Any Way You Want It

I attended the first Thursday evening concert at Castle Hill in Ipswich this past Thursday, and it was a nightmare, I tell you, an absolute nightmare.

Everybody kept coming up to me and telling me I was wrong, and my wife was right.

Doesn’t this sound like a bad dream to you?

In the natural world, everything was great. This was the 2019 kickoff concert for the Trustees’ annual Crane Estate summer series, originally conceived 22 years ago by the remarkable Trina Schell. Trina has coordinated the concerts all these years, but this year, she’s handing off management of the concerts for the first time, and in spite of unexpectedly huge crowds, Thursday night went smoothly. No fisticuffs that I saw, no children lost without eventually being found, no staggering drunken speeches by partisan attendees mistaking Allée statues for political opponents. Just loads of old Journey hits and other music from that era.

The Great Escape, a Journey tribute band, was enormously entertaining. They had plenty of folks on their feet, dancing or (as in my case) attempting to dance. My wife has always been an awesome dancer, so if I get up on a dance floor, it’s mainly to watch her, and keep my eye on the other guys watching her.

Also, there was the usual array of yummy food and beverage options. I indulged in a massive carne burrito, which pleased me enormously, and made me enormous. I carried water in, in an environment-friendly reusable bottle, which had the additional advantage of enabling me to avoid the line for wine, which at times stretched to Rhode Island.

The evening might have been lower key. The weather was supposed to be off-and-on rainy. And not everyone is a Journey fan. You might expect the concert series to start small each summer, and build toward the ever-popular Beatles tribute band HELP! on August 22 and the wrap-up concert with the beloved Orville Giddings and his band on August 29. But the hill was crawling with people — from smiling seniors stepping gingerly to children racing and shrieking with joy. We got there by 7:30 for the 7 p.m. event and had to park in the overflow lot at Steep Hill. By the time we hauled ourselves and our camp chairs up the Allée to the “No drinking beyond this point” rope at the front of the lawn, we had to rest up before dancing.

Everyone seemed to be in a rollicking mood. It’s hard to be grumpy when a band is blasting “Any Way You Want It.” Even when I was being accosted, my assailants were usually bright-eyed and cheerful. It seemed every fourth or fifth person at the concert had to come stand over my camp chair — or stop me on my way to the burrito trailer — or grab me in the middle of the dance floor — and tell me how wrong I was, and how right my wife was. Everyone, it seemed, had seen my “Outsidah” column in the Chronicle & Transcriptthat morning, talking about the confusion at Lord’s Square when vehicles compete to pull out from Linebrook Road and Liberty Street at the same time. I wrote that my wife Kristina feels the person on the right (which is to say, on Liberty) has the right of way. I insisted that the Linebrook driver is already on Route 133 by the time he arrives at Liberty (though only a few feet away), so the guy on the major thoroughfare has the right of way. I had already been bombarded with “no” votes online (you can see them for yourself at Outsidah.com). But now, at the concert, it was the world’s opportunity to get in my face.

Nobody was buying my point of view, and everybody felt the need to tell me so. And it became clear, over the course of the evening, that this wasn’t just about traffic. This was about love. The over-arching message was not simply “Doug, you are a wrong-headed, insensitive driver, and possibly dangerous.” There was also a sub-current of “Doug, you married well, and you don’t deserve her.”

This part, I must admit, may be true. She could have married a smarter driver. And she absolutely could have married a better dancer.

 

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Doug Brendel practices his moves at his home on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him daily at ComplicatedEnglish.com, and occasionally at Outsidah.com.

 

Till Death Do Us Pull Out

My wife and I celebrated our wedding anniversary last week by having an argument about Ipswich traffic.

I now submit to you both sides of the debate, and invite you to cast your vote in favor of my viewpoint. Or otherwise, if you must.

Here’s the scenario:

Two vehicles arrive simultaneously at that awful little wedge of Ipswich where Lord’s Square becomes Central Street. Forget for a moment that people driving east on High Street have suddenly found themselves in a spider web of exits and entrances which must be navigated before they can get to Central. The two vehicles we’re having this fight about, on our 32nd anniversary, have arrived at the only two stop signs on the south side of Lord’s Square: the one where you’re trying to get off of Linebrook Road, and the one where you’re trying to get off of Liberty Street.

Ignore, for the time being, the question of whether either vehicle wants to go (a) left toward High Street or (b) across onto Short Street or (c) right to Central. All we know, for the purposes of this marriage-threatening conversation, is that both vehicles have arrived at the same moment.

So now, both drivers crane their necks to peer northward, hoping for a break in High Street traffic, and then swivel their skulls like owls to see how many cars are coming up from Central Street. You’re either a crane or an owl at this intersection.

Now comes that magical moment, when a gap appears. OMG, there’s a two-car length of empty space behind the guy in that Toyota SUV, and nobody happens to be lurching out of Dunkin’ Donuts. And look! There’s a break in the flow from Central Street — thank heaven for that impertinent Kia Soul driver inching out into the roadway and then losing her nerve — yes, sorry, it’s a woman. (Not a sexist bias, I just report it the way it happens.)

And here, finally, is the great question: Who should dive into that gap?

Who has the right of way? The Linebrook Road driver? Or the Liberty Street driver?

  • You might consider the universally accepted protocol that the vehicle on the bigger, more important roadway has the right of way over the vehicle on the smaller, less important roadway. (Think Argilla Road matron trying to get out onto County at 5 p.m.) Which means the Linebrook Road driver should gun it.
  • Or, you might consider another practice generally recognized at intersections governed by stop signs: When two vehicles arrive at the intersection at the same time, the vehicle on the right goes before the vehicle on the left. (Remember, this is America. Whoever’s furthest to the right gets to make the rules.)

So, at the tangled knot that we call Lord’s Square, who wins? Left or right? Linebrook or Liberty?

My lovely wife has been driving for 43 years. Not continuously, of course. But driving a lot, anyway, ever since Gerald Ford was president. And it should be noted, in all fairness, she has never, to my knowledge, had a traffic accident.

I, on the other hand, have been driving since Nixon’s first term. And I have had plenty of traffic accidents. Some were even my fault. In recent years, however, I would like to point out, my record has somewhat improved. I have learned, for example, to slow down while approaching the Our Lady of Hope parking lot, where the cop cars lurk.

  • My wife says that the ludicrous Lord’s/Linebrook/Liberty mash-up is an awful mess, but it does somehow, ludicrously, qualify as an intersection, so the idea that the vehicle on the right has the right of way is appropriate. Ludicrously.
  • I, on the other hand, say that once you pull out past the stop sign, you’re essentially on Central Street already — which is both 133 and1A — so the poor shmuck trying to get off of Liberty Street is just a hapless wretch trying to get from a tiny, insignificant side street onto a major thoroughfare, and let him keep trying.

I certainly don’t want to influence your vote. But sad to say, after more than three decades looking at the same person across the breakfast table, it can come down to a moment like this. So if I don’t win this vote, I may need to rent a room from you.

Kindly cast your ballot by emailing IpswichTrafficLove@DougBrendel.com. The marriage you save may be my own.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, for the time being. Follow him at Outsidah.com. You’re also invited to check out his humorous new daily blog, ComplicatedEnglish.com.

 

You’re Fired! Oh Wait, Wrong Show

TheLocalNe.ws recently carried an awesome idea, from the site’s founder John Muldoon, regarding the presidential race:

“The best way for the Democrats to proceed is for the candidates to vote off one of their own each week. There are 24 of them now, so that would give them 23 weeks of pure publicity that even Trump couldn’t match. Watch as pandemonium ensues with shifting alliances, immunity idols, fiendish challenges — you name it.”

Muldoon is Irish, complete with accent and green card, so one might not expect him to be so precisely in tune with American political shenanigans. But he’s also a newsman, and I guess this more than compensates for any immigrant/non-citizen/interloper shortcomings from which he almost certainly must suffer. With this notion of the presidential candidates voting each other off the island, Muldoon seems to be totally tuned in to our U.S. political scene and, I would say, brilliantly insightful. I hope his idea will go viral and a tidal wave of support for it will swamp the Democratic National Committee, until they have no choice but to order it up. With the Democrats culling their own herd, there will be far less blood in the water come the end of the primary campaign, increasing unity over the course of the campaign, and a heightened chance of survival for our nation and our planet. All thanks to a humble, sandy-haired foreigner living quietly in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Don’t tell me America isn’t the land of opportunity.

Once this musical-chairs odd-man-out strategy has been authorized by the Party bosses, it will be time for ordinary folks like you and me to start campaigning for whatever candidate we want to see die next. This will feel good, I’m sure, the same way the Romans felt as they cheered for the lions over the Christians.

Personally, I hope we can eliminate the most embarrassing candidates in the early rounds. I’m perhaps most disturbed by Marianne Williamson, whom Rolling Stonecalls “a cross between Stevie Nicks, a Tennessee Williams character, and your mom after she took too much Xanax on a plane.” Williamson, who reportedly officiated at the last of Liz Taylor’s eight weddings, has been endorsed by Kim Kardashian — which seems like more than reason enough to eliminate her. Fun fact: Williamson once roomed with Laura Dern, the actress who, in Jurassic Park, famously yelled “Run! Run!” — an admonition Williamson apparently mistook for political advice.

Marianne Williamson arrived at the first debates on the bottom of the polling heap — or, to be more precise, she polled the lowest of the candidates who made the debate cut. As so often happens, however, the debate changed things. The first post-debate polls revealed that Williamson, as a result of her debate performance, had managed to sink even lower. This is a candidate who may not actually need to be voted off the island because she is already thigh-deep in saltwater. When the time comes, please join me in voting for Williamson. Or is it “against”? Anyway, let’s wish her well and say good-bye.

One more advantage to Muldoon’s innovative idea: If we can lose Williamson and a few of the other percentage-fraction candidates in the next few weeks, we won’t have to squint so hard at the polling data. (Which is why, as I understand it, the weekly elimination-round idea is being vociferously opposed by optometrists.)

Anyway, here’s hoping the Democrats embrace the “Survivor” model — except for the nudity.

Thank you, John Muldoon, for everything. I salute you. If, however, the producers bring Hillary back as a surprise repeat contestant, I take it all back.

 

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Doug Brendel lives in the outback of Ipswich, on a primitive stretch of Linebrook Road rumored to have been the location for Season 17. Follow him here at Outsidah.com, and at his new daily blog, ComplicatedEnglish.com.

 

15 Ways to Know It’s Pollen Season

I have not lived here on the North Shore very long, but I have lived here long enough to know that “pollen season” happens every year at about this time.

Perhaps I don’t have enough experience to know whether this year’s pollen season has been particularly heavy, but I believe a few basic observations are in order.

Kindly consider the following evidence, indicating, I believe, that this year’s pollen season has been, if not apocalyptic, then at the very least supremely maddening:

  1. People are sneezing more. Granules of pollen get in our noses, which is irritating. But small animals, with much smaller nostrils, don’t sneeze as much. This is because, after inhaling about 14 granules of pollen, they suffocate and crawl under your wheelbarrow behind the garage and die. During pollen season, it’s important to catch your on-site fox, woodchuck, fisher cat, or coyote on the first or second sneeze, and rush them indoors, and into an oxygen tent.
  2. The weather is lovely, so we can have drinks outdoors, but regardless of what you order, you get a dirty martini. My eldest daughter, who lives well out of range of Massachusetts pollen, reports that dirty martinis are far superior with olive juice instead of pollen. She’s texting, not FaceTiming, so I can’t tell if she’s snickering.
  3. There’s a meadow behind our house. The dragonflies that dart and dive and delight themselves there? They always had big bulging eyes, of course — but now they’re wearing goggles. Tiny, tiny goggles — but goggles. With windshield wipers.
  4. As a North Shore resident, you already know that during certain times of the year, we get fog approaching Marini’s Farm, in Ipswich. But these days, when you’re driving down Linebrook Road, approaching Marini’s, if it looks like fog, but the weather is totally wrong for fog, you can turn on your fog lamps, and yeah, it’s totally fog.
  5. The dragonfly-goggle windshield wipers are largely ineffective because the pollen is so thick. Dragonflies are crashing so frequently, insect emergency services agencies are overwhelmed.
  6. Yesterday morning, our screen porch was covered in something that looked like dust. That afternoon, my wife muttered “Pollen!” and got out the vacuum sweeper. By evening, she had diligently restored every square inch of the porch to its original pristine condition. This morning, I had a terrible case of déjà vu.
  7. I saw a backyard deer spit stuff back out. And she had some awful yellow junk caked all around her mouth.
  8. Pollen falls early. Jetties in Ipswich has always been open at 5 a.m., but now customers arriving at 7 a.m. or later are advised to stomp their feet at the door. (As you do, I advise that you cover your face with a handkerchief.)
  9. I’m fortunate enough to work at home, on my laptop; and in fair weather, I love to work outdoors. I can no longer take a bathroom break, however, because by the time I return to my worksite on the backyard bench, my laptop has to be excavated like a scene from Indiana Jones.
  10. It’s outrageous, I know, but North Shore doctors are actually demanding a surcharge for treating respiratory emergencies. Okay, just kidding. But one nurse I know is taking bribes for oxygen masks.
  11. Willie Whitmore took over as chair of the Ipswich Select Board and then promptly disappeared into a puff of yellow smoke (prompting newly named vice-chair Linda Alexson to exclaim, “See? I’m NOTthe wicked witch!”).
  12. Hikers got lost in Bradley Palmer and couldn’t find their way out by following their own footprints because the pollen filled them in so quickly. Rescue operations were complicated by clouds of pollen fooling the GPS. The hikers were finally saved by two aged Yetis who have lived here for years and knew the way out by “feel” rather than sight. (“Only way to survive pollen season,” one of them grunted.)
  13. Dairy Queen customers availing themselves of the outdoor seating on High Street report everything tasting strangely organic.
  14. A Boxford man was hospitalized after beating his Weber grill with a blunt instrument, after wrongly mistaking it for an invading PacMan.
  15. My cat wasn’t yellow this morning.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives in a house that appears, at the moment, to be yellow, on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by blowing the dust off your keyboard and clicking “Follow” here at Outsidah.com.

 

What Happens When You Die Depends on Where

The weather in Ipswich has turned mostly pleasant, finally, and this is terrible news.

Terrible at least for those of us who train with Jen Tougas at Personal Best, the fitness studio located over the Ipswich Ale brewery off Brown Square.

Jen is acclaimed as the “body genius,” and for good reason. She has a distinguished two-decade track record of sculpting people’s bodies, increasing their strength and stability and stamina, extending their lives, and saving them from themselves — all while tricking them into enjoying it. I am a witness. I’ve trained with Jen two or three times a week for more than five years, and I’m stronger and more physically fit than ever before. I’ve also lost 70 lbs. along the way. But — yes, there’s a but.

As part of Jen’s comprehensive schedule of classes and other fitness offerings, she leads an hour-long session of circuit training every Saturday morning, in which I usually participate. Circuit training, as you may know, involves getting your heart rate up, and keeping it up, and trying not to die. You do some type of cardio exercise for a few minutes — on the treadmill or the stationary bicycle or the rowing machine — then you switch to some form of strength training: pushups or planks or jumping jacks or walking lunges or some other horrible thing.

On a typical Saturday, all of this torture takes place within the comfortable confines of the gym. So I may flop to the floor like a sweaty scarecrow, but at least my humiliation is screened off from the general public.

But now that our endless dreary, chilly, rainy spring has given way to nice weather, Jen has taken to driving her minions outdoors for circuit training.

In other words, you can watch.

We speed-walk from place to place — a gangplank near the wharf is good for pushups, for example, and a memorial planter just off the Riverwalk is ideal for those dreadful “dips,” where you lower your butt from a seated position and then push yourself back up but you don’t get to sit back down, you just keep pushing up and dipping back down, till your triceps are screaming. Keep in mind, however, that we somehow love Jen for making us go through this hell.

The most fearsome makeshift strength-training station of the entire Saturday morning circuit, however, is the old original cemetery on High Street. It’s situated on a steep grade, so to get to the top, you have to climb something like 78 concrete steps. I say “something like” because when I tried to count them on my way up, I was woozy by the time I got to 40-something.

During circuit training, the idea is not to make a leisurely ascent, noting the fascinating historical gravestones and admiring the view. No. We are not here for tourism. We are here for training. For circuit training purposes, we race up the steps as quickly as we can. I normally start out at a pretty good pace, but pretty soon my knees tell me this is crazy, and yell at me to stop. The only reason I force myself to keep lurching up those steps is that there are people in cars puttering along High Street, and people walking their dogs, and I’m sure every single one of them is watching me. Some, in fact, may be on their cell phones placing bets on whether I make it, and I don’t want anyone making more money on this than I’m spending for the session.

Finally, at the top, I turn around and look at the innumerable gravestones, scattered haphazardly over the hill, and I realize what this cemetery really is. This is where, over past 380 years, countless circuit trainers dropped dead. Their bodies rolled down the hill, and wherever they happened to stop rolling, that’s where they were buried. (It’s not widely known, but for the first three centuries of our town’s existence, hearse-drivers had to take freelance jobs in Rowley just to keep food on the table.)

This revelation keeps me alive. If I don’t want to join the corpses of High Street, I’ve got to keep moving. Giddyup, muscles! Don’t let the townies see you wimping out!

On Saturday mornings, I pray for rain.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, for the time being. Until the end comes, follow him by clicking “Follow” here at Outsidah.com.

 

Today’s Forecast: Taxes

It’s summer in New England, and that means basically one daily weather forecast: partly cloudy.

Why is this?

To understand why summer days with complete, continuous sunshine are so few and far between in New England requires an understanding of not only meteorology but also history, religion, and economics.

Well, you’ve come to the right place. I’ll explain it all to you.

Please pay attention.

It’s not widely known, but actually, New England does not naturally get any sunlight whatsoever. Any light we get from the sky is brought down from the northern lights by way of a series of Canadian mirrors.

Why is such a system necessary? I’ll tell you.

Ever since our bogus witch trials in the 1690s, when we hanged people in God’s name, God has cut us off from the blessings of sunlight. And how could you blame Him? What we did was shameful. It’s bad enough to hate your neighbor, in direct contradiction to the Golden Rule; but then to blame your vengeance on God? That’s really low.

But then how did the Canadians get involved? I’ll tell you.

Canadian people are nice, eh? They took pity on us, here in dim, grim New England, and offered to reflect the aurora borealis down from the Arctic Circle to New England, for a fee. Not because they wanted to make exorbitant profits, of course. They’re nice, remember? But just to cover their expenses.

Which leads us to economics.

Why are our taxes so high? You think it’s because of our vast array of government services? Think again. We have just as many potholes as anybody else. Our firefighters are just as speedy as anybody else’s. Our taxpayer-funded public works and public safety arrangements are no more expensive than anybody else’s. What we’re paying extra for, here in Massachusetts, is what we call “sunlight.” Your money is actually going to Canada, to maintain eight or nine big mirrors, I forget exactly how many, that bring the northern lights down south in a huge zigzag pattern as far as Quincy or so.

If you miss the sunlight, during the “cloudy” part of any “partly cloudy” day, you should be grateful your taxes aren’t even higher than they are. When you’re grumping on Crane Beach because it’s “partly cloudy,” it just means we didn’t bite when the Canadians offered the Deluxe Package.

No, this system isn’t in effect everywhere. They don’t need the northern lights in Bermuda. Because in Bermuda, they didn’t hang people and blame it on God.

We could repent, of course. I know a lot of New Englanders regret the Salem Witch Trials. But God apparently hasn’t been adequately mollified yet. The Bible says in II Peter 3:8, “with the Lord one day is as a thousand years, and a thousand years as one day.” So there’s no telling how long we’ll have partly cloudy summers.

Meanwhile, I’m reluctant to lay off pothole guys or firefighters just to get more rays on the beach.

And it’s not all bad. Don’t we get less skin cancer this way?

Weather, witches, God, taxes, Canada, health. See? Everything’s connected.

 

Pssst! This just in…

Kathryn McQuaid’s knee has been hurting her.

Of course I’m sure you already know this.

Not that Kathryn told you. But in Ipswich, Kathryn doesn’t have to tell you. You’re likely to hear it from somebody. I don’t mean just Kathryn’s news. You’re likely to hear just about everybody’s news.

Ipswich may sometimes be characterized as “small-town America,” with an old colonial-era vibe, but in fact, its communications system is one of the most efficient in the world. That tummy tuck you didn’t want anybody to know about? Yeah, that’s all over town. Hysterectomies, vasectomies, hemorrhoids, electroshock — we have no secrets.

Kathryn McQuaid, faithful member of a well-known downtown Ipswich fitness studio, woke up one day last week to a text from David Ploffster, her downtown Ipswich physical therapist.

“I hear your knee is hurting,” he wrote. “Come in and see me, we’ll get that fixed.”

Kathryn had no idea where Ploffster got his information. He was right about her knee, of course, but how did he know?

I actually saw Ploffster walking as I was driving on Linebrook Road a couple days earlier; but I swear I didn’t slow down, pull over, lower my window, and whisper the essential telltale facts to him: “Psst! McQuaid! Knee!”

Who knows how a juicy detail gets passed around in this town? How could you possibly track a random complaint at the gym — “My knee is really hurting” — from its original source (Kathryn McQuaid) through the spider’s web of comments, references, repetitions, exclamations, insinuations, and chit-chat that takes it all the way to a medical professional whose patient records are top-secret under the law?

Theoretically, it could happen by any one of 173.6 million routes. Another gym member, a guy, happens to be within earshot when Kathryn grumbles her grievance. The gym member stops at Zumi’s on his way home. He spies a female friend, who notices his garb. “Just come from the gym?” Within 20 seconds, there’s talk of Kathryn’s bad knee. The friend heads to work. Her supervisor went to college with Kathryn in the U.K. “Did you hear?” The supervisor zips home for lunch. “Sore knee.” That afternoon, the wife lets the cable guy in. He’s at the bar at May Flower by 4:30. The sushi chef gets pulled over on his way home. The cop’s best friend is a firefighter, who’s had a bad back ever since he slipped and fell at the Foam Frolic. But his daughter is puking, too sick to go to school the next day, so he calls in and cancels his next p.t. appointment. “I guess you’ll be seeing Kathryn McQuaid pretty soon,” he says to the woman on the phone. “Why? What happened?”

See?

Don’t even tryto cover up that affair you’re having. Thinking about selling your house? Old news. Oh, and by the way, your Honda needs an oil change.

This town’s gossip grid is a thing of beauty, a work of art, a marvel surpassing all known forms of technology. Faster than the chat program on your smartphone. And even less accurate than auto-correct.

By the way, you know Aaron Ross, the brilliant Ipswich High School actor who’s about to graduate? He hurt his knee too. Wanna know how he did it?

Eh, I don’t need to tell you. You’re gonna hear all about it. Probably before you can get this post into the trash.

 

 

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road. He lives by a strict policy of never repeating gossip. Nevertheless, click “Follow” to follow him here. Because he occasionally lapses.