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The Soupster presents his evidence to the court.
Originally published May 19, 2011
The Story Behind the Story
The Soupster chattered happily to everyone he saw in the store as he bought a quarter pound of Bavarian ham to use to bribe the all-black, long-haired shelter cat the Soupster hoped to adopt. He was on his way to the animal shelter for a visit.
The Soupster believed there was a tribe of long-haired cats in Sitka – usually sporting big neck ruffs, ear tufts and plumed tails – that were almost dog-like in the way they interacted with humans, yet kept their feline independence intact.
The Soupster had lost such a kitty during a January cold snap and had put the word out for another. Pierre (nee 8-Ball) had lost his owner, who couldn’t take him when she had to leave town suddenly. A clever animal shelter person correctly deduced that 8-Ball needed the Soupster, and vice versa.
But having only once been introduced to Pierre briefly, the Soupster needed to formally propose that he and the cat initiate a trial co-habitation.(ed. note: You have to talk this way about cats.) The Soupster thought he would have a better chance to convince 8-Ball that he should change his name to Pierre, if the Soupster was offering Bavarian ham as he proposed the idea.
But what about the humans at the animal shelter? The Soupster noticed some fresh- baked croissants that a person would have to be comatose not to love. Five of the croissants neatly filled a cellophane-topped box. Still chattering happily, the Souspter paid for his loot and left the store.
The Soupster put the big box of croissants on the flat top of his car, opened the door and got in. It wasn’t until he was turning onto the state road and the box flew off the top of his car that the Soupster remembered putting the croissants up there.
(ed. Note: The rest of the story in “Condensed Soup” is basically true, although, obviously, croissants do not explode in a way reminiscent of late adolescence. We would like to thank those motorists (and one biker) who went to great pains not to run over the croissants spread out over the road. The Soupster managed to retrieve all five croissants, dust them off and eat four himself. One croissant and the box did not survive.)
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The Soupster learns what goes around comes around.
Originally published April 19, 2012
“Morning, Sunshine!” I greet the Soupster as he slides into the passenger seat.
“Uh-huh,” he replies groggily. Accepting my offer of liquid incentive, he adds, “Quad shot creamy, dreamy choco-caffeine delight, my favorite. Thanks.”
The Soupster adjusts his sunglasses to the morning sun. At 8am on this Saturday it’s the offer of my gardening genius and willingness at his disposal that helps him brave the hour.
“I know it’s early. Be glad I didn’t try dragging you out earlier! Garage sale-ing is serious business in Our Town – you don’t even know!” I laugh and pull out of the drive.
“First stop – across town. The hunt for garden treasures begins. It’s springtime for the Soupster in Our Town…” I belt out, energized by the sun.
“Springtime in Our Town – herring return, citywide spring cleanup, sunshine….”
“If we’re lucky,” I interject.
“Which apparently we are. Remember the good old days of roadside spring cleanup?” the Soupster asks.
“Afraid not. How’d that work?”
“Folks would toss their junk onto the side of the street. And I mean in a BIG way. Anything and everything you can imagine. Gardening supplies, even! Stuff that people didn’t want to haul off themselves. For one weekend, crews would work like mad hauling all this stuff away. And as they worked their way around town, others did the same, keeping ahead of the crews to salvage what was usable.”
“Wow! Nobody appreciates the value of thriftiness like folks in Our Town. There are so many ways for goods to come and go around here – the White E, radio stations, the newspaper, online venues, the Soup,” My list ends with a swish of the wrist, deferring to my friend.
The Soupster jumps in. “Word of mouth! Friends. Friends of friends. Anyone who learns you need what they’re lookin’ to unload.”
“Once I was walking my baby downtown and an absolute stranger chased us down. She had a fancy Italian stroller she used when she nannied. Not only did she hook me up, she delivered it. Even our strangers can be most generous!” I chuckle.
“How we find what we need in Our Town is pretty remarkable. Hey,” he says, pointing to a green truck at the side of the road. “It’s Tony.”
We pull over to find Tony’s truck almost overflowing – an old canoe, tires, a cracked bird bath, a trellis, a bulky mass of seine net.
“Please tell us you’re heading to the dump this fine morning, Tony,” I jibe, eyeballing the treasure trove of garden possibilities resting in his truck bed.
“Yup. Y’all don’t happen to need any of this, do ya?” Tony asks. The Soupster and I look at each other and smile.
“We sure do! Follow us.”
Hopping back in the car, I pull a U turn with Tony close behind. I have to laugh, “Pretty remarkable, indeed. SCORE!”
Submitted by Rachel Ramsey
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The Soupster meets an interesting couple.
Originally published July 25, 2002
The dog, a dark brown Labrador retriever, looked as dignified as any dog ever has while sitting in the driver’s seat of a car and the Soupster said so out loud.
“Thanks,” the dog called half-absently, resting its paws on the sheepskin covered steering wheel of the blue and grey pickup truck parked outside a key Our Town place for sandwiches and drinks.
The Soupster ambled over to the truck cab’s open window. “You talk?”
“I’m supposed to listen, right?” said the dog. “I hear that all day from your kind.”
“You drive, too?” the Soupster asked.
“You think the truck would have a better chance of parking by itself than I have of handling a 3/4 ton vehicle,” the dog sneered. “Tell me you don’t think that.”
“You probably hear this a lot,” the still-stunned Soupster sputtered, “but I can’t believe I’m talking to a dog.”
“Go ahead,” said the dog. “Ask me.”
“Ask you what?” said the Soupster.
“If a police officer pulled me over, which license would I give him?” the dog said. “That’s what you were going to ask, right?”
The Soupster’s cheeks turned bright red. “Actually, I was thinking about what kinds of music you listen to when you drive.”
“`Bark, the Herald Angels Sing’ and “Oh, Dem Bones’” said the dog, curling its lips to approximate a smile. “And my favorite movies are `Riding In Cars With Dogs” and “10 Things I Smell About You.”
“Do you…?” started the Soupster, but the dog cut him off.
“Yes, I stick my head out the window when I drive, to answer your question,” the dog said. “And, yes, I – like all dogs – will get mad if you blow on my nose. Why do dogs like one and not the other? I don’t know. We just do.”
The Soupster stared at the dog, absolutely speechless.
“I used to run with a sled team out of Skwentna,” the dog continued. “Then I decided I should get behind the wheel, instead of me being the wheels.”
“Regrets?” the Soupster asked.
“For a while, I had this recurring dream of scaring a bunch of cats in the crosswalk. Make ‘em scatter good,” said the dog, again approximating a smile. “If I do that now I’ll lose both my licenses! Oh, here’s my wife.” The dog started the engine.
The dog’s wife, a cat, carried a foot-long sandwich in her mouth.
The dog scrunched up his nose. “Oh, no,” he said. “She got tuna again! Tuna and mayonnaise and no veggies. I like veggies. She really doesn’t know the meaning of `to share.’”
“If you hate cats so much, why did you marry one?” said the Soupster as the cat slipped in the truck cab on the other side with the sandwich.
“I’m a patient creature,” said the dog, dropping the truck into reverse and backing away from the Soupster with a comradely, if unseen, swipe of his tail.
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Chickens and Eggs?
Originally published April 4, 2002
The Soupster juggled in his arms: a half gallon of milk, some donuts, a box of cereal, bananas and a jar of salty Greek olives. He had come in for the donuts and unconsciously filled his arms with items as he wandered around the store, greeting the large number of people he knew.
Then he got in line.
“Soupster,” said Stevarino, the shipwright, next in line, whose real name was Stefan. “Could you hold my stuff, too, while you got so much in your arms.”
“If I really don’t want to buy anything, I have to take a shopping cart,” chuckled the Soupster. “If my arms are free, I will fill them with groceries.”
“Primordial,” Stevarino said. “Grazing behavior – like cows in the pasture. Fulfilling the Prime Directive, as Captain Kirk used to say.”
“Speaking of philosophical,” said the Soupster, reaching into Stevarino’s cart and picking out a dozen free range eggs. “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
“No, really,” said the Soupster. “I just spent most of Saturday helping this crazy woman put up a whole display of chicken-and-egg items in the big glass cases at the entrance to the library. Every item incorporates both a chicken and an egg. And thus, each item incorporates the question – `Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
“I think it depends on how you approach the answer,” said the always-philosophical Stevarino. “If you’re talking about genes, for instance, the egg came first. Something that was almost a chicken genetically – but not quite – laid an egg which would develop into something that was just barely a chicken in genetic terms. What grew from the egg was technically a chicken, while what laid the egg was not. The egg came first.”
“Or,” Stevarino continued. “A religious person would say the chicken came first. That even if God created the egg first, what He ultimately was creating was a chicken. The egg was just the means to an end. He had in His mind the plan for a chicken and the egg was just where He started the cycle of chicken creation.”
“I see,” said the Soupster. “What the question is really asking is not ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ but ‘which came first, the design or the creation?’”
“The Creation,” said Stevarino, “Don’t get me started.”
“You’re next, Soupster,” said Bess, the checker, a little loudly, since she knew she had to pierce her voice through all of the two philosophers’ ponderous thoughts.
“Gotta go,” said the Soupster.
“Oooh,” said Stevarino. “I’m having a Sitka moment. I can see about 18 people shopping, in line or working here and I know everyone’s first name. Where does that happen?”
“Only in Our Town, that I know of,” said the Soupster.
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The Soupster wonders who was pulling his leg.
Originally published March 13, 2008
The truth is, the Soupster was already in a terrible mood when he stopped at the store on his way home. And when he walked from his car to the front door of the supermarket, the Soupster made the mistake of looking up at the big roadside message board. He froze, muttered to himself and jumped to conclusions.
“Don’t,” the sign read and the Soupster, absurdly, took the message personally.
“Don’t what?” he growled. “Just spewing negativity with complete abandon? Typical. That’s the trouble with the world. Everywhere it’s `Don’t!’”
The Soupster took hold of the door handle, but then let go of it, took a step back and turned to face the sign. Like a person with one of those cell-phone earpieces, he spoke to the air.
“Look at that,” he said, his voice loud enough for passersby to hear, and pointing to the empty ladder up to the road sign. “Nobody is even there! They just put `Don’t!’ in your face and then they walk away – probably on one of their frequent breaks. `Don’t what?’ I’d like to know.”
The Soupster stopped spouting long enough to see a woman carrying a grocery bag give him a pitying stare and a wide berth.
Inside the store, he tried to ignore the “0 trans fat” and “Gluten free” signs. The “fortified with Omega-3” and “Acidophilous added” did not make him feel any more positive. A funk is a funk is a funk.
The Soupster tried to raise his spirits by remembering a pretty little city park he had once come across during travels in the Lower 48. A sign at the entrance had said: “Picnic, fly a kite, rollerblade, sunbathe, jog, dance” and so on. All the things you were supposed to do, instead of the “No dogs!” and “Keep Out!”
And his mood did lighten, buoyed as well by the checker’s friendly interest in what he was buying. But when the Soupster walked out the door, he saw the road sign had changed.
“Don’t Go Home,” it now said.
The Soupster got back into his car, stunned. “Don’t Go Home?” He was going home. Until now, he had been perturbed. But on the road back to his house, the Soupster felt angry.
“What kind of sick joke is that store playing on people?” “Is it even possible the sign was meant specifically for me?” “Why shouldn’t I go home?” The Soupster’s mind raced.
Two doors from his house, the Soupster pulled over to the side of the road. “Even if the sign has nothing to do with me, it is irresponsible to make people wonder if something is wrong at their home,” the Soupster stewed.
“That’s mean,” he decided and turned his car around in the direction of the store. The Soupster wasn’t sure who he was going to talk to or what he was going to say to them, but he was going to say something to somebody to straighten the responsible parties right out!
But as he neared the store, he realized at once that he would do none of that. For the sign had changed again.
Now it read: “Don’t Go Home Until You Try One of Our New Mango Shakes!”
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The Soupster talks and listens.
I was cornered! I had to be quick. I grabbed my books and papers and scurried out of my cozy winter spot in the library. The new glass walls made it hard to be invisible.
Talking Joe was heading straight towards me. Joe was long and lanky and words spewed out of him like a manic fountain pen. Like a lot of Our Towners this time of year, he hunted down people to visit with.
An interesting man, Talking Joe. Curious and self-educated, he looked at old things in new ways and gave you ideas to mull over for days. He often sounded like the speculative science talks on the radio.
“Hi, Soupster!” Joe hailed just when I thought I was in the clear. “Soupster, have you ever noticed – Our Town is yellow?”
“Yellow? Do you mean faint of heart? Scared? Cowardly?”
No, no, Soupster. Just yellow. Well, maybe orangey-red, but it looks like a big ‘ole pumpkin patch.”
“How so, Joe?”
“Well, Soupster. It runs the gamut from burnt umber to the palest yellow to rooftop red.”
“Burnt umber? What is that, Joe?”
“Umber, I’ve read, is a natural brown earth pigment with oxides. When heated, the color becomes more intense and is called burnt umber.”
“And then, Soupster, have you noticed we have miles and miles of yellow ‘No Parking’ curbs? How do they pick these colors? Do they discuss them at assembly or is it just the paint on sale that month?”
“I don’t know, Joe, maybe folks are just seeking brightness. In deep winter here, the forests, mountains and oceans are mostly black, topped by dark gray clouds. Maybe people are trying to add an artificial sun to the landscape.”
“Yeah, Soupster, we all need variety – for example, I have to admit St. Michael’s Cathedral is the little non-pumpkin jewel of downtown.”
“Good things to think about, Joe. Anything else on your mind today?” I asked as I strolled toward the silent sanctuary of my truck.
“Oh, all kinds of things. Like why are the streets so quiet at night? I hardly ever hear anyone cussing or yelling anymore. Maybe it’s too cold to make noise.”
Joe seemed more lonesome than usual today. Ever since his wife passed, he’s been trying to reconnect with friends and neighbors. She was definitely the social glue of the pair. Things got even harder for Joe when his card-playing buddy Ralph moved south to be near grandkids. Talking Joe needed a listener now more than ever.
Sometimes, we all just need to shut up and listen better, and maybe the season will seem kinder and warmer.
“Okay, Joe, see you around,” I said as I started my engine.
“I was wondering – why does our town have so many flat roofs? Just asking,” I heard him say.
I pulled away from the yellow curb, slowed down and called back, “Get in the truck, Joe, and tell me what you think about the flat roofs.”
Submitted by Rose Manning
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The Soupster chats up a night owl – well, not really an owl.
Our Town is a tolerant place, the Soupster thought, but it takes time.
He thought about Vladimir, who was standing in front of him in line at the bank. Vladimir had first come to town with not much English, no money and strange nocturnal habits. But the foreign man stayed through a whole winter, the equivalent of a Bachelor’s degree in Our Town, and after that people took him seriously, even if they kept their distance.
This afternoon, near closing time, Vladimir looked terrible – always pale, he now had enormous black circles under his eyes. He slumped forward as though his arms were too heavy for his shoulders.
The Soupster caught Vladimir’s eye. “Gee, Vlad, you look awful,” the Soupster said, “like death warmed over.”
Vladimir chuckled, not altogether friendly. “Und you, Zoupster, you zmell like death needs a zhower,” he said, in his strong accent. “But you are accurate. I am zleep deprived. I am too active.”
Vladimir’s nocturnal habits were well known to everyone – the man slept all day and stayed up all night. And on the edge of Solstice in Our Town, night occupied most of the clock.
“I’m sympathetic, Vlad,” said the Soupster. “In the summertime — when the days last nearly till midnight and start again a couple of hours later? — I run myself ragged. It seems like every night at 10 p.m. or so, I think of some new project that needs doing that second.”
“Yes, Zoupster,” Vlad said. “Und you turn Zummer Zolstice upzide down und you get Vinter Zolstice.”
“Or you’re in Australia,” the Soupster joked.
“Yes, you must jest, Zoupster,” said Vladimir. “It is in your nature. As it is in mine to move across nearly the whole world. To come to the New World and leave my Old World ways behind.” Vladimir lifted his arm to cover most of his face, leaving only his dark eyes.
The Soupster remembered that he found Vlad a touch over-dramatic. But he was glad to see the other man looking more alert and awake. Vlad moved to the front of the line.
“So what did you leave behind in the Old World, Vlad?” the Soupster asked.
“Now, my favorite drink is tomato juice,” Vladimir answered with a dark laugh, exposing an impressive set of teeth. “With an egg well beaten into it!”
The teller free, Vladimir took his place at the counter. Although the Soupster’s turn came a moment later, his business was briefer and the two men found themselves standing outside the bank at the same time.
The Soupster zipped his coat tight against his neck in the chill darkness. Vladimir’s deep breaths came out in puffs of icy fog.
“Maybe you should take it easy this evening,” said the Soupster. “Kick back.”
“Oh, don’t conzern yourzelf vith me, Zoupster,” Vlad said with a wicked smile. “I am always groggy ven first I vake.” Then he changed into a bat and flew off.
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