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The Soupster hears about the “Mad Captain”.
Originally published April 21, 2005
The Soupster mistook for a friend the stranger to Our Town he saw occupying a bench above the harbor.
“You look just like him,” the Soupster apologized, when he got closer. “This guy you look like has lived in Our Town forever.”
“I’m Richard Labb,” said the stranger, shaking the Soupster’s hand. “Visiting, er, Your Town, from Canada on a tour of the Inside Passage. Except Your Town is not very Inside anything, is it?”
“Sounds like you just took a boat trip,” guessed the Soupster.
“A fishing charter,” said Labb. “Before today I thought I had pretty good sealegs. But twice on the charter I made a personal contribution – over the side – to Davy Jones.”
“Rough charter?” the Soupster said.
Labb laughed, a touch maniacally. “You don’t know Captain Leonardo?”
“I don’t” said the Soupster.
“He has strange rituals that he insists his customers perform on board,” Labb said.
“After we left the harbor and were heading out – as soon as we got by those big rocks near the airport runway – Captain Leonardo insisted that I and the three other clients on board remove our socks and allow him to lock the socks up in a little box he kept by the helm,” Labb said.
“Any explanation?” asked the Soupster.
“Said it would help us catch fish,” said Labb. “Leonardo also said that when he served sandwiches for lunch.”
“Sandwiches seem pretty normal,” commented the Soupster.
“He made us eat the sandwiches from the outside in, crusts first,” said Labb. “All the way around the outside of the sandwich until we had a little soft disk of the center left. Captain Leonardo watched us closely as we ate and made sure we all did it. `Important to catch the fish!’ Leonardo insisted.”
“A lot of people have odd rituals they use to attract fish, but Captain Leonardo does seem a bit like Captain Crunch,” admitted the Soupster.
“But the worst, the absolute worst, was Captain Leonardo’s constant rhyming and word games,” Labb said. “He did not shut up for one single second. When Captain Leonardo found out I was from Canada, he started calling me `Labrador Labb.’ When he found out I was a veterinarian, he asked me if I had ever tested the blood of a retriever. When I said I had, he went berserk.
“`Labb from Labrador’s Labrador retriever blood testing laboratory,’ chanted Captain Leonardo. `Labb’s Lab Lab Labs.’ After about half an hour, he made started making us all repeat, `Labb’s Lab Lab Labs.’ He had similar sayings for everyone else, too.”
“Well, you’re back on dry land now,” the Soupster said soothingly. “And you never have to take one of Captain Leonardo’s charters ever again.”
“Actually, I’ve booked a trip with him later in the summer to troll for coho,” said Labb.
“Why? Leonardo drove you crazy,” said the Soupster.
“I know,” said Labb. “But you should see all the fish we caught!
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The Soupster offers Springtime advice.
Originally published March 30, 2000
The Soupster had been dreaming a lot lately about doing chores.
He thrashed around in bed starting around 2am and imagined he was fixing the gutters on his house, cleaning the trash out of the culvert and washing the old salt crust off the bottom of his car before the poor thing rusted out completely.
The Soupster felt he needed to paint the part of his house that a big storm had peeled raw the previous winter. That nice drainage ditch that funneled water away from where everybody walks? Well, it needed to be re-dug. And somehow, a cat had gotten below the deck and left several calling cards.
Springtime chores, thought the Soupster, are the 180-degree opposite to New Year’s resolutions.
On the flush of a brand new year, people think big. Our expansive minds wander to-and-fro to find the perfect human we want to be. New Year’s resolutions are grandiose — and too often forgotten or not kept.
Springtime chores, on the other hand, are humble. Calling out to us each time we leave the house or apartment, every time we put the key in the ignition or pass a sign warning us that on Tax Day we also have to have our tires changed.
They are humble, but insistent. Chores murmur and pull at your socks as you walk by. They get louder the longer the days become, as March passes into April and April into May. And their voices can get mighty shrill if you ignore their early Spring call and postpone everything until summer.
The Soupster came up with a “How-To” guaranteed to get those chores done (by doing the opposite of New Year’s resolutions):
1. Do not throw a huge party for a million friends immediately before starting on your chores.
2. Go slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
3. Firm, steady pressure gets the job done.
4. Do not announce you are starting your chores by spinning colorful noisemakers.
New Year’s is the calendar start of the year and the time we make big deals with ourselves. But April, thought the Soupster, is the true start of the new year.
April really means that winter’s over. Easter, Passover, eager young shoots pushing through the soil, etc. April’s not the time for big deals, it’s for paying back debts already incurred.
So get out the paint brush!
194 total views, 1 today
The Soupster shops for shoes.
Originally published March 15, 2001
“See,” the Soupster said to the sales clerk. “It’s way too big.”
The Soupster dangled his foot in front on himself and, indeed, his shoe — a rubber-and-leather waterproof slip-on — threatened to fall to the carpet.
“I don’t understand,” said the Soupster. “Surely I’m not shrinking? I’ve bought this style of shoe for years — always a size 9.”
“And now the nine is too big?” the sales clerk tried to confirm.
“Look,” said the Soupster and with a mere curl of his toe let the shoe drop off completely.
“Maybe they got a different manufacturer,” ventured the clerk.
“Or maybe they decided on a different sizing system from another country where people’s feet are smaller,” volunteered a young man whom the clerk and the Soupster noticed now, holding a heavy black work boot in one hand and a pair of beige leather sandals in the other.
“Actually,” said the clerk, “in that country you imagine the resident’s feet would be larger. The Soupster’s shoe is too big, not too small.”
“When I first moved to Our Town,” said the Soupster, “everything seemed really small. The roads and stores and houses. Then, it was like I moved into some new area of consciousness and suddenly the road didn’t seem to end too soon at all. It ended at just the right place.”
“I know what you mean,” commented the sales clerk. “For the first five or so years I lived here it seemed like I was always feeling short of people. Because I kept seeing the same people over and over again. Then, like you say — some new level — and I realized that because I knew so much about everybody, there were actually more people in my life. Not less.”
“Wow,” said the young man. “I had this cousin once from Tacoma. He was younger than me. You know how when you don’t see someone for a while, like since they were a kid, they look really big the next time you see them?”
The Soupster and sales clerk both bit. “Yes,” they said.
“Well, this cousin of mine kept shrinking,” said the young man. “Every time I’d see him he’d look a little smaller. He was always small, but he started to get really, noticeably smaller.”
“Did you share your perception with him or anybody else?” asked the clerk.
“Nah, I didn’t want to bum anybody out,” said the young man. “You know, in case he really was shrinking. Maybe he was always standing behind a dining room table or a television or something. But however it happened, I started to see only the top half of him. Like from the waist up.”
“What happened then?” prompted the Soupster.
“He disappeared completely,” said the young man wistfully.
“You mean, he totally dissolved into nothingness?” said the shoe clerk.
“No, he went to college in Arizona,” said the young man. “And he started hanging around with a crowd way too crazy for me.”
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There is definitely something on the Soupster’s mind.
Originally published March 22, 2007
“Two hundred and forty-seven eggs, wreck `em,'” the waitress called to the short-order cook in the Soupster’s dream about Spring.
In his dream about Spring, the Soupster sat at a breakfast counter that hadn’t existed in Our Town for years. Two large dark-haired men sat on either side of him. Both men wore Tlingit regalia and eagerly tore into herring eggs, mounded into a large pile on a plate before each.
“Pass the soy sauce?” asked the man on the left and the Soupster, still dreaming, did.
“Eggs for you, Soupster?” asked the waitress, her hand on her hip.
“Uh, two, over easy,”
“Two eggs?” said the waitress, her eyebrows arching with disbelief. “Just two?”
The waitress looked over at the men, who, like her, tried to keep from laughing. “You want seal oil with your two eggs?” she said, collapsing in hysterics.
Next, the Soupster dreamed he walked through a park of totem poles and old-growth trees. The Soupster peered into the forest, where he could see figures moving. They were bunnies and chicks — more specifically, children dressed as bunnies and chicks — a score of them, bent over and peering under salmonberry bushes and behind spruce and hemlock trunks.
“I’ve found one!” a cute blue rabbit called out, pulling out from under a skunk cabbage a small hemlock bough covered with herring eggs died in different colors.
“Me, too,” called another youngster, this one dressed as a duckling, holding aloft a similar prize. Cries of success came from hither and yon.
At that moment, the two men from the restaurant reappeared and grabbed the Soupster by the arms. The Soupster’s body stiffened and the men held him parallel to the ground, as they would a plank of wood. They continued down the forest path, the Soupster strangely calm for someone who was being kidnapped. The men carried the Soupster down to the beach and placed him in a small, open boat. Then they rowed for a time.
Despite the unexpected recent turns of the Soupster’s life – or should he say “dream life” – he felt a calm from believing that all this strangeness was a good sign. A sign of something good. Something like Spring?
The Soupster could hear the men placing the oars back in the boat. They grabbed the Soupster, hoisted him up, tipped him over and plunged his head into the cold water. They held him there. In his dream, the Soupster had no sense of the amount of time he hung upside down in the water. Then someone jostled him. Four arms brought the Soupster up sputtering. His hair was filled with herring eggs, which poured, as well, down over his shoulders.
“Sorry, Soupster,” said the first of the two men from the boat and restaurant. “We thought you were a hemlock bough.”
“A real `egg head'” said the second man. “That’s the Soupster!”
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The Soupster talks about nicknames and writing.
Originally published March 27, 2008
The Soupster sat on the big rock behind the library, staring at a departing fishing boat outlined by the setting sun, reminded again that Our Town could look glorious. “We should all be painters,” he muttered to an invisible audience. Then, he heard a voice.
“Soupster,” said Rocky “Stallion” Bilbao — whose name sounded like “Rocky Balboa” and, since Bilbao was of a slight stature, he was naturally called “Stallion” after the “Italian Stallion,” according to the perverse rules of nicknames — “you’re muttering.”
“My father used to mutter,” said the Soupster. “So did me Mutter.”
“Hah!” said Rocky. “Say Soupster, why do you call me `Stallion?’”
“You know the rules of nicknames,” said the Soupster, who thought he was stating the obvious.
“Your name sounds like Rocky Balboa’s and you don’t look at all like a boxer, so you get a boxer’s nickname. Like naming a really big guy `Tiny.’”
“But my name is Bilbao, which is a city in Spain that has a famous art museum,” Stallion said. “So why don’t you call me `Art?’”
“Guggenheim?” asked the Soupster.
“Garfunkle?” countered Stallion.
“No, Guggenheim!” the Soupster pressed.
“Why would you want to call me Garfunkle Guggenheim?” asked Stallion.
“Guggenheim is the name of the museum!” said an exasperated Soupster. “Art Garfunkle was the taller half of that folk singing duo.”
The two men shuffled pebbles with their feet for a moment. “Soupster,” Stallion said finally. “You know how you’re always making me read your little stories? How come you never ask me to write one?”
“That’s not a bad idea,” said the Soupster. “Do you think you’d would want to?”
“I would,” said Stallion. “Especially if you paid me for it.”
“Okay, how’s this,” the Soupster proposed. “If you or anybody wants to write an Our Town column, the story would have to be between 450 and 500 words long, and it must connect with life in Our Town and the people of Our Town. We’ll pay $50 if we run it in the Soup.”
“You should make sure you’re in the story,” said Stallion. “You have to be a character. You should make that one of the rules… Say, Soupster, how do I know you’re serious?”
“If I was serious, I’d put it in the Soup,” said the Soupster.
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The Soupster takes a road trip.
Originally published February 22, 2007
“Road Trip!” the Soupster cried, as he opened his eyes Friday morning.
The Soupster knew Our Town and the realities that imposed. But he had decided, just before closing his eyes Thursday night, that he was in the mood for a road trip and would take one despite those realities.
First, to equip himself. He was glad he had a hybrid car – he got about 40 miles per gallon in the winter with studded tires and the heater blaring – twice the fuel efficiency of other similar-sized cars. The tank was about half full – that should do it with plenty to spare. He gathered a good flashlight, flares, a space blanket. several meals-ready-to-eat and a copy of John McPhee’s “Coming into the Country.” All this went into the emergency kit.
Then he spent 20 minutes poring over his music – some Ella Fitzgerald, the Beatles and, for the magnificent curving roadway near the end of the drive, Aaron Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man.”
After donning comfortable clothes and soft-soled driving shoes, the Soupster looked nostalgically around his kitchen. He knew he’d be back. Still, the road had its mysteries and did one ever really know for sure? “Only one way to find out,” he said to no one in particular and began his road trip by heading south.
“At 970 meters high, the long-dormant volcano,” the Soupster had read in his guidebook “rivals or even exceeds Mt. Fuji in beauty.” The day was clear and Mt. Edgecumbe snow-capped. The guidebook said that the mountain had last erupted about 2,000 years ago. Reluctantly, the Soupster gave back in to the lure of the road.
The miles flew by. The Soupster’s stomach grumbled, protesting the quick coffee he’d had in place of real breakfast. “Well,” he thought, “what’s better than road food?”
He picked a café with a wide menu, ordered heavily and scarfed every bite. No need to eat again till he reached his destination.
He headed east, toward the sun. Here, the Soupster’s driving skills were tested as he passed through a construction zone (double fines!) into a hold-up of traffic as a huge tractor lumbered well below the speed limit.
At last, he broke free of the traffic onto lovely open road. He eased through curves and inclines, wondering if he could ever talk Our Town into hosting the Grand Prix. He felt as free as a cetacean bursting through the water into bright sunlight, like – yes, like the humpbacks bubble feeding right there! – the Soupster pointed to where he had watched those whales a decade earlier.
Aaron Copland’s music caressed him all the way down the last few miles of road, past industry, onto dirt track. Finally, he could go no further. He had reached the end.
He crawled out of his car and walked off his stiffness. The Soupster loathed getting back into the hybrid so soon, but he saw no other choice but to turn around and hit the pavement. Bummer, he’d already seen that country! Next road trip, he promised himself, he would drive one way and maybe fly back.
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