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“Do you know,” said Rocky to the Soupster, whom he had trapped in the supermarket’scanned-beans-and-tomato aisle, “that when they recently measured the major U.S. cities to see which was the laziest, they counted how many people wear sweatpants?”
“Couldn’t those people just be returning from the gym?” the Soupster asked.
Rocky reached forward and vigorously snapped the elastic waistband of the navy blue sweatpants the Soupster wore. “Were you just returning from the gym?” he asked, pithily.
“Well…” said the Soupster.
“Wearing sweatpants may be a sign of the decline of the American Century,” wailed Rocky.
“You’re taking this extremely seriously,” the Soupster told him. “They’re just cheap, comfortable pants.”
“You’ll see,” said Rocky, turning the corner and heading for the dog food aisle.
Rocky had his effect. The Soupster suddenly felt naked in his sweat pants. He wore the indelible proof of his sloth, visible to everyone. And what was worse, the place where Rocky had snapped his waistband did not go back to its normal shape. Now his pants felt like they were starting to slip.
The Soupster had stopped wearing sweatpants until they fell apart (although he was still tolerably tolerant of sock holes). He had stopped wearing light blue or gymnasium grey sweats, figuring black and navy were more respectful.
Respectful! So he did feel apologetic. And as the idea formed in his brain, it felt as though the waistband of his now-cursed pants slid down another half inch.
The Soupster cradled the can of beans and two cans of tomatoes in one arm and yanked his waistband up with the other hand. But as even the Soupster knew, yanking upone side of a pair of sagging sweatpants does not help them stay up – it may even be counterproductive.
Those who know, know that the worst sweatpant accidents occur soon after trying to yank the pants up by one side. The Soupster would take no chances. He held up the sweatpants at the waist with one hand, while he paid for his groceries and carried out the bag in his other hand.
There’s a walk you can do to minimize the pants’ desire to slip and the Soupster did it. Yet, by the time he reached the side of his car, it was but his hand that held the pants aloft.
He should have put the grocery bag down and used that hand to fiddle with the car doorhandle. He should have kept his grip on his waistband no matter what. And he certainly should have looked around before he embarked on any plan to get the groceries into the car and keep his pants up. But he didn’t.
The Soupster let go of his waistband to open the car door and his pants slid all the waydown to his ankles.
Rocky, who had left the store behind the Soupster, walked over and stared wordlessly. Finally, he spoke. “Soupster,” said Rocky, “Even for you, this is low.”
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Our Town resident Chauncey Whelan was riding his bicycle down Lake Street when he happened to glance over and saw a large dog chasing the ducks at the lake. “For Heaven’s sake,” he thought. “I need to go over there and break that up.”
Being a good citizen, Chauncey stopped, got off his bike and started to walk towards the commotion. The dog saw him and suddenly turned its attention away from the ducks, growled and glared at Chauncey with a look that made the young man tremble.
The ducks, in the meantime, had apparently forgotten about the dog and had wandered over to Edith Goodrich who was throwing leftover bread on the ground nearby for them. “Thanks for distracting that dog, Chauncey! You’re doing a great job!” Edith shouted.
“You’re welcome, Mrs. Goodrich,” Chauncey said, trying not to make any sudden movements that might escalate his precarious situation.
A group of people soon appeared and Chauncey breathed a sigh of relief, but they didn’t seem to notice what was happening and walked past him on their way to the wooden pier. They stood there, looking at the lake and talking among themselves for a few minutes, then turned and headed back to the street. “Pardon me,” Chauncey said politely, “Would you mind helping me with this dog?”
One member of the group smiled at him and said, “We have this area reserved for our fundraising event this morning. You’re welcome to come, but we’d appreciate it if you left your dog in your car.”
“But it’s not my……” Chauncey’s words trailed off as the group walked away. “It’s not my dog. It’s…..it’s…George Clooney’s dog.”
Just then, one of the women in the group wheeled around and shrieked, “Are you serious? That’s George Clooney’s dog? Is he in town? Oh, my God!”
The whole group was excited by that time and rushed back to Chauncey, ignoring the dog, whose demeanor had magically improved with the arrival of more humans. “Why, yes”, Chauncey went on. “I heard that Mr. Clooney is in town on his yacht and that he’s been desperately looking for his dog because it ran away this morning.”
“I just love George Clooney,” one of the women sighed. “And he has such an awareness of pressing social issues.” The others in the group nodded in agreement.
“So,” Chauncey said, “You know that he’s also a big supporter of….what is your group called?”
“Society for Bluer Lakes,” one of the other women replied.
“Yes, he’s a big proponent of bluer lakes,” Chauncey explained. “I hear he’s quite a contributor. Maybe he would even agree to be your spokesman!”
“That would be awesome!” they all agreed.
So, off the group went with the dog, giving Chauncey an opportunity to walk back to his bike.
The Soupster had come out of the dentist’s office across the street about the same time this was happening and observed the conversation between Chauncey and the group. “Well, young man,” he said, “looks like they just couldn’t see the forest for the trees.”
– Submitted by Mary Ann Jones
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Only 25 and Tim felt he was in a whole second life. He, alone, had to take care of 16-month-old Hazel as a single Dad for the next three days. Three days could be 30 diapers that would need changing. Could be more than 30. He shuddered.
That morning, Tim’s wife Gretchen left town on business. There was no question but that she should go – even if that meant leaving Tim with the baby. Gretchen had the real job with real pay and good benefits– she had to dress up, travel on business and make sure she had an admired cell phone model (she was in tech).
When they were first married and Gretchen was in school, Tim had the job and there was no baby – that’s what he now thought of as his first life. Back then, Tim had a retail gig, which was fine and paid okay, as long as it was just Tim and Gretchen. No benefits, but they were healthy. Tim would have preferred working outside building things, but retail was fine. Until the store closed.
For a while Tim felt sorry for himself. Gretchen felt sorry for him, too. It was she who suggested he take some construction training and raise the whole family up another economic notch. Hazel generated a lot of bills and whole slew of new worries. And she generated a lot of dirty diapers that needed changing.
After Tim graduated from the training program, he put the word out with friends and filled out applications all over Our Town. But there were no jobs for him that were outside and involved building things. Tim had really liked the idea of moving the family up a notch. But they were stuck in the same notch.
Tim had even complained to the Soupster a day earlier, as the two chatted while waiting for milkshakes. The Soupster agreed that Gretchen had to go and leave Hazel with Tim. Normally an angelic child, Hazel had decided to test her father’s mettle the minute Gretchen’s plane took off skyward.
A list too long to make (and who wants to castigate an innocent child?) but Hazel’s transgressions were many. Tim felt himself losing his grip on his second life. He also was losing his grip on a seriously soiled diaper. The phone rang. Cindy at the placement office for the training program said there was a big project coming up that would require a lot of people who liked building things outside. The employer had Tim’s resume and the program’s recommendation, and Tim should expect a phone call from the employer shortly.
This was a notch-raising opportunity.
Tim celebrated by opening a brand new package of baby wipes. Hazel picked up the vibe and stopped being such a little poop. Gretchen would be home before long. Hooray, second life!
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“Emery!” the Soupster called, glancing up from the outboard he was hunched over.
The cyclist screeched to a halt. “Hey, Soupster! How’s it going?” she asked cheerfully.
“Havin’ trouble with my starter,” the Soupster said, standing up with one hand on the engine and the other supporting his lower back. ”And this drizzle ain’t helping my mood none,” he complained. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?”
“An inspiring, scenic location to write in the rain,” Emery announced.
“Write in the rain?” the Soupster echoed.
“That’s right, I’ve got a new notebook and pen that you can use in the rain,” Emery said.
“Yeah, I know the ones,” the Soupster nodded. “Official types of people use them.”
“And that’s why today I officially declare myself to be a local,” Emery replied.
“Why today?” the Soupster asked. “You’ve clocked up at least 5 years in Our Town, haven’t you?”
“Yeah, but as you know, becoming a local is a process,” she said. “It doesn’t happen overnight. First you’re a tourist, wandering down the main drag, wearing your new fur boots and hat.
Hang around a few more days and you realize you’re gonna need some rain gear. So, you get the cheapest you can find.
Then you start doing the wilderness thing. Before long, you discover you need gear that’s breathable, waterproof and indestructible, so you go back for more — more expensive this time.
You learn that cotton kills and start stocking up on wool and polypropylene. The variety of gloves, mittens and liners seems overwhelming at first, but you focus on your size and get a pair of everything. Wool, fleece, leather, Gor-Tex and neoprene all have a use.
Before you know it, you have your very own Alaska Sporting Goods Emporium. Then, just when you think you have everything you need for life in rainforest Alaska, your Xtra-Tuffs start leaking.”
The Soupster took over. “So you patch them with duct tape, till you realize that even duct tape has its limits. Time for new boots. The old faithfuls are converted to slip-ons, used for taking out the trash, quick trips to the grocery store and camping.”
Emery laughed. “So, just when I thought my emporium was fully stocked, I discovered a line of ‘Outdoor Writing Products for Outdoor Writing People’ that can all be used in the rain.
There are even these pens that’ll write under water, upside down and in temperatures ranging from -30 to 250 degrees Fahrenheit. They’ve actually been used on a manned space flight.
So, I’m now the proud owner of a new notebook and pen. My adventure barometer tells me that ice climbing is going to pale in significance compared with things to come,” Emery predicted.
“Let the adventure begin!” said the Soupster. “And congratulations on becoming a local,” he added, extending an oil-stained hand to shake her neoprene glove.
“But before you go, a quick question: do the words ‘cheechako’ or ‘sourdough’ mean anything to you?” he asked, a twinkle in his eye.
– Submitted by Lois Verbaan Denherder
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Born into the Real World in the first half of the last century, Renny was the youngest of an extremely large brood – 11 kids all told. And though the oldest brother was practically out of the house by the time Renny arrived on the scene, the remaining siblings kept their four-room family apartment chock full at all times. Renny did not suffer loneliness in childhood.
In fact he craved loneliness – or rather, time alone.
It wasn’t to be, not where Renny grew up. Like when periodically Renny’s parents took him and a half dozen or so of his brothers and sisters to the beach to experience the great outdoors. On a holiday or during a summer heat wave – that meant that the blankets, towels, folding chairs, coolers, umbrellas and the bodies of a million beachgoers covered the sand so thoroughly that Renny had to pick his way on tiptoe between the sprawled out families to get to the surf.
When his 7th grade class studied Alaska, Renny’s takeaway was glorious, open spaces. He started putting aside a grubstake that year. He got serious about building up the account in high school with his wages from pumping gas evenings and weekends.
Soon after he graduated City High, Renny had enough for a bus ticket to Seattle and a boat ticket to Our Town. But when he reached his final destination, he was shocked.
Our Town was crowded – not nearly the boundless space Renny had daydreamed about. Surrounded by endless forest, he nonetheless found the residents of Our Town pressed cheek to jowl.
Renny weighed his options. This was back in the day when you could lay claim to land, just about, by living on it and filling out some paperwork. So Renny took a skiff north of town and set himself up a sweet little homestead at an unused spot on the beach, facing Mt. Edgecumbe.
Renny loved his quiet lifestyle, reading, hiking, listening to the birds and the wind. But civilization did not stop for Renny – one black day, a road was built and the cars and trucks started whooshing by.
And this is where the Soupster, who was visiting Renny’s place, joins our story.
“Renny? The noise from those big trucks doesn’t bother you?” the Soupster asked. “The last truck shook the whole house.”
“I used to care,” answered Renny. “I used to care a lot.”
“But now you don’t?”
“That’s a hard question to answer,” said Renny. “I still cherish my boyhood fantasies of living away from it all. And it’s great to imagine that giant sundae you had with a dozen scoops of ice cream and eight different syrups. But who’d want to eat something like that again? Not an old man like me.”
“Huh?” said the Soupster.
“I like my quiet,” Renny said. “But I like having people nearby.” He pointed to Mt. Edgecumbe, which filled most of the living room window.
“It’s all wild, out there – all of it,” he concluded. “I love that it’s wild. And I also love it that Our Town has my back!”
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Originally Published October 21, 2004
The Soupster’s rump itched. He squirmed in his seat. Pay attention! he told himself.
On the stage at the packed political meeting the Soupster attended, two familiar Alaskans debated the future of Our Town. Everyone was rapt to what was happening on stage, but the Soupster worried people could see him squirm and that they knew why.
At the right, standing at a podium, was a female brown bear, so tall she could reach up and knock the klieg lights above her head. To the left, behind the other podium, or rather perched on it, was a sleek raven.
“Ferry service!” squawked the raven. “Much better than roads.”
“Easy for you to say,” countered the bear. “You can fly. My constituents need roads.”
The crowd, all human, murmured in assent or dissent.
“Technology for medical care,” the bird called out. “Long distance docs!”
“Your doc should be close enough to look in the eye,” said the bear. “Of course, the last time a human looked me in the eye I ate him.”
The raven appeared momentarily worried.
“Hrrumph” said the bear.
The Soupster’s itch made him squirm again. This time he was sure it was noticeable. He wondered if he could slip out the back door, make it around the corner of the building and have a good scratch.
“You believe in large classrooms,” squawked the raven. “Lots of kids, too many kids.”
“I believe in the sanctity of the den,” said the bear, looking momentarily majestic.
“I believe in taking the chance at opportunity,” said the raven.
“And I believe in staking out your claim and never having to say you’re sorry,” said the bear.
The moderator banged his gavel and put forth the final question.
“If one animal could be said to represent the Alaskan spirit, which animal should that be?” said the moderator.
“I’ve been on license plates,” said the bear. “And on the “Made in Alaska” sign, although that’s my cousin actually. Representing Alaska, should, of course, be me.”
“My visage sells products from coffee to radios to football teams. Everyone knows a poem about me. Is there a poem about a bear that comes as easily to mind?” the raven posed sarcastically.
The bear became angry and clawed chunks out of the sides of its podium. The raven flew around the bear’s head in circles. The moderator banged his gavel repeatedly.
The Soupster used the fracas to cover his escape. By the time everyone had calmed and the debate resumed, the Soupster was slipping out the back door. Politics was the future, the Soupster knew and one had to pay attention to the future. But, he thought, passing out of sight around the corner, sometimes, there was more pressing business at hand.
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