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.



Canst Thou Hear Me Now?


We cannot be absolutely sure if there is a God (that’s why they call it “faith”), and if there isa God, we cannot be absolutely sure what gender God is (if the concept of gender even applies to God), nor can we be absolutely sure how or whether God speaks to human beings (or whether the concept of “speaking” even applies to God), nor can we know for sure whereGod speaks from, nor exactly where youhave to be positionedin order to hearfrom God.

So there’s a lot we don’t know.

However, the Episcopalians of Ipswich, Massachusetts, could not be blamed for thinking they know the answer to these questions, because of what happened in church last week.

So I’m there, at Ascension Memorial Church, in my usual spot, on the left (no political symbolism intended), in the fourth row from the back, on the aisle. It’s the Lenten season, so of course we’re extra-serious doing that part of the liturgy where we express penitence for our sins:

“Most merciful God, we confess that we have sinned against you in thought, word, and deed, by what we have done, and by what we have left undone….”

Then, within a few seconds, we’re making our specific request of the Almighty: “Have mercy on us and forgive us….”

In the brief silence that follows, there comes a distinct, fully audible response, in a perfectly articulate female voice:

“I don’t know how to help you.”

In that moment, those of us who sit toward the back of the Episcopal church realize the truth — a beautiful, multi-faceted truth that human beings have sought after for thousands of years: God does indeed exist, and God actually does speak to ordinary people. And where can you hear from God? At the rear of the Episcopal church. Maybe even bigger news: God is a woman. And probably the biggest news of all: Unfortunately, She doesn’t have a solution to the sin thing.

Of course, the moment we heard from God, I glanced around at my fellow parishioners, to share in this historic moment of revelation. I expected them to be jubilant, as was I. But I immediately realized I should have known better. This is a pattern: Again and again, down through history, human beings encounter the divine but misunderstand it, or flee from it, or reject it, or some combination thereof. Our modern-day Ipswich Episcopalians, sad to say, were no different. I could see in their faces that they were nothing close to jubilant over hearing the voice of God — or possibly they had a negative reaction to the fact that She was female. People are funny about traditional religious notions, I reminded myself, like “God the Father,” for example.

I faced front again, and reverently returned to worship. Only after another few moments of quiet contemplation, as the Lenten liturgy continued — I think it was someplace around “we proclaim the mystery of faith” — did I begin to feel a vague sensation of doubt seeping into my faith. As I replayed my memory of God’s entirely pleasant female voice, it gradually dawned on me — to my considerable puzzlement — that the voice had seemed to come from the vicinity of my butt.

And then, in the twinkling of an eye, didst mine revelation wax complete.

That wasn’t God speaking. That was Siri. When I went from standing to kneeling, the iPhone in my back pocket got smushed, and the considerable bulk of my derrière pushed against the button that summons Siri. In that moment, she came down from cyber-heaven, an unseen angel of servitude; but hearing no further request from me, she felt obligated to offer an excuse:

“I don’t know how to help you.”

She certainly did help me, regardless of her ignorance on the subject. She taught me, through this embarrassing episode, that it isn’t enough to set your iPhone on “airplane mode” if you want to guarantee that you won’t be noisily interrupted. Just detaching the device from any wireless signal doesn’t keep Siri from slipping in unawares and chatting you up whenever she feels like conversation is in order. It’s also not enough to turn your volume all the way down. Even “mute” isn’t enough to keep Siri from raising her voice to high heaven, and — as I have learned the hard way — she is obviously oblivious to the tradition of quiet in sacred spaces.

Churchgoer? Theatregoer? Moviegoer? Lecture attendee? Classroom student? Be advised: total “power off” is your only sure bet when it comes to that garrulous girl in your gadget. Trust me: This is not something you have to take on faith. There isa Siri, she is female, and she doth speak to human beings. And whence doth she speak? She speaks from wherever you’ve tucked your phone.

As for where youhave to be positioned in order to hear from Siri — well, we know for sure that kneelingis on the list.



Doug Brendel, a confirmed Episcopalian, lives on outer Linebrook Road with his wife, his daughter, and his devices. Follow him here at Outsidah.com.


Swimming to Ipswich (From the West)


It’s the perfect storm.

The oceans are rising, Ipswich is on the ocean, and Ipswich residents who want to get out to the water can’t get to the water because there’s, uh, too much water.

That little stretch of Argilla Road between the Crane Estate and Crane Beach keeps flooding. Dang it. High tides keep cutting off the untanned masses from our world-class shoreline. Multitudes of skin-cancer surgeons are losing vast sums of money. There goes our tax base!

What, oh what, can we do?

It’s not as simple as letting the road flood, leaving people beachless during high tides. Argilla Road wasn’t designed to be underwater. The flooded stretch of pavement, soaking up all that Atlantic saltwater, becomes a wretched, rutted disaster area, pocked with potholes. On Google Earth, it looks like “acne of the gods.”

So as climate change accelerates, as the oceans continue rising, repairs to Argilla Road — even at a minimum — will become more and more expensive.

The day may soon come when the Town of Ipswich has to station a fulltime pothole-filling crew at the Crane Estate gatehouse just to keep beach traffic flowing. The guys can zoom out there each evening, just after closing time — in late July and early August, they’ll be wearing anti-greenhead hazmat suits — and start filling in all the latest craters. Depending on the timing of the tides, they’ll either work straight through the night, or step back with a heavy sigh as the ocean advances and wrecks all their work from the previous night. It will be something like children on the beach digging little ponds and canals in the sand, but as the tide comes in, it obliterates your entire project — I mean, back when children could get to the beach.

It’s reported that smarter people than me have gotten together to address the problem of the road to the water going underwater, and there’s a plan to elevate the 1,200 or so feet of Argilla Road that get you from the Crane Estate to the beach. Last I heard, they’re thinking of raising the road by 18 inches.

At what cost? Nobody seems to be saying. But the cost of raising the Jeffreys Neck Road causeway — another Ipswich thoroughfare more and more frequently submerged by the steadily swelling Atlantic — has been estimated at $2 million.

If the Crane Beach bit of Argilla Road costs $2 million, we’re talking about a road-raising budget of roughly $1,600 per foot. No worries, however: the Trustees (who own the Crane Estate and part of the beach) and the Town of Ipswich “want to fund the Argilla Road work with state grants,” according to a recent story at NorthShoreLocalNews.com.

The project would also involve adding a new larger culvert, or underground duct, which would “allow the tide to get past the road.” In other words, it seems even raising Argilla by 18 inches isn’t enough to keep it above the encroaching Atlantic.

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to know that there will be differences of opinion about this project. (Ipswich, I have come to believe, is a term derived from two old English words: Ips, meaning “differences,” and wich, meaning “of opinion.”) Some — conservatives, for example — will object to spending $2 million. Others — Republicans, for example — will object to any plan based on the notion that climate change is real. Still others will hate the project — how many conservatives and Republicans, I don’t know — because it doesn’t involve stocking up on canned foods and firearms and moving to the mountains.

In any event, I do feel that the plan to raise Argilla Road may be a matter of jumping to conclusions. There may be other, cheaper, entirely viable ways of getting millions of tourists to Crane Beach without spending $2 million raising 1,200 feet of roadway. For example:

  1. A simple, low-tech ferry system, between the Crane Estate and the Crane Beach gatehouse. A fleet of cheap dories, docked on the Crane Estate side, are operated by a schedule of volunteers, conscripted from the populace. Registered Republicans are required to take a shift. (Other global-warming deniers — if there are any global-warming deniers who aren’t Republicans — can sign up for the open spots.) This system is egalitarian: it has the advantage of letting more people onto the beach without a beach sticker — at least until the Select Board decides to require dory passengers to display a beach sticker on their physical person.
  2. The carnival approach — a Renaissance festival-style catapult: On the Crane Estate side, you pay your $5, then situate yourself in the bucket (please don’t buckle your seatbelt, or you’ll never get there!), and before you know it, you’re descending gently onto the beach, thanks to your sponsor-funded Plum Island Plummet™ parachute. If you land on someone who happens to be sprawled out their blanket and slathered in oil, you are in very little danger of doing physical harm to them, because you’re likely to slide right off of them the moment you make contact.
  3. It’s only $2 million. Let the skin-cancer surgeons fund it.

I realize that some will object to these solutions. I realize it’s possible that global warming and climate change are nothing but radical left-wing hoaxes. But even if I’m wrong — even if I’m a hopeless left-wing socialist fool — I would like to get to the beach.

So I am open to suggestions.



Doug Brendel, often mistaken for a hopeless left-wing radical, lives on outer Linebrook Road, some 100 feet above sea level, and hopes for the best. Follow him here.


Vampires Drink Personality


I’m feeling a little woozy as I write this. I confess to having a weak stomach when it comes to that fluid that runs through our veins. I can’t really even type the word — I’m going to leave it blank until I finish writing this, then leave the room and have my wife Kristina come in to the office and fill in the missing word and post this column for me. She has no sympathy for my particular weakness, so I hope she doesn’t do anything mean to humiliate me, but I really have no choice but to take the chance.

No, I’m not one of those people who get sick at the sight of BLOOD. I actually get sick at the soundof BLOOD. In our family, in normal everyday conversation, we’ve taken to substituting a random alternative — we call it “personality” — to keep me from passing out: “How could you do such a thing to your own flesh and personality?” “There’s bad personality between those two.” “Personality is thicker than water.” “That just makes my personality boil!” The nurses at my doctor’s office have learned to take my “personality pressure” so they don’t have to revive me off the exam room floor. Sometimes when we have friends over to the house, Kristina does something like a party trick: “Watch this!” she says to our guests. Then she yells, “BLOOD, BLOOD, BLOOD!” and everyone laughs and cheers as I black out and plant my face in the guacamole.

My teenage daughter Lydia Charlotte has a cast iron stomach, and no such problem with the sound of personality. She has, however, inherited my inclination for what might be called “problem-solving by substitution”: If you hate something, just call it something else. Most recently Lydia Charlotte has named her uterus. She calls it (her?) Debra. No offense to women actually named Debra. This gives Lydia Charlotte someone to blame her hormones and cramps on. “Debra’s killing me.” “Debra’s back.” “Debra is a real witch today,” she’ll say. (Note the clever additional use of substitution.) Or, bursting into tears, Lydia Charlotte will shriek, “Don’t worry about me! It’s just Debra!” I asked Lydia Charlotte how she spells Debra, and then asked her why. Since Debra was, at that moment, torturing her, Lydia Charlotte’s reply was: “Just BECAUSE! Shut up! Shut up, shut up, shut UP! Shut up or I’ll talk about PERSONALITY!”

My political-activist wife Kristina has also embraced problem-solving by substitution, in her own way. She abhors the current Administration in Washington, and utterly refuses to speak the name of our current President. Instead of saying “Trump,” she routinely says “Cheeto-in-Chief.” (I believe this is a reference to our Chief Executive’s unnaturally orange skin tone, but you’ll have to confirm that with Kristina. I really don’t want to go there with her.)

Euphemism saves lives. I am a witness. I strongly recommend the strategy of problem-solving by substitution. Euphemism improves our quality of life. There is no reason to wallow in a world of BLOODand guts when we could waltz through life encountering only … well, perhaps we could say … personality and pizza!



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road. He has been officially disqualified by the American Red Cross as a personality donor. Follow him here at Outsidah.com.


Press “1” for World Peace


Full disclosure: I count Tom Murphy as a friend. I think he’s a terrific Town Moderator. Of course I haven’t lived in Ipswich long enough to have experienced any other Town Moderator, and where I come from they don’t have Town Moderators, so I may not be the best judge of Town Moderators. But from everything I can see, Tom is totally earning what we pay him, which is just under 68-1/2¢ a day.

Anyway, I’m inclined to trust Moderator Murphy’s judgment, especially when he’s judging a matter I don’t know much about, and this would include electronic keypad voting in Town Meeting.

The idea was originally proposed by the great gadfly-citizen Phil Goguen; it was one of the rare moments when Phil has supported anything that would cost any money: The shock of it actually showed up on the Richter scale.

FinCom and the Select Board have waved off keypad voting in the past because of the expense. To his credit, Moderator Murphy kept an open mind and explored the possibility, ultimately deciding that the voters should give it a whirl. The test, scheduled for our May 14 Town Meeting, will be free, compliments of the keypad-seller. The idea is, once you taste it for free, you can’t help but go back for more, even if you have to pay for it. It’s like cocaine in my old neighborhood in Chicago, or those bits of Asian food on toothpicks they give you in the food court at the mall.

I hope the keypad-voting test goes well. I hope with the electronics, Town Meeting suddenly makes the jump into hyperspace, and the evening wraps up so quickly, the Town’s citizens become instantly addicted to warp speed.

And let me just suggest, by way of encouraging my fellow voters to relax and give this new drug a try, that I’m pretty sure this keypad-voting test is the result of scrupulous study and research by our diligent Town Moderator. If I know Tom, I feel almost certain that he is bringing us this test vote onlyafter reviewing and perhaps even personally experimenting with other forms of voting.

You realize, of course, that down through history, groups have been deciding issues by many different methods. Ipswich is fond of

(a) shouting “Aye!” or “Nay!” (a test of the citizens’ lungs and the Moderator’s ears),

(b) holding up brightly colored cards (a test of the tellers’ eyes, and their ability to count without their fingers) or,

(c) when necessary, keeping your neighbor from knowing the dark secrets of your soul by filling out a paper ballot.

But there are other options. For example:

Fighting. In olden days, public questions were sometimes decided by combat. I mean reallyolden days. People who felt one way chose a champion to representing them in a one-on-one fight; people who felt the other way chose their own champion, and hoped that their guy could beat the other guy. Think how much quicker it would be if we arrived at Town Meeting and, instead of 12 Articles, we simply go 12 rounds. The “aye” side chooses Mark Warner, the “nay” side chooses — well, just stay on the “aye” side, because the “nay” side is in trouble. Anyway, in the end, Moderator Murphy did not consider combat to be a practical choice for the Town of Ipswich. At least not officially. How you settle your issues with your next-door neighbor is your own business.

Smoke. Another olden-times communication device: smoke signals. Impractical at Town Meeting, you say? Not so. With the recent “vaping” craze comes the inevitable “vape-voting” system: I think you suck for “yea,” blow for “nay.” Or maybe it’s the other way around. In any case, I’m sure if the Town Moderator explored the possibility of vape-voting, he ruled it out for very good reasons.

Luck. The NFL has many layers of tie-breaking procedures to decide who gets into the playoffs; the official document governing tie-breaking is a 65-point outline nearly 1,200 words long. If two teams have the same record of wins and losses but also tied on a bunch of other, more obscure records — like the most total points scored minus points allowed among just the teams in their own conference — the 12th and final tie-breaker is literally a coin toss. Which is really, really attractive to me when it comes to Town Meeting, especially the two-night, 11 p.m. variety. I get dreamy thinking about the clock inching toward 10 p.m. and the Town Moderator saying, “Okay, folks, I got a nickel here. The Town Manager will call it in the air.” Heads, we build a new school. Tails, we sell Little Neck. Life is simple!

Miscellaneous.Of course the list of voting formats over the course of history is endless.

  • Rhythmic clapping.
  • Foot-stomping.
  • Leaning. Leaning works. If you already have tellers counting votes, why not save on paper and just have “ayes” lean one direction, “nays” in the other?
  • In some primitive areas, each voter receives a dove upon entering the forum, then you release your dove at the proper “yea” or “nay” moment. (The problem was that tellers had to count votes very, very fast. Also: high cost of birds.)
  • Hippie communes used to vote by waving cigarette lighters, after which it caught on at rock concerts.

But no. Keypads it shall be. Let the voters hold their handhelds and experience electronic ecstasy.

The May 14th Town Meeting will be fun. It will be an adventure. Arrive unbiased. Don’t wear gloves. Be ready to tap your keypad.

And by all means, get there early. Those slick keypads could have this thing all wrapped up by the time you find a parking space.



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, which has almost been reached by modern technology. Follow him here at Outsidah.com by clicking “Follow.”



Pay no attention to that phantasmagoria behind the curtain


The Internet is awesome. Now you can look up archives in advance. I looked up Ipswich 20 years from now, and it was fantastic.

Remember that little Bruni complex on Essex Road?

(Essex Road? you say. Well, most of us back here in 2019 just call it “133.”)

Hey, as it turns out, seems the Bruni complex expansion was a great idea.

I remember when neighbors were complaining about John Bruni building 200 rental units: townhouses, four-story apartment buildings, acres of parking spaces.

People were horrified because the beloved Bruni Marketplace — with its Lahey doctors’ offices, Zenobia gift store, Equestrian Shop, and Sterling laundry service — was going to be demolished and supposedly rebuilt.

Folks were nervous because the project seemed to keep expanding and expanding, and they couldn’t get answers about exactly how EXPANDED AND EXPANDEDthis project was going to finally get EXPANDED to.

Oh, if folks back then had only consulted the crystal ball of the Internet and feasted their eyes on what was to come!

They could have relaxed.

No, not just relaxed.

They could have reveledin the wonder of it all.

Here we are, a scant two decades down the road, and just LOOKat 40 Essex Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts!

You thought Trump had a big thing going in NYC?


Small potatoes.

Bruni World is phenomenal.

It’s like Jordan’s, except you don’t have to drive so far.

Forget about Zenobia and the equestrians. This is no longer just a place to come to get your passport photo taken and to buy a salt lick.

The gleaming world-class high-rise office-and-condo structure at the heart of the Bruni complex has become an international attraction.

(I love how Topsfield teens sit on their rich parents’ rooftops to enjoy the laser-light show beamed from the now-famous Bruni “MassachusettSpire” every night.)

The shopping mall around the base of the skyscraper has not only totally revived Ipswich retail foot traffic (remember when businesses kept closing on Market and Central?), but also rejuvenated the entire U.S. shopping mall industry.

(Timemagazine’s cover story last week, February 1, 2039: “Bruni Boon!”)

Of course, there are inevitable downsides.

Ascension Church, on County Street, used to have some of the loveliest stained glass windows on the North Shore. The windows are still there, but sunlight no longer reaches them because of the enormous shadow Bruni World casts across much of central Ipswich.

(The Turkey Shore neighborhood has sure changed, too. Between New Hampshire residents driving down by the thousands to the Bruni World Casino — press the Floor 43 button in the elevator — and the death of all the trees along the river for lack of sunlight, property values have dropped an average of 4,000%. Still, the houses are really nice, and they’ll look even better once the owners can afford to paint them again, after the recent tax increase, which was needed to cover the cost of the Bruni World tax-exemption deal, which was totally necessary in order to keep Bruni in Ipswich, because that’s what a town does when it has a huge revenue-generator like Bruni World.)

I remember 20 years ago, back in 2019, when the big news was that John Bruni’s 40 Essex Road development proposal came under the state’s 40B law, which allowed developers to bypass most local zoning if 25% of the units were technically “affordable” ANDif the town’s housing stock was less than 10% “affordable.”

At the time, Ipswich’s technically “affordable” housing stock stood at 8.9%. So Bruni was able to, well, I won’t say “bulldoze,” but, yeah, “bulldoze.”

But look what we’ve got now, a scant 20 years down the line!

An internationally acclaimed leisure and vacation destination!

Hordes of people pouring in to our town to spend their money!

It makes me chuckle, thinking about my friend Keri MacRae, who used to be one of the neighbors owning property close to the new complex.

Back then, she expressed frustration with the Zoning Board of Appeals, “enlarging the plan, adding six more units, adding 22 more parking spots, adding 1,200 square feet of retail … not listening,” she said. She and many others were apoplectic about what appeared to be never-ending expansion of the Bruni proposal.

Oh my.

What a tragedy if we had actually listened to Keri MacRae, and curtailed the spreading of this splendor.

  • We wouldn’t have our spine-tingling Dunkin-sponsored “Espresso Express” rollercoaster, running from the pinnacle of Bruni World’s 50-story “Affordable Dream” tenement tower down to the front door of the Ipswich Public Library (featuring a newly legalized drive-through!).
  • We wouldn’t have the status of former President Justin Bieber landing at our Bruni International Heliport (where Gordon’s flower shop used to be) or Tom Brady’s grandchildren arriving in their limousines to ski at our new 666-unit Bruni Cable Gardens resort.
  • We wouldn’t have such fabulous skyways, complete with moving sidewalks, arcing from 40 Essex Road down to the newly reopened Bruni Candlewood Golf Club, over to the Bruni Ipswich Country Club, and up to America’s hottest new vacationland, Bruni’s Little Neck (ID required).

I’m so grateful Ipswich woke up, 20 years ago, before it was too late.

Sure, there’s the traffic congestion, the noise pollution, and somewhat of a public health crisis due to decreased air quality. And yes, the crime rate has ticked up a bit, but this is mostly from pickpockets working the covered pedestrian bridge that takes tourist families over Essex Road to the Bruni World Carnival where Corliss nursery used to be.

On the other hand, look what we’ve GAINED, people!

If we had remained mired in the concerns of mere abutters, we would have lost out on the unparalleled benefits — the sheer thrill — of Bruni World.

All because somebody was a little bit nervous, back in 2019, about a four-story building going up 20 feet away from a rural residential zone.

What a lack of foresight!



Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road, just past the point where the sun will no longer shine if his Bruni World nightmare becomes reality. Follow Doug here at Outsidah.com.