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“Soupster, you can’t practice medicine in this state,” said Linda, scratching furiously at the bug bite on the outside of her right calf.
“But I’ve only had one glass of wine,” protested the Soupster.
“I mean in Alaska!” Linda said.
The Soupster brought over a cold pack from his freezer, an elastic bandage and a tube of antibacterial ointment. “I want you to stop scratching that,” he said. “It’s starting to bleed.”
“Bleeding is good,” said Linda. “It’s a different kind of pain than itching, which drives me absolutely crazy.”
“Counter-irritation,” said the Soupster. “You’re absolutely right. Takes your mind off the thing that’s driving you crazy, by replacing it with something that may hurt just as much, but doesn’t drive you quite as crazy.”
“Huh?” said Linda.
The Soupster didn’t answer her, but bent to his work. He carefully daubed off Linda’s bite and, as he applied the antibacterial ointment, asked, “What are the fashion rules for Our Town anyway?”
“Huh?” she repeated.
“Like okay, is there a time when you cannot wear Xtra Tuf boots?”
“That’s a good question, Soupster,” Linda admitted. “Nothing comes to mind. I’ve seen Xtra Tufs at weddings and funerals.”
The Soupster put the cold pack against Linda’s leg. “That feels cold, but good,” she said.
“Any other fashion rules?” said the Soupster, continuing his work
“Well, you should never ever buy anything that would be ruined if it got wet,” said Linda.
“Funny you should bring that up,” said Linda. “My favorite pair of shoes started out as suede and now that they’re mushed down they seem even more comfortable.”
The Soupster murmured his assent as he wrapped the elastic bandage around Linda’s calf to hold the cold pack in place.
“I don’t think there’s ever a reason to wear really high heels in Our Town – I mean except for a lark,” mused Linda. “I think men could go their whole lives in Our Town and never have to wear a tuxedo.” She looked at her caregiver’s well-worn shirt. “Soupster, do you own even one suit?”
The Soupster put a white sock over Linda’s foot and stretched it carefully up over the bandage. He stood up to survey his neat work.
“Have you ever even worn a tuxedo, Soupster?” said Linda, an edge to her voice. “Are you even listening to me?”
“I got it,” the Soupster insisted, “Never wear high-heeled Xtra Tufs with a tuxedo in Our Town. Counter-irritation. How does your leg feel now?”
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The Soupster mistook for a friend the stranger to Our Town he saw occupying a bench above the harbor.
“You look just like him,” the Soupster apologized, when he got closer. “This guy you look like has lived in Our Town forever.”
“I’m Richard Labb,” said the stranger, shaking the Soupster’s hand. “Visiting, er, Your Town, from Canada on a tour of the Inside Passage. Except Your Town is not very Inside anything, is it?”
“Sounds like you just took a boat trip,” guessed the Soupster.
“A fishing charter,” said Labb. “Before today I thought I had pretty good sea legs. But twice on the charter I made a personal contribution – over the side – to Davy Jones.”
“Rough charter?” the Soupster said.
Labb laughed, a touch maniacally. “You don’t know Captain Leonardo?”
“I don’t” said the Soupster.
“He has strange rituals that he insists his customers perform on board,” Labb said.
“After we left the harbor and were heading out — as soon as we got by those big rocks near the airport runway – Captain Leonardo insisted that I and the three other clients on board remove our socks and allow him to lock the socks up in a little box he kept by the helm,” Labb said.
“Any explanation?” asked the Soupster.
“Said it would help us catch fish,” said Labb. “Leonardo also said that when he served sandwiches for lunch.”
“Sandwiches seem pretty normal,” commented the Soupster.
“He made us eat the sandwiches from the outside in, crusts first,” said Labb. “All the way around the outside of the sandwich until we had a little soft disk of the center left. Captain Leonardo watched us closely as we ate and made sure we all did it. `Important to catch the fish!’ Leonardo insisted…”
“A lot of people have odd rituals they use to attract fish, but Captain Leonardo does seem a bit like Captain Crunch,” admitted the Soupster.
“But the worst, the absolute worst, was Captain Leonardo’s constant rhyming and word games,” Labb said. “He did not shut up for one single second. When Captain Leonardo found out I was from Canada, he starting calling me `Labrador Labb.’ When he found out I was a veterinarian, he asked me if I had ever tested the blood of a retriever. When I said I had, he went berserk.
“`Labb from Labrador’s Labrador retriever blood testing laboratory,’ chanted Captain Leonardo. `Labb’s Lab Lab Labs.’ After about half an hour, he started making us all repeat, `Labb’s Lab Lab Labs.’ He had similar sayings for everyone else, too.”
“Well, you’re back on dry land now,” the Soupster said soothingly. “And you never have to take one of Captain Leonardo’s charters ever again.”
“Actually, I’ve booked a trip with him later in the summer to troll for coho,” said Labb.
“Why? Leonardo drove you crazy,” said the Soupster.
“I know,” said Labb. “But you should see all the fish we caught!”
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Decorative tattoos for animals? the Soupster pondered as he walked on the Our Town downtown sidewalk. He had heard the identification tattoos that people put on their dogs and cats had blossomed into an art form. But the previous evening, he had witnessed the unseeable – a cat with the face of Celine Dion smiling up from a shaved part of its foreleg.
And then he had heard the unhearable – the news that one of Our Town’s newest tattoo shops was tattooing pet fish. Naturally, the Soupster had resolved to see one of these tattooed fish forthwith. Ergo, he was downtown early (for him) in the morning.
A goldfish with the chemical symbol AU for gold would, perhaps, be an apt tattoo, the Soupster considered as he passed a store. A printed notice taped to the window caught his eye, from the Local Illness Network Team. Another offshoot, LINT had grown out of a collaboration between Our Town’s foodies and healthies. An official ceremony would be held later in the month, declaring a certain type of fluid-filled growth that appeared on the right flank as a “Sitka cyst” – joining the esteemed ranks of Sitka rose, Sitka alder and Sitka black-tailed deer. It was no joke – it drained and hurt.
Could put a tattoo of the devil on an angelfish, the Soupster thought mischievously. Betta are the pretty fish with those swirly, airy fins that make them look like they’re flying through the water. What could you possibly tattoo on a betta? he wondered.
Just beyond the cyst notice, the store owners had placed in their window a clever new device for Our Town motorists. “As Seen on TV,” said the lurid poster, mounted adjacent to theWindshield ProjectionTM. The device projected scenes from the most beautiful places in the world – Tahiti, Switzerland, Kilimanjaro, Patagonia – onto the windshield of your car in a way that allowed you to drive safely while enjoying the world-class view.
Our Town already had a world class view, the Soupster judged, but even the most gorgeous waterfront commute could be boring if unchanged day after day. At any rate, there was way more of a chance of his buying a Windshield ProjectorTM than of having the face of a Canadian diva – any Canadian diva – tattooed on the shaved forearm of his cat.
Across the street, the cinema bi-plex offered up two films. “The Sea Lion King,” which the Soupster had not seen, and “Give ‘Em Hell, Herring,” which he had. In smaller letters, for movies showing at the out-the-road bi-plex, the sign advertised “Shallow Halibut” and “Rocky.” Do two bi-plexes equal one multi-plex?
Ooohhh, those little seahorses could sport wonderful tattoos, the Soupster thought, as he continued down the street. A saddle, for instance. Or a tiny jockey. Maybe they should tattoo seahorses on the sides of regular horses?
He ignored the light rain that had started. The Soupster had money in his pocket and no appointments till afternoon. He considered the coves and forest surrounding Our Town as paradise, but with money and time in his pocket, even downtown – even in the rain – seemed like paradise to him.
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Who’s Who in Our Town?!
“One thing I really like about living in Our Town,” Marci said, “is that after a while you start knowing the people you see and seeing the people you know. A hello here and a wave there makes the place feel like one big backyard.”
“Yeah, but not everyone likes that,” the Soupster pointed out. “My cousin Dave lives in Anchorage because of the ‘anonymity’. His Saturday morning routine includes a trip to Barnes and Noble for a read and a coffee. The irony is that by now, I bet the coffee baristas and most of the regulars know everything about him, except his name… You can tell a lot about a person by what they read. But I can see his point. At least the person at the next table isn’t going to know your family tree or anything else remotely private about you”.
Marci nodded in agreement. “The worst is seeing my counselor in public,” she said. “It makes me feel kinda naked. Like, the other shoppers see this normal adult doing the normal shopping thing; meanwhile, she knows that lurking just below the surface is this crazy animal, just waiting to be unleashed. I scare myself just thinking about it!”
“Counselors are like teachers,” the Soupster reflected. “You forget that they do normal things like go shopping or go to the gym. They probably even see shrinks themselves!”
Marci laughed. “Another nice thing about living in Our Town,” she added, “are the familiar strangers that you get to know. It starts when you keep seeing someone around town. Soon, you find yourself greeting them and one day you start talking to them. Often you find out who they are, but since they’ve never officially introduced themselves, you feel obliged to pretend you don’t know, or else act as if you’ve always known! Strange really…”
“Then there are people who greet you as if they know you, but you can’t remember having met them,” the Soupster said. “In that moment of awkwardness, you’re tempted to return their greeting as a long lost friend. But if you don’t clear the air immediately, let’s say you’ve more or less missed the boat. From then on, you’re locked into pretending you know them”.
“Oh, yeah, and let’s not forget,” Marci warned, “that sometimes we’re greeted affectionately by someone who thinks they know us, when actually they don’t. That happened to my coworker recently. She told me how she saw my brother Ben down at Crescent Harbor the other day. They were deep in conversation before she realized that he wasn’t Ben! See, it does happen. You should never assume that you’re the one with the bad memory!”
“Hey, I gotta go,” the Soupster said suddenly. “That’s the guy who I’m selling my boat to. Or is it? Anyway if he isn’t, I’m sure I can convince him he is. He sure looks like the kind of guy who needs an old Whaler,” the Soupster said with a wink.
– Submitted by Lois Verbaan DenHerder
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“Great Caesar’s debit card!” said the Original Soupster, pushing away the computer keyboard, frustrated. “Fireweed scramble!”
“Uncle,” said the Soupster. “Calm down. Just tell me what it is you’re trying to access.”
“Access? What do you mean access?” said the Original Soupster. “Don’t give me that Greek plaster! Speak English!”
The Soupster took a deep breath. His uncle lived in a village even smaller than Our Town. Yet the older man insisted on buying a GPS navigation system for his car and then proceeded to get lost in the tiny burg he had inhabited for the last quarter century. As a young man, the Soupster had learned to hypnotize himself on visits by staring at the constantly flashing “12:00” on his uncle’s digital alarm clock and later on his VHS tape deck.
“By Abraham’s peapod,” said Original, ending his nephew’s reverie. “Why can’t you just put them all in a book?”
“What in a book?” asked the Soupster. “What do you want?!”
“Butterpaddle!” said Original. “I want to read your story about the married dog who drives.”
“Oh, you want to read an old Our Town column from the Soup,” said the Soupster, admittedly relieved and also complimented. “All the Our Town columns are archived on the Soup’s Internet website. You should learn to use it.”
“I know that, Soupster, you frontloader,” said the Original one. “Don’t you think I know that?”
“Then what’s the problem?”
“I never push the right buttons!” said Original.
Oh, really? The Soupster thought dryly. I’d say you were a champion button pusher.
But what the Soupster said was: “All right, all right,” and dutifully retrieved a hard copy of an old Soup that contained the Our Town column with the married dog who drives. He handed it to Original, who grunted with approval.
The Soupster answered a knock at the door and found his friend Sadie on his front step, her hat, literally in her hand. “I want to take you up on the offer to lend me a space heater in case it gets cold again,” she said “And do you have an extra pair of sunglasses in case it gets sunny? Oh, and a sturdy umbrella for hail. You know how it is this time of year.”
The Soupster attempted to launch his opinion on the coming changeable weather, but was cut short by a big grunt from Original Soupster, who then came bursting onto the scene.
“Bazooka Joe, you crinkle fry,” said Original, waving the Our Town column in the air like a burning torch. “This is my favorite ‘Our Town.’ You do have a way with the words, Slugbait!”
Editor’s Note: The Our Town column with “the married dog who drives” can be found HERE.
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“’This weather – ‘taint fit for man nor beast,” the Soupster said, sitting down with his friend Abigail in a cozy corner of the café. Outside, where it was 30 degrees, hail rained down at 75 degrees, bouncing a few inches off the parking lot asphalt and car roofs.
“I went through at least four weather patterns on the way here,” said Abigail, pushing a mug of geoduck chowder to the Soupster. “This is fabulous. You’ve got to try it.”
The Soupster needed no encouragement and scarfing ensued. Abigail demolished her halibut wrap. “It was amazing,” she said between bites. “Rain, then sun, then hail, then rain, then hail again.”
“That’s five,” said the Soupster.
“It’s like Spring is here,” she said, ignoring him, “This kind of weather I associate with Spring. Only that it’s way too cold for Spring.”
“Punxsutawney Phil, the Groundhog Day groundhog, didn’t see his shadow this year
and that means an early Spring,” said the Soupster.
“Well, I’ve heard Punxsutawney Phil is right less than half the time.”
The Soupster chuckled and scraped the bottom of his mug to get the very last drop. “This geoduck stuff really is good,” he said. “If I got two more mugs, could you eat one of them?”
“I’ll try,” said Abigail.
The Soupster walked to the counter. “Sue,” he said to the proprietor. “Could you re-fill this mug and ladle out another one for Abby?”
Then sun flooded through the windows, as Sue turned to her stove holding two mugs. “I heard you guys talking about the weather,” she said over her shoulder. “You know what they say about our weather?”
“If you don’t like the weather in Our Town,” Sue said, “Just drive to the other end of the road.”
“Ah, microclimates,” said the Soupster. “I grok you.”
Outside, the wind picked up, rustling a stand of hemlock. A large raven landed on the asphalt and found a bit of pastry stuck to a paper plate. He was immediately joined by eight other ravens. The first raven pulled the pastry off the plate and flew off with the morsel, with four of the ravens leaping to pursuit. Freed of the pastry’s weight, the paper plate caught the next gust of wind and headed in the opposite direction, with the remaining ravens following.
“What were you watching?” asked Abigail as the Soupster placed two mugs on the table.
“Our Town’s Favorite Animal Tricks,” the Soupster said. “I bet the ravens are way happier here than they would be in some Back East blizzard or Tennessee ice storm. I heard it was near zero last night in Oklahoma City.”
Abby lifted a dripping spoonful of chowder. “That’s why we live in Alaska,” she said with her mouth full.
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Whenever the Soupster felt like an old timer, he’d run into someone like Gregor “GG” Gregorovich, whose mother descended from a long-time Our Town family. If there had been a Permanent Fund for the whole of GG’s life instead of just the last half of it, GG would have gotten his check every single year. He was born in his family’s house off Sawmill Creek and had never, ever been out of Our Town for more than 90 days in a row.
At the airport, the Soupster was just thinking “Been in this burg a while,” when he saw the hulking Russian buying a mocha and a smoked salmon bagel from the caffeine kiosk.
The Soupster stepped up to the main counter, where a young woman who used to sell him Girl Scout cookies and 3 holiday wrapping paper now smilingly checked his photo identification and oversaw his purchase of more than $1,000 in airline tickets. The Soupster staggered away, clutching his tickets in his hand.
He felt the tug of time. Driving home with a smashed taillight a week ago he had been pulled over by a police officer so young the Soupster was tempted to call him “Son.” Girl Scouts ran the airport.
The Soupster then felt a tug, really, as GG sidled over and grabbed the Soupster’s arm. The big man had already eaten most of his bagel and held the last bit and his coffee in his other large paw.
“You planning a trip out, Soupster?” asked GG. “You probably like all that stuff in the Real World.”
“Less and less,” admitted the Soupster. “I used to love going to the Lower 48. After spending a couple of years in Our Town, Down South seemed like some kind of Disneyland. Everything was amusing, even traffic jams. Now, not so much.”
“Well I never go anywhere,” GG said proudly. “I just enjoy being in Our Town, especially in January.”
“January is the only total experience – monthly experience – that I get all year,” GG intoned. “After New Years Day, I’m still aware of passing individual days, like January 5th or 6th. Then a week goes by and then another. And everybody starts saying, `Wow, it’s the 15th already?’
“Then I get up into the January 23rd to 26th range and I realize something very nice is coming to an end. I find myself savoring each day in January as kind of a slow- down, time-out kind of month.”
“And when January’s over?” asked the Soupster.
“February and beyond?” said GG, staring out the picture window as a big jet landed. “After January, the rest of the year is just a blur.”
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