If it takes you half an hour to get there, it’s too far

You’ve seen those all-seeing, all-knowing signs on the highways, the ones that tell you how far it is to a certain destination, and how long it will take you to get there, based on current traffic — like “113 Newburyport: 14 mi, 13 mins” or “NH State Line: 20 mi 18 mins.”

The Massachusetts Department of Transportation reportedly has 160 such travel-time signs on 351 routes across 675 miles of the state. (You can actually visit Mass511.com online, click on “Go Time Boards” button, and see them all at once.)

I confess to puzzling over this entire enterprise. What exactly is the point, for someone driving through Burlington, in being advised that it’s 7 mi 13 mins to I-93 Woburn and 10 mi 11 mins to Rte 20 Waltham?

Certainly there is no one more time-conscious than me. I’m somewhat efficiency-obsessed. Maybe not just “somewhat.” But if I’m heading home on that east-west section of 95 through Wakefield, and I see that going 2 mi to Lynnfield is going to take me 2 mins, how will this change my plans? Perhaps I’m expected to say, “Aw, heck, I’m not going to spend 2 whole mins just to get to Lynnfield! I’m going to bounce my little car off the interstate into the woods, and go through Middleton!”

But I won’t. I’m sticking with 95, whether it takes 2 mins or 4. Or, heaven forbid, 5.

Yes, I tend to be a hopelessly liberal tax-and-spend guy, rooting for government to make life better for people; but the cost of setting up the Go Time Boards, and maintaining them, is a government expenditure I don’t quite understand.

And aside from the money issues, I admit to wondering about the surveillance. How does MassDOT come up with this info? Are there government-owned-and-operated drones, invisible to the naked eye, hovering over our road system and reporting back to mad scientists in a secret bunker where nefarious computers crunch the numbers and continuously feed data to the Go Time Boards?

Well, yes, sort of. Except there are no drones. The informants are … uh … us. Yes, you and me. According to a Boston.com article by Heather Alterisio, the system is reading drivers’ phones and Bluetooth devices.

Is this “Big Brother” scary? Let’s agree that it’s not. No personal data is stored in the system, according to a MassDot spokesperson.

So since we have this solid assurance of the government respecting our personal privacy — and it’s highly unlikely that the Go Time Boards are going to be decommissioned and torn down anytime soon — let’s go with it.

I would recommend that the travel-time signs could help us even more. Yes, more! By offering even more practical information … to truly improve our lives, in the moment.

A few sample suggestions:

  1. “Rowley Dunkin’ Drive-Thru Wait Time: 14 mins.”
  2. “Lord’s Square Backup While NH Toyota Stops at High Street Turn: 3 mins.”
  3. “Hazard Ahead — Dead Squirrel: 1 min.”
  4. “Line Inside Ipswich Post Office: 42 mins.”
  5. “Market Basket Deli Delay (Run on Honey Roast Turkey): 17 mins.”
  6. “Linebrook Road School Bus Garbage Truck Mail Delivery Marini Tractor: 22 mins.”
  7. “Hazard Ahead — Dead Raccoon: 2 min.”
  8. “Brown Square Bistro Parking Space Available in: 38 mins.”
  9. “Days Without Structural Failure at Brendels’ House: 13.”
  10. “Next ‘Nice People of Ipswich’ Facebook Post: 45 Secs.”
  11. “Hazard Ahead — Deer (Status Uncertain): 3 min.”
  12. “Chance of Fisticuffs Over Upcoming Select Board Election: 14%.”
  13. “Days Since Elementary School Location Conflict: 0.”

I humbly submit these ideas, and welcome others. Government of the Bluetooth-enabled, by the Bluetooth-enabled, for the Bluetooth-enabled. That’s what I’m for.

Reach out to me via GoTimeBoards@DougBrendel.com.

Doug Brendel may talk big, but he’s a coward, rarely departing his appalling hovel on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich. Let’s face it: He’s desperate for Go Time Boards. On those rare occasions when he leaves his home, he’s calculating every second till he can get back home to safety. Such a sick soul. Pity him. Okay, just kidding. Reach out to him via GoTimeBoards@DougBrendel.com. —Editor

School Committee Rigs Puppy-Poisoning Contest, No One Cares

I have not lived in Ipswich long, but I have lived here long enough to gauge the community’s character.

If you write an occasional newspaper column and pay attention to the feedback, you get a sense of what people really care about. Over time, patterns emerge.

Depending on the opinions you express, people love you — or despise you. More commonly, however, they just don’t give a rip.

What excites the public imagination in Ipswich, Massachusetts?

I can write a column suggesting that we solve the persistent speeding problem on outer Linebrook Road by stationing snipers on the top of Linebrook Church, and nobody objects.

I can write a column speculating about bombing the Ipswich River dam in order to get rid of that anachronistic, environmentally pernicious dam thing, and I hear nothing. Not a nod. Not a yawn. No salutes. Not even any hate mail.

I can write a column about the Ipswich School Committee fiendishly ransacking the high school theatre program (as they did some weeks ago, effectively canning the lone theatre teacher and canceling all theatre classes) — first condescendingly lauding theatre students, in an official School Committee meeting, for passionately expressing the need for theatre classes; and then proceeding, in the face of those very students, to vote unanimously in favor of eradicating theatre faculty and classes — and what changes? Nothing. As I write these words, every anti-theatre member of the Ipswich School Committee, which is all of them, are still unopposed for re-election — including any members whose own children came up through the school theatre program, yet which members voted to kill theatre classes. So theatre classes are still kaput.

Over the years, I’ve written about Ipswich potholes, parking, permitting, and plovers; Ipswich recycling and composting and garbage pickup; Ipswich dogs and chickens and greenheads; Ipswich Select Board citizen’s queries; the Ipswich Board of Health; Ipswich bug-spraying and bicycling and baked goods. Even caffeine-free Diet Coke. Hardly anybody cares about any of this stuff, apparently. It’s the same stuff that’s been happening in this town since the original Mr. Winthrop played poker with Masconomet to win Castle Hill. (No beating a royal flush.)

But when I make one innocent, passing remark about how much I hate bologna, there’s a firestorm.

I express a pallid preference for turkey over bologna, and it breaks the Internet.

Since that day, a few weeks ago, when I had the apparently insane idea of expressing my preference for Market Basket’s deli-sliced Jennie-O honey roast turkey, I’ve been deluged with commentary from besotted bologna-backers. I’ve received emails, texts, old-fashioned letters. Messages on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram. There are pro-bologna dances on TikTok now, and it’s my fault. I hear Friends of the Ipswich Library are lining up a series of bologna lectures; they’re planning a special day for selling bologna books. 

People have reached out to me with all manner of bologna-eating advice. I’ve been taught about the superior brands of bologna, and the brands to avoid at all costs; the proper way to eat bologna, and the condiments to avoid under penalty of death. I’ve received photographs, videos, maps to the most excellent bologna stores. I’ve waded through swamps of people’s childhood bologna-eating stories. At my door, face-to-face with the UPS delivery person, I had to sign for a strange-smelling package.

I’m beginning to get a sense of what’s important around here.

I realized, soon after arriving in Ipswich, that people were passionate about clams. People will argue loudly about whose clams are best. You can raise the question of “best fried clams” and soon there will be fisticuffs. Clambox people will crush Woodman’s people every time.

But opinions about clams are NOTHING compared to opinions about bologna. Oscar Mayer could make millions livestreaming a heavyweight bout at the Ipswich Tavern. The Deutschmacher-Kretschmar-Kunzler bologna people could face off against the Ekrich-Swift-Selter Sweet Lebanon team.

No actual boxing, you understand. You just eat bologna sandwiches till you die. Last one standing wins.

Doug Brendel eats turkey, and that’s about it, at his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Click “Follow” to get all the Outsidah posts in your inbox, even the stuff the papers are too horrified to print.

Stop by our kiosk for your diamond-studded Town of Ipswich money clip

The news crackled like musket fire. The great gadfly-citizen Phil Goguen will move out of Ipswich.

It’s almost beyond imagining.

Phil has been a fixture in this town since time immemorial. In select board citizen’s queries, Town Meeting tirades, letters to the editor, social media posts, and campaigns for public office, he’s been the single most consistent and outspoken and belligerent government watchdog in Ipswich, a virulent voice against spending, taxes, budget overrides, and government in general, pushing for transparency, accountability, and audits. Especially audits. Lots of audits. Also term limits.

I like Phil. I first met him when he was running for a spot on the select board in 2014. He arrived at our downtown meeting place flashing his classic snaggletooth smile and regaled me with stories and opinions and it was delightful. In the years since then, I rarely agreed with Phil — hardly anything except keypad voting — but he was so entertaining!

Then, the stunner: “After 60 YEARS we are leaving Ipswich,” he announced on social media last week. “YES, we are moving to easier living.”

Well, yes indeed, Phil. It will be way easier for you without the select board citizen’s queries, Town Meeting tirades, letters to the editor, social media posts, and campaigns for public office. You’ve kept up a steady barrage of high-energy activism for years and years, far beyond the capacity of most people half your age. It’s time your life got easier, Phil. Kick back, cash your Social Security checks, show your Medicare card at the doctor’s office, and enjoy your tax dollars at work.

It’s going to be unsettling, this post-Goguen era. There will be gaping silences. Awkward uncontested budget votes. Without Phil alleging subterfuge, the dynamics of government will shift. For some town officials, all the fun will go out of covering up. 

But I believe we as a town will survive this shock. One time-tested strategy for recovering from civic trauma is to focus your energies on commemoration. This I plan to do. I’ll be spearheading a multi-faceted campaign to salute the contributions Phil Goguen has made to our town. Plans have not yet been finalized, and I’m open to additional ideas. But here’s what the committee and I have sketched out so far:

1. A Phil Goguen statue on North Main Street. In the same way that Phil has been an outsized presence in our town, any Phil Goguen statue should definitely be gargantuan. And he should be depicted holding a megaphone. Not just holding it, shouting into it. (There could even be a continuous loop of sound clips lifted from old ICAM video.) Debating what material to make the statue from, we’ve decided for accuracy’s sake it has to be brassy.

2. In the select board’s meeting room at Town Hall, we’d like to see a nice framed photo of Phil displayed in front of an honorary citizen’s query microphone (non-functioning).

3. The best tributes are interactive. We envision a lovely Phil Goguen walking trail through some of our beautiful open spaces, culminating in a restful Accountability Park, complete with comfortable benches interspersed with statues of auditors, each auditor hunching skeptically over one of the benches. (We briefly considered animatronic auditor figures, but then the park wouldn’t be restful, it would be tiresome.) Saluting Phil’s enduring passion for government transparency, the benches will be made of see-through acrylic.

4. The centerpiece of our campaign will be erected directly in front of Town Hall: an immense open checkbook.

Best of all, Phil, this stuff will be totally taxpayer-funded.

Love ya, buddy! Best wishes for a grand season of easier living.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, mostly off ill-gotten government grants. Click “follow” here at Outsidah.com to get more stuff than they’re willing to print in the paper.

Finally setting free that dammed river

The debate over the Ipswich River dam downtown — whether and when and how to take it out — has been going on forever. It’s time to settle this issue.

#1: Whether. “To dam, or not to dam, that is the question.” No, that’s not really the question. The dammed Ipswich River is artificially unhealthy. Wildlife on, in, and near the river will be happier without a dam.

#2: When. However we do it, we need to get rid of the dam sooner, not later, especially because of the confusion and corruption this debate will inflict on our youth. The next generation of Ipswich High School students will graduate thinking Damn Yankees is about the Ipswich River controversy because they won’t have theatre faculty to teach them about American stage classics.

#3: How. Aye, there’s the rub. It’s a big thing, this dam. And heavy. And it was originally built to be permanent. There are no easy-release clasps fastening the ends of the dam to the riverbank. How to dismantle it, destroy it, dispense with it? (Are there professional dam demolishers? Does “Junk Junk Baby” have an aquatic squad?)

However we get the job done, we won’t be alone. U.S. News reported recently that 57 dams were demolished in 2021 alone; and 1,951 total had been demolished as of February 2022, most of them in the past 25 years. (At the time of the report, U.S. regulators had just approved a plan to demolish four dams on a California river, which would be the largest dam removal and river restoration project in the world.)

I’ve heard that some folks in Ipswich have talked about resolving this dam situation by taking matters into their own hands, possibly even sneaking around after dark. Of course any illegal activity would be against the law; that’s why they call it illegal. So I don’t recommend any of the nefarious plans I’ve overheard.

(At the same time, however, I do believe in freedom of the press. How else could I get this stuff into the paper week after week? So I’ll just make it clear, here and now, that under no circumstances will I reveal my sources. You can arrest me, you can throw me into one of those pink-walled cells in the Ipswich jail, you can cut off my supply of Jennie-O honey roast turkey, but I will still never tell you where I got any of the following ideas.)

For example, it would be very noisy and messy to drop a bomb. I have no doubt some of our enterprising Ipswich residents could manage it — I’ve seen some absolutely awesome backyard fireworks displays. But delivering the bomb to the target would be one very risky aspect of the operation. An airplane is going to be expensive; also leasing a helicopter. You could use a drone, but you’re going to need a very large drone to carry this dam bomb.

Also, a bomb makes an explosion, and bits of the dam will go flying everywhere, and someone’s going to get their eye put out. It’s an insurance nightmare.

So no, bombing is out.

It might be possible to dig a hole through the dam, an underwater tunnel, to let the water through. Even a relatively small passageway would be a good start, and maybe all those pounds of water pressure would corrode the dam from the inside out, eventually causing the entire structure to implode. Of course, for this strategy we’d need people who are good at digging — historians come to mind. Also, we’d need historians with scuba experience. And waterproof jackhammers.

Maybe the surest way to get rid of the dam is just to turn it over to the Ipswich School Committee. They could announce that the dam is under-enrolled — inadequate numbers of herring in the fish ladder — and vote to collapse the thing. Unanimously.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, tuning his supersonic hearing aids to the latest town gossip. Track him at DougBrendel.com.

Thank you, Mom, for those years of lunchbox love, but I’m done

The nightmare is over. The agony has ended.

I’ve finished the baloney.

This was torture of my own making.

It was a package of thin-sliced baloney, $2.62 worth, just two-thirds of a pound, with a Sunday sell-by date.

I never should have bought it. But I caved in.

It wasn’t just that it tasted awful — although it did taste truly awful. This “Vienna German bologna” is just $3.79/lb., and for good reason.

But this two-thirds of a pound of baloney was painful for another reason. A psychological reason. 

During the long days I spent choking down this perhaps-meat, bite by reluctant bite, this package of baloney in my fridge door-drawer taunted me, more and more every day, as a symbol of my multiple character flaws.

First character flaw: my Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast addiction.

I came by it honest, this addiction. Years ago, desperate to downsize my enormous belly, I became a fanatic calorie-counter. Discovering pre-sliced Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast in the favorites bin in the Rowley Market Basket deli department was a breakthrough moment: only 25 calories per ounce! A single slice of the stuff, slightly sweet and oh-so-affirming — especially wrapped around a calorie-free dill pickle — could get me through a snack-panic and buy me another hour of fidelity to my weight-loss regimen.

Eventually I lost a total of 70 lbs. and gradually divorced my calorie-counting app, but my Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast passion proved impregnable.

Second character flaw: impatience.

Here again, I do feel I was victimized by enablers.

The favorites bin in the Rowley Market Basket deli department, by its very nature, caters to the patience-challenged. It’s a big rectangular space loaded with deli delicacies — various cheeses and meats, all precisely sliced and primly packaged and labeled and ready to be scooped up by anyone in a hurry.

If you’re the patient type, of course, or you want something that’s not in the favorites bin, you can take a number from the little red machine (which looks disturbingly like a cartoon alien sticking out its tongue, but that’s another column for another day); then you wait to be called; then you tell the deli worker what you want, and how much of it, and how you want it sliced; and they do it for you, and it’s a beautiful experience — but it has required all that time. Minutes and minutes. By the time you leave the deli counter, you’re quite a bit behind in your lifetime consumption of deli products. You may actually need to eat the stuff you just bought more quickly, in order to catch up on your basic nutritional needs by the time you die.

Third character flaw: poor judgment.

Last week, I was saddened to find no Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast in the favorites bin. To be honest, this has happened a few times before; it’s natural for deli inventory to ebb and flow. But generally you can find some suitable substitute: another type of 25-calorie-per-ounce turkey, for example, or some sliced ham with only a slightly higher calorie count.

Occasionally, though, you can’t. Last week, with terrible timing, I arrived at the favorites bin to find no turkey, no ham, nothing but various cheeses and — heaven help me — “Vienna German bologna.”

(They still market it with the Italian spelling — which should properly be pronounced boh-LONE-yah — but this so-called food is so gross, our entire culture has learned to see the Italian word bologna and automatically declare it BALONEY. This should be a clue.)

I could have taken a number and waited to be called. I could have waited for my Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast to be sliced and weighed and packaged. But no. In a perfect storm of my character flaws, I grabbed a package of baloney and told myself, “It’ll be all right. Just one package. You can do this.”

Let me be clear about the villains and the victims in this sad story. There are heroes, and there are morons. In my Ipswich neighborhood, on outer Linebrook Road, we have three main types of heroes:

(1) First responders.

(2) Pothole fillers.

(3) The workers behind the Market Basket deli counter.

These are men and women with not only astonishing blade-management skills, but also superhuman forbearance. They call the “next number in line” without any way to know whether this will be a simple “pounda ham” or some bizarre configuration of roast beef or a complicated “half-pound of Thin’n Trim chicken breast sliced to an eighth of an inch — let me check your first few slices to make sure it’s thin enough, okay? — plus a pound of Hoffman’s super sharp cheese ($4.49/lb.) in quarter-inch slices,” or “Could I have five-eighths of a pound of baked ham but do you still have that Galbani provolone? Could you check in the back, please? I’ll wait.”

You can age into the Medicare bracket waiting behind this person in the Market Basket deli line.

It’s not that there aren’t enough deli workers. Hats off to Market Basket for keeping the deli department staffed in this tight labor market. It’s just that the deli workers have an impossible job. They work as fast as they can, but they’re stuck dealing with human beings. To get from “#45, please?” to “#46, please?” can take two minutes or a lifetime. There’s no way to predict.

So I avoid the little red alien-tongue number-machine. I go to the favorites bin. I pray I’ll be able to feed my addiction for at least one more day.

And I am proof: people can change. People can grow. People can learn. I have changed. I have learned. I have grown. If I don’t find Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast, there is one thing I can be sure of in this life:

I will never, ever, ever again settle for Vienna German bologna.

Gah. So gross.

Doug Brendel hoards pre-sliced Jennie-O® honey-cured turkey breast from the Rowley Market Basket deli department in the freezer of his home on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. Don’t risk infection by clicking “Follow the Outsidah” at Outsidah.com.

Today’s Special: Filet of Theatre Student

Love fish? You live in the right place. I’m a huge fan. Ipswich is a great place to enjoy fish. Think of all the wonderful fish you’ve enjoyed in Ipswich. Amazing freshness, quality, variety.

Of course, we may claim to love fish, but the fish may have an alternative perspective. As you’re gutting the fish, the fish is not feeling your love.

Love high school theatre? You live in the right place. I’m a huge fan. Ipswich is a great place to enjoy high school theatre. Think of all the wonderful high school theatre you’ve enjoyed in Ipswich. Amazing freshness, quality, variety.

Of course, we may claim to love high school theatre, but the high school theatre students may have an alternative perspective. As you’re gutting the theatre department, the theatre department is not feeling your love.

Ask Google “how to gut a fish,” and you get 162 million answers. But not even one begins with the actual first step, which is to take the fish out of its appropriate, healthy environment, the place where it thrives: the water. A “fish out of water” may still be breathing when you gut it, but it won’t be for long.

Ask Google “how to gut a high school theatre department,” and you get exactly zero answers. At least till this essay goes online.

Then, at least, the world will know how Ipswich does it.

The actual first step is to take high school theatre out of its appropriate, healthy environment, the place where it thrives: the classroom. A high school theatre program taken out of the classroom may still be breathing when you gut it, but it won’t be for long.

It’s actually a type of discrimination, what humans do to fish. We’ve chosen to single them out for our peculiar expression of “love.” And it turns out bad for the fish.

It’s actually a type of discrimination, what Ipswich does to theatre students. While orchestra, band, and chorus students earn credit for after-school participation in their programs, and they’re free to take the classes in their specialty during “R-block,” theatre students are barred from these options. Orchestra, band, and chorus programs have robust enrollments because it’s easy for a student to include those classes when they map out their schedules. Theatre classes have consistently been taken by 15 to 20 students, but as many as 50 others want to and can’t because of scheduling conflicts.

Human beings’ particular discrimination regarding fish has been going on for thousands of years. Ipswich High School’s discrimination regarding theatre students has been going on for quite a number of years. My own youngest child came up through the Ipswich theatre department, graduating in the pandemic class of 2020. She’ll soon graduate with a full four-year BFA in Acting. The point being: she is among those Ipswich theatre students most seriously dedicated to their craft. And yet, in her four years at Ipswich High School, she enrolled in only a meager two semestersof theatre classes. Why? Because of scheduling conflicts due to the anti-theatre R-block discrimination policy.

“How to gut a high school theatre department” starts with making it hard for students to take the classes. Then you can claim that kids aren’t taking the classes you offer, so these under-enrolled classes need to be eliminated. (It’s like a fisherman cackling, “Heck, these fish didn’t work very hard to stay alive!”) So it won’t be enough to resurrect theatre classes from the dead. The school’s historic anti-theatre scheduling bias must be eliminated at the same time.

When the news broke about theatre classes being canceled, the town-wide firestorm prompted the School Committee to respond with a public statement. They insisted that gutting theatre classes does not “signal a lack of support for the arts.”

Nor does gutting the fish signal a lack of support for the fish.

Yes, we love theatre. Pan-fried is best, I think.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts, where he survives on a steady diet of seafood and cynicism. Check him out at DougBrendel.com.

I do as I’m told

You don’t really own a 205-year-old house.

It owns you.

The house makes most of the significant decisions for the family: Whether that door will open or remain jammed. When if ever the kitchen light will stop flickering. Which small animals will take up residence in the cellar. 

If the house doesn’t make the decision, it’s only because the question isn’t significant enough for the house to bother with.

From the time we Brendels took “possession” of this place, on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, we recognized that we were not really its owners, but merely its stewards. The house — which I’ve christened “Dragonhead” — had already lived three of our lifetimes, and unless we screwed up, it would outlive us by another three or more. 

Dragonhead has survived more than two centuries of hurricanes, blizzards, floods, pandemics, you name it. When rains of biblical proportions swamped Ipswich, even our neighbors uphill from us were pumping out their basements. But our solemn dirt floor, bounded by the original 1817 stone foundation, remained bone-dry.

As if the house were making a smug statement of fact: “Staying dry. My decision.”

Flooding is one thing, however; cold is another. After the marvelously mild weekend we just enjoyed, it’s almost hard to remember that just one weekend earlier, we were hunkered down for a record-shattering Arctic cataclysm, freezing pipes in homes across the region. Dragonhead may have attempted to say “Staying warm. My decision,” but the double-digits-below-zero wind chill proved too daunting for the elegant old warrior.

We awoke on Saturday morning to find that the kitchen sink would not drain, the bathroom sink faucet would produce no cold water, and the toilet would flush but not refill. A couple of drain-reamers later, we had the kitchen drainpipe open all the way to the septic tank. Success! Hope bloomed.

But in the bathroom, the old pipes couldn’t handle the cold. When my wife realized that water was flowing freely through a busted pipe, she raced to operate the shutoff valve, which is in the basement. (She took the second-fastest route she knew, having crashed through the floor a couple weeks earlier, in a now-famous staircase repair accident.)

So as I write these words, there’s no water to the toilet, the sink is unusable, and the washing machine in the next room is an empty cavern, gathering dust. Close inspection of the crime scene has confirmed that the plumbing in this part of the house is utterly inaccessible. We’ll have to pull up the floor to get at the broken pipe.

Meanwhile, I’ll be getting to know one of Ipswich’s outstanding laundromats.

As for the busted bathroom — which was MY BATHROOM — I have no choice but to relocate upstairs, into my wife’s bathroom. I’m okay with sleeping in the same bed, but I haven’t shared a bathroom with this woman in years. This feels weird.

She gallantly invited me to take a shelf in the medicine cabinet, but I feel awkward knowing what she’ll be seeing every day. Like bottles of pills for thyroid, cholesterol, blood pressure — little statues saluting my physical decline. The special kind of floss I really can’t live without. The nose-hair clippers. It’s all just too intimate. Even for marriage.

That’s my opinion, anyway.

On the other hand, what Dragonhead says is: “You needed to move in with her. My decision.”

Doug Brendel lives with his First World problems at Dragonhead on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, Massachusetts. You can explore his odd world at DougBrendel.com.

Man shall not live by speed alone

I’m afraid the Old Testament record of Creation is somewhat incomplete.

The first seven days are solid: light, firmament, earth and plants, heavenly bodies, birds and fish, land animals and humans, and a day off.

What’s missing is Day 8, when God created potholes.

It’s not known for sure whether the potholes actually came on Day 8 or a bit later — to God, “a day is like a thousand years,” according to Second Peter 3:8 — but it’s clear that the potholes came very, very soon after Day 7, in response to the invention of pavement. Apparently, shortly after humans appeared (Day 6), they took advantage of God’s day off (Day 7), and — behind His back, without any divine approval — paved.

This is not speculation. A prophet talks about it in Isaiah 40:4: “The rough ground will be made level, and the rugged ground will be made smooth.” Pavement, obviously. And not God’s will. Ask any seminarian.

So when God roused Himself from His sabbath and looked around at Creation on Day 8, He was horrified. Not just in a Joni Mitchell way — not just because “They paved paradise and put up a parking lot” — but because human beings, God’s proudest Creation achievement, would now go racing around on their smooth pavement in their manmade machines, crashing into not only each other but also the Day 3 trees and the Day 6 land animals, particularly the squirrels. Running into the trees would not do as much damage to the trees as to the humans themselves, but hitting the squirrels was going to be exceedingly hard on the squirrels.

All this pain and suffering grieved the heart of God. However, He was not one to sit and mope. He was still the Creator, after all. So He corrected mankind’s mistake. He responded to the pavement problem by creating a divinely simple solution: potholes.

Potholes are God’s way of keeping drivers on their toes.

I witnessed this supernatural safety feature last week, as I returned from Ipswich center to my home on outer Linebrook Road. Near the curvy Y-shaped intersection at outer Linebrook Road and Leslie Road (sometimes known as the Gateway to Rowley) was a trinity of potholes. Their configuration was not random. They were precisely situated to require devilishly careful calculation. If I eased my vehicle to the left, my right tires would go into one of the potholes. But if I eased to the right, my left tires would go into them, along with my rack and pinion. The only other solution would be to swing into the left lane and risk an unpleasant confrontation with oncoming traffic — which could easily happen, since there’s a rise in the road at that point on Linebrook, so you can’t see a vehicle heading your way. Until it’s too late.

Consequently, I had no choice but to slow down, ponder my eternal future, cross myself, and proceed at a snail’s pace.

This is God’s plan for my life.

I confess, in winters past, I have been known to hurl my very small car around that Gateway to Rowley curve and slide helplessly into a snowbank. But God loves people, including me. He gave us potholes. Potholes are a gift from the Father.

It is no secret that I revere the workers who repair our Ipswich potholes. I’ve posted videos of these heroes dutifully fulfilling their mission. I’ve referred to them as the “pothole gods.” They have a hard job and they do it well. It’s thankless work — people always complain about how long it takes them to show up. (I have an Ipswich-resident friend who says driving into this town is like entering the Paleozoic Era.) But the worst of the pothole-fillers’ burden is not physical or social; it’s spiritual. They’re spending their working lives striving to undo what God is striving to undo: mankind’s moral depravity. The sin of speed. Is there any other explanation for potholes? I think not.

Follow Doug Brendel at DougBrendel.com but stay back 100 feet.

Columnist’s Wife Hurtles Shrieking Into Eternity (Not)

The floor of our 205-year-old house gave way last week, and my wife Kristina plunged through it to her doom, ultimately landing on the dirt floor of our basement.

I was in the living room when I heard a cry and a crash, in rapid succession. I ran toward the sound. Turns out the cry had come from the first floor, as she began plummeting toward almost-certain death, but the crash I heard had echoed up from below, where her mangled body now lay.

My first thought, of course, was: This will be a good column for the paper! But very, very quickly, I re-ordered my priorities and ran back through the living room and the kitchen to the basement door and down the steps. I felt vaguely foolish taking the long route, when Kristina had just made this journey much more efficiently, but in any case I was soon standing over the victim, who, like Tiny Tim, did not die.

The problem in writing about this horrifying incident is that Kristina serves as my first reader, reviewing the initial draft of every piece I produce, and she feels some unreasonable need to stick with the facts. (She says I have a tendency to exaggerate, which is an utterly ridiculous suggestion, but I keep letting her edit me because I don’t want to go to prison for libel.) So far, in the piece you’re reading right now, she has objected to “plunged,” “doom,” “plummeting,” and “mangled.” She also edited out the part where she fell 125 feet, screaming.

And, picayune as she is, Kristina says that technically it wasn’t a “floor” that gave way. She was trying to repair a broken brace under the first-floor staircase landing — she’s always been the family handyman — so she had taken up the floorboards of the landing. At that point, she could look down and see that the stairs had originally continued into the basement. She could also see flooring on the top side of the basement ceiling. (What appeared to be flooring. —K.)She stepped down onto it, tested it a bit, and it held; so she proceeded to go to work.

That part of the basement ceiling, however, was actually just a covering, intended to mask the underside of the landing after the stairs were redesigned. Within a few minutes, the not-a-floor proved that it was not a floor, and Kristina dropped to the next available actual floor, which was dirt, and miraculously avoided brain damage. (Not miraculously. —K.)

Kristina also insists on pointing out that she didn’t drop directly onto the dirt floor. She owned the beloved Time & Tide fine art gallery on Market Street, and even though the gallery closed in 2012, we have kept much of the gallery gear on a shelving unit in our basement, with a tarp thrown over it. It was this mountain of stuff (not really a mountain —K.) that broke Kristina’s fall; she bounced off of it onto the floor (not really a bounce —K.), coming away with nothing but a couple remarkable bruises and a bit of a bump on the back of her head. Which proves that art saves lives. And/or: Hoarding saves lives. (Not “proves.” —K.)

My handyman always prefers to make repairs herself, on the cheap, rather than hiring a costly professional, but after barely dodging massive injury and an agonizing death (hyperbole —K.), she blew the dust off of her checkbook (exaggeration —K.) and called an expert. Ipswich town historian Gordon Harris is a semi-retired master carpenter who adores antique houses, so he was eager to help. He worked quickly, adroitly, and cheerfully, and his invoice was delightfully reasonable. (Not delightfully. —K.) Today, in a house where each vintage floorboard makes a unique sound — squeaking, squawking, moaning — the staircase landing is proudly silent. To be honest, I’m feeling a little paranoid about walking anywhere else in this house.

Doug Brendel steps lightly in his old house on outer Linebrook Road. Follow him at DougBrendel.com.

Southbound Ipswich evildoers abound

It is essentially impossible to track or contain criminal behavior in Ipswich, and thus it has always been.

At least since 1687, when Rev. John Wise went to prison for refusing to pay British-imposed taxes, Ipswich has been home to innumerable lawbreakers. People roaring past Doyon at 25 mph when the lights are blinking and the limit is 20. People insolently running lawn sprinklers during drought-driven watering bans. People secretly building walls and installing doors inside their homes without proper permitting. The list of violations boggles the mind. 

With generations of miscreants, Ipswich is the Australia of New England.

Now we see the tragic tendency toward feloniousness on County Street, where the state has closed one lane of the bridge and barred southbound travel over it. Neighbors in the area will attest that innumerable reprobates are sneaking their vehicles over the semi-crippled span. Should we be surprised? One-way — wrong way — the Ipswich way.

But it’s dangerous. And rude. And illegal. So it should stop.

Police surveillance can only accomplish so much. Our officers of the law are smart, dedicated, and mostly good-looking, but there are not enough of them to station someone on County Street around the clock.

So I humbly suggest some alternatives.

  1. Install a strip of traffic spikes across the north end of the bridge, with the usual sign — “Do not back up: Severe tire damage” — but paint over “Do not back up” and replace it with “Do not proceed southbound.” Or possibly “Do not proceed southbound, you loser.”
  2. Duck-hunting season ends next week. Employ frustrated duck-hunters. They can apply their duck-blind skills, hiding behind the jersey barriers. Give them paintball guns and have them aim at southbound tires. For second offenders, live ammunition.
  3. It’s inevitable that a number of paintball-marked vehicles will be roaming around town. Establish a bounty system so any law-abiding citizen can join in on the fun. For letting the air out of the tires of a paintball-marked vehicle, you get $4. There’s precedent for this. You get 40¢ a pound for trapping those annoying green crabs. And a second-offender southbound scofflaw is at least 10 times as annoying as a pound of green crabs.
  4. Adapt the classic Looney Tunes element: a trap door. This one, situated on the north end of the bridge, is triggered by a sensor that reads the direction you’re moving. Activate the sensor moving southbound, and you’re suddenly Wile E. Coyote, but the aquatic version, as you’re swimming in the Ipswich River.
  5. Any lobsterman can show you how a lobster gets into a trap and then can’t get out. A lobster trap is brilliant but simple, and virtually foolproof. So we build an enormous lobster trap, set it up over the bridge, and whenever someone drives into the north end of it, they discover they can’t drive out the south end of it. All they can do is eat the bait. When you finish those barrelsful of herring, bluefish, and mackerel, we’ll let you out.

Of course, there’s an alternative to these alternatives. You could stay off the County Street bridge headed southbound. You could respect the law, and other drivers, and yourself.

And spare yourself the herring.

Doug Brendel lives on outer Linebrook Road in Ipswich, in perfect compliance with local, state, and federal laws, except perhaps for the one about rinsing your aluminum foil before you recycle it. Follow him at Outsidah.com.