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The Soupster sees light being lent.
The knock on the Soupster’s door turned out to be Bob, the Soupster’s new neighbor, who wanted to borrow a flashlight. Bob needed to do some outdoor plumbing and, new to Our Town, he still felt uncomfortable about running electrical cords outside in the rain.
“Cleve,” the Soupster told Bob. “Cleve is your man.”
Cleve was another of the Soupster’s neighbors and known for his lights. Cleve had gasoline-powered pedestal klieg lights as well as key chain lights whose bulbs were guaranteed beyond eternity. Cleve had lights he could strap to his head, his shoulder, the crook of his arm and his shoes. He had old diving lights that ran on massive lantern batteries, one than ran on a fuel cell the size of a dime and one that you could crank to operate.
The passage between the Soupster’s house and Cleve’s ran through some thick brush, and the Soupster could see Bob cringing from the even deeper dark that cloaked the path.
“Light,” said the Soupster. “Can you even remember the middle of the summer, when it never got dark? We’re paying for that now.”
The light-starved Bob took up the conversation; after all isn’t food — or the opposite of it — the favorite subject of famished people? “The desert is dark, notably dark,” he said. “A winter I spent outside Shiprock, Arizona taught me that. But wet dark is somehow worse.”
“Wet dark is like double dark,” the Soupster agreed. “Can be dark on the ocean.”
“On a tour of Alcatraz prison, I volunteered to be locked in solitary confinement,” said Bob. “When they closed the door, that was the darkest I could imagine.”
“Cleve’s yard is equipped with motion-sensor lights all over the place,” said the Soupster. “Don’t be startled. I can show you where you can just wave your hand a little out in front of you and set off the whole array.”
On the edge of Cleve’s lawn, the Soupster waved his arm a little out in front of him and the whole area blazed into daytime. Awash now, the two men staggered, blinking, up the walk. Cleve was already at his front door, tipped off by the lights.
“Can Bob check out one of your flashlights to do some plumbing?” the Soupster asked, indicating the new neighbor.
“Sure,” said Cleve, who disappeared briefly. He came back with a three lights — a carabiner micro-light, a waterproof million-candlepower portable searchlight and about six feet of luminescent piping. “Use the piping for brightening up the area where you are working,” he explained.
As Bob stood examining the lights, the Soupster turned to Cleve. “Poor guy,” whispered the Soupster. “This is his first November.”
“He’ll do okay,” Cleve said. “It’ll soon be Thanksgiving and the city lights will go up on the utility poles and the people in the stores and houses will start decorating.”
“Can I borrow all three lights?” asked Bob.
“Better than cursing the darkness,” said Cleve. “For sure.”
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The Soupster visits the vets office.
Anton’s paws were a mess. The dignified long-haired jet-black Maine Coon cat hid a secret between his tufted foot pads – the sharp nails on his front paws grew in a tight circle and right back into the skin.
The veterinarian had spread Anton’s paw pads up to the light to show the Soupster the uncomfortable stuff his beloved cat walked upon. Traces of blood could be seen around the nails.
“I’m shocked he doesn’t limp or wince or something,” said the Soupster.
“Some cats can be pretty stoic,” the vet said, as he used small nippers on the cat’s claws, “Especially these Maine Coons.”
“Quite a back story, the Maine Coons have,” continued the medico. “They were supposed to have been the long-haired pets of Queen Marie Antoinette of France. She sent the cats to America, expecting to escape the French Revolution and come to America herself later on. Unfortunately, she waited until it was too late and got guillotined.”
“I’ve heard that,” said the Soupster. “The cats were released into the winter wilds of New England, where they mated with raccoons and developed their thick coats.”
“Well, that part isn’t true,” said the vet.
“Colorful, though,” the Soupster said.
“Anyhow, the placid nature and striking looks of these cats make them one of the most favored breeds in the U.S.,” the vet said. He stroked Anton’s head and then went back to nipping at his claws. “Few more minutes,” the vet said. Anton looked unperturbed, so the Soupster walked into clinic’s outer waiting room.
Sam Grace and his wife Judy sat there. A medium-sized black-and-white dog stretched on out the floor with his front feet on Sam’s boots.
“Nice looking dog,” said the Soupster to Sam. “What is he?”
“Miss Pepper is a mixed breed,” Sam said. “A shelter mutt.”
“She’s smart enough that I wouldn’t be surprised to find out she had some border collie in her,” added Judy. “She knows so many words!”
“She knows the difference between the ball and the big ball, and she’ll bring you the big ball if that’s what you’re asking for,” said Sam. “Good girl,” he murmured as he reached down to scratch Pepper’s head. “Miss Pepper is here for her certificate of health. We want to take her traveling with us.”
“Do you have a dog here, too?” Judy asked.
“A cat,” said the Soupster. “Anton. Nice big healthy boy. Except he has front claws that get all ingrown. So I have to bring him in for a pedicure twice a year.”
“That’s very caring of you,” Judy said. “You sound like a good owner.”
“Owner?” said the Soupster, “No, no, no, no, no.”
“Huh?” asked Sam.
“Dogs have owners,” the Soupster said firmly. “Cats have staff.”
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The Soupster recounts that there are three ways to skin a Permanent Fund.
“I’m going to become a parent,” Mick said to the Soupster as both met up outside a Lincoln St. bank. “And I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems and responsibilities of raising kids. I don’t think I’ll have any problem with religion, issues of brotherhood or with kids and crime – I know right where I stand and I know what I’m going to say. But how to deal with my kid’s Permanent Fund Dividend? That totally mystifies me.”
“I mean, it’ll be the kid’s money, won’t it?” he continued. “But it’s a lot of money for anyone to manage well, let alone a kid. A parent has to have a plan. What do you think?”
“Well,” said the Soupster, “There was this one family — despite the fact that they’re not rich, they put every PFD dollar for the kid into mutual funds. During the go-go 90’s. The family had some awful expenses, but they never, ever touched the kid’s PFD. When she was 18, the family had a big pile of money saved up for her and she ended up starting a rug business in Wrangell where her favorite Auntie lives. She’s doing very well there.”
“Sounds great,” said Mick. “But what if her family really got in a hole and they were going to lose their house or if somebody got really sick?”
“Well,” said the Soupster. “I know another family. Every PFD the kid’s whole life went into paying for the continuing, everyday expenses of the family. With the PFDs and everything else, the father was able to get his college degree from distance learning. The mother took a year off to volunteer for her church in South America, which was her lifelong dream. When college came around for the kid, there was no money, but everybody pulled together and now both father and son have their degrees.”
“I don’t think I could do that,” said Mick. “I’ll want to make absolutely sure my kid has a leg up. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to take chances with such a valuable resource.”
“Well,” said the Soupster. “Then maybe this family’s story will help. I mean I’m not endorsing this, but this family just handed the cash over to their kid and let her do anything she wanted with it. From when she was about six years old on, anything that got into this kid’s head, she was able to finance. This is when the PFDs were $1,200 and $1,500 a check. One year this kid bought more than 100 stuffed animals, one for everyone in her grade. Another year, she spent her whole thing at Save the Children. She sent her parents on a cruise ship cruise and when her neighbors said they’d love to do the same, the kid sent them on a cruise the following year.”
“Well, I hope you don’t endorse that, Soupster,” said Mick. “What a wasted opportunity and a reckless plan for handling that poor child’s money. A poor investment in the future.”
“Well, I don’t know,” the Soupster. “That kid is now making a fortune designing fantasy-based video games in Seattle. And she just bought her parents a new boat!”
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The Soupster learns that some dreams have gray linings.
Yet again, the Soupster couldn’t sleep. Every night, he closed his eyes and started snoring, only to find himself transported to the pilot house of a tug boat, hauling an over-stacked cargo barge northbound from Ketchikan to Skagway.
Soupster at the helm, the barge’s bulk sailed slowly through misty Southeastern darkness. The barge and tug were well lit, but droplets of mist hanging in the air absorbed and concentrated the light, rendering the shore invisible.
The result was a sense of moving, yet staying still. Much like driving a car on the endless flatlands of Kansas. The Soupster had been dreaming this dream, off and on, for the past fortnight.
The Soupster rose and padded through his dark house. His bum knee ached. He poured himself a glass of milk and drank it at the fridge, then returned to his bed. He started the mental calculation to decide which to have checked out first – his painful knee or his unrestful sleep. In the morning, he knew to take care of things from the head down.
The Soupster called the assistant of a hypnotist who happened to be visiting Our Town to drum up hypno-business on local call-in radio shows and classified ads
“I’m Dr. Magma’s hypno-sistant,” confessed Lonnie.
The Soupster made an appointment with Lonnie’s boss, Dr. Lorenzo Magma. In the surprisingly professional-looking temporary clinic, the Soupster told Dr. Magma the sad story of his sleeplessness.
“A cargo barge, hour after hour of slow churning,” commiserated Dr. Magma. “Sounds very bad.”
For treatment, Dr. Magma told the Soupster that he would take over piloting the barge every night in Kake. Then, said the doctor, he would take the barge the rest of the way to Skagway and the Soupster could get some shuteye.
Dr. Magma’s cure worked. Each night, as the barge approached Kake, the Soupster felt a relaxation come over him and he awoke in the morning vastly more refreshed.
About a week later, the Soupster saw on the streets of Our Town a disheveled man who looked like he might keel over any second. With a start, the Soupster realized it was Bruce Willforge, the gunsmith.
“Bruce, you look terrible,” said the Soupster.
“I haven’t slept in two months,” Bruce admitted. “Every might I dream that I go to an elaborate banquet with everything in the world to eat and lots of clever entertainment and I spend all night gorging and partying.”
“I have just the man for you,” the Soupster said and told Bruce to make an appointment with Dr. Magma.
Willforge did make the appointment and did receive treatment, the Soupster found out when he saw the gunsmith the following week. Despite that, Willforge showed no improvement in his pallid mien.
“Bruce,” said the Soupster. “Do you still have to dance and stuff yourself with scrumptious food all night in your dreams?”
“No, Dr. Magma took that off my hands,” Willforge said.
“Then why do you look so terrible?”
“Because now, every night, I have to pilot a cargo barge from Kake to Skagway instead!”
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The Soupster plays the Name Game.
Originally published Oct. 8, 2009
The Soupster plopped onto the bench outside Harrigan Centennial Hall Building to rest his aching dogs (feet), swelling inside his normally spacious clogs. Combating Global Warming by walking more helped his heart and reduced his carbon footprint, the Soupster thought, but it seemed to be increasing his regular footprint.
A man and two women spilled out the door, laughing and poking at each other. They noticed the Soupster and stepped over.
“You from here? We love this town!” one woman erupted and her two friends nodded briskly.
The Soupster remembered that Convention Season had started on the (ahem) heels of the Running of the Boots.
“We’re from the Helen Mull Society,” volunteered the other woman.
“Who’s Helen Mull?” the Soupster asked..
“Not `who’ – `what,’” the man corrected. “It’s an acronym for the Hyphenated Last Names Making Up Luminaries Society. HLN-MUL.”
“Helen Mull, get it?” said the first woman. “Like me. My maiden name was Greta Pierce and I married Lawrence Brosnan. So now I’m Greta Pierce-Brosnan. Get it?”
“Bob Haas-Cartwright,” said the man, leaning forward to shake the Soupster’s hand. “Great little town you’ve got here.”
“Wow,” I can’t believe you have a whole society devoted to this,” said the Soupster.
“Oh, it’s very engrossing,” said the other woman. “For instance, Bob and I were only allowed into the Society two years ago when the rules were relaxed.”
“Oh, yes,” she continued. “Originally, the spelling of the hyphenated last name in question had to match the luminary’s precisely. Like Pierce-Brosnan’s name does. Then, they decided to allow names that only sound the same, using a standard American English pronunciation. Like Bob Haas-Cartwright.”
“And you are?” asked the Soupster.
“Sharon,” she said. “Oh, Sheehan-LaBoofe. Sharon Sheehan-LaBoofe. Sorry. It’s a mouthful, I admit.”
“Well,” said the Soupster. “Sheehan-LaBoofe is not the same as Shia LeBeouf, even in sound.”
“This year,” Pierce-Brosnan said, ignoring the Soupster’s comment, “we’ve been discussing whether plurals should disqualify or not. We’ve had applications from a Johns-Wayne, an Adams-Corolla and a Walters-Hickel. Oh, you should like that one!”
“I envy the founding members like Gerald Winston-Churchill,” Haas-Cartwright said to no one in particular. A young woman came out the door and Pierce-Brosnan shrieked with delight.
“Or even better,” Pierce-Brosnan said, taking the new girl by the arm. “This is Barbara Alexander, who hopes to join Helen Mull next year.”
“Hello,” said the Soupster.
“Next year,” said Pierce-Brosnan, “after she gets married to Lou Baranof. Get it?”
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The Soupster recounts how a good prop can save the day.
“Wild beard – check, rough clothes – check,” said the Soupster to himself, as he stared at the large form of Granville Brickface standing at the coffee counter.
“Five shot venti Americano,” boomed Granville in a bass impressive enough to literally blow back the barrista’s hair (well, almost literally). Granville collected his potion and parked his bulk on the far side of the crowded coffee shop.
“Giant voice – check,” the Soupster muttered.
Granville Brickface was not the biggest guy in Our Town, but – with his wild beard, rough clothes and giant voice — he definitely took up the most space. Crowds seemed to part when he showed up. Dogs and birds went silent.
The Soupster remembered one time when a delicately-engraved invitation had arrived in Granville’s mail, with multiple pages and tissue papers in between each page. Granville was distantly related to some pretty lofty Our Town residents of the past and was being invited to the wedding of the daughter of one of the loftiest present-day Our Town residents.
The invite had required serious cogitation on Granville’s part. The guy was big, but not mean. He did not want to scandalize the ceremony with his usual “casual” garb, when the rest of the partygoers went formal. He did not want to do anything to rattle the nuptials. He would buy a suit.
“And get a haircut, for goodness sakes,” Granville heard in his mother’s voice inside his
head. He decided he would do that, too.
But successful social engagements are not based solely on appearance, Granville had remembered. People are required to talk with one another. A problem, he thought, that was more enigmatic than a haircut.
The Soupster had suggested a strategy from his long-ago experience with dating. He told Granvillle to anticipate the questions people would ask of him and, like a politician readying for a debate, prepare polite answers and memorize them. So Granville did.
The morning of the wedding, Granville took his newly-shorn and freshly-laundered self to visit the elderly woman who lived next door, as a test run. Mrs. Cox was delighted with Granville’s transformation.
“It’s remarkable,” she said. “I’m nearly not afraid of you.”
“Do you think I’m ready?” Granville asked, purposely speaking in a low voice because of all the crystal glassware lining the breakfront shelves.
“Well,” said Mrs. Cox, tapping one finger against her chin. “Maybe we can improve things a bit more.”
“Princess Lorna Doone!” Mrs. Cox called out and her tiny, fluffy, impossibly cute Pomeranian yapped into the room.
“Take Princess with you, Granville,” said Mrs. Cox. “Everybody loves Lorna!”
Granville did and Princess Lorna Doone earned her salt. All afternoon, Granville had a small crowd of people surrounding him, all wanting to pet and hold the dog. The memorized answers allowed Granville to appear almost charming.
And he got the best compliment of all when some cousin, taking in Granville’s fresh haircut, crisp suit and tiny dog, said, “I didn’t know Granville had a brother!”
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The Soupster encounters and old friend.
Submitted by Lois Verbaan
The Soupster panted as he climbed the stairway up the mountain. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. Apart from a squirrel which scampered up a tree, he was alone. Or so he thought. But, as he climbed the last flight of stairs, a person came into view, leaning on the guard rail and gazing into the distance.
“Rusty?? Is that you??” the Soupster asked, suddenly remembering his missed eye doctor appointment.
“‘Fraid so,” the old fisher replied, as she stared at the islands. “Seen a lot in my day,” she sighed. “Wispy clouds in a blue morning sky, a troller plying a glassy sea, a hazy horizon blurring snow-capped mountains, wind chopping up dark water, a cat streaking across the road to take refuge in shadows.”
“Rusty! What on earth??” the Soupster said. “You okay?”
“Sure,” she said, “just contemplating the passing of time. When you gotta turn back at the lookout, you realize you aren’t a spring Bambi anymore,” she admitted, rubbing her knees. “To tell the truth, summer’s taking its toll. Too much daylight and too much to do.”
“Aah, friend,” Rusty continued. “‘How small the boat for each life, how vast the ocean and its storms; May sunlight touch the waves, may strong wind take your sails…’ Know any ‘a those, Soupster?”
“Can’t say I do,” the Soupster mumbled, munching a handful of trail mix.
“Well, probably ‘cause I made ‘em all up,” Rusty laughed. “Anyway, how’s your summer going?”
“Productive,” the Soupster said. “I’m getting through my ‘Indoor To-Do List.’ Last week I sorted my garage cabinets into cutting things, hitting things and measuring things.”
“Wow, impressive!” Rusty said. “I count myself lucky if I can find anything clean on the boat to put on every morning. Anyhow, we have different priorities. Dry and warm is good enough for me.”
“Soupster, what I really want to know is how far we’ve hiked from the trailhead to here,” she said.
Pulling out his phone, the Soupster declared, “Siri! Pythagorean Theorem!”
“The square root of A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared, Soupstah,” she replied.
“Australian accent,” the Soupster whispered to Rusty. “But that’s another story.”
“Impressive, Soupster, but you’re hurting my head – too early for this kind of mathematical genius.”
“That’s okay, Rusty, you’re good at other things. Take these, for example,” the Soupster said, examining her well-worn hiking poles, with glints of shiny metal between the mud. “These babies prove you’re a hardcore Alaska outdoorsperson.”
“Dunno,” Rusty said. “Always thought it was the shorts.”
“Got a point there, Rust,” the Soupster admitted. “Pretty hardcore how you wear shorts year-round. How do we know when the temperature has hit 40? When ol’ Rusty emerges from hibernation with shorts on.” Rusty chuckled.
A freezing gust of wind hit the hikers, bringing the first drops of that distant storm, and sending a shiver up Rusty’s legs. The two friends put on an extra layer, cinched up their backpacks and headed down the mountain.
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The Soupster talks to someone who can’t see the forest, because of one.
“No, Uncle Bob, I’m not aware,” said the Soupster into the receiver of his landline phone, “just how hot your weather is right now.”
That was an outright lie. In fact, the Soupster knew. He regularly enjoyed playing a weather game called “Too Hot!.” The game involved reading the list of daily temperatures in the newspaper or watching the highs and lows of major U.S. cities scroll by on television and stopping at each one 80 degrees or higher to think aloud “Too Hot!” Starting in the Spring, various cities would pass into the realm of “Too Hot!” until, by August, most of the country qualified. It seemed as though too many cities were getting “Too Hot!” too early in the year and staying simmering too late into the fall. The Soupster knew from his game that Uncle Bob’s area had been hitting triple digits all week – shattering records set in horse-and-buggy days.
“That sounds terrible, Uncle Bob,” the Soupster said to his mother’s brother’s description of clothing turning sweat-soaked in minutes, engines overheating on gridlocked streets, regional power outages making air conditioners and refrigerators useless.
Of all the things the Soupster loved about Our Town and knew he would miss the most, its mild summertime temperatures ranked tops. Our Town and neighboring villages were maybe the last places in the country where the Soupster could live without ever having taken his air conditioner out of the box – it sat in the back of the Soupster’s closet like a survivalist’s cache of water pouches, freeze-dried Stroganoff and space blankets.
“What’s that, Uncle Bob?” the Soupster asked, registering what his relative had just said. “Your car was stolen when?”
During the heat wave and power outage, Bob explained, making it infinitely more difficult for him and his wife to haul ice back to their house to try and save the food in the chest freezer. The lack of transportation made it impossible for the couple to go the lakefront or other cooler escapes. Their usual last resorts – the movie theaters and the International House of Pancakes — were dark because of the blackout. Police found Bob’s car finally – minus hubcaps and, oddly, head rests.
“Why doesn’t it matter anymore, Uncle Bob?” asked the Soupster. “What do you mean `Eminent Domain’?”
Uncle Bob said that he worried about a developer who wanted to build condos right where his neighborhood stood. Meant jobs and higher taxes for the city. In New Jersey, one city had condemned some people’s houses with exactly the same outcome in mind and the U.S. Supreme Court backed the city and the developer. The city always wanted more people. More people just meant longer lines, Bob complained, at the market, the bank – even to vote. Of course, floods and tornadoes threatened, too. Along with the pesticides in the groundwater.
“Uncle Bob, you really have got to consider moving somewhere you find more pleasant.” said the Soupster.
“Never happen, Nephew,” Bob said. “Where else are real estate prices this low?
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