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Comments Off on Our Town – November 16, 2017

Our Town – November 16, 2017

| Fall, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Seasons | November 16, 2017

The Soupster sees light being lent.

The knock on the Soupster’s door turned out to be Bob, the Soupster’s new neighbor, who wanted to borrow a flashlight. Bob needed to do some outdoor plumbing and, new to Our Town, he still felt uncomfortable about running electrical cords outside in the rain.

“Cleve,” the Soupster told Bob. “Cleve is your man.”

Cleve was another of the Soupster’s neighbors and known for his lights. Cleve had gasoline-powered pedestal klieg lights as well as key chain lights whose bulbs were guaranteed beyond eternity. Cleve had lights he could strap to his head, his shoulder, the crook of his arm and his shoes. He had old diving lights that ran on massive lantern batteries, one than ran on a fuel cell the size of a dime and one that you could crank to operate.

The passage between the Soupster’s house and Cleve’s ran through some thick brush, and the Soupster could see Bob cringing from the even deeper dark that cloaked the path.

“Light,” said the Soupster. “Can you even remember the middle of the summer, when it never got dark? We’re paying for that now.”

The light-starved Bob took up the conversation; after all isn’t food — or the opposite of it — the favorite subject of famished people? “The desert is dark, notably dark,” he said. “A winter I spent outside Shiprock, Arizona taught me that. But wet dark is somehow worse.”

“Wet dark is like double dark,” the Soupster agreed. “Can be dark on the ocean.”

“On a tour of Alcatraz prison, I volunteered to be locked in solitary confinement,” said Bob. “When they closed the door, that was the darkest I could imagine.”

“Cleve’s yard is equipped with motion-sensor lights all over the place,” said the Soupster. “Don’t be startled. I can show you where you can just wave your hand a little out in front of you and set off the whole array.”

On the edge of Cleve’s lawn, the Soupster waved his arm a little out in front of him and the whole area blazed into daytime. Awash now, the two men staggered, blinking, up the walk. Cleve was already at his front door, tipped off by the lights.

“Can Bob check out one of your flashlights to do some plumbing?” the Soupster asked, indicating the new neighbor.

“Sure,” said Cleve, who disappeared briefly. He came back with a three lights — a carabiner micro-light, a waterproof million-candlepower portable searchlight and about six feet of luminescent piping. “Use the piping for brightening up the area where you are working,” he explained.

As Bob stood examining the lights, the Soupster turned to Cleve. “Poor guy,” whispered the Soupster. “This is his first November.”

“He’ll do okay,” Cleve said. “It’ll soon be Thanksgiving and the city lights will go up on the utility poles and the people in the stores and houses will start decorating.”

“Can I borrow all three lights?” asked Bob.

“Better than cursing the darkness,” said Cleve. “For sure.”

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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 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 – 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 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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Comments Off on Our Town – May 18, 2017

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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Comments Off on Our Town – June 30, 2016

Our Town – June 30, 2016

| Jokes, Our Town, Relationships, Relatives | June 30, 2016

The Soupster hears relatively bad puns.

It wasn’t easy to make the Soupster feel like the stuffy serious one, but Cousin Rob had always had just that effect on him.

“The great ferry Malaspina,” Rob pronounced, as soon as the first-time visitor to Our Town stepped off the ramp to meet up with Cousin Soupster. “The name derives from the Russian word for `bad spine’ right?”

“Actually, Malaspina is named after a glacier which is named after an Italian explorer named Alessandro,” said the Soupster.

“Then why isn’t the ferry named `Alessandro?’” asked Cousin Rob.

“That’s his first name,” said the Soupster.

“Anyway,” said Rob. “It’s so good to be in Alaska. `Alaska,’ that’s probably Italian, too. Italian for `everyone should ask.’”

The Soupster had been trapped in this routine before. His parents were very close friends with Rob’s. Cousin Rob was eight years older and, when enlisted as the Soupster’s babysitter, would torture him with bad puns. “Protuberance,” he remembered Rob saying, “It’s Latin for `professional potato-eating insect.’”

They passed the spiral white warning sirens along HPR and the Soupster heard himself falsely answering Cousin Rob’s innocent question of “What are those?”

“They’re fluorescent streetlights,” the Soupster jived. “They save a bunch of electricity and they last five times as long as a regular streetlight.”

They passed Maksoutoff St., which Rob guessed was Russian for “to force a businessman to remove his suit.”

At the airport, Cousin Rob had such crazy definitions for everything that the Soupster lost it.

When Rob pointed to the flashing yellow light the airline used to tell passengers their luggage was coming, the Soupster said, “It’s a tsunami warning beacon, Cousin Rob. This is important. If you ever see it go off, start running for high ground.”

“Tsunami, that reminds me,” said Cousin Rob and asked directions to the men’s room.

As he waited for his cousin to return, the Soupster thought about how churlish he had been. Cousin Rob was just excited and interested in Our Town and who wouldn’t be? The Soupster just needed to calm down and play the good host.

As if on cue, the rotating beacon starting spinning, spilling a yellow strobe light on everyone and everything. Cousin Rob ran up and grabbed the Soupster’s arm.

“Tsunami,” said Rob. “A Boston term meaning `take Norman to court.’

 

 

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Comments Off on Our Town – June 16, 2016

Our Town – June 16, 2016

| Our Town, Relationships, Relatives, Youth | June 16, 2016

The Soupster hears about eating with your hands.

The Soupster watched his friend Rory chew raw broccoli with his mouth wide open. Then, Rory used his hands to pick up another piece of broccoli, dip the stalk into a reddish brown spicy sauce and add the morsel to the slurry he was already working in his mouth.

“Rory,” said the Soupster. “You are one disgusting eater.”

The two men stood at the island in Rory’s kitchen, grazing on the ingredients that would be their broccoli beef in about an hour. Rory was showing the Soupster how to cook it. “I come from a long line of disgusting eaters,” Rory admitted. “My grandfather and my great-grandfather were notorious for eating with their mouths open. And burping very loud. My great granny used to make my great grandpa eat in a separate room from the guests.”

“Hard core,” said the Soupster. “I noticed you left your father off that list. How did he eat?”

“My father was a gentle man,” said Rory. “The mouth breathers were all on my mother’s side.”

“Yup, my mother was the colorful one in my family,” he continued. “I was a little ashamed of my quiet father. No, not ashamed. Just that I never expected very much from him.”

“What do you mean?” the Soupster asked.

“I had a lot of friends growing up and their fathers always seemed to loom large in their lives,” said Rory. “They might love their fathers or fear them or both, but they worried about how their fathers were going to react to something they did. I never worried about what my father would think of what I did.”

“Maybe you thought your father was fair and you didn’t need to be concerned,” the Soupster said.

“No,” Rory said sadly. “I just never thought about him.”

Then he got animated. “There was this one time I remember being really proud of my father. At a chicken dinner.

“My little league team took first place one sea­son and all the kids were invited to an awards banquet to get their trophies. Me and my Dad went. My family didn’t belong to a country club or go to a lot of weddings, so the whole get-dressed-up-to-eat thing was off my radar.

“The shindig was held in the dining room of a fraternal organization – I forget which animal. A bunch of long tables — everybody sat grouped with their coach and team. The first course served was your standard fruit cup and the headman of Little League welcomed everyone while we ate the cubes of canned pears and peaches with little spoons. Next came an invo­cation, more speeches and a course of soup with large spoons.

“Then they served the oven-baked chicken course. We were wearing ties, so naturally we all thought we had to eat the chicken with a knife and a fork. But none of the kids and only about a third of the adults managed to eat. Most of the kids just flailed around.

“My father watched all this in his quiet way. To the left and the right of him, people struggled with their knife and fork. And then my father reached down and picked up the chicken with his hands – he had a thigh, I think – and he chomped down. Etiquette said you only have permission to eat fried chicken with your hands. But my father didn’t care. Within three minutes, everybody in that banquet hall was happily chomping on the baked chicken in their hands.

“My father was a pretty good guy,” he concluded.

 

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Comments Off on Our Town – June 2, 2016

Our Town – June 2, 2016

| Newcomers, Our Town, Relationships | June 1, 2016

The Soupster overeats.

In all the events in Our Town’s long history, few went as unnoticed as the Soupster’s arrival in the final decades of the 20th Century.

After much research and creative shopping prior to his arrival, the Soupster had largely succeeded in his quest to resemble a bona fide inhabitant of Our Town. On Day One and Day Two he blended in like a chameleon. On Day Three, however, the Soupster made a fatal mistake: he stepped out of his apartment in blue rubber boots.

How could the Soupster have realized before he got to Our Town that nearly half the population would be wearing brown boots? Was there a brown boot cult? Were people really staring at his boots or was it his imagination?

In those early days the Soupster absorbed many new words and phrases. “Way out the road” referred to a place that was no more than five miles away. “Skookum” meant either “awesome” or “fitting” or both. “Butt cheek” might refer to a human posterior or a savory delicacy found on a flatfish’s face.

“That there is a new one on me,” the Soupster frequently thought.

On one of those days, the Soupster noticed a banner outside a waterfront hotel beckoning in the breeze. “Sumptuous Buffet Lunch Brunch” it promised. The price was stiff, but the Soupster calculated that he could get several meals down on one sitting and come out well in the end. (ed. note: T.M.I.?)

Once inside, the Soupster saw that “sumptuous” had not been an exaggeration.

Crab legs, king salmon, prime rib, Eggs Benedict, abalone – and that was only the protein! The richness of the Alaska food chain was more than represented on the L-shaped table covered completely with silver food warmers.

The Soupster paid the stiff price and found a seat. He wanted to collect his thoughts. To get three meals out of one sitting required a strategy to succeed. You couldn’t just fill up on mashed potatoes and water and hope to escape hunger pangs 36 hours later!

The Soupster joined two people already filling their plates and starting doing the same. His mouth watered and his stomach growled. With his plate, he returned to his seat. But he chanced a glance back and noticed a sign that he read as: “One at a Time Only.”

This was strange. Buffets are designed to accommodate numerous people grazing at once. Why the limit? But there had been a lot of strange things the Soupster had seen and heard on his first few days in Our Town.

So the Soupster waited until the buffet line was empty and then he went up and filled a plate again. A waitress looked at him quizzically. Three more times the Soupster waited until the line was empty and then hurried up before anyone showed. Three times the waitress glared at him.

As he sat down with his fourth refill, the waitress walked up to his table.

“Nice boots, unusual color,” she remarked. “Get enough to eat?”

The Soupster nodded, his mouth already full.

“You read the sign that says `One Time Only,’ right?” she said.

“One Time Only?” said the Soupster, sputtering out baked red snapper. “I thought it said, `One At a Time Only.’”

“Well, I thought I’d heard it all,” said the waitress, ‘but that’s a totally new one on me.”

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Comments Off on Our Town – May 19, 2016

Our Town – May 19, 2016

| Our Town, Relationships | May 19, 2016

The Soupster experiences the perfect combination.

Originally published May 17, 2007

The Soupster’s head throbbed as he tried to remember what it was he had just been thinking about. He was walking down Lincoln Street, happy with himself and his thought, when it took flight. “I hate when that happens,” the Soupster said, quoting television.

Crossing the street ahead of the Soupster, coming at him from the opposite direction, a young man and woman held hands as they walked. With his free hand, the man pushed a baby carriage and the care he took with the little chariot indicated that the low-slung seat was occupied.

In the shadows, the Soupster couldn’t make out who they were. Just another fresh-faced couple trying to find shelter and employment when the old fogies like himself already owned everything, he thought. But that wasn’t what he was trying to remember.

“Soupster!” the man called out and the Soupster knew immediately who he was. Like nails on a chalkboard, amplifier feedback, hyena screams and removing rusted lug nuts, the tenor of this man’s voice carved the listener a new gullet. The Soupster already had a gullet, but he had no choice but to answer back.

“Gene!” the Soupster said.

Gene’s voice was famous in Our Town. He was a local Gilbert Gottfried, the voice of the AFLAC duck. But he was the duck with a megaphone – Gene’s voice was grating, hearty and LOUD. Gene once told the Soupster that in all his hours on the water, he had seldom seen any marine mammals. With the sensitivity of the great beasts’ hearing, the fact seemed to the Soupster to make sense.

But when Gene came into view, the Soupster experienced the man’s other distinctive feature – he was easily the best-looking guy in Our Town. He was handsome in a way that made other men want to work for him or have him on their team. What Gene made women think and feel, the Soupster knew he could not grasp.

Gene was with his wife Audriella, as they were inseparable. Audriella was as acutely homely as her handsome husband was spectacularly not. Many in Our Town asked what had made this striking man choose this unmemorable-looking woman? Then, she opened her mouth and people knew. There was her charisma and obvious intelligence, of course. But there was also her voice. What a voice! In it was the song of birds, the rich sweetness of honey, the promise of the sky.

“Soupster!” Audriella called out with her lovely instrument.

The Soupster could see their faces clearly now. The Soupster knew his own face and voice were good enough for government work — mid-range compared to these two on either extreme. He wondered, which would it be better to be? Great-looking and sounding like a wounded goose? Or the plain-faced owner of angelic pipes?
“Come see Katey,” Audriella said, as Gene smiled, and with that voice and that smile the Soupster could not refuse. Ahead, the Soupster could see the blanketed bundle in the stroller squirming. Which parent would be baby take after?

Audriella pulled the blanket aside, revealing the most beautiful baby the Soupster had ever seen. Little Katey opened her mouth and the Soupster stiffened, expecting the worst. But the child’s coos were pure music.
That’s what I was trying to remember! the Soupster thought. That sometimes it all works out in the end.

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Comments Off on Our Town – May 5, 2016

Our Town – May 5, 2016

| Money, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships | May 5, 2016

The Soupster encounters an old saying in real life.

Standing in the line at the bank, the Soupster watched the lone teller, who was taking a few minutes straightening out some thorny issue with Cary Russ. So, to pass the time, the Soupster nudged Spring Ford, who was standing in line, too.

“Hey, Spring,” he whispered. “High finance, huh?” he pointed his chin at the counter, where the teller and Cary were still murmuring in a huddle. The Soupster could only make out a couple of words — “identity” and “authorization.”

“Complicated negotiations,” said the Soupster, who was in an impatient mood. “Hope it’s not identity theft.”

“Oh, I was on the wrong end of some identity theft a few years back,” Spring said. “The credit card company called to ask me if I had made any purchases in Hungary. My card people straightened it all out and it didn’t cost me a penny.”

“But if they hadn’t,” she pointed at the counter, “there, but for the Grace of God, go I. Or, would’ve gone I.”

The Soupster peered sadly at Cary, assuming the worst. But Cary, standing straight, didn’t look like the victim of anything.

Spring started speaking again. “It’s ancient history now, but when I divorced my first husband there were financial complications. All of the money and property was intertwined and it took our Houdini of a bookkeeper to figure it all out.”

“A big mess, huh?” the Soupster commiserated.

“But you know, Soupster,” she said, “we weren’t really mad at each other. Lawrence was a reasonable guy. When I would listen to some of my divorced friends, I heard nightmare after nightmare story about them or their former partners making things impossibly difficult. Things that should have been easy.

“I’d hear their stories and I always thought, `there, but for the Grace of God, go I.’”

As if on cue, a satisfied growl emanated from Cary Russ at the bank counter. He slapped the teller a high five and turned with an ear-to-ear grin.

“It’s been transferred – my inheritance,” Cary told the Soupster and Spring. “I didn’t want to celebrate until the money was in the bank. My Aunt Doris. You’re the first people I’ve told.”

“How much did you inherit?” asked Spring.

“Too much!” Cary laughed. “Much too much!” He flew out of the bank, almost literally.

The Soupster looked down at the bank statement in his hand, with its meager sums. He stared wistfully in the direction of Cary’s exit.

“There,” he told Spring, “but for the Wrath of God, go I.”

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Our Town – April 21, 2016

| Our Town, Relationships | April 21, 2016

The Soupster’s argument is decimated, but it does good.

When Trudy Frost saw the Soupster approach her downtown, she emitted a groan. He had that stumbling roll to his gait that made Trudy think her friend’s mind was someplace else. She had a lunch date with him and wanted his attention.

“Look up, Soupster,” Trudy yelled. “There’s a whole world around you!”

“You’re right,” the Soupster said as he neared his friend. “Wake up and smell the coffee or whatever it is you drink in the morning.”

“Oolong tea,” she said.

The two friends exchanged pleasantries. They decided to lunch at Sea Dog, both opting for franks smothered in chili, cheese and onions.

“Do you make lists?” Trudy asked the Soupster when they sat down to eat. “Me and Warren make lists like crazy. We keep the list on the kitchen wall and review it each night before bed to see what can be erased and what needs to be added. It’s become a ritual between us. Checking the list.”

“And?” asked the Soupster.

“Other than that, Warren never really talks to me anymore,” she said. “His voice is always so flat and then I hear my own voice sounding the same way. Our communication is decimated.” Trudy ended with a sad sigh.

The Soupster knew he should express sympathy for his friend. He looked down at his food, speared a pinto bean and ate it. Then, for reasons not even the Soupster understood, he decided to play the part of a pedantic idiot.

“Well, you can surely do worse than losing 10 percent of your communication,” he said.

“Say what?” Trudy asked.

“The word decimate means to reduce by one tenth,” said the Soupster. “These days, everybody is using decimate to mean `destroy utterly.’ But it’s based on a Roman military punishment. To punish the group, every 10th soldier was executed.”

“Lighten up, Soupster,” Trudy said. “People have been using decimate to mean destroy a huge part of for a long time. In fact, if I wanted to be a pedantic idiot I might comment that there is another theory that the word has its roots in taxation and the religious practice of tithing and that it was only applied retroactively to the describe the Roman practice.”

“But I have to tell you, Soupster,” Trudy continued, “tussling verbally with you feels really good. To engage with somebody after Mr. Two-Word-Sentences.”

“Maybe you should pick some fights with Warren?” said the Soupster, straying again into dangerous territory.

But Trudy only laughed. “Yeah,” she said, “I should put `Have an Argument’ on the list!”

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Our Town – March 10, 2016

| Airport, Our Town, Relationships, Relatives, Travel, Youth | March 10, 2016

The Soupster recalls three invasions from his childhood.

The Soupster sat on a small hill, watching the world flow by. He saw a brand new VW Beetle and marveled how little the car’s cute, round exterior had changed over the decades since it had been introduced into the U.S. in the 1950’s.

Buying a Beetle was not an uncontroversial purchase in the years closer to the Second World War. After all, the car had been designed in Nazi Germany by auto guru Ferdinand Porche, on orders from Adolf Hitler to produce a “People’s Car,” a Volkswagen. The Soupster’s father had seen them in Germany during the war and said they gave him the chills.

“I hate these beetles,” he had repeatedly said.

By the early 1960’s VW bugs were becoming more common – and so were the Soupster’s father’s disapproving snorts. But the Soupster’s mother had no time for such foolishness. She had a real invasion on her hands.

Japanese beetles had taken hold of her prized weeping willow tree and were eating it alive. Hundreds of half-inch long, copper-and-black-colored insects worked at the willow’s leaves. The inundation was so total that the Soupster’s mom had enlisted a platoon of 10-year-olds to mount a desperate counterattack.

She hired the kids to pluck the beetles off her plants and place them in glass milk bottles filled with soapy water. The bugs would drown. The children earned 25 cents per bottle – a fortune at the time. Twenty-five cents could get a kid into the Saturday matinee. Twenty-five cents could buy a slice of pizza and a coke.

The Soupster remembered his mother, arms folded across her chest, regarding her young troopers with a steely glint. “I hate these beetles,” she said.

Within a year, another onslaught had reached the Soupster’s world – this time on the ears.

Four mop-topped troubadours led the British Invasion on stateside AM radio. Most kids heard that these Beatles only wanted to Hold our Hand and Please Please us, Oh Yeah. The adults heard a horrible caterwaul, presaging the end of the world.

At the height of the British Invasion, the Soupster’s parents received a message from his grandmother. She would be coming for a visit. She would be taking an airplane for the first time in her life. Please be at the airport when she arrived.

Flying on a plane was a big deal then – people dressed up, acted civilly and paid through the nose for their tickets. Granny Soupster was counting on a genteel trip. How could she have known the Beatles would be arriving at her airport just as she departed?

Thousands of screaming young girls crammed every inch of every corridor at the airport. The Soupster’s grandmother pressed forward through the ecstatic teeny-boppers, getting bopped along the way. At one point, she thought she might not make it and actually started to cry. Airline workers apologized for the chaos and blamed the Fab Four.

After a cocktail and a warm towel aboard the plane, Grandma calmed. When she saw the Soupster’s parents waiting for her, she calmed further and gratefully accepted help carrying her suitcase to the car. After kisses all around, she settled in the back seat, between the young Soupster and his sister.

“Want to hear a song, Grandma?” the kids asked. Hardly waiting for an answer, they launched into a spirited version of “Twist and Shout” right into the old lady’s ears.

“This is terrible!” cried Granny. “What is this horrible song?”

“Why, Grandma,” they said. “it’s the Beatles!”

“Beatles? Beatles?” Granny shouted. “I hate these Beatles!”

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Our Town – February 11, 2016

| Children, Our Town, Relationships, Relatives | February 10, 2016

The Soupster allows a friend to vent about her colorful, frustrating sibling.

Annabella and Adeline – the dueling sisters. If there had been a women’s fencing team while they studied at Our Town high school, the two girls could have comprised the main elements of a perpetual motion machine. Now, even with the whole of the Pacific Ocean as a buffer zone, they’d regularly raise sparks on Skype.

In her mid-thirties, Annabella moved to Sydney, Australia and worked for an Asia Pacific entertainment consortium. She was the one with the personality. Adeline – two years younger – stayed put in Our Town and anchored herself with a house, a husband, a kid, a bookkeeping business and several city advisory committee appointments. She prided herself on her calm, smooth-running household.

Despite these differences, Annabella and Adeline were so closely joined that neither could imagine a world without the giant irritant of the other person. They needed each other like salt needs pepper. And to keep the spicy interchanges going, the sisters spent about an hour a week talking to each other over the video link.

For nearly a year, Adeline’s youngest, Katie, had taken to sitting on her mother’s lap during the Skype sessions. For a time, the two women tried to include the child in their conversations or to censor what they said to spare tender young ears. But the girl was so content to sit quietly at the computer monitor and listen that her mother and aunt soon forgot that she was there.

When Adeline asked young Kate what she thought of her Auntie Annabella, the child said “she’s funny and little.” Annabella felt encouraged every time she heard her niece’s tinkly giggle.

But what made Katie giggle made her mother cross. Over Skype, once a week, Adeline was able to stomach her sister’s larger-than-life personality without much complaint. The die was cast, though, when Annabella announced she was coming home to Our Town for a visit and arrived the following Wednesday.

Little Katie was not prepared for her Aunt Annabella in real life mode. The two sisters locked horns immediately and constantly.

They gave each other awful looks, making Katie put her hands over her eyes. When voices were raised, she put her hands over her ears. Katie said nothing, put her hands over her mouth and ultimately called to mind the statue of the three monkeys on her daddy’s desk.

After one tussle, an exasperated Adeline needed to go for a walk alone to cool off and asked Annabella to watch Katie. Adeline planned to call the Soupster and vent.

“Don’t worry about your mother,” Annabella told Katie after Adeline had left. “She’s been like this since she was your age.” She handed Katie a doll. “Do you like my coming to visit?” she asked.

“I like the little you,” said Katie, taking the doll. “Better than the big you.”

“The little me?” asked Annabella.

“The little you,” said Katie, her exasperation making her appear slightly like her mother. She ran over to the desk and pointed to the computer – “the little you.” She pointed at her aunt – “the big you,” she said, and pointed again to the computer – “the little you.”

“I like the little you way better,” she concluded.

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Our Town – November 19, 2015

| Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff, Youth | November 19, 2015

The Soupster spends time at the edge of generational change.

In her years of teaching history at Our Town High, Mrs. Frost never had a more annoying student than Caine McDuff. He didn’t act openly disruptive in class, but somehow still managed to disrupt. Mrs. Frost operated a lot on instinct and Caine had always made her feel off-balance.

Lord knew Caine had been bright enough – too bright, maybe, for someone whose goodwill other people doubted. He asked a lot of questions – most of the bright kids did – but he always seemed to know the answer already. It was as though he was testing her knowledge and, frankly, it gave her the creeps.

Caine didn’t seem to have friends — there was an invisible fence that put off others, as it did her. But he was not disrespected. In fact, when Caine spoke no one else did until he was clearly finished. Caine often had the last word on things.

Caine graduated and moved on, like they all did, and Mrs. Frost proceeded to instruct scores more Our Town High students over the decades. She did not ask about Caine, as she did so many others.

Nevertheless, she thought of Caine more than once, usually when some annoyance set her off balance in that familiar way.

Mrs. Frost retired from teaching. Mrs. Frost’s husband, Mr. Frost, snagged an engineering job that meant two years in Guatemala. Mrs. Frost did not like humidity and decided she would stay behind. He needed the adventure and she looked forward to the peace and quiet.

But she did not count on the boredom. Not long after Mr. Frost departed, Mrs. Frost felt at loose ends. Maybe it time to step up to the plate – citizen-wise? On her best friend Gladys’ suggestion, Mrs. Frost joined the Planning Commission.

Now Mrs. Frost knew there was nothing more interesting than history – the twists and turns the human animal has used to scheme his or her way through the millennia. And she enjoyed the commission’s small canvas – decisions that affected just one or two people, a neighborhood.

At a Planning Commission meeting six months into her term, Mrs. Frost listened as the Soupster and a few others came to support a neighbor who wanted to build a greenhouse and sell vegetables. Mrs. Frost liked the smooth, pleasant neighborliness of the proceedings – most of the proceedings went the same. But the meetings didn’t dislodge her boredom as much as she had wished when she joined.

Lost in thought, she did not notice the coolness that descended on the proceedings as two competing attorneys representing two property owners moved to the front of the room. The first attorney was from Juneau. The second attorney was a newly minted Caine McDuff, Esquire.

Commissioner Brick Takamata, who sat next to Mrs. Frost, leaned over. “Looks like one of your old students is here. Isn’t he the one you said gave you trouble.”

“Trouble, yes, but interesting trouble,” Mrs. Frost whispered back. “Let’s hear what he has to say.”

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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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