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With help from a friend, the Soupster sees Our Town with fresh “eyes”.
Originally published November 30, 2006
“Know what I found today?” Marcie said to the Soupster, as the two strode up the sidewalk on the Japonski Island side of the O’Connell Bridge.
“What?” asked the Soupster, on the rare recent day when it wasn’t blisteringly cold. His chin down into his coat, the Soupster was enjoying the spread of warmth on his chest when he breathed. He wasn’t really listening.
“3-D glasses!” Marcie said. “At the bottom of the pantry, beneath all the vole traps and old fishing net. Cardboard with cellophane lenses. One red and one blue lens. Must be fifty years old if a day!”
The Soupster uttered not a peep.
“Remember those old 3-D horror movies, like `House of Wax?’ asked Marcie. “Vincent Price?”
“`House of Wax’ was the first major studio motion picture in 3-D,” said Marcie. “And just about the last.”
“Although a lot of big actors, directors and producers got their start in horror films. Like Charles Bronson was in `House of Wax.’ Must’ve been his big break – at that time he was doing nothing but TV episodes. Played Igor in `House of Wax,’ under the name he also used when he did the TV stuff – Charles Buchinsky.”
“Buchinsky,” came the Soupster’s voice, as though from the vast beyond. “Isn’t Matt Dillon portraying him in some new movie?”
“That’s Charles Bukowski. Bukowski is a Beat writer from Los Angeles,” Marcie said. “Soupster, are you all there today?”
“No, I’m listening,” the Soupster lied. “3-D. I heard you. 3-D. Like my old Viewmaster.”
“Say what?” said Marcie, so the Soupster added, “That may be before your time.” The Soupster had a few years on Marcie.
“Kids toy, looked like plastic binoculars?” prompted the Soupster, but Marcie shook her head.
“You put these round paper disks in the device — the disks contained about a dozen pictures each,” he continued to explain, as the two denizens of our town neared the crest of the bridge. “It was really a fancy slide viewer. Very 3-D. But you could buy these wonderful collections of disk sets like `World Cities’ or `Big Cats’ or `World’s Fair.’ I used to spend hours looking at these scenes and dreaming about seeing them for myself some day.”
This time it was Marcie’s turn not to listen. She stopped abruptly and stood perfectly still, except for her jaw, which slowly gaped open.
For the duo had reached the crest of the bridge’s graceful curve, revealing to their view a big chunk of the panorama that is Our Town. Always beautiful, the mountains on either side of Verstovia were expertly highlighted by white snow and dark forest, a drawing done in pencils. There was downtown, then town, then the inner ring of mere “hills” like Gavan, then simultaneously large and distant mountains crowding for every inch of the Soupster and Marcie’s view.
The Soupster stepped alongside his friend, pleased by the rapturous look on Marcie’s face. “Now, that’s 3-D!” he said.Keep Reading
The Soupster helps a friend hunt for his wallet (back in ancient times, when Our Town had a “video store”).
Originally Published November 21, 2002
“I just can’t figure out where it could be, Soupster!” said Brian, sounding panicky. “It has my credit card, my driver’s license with my address and my Social Security card, with my Social Security number.”
“A truly dangerous combination,” commiserated the Soupster, as he scanned the ground for the black, checkbook length wallet Brian had said he was sure he had put in his jacket pocket when he left the house that morning.
“I know,” Brian moaned, “losing all that personal info sounds like a recipe for identity theft.” He looked at the quickly darkening late afternoon sky. “In a little while we’re going to need a flashlight.”
“Dark or not, you find things with your brain,” mumbled the Soupster.
“You don’t find things with your eyes, you find things with your brain,” the Soupster repeated.
“You find things by remembering what you did and retracing your steps.”
“So where did you go today?” asked the Soupster, as the two men rounded the harbor.
“I went to the grocery store and the video store,” said Brian.
“That shouldn’t be hard to check,” the Soupster encouraged. “Let’s go look.”
At the grocery store the two men squinted before a huge amount of fluorescent light and a surprisingly lively social scene. A school theatrical event had just let out and everyone was getting snacks. Their search turned up nothing and Brian’s brain was dormant on the subject of the missing wallet.
“A friend of mine in college once lost her wallet at the “Pageant of Hugging” celebration at her school,” said the Soupster. “Of course, she got it back the next day after somebody found it and turned it in. Who could be mean enough to keep a lost wallet at the “Pageant of Hugging”?
“And if they were mean enough, the probably wouldn’t be caught dead at something called the
‘Pageant of Hugging’ anyway,” said Brian.
“Precisely,” said the Soupster.
At the video store: nothing. Brian’s brain remained dormant. The Soupster shuffled his feet. The wind blew a mournful howl. The Soupster felt hungry. He told Brian about one time at the gas station, leaving his wallet on the roof of his car and driving off in the rain. A sharp-eyed police officer spied the wallet on the road before anything inside even got wet.
“Let’s get something to eat,” the Soupster said. “Something soft because of my loose tooth. It looks like I’m going to need to a bridge.”
“The bridge!” shouted Brian. “I was on the bridge today!”
He ran ahead. The Soupster could not keep up but stayed close enough to see Brian bend down and pick up something black and checkbook-sized from beside the pedestrian walkway.
“Eureka!” Brian said, sprinting back to the Soupster and then grinning like a fool. “If you’re still hungry, I’m-a-buyin!”Keep Reading
The Soupster’s carpenter-friend is distracted by a “patriarch”.
Originally published November 4, 2004
“Hand me that laser level, will you,” the Soupster said to Charley, a carpenter friend who was helping him. “I want to do a professional job hanging these pictures.”
The phone rang. Looking at the display, the Soupster recognized the number of his old friend Zack, who worked with the National Oceanic and Atmosphere Administration as a meteorologist.
“Soupster!” Zack said. “My ship is in town for repairs for a few days. We’ve been out studying the weather.”
“I didn’t know NOAA was here studying the weather,” said the Soupster, who also didn’t notice Charley listening closely to his side of the conversation. “So, what’s NOAA’s forecast?” he prodded Zack.
The Soupster listened to the answer in silence and then said gravely. “That does seem like a lot of rain, even for here.”
Zack then described in detail the $300,000 NOAA was spending in Our Town, with another $3.9 million scheduled for the vessel’s shakedown in the spring.
“I hear ya,” said the Soupster. “NOAA is building quite a ship.”
If the Soupster had turned around, even for a second, he would have seen the stricken look on Charley’s face. But the next day, he noticed a change in Charley’s behavior. For one thing, the usually fastidious carpenter began missing nailheads and denting beams. After Charley started spending more time apologizing than working, the Soupster suggested that his friend go home.
And the following day, things didn’t get much better. For most of the morning Charley found ways to annoy the Soupster and slow the work. Charley seemed on the verge of saying something, but then so was the Soupster – on the verge of losing patience.
The phone rang in the next room and the Soupster picked it up. “Soupster,” said a cheery Zack. “My entire extended family has come to visit me on the ship while I’m in port!”
“That’s a quite a menagerie you’re bringing on board,” marveled the Soupster out loud.
“My two daughters, my parents, the two cousins and at least two other groups,” said Zack.
“Two by two by two by two,” said the Soupster. “Good luck with all those unpredictable creatures.”
Zack laughed. “Thanks!”
When the Soupster went back to the worksite, Charley was gone. And for the next two days, no Charley. As annoying as Charley had become, he made time go faster. The Soupster went to his friend’s house to find him.
He saw the light on in the biggest shed. He heard sawing and pounding inside. He walked in and saw Charley working on what looked like a huge floating tank.
“Charley, what are you doing?” the Soupster asked.
Charley pointed to the stout craft he was building. “Noah tells you it’s going to rain heavier, he’s building a boat and stocking it with animals! There’s something you’re not telling me, Soupster, and I’m getting ready for it!”
“That’s N-O-A-A,” said the Soupster. “The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration.”
“Oh,” said Charlie, and a long minute passed. “Well, see you tomorrow at work, then.”Keep Reading
The Soupster recounts his “weird” dream in great detail.
Guest Written by Lois Verbaan
It was the time of the year when we get tired of being inside, yet outside, rain was falling so hard that even the newest rain gear was daunted.
“Do you suppose the other hikers made an earlier start?” the Soupster said, knowing he and Lola were probably the only ones in the forest right then.
“Let’s face it, we’re hard core,” Lola said, squinting through the droplets on her glasses.
The Soupster reached into his pocket and extracted a shiny red apple, bit into it and shook his head. “Disappointing,” he mumbled. “Floury.”
“Aah, expectations lead to resentment,” Lola said wisely.
“All that glitters is not gold,” the Soupster declared.
“How about, you can’t judge a book by its cover?” Lola winked. “Say, I ran into Fran downtown yesterday. She tried to convince me to go on The Library Show on Our Town Radio. The problem is, I don’t read much. Spend most of my time making stuff…or hiking in the rain.”
“Well, you Google, don’t you? “the Soupster asked. “What’s even considered a ‘book’ these days? You can find anything you need to know online. Does it cease being a book when you can see the person who’s delivering the info, like those YouTube videos? How do you think I know how to repair my washing machine, replace the rear window wiper motor in my car, and unclog the vent on the dishwasher?” the Soupster said.
“Okay Soupster, I get the picture,” said Lola, laughing. “I do read self-help books, but the minute I go public to discuss them, everyone will know what’s wrong with me.”
“Or themselves,” the Soupster said.
“True! Anyway, the best way to feel normal is to have weird friends,” Lola declared. “That’s why I like you so much, Soupster,” she joked. “Speaking of which, have you been doing any dreaming lately?” she asked.
“Glad you asked, Lola. I had a fabulous dream just last night. I dreamed that I woke up, made my bed and went into the bathroom to comb my hair. When I returned, I found the covers turned down with my laptop lying open by the pillows. Figuring a pixie was messing with me, I found a deck of cards and laid them out to spell the word PIXIE and left the room again. I came back to find the cards reorganized to spell the word DAVID, which I assumed was the pixie’s name. Then I saw him! Perched on the windowsill, he looked like Elf on the Shelf: About 18” tall, a red outfit and hat, ruddy complexion and round nose.
“He and I went to the grocery store where he gave me a bucket of gold, alarming the Scouts as I tipped it out on their bake-sale table.” Just then, the Soupster paused to dig in his pocket for a handful of sunflower seeds. Tossing them into his mouth, he instantly spat them out again. “Eeeww! Raw lentils!” he exclaimed. “I must have topped up my trail mix from the wrong jar in the pantry.”
“Or your elf friend is trying to change your teeth into gold… crowns,” said Lola. “After all, it is that weird time of year!”Keep Reading
The Soupster runs into Avogadro’s Number.
Originally published October 16, 2003
“Ouch,” said the Soupster, as Dr. Gwen pulled on his arm to examine the skin above his elbow. “Don’t yank it off, Doc!”
“You’re a baby,” chided Dr. Gwen, hiking up the Soupster’s sleeve to get a better look. “But I’m glad you came to see me. Moles can signal something far more serious and should be checked by a professional.”
“What about mine?” the Soupster asked, obviously worried.
“You’re fine,” Dr. Gwen said. “It’s just a mole.”
“Whew,” exclaimed the Soupster.
Dr. Gwen chuckled. “You ‘re reminding me of a squirmy old patient from the Lower 48, Soupster,” she said. “In fact, you kind of look like him.”
“You know my theory,” said the Soupster, and Dr. Gwen nodded patiently.
“Every kind of person there is in the world is represented in Our Town,” the Soupster said. “Everyone in Our Town has a bunch of duplicates running around the world.”
“Everybody in the world, ” Dr. Gwen repeated.
“There are 9,000 people in Our Town, every one of them completely different,” the Soupster said, “And there can’t be more than 9,000 kinds of people in the world.”
“There’s 6 billion on Earth at present,” said Gwen. “That means 666,666.6 times as many people in the world as there are in Our Town. Each Our Towner then, is represented by more than half a million duplicates. Don’t you think you’d run into at least one of them on vacation?”
“Sounds likely,” the Soupster. “That is a lot of people — like a ‘mole’ of people — not like the mole on my arm, but the chemistry term – that’s a ‘mole’ too, isn’t it, Doc?”
“It is,” she answered. “A mole in chemistry is defined as the aggregate of 6.02 times 10 to the 23rd power — that’s 6.02 with 23 zeroes after it. But the number of people on Earth – 6 billion** — is only 6 times 10 to the ninth power — only nine zeroes after it. A mole of people would be 100 trillion times the number of people on Earth today. A hundred trillion times six billion people.”
“Wow, a mole is a lot of something, isn’t it?” asked the Soupster.
“Not always,” said Dr. Gwen. “A mole is a lot of units. But if those units are small — like molecules? For instance, see that half-filled bottle of hydrogen peroxide on the shelf? A mole of hydrogen peroxide molecules would weigh in at 34 grams. About an ounce.”
“Then, there’s the moles with big claws for digging underground,” the Soupster remarked idiotically.
“And moles can also be spies in the CIA or KGB,” Doc Gwen said, finishing her exam. “But the moles in chemistry are definitely more distinguished than those that grow on your arm or the ones that dig in the ground or infiltrate spy networks.”
“Why do you say that?” the Soupster asked.
“Among the four types of moles, only chemistry-type moles have their own holiday,” Doc Gwen said. “October 23 is Mole Day. It’s true. Look it up!”
**Ed. Note: When this Our Town was first published in 2003, the pop. of earth was six billion. Today, it is 7.7 billion.Keep Reading
The Soupster endeavors to give accurate advice.
Originally published September 19, 2002
DEAR SOUPSTER: My boyfriend wears a size 9 men’s XtraTuf and I wear a men’s 7, which is the same as a woman’s 9. One day, I accidentally put on my boyfriend’s boots instead of mine and they felt incredibly comfortable. Now I wear them whenever he is away on business. I’m really confused.
SIGNED: ADDLED ON EDGECUMBE
DEAR EDGECUMBE: Have you considered the possibility that your feet are still growing? You did not state your age, but your comfortable access to your boyfriend’s boots indicates you’ve been together for a long time. It’s okay to walk in another’s XtraTufs, clogs, Romeos, moccasins or running shoes. Just make sure to wear clean socks.
DEAR SOUPSTER: What is a “suntan?”
SIGNED: DEEP WOODS JACK
DEAR JACK: Formally, a “tan” refers to the browning of the skin by exposure to the sun. In much of North America, the skin substance called melanin is not just an unused body feature, like an appendix. In some places, special lotion is spread on the body to protect it from the sun and avoid the dreaded “sunburn” – an especially intense form of “suntan.”
DEAR SOUPSTER: Is it more dangerous running with scissors in the rain?
SIGNED: DOING IT ANYWAY ON OSPREY STREET THOUGH MY MOTHER TOLD ME NOT TO
DEAR NOT TO: Yes, definitely.
DEAR SOUPSTER: My girlfriend has taken to wearing my boots. I know because when I get home from a business trip, the boots are all stretched out in funny places. She has her own boots, but she won’t wear them. Should I get her a new pair or give her these?
SIGNED: GENEROUS ON EDGECUMBE
DEAR GENEROUS EDGECUMBE: By all means, buy her a new pair of XtraTufs, if that’s all it will take to solve your problem. But it may be that your girlfriend wants to wear only boots you have worn. How long are these business trips of yours? You must consider whether you want a big boot buy, or to change careers.
DEAR SOUPSTER: If it rains so much in Our Town, how come nobody uses umbrellas?
SIGNED: WET ON WACHUSETTS.
DEAR WET: We are using umbrellas. A little-known fact is that all outerwear worn in Our Town – coats, hats, gloves etc. – is in fact made from recycled umbrellas. If you see three Sitkans, you may be seeing cloth pieces patched together from two dozen umbrellas. They’re just not holding the umbrellas ballooned out over their heads.
DEAR SOUPSTER: Last week a couple stopped in my store on their way to take a business trip together and bought 20 pairs of men’s size 7, 8, 9 and 10 XtraTufs. They cleaned out my entire stock. They said they’d be back. I just wanted to call and say thanks.
SIGNED: BEMUSED ON LINCOLN STREET
DEAR BEMUSED: Glad to be of service.
The Soupster goes back to school.
Submitted by Isaac Hophan
The Soupster gazes into the future.
Originally published August 28, 2008
“I’m sorry, come again?” the Soupster apologized, his mind having wandered from the casual coffee shop conversation he was having.
“I was telling you about my new house addition, which is nearly done,” said Frank, sipping at the opposite side of the table from the Soupster. “I’ve been at it totally steadily for weeks now.”
“An old story, Frank,” said Donna, from an adjacent table, “You’re always up to something on that old shack.” Frank winced.
“A work in progress,” corrected the Soupster, trying to make peace. “What part of your house are you adding onto, Frank?”
“Well, it’s not exactly an addition, per se,” Frank admitted. “More like a kind of wanigan. And it’s on the garage, not on the actual house.” He stuck his face in his cup.
Donna looked triumphant, so the Soupster turned to her. How’s business for you?” he asked.
“You mean, with unreliable credit card access, unpredictable staff and tax and labor laws that change every five minutes?” Donna said. “Fine.”
“Happy to be coming to the end of the summer?” the Soupster asked.
“Yes and no,” Donna said. “I have some projects – remodeling and stock changes – planned for when I can get to them. Ultimately, it’ll be nice not to be overrun with tourists – sweet and plentiful may they always return in great numbers!” She rapped her knuckles on the wood tabletop for luck and the Soupster laughed.
“That business is a work in progress for you, too,” he said.
“Newspaper?” a boy of about 11 called out from the doorway.
“I’ll take one,” said Frank, rifling his pockets for change as the boy approached.
The Soupster had known the boy since he was a very little kid. A great feature of Our Town, the Soupster mused, was the chance to see kids grow up around you. Kids you aren’t responsible for, that you don’t have to fuss over.
This one the Soupster had seen win the Hoop Shoot, seen him grinning gap-toothed on the cover of the paper in front of a snowman. Had seen him wearing a fluorescent vest and picking up litter along the road. But, mostly, the Soupster had seen the boy fanning out from the mass of kids by the newspaper office with a stack under his arm, heading right for the likely customers loafing in coffee shops in the afternoon, like Frank, Donna and the Soupster.
The kid would be starting school again within days. He’d be in middle school now? Anyway, mused the Soupster, this boy would be graduating high school in the blink of an eye. And then the Soupster would be walking down Lincoln Street and some formidable-looking attorney or non-profit CEO, a guy in a construction helmet or accomplished artist, would accost him to say `Didn’t I used to sell newspapers to you in the coffee shop?’”
“Whatever are you thinking about now?” Donna asked, noting the Soupster’s furrowed brow.
“Works in progress,” the Soupster answered. “Works in progress.”Keep Reading
The Soupster muses about “silver linings”.
Originally published September 9, 2004
Even a reliable car will die if you don’t put gas in it.
As the Soupster drove toward downtown, the dreaded “check engine” light of his car flicked on. A moment later, all the other little icons on his dashboard lit up — the oil light, the battery light, the low fuel light. These symbols are called “Idiot Lights” because if you neglect a problem until they go on, you’ve waited too long. To keep track of the gas, you get not just a light but a whole gauge. So, if you let your car run out of gas, you’re a super idiot.
The Soupster’s sedan rolled to a stop.
Now, if you run out of gas on this country’s great prairies, you could be forgiven. If you happen to miss the “Next Gas 42 Miles” sign on Route 80, you could be forgiven. But it’s pretty hard to forgive running out of gas in Our Town – on land at least.
So, the Soupster did not forgive himself as he pulled over to the side of the road on a Thursday afternoon, right at quitting time.
He had no sooner shut off the car than someone came by. A jogger. With a baby in a skookum three-wheeled, all-terrain stroller.
For a second, the Soupster thought the jogger would be mad at him for parking too close to the pedestrian path, but she immediately offered the use of her cell phone. So, the Soupster called his friend Don and asked him to bring some gas.
The Soupster thanked the jogger, who jogged happily off. Replaced then by a cloud of dust, as a huge pick-up pulled in, practically dislodging chunks of asphalt with its outsized tires. The Soupster’s friend Moe’s son Larry.
“Need help?” he asked, and the Soupster explained that gas was on the way.
As Larry pulled out, Curly and Jo, who the Soupster had been meaning to call, pulled over. And, seeing the others, Adam and his little son Abel pulled over and joined the group.
“Which of you needs help?” Adam asked, and Jo laughed when they were told, “Neither! But thanks!”
Curly and Jo went back to their car, but the Soupster stood by the roadside, signaling that he was okay to the half dozen acquaintances who passed by.
Then, on the other side of the road, the Soupster’s Absolute Worst Enemy stopped and asked if he needed help. When told the Soupster was out of gas, AWE went round to the back of his car and emerged with gas-can-and-triumphant-smile.
The Soupster felt beads of sweat drip down his neck. Do you accept help from your Absolute Worst Enemy? What is the rule?
Mercifully, the arrival of Don’s Jeep kept the Soupster from having to answer that. He called to AWE, “Thanks, but I’m okay now!” with real relief.
Don handed the Soupster a full gas can. “Boy, wanna see everybody you know?” the Soupster said. “Just run out of gas in Our Town, on the side of the road, at quitting time!”Keep Reading
The Soupster riffs with a jazzy friend.
Guest Written by Rachel Ramsey
The Soupster was perusing his favorite thrift shop’s assortment of kitchenware when he heard his name from across the shop.
“Soupster! I’ve been thinking of you all week!” He recognized the joyful voice of his pal and fellow jazz fan, Liz, who approached him excitedly through the crowd.
“Oh yeah? What kind of trouble are you cookin’ up, dear?”
“Ain’t Misbehavin’, Soupster.” Liz replied. “Have you seen the recently discovered short video clip of Louis Armstrong as a young teenager?” Liz knew the Soupster liked his jazz early and hot. Nothing later than 1929 was his jazz preference.
“I did catch that! A New Orleans newspaper boy flashes his grin, and experts have agreed it is likely Armstrong. 104 year-old video – very cool, indeed.”
“Well I’ve been on a solid Armstrong kick since seeing that clip, buddy, and ever since I feel I’ve got the world on a string!”
Liz’s laugh was as infectious as her joyous and kind, ear-to-ear smile – freely shared with all she encountered. Not unlike Satchmo himself, the Soupster thought. Determined to replace his shabby compost bucket, he continued to eye the goods.
“Frankly, Soupster, I cannot stop referencing Armstrong song titles, and it’s driving my kids a bit batty. But I’m entertained, and honestly, I can’t help lovin’ dat man!” Their combined robust laughter filled the shop, turning only a few tourists’ heads.
“Good for you, Liz,” the Soupster chuckled. “Since his career spanned 50 years, that should keep you going strong for quite a while, though if you’re not careful, Someday you’ll be sorry. Before you know it, your hubby will be bombarding you with all the Zappa lyrics you’re oblivious to.”
Grateful that her fellow jazz lover grokked her silly joy, Liz giggled, “We’ve a fine romance, Soupster and It takes two to tango!”
“Aha! There it is!” The Soupster triumphantly exclaimed while pulling from the top shelf a 3-gallon bucket. “Have any shows on the horizon, Liz?” he asked. Liz was a volunteer at their community radio station.
“Sure do – I’m on tomorrow afternoon. Though I did miss my last slot,” Liz explained, “I caught a bug.”
“Gut Bucket Blues?” joked the Soupster.
Liz laughed, “Not quite. Speaking of buckets,” she pointed to the Soupster’s score, “What gives?”
“Well, it’s too good to be true, but I need this because my old Bucket’s got a hole in it. No lie.”
Liz couldn’t help herself, “What can you say – You’re just a lucky so and so.”
The Soupster paid for his bucket and began to mosey out of the crowded shop. He spotted the clouds above parting in the north, allowing sunbeams to permeate through the thinning overhead.
He turned around and called out, “I’m beginning to see the light, Liz! It’s on the sunny side of the street!”
Liz’s enormous smile returned as she laughingly shot back, “What a wonderful world!”Keep Reading
The Soupster shares his learning about eagle feathers.
Originally Published July 24, 2003
The first time the Soupster passed his neighbor Gem, she was standing behind her push mower in the middle of her small lawn. The Soupster waved and Gem cocked an eyebrow and shook her head.
The second time the Soupster passed, Gem was standing in exactly the same spot, with exactly the same quizzical look on her face.
“Gem?” asked the Soupster, strolling over. “You okay?”
“Soupster!” said Gem, as if snapping from a trance. “Look here,” she said, pointing down.
The Soupster did as asked and spied first Gem’s boots, then the head of the push mower and finally – obviously the object of Gem’s attention — two bald eagle feathers, one white and one brown, lying in the grass.
“I can’t mow over them, Soupster, they’re so beautiful,” Gem said. “But if I pick them up I’ll be guilty of a federal crime!”
“Calm down, Gem,” said the Soupster.
“But Soupster, nobody is allowed to possess bald eagle feathers!”
“You’re right, Gem,” the Soupster said. “There are laws against possessing any of the parts, including feathers, of bald and golden eagles. Live or dead. But that doesn’t mean you can’t ever touch the feathers.”
The Soupster bent over and picked the feathers up. The white one was fine and delicate, with a bit of down at its base, fluffy and ready to fly away on the merest breeze. The brown feather was more substantial, its firm stalk suggesting the heft of a writing quill.
“Native Americans and scientists are allowed to petition for eagle feathers – or other parts,” said the Soupster. “For ceremonial or scientific reasons. There’s a place in Colorado – the National Eagle Repository – and another one called The National Wildlife Repository, that are run by the federal government. They will hold onto any animal parts people are not legally allowed to possess – from skins from bears unlawfully hunted to lizard skins not allowed in the U.S. and seized by Customs.”
“Wow,” said Gem.
“My friend at Fish and Wildlife says there’s a six-month waiting list of thousands of Native Americans who have applied for eagle feathers,” the Soupster continued. “For other parts, the wait can easily be a couple of years. Maybe these feathers could go to someone on the list.”
Gem stepped away from the mower. She took the feathers from the Soupster’s hand and studied them. “It’s amazing to think,” she said, “the something people all over the country might wait months or years for is fluttering onto my lawn.”
“Americans who come upon eagle feathers are asked to mail them to the repository,” the Soupster explained. “My friend says that in Our Town, we should just turn them over to our state Fish and Game folks and they’ll see they get to the right place.”
“Thanks, Soupster. I can go back to mowing now,” Gem said. “Anything I can do for you?”
“Well, Gem,” the Soupster said. “After you finish your lawn, how about you come over and finish mine?”Keep Reading
The Soupster has a “bird” sighting.
Originally published May 6, 2010
The Soupster awoke to the sound of birds – early birds. He heard a number of cars pull into the neighborhood. The engines stopped and car doors creaked open. Next came excited squawks and warbling calls, as the early birds recognized each other and descended on their destination.
“Lydia’s Moving Sale!” The Soupster’s eyes popped open and he leaped from his bed.
His beloved long-time neighbor was re-locating to Hawaii to be with her son Hank and his family, who had already remodeled their lanai into an apartment. A couple of years earlier, Lydia’s daughter-in-law Jackie had come into an inheritance, so Hank had closed his not-so-successful Our Town nautical pest extermination business (“Swimming Rats Our Specialty”). Having misjudged their opportunities in the 49th State, Hank and Jackie had decided to give the 50th a whirl.
The Soupster quickly donned his clothes – grateful for the new 21st Century rule that men no longer needed to comb their hair – and hurried over to Lydia’s.
His neighbor’s modest home was overrun with early birds. But of course! For Lydia had had the temerity to put an ad in the previous evening’s newspaper: “Aloha Moving Sale! Everything must go! Items free or you set the price. 9am-1pm. No early birds.”
Nothing inflamed an early bird’s lust for cheap but serviceable household items like those last three words. “No early birds?” he thought. “Really, Lydia?” He looked at his watch. It was just past 8:30.
At the front door, Lydia was negotiating with one of the early birds, who held a DVD player and a lamp. The early bird held cash, but Lydia pushed his hand back. “It’s okay to take them for free,” she insisted.
“I’m sure you could use the money,” said the bird, placing a $50 bill in her hand and hurrying out the door.
“It’s been like this,” said Lydia, acknowledging the Soupster. “I tell them they can have the stuff for free. I must look pitiful or something, because they keep forcing me to take money.”
“Why don’t you want to take money?”
“I feel like I should pay them,” said Lydia. “To take this stuff away. You know how much you accumulate in 30 years? I was going to take everything to the White Elephant, but do you know how many trips that would have made? This way the buyers come right to me. Cuts out the middleman.”
Lydia turned her attention to a bird holding a sewing basket, a coffee maker and two tin buckets. More early birds arrived as the Soupster surveyed the scene. Lydia’s household was being demolished peck by peck, as surely as ravens worrying a dead salmon.
But Lydia seemed happy, the Soupster surmised. “Hey Lydia, what are you going to spend all this unexpected money on?” he asked.
“Oh, it all goes to the White E.,” said Lydia. “Do you know how much trouble this is saving me? By cutting out the middleman??”Keep Reading
The Soupster contributes to French Enlightenment.
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 large 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 black birds pulled the items out again. As to who was winning, it was a toss-up.
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 pick-up day like you were supposed to?” 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 smelly fish zat attracted ze bear!”
“Not such a “heaven on zis 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 capitalize on a mistake zat any creature makes. 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 chats with an heir to Jane Goodall.
Originally published May 24, 2001
The Soupster stretched out his legs in the molded airport seat, prepared to meditate, nibble on TicTacs and wait for the plane to land. But a visitor appeared beside him, a white-haired fellow who carried a Nat Geo with chimps on the cover.
“Is it Dunkirk? I wondered,” said the fellow, interrupting the Soupster’s reverie.
“I beg your pardon?” said the Soupster.
“I was taking my early morning constitutional, and I saw the most curious thing – throngs of boats heading under the bridge. I’ve never seen so many boats heading out at one time!”
“It’s the Salmon Derby,” said the Soupster.
“A pinkish hat?” said the anthropologist incredulously.
“No, no,” said the Soupster. “It’s a big fishing contest that’s held every year. Everybody from the luckiest fisherman to the most accursed, tries his or her luck to catch the biggest king salmon and net the biggest prize, which has been beaucoup cash. Plus, bragging rights.”
“Ah, yes,” said the anthropologist. “A spring fertility festival. The ritual rewarding of the most successful harvester to ensure everyone’s enthusiasm for the long season ahead. I once worked with a group of people whose `prize’ was given for digging up the largest tapioca root.”
“Who are you calling a tapioca root?” said a voice from the wall above the anthropologist, who turned in the direction of the sound.
The voice belonged to a 70+ lb. king salmon mounted on a plaque. His pointed face jutted out and lips moved like any number of audio-animatronic singing fish. The anthropologist, therefore, did not realize he was in the presence of an authentic airport poltergeist.
The Soupster, however, backed up a few steps and watched passively.
“Interactive,” said the anthropologist, indicating the fish. “Very clever.”
“I’m very attractive,” said the salmon, peering down on the anthropologist’s spreading Male Pattern Baldness. “Which is more than I can say for vous.”
“You speak French?” said the anthropologist.
“I speak salmon,” said the king salmon. “You call it what you want.”
“You seem confident, firm in your role,” the anthropologist told the king salmon. “Rooted.”
“Well, I’m mounted to this plaque,” the wisenheimer king salmon said. “But I wasn’t always.
“Once, I roamed the North Pacific with packs of my friends, thousands of miles past undersea wonders too numerous to utter. I’ve seen orcas cresting at sunset in Prince William Sound, great pods of stellar sea lions off Point Hope. I swam strong and free for seven long years,” and here the fish chuckled, “until I met up with a crafty denizen of the surface. A sly fisherman and former school principal who knew just how to lure a seven-year old. We won the Salmon Derby together that year back in the last century. Well, the money is spent, I’m mounted up here and it’s all a stale old fish story now.”
“Any regrets?” asked the anthropologist.
“Well, if I hadn’t been caught, I’d’ve had kids,” said the salmon. “You know us salmon. We like to have 100 million of them each!”Keep Reading
The Soupster chats with one busy mom.
Originally published May 1, 2003
Connie’s three children scattered to the ice cream section of the store. Lugging an overflowing supermarket basket in the crook of her arm, she stopped at a display of high-priced garlic-stuffed Aegean olives where there happened to stand a Soupster.
“Happy Mother’s Day,” he said, glancing toward the big freezers. “Your kids look happy.”
“They sure seem to be,” Connie nodded. “Strange, since I had them at work all morning painting the garden fence and all the porch railings.”
“Quite the day for it,” said the Soupster, this time doing the nodding.
And indeed, the Soupster’s pupils were just able to dilate again after a day of squinting at the nearly prehistoric sunshine of the morning. In Our Town, the infrequent Sun seems on rare days to have the quality of the Sun of an earlier Earth, before a protective atmospheric ozone layer had even formed. A sharp, almost painful amount of light, without the softening rain and clouds that usually roll their blanket over all.
“There’s such pressure to do things when the sun does come out,” he told Connie. “I mean you never know how long before you’re going to have the chance again.”
“Today was incredibly busy,” Connie said. “Woke up early. Saw the big yellow orb. Woke the kids. Fed them. Put them to work. Painting, painting, painting.”
“What was the rush?” asked the Soupster.
“Piano recital,” said Connie. “So – painted, painted, painted all morning. Then washed, washed, washed all three kids free of paint. Fed them again. Dressed them for the recital. Drove them to the recital. Soothed their stage fright. Listened attentively. Gave them a little critical, but 90 percent supportive feedback after they played.”
“Now you’re getting stuff to make dinner?”
“The ingredients,” Connie said. “The kids tell me `they’re’ going to cook me an `extra special’ Mother’s Day meal.”
“Which will end up twice as much work for you?” said the Soupster.
“You’re learning,” Connie laughed and punched the Soupster lightly on the bicep. He felt an overwhelming fondness for this hard-working Mom.
“Your kids don’t know your real Mother’s Day present was the piano recital?” said the Soupster as he bid his friend goodbye.
“Are you kidding, Soupster?” Connie said, pushing him away. “My Mother’s Day present was getting the fence painted!”Keep Reading
The Soupster hears about the “Mad Captain”.
Originally published April 21, 2005
The Soupster mistook for a friend the stranger to Our Town he saw occupying a bench above the harbor.
“You look just like him,” the Soupster apologized, when he got closer. “This guy you look like has lived in Our Town forever.”
“I’m Richard Labb,” said the stranger, shaking the Soupster’s hand. “Visiting, er, Your Town, from Canada on a tour of the Inside Passage. Except Your Town is not very Inside anything, is it?”
“Sounds like you just took a boat trip,” guessed the Soupster.
“A fishing charter,” said Labb. “Before today I thought I had pretty good sealegs. But twice on the charter I made a personal contribution – over the side – to Davy Jones.”
“Rough charter?” the Soupster said.
Labb laughed, a touch maniacally. “You don’t know Captain Leonardo?”
“I don’t” said the Soupster.
“He has strange rituals that he insists his customers perform on board,” Labb said.
“After we left the harbor and were heading out – as soon as we got by those big rocks near the airport runway – Captain Leonardo insisted that I and the three other clients on board remove our socks and allow him to lock the socks up in a little box he kept by the helm,” Labb said.
“Any explanation?” asked the Soupster.
“Said it would help us catch fish,” said Labb. “Leonardo also said that when he served sandwiches for lunch.”
“Sandwiches seem pretty normal,” commented the Soupster.
“He made us eat the sandwiches from the outside in, crusts first,” said Labb. “All the way around the outside of the sandwich until we had a little soft disk of the center left. Captain Leonardo watched us closely as we ate and made sure we all did it. `Important to catch the fish!’ Leonardo insisted.”
“A lot of people have odd rituals they use to attract fish, but Captain Leonardo does seem a bit like Captain Crunch,” admitted the Soupster.
“But the worst, the absolute worst, was Captain Leonardo’s constant rhyming and word games,” Labb said. “He did not shut up for one single second. When Captain Leonardo found out I was from Canada, he started calling me `Labrador Labb.’ When he found out I was a veterinarian, he asked me if I had ever tested the blood of a retriever. When I said I had, he went berserk.
“`Labb from Labrador’s Labrador retriever blood testing laboratory,’ chanted Captain Leonardo. `Labb’s Lab Lab Labs.’ After about half an hour, he made started making us all repeat, `Labb’s Lab Lab Labs.’ He had similar sayings for everyone else, too.”
“Well, you’re back on dry land now,” the Soupster said soothingly. “And you never have to take one of Captain Leonardo’s charters ever again.”
“Actually, I’ve booked a trip with him later in the summer to troll for coho,” said Labb.
“Why? Leonardo drove you crazy,” said the Soupster.
“I know,” said Labb. “But you should see all the fish we caught!Keep Reading
The Soupster offers Springtime advice.
Originally published March 30, 2000
The Soupster had been dreaming a lot lately about doing chores.
He thrashed around in bed starting around 2am and imagined he was fixing the gutters on his house, cleaning the trash out of the culvert and washing the old salt crust off the bottom of his car before the poor thing rusted out completely.
The Soupster felt he needed to paint the part of his house that a big storm had peeled raw the previous winter. That nice drainage ditch that funneled water away from where everybody walks? Well, it needed to be re-dug. And somehow, a cat had gotten below the deck and left several calling cards.
Springtime chores, thought the Soupster, are the 180-degree opposite to New Year’s resolutions.
On the flush of a brand new year, people think big. Our expansive minds wander to-and-fro to find the perfect human we want to be. New Year’s resolutions are grandiose — and too often forgotten or not kept.
Springtime chores, on the other hand, are humble. Calling out to us each time we leave the house or apartment, every time we put the key in the ignition or pass a sign warning us that on Tax Day we also have to have our tires changed.
They are humble, but insistent. Chores murmur and pull at your socks as you walk by. They get louder the longer the days become, as March passes into April and April into May. And their voices can get mighty shrill if you ignore their early Spring call and postpone everything until summer.
The Soupster came up with a “How-To” guaranteed to get those chores done (by doing the opposite of New Year’s resolutions):
1. Do not throw a huge party for a million friends immediately before starting on your chores.
2. Go slow. Rome wasn’t built in a day.
3. Firm, steady pressure gets the job done.
4. Do not announce you are starting your chores by spinning colorful noisemakers.
New Year’s is the calendar start of the year and the time we make big deals with ourselves. But April, thought the Soupster, is the true start of the new year.
April really means that winter’s over. Easter, Passover, eager young shoots pushing through the soil, etc. April’s not the time for big deals, it’s for paying back debts already incurred.
So get out the paint brush!Keep Reading
The Soupster shops for shoes.
Originally published March 15, 2001
“See,” the Soupster said to the sales clerk. “It’s way too big.”
The Soupster dangled his foot in front on himself and, indeed, his shoe — a rubber-and-leather waterproof slip-on — threatened to fall to the carpet.
“I don’t understand,” said the Soupster. “Surely I’m not shrinking? I’ve bought this style of shoe for years — always a size 9.”
“And now the nine is too big?” the sales clerk tried to confirm.
“Look,” said the Soupster and with a mere curl of his toe let the shoe drop off completely.
“Maybe they got a different manufacturer,” ventured the clerk.
“Or maybe they decided on a different sizing system from another country where people’s feet are smaller,” volunteered a young man whom the clerk and the Soupster noticed now, holding a heavy black work boot in one hand and a pair of beige leather sandals in the other.
“Actually,” said the clerk, “in that country you imagine the resident’s feet would be larger. The Soupster’s shoe is too big, not too small.”
“When I first moved to Our Town,” said the Soupster, “everything seemed really small. The roads and stores and houses. Then, it was like I moved into some new area of consciousness and suddenly the road didn’t seem to end too soon at all. It ended at just the right place.”
“I know what you mean,” commented the sales clerk. “For the first five or so years I lived here it seemed like I was always feeling short of people. Because I kept seeing the same people over and over again. Then, like you say — some new level — and I realized that because I knew so much about everybody, there were actually more people in my life. Not less.”
“Wow,” said the young man. “I had this cousin once from Tacoma. He was younger than me. You know how when you don’t see someone for a while, like since they were a kid, they look really big the next time you see them?”
The Soupster and sales clerk both bit. “Yes,” they said.
“Well, this cousin of mine kept shrinking,” said the young man. “Every time I’d see him he’d look a little smaller. He was always small, but he started to get really, noticeably smaller.”
“Did you share your perception with him or anybody else?” asked the clerk.
“Nah, I didn’t want to bum anybody out,” said the young man. “You know, in case he really was shrinking. Maybe he was always standing behind a dining room table or a television or something. But however it happened, I started to see only the top half of him. Like from the waist up.”
“What happened then?” prompted the Soupster.
“He disappeared completely,” said the young man wistfully.
“You mean, he totally dissolved into nothingness?” said the shoe clerk.
“No, he went to college in Arizona,” said the young man. “And he started hanging around with a crowd way too crazy for me.”Keep Reading