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The Soupster eats dinner despite difficulties.
The Soupster peered through the curtain in his kitchen as a February squall barreled in, dropping visibility to zero and dumping an inch per hour of heavy, wet snow.
“T’ain’t fit for man nor beast,” he muttered.
The Soupster was supposed to head to his friend Bob’s house for dinner with him and Janet, another friend. A crackerjack cook, Bob always crafted a feed the Soupster could feel himself remembering fondly for days afterward.
“But not tonight,” he moaned to himself. “Don’t make me go out tonight.”
The Soupster peered out the window again. The snow seemed to be falling faster. Bob’s house wasn’t far, but it was up a hill. Over his stomach’s protests, the Soupster let his body flood with a low-energy dysphoria.
Bob always went to so much trouble – it was rude to cancel because of a little snow. But the more the Soupster looked outside, the lower he felt. He actually felt physically ill.
He called Bob. “I’m just miserable about canceling,” he said, “but I can’t face the weather tonight.”
“It’s okay,” said Bob. “Janet just called and cancelled, too. She said she’s been sick all day. We’ll do it another time.”
The Soupster tried to sound wretched as he said goodbye. But as soon as he clicked off the phone, his dark cloud dissipated. He didn’t have to go out! He could hunker down with a book and a blanket and comfort food. The attractive choices seemed limitless!
But the wind had other plans. A big gust blew a hemlock onto an electrical line along the Green Lake Road. The Soupster’s house — with the rest of Our Town — went dark.
He grabbed a flashlight and lit two oil lamps. Next on the Soupster’s agenda was to find out what had happened and if anybody knew how long they would be out of power. He retrieved his portable radio, but the batteries were dead. So he put on his boots and coat and went out to his car to use the radio there. After a few minutes, the announcer – his station powered by a generator — reported the downed tree and city-wide blackout. No estimates yet.
Sitting in the car, the Soupster’s stomach spoke louder than his desire to hunker down. Cheese, chips, bread, salad, grapes – none of them needed cooking and all available a few miles down the road. His stomach convinced the Soupster to turn on his car and carefully, very carefully, drive to the supermarket where – due to generators — the store shone like an island of light.
As the Soupster trundled inside, he was struck by the number of people gathered around the front counter. A couple of shoppers walked the aisles and one of them turned out to be Janet.
“Feeling better?” the Soupster asked sheepishly and Janet nodded sheepishly back.
“As soon as I cancelled, I felt cured,” she said.
Just then, Bob turned the corner, clutching a bag of charcoal and can of charcoal lighter fluid.
“Well, lookey here!” he said, smiling. “You co-conspirators look pretty healthy to me.” He jiggled the bag in his arms. “Anyone for barbecue by candlelight?”
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The Soupster can’t escape Sitka in the movies.
“Whaddaya wanna watch?” Dorothy O’Dean asked the Soupster.
“Something fantastic, Dottie” said the Soupster, settling into the second-most-comfortable chair in Dorothy’s living room, which was still pretty darn comfortable. Dorothy handed him a bowl of popcorn.
“Something that really carries me away,” said the Soupster, cramming his mouth full. The week had been a frustrating one. “Something that makes me forget reality.”
“I got just the thing!” Dorothy said, pulling a recently-rented DVD of “Pacific Rim” off her coffee table. “How’s about skyscraper-sized sea monsters threatening America? Earth’s only hope an elite cadre of aces piloting equally gigantic robot-warriors?”
“Okay, okay” said the Soupster. “Let’s give it a try, Dottie.”
They settled in to watch the film, passing the popcorn bowl back and forth.
In the film, Raleigh Beckett — a robot pilot and our hero — is working construction on the “Wall of Life,” a towering barrier meant to repel the skyscraper-sized monsters. The grizzled commander of the gigantic robot pilots tracks Raleigh to the Wall of Life which is being built … wait… in Sitka, Alaska.
“Our Town!” sputtered the Soupster, gesticulating at the screen. “I don’t want to be reminded of anything having to do with Our Town. Please take it off!”
“Okay,” Dorothy said, ejecting the disk. “Oooh. oooh, ooh! Got just the thing!”
“What?” asked the Soupster.
“It’s perfect,” said Dorothy, walking over to her shelf of DVDs. “It’s a classic French adventure story.” She flashed a CD in the air. “Aha, Soupster! Jules Verne’s `Journey to the Center of the Earth.”
“Pat Boone and James Mason, Dottie? Didn’t they go into a volcano in Iceland?”
“And Arlene Dahl,” said Dottie. “But this is a newer version of `Journey.’ Stars Ricky Schroeder. I’ve been wanting to watch it.”
In the film, an all-grown-up Schroeder portrays an American adventurer enlisted by a wealthy woman to find her husband, who had disappeared on a journey to the center of the earth via an old Russian mine in Alaska.
But before the Soupster could say “Alaska” Schroeder and his crew rolled into a late 19th Century Sitka – complete with a replica of St. Michael’s Cathedral.
“No, no!” wailed the Soupster.
“Well, I can see you’re in no mood to hear my idea for the movie that I wanna make,” said Dottie. “About millions of communist fish pouring into Our Town all at once?”
The Soupster said, “Don’t tell me you’re going to call it…”
“`Red Herring!’” Dottie said.
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The Soupster learns that traveling alone need not be lonely.
Originally published December 4, 2003
The Soupster vigorously dried his hair with the motel towel, brimming with satisfaction. He happily donned a thin travel robe..
On his way home at a Sea-Tac Airport motel, the Soupster gave a satisfied sigh. His was not just any motel – but one the Soupster had stayed at more times than he could remember. Often for just a night passing through, sometimes for a week on business.
The motel had gone through bad periods in the recent past, but had snapped back recently with new owners, paint, and a snappy new name. Two floors high, with a large parking lot in front. A lobby that, in season, featured Washington apples in a basket for the guests to sample. A free local shuttle. Could a pit stop offer more?
But it could. For this motel’s showers were exemplary, extraordinary – they put the showers in any other establishment to shame. The water was not too soft and not hard, not too hot and not cold. The shower loosed a stream that perfectly coated anyone standing under with a warm, cascading blanket. The knobs and valves were amazingly responsive — you got just what you wanted. This inn featured low prices and a pleasant staff. But the showers made the Soupster book a room here, time and time again.
Leaving him defenselessly mellow when a key clicked in the lock, the door swung open and a motel clerk stepped in, followed by a young woman.
“Pardon?” said a wide-eyed Soupster.
The clerk stopped in his tracks. A suitcase he was holding thudded to the floor.
“Uh-oh,” he said, as stunned as the Soupster. “Wrong room.”
“Soupster?” said the young woman.
“Sally?” the Soupster asked as she stepped forward, into the light. “Sally Wright?”
“Right,” said Sally.
“Right?” asked the motel clerk.
Sally put her hand on his arm. “This man knows my Dad,” she explained. “He’s known me since I was kid.”
“Her father and mother used to stay here all the time,” the Soupster added.
“I thought this was the wrong room,” said the clerk.
“This is the wrong room!” Sally and Soupster simultaneously said.
“You must have started work here just recently, “ The Soupster guessed and the motel clerk admitted he had. “There’s a lot of people from Our Town – well, mine and hers – that stay here. A few owners ago, the motel had some kind of deal with a travel agent in Our Town and a lot of people got steered here. New owners – the travel agent moved on – but we still keep coming to this motel.”
“It’s the showers,“ said Sally. “Have you ever taken a shower here?” she asked the clerk
“No,” he said.
“Well you should. And I’m going to right now,” said Sally. “Soupster, I’ll meet you in the lobby in half an hour and we can take the shuttle out to dinner. There’s two more people here from Our Town. If you see them, ask if they’re hungry!”
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The Soupster learns it can be hard to stay true to your emotions.
When Carole left her seaside cottage, she felt good. Actually she felt angry, but she felt good about feeling angry.
Carole was healthy, pretty, lucky, sweet and well-off. Many would say her life was perfect and Carole would agree with them. If there was one thing she was missing, that was the human experience of feeling angry. For Carole, who considered herself blessed, never allowed herself to feel angry. Until today.
Today, her hot water heater burned out, the dog had a revolting “accident “on the Persian rug and her least favorite cousin called to complain that Carole never called. That was followed by bad news about her taxes delivered by her accountant who she could barely hear due to the road crew drilling the pavement out front of her house.
Carole felt an unfamiliar rising in her craw and a constriction of her neck muscles. She heard the unfamiliar sound of her own teeth gnashing. Could the world be plotting against her?
Wow, Carole thought, as the feeling washed over her. She thought of her older brother pulling away her stuffed bunny, a freckled girl making fun of her braids, a professor who had a big problem with smart women. It had been years, but she remembered the feeling of being wonderfully, powerfully angry and thought she’d like to go and see what the world did about it.
She walked down the street, reveling in this odd new power. Ahead was that old coot George coming toward her. Although a coot, George often made her laugh. And sometimes made her want to cry because he was such a sweet guy with no place to put his emotions. She could feel her anger waning. So she crossed the street and quickened her pace.
She cut down a path near the coffee shop to try and avoid another sympathetic character and almost bumped into Colleen, who was tracing the same path in the opposite direction.
“Carole,” said Colleen. “I was just thinking of you. We’re starting a new mural and I know that’s something you love. We absolutely want you involved. Want to have coffee?”
“Can’t talk,” said Carole, huffing past. “Gotta go!” She felt her anger fading again and — was forced to imagine last summer’s incident of her neighbor’s cat destroying her flowers — to stay on task
“See ya later, alligator,” Colleen called after her.
Carole put her head down and did not look up. Nonetheless, “Hey Carole!” yelled one person and “Call me!” yelled another.
With her head down and her pace quickened, Carole walked right into a parked car. The Soupster’s car. With her old friend the Soupster in it.
“Carole,” he said, getting out of the car, a concerned look on his face. “My goodness! Are you all right?”
“Oh, Soupster,” she whined, as her embarrassment overwhelmed her. “I’m trying to say angry and I just can’t!”
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The Soupster hunkers down.
The Soupster was not damp, but everything outside of 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 busy kids and husband Josh and her going back to college and Josh’s new job. Then, she said “Oops, I’m getting Call Waiting, must be Josh or Rebecca, I’m supposed to pick both of them up. Can you hold?”
The Soupster did. With the phone to his ear, he wandered to the door to his back porch, where the portion covered by a fiberglass roof played wonderful rhythms as it hailed. The sound rose and fell like the aural equivalent of those little birds whose large flocks turn on a dime: sheets of sound, rippling and turning, rising and falling.
Carla came back on, “Sorry, Soupster,” she said. “That was Becky 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 seeing friends and having too many places to go. And then it’s New Years and you start to notice the light coming back.”
“Encouraging, Carla,” said the Soupster.
“I hate to do this,” Carla cut in, “But I’m getting another call. Will you hold again?”
The Soupster did. The hail slacked off and a shaft of sunlight cut through the otherwise dark sky, came through the window and fell upon a small ceramic planter in the shape of a fish with big blue eyes and enormous crimson lips. Carla had presented the Soupster with the fish two decades earlier, after he helped her move. This was before baby Rebecca and even before husband Josh.
Next to the fish was a half-scale raven (or full-scale crow) carved out of wood. Steve Jessup gave the Soupster the raven after the Soupster took Steve’s parents out on his boat. An entire dog family, paper mache, stretched out on their paper mache couch – this was on the bookshelves – a gift from somebody. Above the dogs, tucked tightly, 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, canned sockeye and an array of jams. All canned and arrayed by various friends.
If he wanted to, he could gaze on the paintings and sculptures tinted and carved in Our Town. 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 Soupster gets a lesson in real wisdom.
The Soupster put his head down into the wind and lurched up Lincoln St. His stomach gurgled mightily — two of the items he had eaten for lunch evidently did not get along. He thought he might chuck up?
The argument in the Soupster’s tummy reached crisis proportions and required action. Specifically, a rest room. Luckily, he was just steps outside of Pops’ Pro Prop Shop, and the Soupster knew Pops was a kindly soul — believed by many to be the smartest guy in Our Town.
Inside the shop, Pops was leaning on his front counter, listening to Susan Gregory, the owner of Notions, Lotions & Potions, a store right down the street,
The Soupster burst in with gills so green, he didn’t even have to explain himself. Pops just jerked a thumb over his left shoulder in the direction of the commode. As soon as the Soupster reached refuge, his stomach calmed. Through the thin walls, he could hear the conversation going on at the front counter,
“Judy Barnes and I had some harsh words, Pops, about whether the new Sitka Shoulder Festival should be before or after the regular cruise ship season,” Susan said. “She just doesn’t understand that ShoulderFest should be before the regular season, when the weather is good and the daylight is increasing. You’re the smartest guy in town. What do you think?”
“Ah, the shoulders,” said Pops. He stroked his chin and took a long time to answer. “I think, Susan, that you are absolutely right.” Susan left with a big smile on her face.
The Soupster was starting to think his stomach was settled, but it gurgled loudly and he decided to set a spell and see what transpired. Just as well, for a second later the aforementioned Judy Barnes, of A Kinder Kinder children’s store, made her appearance in Pops’ Props. (ed. Note: First “Kinder” rhymes with “finder” and second Kinder rhymes with “cinder.”)
“I’m just so upset at that Susan Gregory,” Judy said. “Because ShoulderFest was her idea in the first place, she thinks she gets to decide everything, right? Who would want to have their Shoulder Festival in the Spring? Everyone is trying to get their new inventory out and prepare for the coming rush!
“Having ShoulderFest at the end of the tourist season only makes sense. Think of the Clearance Sales we could have! Pops, everybody knows you’re Our Town’s smartest guy. What do you think?”
Again, Pops stroked his chin and concentrated. Finally, he said: “Judy, after consideration, I believe you are absolutely right.” The Soupster could hear the confident, satisfied clicks of Judy’s heels as she left Pops’ shop.
The Soupster – who had loved and respected Pops for years – feared that the old man may have showed himself a fraud. He stepped out of the back and confronted Pops. “You told Susan she was right and then you told Judy she was right – even though Judy said the exact opposite of Susan. Everybody thinks you’re the smartest guy in Our Town, but all you do is tell people what they want to hear.”
Pops stroked his chin and took a long time to answer. “Soupster,” Pops said, “You are absolutely right.”
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