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The Soupster thinks he has enlightened an unconscious friend
Originally published November 22, 2000
“I’m giving thanks for my brand new sportscar,” said the Soupster’s old friend Jake over the phone. “I bought it with the bundle I made investing in cell phones. It looks cool and gets me where I’m going in comfort. And it’s a babe-magnet!” he finished unrepentantly.
Sighed the Soupster, “You’re the same chauvinistic, materialistic scoundrel I knew decades ago. You know nothing about giving thanks.”
“I know a lot about cell phones,” said Jake.
“Thanks shouldn’t be for cell phones and fancy cars, it should be for the warm basics of life. Home and family and friends and good food. Here you are entering geezerhood and you haven’t grasped that simple fact.”
“Did I say I hit 120 miles per hour in the desert one day?”
The Soupster took a deep breath and re-phrased the exasperated question in his head before saying it aloud. “Where do you live?” he finally got out.
“In an apartment complex with a pool and a sauna and an exercise room and…” Jake began.
“Wait,” said the Soupster. “Forget all the extras. Just concentrate on your apartment. Your place. Now, concentrate on the bed and you sleeping snugly while a howling gale roars outside.”
“I love that feeling,” Jake admitted.
“The sports car doesn’t give you that kind of feeling, right?”
“A different kind of feeling,” Jake agreed.
“The pool and the exercise room and all that stuff are like one of those blue novelty lights,” said the Soupster. “They don’t really give off warmth.
That cozy bed feeling you’re remembering is timeless and placeless. You could be back home and be a kid again. You think only about the slightly colder pocket of air surrounding your feet at the end of the blanket. And you wonder whether you should poke them out into the even colder room air or scrunch them together into a heat-producing ball.”
“Scrunch them together,” said Jake. “What I actually like,” he confessed, “is when you scrunch the arch and heel parts of your feet together, but you also try and get the cool blanket to fold in between as many toes as you can.”
“But, what I really, really like,” he continued, “is when you’re in bed, under the blanket that’s folded between as many toes as you can, and you remember — you remember — that’s there’s something you wanted to do. Not like you left a candle burning or something having to do with safety. Like you left the cookies open in the living room and the dog will probably get into it overnight and throw up and you’ll have to clean that up in the morning. But you don’t care because it’s so warm under the blanket and you’ve got at least six toes folded into the cool parts.”
“A much better Thanksgiving thought than your ego-pumping car, right?” asked the Soupster, temporarily triumphant.
“Right-o, buddy,” said Jake. “As a babe magnet, this warm blanket-candle-toe stuff slams that ole car right out of the ballpark! Thanks!”
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(Ahead of his time) the Soupster hunkers down.
Originally published November 7, 2013
The Soupster was not damp, but everything outside the walls of his house couldn’t have been soggier. In Our Town “Fall” might better be called “Thrown At” because the rain and/or hail of the season seems propelled downward by a force greater than mere gravity.
The Soupster was feeling bored and lonely, so he was happy when Carla called from Minnesota. “Bored and a little lonely, but dry,” the Soupster said when Carla asked how he was.
Carla chattered on about her kids Josh and Rebecca and husband Josh, and her going back to college online. Then, she said “Oops, I’m getting Call Waiting, must be Becca, I’m supposed to pick her up. Can you hold?”
The Soupster did. Switching to speaker phone, he wandered toward his back porch, where the part covered by a fiberglass roof played wonderful rhythms as it hailed. The sound rose and fell like the aural equivalent of those birds whose flocks turn on a dime: sheets of sound, rippling and turning.
Carla came back on, “Sorry, Soupster,” she said. “That was Becca, who needs another half hour before I get her. So you’re lonely and a little bored?”
“Actually, bored and a little lonely,” said the Soupster. “This is a rough time of the year, weather-wise.”
“Tell me about it,” said Carla. “I’m an Our Town girl. Remember, you just have to make it to Thanksgiving. Then the holiday lights go up and you start talking to friends. And then it’s New Years and you notice the light coming back a little more.”
“Oh, I hate to do this,” Carla blurted, “But I’m getting another call. Will you hold again?”
The Soupster did. The hail slacked off. A shaft of sunlight pierced the gray sky, came through the window, and fell upon a bookshelf, where there lived a ceramic planter in the shape of a fish with enormous crimson lips. Carla had given the Soupster the fish two decades earlier, after he helped her move. This was before kids and even before husband Josh.
Next to the fish was a half-scale raven carved out of wood. Steve Jessup had given the Soupster the raven after the Soupster took Steve’s parents out on his boat. Next to that, an entire dog family stretched out on their papier-mâché couch – a gift from somebody. Above the dogs nestled signed copies of all the books by Our Town’s writers over the years.
The Soupster touched the arms of his sweater – knitted by Giselle for his birthday. In the pantry were jars of sockeye and jams, all canned by various friends. If he wanted, he could gaze around his living room at the paintings and sculptures created by friends. Or he could pop in a CD cut by one of Our Town’s bands.
Carla came back on the line. “I can see why you feel lonely,” she said. “I keep abandoning you.”
“You know, I don’t feel lonely,” said a satisfied Soupster, taking in his surroundings. “Not anymore.”
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The winning design for the new Seal of the City and Borough of Sitka was announced Tuesday night, October 13th at the Assembly Meeting. The design was created by Aaron Traz Hill.
Hill – who goes by “Traz” – is a 30-year old tattoo artist who grew up in Sitka and now lives with his wife and two kids in Oklahoma.
Traz attended Blatchley Middle School and graduated from Sitka High School in 2008. He moved to Sitka in 2001 with his parents Sonja & Ron Conner, who came to Sitka through work with their church. Sonja works for AK Air and Ron for Sitka Electric.
In early October, Traz received an “unofficial” notification from CBS that his design had been selected; this was followed shortly by the $1,000 prize check, but it “really seemed real when I heard my name announced at the at the Assembly Meeting.”
How did Hill first hear about the City Seal Contest? “I was here with my wife and kids visiting my folks earlier in this spring, and they brought it to my attention.” Traz says he has traveled to Sitka a couple of times this year – the second time, sadly, for the funeral of his grandma Ursula Zertuche, who died in May. Zertuche (a naturalized U.S. citizen originally born in Germany) lived in Sitka for several years in the 80s and from 2013 until her death in 2020. In early October, Traz received an “unofficial” notification from CBS that his design had been selected; this was followed shortly by the $1,000 prize check, but it “really seemed real when I heard my name announced at the at the Assembly Meeting.”
Traz admits, “It was pretty difficult traveling (with the Covid-19 restrictions) but we were just careful and it was ok.”
Traz says growing up here influenced him as an artist and “filled me with a lot of the qualities of Sitka.” His career as a professional tattoo artist started “about seven years ago. I had dabbled before that but was not initially drawn to (that field) maybe partly because of my religious upbringing.” He has done art his “whole life, coloring and drawing from a young age.” He attended Sitka Fine Arts Camp, where besides art classes, he played percussion in jazz band, and was active in Sitka baseball.
Later on, Traz took some college art classes and “learned a lot.” He got his professional tattoo license in 2014, and is presently licensed in Oklahoma, Texas, Florida and Alaska.
When asked if he still draws on paper, Traz affirmed, “Every day!” His parents and grandmother were “always very supportive.” He particularly remembers “watching Bob Ross in the late 80s on PBS on grandma’s TV.” He was inspired by Ross’ show “The Joy of Painting” with its “real time” demos of oil painting techniques. Hill recalls Ross’ intimate speaking style and obvious appreciation for Alaska’s natural world.
When asked about how he came up with his city seal design, Traz said how vital it was to him to include Alaska Native design elements, because “There wouldn’t be a Sitka without Natives because they lived here first.” Thus, the prominent totem pole in the foreground of the design. The young artist also attended a “Native carving course at Fine Arts Camp (and learned that) the design elements and the process were very structured.”
“I also wanted to include both the bridge and fishing; I couldn’t decide between them.” He and one of his brothers worked in seining and tendering. ‘It was about more than (making) money,” said Hill. “There was a feeling of tranquility out on the water.”
“And I needed to get the Coast Guard (into the design), somehow, since they rescued my brother Chatham, after a potentially fatal accident.” Hence, the helicopter in the sky in Hill’s creation.
When asked about a couple of slightly different designs he had produced for the seal, Traz said that his original design had brighter colors (a notably bright orange sky). “Sitka has some really pretty days and sunsets,” he admitted. But when the City Seal committee asked the finalists to make revisions, the artist came up with his “revised design with more muted tones, for a timeless, more official feel.”
The new CBS City Seal was selected (in a blind selection process, where artists were not identified), and involved input from both the public, the City Design Review Committee, local boards and commissions, and the Sitka Tribe of Alaska.
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A friend raises the Soupster’s consciousness about “the worst thing”.
“Hi, Soupster,” called a voice from behind the mask.
The Soupster squinted in concentration, struggling to recognize the pleasantly crinkled eyes above the mask. He almost had it… wait, wait…
“Anastasia Anarchy! It’s you!” he finally said triumphantly. “So good to run into you, Stace,” he continued, striving to use his best, Ethel-Merman-projecting abdominal voice, and to enunciate carefully from behind his mask. The last time he’d spoken with Anastasia, she’d shown some signs of a hearing deficit.
“Yes, wonderful serendipity, chancing upon each other in front of this grocery store pop-up cello concert. Though maybe not total chance, eh, Soupster. There are patterns everywhere.”
“Is that your truck over there, Stace? Let’s go chat a bit over the hood while we listen to the music.” They got to the truck and the Soupster glanced down through the open window at the passenger seat.
“What’s that, Stace,” he said. “It looks like a DVD of Wagon Train???”
“Yeah, that it is, Soupster. I used to watch that on T.V. all the time when I was a kid. I was,” she said with twinkling eyes, “especially enamored of the scout, Flint McCullough.”
“Oh, I remember him,” said the Soupster. “Wasn’t he played by a guy named Robert something?”
“Yup. Robert Horton. That’s him. One time, when I was about eight, I even had a dream about him,” said Anastasia. “He was out doing his advance scouting thing and he was fording a river. He was walking through the water towards me, and I walked in to meet him…But maybe I’d better leave it there.”
“I get it, Stace. Sometimes you don’t know what something means until years later.”
“I was fascinated by cowboy movies, Soupster. Sometimes I wanted to be a cowboy and have those special skills – you know, like swinging a lariat and yodeling. Not much to do with guns except maybe twirling them round your finger. Later on, in high school, I learned some basic bow-and-arrow skills, like not hyper-extending my bow arm and receiving a terrible burn.”
“All that cowboys and Indians stuff, Soupster – it was really a thoughtless world I grew up in.”
The Soupster looked steadily at Anastasia and said nothing.
“One time, years ago, when I was working as a young lab tech at the hospital, one day I went in to draw some blood in one of those four-person rooms. I’m pretty sure it was a Saturday afternoon. This must have been, like, back in ’82.
“There were these three older guys sitting around watching T.V. I was getting my tourniquet and stuff ready and I saw they were watching a western. They seemed really quite absorbed in it. A couple of them were older Tlingit guys. They were just, patiently, sitting there and watching the show, and I asked them, ‘Does it ever bother you? Watching westerns like that?’
“And one of the old guys said, ‘Well, some of them are pretty bad, but at least we’re up there on the screen. We’re not invisible. That’s the worst thing, you know. Being invisible.’”
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The Soupster shares a valuable lesson learned from a cartoon.
Originally Published October 5, 2000
“I hate October! It rains all the time with big wet drops!” wailed the pre-schooler, balanced on the Soupster’s knee. “I WISH THERE WAS NO OCTOBER EVER AND EVER MORE!”
“Don’t say that,” hushed the Soupster. “If October went away, you would be very sad.”
“No, I wouldn’t!” protested the child.
“But if there were no October, do you know what else there would be no?”
“Alaska Day! There would be no Alaska Day!” said the Soupster. “And no Halloween!
“No Halloween!” he went on. “Sometimes, no Yom Kippur for Jewish folks! No Thanksgiving for your cousin who lives in Toronto! And your e-mail pen pal in Christchurch, New Zealand would have to go to school on Labor Day, because the Kiwi’s celebrate their Labor Day in October!”
“Are you a genius?” the clever kid asked, instantly seizing the Soupster’s point and moving on to the next step. “Where did you learn all that?”
“From a Little Audrey cartoon when I was just about your age,” said the Soupster, glazing over in a Boomer froth of remembrance.
“Little Audrey was tired of the rain — in the cartoon I mean — and she cried out for it never to rain again!” explained the Soupster.
“Did it rain again?” the child asked.
“Not for a long time,” the Soupster answered. “At first, that was just fine with Little Audrey. She went out on a million picnics, hung her clothes right on the line to dry and was never told by her parents that she had to wear a hat.
“But as the rainlessness went on, Little Audrey’s fish started to look a little pale and drawn. And Little Audrey’s potted plant looked droopy and dry.
“Then everything around Little Audrey started to dry up. Little Audrey’s plant was curled and brown. Little Audrey’s fish gasped to breathe in only a thimbleful of water.
“Little Audrey had saved a glass of water. She ran over the parched ground toward her fish and her potted plant, holding the glass in front of her and saying `Here, here!’ But then she tripped and dropped the glass, and the water ran out just out of reach of her friends.
“So Little Audrey went to the Rainmaker and begged for the rain to start again. But the Rainmaker refused. `You said for it not to rain again, ever and ever!’ He crossed his arms over his chest.”
“What did Little Audrey do?”
“She sang,” said the Soupster. “She sang so sweetly and with so much of her heart that she made the Rainmaker cry. She sang `April Showers.’ And the Rainmaker’s tears grew greater and greater till they cascaded past his beard and down his chest and fell to the earth as wonderful, cooling rain.”
“Wow,” said the child. “I’ll never ask for it to not be October or for the rain to stop. But is it okay to ask to make the raindrops just a little smaller?”
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