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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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The Soupster’s head throbbed as he tried to remember what it was he had just been thinking about. He was walking down Lincoln Street, happy with himself and his thought, when it took flight. “I hate when that happens,” the Soupster said, quoting television.
Crossing the street ahead of the Soupster, coming at him from the opposite direction, a young man and woman held hands as they walked..With his free hand, the man pushed a baby carriage and the care he took with the little chariot indicated that the low-slung seat was occupied.
In the shadows, the Soupster couldn’t make out who they were. Just another fresh-faced couple trying to find shelter and employment when the old fogies like himself already owned everything, he thought. But that wasn’t what he was trying to remember.
“Soupster!” the man called out and the Soupster knew immediately who he was. Like nails on a chalkboard, amplifier feedback, hyena screams and removing rusted lug nuts, the tenor of this man’s voice carved the listener a new gullet. The Soupster already had a gullet, but he had no choice but to answer back.
“Gene!” the Soupster said.
Gene’s voice was famous in Our Town, he was kind of a local Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the AFLAC duck. But he was the duck with a megaphone – Gene’s voice was grating hearty and LOUD. Gene once told the Soupster that in all his hours on the water, he had seldom seen any marine mammals. With the sensitivity of the great beasts’ hearing, the fact seemed to the Soupster to make sense.
But when Gene came into view, the Soupster experienced the man’s other distinctive feature – he was easily the best-looking guy in Our Town. He was handsome in a way that made other men want to work for him or have him on their team. What Gene made women think and feel, the Soupster knew he could not grasp.
Gene was with his wife Audriella, as they were inseparable. Audriella was as acutely homely as her handsome husband was spectacularly not. Many in Our Town asked “what had made this striking man choose this unmemorable woman? Then, she opened her mouth and people knew. There was her charisma and obvious intelligence, of course. But there was also her voice. What a voice! In it was the song of birds, the rich sweetness of honey, the promise of the sky.
“Soupster!” Audriella called out with her lovely instrument.
The Soupster could see their faces clearly now. The Soupster knew his own face and voice were good enough for government work — mid-range compared to these two on either extreme. He wondered, which would it be better to be? Great-looking and sounding like a wounded goose? Or the plain-faced owner of angelic pipes?
“Come see Katey,” Audriella said, as Gene smiled, and with that voice and that smile the Soupster could not refuse. Ahead, the Soupster could see the blanketed bundle in the stroller squirming. Which parent would be baby take after?
Audriella pulled the blanket aside, revealing the most beautiful baby the Soupster had ever seen. Little Katey opened her mouth and the Soupster stiffened, expecting the worst. But the child’s voice was pure music.
That’s what I was trying to remember! the Soupster thought. That sometimes it just all works out in the end.
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“Coffee delivery,” the Soupster announced, as he approached the four men sitting and standing outside Giant Gene’s auto shop. Indeed, he carried a cardboard holder with four paper cups.
“You’re a good man,” Giant Gene told the Soupster, taking the holder and distributing the cups. Charlie, also called Red, raised his in salute. Billy, called Kid, gave an elaborate bow of thanks, almost spilling his. Miguel drank greedily. He was, understandably, sometimes called Santana, since that was his last name.
“Pretty slick,” the Soupster told Gene. “I call you to see if my alternator is ready and you rope me into catering your morning staff meeting. What are you guys doing standing out here, anyway? Don’t you have cars and trucks to shorten the lives of?”
“Shhhh,” said Gene and turned to the other guys. “I think today is definitely the day. It’s my day.”
“Today is what day?” asked the Soupster.
“The day Gene thinks Leonard will finally take his snow shovels inside,” said Red. He pointed across the street to a neatly kept home surrounded by a white picket fence, against which was balanced a silver snow shovel, a black plastic scoop and an ice breaker.
“We think Leonard is the last person in Our Town to put them away,” added Billy.
“We bet on it,” said Giant Gene. “Miguel thought it up.”
“Whoever picks the day Leonard puts the shovels away has to buy lunch for the rest of us for a week,” explained Miguel.
“That’s the first prize?” said the Soupster. “The winner buys lunch for everyone for a week?”
“No,” said Miguel. “The prize is the honor of winning.”
“We call it the Santana Ice Classic,” said Giant Gene.
“Look,” said Billy, “Leonard’s coming out!”
Leonard stepped out onto his cute front porch and took a breath of the morning air. He came down the stairs. The tension at Giant Gene’s was palpable.
When Leonard got to the shovels he paused slightly, looked up in the general direction of Giant Gene’s, walked out the gate and got into his car.
“Darn!” said Gene. “I thought I won!”
“It’s been getting pretty warm,” the Soupster said. “Do you ever worry that Leonard knows what you’re all up to and he’s leaving his shovels out there on purpose?”
“Soupster,” said Billy. “That would be crazy!”
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