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“Soupster, are you crying?” asked Laine as she encountered him on a bench near the harbor.
“Oh, just deep thoughts,” the Soupster admitted, wiping his cheek with the side of his hand. “I was just thinking about Clarence… and novels.”
“OK,” Laine said, sitting down. “I’ve got a minute. Tell me what’s on the Soupster’s mind. This can be like in one of your Our Town columns.”
Some gulls squawked at her joke, but the Soupster didn’t.
“Good old Clarence,” said the Soupster. “I was giving him a bad time about some old snow shovel he borrowed and gave me back bent – this was just last week.”
“Now, he’s gone,” said Laine.
“Clarence, The Novel, is finished,” the Soupster agreed.
“Explain,” said Laine.
“A great thing about Our Town, maybe the best thing about it for me,” said the Soupster, “is the fact you get to see the same people in all different kinds of ways. You might see them with their kids at a concert and then where they work and then maybe leading around a group of people who look just like them and you figure they must be relatives.
“All these same people, like Clarence, develop in front of you, like characters in a novel,” he concluded.
“Clarence, The Novel, is finished,” said Laine, nodding with understanding. She and the Soupster let a long pause occur, respectful of their friend’s passing.
“We only get to know part of the story,” said the Soupster. “I only knew Clarence, The Novel from the middle to the end. I never `read’ the beginning.”
“If it was anything like the later parts, it had to be a good read,” chuckled Laine, toasting Clarence with an imaginary drink in one hand.
“Seeing kids grow up in Our Town is cool,” said the Soupster, “That’s the beginning of the novel.”
“You know, you may never read the end of those novels,” she said. “You probably won’t.”
“That’s okay,” said the Soupster. “I’ve always liked the beginnings of novels best. I love the first 10 minutes of every movie I see.”
“Well, if this is an episode of Our Town, we must be near the bottom of the page,” said Laine. “Because I have to go.” She stood and walked a few steps, then turned and smiled.
“And so Laine, The Novel, continues,” she called back. “But this chapter is finished.”
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My wife says I bring home too many chums. But I never give her anything but coho, king and abalone. I have informed all of the 15 or 20 of my closest friends who I constantly invite over for dinner to do the same. They always comply. Yet my wife still complains.
Popular Everywhere But at Home
Tell your wife you want to get a dog. This will spark a long discussion that should lead to the resolution of your problem. Remember: Men are dogs, but male and female chums are both dogs.
Last Wednesday, I put a small hook on my line and moved my fishing pole up and down in the harbor in order to catch smelt. The assistant harbormaster commented that I smelt. Is smelt a noun or an adjective?
Getting Jiggy With It
Depends on the assistant harbormaster.
I just moved here from the big city to do big time legal work for the big bucks. I wear a three-piece suit, an expensive haircut and a very expensive watch. Yet, every time I give a client my business card they start laughing and speaking gibberish. Goo-goo or some nonsense. What’s with this town?
You need to spell out your first name. The present configuration of your first and surname suggests, in local parlance, a large Pacific clam with an unfortunate shape, albeit paired with a palatability surprisingly refined. That will be $150.
My girlfriend says I never listen to her. She insists I am hard of hearing. The truth is that I have been slipping a small silver fish into each of my ears lately, which I have found improves our relationship. Should I tell her she I am actually hard of herring? Please answer in writing.
Seine Better Days
I really don’t know how to advise about you and your girlfriend, but I would watch the calendar. You definitely want to get the fish out your ears before they spawn.
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Originally Published March 6, 2003
The grocery store was packed. The Soupster had to walk sideways down the Canned Tomatoes aisle to pass the shopping carts parked on the left side and then the right. Unusual for Our Town, a long line of shoppers waited impatiently at the checkout stand.
When the Soupster finally got to the front of the line, he saw the reason for the delay. The young woman at the cash register was as overcareful with each transaction as a cat pacing the rim of a steamy bathtub.
She meticulously rotated each food item in her hand to find the UPC code, and then drew the item across the scanner with a kind of dreamy slowness. She smiled individually at each person in line, looking for validation, then, with effort, picked up the next food item. The Soupster shifted his weight from one foot to the other. So did everyone in the line steadily growing behind the Soupster.
People had started to clear their throats, when a man in his 30’s with a badge that said “Asst. Mgr.” swept up behind the counter next to the cashier.
“Kathy! You are to call for help when the line gets this long,” he said in a theatrical whisper, meant for everyone to hear. “You should never let the line get this long, Kathy!”
“Ma’am,” the Asst. Mgr. said over-solicitously to the woman behind the Soupster. “All of you, come with me,” he pointed to the entire line and they moved with him to another checkout stand.
The young cashier’s face reddened. Only halfway through his transaction, the Soupster stood alone now before her. She went back to her slow-motion scanning of the Soupster’s few items. Meanwhile, the first members of the Asst. Mgr.’s line were already picking up their grocery bags and walking out the door.
“Sorry,” the Kathy said, looking downcast.
“No problem,” said the Soupster. “First day on the job?”
She nodded. “Probably going to be my only day,” she said and, indeed, the Asst. Mgr. was shooting daggers her way hidden behind the bland smile he showed his customers.
“Keep at it,” said the Soupster.
“I said DON’T RUSH ME!” came a loud, deep voice from the other register. The Soupster and the young cashier turned.
A very large man loomed over the Asst. Mgr., who was pinned against the back wall of his checkout station. The man slammed down his wallet and leaned forward in the direction of the Asst. Mgr. who looked extremely flustered and ready to bolt.
“Manny,” said Kathy, the young cashier, and slipped from her workstation seamlessly beside her trembling co-worker. “Manny, Manny, Many, cool your jets,” she laughed and poked the big man in the chest. Manny laughed. The Asst.. Mgr. visibly unstiffened.
The cashier returned to the Soupster. She looked a lot happier than a minute before. “Will there be anything else, Sir?” she asked sweetly.
“I think you got your job back, Kathy,” the Soupster answered.
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At the hardware store at closing time to buy a paintbrush, the Soupster said the same thing he always said when he ran into the local vampire, “Hey, Ed, drinking that fish blood still working for you?”
“Fine,” said Edward, who was not hearing the question for the first time. “Hey Soupster,” he countered, “you still eating the flesh of mammals?”
“Not the same, not the same,” said the Soupster, shaking his head.
“That’s right,” said Ed. “I catch my own dinner.”
“All right, you win,” said the Soupster, noticing that Ed’s arms were filled with plumbing parts, building insulation and a large roll of electrical wire and that he wore a serious expression.
The Soupster could hear the background whirring of the cash register at the counter. Customers stood in line to check out. A few other people wandered the aisles, glancing anxiously at the big wall clock.
“Sorry if I seem testy,” said Ed, “I’ve just been vorking, vorking, vorking.” At the Soupster’s questioning look, Ed added. “You know, I’m coming to the end of my busy season.”
“That’s right, you live at night,” the Soupster said, acting as though he didn’t already know that.
“And the nights are getting shorter,” said Ed.
“I have noticed that,” said the Soupster. “I actually tell people during the black nights of late fall that they just have to hold out until February and it’s remarkably lighter by then…Eddy? Are you listening to me?”
“I vas just thinking about the ‘black nights of late fall,’” said Ed dreamily. “You ewoked that magical time wery vell.”
“I know it’s not officially Spring until March 21st,” the Soupster continued, “but it seems like it’s Spring here by the end of February. At least it’s staying light later and later and getting light earlier and earlier.”
“Please don’t vave your depressing theory in my face,” said Ed.
“Which makes sense,” said the Soupster, ignoring him, “because Fall starts on September 21st, supposedly, but in our town — by late August — the alder leaves are falling and the raindrops getting bigger.”
“I have so much to do and so little time to do it,” Ed complained. “And so no time to talk vit you.”
“I’ll try and keep a good thought for you night people,” said the Soupster.
Ed nodded assent. “In the vords of Paul Simon, `One man’s ceiling is another man’s floor.’”
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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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