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“There is nothing like warm friends, cozy food and a good house,” thought the Soupster as he prepared to bid goodbye and step outside into the competing storm fronts buffeting Our Town from one end to the other.
Leon and his brother Russell threw a great party, but the Soupster had an early date with a daunting list of chores, so before it got too late, he’d better get cracking. He said farewell to his hosts as well as Suzi and Lynn and Phoebe and Rowan and Sue-Ann and Glenn and a bunch of other people he knew even less well.
The Soupster had a little trouble extricating his coat from the tall pile draped on the stairs. He waved a final farewell to his buddies and stepped onto the cold floor of the mudroom to retrieve his XtraTuf boots.
And therein lay the rub(ber)! There were about 20 pairs of boots in the mudroom, every single one of them, XtraTufs. Which set was his?
Only a few pairs were decidedly too big or too small. A few pairs were older and their shine had faded and one had a bad scuff on the toe. But most looked like they would fit the Soupster. For the life of him, the Soupster could not tell his boots from the others.
So the Soupster made the best choice he could. The pair he chose looked to be about the right level of worn. He slipped them on and they fit. He went out the door and into the near gale.
The Soupster pulled his head into his coat collar, like a turtle, against the weather’s onslaught. Did the boots feel a little tight? The Soupster felt himself lurch forward as he slipped on a rock and twisted his ankle slightly. Then he felt someone grab his arm.
“Soupster,” said Rowan, who had come running out of Leon’s house after him. “You’ve got my boots!” The weather was too foul to discuss the matter outside, so the Soupster followed Rowan back into Leon’s mudroom. Rowan showed the Soupster the small image of a sailboat Rowan had inked into the inside tops of the pair to show they were his. He sympathized with the Soupster, but then said “artichoke dip” and disappeared back into the party.
The Soupster was embarrassed. He wanted to get out of that mudroom before anyone saw he had to come back and ask why. He found a left boot that he was sure was his and it fit perfectly. Then, he heard the voices of people rising and getting closer. He hurriedly grabbed the boot next to the left one and, hopping on one leg, quickly pulled the second boot on and headed out the door.
The Soupster’s right ankle felt terrible – he must have really strained it earlier. He hobbled down the front steps and limped toward the street. Again his head made its turtle move into his coat. And again, he felt someone pulling his arm.
“Soupster!” said Rowan, forced to shout over the wind. “I think you’ve made another mistake with the boots.”
“I know the one boot doesn’t feel right,” the Soupster said, “but that’s because I slipped before.”
“That’s not it,” shouted Rowan. “Look down! You’ve got two left boots on!”
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Bookselling by phone is hard, but the Soupster kept his 3 Down to the grindstone. After a few of the tougher calls to reluctant customers in regions far away, the Soupster rewarded himself by calling one of the villages near Our Town. He loved the familiar way everyone spoke.
And to 26 Down that, he was dialing his phone just now.
The world is made up of fractals, the Soupster believed, that patterns in nature repeat and that a coastline viewed from 29 Across has the same types of ins and outs as a section of coast viewed from an airplane. It’s the same patterns you’d see if you’re standing on a 33 Across looking down on the rocky shore.
Big city, Our Town, villages – the same patterns of life and people, just on a larger and smaller scale. 22 Across Town is to the village what the big city is to Our Town.
“Hello?” said a male voice.
“Hi!” said the Soupster and launched into his sales pitch.
As the Soupster described the plot of the book and its artwork, the male voice chuckled and snorted at all the right places. This made the Soupster optimistic and he launched even greater feats of salesmanship.
“Sounds wonderful,” said the voice at the village store. “I’m sure your book will fly 4 Down the door here.”
“Then you’d like to order some copies?” asked the Soupster.
“Oh, for that, you’ll have to talk somebody who works here,” said the voice.
“Who are you?” the Soupster asked.
“I’m just a customer,” said the voice. “The owner had to run home and she asked me to answer the phone.”
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“When was the last time you saw the Northern Lights over Our Town?” the Soupster asked his friend Rudy, as the two men reclined on the porch at the back of Rudy’s house. Rudy was a high school science teacher and an observant man, and the Soupster valued his opinion.
“Seems to me like a long while ago,” Rudy agreed.
The angle of the yard gave the two men a good view of the night sky. Passing clouds exposed a few isolated stars now and then as they talked.
“Maybe four or five years since one of those real light shows that have you muttering `I can’t believe what I’m seeing,’” said the Soupster. “And the next day everybody is talking about the Northern Lights wherever you go.”
“If people did not see the Northern Lights, then you have to explain what you were doing up in the middle of the night,” Rudy laughed.
“This is true,” said the Soupster.
“You know what the police say,” Rudy quoted. “Anybody up at 3 a.m. is probably up to no good.”
“This is also true.”
“I was busted by my kid,” said Rudy. “I woke her up early one morning for her to see a really good Northern Lights. She said she was cold and she never fully woke up. Her mother complained big-time and said, `What kind of father are you?”
“Wow,” said the Soupster,
“So the next time, we had Northern Lights I didn’t wake her up and she was mad and said `Why didn’t you wake me up?’”
The Soupster laughed and sank down deeper into padded chaise.
“There’s the Wet Alaska and the Cold Alaska,” the Soupster said. “In Cold Alaska, they see the Northern Lights regularly.”
“My experience,” said Rudy “is that Wet Alaska may not be colder than Cold Alaska, but it can feel colder. I saw a college kid in Fairbanks in shorts at a dry 20 below and I bet he would not do that here on a windblown night of freezing rain.”
“It’s not unusual for a West Coast state to have two completely different climate zones,” said the Soupster. “There’s wet western Washington and western Oregon, each state turning drier and hotter as you go east.”
“And California, like Alaska is split more North and South, of course,” the Soupster said. “Deserts down South and forests up North.”
“The opposite of here,” said Rudy. “Great swaths of Interior Alaska get so little precipitation the area qualifies as a desert. Then we have this huge temperate rain forest here in the South.”
“You’re a smart guy,” said the Soupster.
“As long as you do not count the mistakes,” said Rudy.
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Originally published November 6, 2003
“I was saved, Soupster, but by which I do not know,” said Charles, a former college professor who now drank a lot of coffee. He had four tiny espresso cups arranged in front of him, two of them empty.
The Soupster looked around. Besides the barrista, washing mugs out of earshot, the men were alone.
“You know Bluto, the pompous blowhard?” Charles said, blowing pretty hard himself. “I owed that man $1,000. You’d have thought it was the Hope Diamond the way he pursued me around Our Town. Showing up at social occasions with that ridiculous `I’m going to bite you’ look on his face.”
“Bluto has bitten people,” the Soupster remarked. “He almost bit me once.”
“I considered that,” said Charles.
“Anyhow,” he continued. “Bluto was on my tail in a major fashion and I was doing my best to stay one step ahead of him. Which is not hard, Bluto being Bluto.”
“He’s not stupid,” said the Soupster
“Nonetheless,” said Charles. “On a proverbial `dark and stormy night’ he finally caught up with me. Right outside the fishing supply store. There I was face-to-face with Bluto’s ugly visage. He held a bag, bulging with orange nylon and I thought he was going to brain me with it.”
Charles chugged the third of his espressos.
“Bluto grabs me with his giant paws and squeezes hard,” Charles continued. “`Where is me $1,000, you barrel worm,’ Bluto thunders. `I don’t have it,’ I say weakly. `What’s that in your pocket?’ says Bluto. `That’s me, er, my mail,’ I say.”
“So Bluto grabs the mail and rifles through. `Ahoy,’ he cries, holding up my Permanent Fund Dividend check. `This will do,’ Bluto says.
“`But, Bluto,’ I muster the courage to ask ‘I owe you a $1,000, but that PFD is worth more than $1,100,’ I say. And Bluto, he agrees with me. Could have knocked me over with a feather. `An eleven hundred dollar PFD,’ the ogre says and laughs and thrusts his bulging orange bag into my chest.”
“And walks off,” Charles continued. “So I’m left there standing in the pitch-black cold rain, minus one PFD. I stare into the bag. And what is in there? A life vest! I take it out and put it on. It’s a nice life jacket, the kind with the big ring behind your neck and the large reflective patches on the shoulder so the Coast Guard can find you at night and pluck you out of the water.”
“And as I’m admiring the jacket a car comes screeching out of the dark. And – this I swear – the car’s headlights pick up the reflective patches and the vehicle veers a second before running me down.”
“I see your dilemna,” said the Soupster. “You were saved by either a Permanent Fund Dividend or a Personal Flotation Device.”
“Yes, Soupster, yes,” Charles cried, lurching for his remaining coffee cup. “Which PFD saved me?
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“I’m in heaven!” Caleb cried joyfully, as he shielded his eyes from the blinding light in front of him. “I finally made it!” he cried once more, falling to his knees.
“Honey, please. After your antics last week, the last thing we need is you drawing more attention”, pleaded his wife, Susan. She walked towards him and turned him away from a glowing orb that resembled the sun. “Besides, if you stare at that thing too long you’re bound to go blind!”
That very moment, a stout woman with hearty cheeks stood up and began to walk over to investigate the cause of the commotion from next door. “Oh my. Susan, what’s wrong with Caleb? I was just sitting on my porch reading the Soupster when I heard Caleb scream. Is he practicing his debut song, “Ode to Joy”, for the monthly grind again?” said their neighbor Mary.
“Fortunately not. He’s fine. It’s just that ever since our neighbor across the street added new lighting fixtures, he’s had the place lit up like Broadway every night. I swear, half the electricity in Our Town goes to his guy. I wish he would only use what’s necessary, especially since electric supply is in high demand these days,” Susan explained, trying to fight her agitation as she wiped the sweat from her brow.
“I hear ya,” said Mary stepping forward. “There are too many people in Our Town that don’t realize just how low the lake levels are and how that will affect us in the coming months. Even though I try to conserve as much as possible, we will all suffer when the diesel fuel charge is tacked on if people like him don’t reduce their electric load.”
Heat rose inside Susan as she began to think about how expensive diesel supplementation would be. “You’re right Mary. We’re all in this together and if people like him don’t cut down their electric load, Our Town will see some serious problems. Like expensive surcharges, and skyrocketing electric bills, and…”
“…rolling blackouts,” chuckled Mary.
“EXACTLY,” stated Susan. “Remember the rolling blackouts we had last year? They were so annoying! Especially since we live all the way out on Saw Mill Creek! Susan exclaimed in a tone of desperation.
“I remember all too well,” said Mary as she recalled the memory of alternating electricity. “Not only is it inconvenient, but it significantly decreases the amount of productivity that Our Town could have on any given day. Think of all the lost business many of our friends, neighbors, and family members experienced because of the rolling blackouts.”
“I’ve heard enough. Let’s go over and explain to him why he needs to reduce his electric load,” said Susan. The two women linked arms, headed across the street – shielding their eyes with their remaining free hands – and disappeared into the blinding light.
– Submitted by Bitty Balducci
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