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?”


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.


I Love It Here


Numbers, in general, confuse me. A spreadsheet typically causes me to break out in hives. And I’m not the only one with this weakness. Math is a stumbling-block for a sizable proportion of the population: At least 37.4% of Americans can’t even tell you what this sentence means.

Speaking of which, statistics in particular can often be misleading. A decibel level of 100, for example, isn’t twice as horrible as a decibel level of 50; it’s 100,000 times as horrible. Why? Because decibels are “logarithmic” — whatever that means. Just writing the word “logarithmic” has given me symptoms of malaria.

The solution, in many cases, is to describe something notwith statistics expressed in numerals but with comparisons expressed in words. Let’s say you wanted to warn someone new to town, say someone like me, about the amount of time it will take to cross Lord’s Square in an automobile. This actually turns out to be important information indeed, for me personally, because I live on Planet Outer Linebrook, and I have to cross Lord’s Square at a diagonal to get to Detangles on Short Street for a haircut. I also have to take Short Street if I want to obey my GPS unit and take the shortest overall route to the Ipswich Inn for a breakfast meeting, or to worship at Ascension Memorial Church like a good Episcopalian.

But of course, when I arrive at that stop sign at the end of Linebrook Road (or rather, to be technically accurate, the beginning of Linebrook Road), I am not likely to have an immediate clear shot at Short Street. There will be vehicles streaming around the S-curve from High Street toward Ipswich Center, including a steady discharge of cars escaping the parking lot at Dunkin. There will be another torrent of vehicles moving away from Central Street into the S curve (slowing or stopping for the ignorant driver who has stopped at the High Street turn in spite of the fact that there’s no reason to stop). Then there are the hapless folks on Liberty Street, trapped by their unfortunate “one-way” designation, who have no choice but to risk dismemberment and death by spurting out into traffic if they’re to have any hope of ever leaving home over the course of their entire lives. As I sit at the Linebrook Road stop sign, I sense the desperation in the Liberty Street driver off to my right, and part of my guesswork, as I prepare to plunge into the tumult, is to calculate the chances of this guy finally — in the next few seconds — getting fed up and closing his eyes and just hitting the gas and hoping for the best.

So this is the question — one of the great questions of my life, as it turns out, since my hair keeps growing and my breakfast meetings keep happening and I find myself in need of spiritual cleansing at least weekly: How long will I sit at the stop sign at the confluence of Linebrook Road, Liberty Street, Central Street, and Short Street? It will help me to know, for planning purposes. To get to church on time, for instance, should I leave home Saturday evening?

I may not be able to comprehend the specific number of minutes I should plan to spend waiting and hoping for a break in traffic; but I can comprehend a description of some real-life scenarios, and mentally compare each of these to the Lord’s Square crossing, and end up with a reasonably accurate assessment, which is a real blessing when it comes to scheduling my cross-town travel. In the short time I’ve lived in Ipswich, as I’ve become familiar with the ebb and flow of life on the North Shore, I have come to understand Lord’s Square in these very human terms. Perhaps if I share these insights with you, you’ll be able to make use of these descriptions as you strive to help some other newcomer who happens to be numerically addle-brained:

  • You will wait at Lord’s Square longer than your teenage daughter takes in the bathroom.
  • It’s easier to find a parking space on a Sunday afternoon at Costco.
  • Do you have the audiobook of that new book by that Democratic Presidential candidate? Which one doesn’t matter. You’ll have time for all 20.
  • The reason there are flowers planted in the median is so you can observe their life cycle while you wait.
  • Do you remember when Detangles moved into their current space on Short Street? Don’t put yourself in too much danger squirting across traffic to get back over there. They could relocate before you arrive. You could end up not only dead but also badly coiffed for the funeral.
  • Don’t think of this in minutes or hours. Think of this as a season of personal growth, as you deepen your reservoirs of patience, because really, what choice do you have? Screaming obscenities is only going to leave you further behind spiritually when you finally get to church.
  • You’re going to be waiting long enough to enjoy a hot dog from the vendor on the corner, so yeah, go ahead and wave her over. You know you want one. Sure, it’s 7:15 a.m., but you’ll be hungry again by the time you get to the Ipswich Inn.
  • This might be a good time to vacuum your interior.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road and, from time to time, at the Lord’s Square stop sign. Follow him — well, digitally anyway; following him physically is just going to find you waiting behind him at the Lord’s Square stop sign — by clicking “Follow.”


Siri, what’s my turkey gobbling?


Thanks to an awesome new app, which instantly auto-translates the speech of any species into the language of the user, we can now — finally, thankfully — understand what the wild turkeys are saying as they strut across Linebrook Road, holding up traffic, keeping people from getting work on time, and seemingly oblivious to the serious dent they’re making in our economy.

The app, eGobbler, works for a number of animal types, but it’s called eGobbler because it was initially developed by geeks in small towns plagued by wild turkeys crossing roads when human drivers urgently needed to be using the roads instead of waiting for wild turkeys. But it was quickly adapted to towns with non-turkey problems, making the eGobbler app name an anachronism. (It doesn’t take much to become an anachronism these days.) A village in Uganda actually had a breakthrough with their monkey problem. Some towns in Burundi, I hear, now have select boards made up of equal numbers of humans and giraffes, all thanks to eGobbler. Some better educated mammals misinterpret eGobbler as eGabler, wrongly believing it’s an app for interpreting Henrik Ibsen scripts.

The software developers who created eGobbler hoped the app would become a communication tool, perhaps even a negotiation tool, to unclog the rural roads.

Alas. It appears that this dream was not meant to come true.

Here’s a recent sample transcript — picked up by Siri on the phone of an unsuspecting driver attempting to pass through Ipswich, a gentleman who had rolled down his windows way before it was really warm enough to roll down your windows, but it was May, and he was just stubborn enough to say, if it’s May, I’m rolling down my damn windows.

Turkey 1: Look.

Turkey 2: What?

Turkey 1: Windows.

Turkey 2: Huh?

Turkey 3: He’s got his windows down.

Turkey 1: Moron.

Turkey 2: He should look at the thermometer.

Turkey 3: It’s well known that the human species can’t function effectively in this kind of weather, at least not without layering. But there he is. No sweater!

Turkey 1: Moron. As I said.

Turkey 2: So.

Turkey 3: So what?

Turkey 2: So, should we cross on over?

Turkey 1: Well, we are in the middle of the road.

Turkey 3: The guy without a sweater is sitting there looking at us.

Turkey 2: Yeah, so?

Turkey 3: So.

Turkey 1: So?

Turkey 3: So.

Turkey 2: Guys, please. I’m totally okay with sitting here, in the middle of Linebrook Road. It’s comfortable. The price is right. And the cars on either side of us are entertaining. I love to see how they glide to a stop when they realize we’re here.

Turkey 1: Truly.

Turkey 2: It’s like we’re royalty.

Turkey 1: Truly.

Turkey 2: And I love to see the constellation of consternation on their faces as they calculate their options.

Turkey 3: Yes. Do we run them over? Will they get out of the way? Etc., etc.

Turkey 1: I have a question for you guys. Why don’t we get signs?

Turkey 2: Signs?

Turkey 3: What do you mean, signs?

Turkey 1: I mean signs like the deer get.

Turkey 2: The deer?

Turkey 1: Yeah, the deer. You know, the large mammals that traipse through Ipswich eating the hostas. Not to mention the berries, the fruits, and grains. And, oh yeah, the acorns and other nuts. And the bark. Oh, and the mushrooms. And——

Turkey 3: Okay, I get it. But you’re talking about signs.

Turkey 1: Signs! Along the roadway. They put up yellow diamond-shaped signs, with pictures of deer.

Turkey 2: What? You want a picture of a turkey instead?

Turkey 1: Yes. We should get selective turkey crossing areas too, if the deer do.

Turkey 3: Uh, okay, but, uh, you know, uh, the deer don’t use those signs, right?

Turkey: 1: Huh?

Turkey 2: You realize that deer keep getting splattered all over the pavement right?

Turkey 3: In spite of the signs. Because they don’t read the signs. They just cross wherever they want.

Turkey 1: (after a thoughtful pause)We read the signs.

Turkey 2: Huh?

Turkey 3: We do?

Turkey 1: We should.

Turkey 2: But we can’t read.

Turkey 3: The signs are in English. We can’t read English.

Turkey 1: We can learn.

Turkey 2: We can?

Turkey 1: We can at least look at a picture of a turkey and say, Whoa! Turkey crossing! This is the place to cross safely!

Turkey 3: (after another pause) Okay. Who goes first?

Turkey 2: Wait! Look! He’s rolling up his windows.

Turkey 1: It’s too cold for him. He’s turning around.

Turkey 3: Let’s decide this next week.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, barricaded behind continuous streams of wild turkeys crossing the road in utter contempt of human schedules. Follow Doug by clicking “Follow” on this screen.


Time’s Up. Next?


Conversation from the not-too-distant future:



Thanks for taking time to meet with me.

Sure. Get on with it.

Excuse me?

Sorry. I just really don’t have time for this.

You don’t even know what I asked to meet with you about.

I know, sorry. Can we just get on with it?

What’s wrong with you?

Nothing. Really. Just, what’s on your mind?

Look, I just want to ask—

I’m sorry, your time is up.

Excuse me?

Forgive me, but I don’t have any more time for you.

What are you, crazy? You’re a Town official!

I’m sorry, but this is all the time I have.


Sorry, but I’m term-limited. My time is almost up.

That’s preposterous.

Preposterous? No. It’s the law. It’s Ipswich law. The voters of Ipswich decided in favor of term limits. Phil Goguen proposed it, and they approved it.

Well, maybe so, but it doesn’t mean you can’t have a conversation with me about—

Excuse me, I’m sorry, we’re done.


I have to get to the audit.


Yes, the audit.

What audit?

The Article 24 audit. They used to just be annual, but Phil Goguen proposed that more frequent looks at the books would alert officials sooner if anything odd was going on.


Audits. Every 90 days now. Good-bye.

Odd? What do you mean, odd? Is anything odd going on?

I’m sorry, I don’t have time to answer this question.

What are you, crazy?

No, I’m just a term-limited quarterly-audited Town official. Next!

Excuse me, I’m not finished.

Sorry. You are. Because I am.

Wait. Didn’t Town Finance Director Sarah Johnson say that she, and Treasurer Kevin Merz, and Town accountant Stephanie Fronteira, all review every single cash transaction? Didn’t Sarah tell you, “Everything is balanced to the penny monthly”? Didn’t she specifically say, “That’s why we can close the books so quickly at the end of the year”? Didn’t FinCom member Michael Schaaf confirm that all our audits have been clean — and that quarterly audits would consume 12 weeks a yearthat should be allotted to other important tasks? I think I remember FinCom member Chris Doucette describing Ipswich finances as “possibly the tightest possible ship I’ve seen.”

Sorry, but I gotta get outa here.

Pardon me?

My term is up. New law. I may be brilliant, but three terms max, then I have to sit out two election cycles before I run again. So, g’bye.

But I need help now!

Sorry. Term limits. I’m done. Come back tomorrow.

But who can help me tomorrow, after you’re gone?

Sorry, I don’t know. Whoever they elect next.

But Town government can be complicated. Will they know how to help me?

Who knows? Sorry. Hasta la vista, baby.

I don’t speak Spanish. What does that mean?

It means, loosely translated, term limits suck the knowledge baseout of your Town, baby. Anyone with serious experience is gone, baby. You turn your Town over to amateurs, baby. Think America under the great leadership of Millard Fillmore, baby. Or Chester Arthur. Or — for more recent examples — fill in the blank.

Wait. I think this could be a good thing. I remember Phil Goguen saying, “Fresh eyes, fresh ears, and fresh ideas are very, very important, and that’s what this will do.”

Yes. And a middle-schooler will give you brilliant ideas about marriage. Term limits. Quarterly audits. Buena suerte.

What does that mean?

Good luck.



Doug Brendel, who is not term-limited as a writer, and who therefore has an unfair advantage in this debate, lives on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him by clicking “Follow” — and thereafter debating with him personally.


Spring Never Sounded So Good


Wasn’t this past weekend lovely?

Ipswich is beautiful.

Well, on certain days.

Yes, it was a disappointing winter — too little snow, too much cold, not much fun. And yes, the spring season already feels endless, with temperatures most days hovering just low enough on the scale that you can’t quite yet put your winter clothes in the attic.

But last Saturday was positively sub-tropical.

And Sunday, marvelously mild!

And with the arrival of this springtime gift of great weather comes the obligatory companion gift of springtime sounds.

As I sit on my screen porch with my laptop on my lap, reveling in the near-miracle of being able to work in outdoors in New England in April, I am greeted by the return of all those delightful auditory signals that tell you spring has sprung.

“GAAAAAARGH!” That’s my neighbor’s lawnmower. A big gas-hog lawnmower. A lawnmower as big as a Volkswagen. Not the Beetle; I’m talking the old VW bus, like the hippies used to cover in flower art. “GAAAAAARGH!” is just my poor attempt at spelling the sound of this monster. It actually goes on much longer than that. It would take several screens full of the letter A to accurately replicate what I’m hearing as I sit in the lovely outdoors trying to write this post.

“KOOOOOOOOOOSH! KOOSH! KOOSH! KOOSH!” This is the sound of a young guy a couple doors down, doing a good deed. He’s got a huge leaf-blower, the kind you wear on your back, and he’s clearing out six months’ worth of wet leaves and concomitant debris that has collected in the strip of vegetation along the edge of outer Linebrook Road. As he commands this massive machinery, the damp, blackish detritus piles up on the asphalt, forcing cars to detour down Plains Road just to avoid crashing into the mountain of glop, never to be heard from again. (One happy springtime side-effect of this process: A number of potholes on Linebrook Road are temporarily filled.)

“BL-BL-BL-BLAT-B-B-B!” Motorcycles.

“KACK! KACK! KACK!” Another neighbor has been waiting all winter to re-attach that darn step leading up to his back door. He loves his nail gun, and I don’t blame him. And kacking a back door stair step only takes a few quick kacks. But of course, when you’ve got such a nifty nail gun, you keep finding other kacking opportunities. May as well reinforceallthose back door stair steps, eh? And the front ones, too, while you’re at it. A single warm day just seems to bring out kackability potential all around your property. Don’t those crossbeams holding up the breezeway roof look a little shaky to you? No worries. “KACK! KACK! KACK!”

“BL-BL-BL-BLAT-B-B-B!” More motorcycles.

“AIEEEEE!” The neighbor’s charming children, and their friends from all over the neighborhood, are exulting in the beautiful weather by playing a harmless game of Destroy the Universe. Or at least this is how it sounds to me. I can’t see them for the trees, but from what I hear, Ormulus has decided to torture Ramfamine for information about the Cromulan Orp, before ultimately saving the galaxy by twisting the evil one’s arms off.


Eh, that’s enough. The sun is going down, the temperature is dropping. I’m going inside now, and closing all the doors and windows, where I can listen in peace to the clanging of the radiators as the furnace kicks back on.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, with a wife, a daughter, and a pair of noise-canceling headphones. Follow him by quietly clicking the “Follow” button.