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The Soupster hears about seasonal remedies.
There was a long line of people waiting at the airport, but none of them were flying that day. Instead, they waited to submit their names in the annual Customer Commensuration Event, where the airline awarded pairs of unrestricted tickets to three writers of the best essays titled, “Why I Need to Leave Our Town This Fall.”
Ah, autumn in Our Town, the Soupster thought, as he waited in line clutching his essay. A dark and wet autumn in Our Town, indeed. Like trouble piling on itself, the rain caused there to be more rain.
“It doesn’t rain, it pours,” a wise man once said.
“Oh, it gets better after Thanksgiving,” said Shirley “Bo” Burley, standing behind the Soupster and reading his mind. “Once the Christmas lights go up and cut the gloom, our mood lightens, too.”
“True, Bo,” said the Soupster. “To me, the absolute worst is the day after they change the clocks and instead of it getting dark at 5pm, which you’ve just gotten used to, it’s dark by 4pm, which is an unreasonable time for it to get dark.”
“Never lived up north, have you?” Bo asked.
“No,” said the Soupster.
“Wimp!” said Bo. “How would you like to go through a couple of months when the sun doesn’t make it over the horizon?”
“You’re just determined to lighten up my mood, aren’t you, Bo?” said the Soupster.
“Here’s a good `Coping with the Fall’ story,” said Bo, barreling on and accepting the Soupster’s implied consent. “You know Cleon, the computer guy?”
The Soupster nodded.
“He used to make house calls and one day, in the doldrums between Alaska Day and Thanksgiving, he got a call from that cute many-sided house out the road,” Bo explained.
“So Cleon strapped his small repair case to his bike and set out. Cleon loved his bike, but only a few minutes into his ride, he questioned his decision to take it. The temperature hovered right around freezing — depending on the microclimate Cleon traversed, the rain passed back and forth between liquid water and some snowish kind of thing. You know how it is, Soupster.
“As a shivering Cleon mounted the stairs to the house, he could hear music. Jimmy Buffett. Margaritaville. The door opened to a big, sweating guy wearing a toga. Inside, it was 90 degrees. There were people sprawled all over the sand-colored carpet. All their drinks had little bamboo umbrellas. A cardboard palm tree had been erected and a stuffed parrot perched on a corrugated branch.
Without a word, the big man showed Cleon into his office where a computer sat on the desktop. Cleon got to work. After about a half hour, Cleon stood up and stretched, another cyber problem solved.
Just then, the big man returned with a large can of tropical punch and two glasses. Cleon told him the machine was all fixed.
“Good job, fine fellow!” he said to Cleon. “I am the ruler of my Kingdom. I control the weather here. And now, thanks to you, I can also surf the Internet again!”
“So,” the man said with a wink. “When it rains, I reign.” He held up a glass and dispensed from the can of punch. “And when it pours, I pour.”
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The Soupster theorizes about bear behavior.
The Soupster heard an incredible bear story the other day. It seems his friend Eddie was bicycling to work and, unbeknownst to him, was being chased by a brown bear. A very alert driver saw this and pulled into the parking lot to head the bear off. Eddie never knew he was being chased by a bear until he got to work, when someone came in and told him.
This bear had been a recurring problem in the neighborhood for a few weeks, and there was even talk of euthanizing the animal. The Soupster had his own theory as to why this particular bear was so hungry and bold.
The Soupster’s summer walks had always included the bridge over the river inside the park. And this year, like always, he had closely monitored the humpy run, while striking up conversation with tourists in the park.
So the Soupster, with his daily monitoring of visitors and humpies, is here to tell you that it was a normal-to-very-good run this year. To the delight of the tourists – er, visitors – the river was plugged with humpies this summer, and there was plenty of water to get them upstream as far as they wanted to go. In early August, there were lots of humpy carcasses on the riverbanks for the birds and bears, going all the way down the trail down to the mouth of the river, where it empties into the ocean.
For further proof that this year started out as a normal run, the Soupster noticed that the smell test at the post office was normal. In a normal year with a west wind you can smell the rotting humpy carcasses at the post office. With a southwest wind, you can’t. By mid-September, in a year with a good run, you can smell them way past the post office, all the way to the auto parts store.
So what happened? If you recall, later in August, we got a couple days of near torrential rain. The river went up to flood level and – sadly – all the lovely humpy carcasses were flushed out to sea. The late spawners were all that was left. And that was barely enough for the birds, let alone the bears.
The Soupster further theorized that bears are very territorial and that this particular older bear, not finding his accustomed winter’s stash of dead protein by the river, was driven by hunger to committing the “crime” of being too familiar with humans. Thus, Eddie’s bear had a long rap sheet – chasing Eddie to work, charging a man on his porch, knocking over numerous garbage cans, and breaking into two garages and a parked pizza delivery vehicle.
Perhaps mercifully, Eddie’s bear disappeared shortly after his autumn adventures, and did not have to be put down – but had he chosen to stick around, his fate would have been determined by the fact that you cannot have brown bears living in town and becoming familiar with humans. Bears are just too unpredictable.
– Submitted by Ron Rau
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The Soupster hears a memorable fish story.
“… and that was the most memorable fish I ever caught,” said a reminiscing Soupster.
“My most memorable,” countered Charles “Chick” Howell III, “never even bit my hook.”
The Soupster signaled to the brewmaster to fill their tasting cups, this being an “Ale to the Chief” pre-election Tasting & Toasting. Every other week, a small, bi-partisan group of Our Towners stopped by the brewery to preview the latest offerings and compliment each other on their political acumen. The group took a two-month break after presidential elections, bi-partisan compliments being difficult to generate any sooner.
“I had just bought my boat,” said Chick Howell, continuing with his story. “And I really didn’t know anything about running it. Nevertheless, my co-worker Sandra asked me to take her visiting father, along with her husband, out fishing.”
“You said `yes’ of course,” said the Soupster.
“I certainly did,” Chick said, laughing softly and looking at his lap. “Even though I didn’t really know how to run the boat, I said yes.
“Well, when Roy and Dennis showed up – Roy was the father and Dennis the son-in-law – Roy got right into telling me he was immensely happy to be going fishing with a knowledgeable person, a ‘real Alaskan,’” Chick continued.
“Roy obviously wasn’t talking about Dennis,” Chick said. “And he was dead wrong about me.”
“Reminds me,” said the Soupster, “that is, what you’re saying does – is how people assume things about you when you say you live in Alaska. A guy on the phone once asked me if I traveled to work by dog sled.”
“Anyway,” continued Chick. “My heart was in my throat the whole voyage. I don’t really know why Roy didn’t notice. I think Dennis did.
“Roy kept ragging on Dennis and complimenting me. I found myself rooting for Dennis. We were jigging for halibut at this time and I brought the first one aboard, about 35 lbs. Roy being from Cincinnati, he’d never seen a fish that size. Now he was sure I was the big Alaska fisherman. He took pictures of the fish on the boat, of me and the fish and of himself with the fish. I figured he was going to show that picture to his friends back in Ohio and claim the fish. Didn’t bother me. I was happy to be part of his little scam.
“But I wasn’t willing to join in on Roy’s ragging of his son-in-law. I tried to be especially nice to Dennis, but he was so miserable. Especially since me and Roy started pulling in fish after fish, while Dennis scored zilch. The fish were all smaller than my first one.
“Hours went by. I started getting sleepy and instead of actively jigging, I held my rod steady and let the rocking of the boat do the work. Roy was sure this was some ‘real Alaska’ fishing secret and emulated me, compliments flying. Dennis looked like if you pushed him overboard, he wouldn’t have struggled.
“’Got something!’ said Dennis, springing immediately back to full blood. Unlike my lackadaisical style, Dennis mightily hauled up the line and reeled in the slack, then did it again. There was no finesse. All the frustration of Dennis’ day poured down that line and into the sea.”
The Soupster thoughtfully sipped his ale. “That was the fish?” he asked Chick.
“Yup,” Chick said. “Not a barn door, but that fish was twice as big as mine – near 80 lbs. Dwarfed anything Roy caught. Dennis’ look of triumph was my most memorable fish.”
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The Soupster sees a woman whose reunion with her daughter compels her to cut cheese.
Linda Castille tapped her foot nervously and hugged her arms around herself as she waited for her daughter Daisy to come down the ramp at Our Town’s airport. The 33-year-old mother and the five-year-old had been apart for most of the past year while Mom finished a course in medical imaging. Daisy had lived with Linda’s own mom, who made the worst grilled cheese sandwiches in the world (more on this later).
There she was! Daisy broke free of the flight attendant, ran across the lobby and jumped up into her mother’s arms. Linda hugged Daisy and started crying.
Daisy sniveled a little, too, but said, “Don’t be sad, Mommy.”
“Oh, no, I’m so happy,” Linda said. “I’m so happy we’re together!”
Walking briskly by with his carry-on, the Soupster smiled at the hugs and kisses of the warm reunion. Hand-in-hand. Daisy and Linda went home.
“Romeo!” Daisy squealed with delight as she leaped through the front door ahead of her mom and lifted up their overweight orange tabby. The cat looked unruffled and started purring.
“Romeo is purring,” Daisy happily told Linda.
“He’s pleased that you’re back,” said Linda.
“I want to see all of them!” squealed Daisy, referring to her large collection of stuffed animals. She set down Romeo, who scampered off. Daisy scampered, too, into her room and plush menagerie.
Linda took the opportunity to let her mother know that Daisy had arrived safely in Our Town. “Thanks, Mom!” she said into the phone.
“Me and your father are very proud of you for sticking it out in school and we were only too happy to have your lovely girl stay with us,” said Linda’s mom. “With your new job and better salary, things should be looking up!”
Linda’s mom told her that Daisy was fun to have, except on the subject of eating. “I thought she was supposed to love grilled cheese sandwiches?”
Linda winced, remembering all the unappetizing food served throughout her childhood. Linda loved her mother – an excellent seamstress, nurse, an accomplished painter and an athlete – but a terrible cook.
As Linda reminisced her taste buds ached. And then she went and got the cheese (which she cut), the butter and the bread. She heated up a frying pan and prepared two sandwiches.
Daisy came in and sat at the kitchen table. Linda put a grilled cheese sandwich in front of her. Daisy made a horrified face, “I hate grilled cheese!”
“No, honey,” said Linda, “you love grilled cheese. Try some.”
Daisy looked skeptical, but took a tiny bite. Her face brightened like the sun. “You’re right, Mommy,” she said. “I hate grilled cheese. But I love your grilled cheese!”
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The Soupster and four colleagues view the astounding
Outside the supermarket, the Soupster occupied the driver’s seat of his car. He waited impatiently for his friend Ted to emerge with the cold drinks the two men had been craving since spending the afternoon cutting and hauling firewood.
He looked at the car’s clock, calculating the time that Ted would take chatting with the checkout person.
In the black SUV parked to the right, a regal-looking dog — maybe some Afghan hound in the blood? – sat in the driver’s seat and peered back at the Soupster. The Afghan looked royally bored.
Up and to the left, a Pug-faced mixed-breed dog also sat in the driver’s seat of his owner’s small hatchback, watching the sliding front door of the market with grim intensity for his human to appear.
In the pickup parked perpendicular, two barking Shih Tzu resembled animated stuffed toys. Their sturdy little legs were propped against the pickup’s window and they barked in perfect unison at landing ravens, passing humans and nothing in particular. The tiny dogs also stared at the supermarket door, waiting for their personal human to emerge.
“Where’s Ted?” thought the Soupster — picturing himself checking his watch and tapping his foot – although he actually slouched in his seat and looked again at the dashboard clock.
The Pug-faced dog had moved to the passenger seat for a better view of the front door. The Afghan regarded that same front door and yawned. The Shih Tzu had switched to a first-one-then-the-other style of yipping, probably to husband their resources for what was turning out to be a longish haul.
They were all trapped, the Soupster thought, regarding his plight and that of his canine peers. All vibrant organisms in tin cans waiting for their rescuers. In the Soupster’s case, he was held by his social bond with Ted. The dogs were even more inextricably bound in their metal prisons, having neither thumbs nor car keys.
Did that make Ted and the dog owners prison-keepers, thought the Soupster?
As people filed in and out of the front door, the Pug-faced dog jumped excitedly back and forth between driver and passenger seats. The Shih Tzu switched back to barking in unison. Even the Afghan joined in with low howling.
“Oh, my,” said the Soupster.
Then a white station wagon pulled into an open parking spot. While the dogs kept up their din, the driver of the white wagon stepped out of his door and opened the rear hatch. Inside was a golden retriever-mix dog. The driver patted the dog on the head, then turned and went into the store – AND LEFT THE REAR HATCH OPEN.
The Afghan was so aghast, it ceased howling. The Shih Tzu, too, were silent, although they still moved their tiny mouths. Only the Pug retained his voice and grunted with scores of questions.
The golden retriever wasn’t tied in. The hatch was open. His owner was gone. Why didn’t he bolt?
The Soupster – and, he imagined, the dogs – pondered the question. Why didn’t the retriever bolt?
But then Ted was in the car with the drinks.
“Long line, sorry,” Ted said, popping his can top, taking a long swallow and registering the Soupster’s far away expression. “See anything interesting?”
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The Soupster gets Saturated.
Originally published September 7, 2006
Thick drops of rain beat a brisk rhythm on the aluminum roof over the covered area of Suzie’s porch where the Soupster sat. All summer long, the Soupster had bravely faced the preponderance of precipitation and the rarity of sunny days with humor, understanding and flexibility. But there and then — against the roof over his head — fell the one big raindrop that caused the barrel to overflow, like the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the Soupster finally became Saturated.
In his last lucid moment, the Soupster had been thinking about a short story written more than 50 years before – a very unscientific science fiction story about a group of astronauts who crash land on Venus – the planet. On Venus, as in Our Town this summer, it rains constantly, proposed the story’s author, Ray Bradbury. And, like the Soupster, the four astronauts who survive the crash set out bravely into the constant rain to find a Sun Dome, which is just like it sounds — an Industrial Strength Light Bulb Beach. Without finding the dome, the astronauts would go mad from rain pounding constantly against their skulls.
“Here’s your hot chocolate,” said Suzie, appearing on the porch with two steaming mugs. “No marshmallow in yours.”
The Soupster regarded Suzie with as much recognition as he would one of the astronauts on Venus. Through the pounding between his ears in time with the hammering of the rain against the roof, he could not make out what she was saying.
“It was a mizzle, a downpour, a fountain, a whipping at the eyes, an undertow at the ankles;” Bradbury had written, “it was a rain to drown all rains and the memory of rains. It came by the pound and by the ton.”
The Soupster looked blankly at Suzie and then out into space.
“Oh, for goodness sakes,” muttered Suzie. Born and raised in Our Town, she knew just what to do when someone became Saturated. She set down the two steaming mugs on a wooden table away from the Soupster, so he would not, in his helpless state, burn himself.
Suzie went room-to-room in her house and gathered up an armful of lamps: table models, clip-ons, three-way bulbs, lanterns and reading lights. She brought it all out under the covered area of the porch, along with two extension cords and several power strips.
While she did, the Soupster continued his nightmare of tramping through the jungles of Venus in the blinding downpour. “(The rain) shrank men’s hands into the hands of wrinkled apes,” wrote Bradbury. “It rained a solid, glassy rain and it never stopped.” The rattling and thumping on the roof drowned out Suzie’s grunts as she hooked up the complicated bank of lamps and power strips, all aimed at the Soupster.
“Now!” she shouted above the din and threw a switch that bathed the entire covered area of the porch in warm yellow light.
The Soupster leaped to his feet. “The Sun Dome!” he cried. “I made it!”
“Goodness gracious – there’s no Sun Dome,” said Suzie. “You’re on the porch at my house. You just got Saturated. Now drink your hot chocolate.”
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The Soupster thinks about matriarchs.
Musing on an evening stroll, the Soupster considered several of Our Town’s matriarchs — women who used an alchemy of creativity, smarts and grit to hold their extended families together and nudge or shoulder their brood toward success.
Some of these women looked bent from the weight of their responsibilities. But others seemed to thrive on their influence and importance – exuding, if not youth, a strong vitality.
Our Town’s patriarchs tended to get more attention, the Soupster mused again. Meanwhile, the matriarchs did their work while being paid 80 cents to the dollar. Surely, a more noteworthy achievement?
Strolling by the post office, the Soupster thought of the female postmasters who kept open this vital artery to the Lower 48. He passed by the former site of his former favorite breakfast place, where the griddle person, waitress and owner had all been women.
Then, he remembered the wives and daughters of men who passed away at the helm of the family business. These women had to learn very quickly to be the boss. Women who had no idea they would become bookkeepers or property managers. No idea they would raise rabbits or pilot boats.
Sometimes these women, when still only girls – were the ones in their families to step up to the plate, if their parents became infirm or unreliable. How many schoolgirls hurry home after classes every day to care for their younger siblings? No sports teams or student council for them.
Younger siblings can be a joy, but they are adult responsibilities. And maybe raising children is not an appropriate job for a girl at a time of life when she might need to be a bit selfish. Good training for a future matriarch, however, the Soupster mused yet again.
Then, Mack the Rogue — a local lothario — turned the corner. Mack knew the Soupster and was happy to drop the lothario act when the two men were together. For one thing, Mack stopped using his fingers to twirl the ends of his mustache.
“Soupster! Big Buddy!” Mack practically shouted, going full bore into Monster Truck racing mode. “When is it going to stop raining?”
“Stop?” the Soupster called back. “The rain hasn’t even started yet. It’s practically still summer.”
“Say, Mack,” he continued, a little quieter, “you know any matriarchs? I was just musing about matriarchs.”
“My mother was a matriarch,” Mack said, quieter still. “She had three younger brothers and she kept them all in line.”
“We need both the patriarchs and the matriarchs,” the Soupster said. “We need all the help we can get to hold things together.”
“That’s why Hillary Clinton running for president is definitely a good thing,” Mack the Rogue said. “Like her or hate her, the presidential candidates should get better from this point on, because we doubled the pool of people who are able to run.”
“Right on, Rogue,” said the Soupster. “Right on.”
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