The Soupster chats with an heir to Jane Goodall.
Originally published May 24, 2001
The Soupster stretched out his legs in the molded airport seat, prepared to meditate, nibble on TicTacs and wait for the plane to land. But a visitor appeared beside him, a white-haired fellow who carried a Nat Geo with chimps on the cover.
“Is it Dunkirk? I wondered,” said the fellow, interrupting the Soupster’s reverie.
“I beg your pardon?” said the Soupster.
“I was taking my early morning constitutional, and I saw the most curious thing – throngs of boats heading under the bridge. I’ve never seen so many boats heading out at one time!”
“It’s the Salmon Derby,” said the Soupster.
“A pinkish hat?” said the anthropologist incredulously.
“No, no,” said the Soupster. “It’s a big fishing contest that’s held every year. Everybody from the luckiest fisherman to the most accursed, tries his or her luck to catch the biggest king salmon and net the biggest prize, which has been beaucoup cash. Plus, bragging rights.”
“Ah, yes,” said the anthropologist. “A spring fertility festival. The ritual rewarding of the most successful harvester to ensure everyone’s enthusiasm for the long season ahead. I once worked with a group of people whose `prize’ was given for digging up the largest tapioca root.”
“Who are you calling a tapioca root?” said a voice from the wall above the anthropologist, who turned in the direction of the sound.
The voice belonged to a 70+ lb. king salmon mounted on a plaque. His pointed face jutted out and lips moved like any number of audio-animatronic singing fish. The anthropologist, therefore, did not realize he was in the presence of an authentic airport poltergeist.
The Soupster, however, backed up a few steps and watched passively.
“Interactive,” said the anthropologist, indicating the fish. “Very clever.”
“I’m very attractive,” said the salmon, peering down on the anthropologist’s spreading Male Pattern Baldness. “Which is more than I can say for vous.”
“You speak French?” said the anthropologist.
“I speak salmon,” said the king salmon. “You call it what you want.”
“You seem confident, firm in your role,” the anthropologist told the king salmon. “Rooted.”
“Well, I’m mounted to this plaque,” the wisenheimer king salmon said. “But I wasn’t always.
“Once, I roamed the North Pacific with packs of my friends, thousands of miles past undersea wonders too numerous to utter. I’ve seen orcas cresting at sunset in Prince William Sound, great pods of stellar sea lions off Point Hope. I swam strong and free for seven long years,” and here the fish chuckled, “until I met up with a crafty denizen of the surface. A sly fisherman and former school principal who knew just how to lure a seven-year old. We won the Salmon Derby together that year back in the last century. Well, the money is spent, I’m mounted up here and it’s all a stale old fish story now.”
“Any regrets?” asked the anthropologist.
“Well, if I hadn’t been caught, I’d’ve had kids,” said the salmon. “You know us salmon. We like to have 100 million of them each!”