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The Soupster hunkers down.
The Soupster was not damp, but everything outside of the walls of his house couldn’t have been soggier. In Our Town, “Fall” might better be called “Thrown At” because the rain and/or hail of the season seems propelled downward by a force greater than mere gravity.
The Soupster was feeling bored and lonely, so he was happy when Carla called from Minnesota. “Bored and a little lonely, but dry,” the Soupster said when Carla asked how he was.
Carla chattered on about her busy kids and husband Josh and her going back to college and Josh’s new job. Then, she said “Oops, I’m getting Call Waiting, must be Josh or Rebecca, I’m supposed to pick both of them up. Can you hold?”
The Soupster did. With the phone to his ear, he wandered to the door to his back porch, where the portion covered by a fiberglass roof played wonderful rhythms as it hailed. The sound rose and fell like the aural equivalent of those little birds whose large flocks turn on a dime: sheets of sound, rippling and turning, rising and falling.
Carla came back on, “Sorry, Soupster,” she said. “That was Becky who needs another half hour before I get her. So you’re lonely and a little bored?”
“Actually, bored and a little lonely,” said the Soupster. “This is a rough time of the year, weather-wise.”
“Tell me about it,” said Carla. “I’m an Our Town girl. Remember, you just have to make it to Thanksgiving. Then the holiday lights go up and you start seeing friends and having too many places to go. And then it’s New Years and you start to notice the light coming back.”
“Encouraging, Carla,” said the Soupster.
“I hate to do this,” Carla cut in, “But I’m getting another call. Will you hold again?”
The Soupster did. The hail slacked off and a shaft of sunlight cut through the otherwise dark sky, came through the window and fell upon a small ceramic planter in the shape of a fish with big blue eyes and enormous crimson lips. Carla had presented the Soupster with the fish two decades earlier, after he helped her move. This was before baby Rebecca and even before husband Josh.
Next to the fish was a half-scale raven (or full-scale crow) carved out of wood. Steve Jessup gave the Soupster the raven after the Soupster took Steve’s parents out on his boat. An entire dog family, paper mache, stretched out on their paper mache couch – this was on the bookshelves – a gift from somebody. Above the dogs, tucked tightly, signed copies of all the books by Our Town’s writers over the years.
The Soupster touched the arms of his sweater – knitted by Giselle for his birthday. In the pantry, canned sockeye and an array of jams. All canned and arrayed by various friends.
If he wanted to, he could gaze on the paintings and sculptures tinted and carved in Our Town. Or he could pop in a CD cut by one of Our Town’s bands.
Carla came back on the line. “I can see why you feel lonely,” she said. “I keep abandoning you.”
“You know, I don’t feel lonely,” said a satisfied Soupster, taking in his surroundings. “Not anymore.”
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The Soupster gets a lesson in real wisdom.
The Soupster put his head down into the wind and lurched up Lincoln St. His stomach gurgled mightily — two of the items he had eaten for lunch evidently did not get along. He thought he might chuck up?
The argument in the Soupster’s tummy reached crisis proportions and required action. Specifically, a rest room. Luckily, he was just steps outside of Pops’ Pro Prop Shop, and the Soupster knew Pops was a kindly soul — believed by many to be the smartest guy in Our Town.
Inside the shop, Pops was leaning on his front counter, listening to Susan Gregory, the owner of Notions, Lotions & Potions, a store right down the street,
The Soupster burst in with gills so green, he didn’t even have to explain himself. Pops just jerked a thumb over his left shoulder in the direction of the commode. As soon as the Soupster reached refuge, his stomach calmed. Through the thin walls, he could hear the conversation going on at the front counter,
“Judy Barnes and I had some harsh words, Pops, about whether the new Sitka Shoulder Festival should be before or after the regular cruise ship season,” Susan said. “She just doesn’t understand that ShoulderFest should be before the regular season, when the weather is good and the daylight is increasing. You’re the smartest guy in town. What do you think?”
“Ah, the shoulders,” said Pops. He stroked his chin and took a long time to answer. “I think, Susan, that you are absolutely right.” Susan left with a big smile on her face.
The Soupster was starting to think his stomach was settled, but it gurgled loudly and he decided to set a spell and see what transpired. Just as well, for a second later the aforementioned Judy Barnes, of A Kinder Kinder children’s store, made her appearance in Pops’ Props. (ed. Note: First “Kinder” rhymes with “finder” and second Kinder rhymes with “cinder.”)
“I’m just so upset at that Susan Gregory,” Judy said. “Because ShoulderFest was her idea in the first place, she thinks she gets to decide everything, right? Who would want to have their Shoulder Festival in the Spring? Everyone is trying to get their new inventory out and prepare for the coming rush!
“Having ShoulderFest at the end of the tourist season only makes sense. Think of the Clearance Sales we could have! Pops, everybody knows you’re Our Town’s smartest guy. What do you think?”
Again, Pops stroked his chin and concentrated. Finally, he said: “Judy, after consideration, I believe you are absolutely right.” The Soupster could hear the confident, satisfied clicks of Judy’s heels as she left Pops’ shop.
The Soupster – who had loved and respected Pops for years – feared that the old man may have showed himself a fraud. He stepped out of the back and confronted Pops. “You told Susan she was right and then you told Judy she was right – even though Judy said the exact opposite of Susan. Everybody thinks you’re the smartest guy in Our Town, but all you do is tell people what they want to hear.”
Pops stroked his chin and took a long time to answer. “Soupster,” Pops said, “You are absolutely right.”
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The Soupster hears the gruesome story of a cat’s name.
Originally published October 7, 2004
Tony held his new cat in his lap, stroking its head, a slightly deranged-looking head, but Tony didn’t seem to notice.
“What’s his name?” asked the Soupster.
“This cat?” said Tony. “There’s quite a story connected with this critter.” The cat looked up at its owner with its moist, loving, remaining green eye. The cat was also missing one ear and the whiskers on the same side. One front tooth had been cracked in half. There was something wrong with one foot.
“This cat spent kittenhood living in the home of the most hated man in his neighborhood,” Tony said. “Some kind of free-lance international telemarketer. Anyway, people came in and out of the house all hours of the day and night on telemarketing business and everybody wanted to handle the cute little kitten. Two or three o’clock in the morning was the business day somewhere on the globe and somebody was always asking about the cat.”
“A free-lance telemarketer?” said the Soupster
“Oooh-boy, did they hate him in the neighborhood,” said Tony. “The telemarketer. Wasn’t just this cat that was kept awake. All those telemarketing people stopping by all the time kept the neighbors awake. And the teenage kids in the neighborhood started making a big hero out of this hated telemarketer, and don’t you know the parents didn’t like that very much.”
“So, as the cat got older,” asked the Soupster,. “did it get a name?”
“Right,” Tony continued. “The neighbors finally convinced the telemarketer to telemarket elsewhere. He abandoned the cat. So this poor guy found himself all on his own under a trailer, snuggling up to an electric heater for warmth, when he snuggled a little too close to the main electrical element and started a small fire on his head.” Tony rubbed the stump where the cat’s ear had been.
“Then he moved in with another family, one that already had these three really old other cats. Well, old cats and new cats can be like Classic Coke and New Coke — under the influence of different planets. They ganged up on our friend here – the three cats attacked him in sequence – and each one bit off a toe.”
“Ouch,” said the Soupster.
“That was the point I got him,” Tony said. “I took my new cat to the veterinarian to get his foot treated and the vet said the cat should be fixed, so I let him.”
“How did the tooth get broken?”
“That was just last week,” Tony said. “I guess I shouldn’t have brought such a lifelike stone bird into the house at the same time I got a new cat, but I really didn’t expect him to attack it.”
“So what are you calling this bad boy?” asked the Soupster.
“Lucky,” said Tony. “Just Lucky.”
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The Soupster hears about a “super weird” night.
“I think there’s a full moon,” Kathryn announced. “Things have been super weird lately.”
“Weird?” the Soupster said, glancing up at dark gray clouds scurrying nervously across the sky. “Got anything to do with fall setting in?”
“Maybe,” Kathryn replied. “Another theory involves my eyesight. Been a while since I could clearly tell deer from bushes, and bears from rocks,” she admitted. “Once, on the ferry, I even thought that a beach covered in driftwood was a village,” she chuckled.
The Soupster laughed. “Makes life interesting, I guess. So, how was last night?” he asked. “Went to that ergonomics lecture, didn’t you?”
“Huh,” Kathryn grunted. “Again, weird. I’m sitting there, listening to the instructor, and he morphs into the teacher from Ferris Bueller’s Day Off. ‘Anyone know what this muscle is?’ the instructor asks, pointing to a picture of a cadaver. ‘Anyone? Anyone?’ Suddenly a student belts out ‘BACKSTRAP!’ and another adds, “Now, I’m getting hungry.”
“Hilarious,” the Soupster said. “Huntin’ fever. Does weird things to people.”
“Apparently,” Kathryn said, rolling her eyes. “So afterwards, I’m walking home, trying to get cannibalism out of my mind, when our dog decides to poop in the middle of an intersection as we’re crossing the road. The middle? Seriously? Before you could say ‘full moon’ I’d gloved my hand with a doggie bag and scooped up the package. It felt surprisingly warm and I kept massaging it gently to keep releasing its heat.”
“Great idea,” the Soupster smiled. “Never heard Bear Grylls suggest that one,” he said with a wink.
“So I’m focusing on warming my hand, when a shadow jumps out at me,” Kathryn continues. “I turn around, check that I’m not being followed, and then look up to see a one-eyed street pole hunched over the road, peering down at me ominously. Averting my eyes, I catch sight of a cluster of unkempt, flowerless fireweed – Dr. Seuss characters waving tall, feathery hairdos and mocking me in rhyme. Beside them, a lonesome dandelion teases me, bobbing its seemingly innocent, fluffy white head. But I know better than to stop, pick it and blow it away. The path curves and a crowd of Indian celery plants ambush me, trying to claw at me with their dry, bony fingers.”
“I quicken my step in the direction of home and soon, I’m approaching the illuminated church billboard with its inspiring message. ‘When you’ve been barbecued, you’ll want to barbecue others,’ I read in horror. Getting closer, the word ‘barbecued’ turns into ‘rescued’ and I breathe a sigh of relief.”
“You had a big night,” the Soupster said. “Go home and have a mug of chamomile tea and try to get some rest,” he suggested.
“Great idea,” Kathryn sighed. “I’m beginning to realize why bears hibernate all winter. Starting to appeal to me, actually,” she said as she turned to leave, veering around a black cat crouching on the road, which turned out to be a pothole.
Submittied by Lois Verbaan Denherder
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The Soupster is called on by the teacher.
Our Town retired school teacher Elsbeth Newhauser picked up her walking stick and dog leash and called her bulldog Gerta to her side. The two always left the house for their walk at the same time every morning and followed a route that took them down their residential street to an intersection with a four way stop. It was there that they would cross the main road before continuing on their journey.
This day, however, when they got to the intersection, Gerta abruptly sat down and refused to move. “Now, come on,” Elsbeth encouraged, motioning forward. She had barely finished her sentence when she noticed a large dog charging across the street towards them. Elsbeth gasped and pulled Gerta out of the way, then watched in horror as a bicyclist raced down the hill and flew through the intersection, swerving from side to side. A speeding car followed close behind and slammed on its brakes, but failed to stop before careening into a utility pole.
When the action came to a halt, the bicyclist was laying on his side in the street. The woman in the car struggled to open her door, then emerged, waving her arms in the air. “Why did you stop in the middle of the street?” she yelled at the bicyclist, as he scooted out from under his twisted bike.
“I had to!” he shouted back. “It was all I could do to miss hitting that dog in front of me!”
As they argued, a frantic-looking young man ran up to the intersection, looked at the other two and asked, “Have you seen my dog? He’s a large Lab.” That was enough to spark an even bigger argument between the three about whose fault the accident was.
Finally, Elsbeth’s teacher’s instincts kicked in. She tapped her walking stick on the sidewalk and shouted, “People! Listen!” The bicyclist, motorist and dog owner immediately stopped talking and looked at her. “I don’t know whose fault this was, but we’re not leaving here until we figure it out!”
At that moment, the Soupster rushed out of a friend’s house nearby, approached the group, and politely raised his hand. “Yes, Mr. Soupster,” Elsbeth said, as if calling on one of her former students.
“Mrs. Newhauser, allow me to describe what I observed just now from the front window. The dog, which was off-leash and clearly in violation of city leash laws, came running down the sidewalk and dashed across the road in front of the bicyclist. The bicyclist had, just seconds before, failed to stop at the four-way stop as he sped down the hill. The motorist, who slowed down, but didn’t fully stop at the intersection, was looking down at her cell phone as she passed me.”
“Thank you, Mr. Soupster,“ Elsbeth said. “Well then, I hope you’ve all learned an important lesson about following the rules and being considerate of your fellow students….I mean…fellow citizens.”
“Yes, Mrs. Newhauser,“ they responded all together.
Submitted by Mary Ann Jones
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The Soupster celebrates Sitka weather.
“No, Uncle Bob, I’m not aware,” said the Soupster into the receiver of his landline phone, “just how hot your weather is right now.”
That was an outright lie. In fact, the Soupster knew. He regularly enjoyed playing a weather game called “Too Hot!.” The game involved reading the list of daily temperatures in the newspaper or watching the highs and lows of major U.S. cities scroll by on television and stopping at each one 80 degrees or higher to think aloud “Too Hot!” Starting in the Spring, various cities would pass into the realm of “Too Hot!” until, by August, most of the country qualified. It seemed as though too many cities were getting “Too Hot!” too early in the year and staying simmering too late into the fall. The Soupster knew from his game that Uncle Bob’s area had been hitting triple digits all week – shattering records set in horse-and-buggy days.
“That sounds terrible, Uncle Bob,” the Soupster said to his mother’s brother’s description of clothing turning sweat-soaked in minutes, engines overheating on grid-locked streets, regional power outages making air conditioners and refrigerators useless.
Of all the things the Soupster loved about Our Town and knew he would miss the most, its mild summertime temperatures ranked tops. Our Town and its neighboring villages were maybe the last places in the country where the Soupster could live without ever having taken his air conditioner out of its box – it sat in the back of the Soupster’s closet like a survivalist’s cache of water pouches, freeze-dried Stroganoff and space blankets.
“What’s that, Uncle Bob?” the Soupster asked, registering what his relative just said. “Your car was stolen when?”
During the heat wave and power outage, Bob explained, making it infinitely more difficult for him and his wife to haul ice back to their house to try and save the food in the chest freezer. The lack of transportation made it impossible for the couple to go the lakefront or other cooler escapes. Their usual last resorts – the movie theaters and the International House of Pancakes — were dark because of the blackout. Police found Bob’s car finally – minus hubcaps and, oddly, head rests.
“Why doesn’t it matter anymore, Uncle Bob?” asked the Soupster, registering alarm. “What do you mean “Eminent Domain?”
Uncle Bob explained that he worried that a developer wanted to build condos right where his neighborhood stood. Meant jobs and higher taxes for the city. In New Jersey, one city condemned some people’s houses with exactly the same outcome in mind and the U.S. Supreme Court backed the city and the developer. The city always wanted more people. More people just meant longer lines, Bob complained – at the market, the bank – even to vote. Of course, floods and tornadoes threatened, too. Along with the pesticides in the groundwater.
“Uncle Bob, you really have got to consider moving somewhere you find more pleasant.” said the Soupster.
“Never happen, Nephew,” Bob said. “Where else are real estate prices this low”?
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The Soupster is unaware of criticism of his trash handling.
The second raven spread its wings and caught the air to slow its descent as it landed atop the roof of the covered unloading area of the Solid Waste Transfer Station on Jarvis Street. It picked a spot close — but not close-threatening — to the first raven who had been sitting on the roof for about five minutes already, studying the trash items spread out below.
“Patience, my tail feathers, I’m going to kill something,” quipped Raven Two in greeting, re-telling the old joke about the hungry vulture complaining to his fellow vultures. “How are you, you old grouch?”
Both ravens cawed and cackled, as a third circled overhead and landed on a nearby hemlock branch. Various other ravens, alone or in groups of two and three, occupied other trees and ledges in the vicinity, deep in their own business.
These were healthy Our Town birds, shiny and waterproof with stiff outer feathers and feathers underneath as soft and thick as fur. They were well fed.
A pickup truck pulled into the station and onto the scale outside the drive-up window of the Transfer Center office building. The window slid open and the human inside the truck and human at the window exchanged sounds that were incomprehensible to the ravens.
“A pickup truck,” noted Raven #1. “Fewer than there used to be, with all the SUVs and hatchbacks humans are buying instead.”
“What’s up with that?” said Raven #2.
“But isn’t a bed full of fresh groceries in a pickup parked in an empty lot just about the sweetest thing in Creation?” said Bird One.
“And we should know!” quipped Bird Two who cawed loudly, along with One, for a solid six seconds. This caused the raven in the hemlock to circle around and then land back in the same hemlock.
“Trash, in general, is disappointing these days,” said Raven One. “These humans are composting so much of what we used to find delicious about trash.”
“The bears have ruined it,” said Raven Two. “With bear proofing, we can’t even get the trash cans open half the time, even if the wind has knocked them over for us.”
Both birds watched as the Soupster drove up in his hatchback. He had a rickety wooden chair and a shovel with a broken handle to discard. The Soupster had just been to the grocery store and the “eagle-eyed” ravens could see three grocery bags lined up tantalizingly in the cargo area. The second bag in had green grapes at the top, Raven Two’s favorite. While not as big a fan, Raven One wouldn’t throw a green grape out of its beak.The grapes taunted both birds from behind shatter-proof glass.
The Soupster got out of the hatchback to toss the shovel and chair into the refuse pile, leaving his door ajar. Raven Two almost swooped down to make a grab for the grapes, but calculated the theft would be impossible.
Raven One looked down at the out-of-reach grapes and a trash pile with no food matter in it. It motioned toward the two dozen other ravens in the trees surrounding them. “An unkindness, as far as I’m concerned” it said sarcastically. “An unkindness.”
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