty, I kept going, out of habit. I pushed my cart all the way to the end of the aisle, swung it around to the left, and rolled it down the entire cereal and syrup aisle, past the honey, the rice cakes, the granola bars, just to get back to the pickle side of the store. Only then did I realize I had made the entire journey unnecessarily, and even though nobody was watching me, I blushed at my own stupidity.

Still, I gotta say, after 15 months, it only feels right to pick up pickles on the left. If I had turned around in the middle of the aisle and come back to the pickles, they would have been on the right, and that just feels wrong.

So yes, I’m adjusting. Please don’t worry about me, however. If I keep struggling with the new Market Basket milieu, I’ll absolutely take appropriate action. I promise to speak to my therapist before I get to a crisis point.

In the meantime, though, there may be something to calm my nerves in Aisle 9. On the left, right?

Doug Brendel lives in Ipswich, Massachusetts, on the left side of outer Linebrook Road, depending on whether you’re coming or going. Follow Doug — same direction only, please — at DougBrendel.com.

Transfer Station Royale

You want to impress your relatives, especially if they’re really your wife’s relatives and your wife’s relatives have never quite yet figured out what to think of you.

In my case, that’s three and a half decades of wondering what to think of me.

But I figured my wife’s youngest brother would be easy to impress, maybe the easiest of all.

He was only 15 or so years old when I came swooping into the family. Now, he’s 50 or so, and a successful [redacted].

So when I heard from my wife Kristina that her “baby brother” was coming to visit us here in Ipswich, I was delighted. An opportunity to score points with The Family!

I’ll call him “Eric,” because there may be certain [redacted] which make it [redacted] for me to refer to him by his real name. He is stationed in the Middle East, after all, in the tiny nation of [redacted], in a job he says requires him to [redacted] and [redacted]; and while he can say very little about his actual work, he has assured us that he’s never had to [redacted] assassinations. Of course, when your brother-in-law says, “If I tell you, I’ll have to kill you,” you don’t pry.

Frankly, I assume he’s CIA, but I’m afraid if I ever write anything too revealing about him, they’ll send their agents here to the North Shore to [redacted] my column, or worse — you know [redacted] or [redacted] or possibly even [redacted]. So, better not even to go there, because it’s such a pain to navigate when you’re reading through all those [redactions].

Even without the threat of government [redacted], I can honestly say that Eric is intelligent, sophisticated — blond, even. He flies first class all around the world. As I observe Kristina’s family, with her many siblings, I might even suggest that Eric is the most intelligent and sophisticated of them all. Trust me, I’m not just flattering him because he’ll likely read this while reviewing some classified dossier, nor because he carries a [redacted] in his suitcase. No, truthfully, let me assure you: I don’t fear him. He’s my brother-in-law. 

I do, however, want to impress him. He’s family, right? Also, possibly, a [redacted].

It was disconcerting to me, then, what happened on Eric’s first day in Ipswich. He was scheduled to arrive while I was out at a meeting, and when I got home I found the house empty and Kristina’s car gone; so I assumed she had taken Eric out to an elegant welcome lunch at one of our town’s many fine dining establishments. But then, after some time, her car pulled into the garage, the trunk popped open, and the two of them began lugging huge bags of mulch into our backyard garden.

The two of them seemed to be chattering happily, even though it was obvious to me that our refined globe-trotting guest was engaged in what could only be described as coarse manual labor.

When they finally came inside, Kristina must have seen the puzzlement on my face.

“We went to the Transfer Station!” she reported, with a big smile.

Sorry, but as a kid growing up in Chicago, we called it the dump.

It was, indeed, time for us Ipswich-resident Brendels to visit the Transfer Station, to retrieve our annual 50-gallon load of freshly composted mulch, which is a benefit of our membership in the wondrous Ipswich curbside composting program.

This is, without question, a tremendous system: You dump your household food scraps, meat, bones, and other organics into a green bin, roll it out to the curb for Wednesday pickup, and a truck comes by to take it all away for composting. It only costs you $1.83 a week — you keep your organics from further clogging our already bloated landfills — and every spring, you get paid back with 50 gallons of gloriously healthy mulch.

It’s always a happy day when a member of our household goes to the Transfer Station to retrieve our beloved mulch — especially because it’s always Kristina, never me, who makes the pickup — and the mulch is spread on Kristina’s gardens of tomatoes, herbs, and other delectables. (Again, not by me; I don’t do the mulch-spreading: Kristina does. But I do applaud. Later.)

Still — the question of the moment was: Today? Did it have to be today? Did you have to collect the mulch today? When our glamorous brother-in-law was coming to town?

To my mind, you don’t introduce a refined, internationally experienced brother-in-law to the charming Ipswich experience by taking him to the dump.

Oh, I know, the Transfer Station isn’t really a “dump.” It’s a fabulous thing, honestly — a terrific recycling station open to anybody with an Ipswich beach sticker. (Or, you can get a special Transfer Station sticker, free of charge, at the Ipswich Department of Public Works office, if you have a valid vehicle registration and proof of Ipswich residency.)

And once you arrive at the Transfer Station, it’s beautiful in its way — a dumper’s Disneyland, with various stations and receptacles designed to receive your [redacted]: books, CDs, DVDs, fluorescent tubes, batteries, plastics, scrap metals, clothing, bedsheets, small pillows, leaves, brush, and the list goes on. (For details, visit IpswichMA.gov— just enter Curbside Composting into the search window.)

There are some no-no’s, certainly: no tarps, no PVC pipes, no water hoses, no inflatable pools, no rocks, no logs, no stumps — but what’s missing from the list is: No brothers-in-law.

Nobody waved Kristina away from taking my [redacted] brother-in-law, the one I was trying to impress, TO THE DUMP.

Back at my house, after the garbage-processing duo had cleaned themselves up, as they sat back down at the kitchen table for a couple [redacted] sandwiches, I tried to remain casual — like that scene in the James Bond movies where the bad guy is deliberately cool and collected. (Still, you know James Bond holds the cards.)

“Your Transfer Station is very interesting,” my brother-in-law said, feigning nonchalance. “I see you have a couple windmills.”

“Yes,” I replied, marvelously casual. “One dead, one alive.”

“I’ve seen them, in my [redacted] reconnaissance imagery.”

I sensed that this was something bigger than it originally seemed to be.

“You didn’t really go to the Transfer Station just to get mulch, did you?” I asked, coolly.

“You’re very observant,” he replied.

“So why did you go to the Transfer Station?” I demanded.

Kristina looked at me sharply, as if I’d made some critical mistake.

“Because you never want to go,” Eric replied, almost sneering. “You never want to lug the mulch. You never want to spread it on the garden. You leave my sister to do it all herself.”

“Stop, Eric,” Kristina said, with quiet tension in her voice. “It doesn’t matter.”

Eric stood up from the kitchen table. “It does matter.”

He reached into a pocket and pulled out his [redacted]. “It’s not enough, Brendel, to pay your precious $1.83 a week for curbside composting,” he said. “It’s not enough to be an environmentalist. You have to be a [redacted] husband, too.”

I confess I felt panicky. After all, he was standing there with his [redacted] in plain view. He could have [redacted] my [redacted] at any moment.

“You know,” he intoned, “if I solve this, right here, right now, in my own way, no one will ever know. We have ways of [redacting] things.”

I gulped.

“But I’m going to give you another chance,” he grumbled, putting his [redacted] back into his pocket. “Just don’t [redact] it up again. Next spring, when it comes time to pick up the mulch again, I want to dial up our satellite and focus its camera on the windmills and see you there picking up the stuff yourself.”

I swallowed hard. “Okay,” I rasped.

He leaned over and kissed Kristina on the cheek. “Gotta go, sis,” he muttered.

He left by the back door. He was probably picked up by a silent, black, specially equipped helicopter that landed in our side yard. I’ll never know.

Kristina and I sat there in silence for a long while. We couldn’t quite look at each other.

Finally, however, I felt I had to give words to the question that was hanging like rotting fruit on a dying tree.

Why the [redacted] did you take him to the DUMP?

Doug Brendel lives at [redacted] in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Follow him at DougBrendel.com, at least until he’s [redacted] by the [redacted].

Ahoy, landlubber! Tie off yer starboard prawn!

I was in Colorado for a couple days last week, and I confess, it was disorienting.

As far as I could tell, Colorado is virtually indistinguishable from Massachusetts, and Denver is practically Ipswich.

You get off the plane at Denver, and it’s a half-hour drive to downtown. Likewise, landing at Logan, and it’s a half-hour drive to Ipswich. 

Only as you pay close attention do you begin to realize which place you’ve landed in.

For example: You might notice, during the Colorado version of this journey, that you’re driving through vast expanses of nothing — as opposed to the Massachusetts version, which features a world-record density of tantalizing restaurants and retail businesses. Every time I return home by air, I must make a conscious effort not to stop in Saugus and spend money. Polcari’s and Kowloon call my name, in different accents. The Denver experience is nothing like that. Colorado has no Saugus.

I suggest getting your bearings even before your plane lands in either location, Boston or Denver. As the aircraft descends, glance out the window. If you see earth below, you’re arriving in Colorado. If you see liquid, and it appears you’re plunging into a watery doom, you’re arriving in Massachusetts. Have no fear: Logan Airport sticks out into Boston Harbor, and the runways are the stick-outiest parts of any airport, so of course your aircraft will glide perilously close to the frigid waters of the Atlantic before touching down at the last possible moment on the reassuring asphalt of your totally safe runway. Not to worry. Hardly any planes have ever gone into the drink.

Massachusetts? Colorado? If you agree that it’s a good idea to be sure where you are when you land, here’s another tactic. After you step outside, look up. Look around. See that? Isn’t it strange? Solid blue, as far as you can see? It’s like someone forgot to hire a decorator. What you’re looking at is something call “sky.” You must be in Colorado. As I deplaned at the Boston airport this past week, I took care to look up and around — just to be sure I’d gotten on the right plane — and here’s what I saw (circling from my left, clockwise): concrete wall, construction crane, high-rise, concrete overhang, NO PARKING NO STANDING TOW ZONE, concrete wall, high-rise, NO STANDING VIOLATORS SUBJECT TO FINE, concrete wall, construction crane, concrete overhang. This was reassuring. Home sweet home.

Perhaps my moment of greatest befuddlement on the entire trip was when I checked into my downtown Denver hotel, clomped into my 9th-floor room, and threw open the curtains. There was the Atlantic Ocean.

Pretty soon, I figured out that it wasn’t actually Crane Beach, because it was obviously a nice, sunny day, and there were fewer than 100,000 people. In fact, there were no people at all. There were only beach chairs, unoccupied, and all in a neat, straight row.

Also, this ocean was directly opposite my hotel room, 9 stories up.

I’m no art connoisseur, but within a couple hours I was pretty sure that this ocean was a work of art, not nature.

 Sure enough, my ocean view turned out to be “Ocean View,” a giant mural splashed across the adjacent building. The artist, as it turns out, is Rob Reynolds, who was born someplace you may have heard of: Massachusetts. About 7 miles west of downtown Boston. So — obviously — when it came to decorating the side of a brick building in downtown Denver, Rob’s heart reached out to his homeland.

Perhaps, even when you’re stuck in Denver, 1,754 miles from Boston, you have an innate longing for ocean from which we sprang, as amoebae, a zillion years ago. I enjoyed my time in Colorado, but I can tell you, after a couple days, I definitely had that amoeba kind of craving: Gimme the concrete overhangs. Gimme the real beach, not the version painted on brick. And please, dear God, gimme the all-you can-eat shrimp at Kowloon.

Doug Brendel is happily back at his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Wherever he may roam, follow him at DougBrendel.com.

Old writers never die, they just lose their batteries

One morning long ago, when I was hiring writers to help me write everything my clients wanted me to write, one of my fellow writers walked into our very casual office looking strange. For no apparent reason, he was wearing a bow tie.

“If I dress better,” he explained, “I’ll write better.”

It didn’t work.

But I was tantalized by the idea that something utterly unrelated to writing might help a writer write better. Superstition, yes, but hey, if it might facilitate higher fees, I’ll try it.

Fast-forward several decades. I’d like my “Outsidah” column to be better. I’d like less hate mail. So my brilliant brother-in-law, a master carpenter, builds me a little writer’s nook — because I feel sure that writing in a writer’s nook will make me a better writer, as opposed to, say, writing hunched over the kitchen table. Certainly you can see how isolating yourself in a small, isolated space designed exclusively for the execution of your craft — eliminating distractions, allowing total focus — is better than trying to replicate Updike only inches away from cupboards full of wondrous treats. Not to mention the leftover pot roast in the fridge.

My tiny writer’s nook, just big enough for me, my standing desk, and narrow wall shelves, is totally enclosed, except for a window overlooking beautiful Ipswich. Well, 20 square feet of beautiful Ipswich, behind the garage. But never mind that. I don’t have to look out the window. I can close myself off from the world, just me and my laptop, and be brilliant.

I christen my writer’s nook the “Art Room” — because my brother-in-law, the builder, is named Art — and I keenly anticipate not only writing better but feeling younger, more vital, cooler, more attractive. I can imagine emerging from a hard day’s work in the Art Room and my wife’s eyes glittering with admiration, perhaps even fluttering a bit, like a cartoon from the ’50s.

Then I actually try it.

After significant experience in the Art Room, I can report that it’s roughly as effective as wearing a bow tie.

The problem isn’t the nook. The nook is wonderful. The problem is the young, vital, cool, attractive parts of the equation.

I’m in the Art Room, being brilliant, when my hearing aid beeps in my ear. This means my batteries are low. It also means I’m probably not young, vital, cool, and attractive — but this detail can be ignored, because I’m all alone in my nook: Who will ever know? All I need to do is replace the battery. No problem. I carry spare hearing aid batteries in my pocket at all times, for just such a moment. (It’s not something I broadcast all the time — because it’s not exactly in keeping with my young, vital, cool, attractive persona — but getting caught without spare batteries when you need them will quickly teach an old dog the new trick of carrying spares at all times.)

In the privacy of my nook, I close the laptop on top of the standing desk, pull out my hearing aid, lay it on the laptop cover, and fish the package of batteries from my pocket. It’s in there somewhere. No, that’s the nail clipper. Okay, there — got it.

Then it’s just a matter of taking the hearing aid out of my ear, opening the battery compartment, tapping the old battery out — well, sorry, wait. I can’t quite see it clearly enough without my glasses. Okay, got the glasses on. There, good.

I’m tapping the new battery out of the package, replacing the old with the new — oh, darn. I have a little arthritis in my thumb joints, making it tricky to handle these tiny batteries. The old battery escapes me, bounces to the floor, somewhere behind the standing desk — eh, I’ll get it later.

Now I’m putting the new battery into the hearing aid — careful, careful — closing the battery compartment, and then putting the hearing aid back behind my ear. Well, actually, the earpiece of my glasses is in the way. I can’t quite put the hearing aid back in place without removing my glasses — yeah, they’re bifocals; so what?

So I remove the bifocals, situate the hearing aid, and replace the bifocals. Just like any young, vital, cool, attractive guy would.

Now it’s time to find that runaway dead battery. I’m crouching down, reaching behind the standing desk, feeling my way along the edge of the floor. Something twists in my lower back.

Dang, this hurts. I don’t think I can straighten up.

I hope my wife misses me, and comes looking for me, because the Art Room is nice, but I don’t want to die here.

Besides, someone else will write my obituary, probably brilliantly — and for a hefty fee.

Doug Brendel is alive and well on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Oh, wait; check that “alive and well” part. Pending further notice, follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.

Move-in condition, must hear to believe

Good morning! I’m so happy you’re considering a move to Ipswich, and I want you to know, I’m delighted that you chose me to help you find your new home. I’ve been a realtor in this community for decades, and I’m sure as we spend the day together, we can find the perfect place for you and your family.

Before we set out on our wonderful adventure today, let me just make a few suggestions. I’ve been studying the questionnaire you filled out online, indicating the neighborhoods you’re most interested in. I want to give you some insights into these locations, based on my extensive experience in the area, to perhaps help you refine your search for that perfect dream-come-true property.

First of all, I see you’re interested in Partridgeberry Place and Boxford Road, out in the western part of our beautiful town. Let me just give you a little heads-up about this neighborhood. If you’re annoyed by dogs barking very early in the morning, this is probably not the neighborhood for you. Are you familiar with the Service Dog Project? They train Great Danes and donate them to the mobility-impaired! Isn’t that beautiful? But 33 residents recently signed a petition claiming that “barking occurs frequently in the early mornings before 6 a.m. and for long periods.” I want to assure you that the Town of Ipswich does have a bylaw that prohibits “continuous and clearly audible barking” between 10 p.m. and 7 a.m., but when our select board recently held a hearing about the complaints, one woman offered a really practical solution: “Anyone who is annoyed by dogs should not have moved near them,” she said. That is just so sensible, isn’t it? So we as realtors are just trying to do our part, as good neighbors, and warn people about the dogs.

Now I see, here on the map, another property you have your eye on. This is a very fine area, I assure you, as long as you’re okay with domestic violence. It’s totally illegal, of course, but you know how these things go. People disagree, and their disagreements get out of hand, and then it’s pots and pans flying through windows, and people stumbling out the front door, screaming and cursing, and then there are sirens, and handcuffs. Stuff happens, you know? So if you’re annoyed by this kind of thing, I’d suggest you just not go there.

Here’s another neighborhood I see you’ve circled — this is actually our major burglary and car theft area. We don’t technically allow burglary or car theft, but since people are so intent on doing it — if you’re annoyed by this sort of thing — we just recommend that people not go there.

Oh, I see you’ve drawn cute little stars in this part of town over here. I can sure see why you’d be attracted to this area, and honestly, if I were looking for a new home today, I’d be tempted by it too, except for the drag racers. I know it’s illegal, and dangerous, and foolish, but really, enforcing the rules can be so inconvenient, you know? So, if you’re annoyed by this kind of thing — well, we just basically wave people away from this area, and it’s way better for everyone.

Let me also recommend that you avoid this area where the neighbors dump their toxic waste. If this sort of activity annoys you.

And this is the part of town where Mr. Trenchcoat hangs out, eating from garbage cans and accosting schoolchildren on their way home in the afternoon. Verboten, yes! But here again, I think it’s just common sense: The best response to lawbreakers is just to avoid them. If that stuff annoys you.

I’m sure we can find you a superb home, however. Let’s climb in my SUV and head out. I’d like to start by showing you a lovely place upwind of the Transfer Station.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he has no dog-noise problem because he just turns off his hearing aids. Follow Doug at DougBrendel.com.

If Lincoln read by candlelight, you can too

This past Sunday morning, the power went out here on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, striking fear into hearts.

I revere the folks who run our Town power system — as long as I’ve lived in Ipswich, they’ve been quick to respond to any and every problem — but still.

When the power goes out, I confess to a flicker of fear.

I think it’s just because we’re so far away.

We live so far west in town, our neighborhood is informally known as P.B.: Practically Boxford. We’re out here beyond Marini Farm, beyond Route 1, out in the wilderness, where lost hikers occasionally stumble onto Hood Pond, believing they’re the first to discover it. Some have never been heard from again.

So there’s a certain sense of risk, of menace, living out here in the backwoods of Ipswich. When the power goes out, a niggling little question flits through the brain: Back in Ipswich proper, at the Utilities Department — will they remember us? Will we get power again anytime soon? And, more to the point, Should I start eating all this stuff in my fridge?

It should be noted that, in my experience, we have never suffered really long-term power outages in the Outer Linebrook area. Even in the most ferocious storms, the workers have mounted herculean restoration efforts. I have only once resorted to baking potatoes in my fireplace. (After which, I bought a generator — which of course re-ordered the universe so that I have never again needed a generator.)

Still, a power outage is an inconvenience. A frustration. An annoyance. There’s the inevitable cascade of First World problems. 

  • The automatic coffeemaker, which I meticulously set up the night before, doesn’t start up as scheduled. 
  • I can’t switch to hot chocolate because the microwave and electric stove are both dead. Neither of them will tell me the time anymore, either. 
  • To drive to Cumby’s for coffee, I have to yank the garage door up by hand, which deeply wounds my pride. 
  • My modem is lifeless, my WIFI is gone, my cable is worthless. 
  • Soon, my laptop’s battery will be drained; my phone’s as well. What will I do when I can’t check my Stop Bruni Project app? Especially the feature displaying the number of citizens opposed to building Bruni World — gah! I’m addicted to watching the surge in real-time.

With electrical powerlessness linked to such a cavalcade of catastrophe, there’s a natural impulse to pray to the Ipswich Utilities Department: Please, please, Beings On High, remember us, and have mercy on us, even us lowly ones, here in the outer darkness.

Certainly, if there’s even a smidgen of power left in your phone, you can call (978) 356-6640 and a friendly Town employee will take note of your dilemma, and your address, and let you know whether any of your neighbors have likewise reported an outage. If, however, you didn’t plug in your phone at bedtime, prayer is all you’ve got.

Meanwhile, you’re left to wonder how widespread this outage may be. It’s difficult to rein in a feeling of panic when you think about what disasters could ensue back there, to the east of Outer Linebrook, in civilization.

There could be chaos at the entrance to the Y, under the darkened traffic light, as dozens of drivers being nice refuse to turn, and dozens more refuse to go until they do.

Clam shacks could be falling silent all over the Cape Ann area. At this very moment, desperate Clambox employees could be building a woodfire under the fryer to get the oil sizzling again.

Actually, as I write this, I’m sitting in the front seat of my tiny electric car, charging my laptop off the car battery. But soon, even this makeshift power source will be tapped out. I do hope to get this column posted, somehow.

Oh, wait. The garage door just went up.

Geez, people, what were you worried about? The Ipswich utilities gods always come through.

Doug Brendel lives so far west in Ipswich, from his backyard he can see Russia. Follow Doug into his weird world via DougBrendel.com.

Don’t be a stinkah, use ya blinkah

I figure the average American spends about 56 hours a week on sleep, 40 hours a week on work, 6 hours a week on the commute, 14 hours a week on meal prep or eating or cleaning up afterward, and most of the rest of the week on social media.

My own statistics, as a relatively new resident of Ipswich, Massachusetts, are somewhat skewed from the national average because of the roughly 4 hours a week I spend sitting at the Hammatt Street stop sign trying to get onto Depot Square.

This odd intersection — well, I realize it’s not odd by New England standards; we have crooked three-pronged Y-shaped intersections all over the region — but the Hammatt-Depot-Washington Street intersection features the complication of a stop sign, at the foot of Hammatt Street. This means the southbound folks approaching on Washington Street and the northbound folks approaching on Depot Square have the right of way. The poor schnook approaching on Hammatt (that’s me) is obligated to stop and let any and all traffic pass before proceeding in either direction.

This should be a simple matter, but of course, it’s not, if a vehicle is heading up Depot, because you don’t know which way said vehicle will be turning at the intersection. They might follow the bend in the road, past the Ipswich Tavern, onto Hammatt. Or they might make a soft left to cross the railroad tracks and slip onto Washington. If they’re staying to their right, you can pull away from your stop and drive up Depot Square or down Washington, no problem. But you don’t know which way they’re going. You have to wait and see.

Unless, of course, the driver heading north on Depot offers you the information, by using their turn signal — that device you perhaps call the “blinkah.”

It appears to me that use of the blinkah is more or less a lost art here in New England — or maybe it was never an art in the first place. Maybe that page somehow got deleted from the MassDOT driver-education curriculum, so nobody really learns what to do with that stick jutting out from the steering column. Using the blinkah may be one of those mysterious ancient practices that has to be passed down from parent to child. Perhaps at some point in our past, parents became lackadaisical about preserving this tradition, and subsequent generations lost their blinkability.

I do believe use of the blinkah is a custom worth reviving, if only to get me from Tedford’s to Jetty’s.

Say you’re driving from the train station, and you turn at the bank, heading up toward Spice Thai. See that small car at the Hammatt Street stop sign? That’s me. I’m desperate for a bagel. Do a good deed. Use your blinkah. Tell me you’ll be staying to the right, and it’s safe for me to pull out. Or tell me you’ll be cutting to the left, and I have good reason to stay put. If you don’t use your blinkah, I’m stranded.

Living in Ipswich has been good for me because it’s taught me patience. Patience is the only feasible response to the Hammatt-Depot-Washington intersection, because the only real alternative — fulminating rage — is linked to cardiac arrest. Our historic cemeteries are full of people who went with the fulminating rage approach.

It is possible, of course, to avoid the torture by turning north on Hammatt and making a huge loop, via Central Street and Market Street, to get to Depot Square and Washington Street. Depending on traffic, you might actually save time driving this additional half-mile route. But I’m an optimistic old fool, telling myself, day after day, that someone driving north on Depot Square might actually use their blinkah. Hope springs eternal. Which is how long I’ve been sitting on Hammatt Street.


Doug Brendel writes most of his Outsidah columns from the front seat of his car. Follow him online at DougBrendel.com. Don’t follow him on Hammatt Street; you’ll never get home.

The Ultimate Answer to an Outsidah Column

Every time I write an Outsidah column (or “post,” if you’re a digital type), John Muldoon features it in the Ipswich Local News, the excellent free paper he mails to every address in Ipswich, Massachusetts.

He also posts it at IpswichLocalNews.com — but online, he adds illustrations.

The illustrations are always humorous. I always smile. Sometimes, I giggle. Once or twice, over the years, I’ve laughed out loud.

But today, I burst out laughing and couldn’t stop.

This is John Muldoon at his most hilarious.

I heartily recommend this to you … and if you don’t live in Ipswich, Massachusetts — which means you can’t get the print edition of the newspaper — I heartily recommend that you follow the Ipswich Local News online. So much clever stuff, every single week!

This will brighten your life.