A closer look at Sitka businesses, artists, events, topics and more!
Sitting in the waiting area of the auto center, book in hand, the Soupster was passing time while he got an oil change. Distracted by the people coming in to drop off their keys or beg for a last-minute appointment, the Soupster surmised that at least 75% of issues revolved around vehicle electronic systems.
“So, there’s this light on the dashboard which never goes out and is accompanied by this message about the tires being under-inflated, but they aren’t under-inflated – I’ve checked! And then, it goes on to say it’s safe to drive as long as I ‘don’t go over 80 mph’ – well, really!”
Another client moaned, “The windows will never go up and down when I push the buttons. Then, a message flashes up – something about the battery draining – but then it goes away. I would have looked in the manual, but I brought it in the house the last time my grandson was here, and I’m not sure where it is.”
“Oh, and my car just locks the doors whenever it feels like it, even if I have not pushed anything, so I always have to carry the fob with me!”
The Soupster, marveling at these exchanges, picked up a nearby boating magazine whose cover boasted an article entitled “How I converted my boat to electric.”
The article touted the many benefits of electrifying one’s boat – obviously, reduced fossil fuel consumption, but also using “high output alternators to load up to 9kW of power to the batteries, allowing on-board luxuries such as espresso and ice makers.” It also described how to “boost your boat’s energy by replacing existing batteries with high capacity lithium batteries with electronic battery management systems.”
Ah, yes, thought the Soupster – lithium ion batteries – those were the ones that you couldn’t mail or take on an airplane. Well, that made sense, thought the very drowsy Soupster, because it’s not like a boat ever had to travel on a plane.
But what kinds of messages might an electronic management system on his boat emit?
“Are you sure you want to go to Tenakee Springs, Soupster? You know you have to go through Sergius Narrows and you can only do that at slack tide?? I could help with that, of course.”
“Yes, Bruce, I want to visit there and see some of my Tenakee friends – they are lovely people, and very innovative in emergencies.”
“But Soupster, I have heard that they don’t have any bathrooms.”
“Well, Bruce, they do have a lovely hot mineral springs public bath.”
“Remember, Soupster, you can’t eat any chips on your trip to Tenakee, because they could tweak your BP.”
“OK, Bruce, I will comply.”
“And you should definitely wear your inflatable suspenders, Soupster, both for safety, and because they compliment the color of your eyes!”
The Soupster learns a questionable memory aid.
“Yo, Ruth, how’s it goin’?” called the Soupster to his next door neighbor in his best booming helmsman’s voice.
“Well, Soupster, it’s goin’ okay, I guess, but I am feeling a little quiet right now. I was just thinking about my dad.”
“I remember your dad, Ruth – he was quite a character.”
“That he was, Soupster. That he was. And I often start thinking about him this time of year, because he used to engineer some crazy ideas when everybody started gearing up for Spring and the fishing season.”
“I didn’t realize your Dad was a big fisherman.”
“He wasn’t,” said Ruth. “But what he was, though, was a big shopper. I used to love to go shopping with him, Soupster. Simple, plain old grocery shopping, or gift shopping, or anything, really.”
“We had this game we used to play. Though it was more of a memory device, actually. Dad eschewed making lists. He would do anything to avoid making a list. So, when I was little, he came up with this alternate memory trick, so that we could remember what we were supposed to buy at the store.”
“Memory trick, hmmnn?” said the Soupster. “How did it work?”
“Well, on the way to the store, we would think of the things we needed to buy, and then we would identify the first letter of each thing. Finally, we would make a sort of word out of all the first letters.”
“Go on,” encouraged the Soupster.
“Okay, well here’s an example. Say we needed Milk and Apples and Tape and Eggs and – oh, say, razors (‘cause when I was a teenager I was religious about shaving my legs). So, then, the word we came up with could be ‘MATER’ – which is sort of a high-toned British word for mother.”
“That’s – errr – fascinating, Ruth. I’ve never heard of anything quite like it.”
“I don’t know about fascinating,” said Ruth. “But it was usually fun, at least when I was a kid.”
“But,” she continued thoughtfully, “Dad’s technique didn’t always work so well. I remember one, mid-May, I think it was, when we were going shopping down near the docks. There were just three things we had to buy. But we were walking and walking, for hours it seemed like, around the store, looking at the shelves. Because, you know, it seemed like everything fit into one of the letters.
“First was L,” she said. “We were passing by the many racks of ‘lures’ – could that have been it? Could ‘lures’ have been what we wanted? Or, wait – over there are flashlights. Maybe ‘lights’ was what we wanted? Or maybe ‘line’?? Spools and spools of different colored nylon and poly line.
“’Grrr… All right,’ said my dad. Let’s move on to the second letter. F. Fishing tackle? Here are all the tackle boxes – plastic, metal, you name it. Is that what we came for? Oooh, there’s the fluorescent hoochies – I love those. Maybe F stands for fluorescent? Gosh, I wish I could remember… And then, there’s letter number 3, which is S. Could that be for Spoons??’ he pondered.
“’Dad, Dad,’ I cried – ‘think of what you just spelled. What are those three letters? L – F – S!! We weren’t trying to remember specific items. We were trying to remember the name of the store!’”Keep Reading
The Soupster teeters on the brink.
Submitted by Lois Verbaan
“Pizza! Pizza!” called a familiar voice above the woosh of a high-pressure hose. An unruly dog rushed out at the Soupster from behind a cluster of – until five minutes ago – snow-covered salmonberry bushes.
“What on earth, Rick?!” the Soupster said, relieved as the dog’s barking lapsed into a series of warm, wet licks.
Rick looked down from the ladder he was on, leaning against his aluminum fishing boat.
“Ha!” Rick exclaimed. “I’ve been trying out my new theory, which is that even smart dogs are not actually responding to their name, but to the tone of your voice. Turns out Astrid comes to any name most of the time, and no name when defending life and property.”
“You out for a walk, Soupster?” Rick inquired.
“Yep, getting those 5,000 steps in,” the Soupster said. “And trying to adjust my attitude. I was just starting to love life again with last week’s good weather.”
“Yeah, it’s amazing what a few rays can do for you,” Rick admitted. “Anyway, more snow after teasingly great weather is hardly a surprise in our town.”
“Yep, brings in the herring,” the Soupster agreed. “Though lately, with climate change and all, who knows. Whatcha been up to, Rick?” he asked.
“Spring-a-rizing my boat” Rick replied. “Winterizing, springarizing… get it?” The Soupster chuckled. “Got a cabin trip next week,” Rick added. “Gonna get driftwood for the fireplace. Funny how we live in a forest but aren’t allowed to use the dead stuff in it,” he noted.
“Yep, the Tongass is the largest U.S. National Forest,” the Soupster said. “Twice the size of Massachusetts. And you know where I’d rather be living,” he laughed. “Anyway, the minute this snow has melted and the temperature’s tolerable enough to work outside for a while, I’ll be turning over garden soil and seaweed and creating slug hotels,” he pronounced.
“Slug hotels?” Rick repeated slowly.
“You know, free beer for the slugs. In a cup, in a hole near the new starts,” the Soupster said with a murderous glint in his eye. “Got to cover it with a bigger container, though, so the rain doesn’t dilute it. That would really be a waste of beer.”
“Well, let me know when the hotels are up and running,” Rick winked. “I wouldn’t mind visiting one of those watering holes myself,” he chuckled.
“Well, I’ll be off like a prawn in the sun” the Soupster said, glancing down at his watch to check his step count, as Rick turned on the high-pressure hose again.
Tiny snowflakes drifted through the air, turning into wet blobs as they hit his face, finding their way into the tops of his gloves and boots. Spruce branches sagged over the path, heavy with melting, dripping snow. Smoke coiled out of a nearby chimney and cars drove by, spraying slush.
In the distance, fuzzy charcoal islands hinted at a horizon that might be between a dark gray sea and a light gray sky. Hard to believe but spring was just around the corner.Keep Reading
The Soupster makes (or invents?) a friend.
The Soupster thought he recognized the eyes of the mysterious woman he kept running into at different places, first at the secondhand store, then in various social/political Zoom groups.
It was at Our Town’s secondhand store where they first bonded, over a used large print copy of Elie Wiesel’s Holocaust book Night-Dawn-Day.
This time, he’d made up his mind to ask her name.
“Oh, you might not believe this,” she said, “but my name is Tirzah. I can spell if for you if you like. It’s from the Old Testament.”
“It does sound familiar,” admitted the Soupster.
“Tirzah was a town near Samaria,” said the tall woman, “you know, like in the story of The Good Samaritan? It goes back to the Bronze Age, was mentioned in the Book of Joshua, and, perhaps most famously, in The Song of Solomon.”
“That’s the – er, juicy one, right?” ventured the Soupster.
“Yes! The lover in the Song of Songs compares his beloved’s beauty to that of Tirzah. On second thought, maybe my folks were a little bit crazy to saddle me with that moniker.”
“You sure seem to know a lot about that part of the world,” said the Soupster.
“Oh, that you’ll maybe have to blame on my parents, too. Not sure if it was the load of the name or what, but 50 years into my life I decided to go to divinity school.”
“What a bizarre coincidence,” the Soupster marveled. “I just read an article about women who want to be priests and what moved them in that direction. Fascinating, really. They all had different reasons, no two were the same.”
“Well, you and I should sit down together someday – like over a cup of tea, in a safely distanced fashion,” said Tirzah. “I wouldn’t be surprised if we found we had a lot to talk about.”
“Yes!” said the Soupster. “I have been dying to talk to someone about this new book – Orwell’s Roses. Rebecca Solnit, who wrote it, was evidently trying to work out why such a serious dude seemed to get so much pleasure from planting roses. Orwell – serious – I mean, I still have nightmares about parts of 1984. He seemed to devote so much public energy to exposing social ills and political injustices. Kind of a dark guy. But then, there were the roses.”
“Orwell’s Roses, hmmnnn? Not so surprising, Soupster. There’s these disparate parts to all of us,” she mused. “Not conflicting really, though they may appear so on the surface.” She paused for a moment. “Sometimes people criticize one another – foolishly, I think – for spending time and energy on things that just give us pleasure. You know, like Mary Magdalene spending the so-called ‘expensive oil’ on Jesus’ feet? Sometimes, I think, it may do us incalculable good to use the ‘expensive oil’ to get ourselves the roses we love as well as the bread we need.”
“Maybe you’re right,” said the Soupster. “In the end, don’t we all need both bread and roses!”Keep Reading
The Soupster learns of a bizarre theory.
Submitted by Lois Verbaan
“That you, Fran?” said the Soupster, squinting into the sun as a figure ran towards him.
“Yep, Soupster,” Fran replied. “Good to see you! Enjoying this amazing day?” she asked.
“Sure am!” the Soupster said, as he stood up slowly, hands on his lower back as if to pack the discs back in. “Making the most of the weather before it turns on us. Already the leaves are falling,” he lamented. “Wait, wait, though – there’s something different about you, Fran…can’t quite put my finger on it…”
“Oh, yeah” Fran said, nonchalant. “Probably the effects of my Reverse Training Program,” she declared.
“Let’s just say I’ve been extra goal-directed lately. Reverse training,” Fran said.
“So, what’s that about?” he asked.
“Well,” said Fran, “it all began a couple of weeks ago, on one of those rare blue days. So much blue that the only thing separating sea and sky was rocky islands and white surf. I was running in the 4K mountain race and didn’t even stop to admire the view. As my feet found their way up the trail, I was struck by how good I felt. And the whole race went like this. Until the end when I crossed the finish line and asked for my time.”
“And?” the Soupster prompted.
“Not good. I’d lost 15 minutes from last year,” she lamented, “which was 10 minutes slower than the one before that.”
“So that explains your false sense of awesomeness?” the Soupster chuckled.
“Eeeexactly,” Fran said. “You go slow enough, and anything can feel easy. That’s when I decided to take action and launch my Reverse Training Program. Basically, that means adjusting your training for an earlier time. Because you are training for an event that has already occurred, your expectations can be more modest,” she said, illogically.
“I see, I guess, ” the Soupster said. “Just because we can’t turn back time doesn’t mean we can’t cover our tracks — or at least tidy them up. I’ve had similar thoughts. The other day, I saw myself in the library window, looking like a tree leaning a bit too far with the wind. I went in, checked out a book on backs and decided I’ve been walking the wrong way! Who’d have thought there was so much to something we’ve been doing since age one?”
“Are you sure you haven’t just been ducking to keep the rain out of your face?”
“Maybe,” Soupster replied. “Anyway, I’m gliding now, picturing myself as a Tanzanian, maybe, carrying water on top of my head. Straight spine, shoulder blades back, chin tucked. It’s a lot to think about. I’m surprised I can get anything else done at the same time! But it helps with my vertigo, too.”
“Well, good luck with that,” said Fran.
“And, if I ever do carry a pail of water on my head, I won’t need to fill it at a well,” the Soupster said. “I’ll just walk around Our Town on a rainy day.”
“And I’ll be out there too, shaving minutes off my time in a race that I’ve already run!” Fran laughed.
“Happy reverse training!” the Soupster called out, as Fran turned and began jogging backwards down the path.Keep Reading
The Soupster contemplates losing (and finding).
The Soupster stopped holding his breath when he finally heard the voice on the other end of the line. The gravelly tones belonged to his childhood chum and second cousin twice-removed, Arturo “Mike” Mikelson. The two men had not had a good gab fest in a couple of years or more.
Mike had bought some land in Arkansas, near the Missouri border, in the early aughts, thereby exercising the limits of the Soupster’s ability to keep track of him.
“Mike, how are you doing?” the Soupster just kept himself from shouting.
“Well, getting’ older, like we all are. I am lucky, I guess, nothing in particular to complain of – regarding my physical health, that is.”
“But…?” asked the Soupster.
“But, cuz, I’ve got to say… I’m getting a little concerned about my memory and losing things.”
“Do you remember when we were kids and used to have adventures in the empty lots and furthest reaches of the overgrown back yard?
“Oh, my yes,” said Mike. “My favorite memory is being in the playhouse and setting up those scenes with the little figures.”
“What kinds of things are you forgetting, Mike?”
“Well, it’s stuff like where I put something or what I said five minutes ago.”
The Soupster thought for a moment. “It must have been hard, losing Joseph,” he finally said. “How long has it been now since he passed?”
“Seven years,” said Mike.
“And you had been together since when? For ages, hmmnnn?”
“We met at the San Francisco Pride march in 1978,” said Mike softly. “And we never looked back. In ’79, we walked out for Halloween dressed as our cats, René and Aimée. The boy had a tuxedo and the girl was a mostly white Calico. I still talk to Joseph every day,” he admitted, even more softly.
The Soupster was silent. Then he said, “What about this memory thing, Mike? It’s just minor stuff, right?”
“Oh, yeah, it’s like – where did I leave my notebook? And it’s not like I haven’t been doing it for years – in one way or another. There was that time I bought the two plaid mail order shirts for Joseph and lost them for six months between the washer and the dryer. The most recent example is a Netflix DVD that I just found after a year. You know, the familiar red envelope?”
“What movie was it?” asked the Soupster.
“The Bridge on the River Kwai.”
“I remember that one,” said the Soupster. Sir Alec builds a railroad bridge in Southeast Asia – to appease his Japanese counterpart, Sessue Hayakawa. And William Holden blows it up. Peppy song, though.”
“Well, I think the song’s what most folks remember, in the U.S. anyway.”
“We just had a local guy speak who had visited – Thailand, maybe, and former-Burma, around where the real railroad bridge was – about 10 years ago as a college student. He told all about the building of the railroad, and how sad it was – hundreds of thousands of people died in the building of that railroad.”
“Well, cuz” said Mike, “I guess maybe how you remember something depends on your point-of-view.”Keep Reading
The Soupster appreciates a melding of holidays.
Tulip and daffodil greens poked tentatively out of damp soil, eyeing the Soupster, who relaxed on a bench overlooking the harbor.
Rays of sunshine teased him into a summer’s dream of palm trees and golden beaches in faraway places.
Suddenly, a cold breeze snapped him back to the present, as a large shadow obscured the sun.
“Greetings on this fine morning, Soupster!” a familiar voice rang out. “Amazing weather, huh?”
“Morning!” the Soupster replied cheerily, feigning recognition at the dark silhouette. “How’re you doing?” he asked, stalling for time. The Soupster called it the “30-Second Recognition Rule” in which he allowed 30 seconds before admitting he did not know someone. Any longer and you were trapped forever into pretending you knew each other.
“Dave!” he suddenly blurted. “Yes… a beautiful morning. What brings you out?”
“A memorial stroll between showers” said the other man wistfully.
“Well, I’ve dedicated this walk to the memory of the tourists who start turning up and wandering around Our Town at this time of the year,” Dave said.
“I miss the new faces and matching jackets, disposable rain ponchos, and inappropriate fur boots and hats,” he said.
“Yep, the Rona’s been a bummer,” the Soupster said. “But in Our Town we are privileged to be so far ahead of the curve with vaccinations that I feel we’re in a holding pattern, circling until the rest of the world are ready for us to land.”
“Yeah” Dave added. “Have to admit I’ve had a hankering to get off the rock for some time now… Anyway, I’m too busy to leave,” he declared.
“Busy? With what? The Soupster enquired.
“Designing a leprechaun trap,” Dave said.
“What on earth for?” the Soupster asked.
“Well, with St Paddy’s day out of the way, I figure there’re a lot of under-engaged leprechauns looking for a purpose in life,” Dave said.
“What would you do with a leprechaun if you caught one?” the Soupster asked.
“Check its pockets for loose gold. What else?”
“Hmm. Don’t recall anything about trapping in the ‘Recover Your Social Skills in 30 Days’ podcast I’ve been listening to,” the Soupster chuckled.
“Ahh, that’s not all,” Dave added. “Can you think of a more useful or original Mother’s Day gift than a leprechaun?”
“You might be onto something, Dave” the Soupster said. “After all, these little folks are always cheerful, mischievous but hardworking, and have lots of money. What more could a mother want?” he laughed.
“Exactly!” Dave said. “I think leprechauns would sell like Fourth of July fry bread on Our-Town-for-Sale.”
“They’re supposed to be shoemakers. Imagine if we could train them to make Xtra-Tuffs!” the Soupster laughed.
“That would be epic!” Dave agreed.
“Anyway, nice seeing you Soupster, I’d better be off,” he said. “I don’t have long to get this off the ground before someone like Jeff Bezos corks me.”
Adding “I’m Leonard, by the way,” as he strolled off into the sunshine with a spring in his step.Keep Reading
The Soupster has a candid conversation.
The Soupster came upon Frank at the stone benches behind the library.
“Shalom, Soupster,” said Frank, his low voice muffled even more by the flowered cotton mask he wore.
“What are you up to, Frank, on this fine morning, or at least, this tiny little break in the weather?”
“Not much,” said Frank. “Just recovering a bit from waking up in the middle of the night to watch a Zoom multi-media presentation from Hamburg.”
“Yup, although people were Zooming in from everywhere – Japan, Moldavia, even St. Petersburg. They wanted to hear the music and watch the mimes. I even danced a bit alone in my living room,” admitted Frank.
“Wow, Moldavia,” marveled the Soupster. “And here you are, in little Our Town. What is it about this spot, Frank?” he wondered.
“It’s like a kind of an outdoor church, Soupster. I mean, it’s peaceful, you have the ocean and the trees, and you’ve got wifi. What more does it take to make a church?” he chuckled.
“You look tired, though, Frank. Your eyes look tired.”
“Well, I am, kinda, Soupster. Though whether it’s because of my crazy hours, my crazy dreams, or my sporadic avoidance of red meat, I cannot say.”
“Tell me about your ‘crazy’ dreams, man,” said the Soupster.
“This most recent bout started with a book I’ve been reading whose main character was thought to be a ‘holy fool’ by some street people.”
“What the dickens is a ‘holy fool’?”
“Oh, it’s an old character – in the humanities, you could say, who tells truth to power yet manages to survive by playing the fool. Sometimes they hear voices. Other times, they announce the return of spring.”
“Oh, I think I have seen pictures of that last one,” said the Soupster. He scratched his head, then replaced his baseball cap. “I am picturing a guy wrapped in a bunch of leaves, with vines growing around his body and even out of his mouth?”
“Exactly,” said Frank. “The Green Man. Other times,” he continued thoughtfully, “the character can be physically modest, even awkward, gangly, stumbling around to make a joke. Or the opposite – physically agile and nimble, like a kind of Ninja. In fact, their whole performance or truth-telling is kind of Ninja-like.”
“Sometimes, they leave us gifts,” Frank said quietly, “and we may not even realize we’ve received a gift until after they are gone.
“Well, Frank, as me sainted Mam used to say,” said the Soupster in his best Irish accent, “the best gifts are those not known by the giver or the receiver.”
“You got that right, Soupster.”
And Frank closed his eyes, the better to feel the rays of the weak winter sun on his face.Keep Reading
The Soupster longs for a merry little Christmas
By Rachel Ramsey
“BAGH!” Liz exclaimed, tossing her hands up. Frazzled, she didn’t notice her friend at the other end of the long, fluorescent-lit aisle of Our Town’s hardware store.
“Liz?” the Soupster turned his head, recognizing her voice. “Friend, is that you!?” he asked in surprise. It was! Though they hadn’t crossed paths in many, many months, they recognized one another’s mask-muffled voices.
“Soupster! Gosh,” she laughed, “How in tarnation are you?” The two friends smiled large beneath their masks, approached nearer, stopping short at 8’ apart (yet feeling as near as ever). They didn’t share a bubble, so they were both giddy at the chance to briefly share an aisle.
Liz’s big eyes brightened, tired though they were. Soupster saw the exhaustion, the strain of months and months of life disrupted.
“Not too shabby, honestly.” he replied, as overhead, the holiday shopping music bellowed out a surreal Kenny-G-meets-Black-Sabbath hybrid version of Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas. Feeling Liz’s tender energy and wishing he could give her a hug, the Soupster gently motioned his head upward, “Say, what do you think of this version?” he asked.
“You know, Soupster, this song has always been a holiday favorite of mine, though this one’s a bit much.” she admitted.
“Mine too.” The Soupster agreed. Some-times we ‘hang a shining star upon the highest bough’. Other times we ‘muddle through somehow’ and, occasionally, we do both.” He sighed.
“So true. How many holiday tunes do you know that both acknowledge the melancholy – missing loved ones during the holidays – yet remain hopeful and optimistic?”
The Soupster began to mentally shuffle through the hundreds of holiday tunes residing in his memory.
Liz continued, “Judy Garland’s version is the best – my heart cracks when I hear it. She was the queen muddler. Though Sinatra found the lyric depressing and had it re-written, which is why we can ‘have it both ways’ but we rarely do. Seems artists pick one and stick with it.”
“Let’s see…,” mused the Soupster, “Mel Torme, Bing Crosby, even Bob Dylan sings it both ways – muddling through the first verse and reaching the highest bough on the second.”
“Ella Fitzgerald, too!” Liz added. “Though when she belts it, even the muddling through is somehow upbeat, swinging and hopeful.” The sides of Liz’s eyes were lifted in smile.
“Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas was birthed during WWII, dark times to be sure.” The Soupster said.
“It’s really something that after 80 years this song still has the power to move us so,” said Liz.
Glad to feel Liz’s spirits lifting, the Soupster asked, “Worst version?”
“This one!” Liz shot back without hesitation and rolling her eyes with a chuckle.Keep Reading
Happy Birthday, Maria, says the Soupster.
Originally published November 8, 2001
Hail pelted horizontally against the snug house that a fisherman friend of the Soupster’s had built for his family. Wind howled with gusts of 60 knots.
“Tell me the story about the pumpkins and the tuba, Poppa,” said Gwendolyne, the fisherman’s daughter, right then the snuggest person in the whole house. She was tucked in the bed her fisherman father had fashioned out of aromatic yellow cedar and her quilter mother had covered with colorful blankets.
The fisherman smiled: he had told her the pumpkin and tuba story many, many times, yet Gwendolyne kept asking for it.
“This young girl,” he began, “grew up on the roof of a house in a fancy city of hills and fog. And when the fog blew away, she could see many stars from the roof.”
As he told the story, the fisherman thought about being on the deck of his father’s boat as a youngster, watching those same stars over calm Northern waters. Him on deck, his father snoring below. “This girl went to a special school,” continued the fisherman, “where they taught you only two things. One was how to make food and share it with other children. The second was how to play a musical instrument.
“This particular girl loved to cut carrots. Although she was small, the teacher let her use an enormous knife. She made Julienne carrots, carrot salad and baked carrots stuffed with avocado and walnuts. Her classmates loved her.”
“Why did she play the tuba?” asked Gwendolyne, jumping ahead in the story.
“This particular girl thought the tuba was lonely because nobody else had picked it,” the fisherman said. “And she was also spirited and wanted to show how she could blow a big instrument even though she was small.”
“The same as she could use a big knife!”
“That’s right,” said the fisherman. “Every year, the whole class would get on a bus and travel to the pumpkin patch to pick out a pumpkin for Halloween and to make pies and roast the seeds.
“This particular girl loved going to the pumpkin patch. Even more than cutting carrots. The huge, round, shiny pumpkins with their dramatic green vines were new and exciting.
“Then, the girl went to a bigger school, where she learned to play the tuba better than anyone. And after years and years at the school, they let her teach other children how to cut things and how to share them.”
“And how to play musical instruments,” Gwendolyne reminded him dreamily.
“One day, when she was much older, this particular girl found a job as a teacher. What she didn’t know was that the job was in the very town with the pumpkin patch. Her very first day on the job, they had her take her tuba and play for the great-great-great grandchild of a pumpkin she’d met years before.”
Gwendolyne was asleep.
“After the fish is and iced in the hold,” the fisherman’s father had told him while they lolled on deck, under the starlight, “there’s always time to take a minute out of the rush. To think about who you are and what you’re doing. And who and what you love.”Keep Reading
The Soupster thinks he has enlightened an unconscious friend
Originally published November 22, 2000
“I’m giving thanks for my brand new sportscar,” said the Soupster’s old friend Jake over the phone. “I bought it with the bundle I made investing in cell phones. It looks cool and gets me where I’m going in comfort. And it’s a babe-magnet!” he finished unrepentantly.
Sighed the Soupster, “You’re the same chauvinistic, materialistic scoundrel I knew decades ago. You know nothing about giving thanks.”
“I know a lot about cell phones,” said Jake.
“Thanks shouldn’t be for cell phones and fancy cars, it should be for the warm basics of life. Home and family and friends and good food. Here you are entering geezerhood and you haven’t grasped that simple fact.”
“Did I say I hit 120 miles per hour in the desert one day?”
The Soupster took a deep breath and re-phrased the exasperated question in his head before saying it aloud. “Where do you live?” he finally got out.
“In an apartment complex with a pool and a sauna and an exercise room and…” Jake began.
“Wait,” said the Soupster. “Forget all the extras. Just concentrate on your apartment. Your place. Now, concentrate on the bed and you sleeping snugly while a howling gale roars outside.”
“I love that feeling,” Jake admitted.
“The sports car doesn’t give you that kind of feeling, right?”
“A different kind of feeling,” Jake agreed.
“The pool and the exercise room and all that stuff are like one of those blue novelty lights,” said the Soupster. “They don’t really give off warmth.
That cozy bed feeling you’re remembering is timeless and placeless. You could be back home and be a kid again. You think only about the slightly colder pocket of air surrounding your feet at the end of the blanket. And you wonder whether you should poke them out into the even colder room air or scrunch them together into a heat-producing ball.”
“Scrunch them together,” said Jake. “What I actually like,” he confessed, “is when you scrunch the arch and heel parts of your feet together, but you also try and get the cool blanket to fold in between as many toes as you can.”
“But, what I really, really like,” he continued, “is when you’re in bed, under the blanket that’s folded between as many toes as you can, and you remember — you remember — that’s there’s something you wanted to do. Not like you left a candle burning or something having to do with safety. Like you left the cookies open in the living room and the dog will probably get into it overnight and throw up and you’ll have to clean that up in the morning. But you don’t care because it’s so warm under the blanket and you’ve got at least six toes folded into the cool parts.”
“A much better Thanksgiving thought than your ego-pumping car, right?” asked the Soupster, temporarily triumphant.
“Right-o, buddy,” said Jake. “As a babe magnet, this warm blanket-candle-toe stuff slams that ole car right out of the ballpark! Thanks!”Keep Reading
(Ahead of his time) the Soupster hunkers down.
Originally published November 7, 2013
The Soupster was not damp, but everything outside 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 kids Josh and Rebecca and husband Josh, and her going back to college online. Then, she said “Oops, I’m getting Call Waiting, must be Becca, I’m supposed to pick her up. Can you hold?”
The Soupster did. Switching to speaker phone, he wandered toward his back porch, where the part covered by a fiberglass roof played wonderful rhythms as it hailed. The sound rose and fell like the aural equivalent of those birds whose flocks turn on a dime: sheets of sound, rippling and turning.
Carla came back on, “Sorry, Soupster,” she said. “That was Becca, 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 talking to friends. And then it’s New Years and you notice the light coming back a little more.”
“Oh, I hate to do this,” Carla blurted, “But I’m getting another call. Will you hold again?”
The Soupster did. The hail slacked off. A shaft of sunlight pierced the gray sky, came through the window, and fell upon a bookshelf, where there lived a ceramic planter in the shape of a fish with enormous crimson lips. Carla had given the Soupster the fish two decades earlier, after he helped her move. This was before kids and even before husband Josh.
Next to the fish was a half-scale raven carved out of wood. Steve Jessup had given the Soupster the raven after the Soupster took Steve’s parents out on his boat. Next to that, an entire dog family stretched out on their papier-mâché couch – a gift from somebody. Above the dogs nestled 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 were jars of sockeye and jams, all canned by various friends. If he wanted, he could gaze around his living room at the paintings and sculptures created by friends. 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.”Keep Reading
A friend raises the Soupster’s consciousness about “the worst thing”.
“Hi, Soupster,” called a voice from behind the mask.
The Soupster squinted in concentration, struggling to recognize the pleasantly crinkled eyes above the mask. He almost had it… wait, wait…
“Anastasia Anarchy! It’s you!” he finally said triumphantly. “So good to run into you, Stace,” he continued, striving to use his best, Ethel-Merman-projecting abdominal voice, and to enunciate carefully from behind his mask. The last time he’d spoken with Anastasia, she’d shown some signs of a hearing deficit.
“Yes, wonderful serendipity, chancing upon each other in front of this grocery store pop-up cello concert. Though maybe not total chance, eh, Soupster. There are patterns everywhere.”
“Is that your truck over there, Stace? Let’s go chat a bit over the hood while we listen to the music.” They got to the truck and the Soupster glanced down through the open window at the passenger seat.
“What’s that, Stace,” he said. “It looks like a DVD of Wagon Train???”
“Yeah, that it is, Soupster. I used to watch that on T.V. all the time when I was a kid. I was,” she said with twinkling eyes, “especially enamored of the scout, Flint McCullough.”
“Oh, I remember him,” said the Soupster. “Wasn’t he played by a guy named Robert something?”
“Yup. Robert Horton. That’s him. One time, when I was about eight, I even had a dream about him,” said Anastasia. “He was out doing his advance scouting thing and he was fording a river. He was walking through the water towards me, and I walked in to meet him…But maybe I’d better leave it there.”
“I get it, Stace. Sometimes you don’t know what something means until years later.”
“I was fascinated by cowboy movies, Soupster. Sometimes I wanted to be a cowboy and have those special skills – you know, like swinging a lariat and yodeling. Not much to do with guns except maybe twirling them round your finger. Later on, in high school, I learned some basic bow-and-arrow skills, like not hyper-extending my bow arm and receiving a terrible burn.”
“All that cowboys and Indians stuff, Soupster – it was really a thoughtless world I grew up in.”
The Soupster looked steadily at Anastasia and said nothing.
“One time, years ago, when I was working as a young lab tech at the hospital, one day I went in to draw some blood in one of those four-person rooms. I’m pretty sure it was a Saturday afternoon. This must have been, like, back in ’82.
“There were these three older guys sitting around watching T.V. I was getting my tourniquet and stuff ready and I saw they were watching a western. They seemed really quite absorbed in it. A couple of them were older Tlingit guys. They were just, patiently, sitting there and watching the show, and I asked them, ‘Does it ever bother you? Watching westerns like that?’
“And one of the old guys said, ‘Well, some of them are pretty bad, but at least we’re up there on the screen. We’re not invisible. That’s the worst thing, you know. Being invisible.’”Keep Reading