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Comments Off on Our Town – October 19, 2017

Our Town – October 19, 2017

| Children, Money, Our Town | October 19, 2017

The Soupster recounts that there are three ways to skin a Permanent Fund.

“I’m going to become a parent,” Mick said to the Soupster as both met up outside a Lincoln St. bank. “And I’ve been thinking a lot about the problems and responsibilities of raising kids. I don’t think I’ll have any problem with religion, issues of brotherhood or with kids and crime – I know right where I stand and I know what I’m going to say. But how to deal with my kid’s Permanent Fund Dividend? That totally mystifies me.”

“I mean, it’ll be the kid’s money, won’t it?” he continued. “But it’s a lot of money for anyone to manage well, let alone a kid. A parent has to have a plan. What do you think?”

“Well,” said the Soupster, “There was this one family — despite the fact that they’re not rich, they put every PFD dollar for the kid into mutual funds. During the go-go 90’s. The family had some awful expenses, but they never, ever touched the kid’s PFD. When she was 18, the family had a big pile of money saved up for her and she ended up starting a rug business in Wrangell where her favorite Auntie lives. She’s doing very well there.”

“Sounds great,” said Mick. “But what if her family really got in a hole and they were going to lose their house or if somebody got really sick?”

“Well,” said the Soupster. “I know another family. Every PFD the kid’s whole life went into paying for the continuing, everyday expenses of the family. With the PFDs and everything else, the father was able to get his college degree from distance learning. The mother took a year off to volunteer for her church in South America, which was her lifelong dream. When college came around for the kid, there was no money, but everybody pulled together and now both father and son have their degrees.”

“I don’t think I could do that,” said Mick. “I’ll want to make absolutely sure my kid has a leg up. I couldn’t imagine why anyone would want to take chances with such a valuable resource.”

“Well,” said the Soupster. “Then maybe this family’s story will help. I mean I’m not endorsing this, but this family just handed the cash over to their kid and let her do anything she wanted with it. From when she was about six years old on, anything that got into this kid’s head, she was able to finance. This is when the PFDs were $1,200 and $1,500 a check. One year this kid bought more than 100 stuffed animals, one for everyone in her grade. Another year, she spent her whole thing at Save the Children. She sent her parents on a cruise ship cruise and when her neighbors said they’d love to do the same, the kid sent them on a cruise the following year.”

“Well, I hope you don’t endorse that, Soupster,” said Mick. “What a wasted opportunity and a reckless plan for handling that poor child’s money. A poor investment in the future.”

“Well, I don’t know,” the Soupster. “That kid is now making a fortune designing fantasy-based video games in Seattle. And she just bought her parents a new boat!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – October 5, 2017

Our Town – October 5, 2017

| Dreams, Our Town | October 5, 2017

The Soupster learns that some dreams have gray linings.

Yet again, the Soupster couldn’t sleep. Every night, he closed his eyes and started snoring, only to find himself transported to the pilot house of a tug boat, hauling an over-stacked cargo barge northbound from Ketchikan to Skagway.

Soupster at the helm, the barge’s bulk sailed slowly through misty Southeastern darkness. The barge and tug were well lit, but droplets of mist hanging in the air absorbed and concentrated the light, rendering the shore invisible.

The result was a sense of moving, yet staying still. Much like driving a car on the endless flatlands of Kansas. The Soupster had been dreaming this dream, off and on, for the past fortnight.

The Soupster rose and padded through his dark house. His bum knee ached. He poured himself a glass of milk and drank it at the fridge, then returned to his bed. He started the mental calculation to decide which to have checked out first – his painful knee or his unrestful sleep. In the morning, he knew to take care of things from the head down.

The Soupster called the assistant of a hypnotist who happened to be visiting Our Town to drum up hypno-business on local call-in radio shows and classified ads

“I’m Dr. Magma’s hypno-sistant,” confessed Lonnie.

The Soupster made an appointment with Lonnie’s boss, Dr. Lorenzo Magma. In the surprisingly professional-looking temporary clinic, the Soupster told Dr. Magma the sad story of his sleeplessness.

“A cargo barge, hour after hour of slow churning,” commiserated Dr. Magma. “Sounds very bad.”

For treatment, Dr. Magma told the Soupster that he would take over piloting the barge every night in Kake.  Then, said the doctor, he would take the barge the rest of the way to Skagway and the Soupster could get some shuteye.

Dr. Magma’s cure worked. Each night, as the barge approached Kake, the Soupster felt a relaxation come over him and he awoke in the morning vastly more refreshed.

About a week later, the Soupster saw on the streets of Our Town a disheveled man who looked like he might keel over any second. With a start, the Soupster realized it was Bruce Willforge, the gunsmith.

“Bruce, you look terrible,” said the Soupster.

“I haven’t slept in two months,” Bruce admitted. “Every might I dream that I go to an elaborate banquet with everything in the world to eat and lots of clever entertainment and I spend all night gorging and partying.”

“I have just the man for you,” the Soupster said and told Bruce to make an appointment with Dr. Magma.

Willforge did make the appointment and did receive treatment, the Soupster found out when he saw the gunsmith the following week. Despite that, Willforge showed no improvement in his pallid mien.

“Bruce,” said the Soupster. “Do you still have to dance and stuff yourself with scrumptious food all night in your dreams?”

“No, Dr. Magma took that off my hands,” Willforge said.

“Then why do you look so terrible?”

“Because now, every night, I have to pilot a cargo barge from Kake to Skagway instead!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – September 21, 2017

Our Town – September 21, 2017

| Crazy Theories, Our Town, Visitors | September 21, 2017

The Soupster plays the Name Game.

Originally published Oct. 8, 2009

The Soupster plopped onto the bench outside Harrigan Centennial Hall Building to rest his aching dogs (feet), swelling inside his normally spacious clogs. Combating Global Warming by walking more helped his heart and reduced his carbon footprint, the Soupster thought, but it seemed to be increasing his regular footprint.

A man and two women spilled out the door, laughing and poking at each other. They noticed the Soupster and stepped over.

“You from here? We love this town!” one woman erupted and her two friends nodded briskly.

The Soupster remembered that Convention Season had started on the (ahem) heels of the Running of the Boots.

“We’re from the Helen Mull Society,” volunteered the other woman.

“Who’s Helen Mull?” the Soupster asked..

“Not `who’ – `what,’” the man corrected. “It’s an acronym for the Hyphenated Last Names Making Up Luminaries Society. HLN-MUL.”

“Helen Mull, get it?” said the first woman. “Like me. My maiden name was Greta Pierce and I married Lawrence Brosnan. So now I’m Greta Pierce-Brosnan. Get it?”

“Bob Haas-Cartwright,” said the man, leaning forward to shake the Soupster’s hand. “Great little town you’ve got here.”

“Wow,” I can’t believe you have a whole society devoted to this,” said the Soupster.

“Oh, it’s very engrossing,” said the other woman. “For instance, Bob and I were only allowed into the Society two years ago when the rules were relaxed.”

“Oh, yes,” she continued. “Originally, the spelling of the hyphenated last name in question had to match the luminary’s precisely. Like Pierce-Brosnan’s name does. Then, they decided to allow names that only sound the same, using a standard American English pronunciation. Like Bob Haas-Cartwright.”

“And you are?” asked the Soupster.

“Sharon,” she said. “Oh, Sheehan-LaBoofe. Sharon Sheehan-LaBoofe. Sorry. It’s a mouthful, I admit.”

“Well,” said the Soupster. “Sheehan-LaBoofe is not the same as Shia LeBeouf, even in sound.”

“This year,” Pierce-Brosnan said, ignoring the Soupster’s comment, “we’ve been discussing whether plurals should disqualify or not. We’ve had applications from a Johns-Wayne, an Adams-Corolla and a Walters-Hickel. Oh, you should like that one!”

“I envy the founding members like Gerald Winston-Churchill,” Haas-Cartwright said to no one in particular. A young woman came out the door and Pierce-Brosnan shrieked with delight.

“Or even better,” Pierce-Brosnan said, taking the new girl by the arm. “This is Barbara Alexander, who hopes to join Helen Mull next year.”

“Hello,” said the Soupster.

“Next year,” said Pierce-Brosnan, “after she gets married to Lou Baranof. Get it?”

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Comments Off on Our Town – September 7, 2017

Our Town – September 7, 2017

| Animals, Dogs, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff | September 7, 2017

The Soupster recounts how a good prop can save the day.

“Wild beard – check, rough clothes – check,” said the Soupster to himself, as he stared at the large form of Granville Brickface standing at the coffee counter.

“Five shot venti Americano,” boomed Granville in a bass impressive enough to literally blow back the barrista’s hair (well, almost literally). Granville collected his potion and parked his bulk on the far side of the crowded coffee shop.

“Giant voice – check,” the Soupster muttered.

Granville Brickface was not the biggest guy in Our Town, but – with his wild beard, rough clothes and giant voice — he definitely took up the most space. Crowds seemed to part when he showed up. Dogs and birds went silent.

The Soupster remembered one time when a delicately-engraved invitation had arrived in Granville’s mail, with multiple pages and tissue papers in between each page. Granville was distantly related to some pretty lofty Our Town residents of the past and was being invited to the wedding of the daughter of one of the loftiest present-day Our Town residents.

The invite had required serious cogitation on Granville’s part. The guy was big, but not mean. He did not want to scandalize the ceremony with his usual “casual” garb, when the rest of the partygoers went formal. He did not want to do anything to rattle the nuptials. He would buy a suit.

“And get a haircut, for goodness sakes,” Granville heard in his mother’s voice inside his
head. He decided he would do that, too.

But successful social engagements are not based solely on appearance, Granville had remembered. People are required to talk with one another. A problem, he thought, that was more enigmatic than a haircut.

The Soupster had suggested a strategy from his long-ago experience with dating. He told Granvillle to anticipate the questions people would ask of him and, like a politician readying for a debate, prepare polite answers and memorize them. So Granville did.

The morning of the wedding, Granville took his newly-shorn and freshly-laundered self to visit the elderly woman who lived next door, as a test run.  Mrs. Cox was delighted with Granville’s transformation.

“It’s remarkable,” she said. “I’m nearly not afraid of you.”

“Do you think I’m ready?” Granville asked, purposely speaking in a low voice because of all the crystal glassware lining the breakfront shelves.

“Well,” said Mrs. Cox, tapping one finger against her chin.  “Maybe we can improve things a bit more.”

“Princess Lorna Doone!” Mrs. Cox called out and her tiny, fluffy, impossibly cute Pomeranian yapped into the room.

“Take Princess with you, Granville,” said Mrs. Cox. “Everybody loves Lorna!”

Granville did and Princess Lorna Doone earned her salt. All afternoon, Granville had a small crowd of people surrounding him, all wanting to pet and hold the dog. The memorized answers allowed Granville to appear almost charming.

And he got the best compliment of all when some cousin, taking in Granville’s fresh haircut, crisp suit and tiny dog, said, “I didn’t know Granville had a brother!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – August 24, 2017

Our Town – August 24, 2017

| Guest Written, Lois Verbaan DenHerder, Our Town | August 24, 2017

The Soupster encounters and old friend.

Submitted by Lois Verbaan

The Soupster panted as he climbed the stairway up the mountain. Beads of sweat formed on his brow. Apart from a squirrel which scampered up a tree, he was alone. Or so he thought. But, as he climbed the last flight of stairs, a person came into view, leaning on the guard rail and gazing into the distance.

“Rusty?? Is that you??” the Soupster asked, suddenly remembering his missed eye doctor appointment.

“‘Fraid so,” the old fisher replied, as she stared at the islands. “Seen a lot in my day,” she sighed. “Wispy clouds in a blue morning sky, a troller plying a glassy sea, a hazy horizon blurring snow-capped mountains, wind chopping up dark water, a cat streaking across the road to take refuge in shadows.”

“Rusty! What on earth??” the Soupster said. “You okay?”

“Sure,” she said, “just contemplating the passing of time. When you gotta turn back at the lookout, you realize you aren’t a spring Bambi anymore,” she admitted, rubbing her knees. “To tell the truth, summer’s taking its toll. Too much daylight and too much to do.”

“Aah, friend,” Rusty continued. “‘How small the boat for each life, how vast the ocean and its storms; May sunlight touch the waves, may strong wind take your sails…’  Know any ‘a those, Soupster?”

“Can’t say I do,” the Soupster mumbled, munching a handful of trail mix.

“Well, probably ‘cause I made ‘em all up,” Rusty laughed. “Anyway, how’s your summer going?”

“Productive,” the Soupster said. “I’m getting through my ‘Indoor To-Do List.’ Last week I sorted my garage cabinets into cutting things, hitting things and measuring things.”

“Wow, impressive!” Rusty said. “I count myself lucky if I can find anything clean on the boat to put on every morning. Anyhow, we have different priorities. Dry and warm is good enough for me.”

“Soupster, what I really want to know is how far we’ve hiked from the trailhead to here,” she said.

Pulling out his phone, the Soupster declared, “Siri! Pythagorean Theorem!”

“The square root of A-squared plus B-squared equals C-squared, Soupstah,” she replied.

“Australian accent,” the Soupster whispered to Rusty. “But that’s another story.”

“Impressive, Soupster, but you’re hurting my head – too early for this kind of mathematical genius.”

“That’s okay, Rusty, you’re good at other things. Take these, for example,” the Soupster said, examining her well-worn hiking poles, with glints of shiny metal between the mud. “These babies prove you’re a hardcore Alaska outdoorsperson.”

“Dunno,” Rusty said. “Always thought it was the shorts.”

“Got a point there, Rust,” the Soupster admitted. “Pretty hardcore how you wear shorts year-round. How do we know when the temperature has hit 40? When ol’ Rusty emerges from hibernation with shorts on.” Rusty chuckled.

A freezing gust of wind hit the hikers, bringing the first drops of that distant storm, and sending a shiver up Rusty’s legs. The two friends put on an extra layer, cinched up their backpacks and headed down the mountain.

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Comments Off on Our Town – August 10, 2017

Our Town – August 10, 2017

| Lower 48, Our Town, Relationships, Relatives, Seasons, Summer, Temperature | August 10, 2017

The Soupster talks to someone who can’t see the forest, because of one.

 “No, Uncle Bob, I’m not aware,” said the Soupster into the receiver of his landline phone, “just how hot your weather is right now.”

That was an outright lie. In fact, the Soupster knew. He regularly enjoyed playing a weather game called “Too Hot!.” The game involved reading the list of daily temperatures in the newspaper or watching the highs and lows of major U.S. cities scroll by on television and stopping at each one 80 degrees or higher to think aloud “Too Hot!” Starting in the Spring, various cities would pass into the realm of “Too Hot!” until, by August, most of the country qualified. It seemed as though too many cities were getting “Too Hot!” too early in the year and staying simmering too late into the fall. The Soupster knew from his game that Uncle Bob’s area had been hitting triple digits all week – shattering records set in horse-and-buggy days.

“That sounds terrible, Uncle Bob,” the Soupster said to his mother’s brother’s description of clothing turning sweat-soaked in minutes, engines overheating on gridlocked streets, regional power outages making air conditioners and refrigerators useless.

Of all the things the Soupster loved about Our Town and knew he would miss the most, its mild summertime temperatures ranked tops. Our Town and neighboring villages were maybe the last places in the country where the Soupster could live without ever having taken his air conditioner out of the box – it sat in the back of the Soupster’s closet like a survivalist’s cache of water pouches, freeze-dried Stroganoff and space blankets.

“What’s that, Uncle Bob?” the Soupster asked, registering what his relative had just said. “Your car was stolen when?”

During the heat wave and power outage, Bob explained, making it infinitely more difficult for him and his wife to haul ice back to their house to try and save the food in the chest freezer. The lack of transportation made it impossible for the couple to go the lakefront or other cooler escapes. Their usual last resorts – the movie theaters and the International House of Pancakes — were dark because of the blackout. Police found Bob’s car finally – minus hubcaps and, oddly, head rests.

“Why doesn’t it matter anymore, Uncle Bob?” asked the Soupster. “What do you mean `Eminent Domain’?”

Uncle Bob said that he worried about a developer who wanted to build condos right where his neighborhood stood. Meant jobs and higher taxes for the city. In New Jersey, one city had condemned some people’s houses with exactly the same outcome in mind and the U.S. Supreme Court backed the city and the developer. The city always wanted more people. More people just meant longer lines, Bob complained, at the market, the bank – even to vote. Of course, floods and tornadoes threatened, too. Along with the pesticides in the groundwater.

“Uncle Bob, you really have got to consider moving somewhere you find more pleasant.” said the Soupster.

“Never happen, Nephew,” Bob said. “Where else are real estate prices this low?

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Comments Off on Our Town – July 27, 2017

Our Town – July 27, 2017

| food, Our Town, Small Town Stuff | July 27, 2017

The Soupster learns that sometimes more than the peppers get stuffed.

The Soupster sat at a back table at Nemo’s Café, spooning Rockfish-and-Beach-Asparagus Chowder into his mouth. Hunched over his steaming bowl, he read a copy of his publication, the Sitka Soup.

Then the Soupster stiffened. “Waiter!” he called out. “There’s a fly in my Soup!”

Manny, the new waiter, hurried over to the Soupster’s table and examined the stew. “I don’t see anything in there,” he said.

“Not in my soup,” said the Soupster, waving a copy of his publication aloft. “There’s a fly in my Sitka Soup!”

Indeed, there was a fly, on page 10. (Ed. Note: yup!)

“Can’t help you there,” the waiter said.

“Manny,” asked the Soupster. “Have you ever encountered a real fly in a bowl of real soup?”

“Not flies in the soup — no,” said Manny.

“Stuffed fish and animal heads on the walls, like Guinness Book amounts of them — definitely.”

“Do tell,” said the Soupster.

“A place up north I worked at one summer, Ike’s Roadhouse,” Manny said. “In his younger days, Ike was an Olympian athlete of hunters. And he liked to stuff his trophies. Moose, goat, sheep heads on the roadhouse walls. Stuffed gamebirds all over. Mounted fish. An entire black bear.

“Doesn’t sound real hygienic,” said the Soupster.

“I have to admit that Ike’s place wouldn’t have passed inspection,” Manny said. “That is, if there was an inspector within 1,000 miles.”

“Anyhow, Ike was such a good cook, everyone was happy to overlook the occasional ptarmigan feather in the oatmeal,” Manny went on. “There was a bit of discussion sometimes about exactly what critters went into the fricassee, but that didn’t stop people from scarfing it.

“Then Ike got old and his son took over. And then the son got old, so the grandson took over. But Old Ike still went to the restaurant every day and sat in a chair in the corner, telling stories and taking silent naps.

“Old Ike would be telling you some tall tale and would fall asleep in the middle of a sentence and revert back to his silent, sleeping mode like an unconscious Jabba the Hutt.

“One day, a visitor arrived and announced that he’d journeyed 4,000 miles for a taste of the Roadhouse’s famous sourdough flapjacks. The man evidently read about them in some Great Land handbook and got an insatiable yen.

“So, the grandson makes the flapjacks and the visitor chomps away, all compliments. The visitor remarks on how colorful the Roadhouse was, with all the taxidermy.

“Then, he asks who started the establishment. Ike’s grandson proudly says Old Ike started the roadhouse half a century ago. And, tells how the old Sourdough has been in the restaurant every day since.

“`In fact,’ says the grandson, pointing to his granddad in the tangle of taxidermied creatures. `Old Ike is right there.’

“The look that crossed the visitor’s face was pure horror. You could see he was having a hard time telling if Old Ike was stuffed, too.

“The grandson turned around for a second, to chuckle at the old man sleeping away. And when he turned back, all that was left was a $20 bill and a half-eaten stack of pancakes. The visitor was gone!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – July 13, 2017

Our Town – July 13, 2017

| Nicknames, Our Town, Small Town Stuff | July 13, 2017

Discussing Our Town’s flaws, the Soupster sees an old acquaintance.

Originally published July 15, 2010

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?”

Shrimp chuckled.

“That,” said the Soupster, “is a whole story in itself.”

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Comments Off on Our Town – June 19, 2017

Our Town – June 19, 2017

| Our Town, Relationships, Relatives | June 29, 2017

Sometimes, the Soupster discovers, the last comes out first.

Sometimes you pity someone and that is the start of a relationship that turns out to have no cause for pity. That’s what the Soupster thought as he considered the story of Roland Greevy, who showed up at the coffee shop on his bicycle and without a helmet. His bike looked held together with fishing wire and candle wax. His border collie, Scruffy, aptly named.

The Greevys were well-known in Our Town. Old Man Greevy had been memorable for making real estate investments that always paid off, and for his generosity with his windfalls. Two of his three sons left Our Town and soared – Otto Greevy to the federal judiciary and Eugene Greevy to NASA.

In high school, Otto had been big in Student Council, well-respected for keeping his cool rationality while his classmates panicked. Beloved “Big Gene” was a star athlete, the commander of Our Town youths who occasionally left the island to vanquish friend and foe in battles of baseball and track.

Roland, by contrast, had been such a frequent visitor to the principal’s office that he felt comfortable there, almost a second home. The principal, a stern fellow but an understanding one, had experience with sons. He gave Roland tasks to do and Roland sometimes actually felt useful.

Old Man Greevy had no time for middle-child Roland. Greevy gave his full attention to the charismatic Otto and the heroic Eugene. When his two “good sons” continued their success streak in college, Greevy felt more relevant in their lives than when they were younger. His two freshly-minted adults often sought his counsel about navigating their new world.

Roland didn’t go to college, living at home until the Old Man got too critical of him, then moved to Seattle and wasted his potential there. Roland would come home when he needed money or medicine or rest, and hear his father tell tales of his spectacular siblings.

Over the years, Otto and Eugene did better and better, became busier and busier. They had less and less time for Our Town and Old Greevy. They sought his consultation less and less. Finally, not at all. But Roland still came home regularly to borrow money or obtain medicine or to rest.

As the Old Man got on in years, Roland noticed a change in his father.  A sadness in his creaky movements. Roland still scored nuggets of his father’s savings, but more and more it was his father who needed the medicine and the rest. And the painting of the fence, and the filling out of the form, and company for the occasional grilled king at Old Greevy’s favorite bistro.

At the funeral, it was the Old Man’s friends who told Roland what a comfort he had been to his father and how often his father had spoken of his gratefulness for Roland’s help. Roland lavished special attention on his two brothers, who seemed uncomfortable and unmoored, not having been home for so long.

Otto took care of the legal matters and Eugene wrote the obituary. Roland was supposed to take care of selling the house. But when he calculated the energy it would take to dispose of his father’s 50-year accumulation of stuff, he wisely decided to keep everything the same and move in himself. Otto and Eugene happily signed off on their claims.

And from that house, Roland had pedaled to the coffee shop.

“Fine day, don’t you think?” the Soupster asked.

“I like it,” Roland answered.

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Comments Off on Our Town – June 15, 2017

Our Town – June 15, 2017

| Craftsman, Dreams, Our Town | June 15, 2017

The Soupster gauges his tolerance for surprise.

The ringing phone jerked the Soupster up, still half asleep. He retained a bit of his dream of someone noisily dropping big rocks outside his bedroom window, but rapidly lost the details as he became more awake. Who was calling him so early?

Twice in the past the Soupster – a late riser – had similarly leapt out of a deep sleep to find there was good reason for him to wake.

One bright morning some years back, the Soupster had been fast asleep, his biggest challenge keeping the cool side of the pillow against his cheek. He dreamt that he was back with some beloved friends he had not seen since childhood, although they were all grown up in the dream.

From that dreamy state, he had bolted upright when a chainsaw wailed and then a big branch of the hemlock tree outside his window crashed to the ground. The Soupster staggered to the window, wiping the sleep sand from his eyes. Up in the hemlock was his tree guy, Martin, now working on his second branch.

The Soupster had run into Marty at the grocery store and mentioned a hemlock tree that needed to come down. Marty said he would get to it when he had time. The Soupster had been satisfied, thinking Marty would check in with him before starting.

“Well, I had some time come open today, so I figured I could get right to your tree,” Marty called down from 10 feet in the air. “I know you never told me which tree, but when I got here it was pretty obvious this hemlock had to go.”

The Soupster shook his head in amazement and muttered a little.

The second time, the Soupster had been dreaming that he was fishing from the cockpit of a gas-guzzling sport boat he used to own, but he kept pulling up phone and cable bills instead of fish.

From the living room came the unmistakable screech of long nails being pulled from wood, which yanked him awake. He threw on his robe.

In the living room, Greg, the glass guy, was removing the frame of the big picture window.

Two months previously, the Soupster had talked to Greg about replacing the window and Greg was supposed to call him back. No word. The work was now underway

Greg volunteered an explanation reminiscent of Martin’s. He said a piece of glass he was expecting had missed the barge, freeing up his morning. And while reading a copy of the Sitka Soup over coffee, he had remembered the Soupster’s picture window.

But back to the ringing phone in the present. Calling was the Soupster’s nephew, Stewart.

“Uncle Soupster!” said Stew.

“Stewster!” said the Soupster. “Is everything all right?”

“Sure, Uncle Soupster,” Stew said. “I tried calling my Dad to wish him a happy Father’s Day, but there was no answer. You’re the next best thing to a father. Happy Father’s Day, Uncle Soupster!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – June 1, 2017

Our Town – June 1, 2017

| food, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships | May 31, 2017

The Soupster experiences hot gossip and hotter food.

At a table at Our Town’s new Indian/Pakistani restaurant, Naan Plus, the Soupster sucked on an ice cube to cool his mouth from a fiery vindaloo. Sweat dripped off the tip of his nose and his eyes teared freely.

“So hot!” the Soupster croaked.

His tablemate, Sally Crewsin, had ordered the milder biryani and looked at him with sympathy. “At least this lunch is free,” she said.

Sally was paying the tab to reward the Soupster for helping her sell her house. She had placed a classified ad in the Soupster’s eponymous publication and had three offers in one week. Of course, blonde and bright-eyed Sally had a house as adorable as she was and the price she asked was more than reasonable.

“Hey, Soupster,” she said to change the subject from agony and hellfire to something less uncomfortable. “Why did you name the Soup the Soup?”

“I didn’t name it,” the Soupster gasped, inexplicably still eating his volcanic entrée, despite the pain.  “Rolene did. She started the Soup and sold it to me.”

Rolene Bently occupied the body of a middle-aged woman, but had the soul of a frontier pioneer. She was a serial entrepreneur, starting several businesses and then selling them when a newer idea consumed her instead.

“She named the Sitka Soup after her grandmother’s soup, which was made out of whatever was on hand right then. In the early days when the Soup was wildly unpredictable, the name made even more sense.”

“Rolene was something else, you bet,” said Sally. “Did you know she was doing a kind of Airbnb before they invented Airbnb?”

The Soupster nodded and chuckled.

“Rolene had a list of people with spare rooms and would hook up lodging-seeking visitors to Our Town,” Sally said. “Then she moved on to cars and boats. At the height of her popularity, Rolene oversaw land and sea fleets worthy of a military operation. She kept it all straight.”

“Where is Rolene now?” asked the Soupster.

“Somewhere in Wyoming,” said Sally.

“No doubt organizing cowboys into some sort of Ranchbnb,” said the Soupster.

The waiter came with their third dish, a creamy sauce with visible pieces of chicken.

“It’s tikka masala – some people call it butter chicken and it’s very mild,” said Sally. “It’s is more popular in Britain now than fish `n chips.”

The Soupster moaned with relief as the creamy sauce coated his overheated mouth. He pushed the spicy vindaloo to the side. “I’ll eat no more of that,” he said.

“Another of Rolene’s obsessions was food waste,” said Sally. “I bet she would be able to find somebody who wanted your remaining vindaloo. I bet you’d be willing to trade the vindaloo for more tikka masala.”

“Or an ice cold glass of milk,” said the Soupster, whose mouth still smarted.

“Rolene would call it Leftoversbnb,” said Sally.

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Our Town – May 18, 2017

| Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff | May 18, 2017

The Soupster learns the past is the past.

The Soupster pulled alongside the drive-up window, credit card in hand, prepared to receive the pomegranate lemonade smoothie he craved. The barista gave him the drink, sweating in its plastic cup, but declined to take the Soupster’s offering of his own plastic.

The barista giggled. “Your drink’s been paid for.”

The Soupster was delighted, but confused. Or confused, but delighted? Point was, he was grinning while flummoxed. He popped the straw into his tart drink and sipped as he drove away.

Who was the generous stranger? Or mischievous friend? This never happened to the Soupster, whose appearance was rough enough, evidently, to ward off strangers handing out free lemonade. He wondered how it would feel to be sitting in a tavern and have the bartender say, “The (lady or gentleman) at the end of the bar would like to buy you a refreshment.” A tiny, wee bit like Publisher’s Clearing House appearing at your door promising a $1,000 a week for life?

“There are those who receive free pomegranate lemonades and those who buy them for others,” thought the Soupster, who considered himself one of the latter.

At lunchtime, the Soupster sat in a booth, studying the menu of one of Our Town’s venerable eateries, the Tin Crab. Chowing down on his favorite geoduck tacos, he pondered the mystery of the free lemonade.

The Soupster was a regular patron at “The T.C.” The vinyl-clad booths hid the Soupster, and he went there when he wanted to go incognito. A quarter century earlier, back in his newspapering days, the Soupster had met with Sharon Stewart at The T.C. after the miraculous recovery of her heirloom wedding ring.

* * *

Sharon had married into an old Our Town family. The ring — diamonds in a gold filigree — had been her husband Robert’s great-grandmother’s. At Sharon’s wedding, the ring felt a little loose on her finger.  Robert was crazily active and, after two years of following his lead, Sharon sculpted herself down to the svelte. Too svelte. The ring fell off her newly-thin finger somewhere in Our Town. Robert’s family was aghast, but too polite to blame Sharon, which was worse for her than being yelled at.

The tragedy brought out the best in the Soupster. He interviewed Sharon and her family and wrote such a heart-rending story that all manner of Our Towners made it their personal responsibility to find the ring. All over Our Town, pedestrians literally beat the bushes. Motorists scrutinized the tarmac of every parking lot. People searched at work, which is where the ring was finally found. Behind a rolling stool in Sharon’s doctor’s office.

Sharon tracked the Soupster to the Tin Crab, where he was enjoying rockfish and beach asparagus ravioli. She hugged and kissed him and showed him where she had used a piece of tape to make the ring tighter.

When the Soupster went to leave, Howard — The T. C.’s owner, bouncer and executive chef – refused to take any money. “You earned the ravioli,” he said.

***

Back in the present, the Soupster finished his geoduck tacos and put on his coat. Thinking about Sharon, he made for the door.

Only to get stopped cold by Howard’s booming baritone. All the diners looked up.

“Hey, Soupster!” Howard called out. “You gonna to pay for that?”

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Our Town – May 4, 2017

| Crazy Theories, Nicknames, Our Town | May 3, 2017

The Soupster hears lies?

“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 sidled his big frame next to 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.

 

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Our Town – April 20, 2017

| Fishing, Jokes, Our Town | April 20, 2017

The locksmith tells the Soupster a fish story.

Did Elijah Langossian really have a glowing aura around his head, wondered the Soupster as he approached him by the lake, or was it just the angle of the setting sun? No, it was him, the Soupster surmised, as he came close enough to see Elijah’s shining visage.

“Soupster!” Elijah said. The sturdy and diminutive locksmith too often carried his troubles on his face. But not today.

“Elijah!” the Soupster countered. “You’re glistening like a king salmon pulled fresh from the water!”

“Funny you should mention fishing,” said Elijah.  “I just had a guy in my shop who’d caught the biggest halibut anybody had ever seen and it was his first time jigging.”

“Oh, what a feeling,” the Soupster sang. “But what does a locksmith have to do with catching fish?”

“That’s what I asked,” Elijah said. “I was just closing up the office and this fella was sitting in the reception room looking like he ate the canary. An older man. Well, older than us.”

Ed. note: Neither Elijah nor the Soupster are spring chickens. Winter turkeys, occasionally.

“So I said, `Hello, Sir. Can I help you with anything?’” Elijah continued.

“`Not really,’ said the guy.

“`Anything to do with locks?’ I asked. `Keys, hasps or spring hinges?’

“The guy shook his head and got this big grin on his face.

“`Well,’ said I, `this is a locksmith’s shop and I’m the locksmith. And I want to go home and eat dinner with the locksmith’s wife. So, if there’s nothing I can help you with…’

“`I went out fishing today,’ the words tumbled from the man. `My grandson-in-law took me.’

“`Well, sir, that’s nice, but…’ I said.

“`I’m a landlubber by preference,’ the man told me. `I encounter fish only when it’s served to me on a plate. But that boy my granddaughter married, he worked on getting me out on his boat like it was his main goal in life. I could only hold out for so long.’

“This story have anything at all to do with locks?” the Soupster asked.

“`The sea was calm,” Elijah recounted that the oldster went on. `My grandson-in-law’s boat was swift. Soon we were at the halibut hole. The others all caught fish, but I was striking out. Then I felt this tug on my arms like I hooked the whole bottom of the ocean or maybe Moby Dick. When I finally landed the fish after an hour or more, my behemoth weighed in at 392 pounds. Three hundred and ninety-two pounds!’

“`That’s fantastic,’ I told him. `But I’m a locksmith. I deal in keys, hasps and spring hinges. Why are you telling me about your 392-pound fish?’

“`I’m telling everybody!’ the old man said.

“And then he was out the door.”

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Our Town – April 6, 2017

| Crazy Theories, Our Town, Villages | April 5, 2017

The Soupster experiences people who gained expertise during childhood.

As an astounded Soupster gawked, little Antoinette Curtis hoisted up a bag of soil that weighed nearly as much as she did, walked the ten yards from the hardware store with it and then placed the bag in the rear of the Soupster’s hatchback. She then performed the same maneuver two more times with two more bags. She was not breathing heavily.

Antoinette was small, but in that wiry way that sometimes belies great physical strength in men. The Soupster, the recent recipient of a back injury, truly enjoyed watching the unlikely occurring before his eyes.

“You’re stronger than you look, Toni,” the Soupster marveled.

“That’s ‘cause I’m from Port Alexander,” Toni said, as she worked.

“Something in P.A.’s drinking water that makes you strong?” asked the Soupster.

“My father made me strong,” Toni said. “Hauling a lot of fish and crab into the boat over the years made me strong. My brother…”

“Your brother made you strong?”

“Hoisting him back into the boat about once a month did,” Toni said. The Soupster bid Toni Curtis farewell.

At the grocery store, the Soupster stood in the checkout line in front of Gene Burnett, a well-regarded small engine mechanic. The Soupster put six cans of cat food onto the moving belt along with his other items.

“Six cans at 89 cents each,” the Soupster said aloud.

“Five dollars and 34 cents,” Gene said immediately.

“They used to be 83 cents each,” said the Soupster.

“Four ninety-eight,” said Gene lickety-split.

“Where’d you learn to multiply?”

“I’m originally from Kake,” said Gene. “We had a teacher there for a few years who was obsessed with multiplication. Made us memorize the multiplication tables way past 12 times 12. Me and some of my friends got really good at it.”

“You sure did,” said the Soupster, as he bid Eugene adieu.

Outside, the Soupster pondered these talented people who’d come to Our Town from other Southeast settlements and enriched our lives.

The Soupster was jolted from his reverie by two dogs fighting in the bed of a pickup truck. They had gotten their leashes tangled. The dogs howled, snarled and cried as they struggled to get free and blamed each other for their predicament. They sounded ferocious.

Then, a burly man wearing XtraTufs and suspenders fearlessly approached the fighting dogs. He straightened their tangled leashes and got them both wagging their tails.

Watching, the Soupster thought, what Southeastern town had produced such a gifted peacemaker? He approached the man and complimented him.

“There must have been a lot of dogs where you grew up,” said the Soupster. “What Panhandle village do you hail from?”

“Panhandle?” said the man, confused. “I hail from Springfield, Illinois.”

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Page 2 of 15 1 2 3 4 15
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What is Our Town?

Our Town is a bi-weekly column that tracks the life of the Soupster and his friends and neighbors.

The Soupster is a long-time resident of Our Town who seems to have all the time in the world to traipse around, visit friends and neighbors and get into minor scrapes.

The first Our Town was published December 22, 1999.

Read Our Towns published before February 2009 HERE.

Who is the Soupster?

The Soupster is a long-time resident of Our Town who seems to have all the time in the world to traipse around, visit friends and neighbors and get into minor scrapes.

Want to submit a piece for Our Town?

Contact us with your idea or completed piece. Our Town’s must be 450-500 words long, take place in or near Sitka and the Soupster must make an appearance, however brief.

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