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Greta, aged two, drooled onto the sitting Soupster’s left calf as she clung to him. Across the tidy living room of his friend’s house, Brandon-the-pre-teen regarded the Soupster with a suspicious boredom.
“Nice of you all to invite me for Thanksgiving,” the Soupster told Brandon, who grunted.
The Soupster could hear clattering from the kitchen and the excited voices of Corey and Barb, the parents of Greta and “Don” as he liked to be called.
“Okay,” yelled Corey, who looked like George Clooney, but sounded like Gilbert Gottfried. “Thanksgiving feed bag in the deen-ing room!”
“When I heard you were planning on spending Thanksgiving alone, I said `This is a Crime Against Soup!’” Corey said, as the Soupster and the children gathered around the well-decorated table, with Greta lifted up into her high chair.
“Didn’t I say that, honey,” Corey yelled out, “That the Soupster spending Thanksgiving alone was a crime against soup?”
“You did indeed,” Barb called back.
Corey filled everyone’s glasses with cider, even Greta’s tippy cup. Then Barb appeared from the kitchen holding a platter. “Here’s the `bird,’” she said.
The Soupster stared at the item on the platter she placed in the middle of the table. It looked vaguely like a turkey, but there was no brown skin and the flesh was wrong.
“It’s fish!” said Barb and Greta called out “Fiss!”
“It’s Halmoncod,” corrected Corey, who pointed with his carving knife. “The white meat is halibut, the dark meat is salmon and the Parson’s nose is black cod.”
“The posterior,” explained Barb.
“But before we eat this Halmoncod, we should all say what we are thankful for,” Barb continued. “I’m thankful that the Soupster could be with us.”
“And I’m thankful that Barb let me do something I’ve always wanted to do,” said Corey. “Go to Freezing Man.”
“Freezing Man?” said the Soupster.
“Like Burning Man, except it’s on the tundra,” said Corey, evoking the weird tribal ritual and art show that occurs annually in the Nevada desert. “Instead of making a giant statue out of wood and then setting fire to it, like they do at Burning Man, we bring discarded car and truck tires from all over Alaska and make a giant bear statue. Then we wait for it to get cold enough to make the tires brittle and we pelt the giant bear with stones and sticks until it shatters.”
“I have to ask,” said the Soupster. “Sounds like it needs to be at least 50 degrees below zero to get the tires that brittle. But at Burning Man, a lot of people are naked.”
“At Freezing Man, too,” said Corey. Then he saw the Soupster’s astonished expression.
“Underneath our parkas, Soupster, underneath our parkas!” he said. “We’re not crazy.”
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(Originally published Nov. 17, 2005)
The knock on the Soupster’s door turned out to be Bob, the Soupster’s new neighbor, who wanted to borrow a flashlight. Bob needed to do some outdoor plumbing and, new to Our Town, he still felt uncomfortable about running electrical cords outside in the rain.
“Cleve,” the Soupster told Bob. “Cleve is your man.”
Cleve was another of the Soupster’s neighbors and known for his lights. Cleve had gasoline-powered pedestal klieg lights as well as key chain lights whose bulbs were guaranteed beyond eternity. Cleve had lights he could strap to his head, his shoulder, the crook of his arm and his shoes. He had old diving lights that ran on massive lantern batteries, one than ran on a fuel cell the size of a dime and one that you could crank to operate.
The passage between the Soupster’s house and Cleve’s ran through some thick brush, and the Soupster could see Bob cringing from the even deeper dark that cloaked the path.
“Light,” said the Soupster. “Can you even remember the middle of the summer, when it never got dark? We’re paying for that now.”
The light-starved Bob took up the conversation – after all isn’t food — or the opposite of it — the favorite subjects of famished people? “The desert is dark, notably dark,” he said. “A winter I spent outside Shiprock, Arizona taught me that. But wet dark is somehow worse.”
“Wet dark is like double dark,” the Soupster agreed.
“On a tour of Alcatraz prison, I volunteered to be locked in solitary confinement,” said Bob. “When they closed the door, that was the darkest I could imagine.”
“Cleve’s yard is equipped with motion-sensor lights all over the place,” said the Soupster. “Don’t be startled. I can show you where you can just wave your hand a little out in front of you and set off the whole array.”
On the edge of Cleve’s lawn, the Soupster waved his arm a little out in front of him and the whole area blazed into daytime. Awash now, the two men staggered blinking up the walk. Cleve was already at his front door, tipped off by the lights.
“Can Bob check out one of your flashlights to do some plumbing?” the Soupster asked, indicating the new neighbor.
“Sure,” said Cleve, who disappeared briefly. He came back with a three lights — a carabiner micro-light, a waterproof million-candlepower portable searchlight and about six feet of luminescent piping. “Use the piping for brightening up the area where you are working,” he explained.
As Bob stood examining the lights, the Soupster turned to Cleve. “Poor guy,” whispered the Soupster. “This is his first November.”
“He’ll do okay,” Cleve said. “It’ll soon be Thanksgiving and the city lights will go up on the utility poles and the people in the stores and houses will start decorating.”
“Can I borrow all three lights?” asked Bob.
“Better than cursing the darkness,” said Cleve. “For sure.”
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“Lon Struckhausen, that’s the silliest thing I’ve heard this week!” roared the Soupster.
“I know it sounds crazy, but my sweet Laura loves her little Schnitzel like he was her baby,” said Lon, picking up the receiver on his early touch-tone avocado-colored kitchen wall phone, while the Soupster sat at the kitchen table.
The Soupster looked across the table and regarded Schnitzel, the ferret, perched upright on his haunches, looking like an annoyed and furry ornamental pepper grinder.
“Hello, is this the Snuggli company?” Lon said into the phone. “I want one for pets, extra-small.” He have his payment info.
“What?” Lon shot a surprised look at the Soupster. “But my credit card should be fine!”
Lon hung up the phone and brought his laptop computer over to the table. “Let me just log into my credit card account… wait a minute.”
“What’s wrong?” asked the Soupster.
“It won’t recognize my ID,” Lon said. “Laura must have changed it.” He went back to the wall phone and called the credit card company.
After punching in a bunch of numbers to navigate a rash of options, Lon reached a live human being. As the Soupster listened, Lon had to recount his high school team colors (navy and green), his mother’s maiden name (McNulty) and his favorite pet (not Schnitzel).
“My wife’s birthday?” said Lon into the phone. “Why, it’s September 18, 1968.”
“Really?” said Lon, glancing over at the Soupster. “Only 3 percent if husbands can correctly name their wife’s birthday without counting on their fingers? That’s in your experience?”
“And 100 percent of wives immediately know their husband’s birthday, again in your experience?” Lon said. “And you have 20 years working the credit card customer service phone lines?”
“Wow,” said the Soupster to Schnitzel, who ignored him.
“And most of them also know their husband’s social security number by heart?” said Lon.
“I guess that’s admirable,” said the Soupster to no one in particular.
“I think they learn it in Girl Scouts,” Lon said. “There may be a badge.”
“What’s that?” asked Lon into the phone. “When they separate the boys and girls into different gym classes?” Lon laughed and hung up.
“That guy thinks they have the boys playing dodge ball,” said Lon, “while the girls perfect advanced memory skills.”
“Just order Schnitzel’s Snuggli,” said the Soupster.
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“Hi, neighbor Joan. How is life treating you?”
“Soupster, I am fine but it is that time of year again.”
“What time is that?”
“Haven’t you ever noticed; when the rain gets serious and the light begins to fade many of the folks in Our Town start speaking gibberish.”
“What are you talking about? A foreign language, maybe?”
“Well, it might as well be, Soupster. It could be Italian for as much as I can understand. It must be a secret language – ‘Quiltese.’ They throw around terms like slub, bark cloth, feed dogs, round robin swap, ikat, stitch-in-the-ditch, fat quarters, fussy cut and my personal favorite – ‘scherenschnitte’ – that’s German for ‘scissor cuts’ and it’s a kind of fancy paper cutting.”
“Joan, I don’t know what any of it means but I do know some wondrous textiles come out of Our Town. I saw one beauty in white, icy blue and aquamarine sprinkled with bits of cut glass. It was called ‘Glacier’ and almost pushed me to learn the quilting skill myself.”
“Well, Soupster, why not – quilting is not just for women. Many men also enjoy the process. It involves math and engineering along with an artistic eye.”
“I love to hear all the stories of where the fabric comes from – local, of course, and picked up on world travels, from T-shirts won in athletic events, and, of course, there’s always the White E. One number re-created famous paintings of the Virgin Mary from fancy fabrics straight from the dumpster. It’s amazing, Joan, that something so beautiful can be created from discards, plus, it saves them from going in the trash.”
“You know, Soupster, I’m remembering a kind of quilt my great grandma called a ‘crazy quilt.’ It was made with scraps from her sewing. She would sit on the edge of the bed and instead of a bedtime story she would tell me about the quilt pieces. This wool worsted came from great grandpa’s best suit. That fancy, dancy, pink section was from Aunt Lucy’s dress, and we all know how she turned out. The fine white linen piece with embroidered flowers came from a christening gown. There were scraps of plaid flannel, army uniforms, logging pants and a navy blue velvet Sunday-best skirt, too.
Do you have any quilts in your home, Soupster?”
“Well, no, I couldn’t stand the thought that I might get them dirty. They are, after all, works of art. But I am partial to one I saw at last Spring’s Quilt Extravaganza here in Our Town. It had a wildlife theme and a wolf staring out from the center.”
“We sure have some obsessed quilters in Our Town – some even make a quilt every weekend. I think we should take up donations for a new organization. We could call it ‘Quilters Anonymous’ and I bet it would have lots of members especially during these short days and long rainy nights.”
“You’re sure right there, Joan.”
– Submitted by Rose Manning
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“There it is!” the Soupster cried when he saw the watch he had lost last Christmas, fallen between the washing machine and the dryer. He should have thought of looking between the appliances – from there he had at other times retrieved single socks, misplaced mail and some multi-legged critters with segmented exoskeletons.
The watch was a nerd delight with a big time face and a tiny calculator. He loved it: the Soupster was great at addition, but anything more complex gave him a headache. He glanced at the watch as one of the digital numbers changed. It still worked!
A knock at the door and the Soupster opened it, to find Keith Undermeyer standing outside astride his new hybrid on-road/off-road bicycle, with a meaty plank mounted on the rear bumper as a cargo carrier. He had one bike helmet on his head and another cradled in his arm. The Soupster fastened the watch to his wrist.
“You gonna vote, Soupster?” Keith asked.
“Of course,” the Soupster said.
“Got a bike?”
“Well, I was probably just going to dri….” The Soupster started.
“Well, you are probably going to ride your bike there now,” said Keith, cutting him off and tossing him the helmet. “Go get your cycle.”
The Soupster retrieved his ancient Schwinn 5-speed and met Keith out by the road, already starting off. The Soupster tried to catch up with his nimble friend, but no matter how hard he pedaled, the distance between the two men grew larger.
Something was wrong. Even the Soupster was faster than the top speed he now attained. He stopped and examined his bike. His rear tire was nearly flat! No wonder!
A speck in the distance now, Keith turned around. The speck got bigger. The Soupster looked at his recovered watch to see that it was a few minutes to 8 – WHEN THE POLLS CLOSED!
Keith pulled up.
“I have a flat, you’ll have to take me on your bike,” said the Soupster.
“What’s your hurry?” said Keith, but the Soupster just jumped up onto the meaty cargo plank. “Let’s go!” he said.
Keith shook his head, but dutifully pulled off. With the greater weight he was slower, but still fast. The Soupster mentally egged him on. The polls were going to close! They would miss out on voting!
At the polling station, the Soupster jumped off the back of the bike and was opening the doors even before Keith stopped moving. He stepped inside, breathless.
“Made it!” the Soupster said triumphantly.
“Actually, there’s still an hour,” said the woman checking IDs and taking signatures.
“But the time…” said the Soupster, showing her his watch.
“Your watch is wrong,” said the nice lady. “When’s the last time you checked it?”
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The Soupster remembered his conversation with his neighbor’s grandson with some regret. He felt he was a little harsh with the boy when the youngster tried to lecture him about recycling. The Soupster searched his mind for the just right word to describe his own behavior – which was gruff and hostile out of reflex.
“I was `churlish,’” thought the Soupster and because he was alone, he said aloud, “Like a churl.”
The truth was that the boy had hit a sore point. The Soupster’s mental commitment to recycling often outstripped his physical actions. To wit: The Soupster’s mud room overflowed with paper bags of mixed paper, stacks of newsprint, aluminum cans and sheet metal, tin cans, glass bottles and jars and a good-sized sheaf of cardboard leaning against the wall.
“I must get all that stuff out of my mudroom,” the Soupster thought.
But it was night.
And not just night, but a night that signaled the change in seasons from summer to fall. To wit: A particularly dark and blustery night in Our Town, with the rain blowing sideways in good-sized drops.
Nonetheless, to make up for his churlish behavior, the Soupster put on a slicker and cap, filled his arms with recyclables and jammed them into the passenger area of his car. When he was finished, the Soupster had just enough room in the front seat of his car to cram in behind the wheel.
This time of night, Our Town’s real action was in the supermarkets, which blazed in the blackness like little Las Vegases. But the Soupster kept true to his quest and drove by the stores without stopping. He could think of a few things he needed, but what if someone saw the state of his car right now? “Lucy, you’d have some ‘splainin’ to do,” he chuckled.
It being unusual conditions to be using the Recycling Center, the Soupster found himself alone there, surrounded by big metal bins on which the heavy raindrops beat a complex rhythm. One-by-one, he tipped up the metal hatches of the bins with one hand and tossed his recyclables in with the other. Glass, metal, a plastic bag of shredded paper, the cardboard and mixed paper and the aluminum and tin cans. All that was left was the #1 and #2 plastic, which were to be deposited in four-foot high canvas bags supported by sideways wooden slats.
Depositing the bag of #1 plastic went without incident. But the bag of #2, not so much.
When the Soupster tipped over his second bag, the supporting piece of hard plastic at the bottom of his bag fell out and into the bin.
The Soupster tried to bend over the edge to retrieve it, lost his balance and tipped over into the bin with his head among the #2 plastic and his feet sticking straight up in the air. He tried to pull himself out and could not. Slow minutes passed.
Then, the area was bathed in light as another car pulled up to the plastic containers holding the upside down Soupster.
For good or ill, it was Steve “Big Mouth” Larssen, out on a late-night recycling run himself.
“Number two plastic?” said Steve, surveying the scene with his hands on his hips. “Soupster, I’d think you were at least #1.”
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The Soupster woke up in a foul mood. Not only was it a drizzly day but he was spending it with his next-door neighbor’s computerized grandson, Johnny, a 4th grader who walked around with wires coming out of his ears.
The first sign of danger was finding Johnny going through the garbage can with little piles here and there.
“Mr. Soupster, where do you put your aluminum? This pile is #1 plastic and this pile is #2. Where are your recycling containers?”
“#1 & #2? There’s a difference? Who recycles plastic anyway? What’s the point?”
“But, Mr. Soupster, plastic is made out of oil! The city sells it to people who make it into blankets and socks and everything. Don’t you understand anything about recycling?”
The Soupster groaned, definitely not his day—socks made out of milk cartons?
He was quiet for a moment, regrouping his thoughts.
“Johnny, don’t bother me about recycling. You don’t really know anything about recycling. I know about recycling. Didn’t my mother make me wash and dry the used aluminum foil and fold it to use again? Could I ever get the used plastic bags can full enough to meet her standards? Didn’t I have to be so careful with the wax paper around my sandwiches that it could be reused all week? Didn’t my mother hang our clothes to dry on a clothes line in the sun or inside on rainy days?”
“But, Mr. Soupster…uh, sir…”
The Soupster glared, “Don’t interrupt me, I’m just getting started.”
“We didn’t throw away our shoes – Dad just took them to the shoemaker to be repaired. Don’t suppose you have ever even heard of shoe polish. He pushed his lawn mower! He picked up pennies from the street. Have you ever picked up a penny?
The Soupster paused for breath and Johnny jumped right in.
“Wow, sir, you have a lot of good ideas. Let’s make a clothes line for you right now! We can go from this tree to the side of your house. Maybe another one inside, from the dining room wall to the stairs for rainy days.’
The Soupster’s eyes rolled to think of actually hanging up laundry. On the other hand, he thought of the McGrowls next door looking at his long underwear hanging in front of their
windows and a devious smile appeared on his face.
“Let’s get started on that clothes line right now, Johnny. We’re going to make this world a better place!
– Submitted by Eddie Rau
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As the Soupster walked past the base of the O’Connell Bridge, he heard the low rumble of a cruise ship’s small boat, lightering passengers ashore. The first off the boat – a tall, raven-haired young woman — was so striking the Soupster couldn’t help but notice her. Her attire was as striking as her looks – thin black leggings and pink, shaggy Ugg boots. Although the sun was shining, she also wore a light blue rain jacket emblazoned with the cruise ship’s logo.
The Soupster hurried around Castle Hill and up Lincoln St., already late for a lunch date at the home of his good friend Oscar. Oscar had scored some wonderful ivory king and had recently invested in a spendy gas barbecue. The Soupster, whose B-B-Q efforts always ended in crumbly salmon tasting of starter fluid, savored the thought of dining with an expert grillsman.
The Soupster was supposed to meet Oscar near the Filipino food take-out stand, Adobo Abode. (ed. note: Try the refrain of the song “Winchester Cathedral”) But as the Soupster neared the Abode, he was struck dumb. Standing by the stand, halfway through eating a plate of pancit and lumpia, stood the same woman he had seen moments ago, just arriving on shore. Same long hair, same pink boots, same cruise ship raincoat.
“Soupster!” It was Oscar, across the street, calling from the window of his truck. “I forgot to get any lemons,” he continued at high volume, including all the people on the street in his conversation.
The Soupster hurried across Lincoln and got into Oscar’s pickup. “See that woman across the streets? The one with the dark hair and the blue raincoat?”
“Well, the tourists are sure getting better-looking,” said Oscar appreciatively. “But what’s with the boots? You think she’s a Sherpa?”
“I think she’s in style,” said the Soupster.
Oscar pulled away from the curb and worked his way down the crowded street, stopping several times to let tourists cross or to finish taking a photo. He turned onto the main road.
As the Soupster pondered how the woman on the boat got to the Adobo Abode faster than he did, Oscar turned into the grocery store parking lot. “Surely she couldn’t have gotten there fast enough for her to order, pick up and finish half of one of the Abode’s heaping plates?” the Soupster thought.
He followed Oscar toward the store, only to be struck dumb again. The same woman – raven tresses, Ugg boots — emerged from the entrance, carrying a full bag of groceries in her arms.
“What the…” said the Soupster, and then — determined to solve this mystery – he approached the young woman.
“Eh, Miss,” he said, “I’ve seen you three times in the last 15 minutes.”
The woman laughed. A cab pulled up next to them. In the back seat sat two identical versions her, one with her hair still tousled from the wind on the boat, the other with a small piece of pancit stuck to her chin. The woman laughed again, this time right at the Soupster. She got in the cab.
Oscar caught up with the Soupster. “Triplets,” he marveled, as the cab pulled away.
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While waiting to cross the street by the Roundabout, I turned to the woman next to me and said, “I really like that sweater. What is that color – Dried Kelp?” She gave me a surprised look but said nothing and took a few steps to the side, putting some space between us.
After crossing, I ran to catch up with my friend Lizbeth, who was hurrying towards the library, where I was headed. “Hey Liz, what’s your hurry?” I asked, breathless.
“No hurry, I always walk fast. What’s new with you?” she queried.
“Well, I got a new raincoat the other day; you like it? I almost bought the Milt Green, but decided on Salmonberry Jewel instead.”
“That sure is a bright shade of red. Looks good on you, but I think I would’ve gone with the Milt myself. That would accent my red tresses. Well, gotta run, late for work!”
In the library, I headed over to the new book section, where I ran into the Soupster, perusing the vegetarian cookbooks.
“Hi, Soupster. Hey, new boots?” I asked, pointing to the brown rubber & neoprene numbers he was sporting.
“Yep, what do you think? I like this color; it’s called Brown Bear Scat. They also came in Mildew Black, but I think the brown is more versatile, don’t you?” The Soupster turned one foot back and forth, on his toe, to model the boots for me.
“Oh, brown is the way to go here in Our Town. We could all use a little more color in our wardrobes!”
I headed off to do a few more errands downtown, the Soupster tagging along behind. In the pharmacy I spotted Amy poring over the latest copy of Bride Magazine, which looked heavy enough to club a halibut with. “Looking at bridal gowns, I see,” I said as I peered over her shoulder.
“Getting closer to the big day! What do you think of this dress?” she said as she pointed with a freshly manicured nail to a long lacy white gown.
“Ooh, I love that nail polish. Looks like Low Bush Cranberry! Back to the gown – I like the style, but think it would look better in a nice subtle Halibut Cheek instead of that bright Edgecumbe White.”
“I think you’re right. Can’t blind my fellow Sitkans with something that bright. Thanks for the advice.”
Amy then looked at me and said, “You know, I’ve used the crayons in the big box, the one with 128 colors, and I have never heard of any of the colors you mentioned in the past few minutes.”
“Didn’t you get the flyer from the hardware store in the newspaper? The paint company has come out with a new line of Our Town colors. All the ones I mentioned are in there and so many more! I’m thinking of painting my house in Coho Salmon this summer.” I looked at the Soupster. “You’re going to help, right?”
“Only if we do the trim in Sphagnum Moss.”
– Submitted by Kathy Ingallinera
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A strong sun shone on the well-named Clement Climes, who was sitting on a folding chair scarfing a Hellfire Halibut Spicy Skewer at Santa’s Seafood Truck downtown.
The Soupster noticed the pepper-induced sweat dripping off Clem’s brow. “I prefer the Sweetly Rubbed Salmon,” the Soupster said to his co-diner, simultaneously ordering the Rub.
“Paradise today,” said the Soupster, as his salmon sizzled on the grill. He gazed at Our Town’s gleaming water and green mountains. “Clem, you grew up here. Remind me of something wrong with this place.”
Clem sucked a couple of ice cubes from his drink and crunched them against the wildfire in his mouth. “When folks leave, they really leave,” he said in a jalapeño-choked voice. “Nobody ever moves a half hour or an hour away – how could they? They’re gone. It’s hard on the adults, but really hard on the kids.”
“Once they leave the Our Town Bubble, they’re gone,” Clem concluded.
The Soupster retrieved his perfectly-prepared salmon. “I feel like I’m leaving a bubble when I fly out of the country from the Lower 48,” he told Clem, after a bite. “I feel like when I’m overseas, I can no longer take it for granted that anything is going to make sense. Come to think of it, I feel that way about the Lower 48 now, too.”
“But you hail from the Lower 48,” said Climes. “How do you feel about being so far from your old stomping grounds?”
“Fine,” said the Soupster, taking another bite. “I do miss people and never, ever expect to see anybody from there anymore.”
That moment an extremely tall tourist walked right up to the Soupster and clamped his gigantic hand on the much shorter man’s shoulder. “Soupster?” he asked.
“Chris Louie?” an amazed Soupster yelled up to him. “`Shrimp’ Louie?”
“We went to the same high school,” the enormous Shrimp explained to Clem.
Clem looked back and forth between the two men. “Soupster,” he said, “I thought you got named Soupster in Our Town because you publish the Soup. You mean they called you Soupster all along? How did you get the name?”
“That,” said the Soupster, “is a whole story in itself.”
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“That sounds brutal,” the Soupster commiserated over the phone with his friend Tilly from Oklahoma.
“Eighty-four degrees Fahrenheit at midnight last night,” said Tilly. “It may hit 105 today.”
“Incredible,” said the Soupster from Our Town. (duh!) “It’s supposed to be 55 here – 50 degrees cooler.”
“Sounds wonderful,” said Tilly. “But I’m sure you pay for it with a long, frigid winter.”
“Nope,” said the Soupster, smugly. “Thirties and forties most of the winter, below 20 degrees hardly ever.”
“I thought Alaska was really cold,” Tilly said.
“Alaska is big,” said the Soupster. “Our Town is far south of the Arctic Circle and warmed by a Japanese current. Mild in the winter and mild in the summer. That is, mildly warm and mildly cool.”
“That’s not what I heard,” said Tilly. “My friend Margaret was in Sitka on a cruise on the Fourth of July and she said it was freezing. `Bless those people in the winter, if that was the summer,’ she said.”
“Might have dropped into the high forties on Independence Day that year,” the Soupster allowed. “But then again, the temperature could have been exactly the same on that year’s New Year’s Day. “
“If the temperature doesn’t change, how do you know what season you’re in?” asked Tilly.
“By the light,” said the Soupster. “The long, long nights of summer – the light goes on shockingly long if the clouds blow off. The inky nights of winter, when the sky and sea and the land are all covered by the same black blanket. And then the twice-yearly journey back and forth between the extremes.”
“I’m sure you miss a hot summer day,” Tilly said.
“Oh, Our Town gets hot enough, for me,” the Soupster answered. “I swear Alaska must be closer to the sun, because when the sun does shine, it feels unusually strong. If Old Sol is bright and the temperature hits 70, lots of folks here complain that it’s too hot.”
“Seventy Fahrenheit? Too hot? Now, that’s incredible,” said Tilly.
“What I find incredible are the low and high temperatures listed for Our Town on the TV Weather Channel,” said the Soupster. “There’s usually just a few degrees difference between the high temperature and the low. Sometimes, the high and low listed are the same exact temperature. And every once in a long while – usually in the spring or fall — the low for the day will be warmer than the high temperature for that same day.”
“Don’t joke me, Soupster,” said Tilly.
“No, really,” said the Soupster. “I think they just measure the lowest temperature at night and call it the low, then they measure the highest temperature during the day and call it the high. They don’t realize that in this crazy place, sometimes it’s warmer at night!”
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Originally Published June 13, 2002
The cruise ship throngs were only recently gone when the Soupster stepped in to the art gallery to see if Gwendoline has survived the latest human deluge.
“I’ll be with you in a minute,” said a voice from the back room. Although the voice sounded like Gwen’s, its timber contained notes of urgency and annoyance, things the Soupster knew Gwen to be free of.
Gwen was the slowest to anger person the Soupster had ever encountered. But once truly angry, she was extremely tough to cool down.
The Soupster stuck his head into the gallery’s rear lair, where some of the stock was kept and computers were programmed to keep all the records of shipping, billing and to keep track of the inventory. In front of a computer monitor was where Gwen sat, her head sunk deeply in her hands. “The only thing more stressful than computer problems was checking for floating log deadheads at night, when I had the boat,” she moaned.
“What’s going on?” the Soupster asked innocently, only to be confronted by a red-faced Gwen who leaped up from her seat and grabbed him by the lapels.
“Whosoever creates these computer viruses are an abomination,” Gwen thundered. “If there was something worse than capital punishment…”
“You have a computer virus?”
“The Klooze!” she shouted. “The insidious, terrible, rotten and really, really bad Klooze virus!”
“Goodness,” said the Soupster. He had read about the Klooze How this computer program entered systems as an ordinary e-mail attachment. Klooze then disabled the anti-virus programs on the computer in order to do its evil work in peace. Then and only then, Klooze devoured the computer’s entire hard drive and everything on it. Byte by byte.
“I don’t what to do,” Gwen wailed pitifully.
“Perhaps I can help,” said someone with a high voice. A young boy came into the room, holding an armful of the daily newspapers he had been selling to passers by just before entering the store. In fact, he had entered in the first place to sell papers.
“Klooze sucks,” commiserated the kid. “But I got it out of Dad’s computer and I know how to do it now.” He pointed at the chair in front of the computer. “May I?” he asked.
Gwen nodded mightily and said sputtered several dozen versions of “Yes.”
“This is an awesome gallery,” the kid said, as his fingers flew over the keyboard. A long, long list of program files scrolled across the screen and then suddenly stopped. “See – here’s Klooze,” said the kid. “Bye, bad, bad virus.”
The kid swivelled the chair. “The virus is gone, but you’re going to have to let the diagnostics run for about an hour. Then the computer will tell you if you need to reformat or not. Have you ever re-formatted your hard drive and re-installed the operating system?”
“Yes,” said a still shocked Gwen, looking at the small figure at her desk with wonder and admiration. The Soupster squeezed her arm. “Re-installing everything took forever,” Gwen said to the kid. “But I can do it.”
“Good,” said the kid, rising from the swivel chair. “Tomorrow I have Little League after I sell my papers, but I’ll try to stop by in between and see how you are doing. Want a paper?”
“I’ll take five… uh, seven!” said Gwen. When the kid left, Gwen turned smiling to the Soupster.
“Who was that masked man?” the Soupster asked her.
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Neighbor Tom and I strolled down Main Street in one of those constant sunbeams that sometimes envelops Our Town.
“What a day, Soupster!”
“Yes, indeed, Tom, it is special.”
“Soupster, have you noticed Our Town seems to be in a growing epidemic?”
“What, Tom? Epidemic? Are you saying we are diseased?”
“No, Soupster, not that kind of epidemic — a growing epidemic.”
“Oh! Are you referring to those ten pounds everyone seems to gather during Our Town’s dark spell?”
“No! No! I mean growing, growing!”
“More population, Tom? I am puzzled. I thought we were declining slightly.”
“Soupster, can’t you hear? I am obviously not making myself clear. I said ‘growing.’ You know — peas and potatoes, carrots and kale, radishes and rutabagas, food and flowers and I don’t know what all.”
“Oh! You mean gardening.”
”Sure enough, Tom, I am even thinking of planting a small patch or pot of greenery myself. How about you? Has the ‘grow your own bug’ bitten you yet?”
“Yes, I’ve been thinking about it…but, Soupster, it seems like there are two types of gardeners here. There are the Master Gardeners and the Disaster Gardeners. My neighbor Joanie to the north is a master, complete with a certificate to prove it, and she has a spectacular vegetable spread. She puts crops in their raised beds at the correct time, starting early with the cold weather types and moving to the more delicate species. In May they all get a nice white blanket for two weeks to keep the root maggots at bay and she circles the whole garden perimeter with clever pop bottle slug traps she makes herself.
“And the other type, Tom?”
“Well, Soupster, that would be my neighbor Kurt to the south. He is the ‘disaster’ gardener. He planted his garden in a rubble patch and when he weeded out everything he didn’t recognize, he ended up with a great crop of horsetails. Not a pretty picture.”
“Hey, Tom, come on — what do you say we take a look at the new environmentally correct seed packets, dirt and natural fertilizer and then sign up for a table at the fabulous new Farmer’s Market?”
“Okay, but I will pass on the natural fertilizer. After all, I am just a beginner.”
– Submitted by Rose Manning
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