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The Soupster and his friend Greta sat face-to-face on two hemlock stumps, chomping on jars of her latest batch of smoked sockeye and shooting the breeze.
“So you didn’t vote in the primary,” Greta said accusingly.
“I forgot,” sighed a sheepish Soupster. He chewed his fish silently. “It’s sometimes hard to remember that politics matters.”
“Oh, politics matters, all right,” Greta said. “What if I was to tell you that your vote could affect that very fish you are eating right this second?”
“I would say `how?’” said the Soupster.
“Glad you asked me that,” Greta said, standing, stretching her arms and cracking her knuckles.
“Now, I’m not going to use any names, in order to protect the innocent, but see if you can follow me,” she said, settling back on her stump.
“All right,” said the Soupster.
“Okay,” Greta started. “Say there was a guy running for the US Senate from Missouri who made some very unfortunate comments about pregnancy that got him in a big heap of bear scat.”
“I think I know who you mean,” said the Soupster.
“Well,” continued Greta. “His opponent in that race, the incumbent, is a big critic of some special breaks Uncle Ted got for Alaska Native corporations that have allowed them to score lucrative government contracts.”
“Okay,” said the Soupster.
“Now the sockeye you’re scarfing comes from a bay that a Natïve corporation is asking Congress for,” said Greta.
“But they say they’ll always allow public access,” said the Soupster.
“I’m sure they want to keep the public access – they understand the value people give to harvesting their own food,” said Greta. “But let’s say the lucrative federal contracts dry up and they start hurting for money.”
“Just then some gazillionaire comes forward and offers to buy a piece of land that the corporation wants even more than your favorite sockeye bay – in exchange for your favorite sockeye bay …”
“You make good sockeye,” said the Soupster, lifting a jar. “But your fish tales stink.”
“It’s no tale,” said Greta. “At least, it’s not impossible.”
“So if I wanted to keep eating this fish, how should I vote?” asked the Soupster.
“You can figure it out,” said Greta. “You’re the Soupster!”“
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After enduring a somewhat sketch marriage in her twenties, 34-year-old Annie was basically glad she had the romantic gumption to follow her heart and a charismatic fisherman to Our Town. But it gnawed at her that she had left a job as a retail store manager and could not find the equivalent employment here. Especially after the fisherman moved on — after different fish, she surmised.
To Annie, becoming a saleswoman again after so many years as a manager felt even worse than the simple demotion it was. Worse still was the cut in her pay. Our Town certainly didn’t feel any cheaper than where Annie had moved from. But in Our Town she had about a third less to make do with.
Bemoaning her fate is where the Soupster had expected to find his friend when he stopped by to pick up some flower bulbs that she was giving away. It was typical of Annie to be generous.
The Soupster smiled at the thought of generosity of so many people in Our Town. There was no better reason to be wealthy, the Soupster thought, than to be able to be generous with your time or your money. And here was Annie, struggling, yet using her time to give away her precious bulbs.
There are those who come to Our Town to take high-level jobs and, for them, financial discomfort may not be an issue. Others come for the mountains and the clean air (or a fisherman!) and cobble together several jobs to survive.
But that’s just money, the Soupster thought. A lot of life comes from family, friends, tradition, and belief – not to mention a good subsistence halibut or three. There was little sadder, the Soupster thought, than the old miser alone with his stacks of gold coins. And little more triumphant than someone thriving on modest means, surrounded by life and love.
And just as the Soupster had that thought, he looked up to see Annie’s face filled with life and love. She stood in her doorway beaming.
“Soupster,” she cried out, loud enough to startle a crow, “My manager decided just this week that she wants to move back to Idaho to be nearer her parents. The Assistant Manager’s boyfriend is being transferred to New Orleans and she’s going with him. So guess who’s going to be the new manager?”
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“I love this `Coast Guard Alaska’ show,” Zach said, sprawling in the magnificence of his basement man-cave.
The Soupster generally avoided subterranean structures of any kind, but he had to admit Zach’s man-digs were powerfully comfy. Heavily stuffed chairs and a still more heavily stuffed couch. A wet bar, a microwave and a big stocked refrigerator. And you couldn’t argue with the 46-inch TV screen – unless you had to move it or pay for the electricity.
“Check out this episode,” Zach said, motioning toward the glowing behemoth as, onscreen, a Coast Guard Jayhawk hoisted a stranded boater. “I know the flight corpsman, the co-pilot and the guy they rescued.”
“Wasn’t the flight corpsman’s picture in the newspaper yesterday?” the Soupster asked.
“Yep,” said a further vindicated Zach. “Nice that we’re on the list of Alaska shows, eh, Soupster? `Deadliest Catch,’ `Flying Wild Alaska,’ `Man vs. Wild,’ and `Man vs. Food.’ And that’s not even counting the Canadians, who have quite a few shows of their own.”
“The granddaddy show was “Northern Exposure,” the Soupster said, referring to the 1990’s television sit-com set in the quirky fictional Alaskan town of Cicely. “I was in Mesa, Arizona buying a light fixture at the time and the merchant checked my ID and said, `You’re from Alaska! I love that show!’”
“Now it’s true,” said Zach. “Now totally true. Alaska is totally a television show.””
“They should set more TV reality shows in Our Town,” said the Soupster. “We’ve got a million stories around here.”
“Eagle Rescue Alaska?” said Zach.
“No, you have to create more tension, as the TV guys would say. “Like “Ravens: Scared Straight.”
“You mean delinquent ravens subjected to Tough Love over golf-ball-and-grocery theft?”
“Yeah, said the Soupster. “Or an Our Town housepainter waiting on pins and needles for a dry spell to do this work. That should be good for six or eight weeks of tense episodes.”
“Might be too tense,” said Zach.
“I’ve got it,” said the Soupster. “What about `The Growingest Road’ about the Olympian task of state highway guys trying to cut down alder and salmonberry bushes faster than they can grow back.”
“Good,” said Zach, “Or one where they get up close and personal with one salmon. The star of the series would have to weather dry spells and sharp rocks, dodge bears and not get snagged by someone stretching the fishing rules. All for a disquieting ending.”
“One salmon’s struggle,” mused the Soupster.
“Or, `The Slug Whisperer,’” said Zach, suddenly very pleased with himself. “What about that, Soupster? `The Slug Whisperer?’”
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One Sunday morning in Our Town Mollie Papillion woke up thinking, “I’m in the mood for pancakes.” She walked into her kitchen and began looking for the ingredients, but soon discovered that she was out of eggs. She glanced at the clock and saw that it was only 6:00 a.m., which seemed a little too early to borrow from her neighbor, so she decided to drive down to the grocery store. “It’ll only take a minute,” she thought.
She threw her rain coat on over her pajamas, put on her indoor/outdoor slippers, grabbed her mug of coffee and started to walk outside, but realized almost immediately that her pajama bottoms had somehow gotten caught in the door behind her. She yanked at the fabric a couple of times, but it refused to budge, so she gave it one last firm tug. The material gave way with a loud rip, causing her to lose her balance and fall off the porch into the mud below. “At least I didn’t spill my coffee,” she sighed, getting up slowly and brushing herself off.
Not one to be easily deterred, Mollie continued on with her plan. She climbed into her car and drove about a block when, suddenly, a dog appeared in the road a few feet in front of her. She gasped and slammed on her brakes just in time to avoid hitting it, but, in the process, spilled her coffee all over the front of her pajamas. She tried to gather her wits about her and wipe as much coffee off of herself as she could using the old McDonald’s napkins from her car’s glove compartment. “Oh, my goodness,” she fretted, “I almost hit that dog!”
Rattled but still determined, she headed down the street again, turning on her windshield wipers so she could see through the torrents of rain that had begun to fall. She arrived at the store, got out of her car and walked towards the door, pulling her coat closed in an effort to hide the coffee stains and mud. She tried not to make eye contact with anyone as she walked down the aisle towards the dairy section, but the sound of her wet rubber shoe soles on the newly waxed floors made such a loud squeaking noise that two customers in the produce section were startled and looked up to see what was happening.
She stepped up to the display where the eggs were usually located and stopped dead in her tracks, staring in disbelief. There were no eggs. At that moment, the stress of the morning’s events finally proved to be too much for her and she shouted in desperation, “I JUST NEED SOME EGGS!”
Her words were still echoing through the store when the Soupster himself magically appeared. He quietly handed her a carton of eggs from his shopping cart and disappeared around the corner into the cereal aisle.
“Thank you, Soupster,” Mollie managed to utter as she started to cry, mascara running down her cheeks. “All I wanted this morning were some pancakes!”
– Submitted by Mary Ann Jones
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Carrie told the Soupster he talked too much and her criticism stung. The Soupster knew he could go on and on – maybe a tiny, little bit? — but he didn’t know his friend had been suffering. And for “quite a while,” no less.
“I bet you can’t keep your conversation to a minimum even for one day,” Carrie threw down the gauntlet. “Not even for one whole day.”
“I can,” the Soupster insisted. “And I will!”
Today was the day. The first mission of the new, zip-lipped Soupster was to check the mail at the post office. As the Soupster strolled downtown, he had to duck into a few storefronts to avoid fellow chatterboxes who might stress-test his mettle.
“Soupman!” The call came from Charlie, a hiking buddy who, unfortunately, happened to be in a store the Soupster had judged free of customers. “Tell me what’s new with the Man in the Can?”
“Not much,” said the Soupster, wishing he could have thought of a one-word answer. “Gotta go,” he said slipping out of the store.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire? Two busfuls of visitors hit the sidewalk and poured around the Soupster like a human wave.
Hide in plain sight? The Soupster pulled his cap low on his forehead and attempted to avoid eye contact with the cheery migrants surrounding him.
No use! The Soupster felt his lapels being patted and looked down into the face of an older man wearing a tag that said, “Hi! I’m Horace!”
“Hi, I’m Horace,” he stated the obvious, grasping the Soupster’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “I’m new to these shores.”
“Hi, Horace” said the Soupster.
“Yup, this is some different place,” Horace said. “Where’s all the big box chain stores?
Don’t you have any big box chain stores?”
“Nope,” said the Soupster.
“Our bus driver said he was taking us all over town but we only went five or six miles one way and then seven or eight the other. That can’t be all the road you have.”
“Yup,” said the Soupster, zipping his lips so tight he could taste metal.
“And this rain I keep hearing about,” Horace plunged on. “It’s certainly not raining now.
Is it going to rain soon? Am I going to get wet? I mean, isn’t this town too nice to be built by people who get rained on every day?”
As the Soupster moaned silently, a beam of sunlight illuminated a break in the throng of tourists ahead. “Yup,” said the Soupster, shaking Horace’s hand. “Nope,” he added. And then the Soupster escaped.
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Originally Published February 14, 2008
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“Dear Great Uncle Arthur,” wrote the Soupster. “I hope this letter finds you in the best of
The Soupster stopped writing. Great Uncle Arthur was always complaining about his
aches and pains. He might take the bland greeting as minimizing his suffering or, worse
yet, sarcasm. The Soupster scratched out the previous line and wrote instead: “I hope
you’re feeling tolerable.”
Despite his great uncle’s last decade-or-so performance of “The Ornery Contrarian,”
the Soupster loved Arthur and remembered him fondly. Younger than the others of his
generation, he was often put in charge of the Soupster and other nieces and nephews and
led them in memorable shenanigans.
At their last family gathering, the Soupster made the mistake of asking if Great Uncle
Arthur had learned to use a computer and had an email address.
“I’m just fine without one,” the older man snapped. “Write me a letter.”
The Soupster turned back to his work. “It’s been a damp and cool few weeks and summer
is approaching hesitantly this year,” he wrote. “So far, this is the kind of summer that
makes me wonder what the tourists must think our winters are like.
“But it is so green ! Even soaked with dripping greyness, everything that grows is
growing full bore, so the overall color is green.”
The Soupster knew this was too sappy, so he veered back into Arthur Country. “The
leaves, thick on the trees and the bushes looking bigger every day cover a million sins,
like bad paint jobs, strewn trash and now-stationary vehicles. Overall, Our Town looks
better groomed in the summer.”
The Soupster remembered that his great uncle was the first to teach the Soupster what
he called “The Garage Sale Rule.” The rule states that as the best items in a garage sale
are sold, the next-best items move up a slot in desireability. Stuff that wouldn’t have
interested anybody arriving early may look like the best stuff there – a find! – by the end
of the day.
And the Soupster remembered the sweet little house with the little garden he saw poking
from a corner, just the other day. The house was mostly behind a really big house and
he’d never noticed it before. But the view of the big house was now blocked by the lush
alder and salmonberry growth in front. And – voila! — there was the little house and the
sweet little garden.
“Your Garage Sale Rule works in real estate, too,” the Soupster wrote, hoping to either
get his uncle’s goat, pique his uncle’s interest or both.
“And if you write back to me, I’ll explain how,” the Soupster wrote. Your Loving Great
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A seagull plunked a white gift on the dock railing near where the Soupster rested his arm – a near miss. “If humans could take a cue from the seabirds and be that casual about our process of elimination…” the Soupster thought out loud.
“Then there would be no “American Idol” or “Survivor,” said Sarah, stepping to the scene.
“Fine day,” the Soupster answered in greeting. “Whatsoever bringeth Miss Sarah harborward?”
Sarah laughed. “I was looking at boats to buy. I’ve got the boat bug.”
“Hole in the water where you throw money,” cautioned the Soupster. “And that’s after you throw a big wad to begin with.”
“I know, I know, she said. “I thought I had figured out how to beat that first part through magic, but it just didn’t work out.”
“Magic?” asked the Soupster, definitely interested.
“Well, positive thinking anyway,” Sarah said. “My crazy friend Ward got this book about positive thinking and he went around thinking positively about everything.”
“Oh, I definitely couldn’t do that,” said the Soupster, conscious of the depths of his cynicism.
“Ward appointed himself my fitness coach,” she continued. “My mental fitness coach.”
“It started with me wanting to lose five pounds to win a bet with my buddy, Jill,” Sarah said. “This was last winter and losing even five pounds is hard. Ward told me to imagine myself in a size 12 dress, so I did. I even went down to Lincoln Street and held a few up in the mirror and just ignored the stuff leaking out from the sides.”
“But it worked!,” she said to the Soupster’s questioning glance. “Then I told Ward I was getting behind on my bills and he said to imagine going up to my boss and asking for a raise. So I did that day and night for a month. And my boss just gave it to me, I didn’t even have to ask!”
“What about the boat bug?” asked the Soupster.
Here, Sarah chuckled and shook her head. “I told Ward and he had me studying brochures to envision exactly the boat I wanted. I figured 27 feet would be sweet with a forward berth. Good visibility. I wanted to sit up high in the pilothouse and have a stand- up head,”
“Not together!” joked the Soupster.
“Hah,” said Sarah. “Seriously, I named my boat Sarah Too. I imagined going out after work for quick spins. Picnics on islands, Fresh salmon steaks. Rocking to sleep on a gentle tide.”
“And one day, there was Sarah Too. The exact boat I had been imagining. Parked on a trailer in my neighbor’s driveway.”
“What did Ward say?” asked the Soupster.
“He blamed me,” said Sarah. “He said I was supposed to imagine the Sarah Too in my driveway!”
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