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“When was the last time you saw the Northern Lights over Our Town?” the Soupster asked his friend Rudy, as the two men reclined on the porch at the back of Rudy’s house. Rudy was a high school science teacher and an observant man, and the Soupster valued his opinion.
“Seems to me like a long while ago,” Rudy agreed.
The angle of the yard gave the two men a good view of the night sky. Passing clouds exposed a few isolated stars now and then as they talked.
“Maybe four or five years since one of those real light shows that have you muttering `I can’t believe what I’m seeing,’” said the Soupster. “And the next day everybody is talking about the Northern Lights wherever you go.”
“If people did not see the Northern Lights, then you have to explain what you were doing up in the middle of the night,” Rudy laughed.
“This is true,” said the Soupster.
“You know what the police say,” Rudy quoted. “Anybody up at 3 a.m. is probably up to no good.”
“This is also true.”
“I was busted by my kid,” said Rudy. “I woke her up early one morning for her to see a really good Northern Lights. She said she was cold and she never fully woke up. Her mother complained big-time and said, `What kind of father are you?”
“Wow,” said the Soupster,
“So the next time, we had Northern Lights I didn’t wake her up and she was mad and said `Why didn’t you wake me up?’”
The Soupster laughed and sank down deeper into padded chaise.
“There’s the Wet Alaska and the Cold Alaska,” the Soupster said. “In Cold Alaska, they see the Northern Lights regularly.”
“My experience,” said Rudy “is that Wet Alaska may not be colder than Cold Alaska, but it can feel colder. I saw a college kid in Fairbanks in shorts at a dry 20 below and I bet he would not do that here on a windblown night of freezing rain.”
“It’s not unusual for a West Coast state to have two completely different climate zones,” said the Soupster. “There’s wet western Washington and western Oregon, each state turning drier and hotter as you go east.”
“And California, like Alaska is split more North and South, of course,” the Soupster said. “Deserts down South and forests up North.”
“The opposite of here,” said Rudy. “Great swaths of Interior Alaska get so little precipitation the area qualifies as a desert. Then we have this huge temperate rain forest here in the South.”
“You’re a smart guy,” said the Soupster.
“As long as you do not count the mistakes,” said Rudy.
1779 total views, 2 today
Originally published November 6, 2003
“I was saved, Soupster, but by which I do not know,” said Charles, a former college professor who now drank a lot of coffee. He had four tiny espresso cups arranged in front of him, two of them empty.
The Soupster looked around. Besides the barrista, washing mugs out of earshot, the men were alone.
“You know Bluto, the pompous blowhard?” Charles said, blowing pretty hard himself. “I owed that man $1,000. You’d have thought it was the Hope Diamond the way he pursued me around Our Town. Showing up at social occasions with that ridiculous `I’m going to bite you’ look on his face.”
“Bluto has bitten people,” the Soupster remarked. “He almost bit me once.”
“I considered that,” said Charles.
“Anyhow,” he continued. “Bluto was on my tail in a major fashion and I was doing my best to stay one step ahead of him. Which is not hard, Bluto being Bluto.”
“He’s not stupid,” said the Soupster
“Nonetheless,” said Charles. “On a proverbial `dark and stormy night’ he finally caught up with me. Right outside the fishing supply store. There I was face-to-face with Bluto’s ugly visage. He held a bag, bulging with orange nylon and I thought he was going to brain me with it.”
Charles chugged the third of his espressos.
“Bluto grabs me with his giant paws and squeezes hard,” Charles continued. “`Where is me $1,000, you barrel worm,’ Bluto thunders. `I don’t have it,’ I say weakly. `What’s that in your pocket?’ says Bluto. `That’s me, er, my mail,’ I say.”
“So Bluto grabs the mail and rifles through. `Ahoy,’ he cries, holding up my Permanent Fund Dividend check. `This will do,’ Bluto says.
“`But, Bluto,’ I muster the courage to ask ‘I owe you a $1,000, but that PFD is worth more than $1,100,’ I say. And Bluto, he agrees with me. Could have knocked me over with a feather. `An eleven hundred dollar PFD,’ the ogre says and laughs and thrusts his bulging orange bag into my chest.”
“And walks off,” Charles continued. “So I’m left there standing in the pitch-black cold rain, minus one PFD. I stare into the bag. And what is in there? A life vest! I take it out and put it on. It’s a nice life jacket, the kind with the big ring behind your neck and the large reflective patches on the shoulder so the Coast Guard can find you at night and pluck you out of the water.”
“And as I’m admiring the jacket a car comes screeching out of the dark. And – this I swear – the car’s headlights pick up the reflective patches and the vehicle veers a second before running me down.”
“I see your dilemna,” said the Soupster. “You were saved by either a Permanent Fund Dividend or a Personal Flotation Device.”
“Yes, Soupster, yes,” Charles cried, lurching for his remaining coffee cup. “Which PFD saved me?
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“I’m in heaven!” Caleb cried joyfully, as he shielded his eyes from the blinding light in front of him. “I finally made it!” he cried once more, falling to his knees.
“Honey, please. After your antics last week, the last thing we need is you drawing more attention”, pleaded his wife, Susan. She walked towards him and turned him away from a glowing orb that resembled the sun. “Besides, if you stare at that thing too long you’re bound to go blind!”
That very moment, a stout woman with hearty cheeks stood up and began to walk over to investigate the cause of the commotion from next door. “Oh my. Susan, what’s wrong with Caleb? I was just sitting on my porch reading the Soupster when I heard Caleb scream. Is he practicing his debut song, “Ode to Joy”, for the monthly grind again?” said their neighbor Mary.
“Fortunately not. He’s fine. It’s just that ever since our neighbor across the street added new lighting fixtures, he’s had the place lit up like Broadway every night. I swear, half the electricity in Our Town goes to his guy. I wish he would only use what’s necessary, especially since electric supply is in high demand these days,” Susan explained, trying to fight her agitation as she wiped the sweat from her brow.
“I hear ya,” said Mary stepping forward. “There are too many people in Our Town that don’t realize just how low the lake levels are and how that will affect us in the coming months. Even though I try to conserve as much as possible, we will all suffer when the diesel fuel charge is tacked on if people like him don’t reduce their electric load.”
Heat rose inside Susan as she began to think about how expensive diesel supplementation would be. “You’re right Mary. We’re all in this together and if people like him don’t cut down their electric load, Our Town will see some serious problems. Like expensive surcharges, and skyrocketing electric bills, and…”
“…rolling blackouts,” chuckled Mary.
“EXACTLY,” stated Susan. “Remember the rolling blackouts we had last year? They were so annoying! Especially since we live all the way out on Saw Mill Creek! Susan exclaimed in a tone of desperation.
“I remember all too well,” said Mary as she recalled the memory of alternating electricity. “Not only is it inconvenient, but it significantly decreases the amount of productivity that Our Town could have on any given day. Think of all the lost business many of our friends, neighbors, and family members experienced because of the rolling blackouts.”
“I’ve heard enough. Let’s go over and explain to him why he needs to reduce his electric load,” said Susan. The two women linked arms, headed across the street – shielding their eyes with their remaining free hands – and disappeared into the blinding light.
– Submitted by Bitty Balducci
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Working furiously on muddy knees and wielding hand spades, the Soupster and his newish friend Stephanie had already dug up quite a pile of potatoes. They felt the satisfaction gardeners feel when they are getting closer to the eating part of the equation.
“Alfredo sauce,” said the Soupster, “and deer burger and peas and these potatoes all mashed together, that’s what I’m going to do.”
Stephanie, who had initiated the potato planting in the first place, looked like a person who just gave their car keys to an idiot. Since arriving this past spring from Tulsa — inspired by a rerun of “Men in Trees” — she had often consulted the Soupster on the character of various prospective boyfriends. The Soupster had done the best he could, but Steph was still hitless.
“There was good news for you in Mental Floss magazine,” said the Soupster. “The staff writers there were examining the legitimacy of the State of Virginia’s claim that `Virginia is for Lovers.’”
“Is it?” asked Steph.
“Virginia for lovers?”
“Virginia came in 17th,” said the Soupster. “Alaska came in first.”
“Alaska is for lovers?” asked Stephanie.
“Alaska is,” answered the Soupster.
“Wow,” said Stephanie, silent for a few beats. “How do they know?”
“They rated all the states on five things – the number of bed-and-breakfasts per capita, the birth rate and the listens per capita to Marvin Gaye songs – and two other things I can’t remember,” said the Soupster. “Then they added all the numbers together to come up how much each state was for lovers.”
“Alaska was number one in B&Bs, number two in birth rate, number seven in Marvin Gaye songs and number one overall,” he concluded. “Then again, the Mental Floss folks could have made the whole thing up.”
“Harrumph,” said Stephanie, who stood up and stretched. The Soupster did, too.
“Well, Alaska hasn’t been so good for this lover,” she said. “The odds are good, but the goods are odd.”
“Alaska used to have the smallest population of any state and the highest salaries,” said the Soupster. “No more.”
Our Town is a lot more civilized than I imagined from Tulsa,” said Stephanie.
“It was weird having Back East getting so much rain – more than here,” said the Soupster, bending to the task. “Well, we better get the last of these potatoes…” he started, but Stephanie cut him off.
“Hey,” she said. “If Mental Floss is right and the odds are better, does that mean the goods are odder?”
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“Whoa!” Simon exclaimed, tightening his grip on the leash and pulling his border collie Spruce out of the path of a run-away German shepherd.
“Sorry!” the owner of the shepherd called out as he jogged on by, his dog running merrily ahead, dodging in and out of the bike lane, oblivious to the cars rushing past.
Simon shook his head and continued his walk. Around the next turn he ran into his friend Betty, who was walking her chihuahua LuLu.
“Thank you!” Simon immediately said, stopping next to her.
“Well, you’re certainly welcome! … But what for?” she asked with a laugh as their dogs greeted each other.
“For walking your dog on a leash! I can’t believe what a problem it has become in Our Town – it seems like nobody wants to walk their dog on a leash anymore,” he explained. Betty nodded.
“Oh, I’ve noticed that, too,” Betty agreed. “It’s kind of surprising, really. Not only is it inconsiderate of other people and their pets, it’s so dangerous for the dog! My LuLu is very well trained, but I would never take the risk of her running away from me, running into traffic, or running into another BIGGER dog! I care about her too much.”
“I feel the same way. Also, if your dog is running around loose it’s not always easy to tell where they’ve gone to the bathroom and now you’ve created TWO problems. There is nothing worse than setting out on a nice walk with Spruce only to end it by walking through someone else’s mess. I don’t mind cleaning up after my own dog, but I don’t like cleaning up after other people’s!” Simon pointed out.
Betty shook her head. “If a person can’t stand the idea of their dog being on a leash, then I would suggest they go to the dog park before walking them loose around Our Town. It’s a nice little area and a great way for dogs to socialize with each other – not to mention the owners. That’s where I’m headed right now to meet up with the Soupster and his new friend.”
“Hey, that sounds like a great idea!” Simon nodded. “How about I join the two of you and let LuLu and Spruce play a little more, and maybe seeing a group of dogs having fun SAFELY will inspire other people to stop by.”
“See? A perfect solution for people who don’t like to use a leash to walk their dogs – and ESPECIALLY for people whose dogs seem to like to walk them!” she laughed, pointing down the street. Simon turned around to see the Soupster heading in the direction of the dog park, waving happily at them while being all but dragged off his feet by one energetic Lab – on his leash and looking happy as could be.
– Submitted by Jennifer Truman
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The Soupster spied NuBuck, one of the three Bucks in Our Town, along with “Red Buck” and plain “Buck.” NuBuck was named for the short, velvet-like whiskers that upholstered his cheeks and chin. The Soupster didn’t know how the brown-haired Red Buck got his name and regular Buck would just glare at you if you asked how he got his.
NuBuck was sitting on a bench outside City Hall, shuffling through some official-looking papers. “I’m catching up on the plans for the Maritime Society to install a ground-source heat system at the Old Boathouse and save lots of money and energy,” said NuBuck. “It’s one of the best ideas to come down the pike – if Our Town had a turnpike.”
“I’ve always thought the people who owned boats together were kind of brilliant,” said the Soupster. “People often use their boats less than they think they will and no one will turn down help with an oil or prop change.”
“Herring roe-on-kelp in pounds is also brilliant,” said NuBuck. “You get the herring roe and it doesn’t kill the fish.”
“How about the City Permanent Fund?” said the Soupster. “We got that by investing grant money until it was actually paid out and banking the interest. An idea so good they changed the rule to make sure other towns couldn’t imitate Our Town.”
“That’s it!” cried NuBuck. “Our Town is so unique that things will work here that don’t work in other places.”
“I always imagined big floating trailer parks, like the old floating logging camps,” said the Soupster, “But with manufactured homes. Affordable housing.”
“Tidal energy,” said NuBuck. “Big wind-turbine-like gizmos placed in parts of No Thorofare Bay and Sergius Narrows to catch the strong tidal currents and make electricity.”
“We should encourage hitchhiking,” said the Soupster. “Save money on gas.”
“Feed our food scraps to the fish,” said NuBuck.
The two men breathed heavily.
“For brilliant, how bout the Monthly Grinds and the Seafood Festival?” said NuBuck, starting up again. “Seafood subscriptions and the Farmer’s Market.”
“What I’m trying to figure out,” said the Soupster, “is a way to have our cake and eat it, too.”
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Originally published July 29, 2004
It seemed like slow motion to the Soupster watching Red bearing right down on him, then the larger man knocked the Soupster to the ground.
“Whoa, sorry there,” Red said. “I’m running on all gears like a headless chicken.”
“Summer is the busy time in Our Town,” the Soupster commiserated. “Why else would Alaskans take their vacations in the winter?”
Red nodded. “I work May through September and take the rest of the year off,” he said.
“You pack a whole year into four months,” said the Soupster. “but you pay for it on days like today.”
“Oh, it’s not the work,” Red sighed. “Work I learned to handle a long time ago. Up at 4 to get the boat ready, take guests out all day. I’m cleaning up the boat long after they’ve left. And then I find myself up until 10 answering snail mail and e-mails and doing the books.”
“So why are you so crazy now?” the Soupster asked.
“Locational hazard,” said the Soupster. “You move to a place as nice as Our Town and you discover relatives you never knew you had.”
“You bet,” Red agreed. “I knew we had my sister and her family coming up this month, but she ran into our cousin in Seattle and guess what? They decided on a whim to come up together! That makes nine people in my house. Bless them, they’re very self-directed. Still though, they want to be sure and visit with me every day and I just don’t have time.
“Can you take them out on the charter with you?” the Soupster asked.
“Wouldn’t be fair to my clients,” Red said. “They’re paying top dollar for my full attention. Hunting fish is serious business.”
“So,” said Red, “I’ve got half a day I penciled out to do about a week’s worth of chores. I’m walking to the bank today and what do you know — there’s my great-uncle Don in the middle of a walking tour. My father would never give me peace if I didn’t show Don the town, so there went my day to catch up.”
“Bet you’re looking forward to your vacation in two months,” the Soupster guessed.
“I’m not waiting that long,” said Red. “My sister goes back on the plane tomorrow and the cousin on the ferry the next day. Uncle Don is getting back on his cruise ship this evening. As soon as everybody leaves and I can get back to my regular 18-hour days, I’m gonna consider it vacation!”
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It wasn’t easy to make the Soupster feel like the stuffy serious one, but Cousin Robb had always had just that effect on him.
“The great ferry Malaspina,” Robb pronounced, as soon as the first-time visitor to Our Town stepped off the ramp to meet up with “Cousin” Soupster. “The name derives from the Russian word for `bad spine’ right?”
“Actually, Malaspina is named after a glacier which is named after an Italian explorer named Alessandro,” said the Soupster.
“Then why isn’t the ferry named `Alessandro?’” asked Cousin Robb.
“That’s his first name,” said the Soupster.
“Anyway,” said Robb. “It’s so good to be in Alaska. `Alaska,’ that’s probably Italian, too. Italian for `everyone should ask.’”
The Soupster had been trapped in this routine before. His parents were very close friends with Robb’s. “Cousin” Robb was eight years older and, when enlisted as the Soupster’s babysitter, would torture him with bad puns. “Protuberance,” he remembered Robb saying, “It’s Latin for `professional potato-eating insect.’”
So when they passed the spiral white warning sirens along HPR, the Soupster heard himself falsely answering Cousin Robb’s innocent question of “What are those?”
“They’re fluorescent streetlights,” the Soupster jived. “They save a bunch of electricity and they last five times as long as a regular streetlight.”
They passed Maksoutoff St., which Robb guessed was Russian for “to force a businessman to remove his suit.”
At the airport, Cousin Robb had such crazy definitions for everything that the Soupster lost it.
When Robb pointed to the flashing yellow light the airline used to tell passengers their luggage was coming, the Soupster said, “It’s a tsunami warning beacon, Cousin Robb. This is important. If you ever see it go off, start running for high ground.”
“Tsunami, that reminds me,” said Cousin Robb and asked directions to the men’s room.
As he waited for his cousin to return, the Soupster thought about how churlish he had been. Cousin Robb was just excited and interested in Our Town and who wouldn’t be? The Soupster just needed to calm down and play the good host.
As if on cue, the rotating beacon starting spinning, spilling a yellow strobe light on everyone and everything. Cousin Robb ran up and grabbed the Soupster’s arm.
“Tsunami,” said Robb. “A Boston term meaning `take Norman to court.’”
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