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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
The Soupster shares a valuable lesson learned from a cartoon.
Originally Published October 5, 2000
“I hate October! It rains all the time with big wet drops!” wailed the pre-schooler, balanced on the Soupster’s knee. “I WISH THERE WAS NO OCTOBER EVER AND EVER MORE!”
“Don’t say that,” hushed the Soupster. “If October went away, you would be very sad.”
“No, I wouldn’t!” protested the child.
“But if there were no October, do you know what else there would be no?”
“Alaska Day! There would be no Alaska Day!” said the Soupster. “And no Halloween!
“No Halloween!” he went on. “Sometimes, no Yom Kippur for Jewish folks! No Thanksgiving for your cousin who lives in Toronto! And your e-mail pen pal in Christchurch, New Zealand would have to go to school on Labor Day, because the Kiwi’s celebrate their Labor Day in October!”
“Are you a genius?” the clever kid asked, instantly seizing the Soupster’s point and moving on to the next step. “Where did you learn all that?”
“From a Little Audrey cartoon when I was just about your age,” said the Soupster, glazing over in a Boomer froth of remembrance.
“Little Audrey was tired of the rain — in the cartoon I mean — and she cried out for it never to rain again!” explained the Soupster.
“Did it rain again?” the child asked.
“Not for a long time,” the Soupster answered. “At first, that was just fine with Little Audrey. She went out on a million picnics, hung her clothes right on the line to dry and was never told by her parents that she had to wear a hat.
“But as the rainlessness went on, Little Audrey’s fish started to look a little pale and drawn. And Little Audrey’s potted plant looked droopy and dry.
“Then everything around Little Audrey started to dry up. Little Audrey’s plant was curled and brown. Little Audrey’s fish gasped to breathe in only a thimbleful of water.
“Little Audrey had saved a glass of water. She ran over the parched ground toward her fish and her potted plant, holding the glass in front of her and saying `Here, here!’ But then she tripped and dropped the glass, and the water ran out just out of reach of her friends.
“So Little Audrey went to the Rainmaker and begged for the rain to start again. But the Rainmaker refused. `You said for it not to rain again, ever and ever!’ He crossed his arms over his chest.”
“What did Little Audrey do?”
“She sang,” said the Soupster. “She sang so sweetly and with so much of her heart that she made the Rainmaker cry. She sang `April Showers.’ And the Rainmaker’s tears grew greater and greater till they cascaded past his beard and down his chest and fell to the earth as wonderful, cooling rain.”
“Wow,” said the child. “I’ll never ask for it to not be October or for the rain to stop. But is it okay to ask to make the raindrops just a little smaller?”Keep Reading
The Soupster hears about some post-Covid magic.
The words “Oblong Rookery” appeared on the Soupster’s phone, accompanied by a chime.
“Hi, Oblong!” said the Soupster. “It’s really good to hear your voice. How long has it been?”
“Almost a year, Soupster. I think the last time was when you were visiting down here and dragged me to that Korean horror flick on Hollywood Boulevard. I know I grumbled a bunch at the time but looking back I do appreciate it.”
“Are you well, Oblong? How are you doing?”
“Oh, yeah, Soupster, I’m well, and I’m doing okaaay… I’ve been thinking a lot about Joan Didion lately.”
“Yeah, her. She was the one who wrote that book, The Year of Magical Thinking. She wrote it about the death of her husband – who was also a famous writer – from a heart attack, just days after their daughter – Quintana Roo – lapsed into a coma. This all happened – oh, I don’t know – back in the early aughts.”
“Yeah, I kinda remember. What got your mind on Joan Didion?”
“Well – I am just thinking this through out loud – but I believe I’ve been doing a lot of magical thinking myself in the past year. Like, I have been going to call you for months, and then, even though I was obsessing about you, I didn’t call. On some level, I kept thinking, ‘I have to call Soupster and find out how he’s doing. If I don’t call soon, something bad might happen.’
“So, that is why I am really, really glad that you’re okay. And I’m okay. And my cats are okay, and even my plants are okay. All those things get involved in my magical thinking, too.”
“Cats and plants are pretty important, Oblong. Especially now. What’s so magical about how you think of them?”
“Well, Rubber Tree – that’s my black cat (she’s named after that Sinatra song, ‘High Hopes’ – remember, ‘Ooops, there goes another rubber tree plant’) – anyway, Rubber Tree only likes these certain kinds of food. So, I tell myself whenever I find these kinds – just flaked or minced and containing the right kinds of fish – that if I feed them to her, she will be happy, and everything will be all right. Get it? Magical, hmmnnn?”
“What about your actual plants, Oblong?”
“Oh, they’re fine, too, although they do need more water with this heat. Sometimes it’s hard to get myself out to water the outdoor ones, what with the 120-degrees and the smoke from the fires. Fortunately, a lot of my plants are cacti and succulents. I have to be careful with the tomatoes, though. They don’t like to dry out, but they also don’t like wet feet.”
“Sounds like you’re talking anthropomorphism, Oblong – you know, like where you give the non-humans around you human personalities?”
“I might as well, Soupster. I have precious little face-to-face (or even mask-to-mask) interaction with humans these days. I don’t know what I would have done these past months if it weren’t for Rubber Tree and the tomatoes.
“Oblong, that sounds like it could become the title for your own book of magic.”Keep Reading
The Soupster tells a story…
Originally published September 7, 2000
“Cross your fingers!” yelled the man on the tall ladder to his Soupster neighbor below.
The man furiously sloshed white paint from a bucket onto the wall high up near his roof, as the first clouds passed their ominous shadows over the eaves.
“Not now!” he yelled at the clouds. He made, with his paint brush, even quicker jerking motions that covered him, the ladder, the ground below – everything but the wall – with paint.
The ladder swayed precariously.
“Calm down,” the Soupster yelled back. “Even if it does rain today, you’ll surely have another day to paint.”
“I won’t,” the neighbor said and scurried down the ladder to approach the Soupster.
“I went fishing so many days I could have been painting,” he wailed. “I took a hike on the new Mosquito Cove trail when I could have been painting. My whole family offered to help me on several occasions. ‘That’s okay,’ I told them. Oh, I’m a fool, a fool!”
“Don’t be so hard on yourself,” said the Soupster.
The neighbor turned suddenly cold and serious. “How long have you lived in Our Town?” he asked the Soupster.
“Long enough,” the Soupster answered cautiously.
“Then you should know,” said the neighbor, “that putting off your painting till September is madness. Madness!”
The Soupster knew. He knew that professional painters in Our Town sometimes have a waiting list years long. Not for lack of ambition, but because there are so few painting days. And the Soupster also knew that some folks in Our Town have gone to incredible lengths to deal with paint and rain.
“Let me tell you a story,” said the Soupster, gently lifting his neighbor’s spattered paws off his shoulders.
“A nice couple I knew was buying a house and the bank would not close the loan until the weathered western wall was repainted. The couple was paying rent until the loan closed and the monthly payments were wreaking havoc on their savings.
“But the bank insisted on the painting. This was in October, mind you. The couple begged the bank to let the job hold off until spring. They even offered to let the bank hold the painting money until then. The bank wouldn’t budge.”
“What did they do?” asked the neighbor.
“Well, the husband and wife painted the wall together. The wife had a bunch of towels and she would wipe off an area a second before he would slap oil paint onto it. They waited for a day when the wind wasn’t blowing right on the wall and painted it in the middle of a good downpour.”
“I get it,” said the neighbor. “Where there’s a will, there’s a way. Just do it.” He shook the Soupster’s hand. “Thanks.”
But before the Soupster could say “Pshaw,” rain drops started falling. The neighbor was already running off. “Honey!” he yelled into his front door. “Get some towels!”Keep Reading
The Soupster recalls an earlier incarnation of Our Town – with tourist crowds & haikus.
Originally Published August 8, 2002
“Stretch!” The Soupster called to his basketball playing friend, Andrea “Stretch” Worthington as she raced furiously around the waterside court on her lunch hour.
“Squat!” Worthington called back, bouncing the ball three quick times in front of her. A long-time center with a fine college team, Worthington cradled the ball with fingers as noticeably long as her legs were. She took off toward the basket, dribbled briefly and flew up in an attempt to dunk. She failed.
“What are you so worked up about?” the Soupster asked.
“Making deliveries all morning, three cruise ships in, streets full, took me twice as long,” she panted. “Can’t people remember that Our Town is a real town and you have to do things like cross the street with a noticeable level of being awake.”
“We should put up signs,” the Soupster murmured.
“That worked in one city,” said Worthington. “People going home at the end of the workday, all impatient and everything, would honk their car horns every two seconds and it was driving the people living in nearby buildings crazy. So they wrote “honk–oos” – haikus designed to deter people from using their horn so freely. They painted the honk-oos on signs and put them on buildings and poles in the honking zone.”
“Did it work?” the Soupster asked.
“Like a charm.”
“Haikus?” said the Soupster. “That Japanese poetry form? Three lines? Five syllables, seven syllables, five syllables? That one?”
“Right,” Worthington said. “Let’s call our haikus ‘hike-oos’. Or ‘walk-oos.’ Like this.” She closed her eyes and recited:
White lines, a crosswalk
To the gift shop with your friend
Be a swift rabbit
The Soupster slapped his knee. “That’s really good,” he laughed.
“How about this?” Worthington said:
Thanks for thanking me
For letting you meander
The bridge light is green.
“Excellent,” said a delighted Soupster.
Worthington ran again toward the basket and lived up to her “stretch” nickname but again failed to dunk the orange orb. She came back to the Soupster, breathing hard and said:
Taking church pictures
Your camera sings just to me
I need to park.
“That’s it, that’s what happened to me yesterday!” the Soupster said. “Say, what’s with the dunking? You were always a shooter. You never dunked before.”
“Dunk!” cried Worthington. “Water! That’s it! The chaos theory in action! Listen and watch, my squat Soupster friend”:
One drop, two, three drops
A necklace of human drops
Tight! It’s a workday!
Worthington leaped from the spot she was standing, sped across the court, the white lines blurring as she passed them, coiled like an enormous spring, then let loose, extended to her full six feet, long arms reaching toward the basket.Keep Reading
The Soupster calms his gardener friend.
Originally published July 5, 2001
“Excellent!” said the gardener, smacking his lips.
“Good day, Green Thumb,” said a passing Soupster. “And what, pray tell, is your lack of problem?”
“My lack of problem has everything to do with the vigorousness with which my acid-loving plants are thriving,” the gardener said, indicating a particularly robust rhododendron.
“Do you ever use a Garden Weasel?” asked the Soupster.
The gardener ignored the Soupster’s aside and continued onward.
“Anything acid-loving is going like gangbusters in this first year of the millennium,” said the gardener, reopening a long argument he had been having with the Soupster.
“Let’s not go into the millennium issue,” said the Soupster. “Talk about your plants. It calms you down.”
“Ah, my plants,” said the gardener. “Especially my acid-loving ones.” With pride, he pointed to a fecund colony of hosta, each leaf shaped like a spade on a playing card, spreading along the ground.
“You said ‘acid-loving’ thrice already,” said the Soupster.
“Remember our mild winter?” said the gardener.
“A mild, wet winter it was,” agreed the Soupster.
“A lot of rain causes more acid conditions to prevail,” said the gardener, stroking the long white fronds of a goat’s beard plant. “Of course, Our Town’s soil is pretty acid to begin with, there being constant rain and the fact that most of the soil started out as a volcano on Kruzoff Island.”
“I thought the spruce trees looked especially good, too,” said the Soupster.
“Bingo, observant Soupster,” said the gardener. “Spruces are acid-loving, too. If you want to see some especially happy spruce trees, check out the three trees on the south side of McDonald’s restaurant, near Ken Brown apartments.”
“I’ve seen them!” said the Soupster. “Magnificent new growth. It’s like they doubled in size in one year.”
“The spruces especially surprise me,” said the gardener, “because of the mild winter. A while ago, we were having a problem with spruce aphids devastating the trees around here. And the best way to get rid of aphids is a cold winter. But for some reason, the trees seem to be springing back like the aphid is a bad memory.”
“Maybe it is,” said the Soupster.
“Hope so,” said the gardener. “Sweet new spruce tips are among my favorite things in the whole world. An important part of my yearly harvest. I make spruce tip syrup and jam. I even make spruce tip beer. I looooove tart tastes. Like grapefruit juice. Or a good Marinara sauce.”
“Say,” said the Soupster. “You sound pretty acid-loving yourself!”Keep Reading
The Soupster learns about rules and jokes.
Originally published July 13, 2006
Buh-BANG! Buh-BANG!! rang the pipes in the Soupster’s house.
“There it is!” said the Soupster to Stace, the veterinarian. “That’s the sound that’s been plaguing me.” He placed on his kitchen table two glasses of blueberry-flavored milk Stace had brought. “I can’t believe you drink this stuff.”
“It’s water hammer,” said Stace. “And do you want to fix your plumbing or make something out of what I drink?”
Noxious as the blueberry-milk was, the Soupster sipped, so as not to have to answer.
“Water hammer,” Stace, the veterinarian, continued. “Sudden pressure changes in the pipes. Usually happens when you turn off a tap suddenly and you hear that bang, bang, bang.”
“We used to have an outdoor faucet that stuck way out far from the wall,” said the Soupster. “When you closed it fast, you’d not only hear that banging, the pipe would move crazily up and down.”
“That’s water hammer,” said Stace.
“But I’m not closing a tap,” said the Soupster.
“You must have a leak somewhere. Only so many places it could be,” said Stace, draining her glass and indicating for the Soupster to do the same.
The two friends checked three outdoor taps, the intake pipes for a clothes washer presently in use, the drainage pipes for another washer, no longer in use, and both the intake and drainage pipes of an old dishwasher.
“How do you know so much about plumbing?” asked the Soupster. “You’re a veterinarian.”
“There’s rules for everything, you just have to learn them,” Stace said. “Learn those rules and you can figure everything out. Even the way water runs through pipes.”
“There are some things that have no rules,” insisted the Soupster, as he and Stace mounted the stairs to the second floor. “Like…love or…humor.”
“Don’t go all Aristotle on me, Soupster,” said Stace. “But since you mention it — let’s take humor — which, for your information, has all kind of rules.
“There’s the `Rule of Three,’ which says the punch line is always on the third example. There are rules for exaggeration humor and unfortunate visitor jokes. There’s my favorite — the unexpected answer. But aren’t we here to fix the plumbing?” and she stepped into the upstairs bathroom.
“Eureka, Aristotle!” Stace cried. “I found your leak! You’re going to need to fix a seal in your toilet. I guarantee that your water hammer will then disappear.”
“Ask a veterinarian to help you with plumbing and get a lecture on the rules of joke telling,” muttered the Soupster. “Only in Our Town.”
“Hey, Doc,” the Soupster said aloud. “Do you think I should get a second opinion?”
“Okay,” said Stace. “You’re ugly, too.”Keep Reading
The Soupster channels – well, not Independence Day, but maybe Bastille Day?
Originally published June 26, 2003
Before the strolling Soupster even reached the bend in the road, he heard three things: the treble- triples and quads of bald eagles, the more purposeful caws of ravens and the baritone of his neighbor, Jean-Pierre, spouting loud, angry French.
After retiring from a bicycle manufacturer in Paris, Jean-Pierre had built a sailboat and headed out to sea. Six years later, with a wife he’d met in Phnom Penh and a son born in Christchurch, New Zealand, Jean-Pierre came ashore in Our Town and declared it “Ze Heaven On Zis Earth!” The son was married himself now and living Outside. The wife had moved back to Cambodia to be with her family. But to Jean-Pierre, Our Town was still “Heaven on Zis Earth.”
Well, maybe not today.
Today, Jean-Pierre was in a furious competition with some ravens to return the contents of his trash can to their rightful place before the birds could pull the items out again.
In the hemlocks surrounding Jean-Pierre’s trash-strewn driveway, bald eagles watched the action from a dignified distance. Not so the ravens, one of which swooped low enough to knock Jean-Pierre’s cap off. Then the bird glided smoothly to the rim of the can, cackled happily and grabbed a piece of melon peel.
“Yo, Jean-Pierre,” the Soupster called. “You can’t win a battle against those odds. Let me help you.”
The Soupster tipped the scales some in Jean-Pierre’s favor. The ravens may have given the Soupster slack because he truly loved ravens. Or because he was not French. Whatever, they flew back up into the hemlocks and started harassing the eagles.
“What got this stuff all over, Jean-Pierre?” the Soupster asked.
“I zink it was ze bear, mon Zoupster,” said Jean-Pierre. “It may have been ze land otter, but I don’t zink zo. I zink it was ze bear.”
“Did you keep your trash in your garage until pickup day?” asked the Soupster.
“Oui! Yes!” said Jean-Pierre. “Always!”
“Did you put any fish or meat in the can that might have smelled strong and attracted the bear?”
“Sacre bleu!” Jean-Pierre said. “My freezer needed repair. I thought for just a little while it would be all right. You are right, Zoupster. It was ze fish!”
“Not such a ‘heaven on earth’ if you have to watch your garbage so closely, eh, Jean-Pierre?” the Soupster teased.
“Au contraire, Zoupster!” Jean-Pierre said. “Zis is nature. In nature, zere is always zometing to leverage ze mistake of any creature. Nature, she is very efficient, no?”
“Yes,” the Soupster said.
“And Zoupster,” Jean-Pierre concluded, as the two men hoisted upright the now-filled can. “We are zo lucky to live right with nature. With nature right on our doorstep. In our driveway. C’est magnifique, no?”Keep Reading
The Soupster gets to hear a nine-year-old’s point of view.
The Soupster was talking on the phone with an old acquaintance of his, who had worked at the City Offices for many years. It was the weekend, and they were chatting just before their respective supper deliveries arrived. His friend Sharon & her granddaughter, who lived with her, were getting pizza, and the Soupster was getting sushi.
Suddenly, Sharon said, “Oh, oh, there’s the doorbell – I have to answer it. Zeylinn, please come and talk to the Soupster while I go answer the door. That’s a big help!”
Soupster: Hi, Zeylinn! Thanks for talking to me. I have known your grandma for many years. She was just telling me about how you have been attending school remotely.
Zeylinn: Yeah, I just finished last week. Whew, it was hard sometimes.
Soupster: So, you are nine, and you just finished – what – third grade? Who was your teacher?
Zeylinn: His name is Mr. Burrows and he’s really nice. It’s not his fault – the remote school is just difficult. Sometimes it is hard to get online for the morning meeting. And hard to stay online.
Soupster: Yeah, I know what you mean.
Zeylinn: I usually like school and really like reading, but the online reading we had to do was hard, because a lot of the time the questions didn’t make sense. They didn’t match up to what we were reading about, and the answers weren’t in the reading.
Soupster: I get that – when I was in Middle School, we had some assigned reading which was kind of boring and the questions didn’t make much sense, either. Normally, what’s your favorite part of school?
Zeylinn: Music and Library. I like all kinds of music and I play guitar and keyboard.
Soupster: Oh, that’s cool. I’ll bet you miss Library, but you still get to pick out books and read, though?
Zeylinn: Oh, yeah, we just had a Book Fair on the last day before Spring Break, and I got three books – well, comics, actually – I am really getting into comics. Two of them are Babysitter’s Club and the other one is called “Guts.” But they’re all by the same person – here, I’ll read you her name, “R – a – I – n – a. T- e – l – g – e – e – m – e – I – e – r. Raina Telgemeier.”
Soupster: Oh, it’s funny – I have heard about her. She tells stories and draws pictures from her own life. She lives in San Francisco. I guess they have to stay home there as much, or even more, than we do in Our Town. Yup, it’s been hard, sometimes. What are you planning for this summer?
Zeylinn: Well, sleeping in for one thing. And then, we’re probably going to get a pool and go to the beach. Oh, and I really LOVE art – I do lots of pictures with watercolors and pastels. Well, there’s my grandma, I better go help her with the pizza – nice talking to you, Soupster!
Soupster: You, too, Zeylinn. My sushi just got here. Say bye to your grandma for me?!Keep Reading
The Soupster remembers when he could sit down over coffee with a friend and discuss the wisdom of dogs.
Originally published June 19, 2008, Submitted by Kathy Ingallinera
I turned the corner and reined in my dog, Solly, on her 16-foot retractable leash. Up ahead I could see a woman walking with her dog and I didn’t want Solly too far away and out of control. “Oh, it’s Cody. You know Cody,” I said to my four-legged companion as she pulled on the leash and strained to get closer to the other dog.
“Hi, how are you?” I said in passing to the woman.
I heard her speaking to her dog as I walked by. “That’s Solly. You’ve met Solly before.” She guided the older collie, as she waved at me and shouted, “Have a good day.”
“You too. Come on, Solly, I have to get to work.” We headed back towards home.
“Here comes Bach!” I looked at Solly but it was obvious that she had seen Bach before I did. Her eyes brightened and she yanked at the leash, looking back at me to tell me to hurry up.
As Bach and his person got closer, Solly and I crossed the street so the dogs could interact. “Hi Bach, how are you?” I bent over and scratched the old black lab on his head and offered him a treat.
Bach’s owner bent over, patting his thigh, calling softly to my dog. “Come here, Solly.” When both dogs were done sniffing, we went our separate ways calling, “Have a good day,” to each other.
We ran into several other dogs and their humans on the walk. I called dogs by their names and exchanged pleasantries with their owners.
After work I stopped by a café strategically located behind a local bookstore. I pulled a chair up to a round table to engage the Soupster in some repartee.
“Good afternoon Soupster. I’m doing a survey. Do you have a dog?” He nodded yes.
“Do you walk your dog?” I asked.
“And do you run into others walking their dogs?” I continued.
“Yes, again. Am I going to win a prize?”
“No. Do you know the names of the dogs you run into?”
“Usually. What are you getting at?”
“One more query. Do you know the names of their owners?”
“No – not unless they’re neighbors…”
“Aha! I am NOT the only one. I realized today I know the names of the dogs in my wide neighborhood, but not the names of the owners. Why do you suppose that is?” I reached over and swiped the rest of his treat.
“I don’t know, but now I have to buy another raspberry bar,” he mumbled as he headed back to the counter.
I followed him. “I am going to introduce myself to my dog’s dog-friends’ people when I meet them from now on. Well, maybe on the second meeting. Don’t want to rush things. Hey, Soupster, thanks. This one’s on me,”Keep Reading
The Soupster and his friend appreciate junk.
Submitted by Rachel Ramsey
As a rule, the Soupster didn’t make a point of answering the phone before 11am, unless he happened to be awake and feel so inclined. When his land line rang shortly after 9 he caught it on the third ring. His pal Brandy’s husky voice greeted him from the other end.
“Good morning – you’re up?” Brandy chuckled. Her voice resonated with jittery excitement. The Soupster tried to respond, only to be cut off.
“As one Our Towner who lives sans social media to another, I had let you know that piles of ‘FREE Take Me’ stuff are popping up all over town.”
The Soupster cleared his throat and replied, “Finally, we’ve returned to the tried and true, rudimentary small-town way of Help-Yourself-Odds-&-Ends piles. I’m in, Brandy, and ready in 20.”
Her van was a hybrid of sorts, though not an electric kind. It had, over the decades, been reconstructed and refurbished piece by piece from salvaged parts of other vehicles, from doors to bumpers and beyond. Brandy fiercely maintained it was an ever-changing functional work of art.
“Better hop in back,” Brandy piped out the window. “Gotta mind our distancing.”
Humming Johnny Cash’s One Piece At a Time, the Soupster hopped into the van, careful not to slam the door too hard. His homemade mask boasted a blue and yellow pattern of Snoopy’s Fonz-insipred alter ego.
“I knew you were good for it!” Brandy laughed through her violet mask. “And thanks for remembering the door. She’s fragile.”
“So what stuff have you seen?” the Soupster inquired, his curiosity bubbling.
“Ribbed PVC hose, an old wooden birdhouse, bedding,” she began. “Awkward, funky-looking metal cabinets. Oh, and sawdust! All sorts of stuff, though I haven’t even begun – I wanted to partner up first,” she explained.
The Soupster said, “Well, ‘one’s man’s junk is another man’s treasure’ and I’m sure folks think thrice about what they pitch in the garbage, and what they put out for the taking.”
“I’d expect so – sometimes the junk you find is just the junk you’re looking for,” Brandy agreed.
“Maybe some of this oddball junk could be used for a project. Kids could make art or science projects with only the materials found roadside,” the Soupster mused.
“Like the cooking shows where they work magic with only the ingredients provided – yes, that’s a fine idea, Soupster, but why only kids? Adults need creative projects too.”
They pulled over near a church, where a family’s mound of garage sale storage boxes had been neatly set up. The pile yielded a Snoopy snow globe for Brandy and a brown and green, seemingly hole-less tarp for the Soupster.
“It’s a good sign.” she giggled, shaking the globe and directing her eyes at the glitter-swirled Snoopy. “Now, how about that project idea?”
“I’m sold. Let’s snag that birdhouse you mentioned and add a disco waterslide!” the Soupster chuckled. “What better way to keep Our Town’s perfectly usable junk out of a landfill?”
“Now, that is creative thinking,” Brandy concurred.Keep Reading
The Soupster learns it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish fact from fiction.
Originally published May 6, 2004
“Soupster!” called Joey the Liar from the far side of the street. Joey was so named because everything he said was a lie.
“I’ve been looking all over for you,” said Joey as he settled his big frame across from the Soupster. “I was worried I would miss you.”
“Hi, Joey,” said the Soupster, who knew Joey was tough to deal with, everything he said being a lie. “What are you doing these days?”
“Same, but different,” said Joey. “Once in a while.”
“Have any plans for the weekend?”
“I thought I’d call my mother for Mother’s Day and all,” said Joey.
“She doesn’t live here?” asked the Soupster.
“Reno,” said Joey. “She’s a stage star in the casinos. She could have gone to Vegas but she wanted my younger brothers and sisters to have a more normal life, which she has found in Reno.”
“Is this true?” asked the Soupster.
“Not entirely,” said Joey. “Before Reno, she lived with me in Chicago, where she was a meat cutter at a huge plant. All her skirts had blood dripping down the front of them. It was a long time before I found out that hamburgers didn’t come out of my mother’s pockets.”
“Joey,” I really don’t have time for this,” said the Soupster.
“All right, she’s quite normal,” Joey said. “She lives in Bothell and works in a bottling plant…”
“Joey! A Bothell bottler?” said an exasperated Soupster.
“Brunette, too,” said Joey. “My mother is the spitting image of Betty Crocker and Donna Reed. She played the piano and there were always fresh flowers, even in winter. My favorite time was waking up Sunday mornings and smelling the bacon frying downstairs. Sticking my head out into the cool room from under the warm blanket. The smell of bacon.”
The Soupster almost believed him. “I almost believe you, Joey,” said the Soupster. Joey, who knew of his reputation, took no offense.
“I wouldn’t want you to do that,” he said.
“So, really,” said the Soupster. “About your mother? You wax so poetic and range so far afield that you sound like a wistful orphan. Are you an orphan?”
“Absolutely not!” said Joey the Liar.Keep Reading
The Soupster has springtime dreams of being on the water.
Originally published April 18, 2002
The Soupster haunted the docks the last few April days, studying skiffs. With no prior symptoms to warn him, the boat bug had bitten him squarely and he mightily suffered its effects.
The Soupster tried his best, and for the most part succeeded, in following the advice of the wise old fisherman, who had once said:
“You don’t want a big boat, Soupster. What you want is a skiff and a good motor. Everything else, for you, would be just a bigger hole in the water.”
Even possibly an inflatable, the Soupster thought. Like a hard-bottomed inflatable on a trailer. A steering station, of course, he always thought. Who doesn’t like to look ahead to where they are going?
“Hey, Soupster,” called Culver, striding purposefully from the large boat part of the marina. “A skiff would not be enough for me,” he crowed. “I take my family in comfort. You know, Soupster, the whole five of us are bonding on that boat.” He pointed to the “Blue Hope” – a diesel trawler. “Last night my wife read to me and the kids from David Copperfield. Hey, what did you do with my crazy family?”
“Me, I’m just looking for a little taxi to drive myself around a bit on sunny and flat days,” said the Soupster. “You know when the water looks like you could just lay out flat on the surface and take the sun.”
“A mosquito can do that,” Culver said. “Water has enough surface tension that a mosquito can just stand on it. Like a solid surface to them.”
“The meek of the Earth,” said Soupster. “Or the most obnoxious – depending on whether you are in dense forest and it’s sundown or not. Meek… How about the green moss poking through the snow? Moss is like very meek and also the first green thing each Spring.”
“I de-mossed my lawn last year,” Culver said. “Amazing stuff, moss. There’s no roots holding it down. You can peel it back like a carpet. Which I did, last summer – peeled a truckload of moss off my lawn. I used a thatch rake – you know, those meaty looking rakes. Got the thatch rake tines underneath the moss and peeled it up just like a carpet. Moss is beautiful stuff really.” He shook his head.
“I was looking for a thatch rake!” said the Soupster. “I looked all over town and couldn’t find one. Not one. Can I borrow yours?”
“Sure,” Culver said. “Amazing about Our Town. Big as it is, we can still run out of things. Like thatch rakes. And even milk.”
“Never run out of boats, though,” said the Soupster, indicating the massive harbor and its hundreds of denizens.
“Got that right,” said Culver.Keep Reading
The Soupster gets a poem from a friend.
Submitted by Vivian Faith Prescott
Look, bright yellow stalks emerge from warm muck.
I bend to inhale their familiar scent.
Behold, an old man is ambling down the hospital hallway,
masked, gloved and gowned, while nurses and doctors applaud
his slow return to the world.
My feet press the dry roadside grass and I step over the ditch.
See the red branches on the blueberry bushes, note
a bud’s first pink blush.
Look, we peer out the narrow window at our daughters and
grandchildren, holding signs: We miss you. We love you.
Rainbows and hearts and I try not to weep.
Today, and every morning for days now, with wing-sound
and honk, a pair of Canada geese fly by our porch.
We’ve name them after our airline flights: there goes
flight 64 and 65.
Look, the young woman is sewing a thousand cloth masks,
and a grown daughter sits outside a care home in a flowerbed
talking to her mother through window glass.
See the man is in his shop fabricating a face shield. See
the family dancing and drumming on a dock next to the ocean.
See the stranger dropping a box of groceries off on a porch.
A nurse aid brings water to a bedside. See the mailman opening
the street-side mailbox, placing a letter.
There’s a purple bud on the devil’s club and fat robins flit
around the neighbor’s grass near the outdoor rabbit pen,
and around the corner comes a parade
of elementary school teachers, each in their own sign-draped cars,
beeping horns, waving, cheered by students and parents
on the side of the road.
After days of herring snow and a few more days of sunshine,
the popweed plumps up on the beach. Everything is ripening,
and my elderly father sighs—We’re used to living
with the tide coming in and going out. We’re patient people.
We can do this.
The Soupster witnesses a redemption.
Originally published March 6, 2003
The grocery store was packed. The Soupster had to walk sideways down the Canned Tomatoes aisle to pass the shopping carts parked on the left and then on the right. Unusual for Our Town, a long line of shoppers waited impatiently at the checkout stand.
When the Soupster finally got to the front of the line, he saw the reason for the delay. The young woman at the cash register was as overcareful with each transaction as a cat pacing the rim of a steamy bathtub.
She meticulously rotated each food item in her hand to find the UPC code, then drew the item across the scanner with a kind of dreamy slowness. She smiled individually at each person in line, looking for validation, then, with effort, picked up the next food item. The Soupster shifted his weight from one foot to the other. So did everyone in the steadily growing line behind him.
People had started to clear their throats, when a man in his 30’s with a badge that said “Asst. Mgr.” swept up behind the counter next to the cashier.
“Kathy! You are to call for help when the line gets this long,” he said in a theatrical whisper, meant for everyone to hear. “You should never let the line get this long, Kathy!”
“Ma’am,” the Asst. Mgr. said over-solicitously to the woman behind the Soupster. “All of you, come with me,” he pointed to the entire line and they moved with him to another checkout stand.
The young cashier’s face reddened. Only halfway through his transaction, the Soupster stood alone now before her. She went back to her slow-motion scanning of the Soupster’s few items. Meanwhile, the first members of the Asst. Mgr.’s line were already picking up their grocery bags and walking out the door.
“Sorry,” Kathy said, looking downcast.
“No problem,” said the Soupster. “First day on the job?”
She nodded. “Probably going to be my only day,” she said and, indeed, the Asst. Mgr. was shooting daggers her way, hidden behind the bland smile he showed his customers.
“Keep at it,” said the Soupster.
“I said DON’T RUSH ME!” came a loud, deep voice from the other register. The Soupster and the young cashier turned.
A very large man loomed over the Asst. Mgr., who was pinned against the back wall of his checkout station. The man slammed down his wallet and leaned forward in the direction of the Asst. Mgr. who looked extremely flustered and ready to bolt.
“Manny,” called the young cashier, as she left her workstation and slipped in next to her trembling co-worker. “Manny, Manny, Manny, cool your jets,” she laughed and poked the big man in the chest. Manny laughed. The Asst. Mgr. visibly unstiffened.
The cashier returned to the Soupster. She looked a lot happier than a minute before. “Will there be anything else, Sir?” she asked sweetly.
“I think you got your job back, Kathy,” the Soupster answered.Keep Reading
The Soupster meets someone he will remember for the rest of his days.
Originally published May 10, 2001
Sweat dripped from the Soupster’s brow as he grabbed a final fingerhold of rock and hauled his body up over the precipice. He worked his chest, his hips and legs over the sharp edge to safety. He let out an enormous sigh of relief. The 5 1/2 climb had been the most arduous of his life. But he had made it! Over the ledge of rock that led to the place where the wise old bearded man lived, the one who would tell him the secret of the universe. Or at least what the Soupster should do over the next several weeks.
A well-worn path led directly from the rock’s edge, so the Soupster took it. He knew lots of people had preceded him to the wise old bearded man’s lair, but still the experience reeked of discovery. Up ahead he saw the shallow cave he’d heard of, where the wise old man dispensed his wisdom. Feeling humble, the Soupster removed his high-tech climbing gloves and boots, and walked inside.
No wise old bearded man. Instead, a kid with bad skin. The Soupster couldn’t really tell if the kid was male or female. “My uncle is getting audited by the I.R.S. and the rest of the family is at a condo in Boca Raton celebrating my cousin’s graduation from law school,” said the kid. “Any other wisdom I may dispense?”
The Soupster was flabbergasted. His legs and back ached from the climb, but his head ached more as he tried to make sense of the situation. “Well, I was going to ask you, you know, some Big Questions,” stammered the Soupster. “But, I mean, you’re probably not… qualified…”
“I’m plenty qualified,” said the kid. “I’m more qualified than anybody in my family, including my famous uncle. I’m qualified enough to know not to go to some stupid law school shindig in Boca Raton where it’s a million degrees.”
“Any, you know, Big Ideas, that I should, maybe, hear?” the Soupster attempted.
“No Big Ideas,” said the kid. “But here’s some little ones. How about stop saying ‘Send a Message’ and ‘Zero Tolerance’ when you are referring to children. That sit okay with you?”
“What’s your problem?” said the Soupster.
“My problem is that’s not language you should be using with your offspring,” the kid said. “`Sending a message’ is something the Godfather did when he left that horse head in the Hollywood producer’s bed. It’s something we do when we drop bombs. It’s bravado when you know you are the one with the power.”
“And `Zero Tolerance’ the kid continued, “is not possible to have. No matter how gross things are, you can always come up with a scenario where you would have to have some tolerance for the situation. And if anybody is going to find out the way to test that idea, it’s your kids.”
“I think you’re right,” said the Soupster.
“Of course, I’m right” said the kid, “My uncle is the wise old bearded guy!”Keep Reading