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The Soupster learns that traveling alone need not be lonely.
Originally published December 4, 2003
The Soupster vigorously dried his hair with the motel towel, brimming with satisfaction. He happily donned a thin travel robe..
On his way home at a Sea-Tac Airport motel, the Soupster gave a satisfied sigh. His was not just any motel – but one the Soupster had stayed at more times than he could remember. Often for just a night passing through, sometimes for a week on business.
The motel had gone through bad periods in the recent past, but had snapped back recently with new owners, paint, and a snappy new name. Two floors high, with a large parking lot in front. A lobby that, in season, featured Washington apples in a basket for the guests to sample. A free local shuttle. Could a pit stop offer more?
But it could. For this motel’s showers were exemplary, extraordinary – they put the showers in any other establishment to shame. The water was not too soft and not hard, not too hot and not cold. The shower loosed a stream that perfectly coated anyone standing under with a warm, cascading blanket. The knobs and valves were amazingly responsive — you got just what you wanted. This inn featured low prices and a pleasant staff. But the showers made the Soupster book a room here, time and time again.
Leaving him defenselessly mellow when a key clicked in the lock, the door swung open and a motel clerk stepped in, followed by a young woman.
“Pardon?” said a wide-eyed Soupster.
The clerk stopped in his tracks. A suitcase he was holding thudded to the floor.
“Uh-oh,” he said, as stunned as the Soupster. “Wrong room.”
“Soupster?” said the young woman.
“Sally?” the Soupster asked as she stepped forward, into the light. “Sally Wright?”
“Right,” said Sally.
“Right?” asked the motel clerk.
Sally put her hand on his arm. “This man knows my Dad,” she explained. “He’s known me since I was kid.”
“Her father and mother used to stay here all the time,” the Soupster added.
“I thought this was the wrong room,” said the clerk.
“This is the wrong room!” Sally and Soupster simultaneously said.
“You must have started work here just recently, “ The Soupster guessed and the motel clerk admitted he had. “There’s a lot of people from Our Town – well, mine and hers – that stay here. A few owners ago, the motel had some kind of deal with a travel agent in Our Town and a lot of people got steered here. New owners – the travel agent moved on – but we still keep coming to this motel.”
“It’s the showers,“ said Sally. “Have you ever taken a shower here?” she asked the clerk
“No,” he said.
“Well you should. And I’m going to right now,” said Sally. “Soupster, I’ll meet you in the lobby in half an hour and we can take the shuttle out to dinner. There’s two more people here from Our Town. If you see them, ask if they’re hungry!”
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The Soupster learns it can be hard to stay true to your emotions.
When Carole left her seaside cottage, she felt good. Actually she felt angry, but she felt good about feeling angry.
Carole was healthy, pretty, lucky, sweet and well-off. Many would say her life was perfect and Carole would agree with them. If there was one thing she was missing, that was the human experience of feeling angry. For Carole, who considered herself blessed, never allowed herself to feel angry. Until today.
Today, her hot water heater burned out, the dog had a revolting “accident “on the Persian rug and her least favorite cousin called to complain that Carole never called. That was followed by bad news about her taxes delivered by her accountant who she could barely hear due to the road crew drilling the pavement out front of her house.
Carole felt an unfamiliar rising in her craw and a constriction of her neck muscles. She heard the unfamiliar sound of her own teeth gnashing. Could the world be plotting against her?
Wow, Carole thought, as the feeling washed over her. She thought of her older brother pulling away her stuffed bunny, a freckled girl making fun of her braids, a professor who had a big problem with smart women. It had been years, but she remembered the feeling of being wonderfully, powerfully angry and thought she’d like to go and see what the world did about it.
She walked down the street, reveling in this odd new power. Ahead was that old coot George coming toward her. Although a coot, George often made her laugh. And sometimes made her want to cry because he was such a sweet guy with no place to put his emotions. She could feel her anger waning. So she crossed the street and quickened her pace.
She cut down a path near the coffee shop to try and avoid another sympathetic character and almost bumped into Colleen, who was tracing the same path in the opposite direction.
“Carole,” said Colleen. “I was just thinking of you. We’re starting a new mural and I know that’s something you love. We absolutely want you involved. Want to have coffee?”
“Can’t talk,” said Carole, huffing past. “Gotta go!” She felt her anger fading again and — was forced to imagine last summer’s incident of her neighbor’s cat destroying her flowers — to stay on task
“See ya later, alligator,” Colleen called after her.
Carole put her head down and did not look up. Nonetheless, “Hey Carole!” yelled one person and “Call me!” yelled another.
With her head down and her pace quickened, Carole walked right into a parked car. The Soupster’s car. With her old friend the Soupster in it.
“Carole,” he said, getting out of the car, a concerned look on his face. “My goodness! Are you all right?”
“Oh, Soupster,” she whined, as her embarrassment overwhelmed her. “I’m trying to say angry and I just can’t!”
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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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