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The Soupster spied NuBuck, one of the three Bucks in Our Town, along with “Red Buck” and plain “Buck.” NuBuck was named for the short, velvet-like whiskers that upholstered his cheeks and chin. The Soupster didn’t know how the brown-haired Red Buck got his name and regular Buck would just glare at you if you asked how he got his.
NuBuck was sitting on a bench outside City Hall, shuffling through some official-looking papers. “I’m catching up on the plans for the Maritime Society to install a ground-source heat system at the Old Boathouse and save lots of money and energy,” said NuBuck. “It’s one of the best ideas to come down the pike – if Our Town had a turnpike.”
“I’ve always thought the people who owned boats together were kind of brilliant,” said the Soupster. “People often use their boats less than they think they will and no one will turn down help with an oil or prop change.”
“Herring roe-on-kelp in pounds is also brilliant,” said NuBuck. “You get the herring roe and it doesn’t kill the fish.”
“How about the City Permanent Fund?” said the Soupster. “We got that by investing grant money until it was actually paid out and banking the interest. An idea so good they changed the rule to make sure other towns couldn’t imitate Our Town.”
“That’s it!” cried NuBuck. “Our Town is so unique that things will work here that don’t work in other places.”
“I always imagined big floating trailer parks, like the old floating logging camps,” said the Soupster, “But with manufactured homes. Affordable housing.”
“Tidal energy,” said NuBuck. “Big wind-turbine-like gizmos placed in parts of No Thorofare Bay and Sergius Narrows to catch the strong tidal currents and make electricity.”
“We should encourage hitchhiking,” said the Soupster. “Save money on gas.”
“Feed our food scraps to the fish,” said NuBuck.
The two men breathed heavily.
“For brilliant, how bout the Monthly Grinds and the Seafood Festival?” said NuBuck, starting up again. “Seafood subscriptions and the Farmer’s Market.”
“What I’m trying to figure out,” said the Soupster, “is a way to have our cake and eat it, too.”
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Originally published July 29, 2004
It seemed like slow motion to the Soupster watching Red bearing right down on him, then the larger man knocked the Soupster to the ground.
“Whoa, sorry there,” Red said. “I’m running on all gears like a headless chicken.”
“Summer is the busy time in Our Town,” the Soupster commiserated. “Why else would Alaskans take their vacations in the winter?”
Red nodded. “I work May through September and take the rest of the year off,” he said.
“You pack a whole year into four months,” said the Soupster. “but you pay for it on days like today.”
“Oh, it’s not the work,” Red sighed. “Work I learned to handle a long time ago. Up at 4 to get the boat ready, take guests out all day. I’m cleaning up the boat long after they’ve left. And then I find myself up until 10 answering snail mail and e-mails and doing the books.”
“So why are you so crazy now?” the Soupster asked.
“Locational hazard,” said the Soupster. “You move to a place as nice as Our Town and you discover relatives you never knew you had.”
“You bet,” Red agreed. “I knew we had my sister and her family coming up this month, but she ran into our cousin in Seattle and guess what? They decided on a whim to come up together! That makes nine people in my house. Bless them, they’re very self-directed. Still though, they want to be sure and visit with me every day and I just don’t have time.
“Can you take them out on the charter with you?” the Soupster asked.
“Wouldn’t be fair to my clients,” Red said. “They’re paying top dollar for my full attention. Hunting fish is serious business.”
“So,” said Red, “I’ve got half a day I penciled out to do about a week’s worth of chores. I’m walking to the bank today and what do you know — there’s my great-uncle Don in the middle of a walking tour. My father would never give me peace if I didn’t show Don the town, so there went my day to catch up.”
“Bet you’re looking forward to your vacation in two months,” the Soupster guessed.
“I’m not waiting that long,” said Red. “My sister goes back on the plane tomorrow and the cousin on the ferry the next day. Uncle Don is getting back on his cruise ship this evening. As soon as everybody leaves and I can get back to my regular 18-hour days, I’m gonna consider it vacation!”
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It wasn’t easy to make the Soupster feel like the stuffy serious one, but Cousin Robb had always had just that effect on him.
“The great ferry Malaspina,” Robb pronounced, as soon as the first-time visitor to Our Town stepped off the ramp to meet up with “Cousin” Soupster. “The name derives from the Russian word for `bad spine’ right?”
“Actually, Malaspina is named after a glacier which is named after an Italian explorer named Alessandro,” said the Soupster.
“Then why isn’t the ferry named `Alessandro?’” asked Cousin Robb.
“That’s his first name,” said the Soupster.
“Anyway,” said Robb. “It’s so good to be in Alaska. `Alaska,’ that’s probably Italian, too. Italian for `everyone should ask.’”
The Soupster had been trapped in this routine before. His parents were very close friends with Robb’s. “Cousin” Robb was eight years older and, when enlisted as the Soupster’s babysitter, would torture him with bad puns. “Protuberance,” he remembered Robb saying, “It’s Latin for `professional potato-eating insect.’”
So when they passed the spiral white warning sirens along HPR, the Soupster heard himself falsely answering Cousin Robb’s innocent question of “What are those?”
“They’re fluorescent streetlights,” the Soupster jived. “They save a bunch of electricity and they last five times as long as a regular streetlight.”
They passed Maksoutoff St., which Robb guessed was Russian for “to force a businessman to remove his suit.”
At the airport, Cousin Robb had such crazy definitions for everything that the Soupster lost it.
When Robb pointed to the flashing yellow light the airline used to tell passengers their luggage was coming, the Soupster said, “It’s a tsunami warning beacon, Cousin Robb. This is important. If you ever see it go off, start running for high ground.”
“Tsunami, that reminds me,” said Cousin Robb and asked directions to the men’s room.
As he waited for his cousin to return, the Soupster thought about how churlish he had been. Cousin Robb was just excited and interested in Our Town and who wouldn’t be? The Soupster just needed to calm down and play the good host.
As if on cue, the rotating beacon starting spinning, spilling a yellow strobe light on everyone and everything. Cousin Robb ran up and grabbed the Soupster’s arm.
“Tsunami,” said Robb. “A Boston term meaning `take Norman to court.’”
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“The Soupster says here that he lost a rented movie in the parking lot and he was sure somebody stole it,” Josh Mollison told his wife Mona, as he scanned the “Our Town” column he was reading. “And then somebody found the DVD and turned it in.”
“That’s mildly interesting,” said Mona.
“Seems like the Soupster’s last few stories all involved driving around,” said Josh. “I’m worried that’s all the man does anymore.”
“You’ve just got trucks on the brain,” said Mona, “and I know why.”
“I was putting the boat in the back in April and that old Ford almost died on me, with the Bonnie V half on the trailer and half off and a line of other folks waiting to use the landing,” Josh told Mona for the fourth or fifth time.
“That’s got to be the tenth time you told me that,” said Mona.
“Maybe twice,” said Josh.
“Aw, Honey, I know you think you need a new truck, but we really can’t afford it right now,” Mona said. “You only really need a truck to get the boat into the water in the spring and out of the water in the winter. That’s only twice a year you really need the truck.”
“You don’t understand, Sweetie,” said Josh. “What if I needed to pull the boat out in the middle of season for repairs? Or what if Mike or Steve needed to pull theirs out and their trucks broke down?”
“It’s a state of mind,” he continued. “It’s about freedom and being able to do all the things you need to do. I don’t want to sound like Braveheart, but it’s like a part of the whole being a man thing.”
“There should be a truck rental, just for guys like you,” said Mona. “Or a co-op. The truth is you only really need the truck twice a year.”
Josh tried to change the subject. “Sometimes, the Soupster goes shopping in one of his columns and you go shopping,” he observed.
“I went shopping today,” Mona admitted.
“You don’t have to feel guilty about it,” Josh said.
“Show me what you bought?”
Mona broke into a broad smile and scurried out of the room. She came back a second later, beaming, pushing a fluorescent blue high-tech stroller capable of carrying three children at once.
“I don’t want to pick a fight,” Josh said, “but we only have one child. Isn’t that a bigger stroller than we need for one child?”
“But what if we have more?” Mona said, “Or what if Jessica wants to leave Amber and little Gloria with me and I have to take Suzy to the dentist at the same time? It’s about flexibility, Josh.”
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“Lock your car,” said the old TV ad. “Take your keys. Don’t make a good boy go bad.”
The Soupster was proud that Our Town disproved the above. He was sure he was not the only person in town to regularly leave his car unlocked, which didn’t seem to be making good boys go bad.
The good boys who went bad seemed to do so of their own volition, despite the wealth of unlocked cars Our Town offered. And the bad boys who went good also seemed to be piloting their own ships. Not to mention all the good and bad girls.
Now, the Soupster did usually take his keys out of his unlocked car, if for no other reason than his car made an unpleasant clanging if he didn’t. Maybe, if he had left the keys in the ignition a few times, he would have made a good boy go bad. Not that he wanted to.
How the Soupster thought he might make a good boy go bad was by leaving enticing items on the front seat of said unlocked car. A bag of donuts or burgers, current magazines fresh from the post office, a spiffy new tool – those kinds of things.
Or a rented DVD.
The DVD in question was “Fair Game” about the Valerie Plame incident – she was a CIA field operative (spy) whose identity was revealed for political reasons. A thick conspiracy full of twists and turns.
And that intrigue must have infected the Soupster, because later in the evening, when he went to find the movie and couldn’t, he thought that a good boy might have gone bad and stolen the DVD.
He knew Our Town was an honest place. He hated the old saying, “It’s the exception that proves the rule,” but he couldn’t help thinking that it applied in this case.
How much did DVDs cost to replace? $30? $50?
A small price to pay for the honest waters he got to swim in, the Soupster thought. It was almost a relief to know that Our Town had a limit to its honesty. You couldn’t go leaving $50 bills laying around and expect them to be there when you got back.
He went to bed a wiser, chastened man.
The next day had a glorious sun/cloud ratio and a sea breeze, so the Soupster decided to hoof it to the video store to further cement his new, sober outlook. He looked upon passersby, knowing now that every one of them probably had a dark side capable of all sorts of mischief – possibly least of all, pilfering “Fair Game” DVDs.
The Soupster swung open the door to the rental store. “I owe you some money,” he told the clerk. “Someone must have taken “Fair Game” from my car.”
“No one lifted anything, Silly,” said the clerk, after scrolling down her computer image to an entry on the Soupster’s account. “Someone found “Fair Game” in a parking lot and returned it for you.”
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“I started Yoga last week,” Jan informed the Soupster, dipping a chunk of sourdough bread into a bowl of steaming chowder. “Thought I’d better get into shape for summer before it’s over,” she added with a chuckle.
“Manage to get yourself tied up in any knots?” the Soupster asked.
“Funny you should ask,” Jan said. “It all started when Kai, our instructor, suggested that we ‘stretch our tail bones away from our sit bones and bring our kidneys towards our ribs.’”
“What?” the Soupster asked, eyebrows raised.
“Exactly,” Jan said. “I started to panic. Everything got blurry, Kai’s smile seemed to become a smirk and his voice started to sound ‘echoey’ – you know, like that effect they use in the movies to convey altered states of consciousness.”
“Hmm. Kai’s instructions sound like a brain teaser,” the Soupster empathized. “It reminds me of that thing where you have to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time, which I can do. I can even switch half way and do the opposite.”
Jan laughed. “I was still trying to figure out where my kidneys were when I noticed that the others were ‘bringing their hearts towards the wall’ and ‘allowing their necks to become long and soft.’ I quickly turned to face the wall, and the paint job caught my eye. I deepened my focus, trying to figure out whether the colors consisted of blue on purple, or purple on blue, and whether the effect had been achieved by ragging or sponging.”
“Come to any conclusions?” the Soupster asked.
“Never had time. Suddenly, Kai called for Tadasana or ‘The Mountain Pose’ – apparently a great beginning yoga pose. Finally, something I thought I could do.”
“‘Stand with your feet hip-width apart,’ said Kai, ‘or think of one foot, ten toes’” Jan recalled. “So I spread my feet, relaxed my knees and let my shoulders drop down. Things were going well. Visions of myself – a yoga guru in the Himalayas with a few yaks looking on in awe – came to mind. Finally, I was in the zone.”
“Kai’s voice jolted me back to reality: ‘Let your ribs close, let your vertebrae stack one on top of the other and continue to let your shoulder blades hug your back.’ The echoey voice returned and I found myself dissociating again. My thoughts drifted back to my first driving test.”
“Suddenly, it was time for a parallel park. The cones at the front represented the back of the front car and the cones at the back represented the front of the back car. My subconscious must have figured out what the instructor meant, because I passed the test.”
The Soupster laughed.
“Before long, I found myself relaxing under a colorful Mexican blanket, sacred Hindu chants and mantras dissolving my thoughts. Kai told us to observe our breathing, I’d made it through. I was alive and well. Very well. Calm, present and accepting.”
– Submitted by Lois Verbaan Denherder
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