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The Soupster witnesses a redemption.
Originally published March 6, 2003
The grocery store was packed. The Soupster had to walk sideways down the Canned Tomatoes aisle to pass the shopping carts parked on the left and then on the right. Unusual for Our Town, a long line of shoppers waited impatiently at the checkout stand.
When the Soupster finally got to the front of the line, he saw the reason for the delay. The young woman at the cash register was as overcareful with each transaction as a cat pacing the rim of a steamy bathtub.
She meticulously rotated each food item in her hand to find the UPC code, then drew the item across the scanner with a kind of dreamy slowness. She smiled individually at each person in line, looking for validation, then, with effort, picked up the next food item. The Soupster shifted his weight from one foot to the other. So did everyone in the steadily growing line behind him.
People had started to clear their throats, when a man in his 30’s with a badge that said “Asst. Mgr.” swept up behind the counter next to the cashier.
“Kathy! You are to call for help when the line gets this long,” he said in a theatrical whisper, meant for everyone to hear. “You should never let the line get this long, Kathy!”
“Ma’am,” the Asst. Mgr. said over-solicitously to the woman behind the Soupster. “All of you, come with me,” he pointed to the entire line and they moved with him to another checkout stand.
The young cashier’s face reddened. Only halfway through his transaction, the Soupster stood alone now before her. She went back to her slow-motion scanning of the Soupster’s few items. Meanwhile, the first members of the Asst. Mgr.’s line were already picking up their grocery bags and walking out the door.
“Sorry,” Kathy said, looking downcast.
“No problem,” said the Soupster. “First day on the job?”
She nodded. “Probably going to be my only day,” she said and, indeed, the Asst. Mgr. was shooting daggers her way, hidden behind the bland smile he showed his customers.
“Keep at it,” said the Soupster.
“I said DON’T RUSH ME!” came a loud, deep voice from the other register. The Soupster and the young cashier turned.
A very large man loomed over the Asst. Mgr., who was pinned against the back wall of his checkout station. The man slammed down his wallet and leaned forward in the direction of the Asst. Mgr. who looked extremely flustered and ready to bolt.
“Manny,” called the young cashier, as she left her workstation and slipped in next to her trembling co-worker. “Manny, Manny, Manny, cool your jets,” she laughed and poked the big man in the chest. Manny laughed. The Asst. Mgr. visibly unstiffened.
The cashier returned to the Soupster. She looked a lot happier than a minute before. “Will there be anything else, Sir?” she asked sweetly.
“I think you got your job back, Kathy,” the Soupster answered.
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The Soupster meets someone he will remember for the rest of his days.
Originally published May 10, 2001
Sweat dripped from the Soupster’s brow as he grabbed a final fingerhold of rock and hauled his body up over the precipice. He worked his chest, his hips and legs over the sharp edge to safety. He let out an enormous sigh of relief. The 5 1/2 climb had been the most arduous of his life. But he had made it! Over the ledge of rock that led to the place where the wise old bearded man lived, the one who would tell him the secret of the universe. Or at least what the Soupster should do over the next several weeks.
A well-worn path led directly from the rock’s edge, so the Soupster took it. He knew lots of people had preceded him to the wise old bearded man’s lair, but still the experience reeked of discovery. Up ahead he saw the shallow cave he’d heard of, where the wise old man dispensed his wisdom. Feeling humble, the Soupster removed his high-tech climbing gloves and boots, and walked inside.
No wise old bearded man. Instead, a kid with bad skin. The Soupster couldn’t really tell if the kid was male or female. “My uncle is getting audited by the I.R.S. and the rest of the family is at a condo in Boca Raton celebrating my cousin’s graduation from law school,” said the kid. “Any other wisdom I may dispense?”
The Soupster was flabbergasted. His legs and back ached from the climb, but his head ached more as he tried to make sense of the situation. “Well, I was going to ask you, you know, some Big Questions,” stammered the Soupster. “But, I mean, you’re probably not… qualified…”
“I’m plenty qualified,” said the kid. “I’m more qualified than anybody in my family, including my famous uncle. I’m qualified enough to know not to go to some stupid law school shindig in Boca Raton where it’s a million degrees.”
“Any, you know, Big Ideas, that I should, maybe, hear?” the Soupster attempted.
“No Big Ideas,” said the kid. “But here’s some little ones. How about stop saying ‘Send a Message’ and ‘Zero Tolerance’ when you are referring to children. That sit okay with you?”
“What’s your problem?” said the Soupster.
“My problem is that’s not language you should be using with your offspring,” the kid said. “`Sending a message’ is something the Godfather did when he left that horse head in the Hollywood producer’s bed. It’s something we do when we drop bombs. It’s bravado when you know you are the one with the power.”
“And `Zero Tolerance’ the kid continued, “is not possible to have. No matter how gross things are, you can always come up with a scenario where you would have to have some tolerance for the situation. And if anybody is going to find out the way to test that idea, it’s your kids.”
“I think you’re right,” said the Soupster.
“Of course, I’m right” said the kid, “My uncle is the wise old bearded guy!”
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