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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 – 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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Comments Off on Our Town – June 4, 2015

Our Town – June 4, 2015

| Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff | June 4, 2015

The Soupster backs away from trouble.

The imposing Doris Capfield barreled into the city official’s office holding a map.

“It’s a land map,” she told the official. “I’ve got a big problem with my neighbors,” she said and the official gulped.

He knew about the three-generation-long feud between the Capfield family and their neighbors, the McCrorys. This was not the first time a member of one family or the other had been in the official’s office, not by a long shot. Neither family had ever resorted to outright violence against the other, but they had been creatively nasty at expressing their grudge over the years.

And the official was painfully aware that a predecessor had lost his job when he accidentally expressed a pro-McCrory sentiment at a public meeting and the Capfields just about ran him out of town.

The Soupster, who had come into the office a few seconds after Doris, read the scene instantly and backed silently away.

Doris spread her map out on the desk and motioned the official over. “These McCrory fellers – you know who I mean? – think they’re gonna build a fence on a property line that exists only in their mind. Their very demented mind.”

A quick glance at the map told the official that the McCrorys had the stronger case. And, deep down, Doris must have known that, too, because when the official started to tell her, she reared up on her hind legs and huffed, Mama Bear that she was.

The official groaned inaudibly.

“I want you to issue a “Stop Work’ order,” said Doris. “Send the Troopers if you have to. Send in the National Guard!”

“I don’t think there’s anything I can do to help you,” the official said.

“That’s what I thought you’d say,” Doris huffed again and the official thought he heard her mutter the word “weasel.” She angrily rolled up her map and looked like she might bop him with it.

Then Doris burst into tears.

“What is it, Mrs. Capfield?” asked the official.

“It’s my son, Lawrence,” she sobbed. “He’s been seeing the McCrory girl – Sarah?”

“Oh.”

“He spends all his time with those… monsters!” she wailed. “Sarah is a nice girl, she can’t help who her family is. But he’s over there all the time. Lawrence, I mean.”

The official handed Doris a tissue.

“He’s going there for the Fourth of July!  What if they get married?” Doris grabbed the official by the lapels. “What if they have a baby?!”

“A baby,” she said, tugging harder on his jacket. “My grandchild! What should I do? What advice would you give me?”

It took the official only a second to decide. He plucked the map out of Capfield’s hands and spread it out on his desk. “Now about this land issue,” he said. “We should definitely look at that again.”

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Comments Off on Our Town – December 5, 2013

Our Town – December 5, 2013

| Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff, Travel | December 5, 2013

The Soupster learns that traveling alone need not be lonely.

Originally published December 4, 2003

The Soupster vigorously dried his hair with the motel towel, brimming with satisfaction. He happily donned a thin travel robe..

On his way home at a Sea-Tac Airport motel, the Soupster gave a satisfied sigh. His was not just any motel – but one the Soupster had stayed at more times than he could remember. Often for just a night passing through, sometimes for a week on business.

The motel had gone through bad periods in the recent past, but had snapped back recently with new owners, paint, and a snappy new name. Two floors high, with a large parking lot in front. A lobby that, in season, featured Washington apples in a basket for the guests to sample. A free local shuttle. Could a pit stop offer more?

But it could. For this motel’s showers were exemplary, extraordinary – they put the showers in any other establishment to shame. The water was not too soft and not hard, not too hot and not cold. The shower loosed a stream that perfectly coated anyone standing under with a warm, cascading blanket. The knobs and valves were amazingly responsive — you got just what you wanted. This inn featured low prices and a pleasant staff. But the showers made the Soupster book a room here, time and time again.

Leaving him defenselessly mellow when a key clicked in the lock, the door swung open and a motel clerk stepped in, followed by a young woman.

“Pardon?” said a wide-eyed Soupster.

The clerk stopped in his tracks. A suitcase he was holding thudded to the floor.

“Uh-oh,” he said, as stunned as the Soupster. “Wrong room.”

“Soupster?” said the young woman.

“Sally?” the Soupster asked as she stepped forward, into the light. “Sally Wright?”

“Right,” said Sally.

“Right?” asked the motel clerk.

Sally put her hand on his arm. “This man knows my Dad,” she explained. “He’s known me since I was kid.”

“Her father and mother used to stay here all the time,” the Soupster added.

“I thought this was the wrong room,” said the clerk.

“This is the wrong room!” Sally and Soupster simultaneously said.

“You must have started work here just recently, “ The Soupster guessed and the motel clerk admitted he had. “There’s a lot of people from Our Town – well, mine and hers – that stay here. A few owners ago, the motel had some kind of deal with a travel agent in Our Town and a lot of people got steered here. New owners – the travel agent moved on – but we still keep coming to this motel.”

“It’s the showers,“ said Sally. “Have you ever taken a shower here?” she asked the clerk

“No,” he said.

“Well you should. And I’m going to right now,” said Sally. “Soupster, I’ll meet you in the lobby in half an hour and we can take the shuttle out to dinner. There’s two more people here from Our Town. If you see them, ask if they’re hungry!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – November 21, 2013

Our Town – November 21, 2013

| Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff | November 21, 2013

The Soupster learns it can be hard to stay true to your emotions.

When Carole left her seaside cottage, she felt good. Actually she felt angry, but she felt good about feeling angry.

Carole was healthy, pretty, lucky, sweet and well-off. Many would say her life was perfect and Carole would agree with them. If there was one thing she was missing, that was the human experience of feeling angry. For Carole, who considered herself blessed, never allowed herself to feel angry. Until today.

Today, her hot water heater burned out, the dog had a revolting “accident “on the Persian rug and her least favorite cousin called to complain that Carole never called. That was followed by bad news about her taxes delivered by her accountant who she could barely hear due to the road crew drilling the pavement out front of her house.

Carole felt an unfamiliar rising in her craw and a constriction of her neck muscles. She heard the unfamiliar sound of her own teeth gnashing. Could the world be plotting against her?

Wow, Carole thought, as the feeling washed over her. She thought of her older brother pulling away her stuffed bunny, a freckled girl making fun of her braids, a professor who had a big problem with smart women. It had been years, but she remembered the feeling of being wonderfully, powerfully angry and thought she’d like to go and see what the world did about it.

She walked down the street, reveling in this odd new power. Ahead was that old coot George coming toward her. Although a coot, George often made her laugh. And sometimes made her want to cry because he was such a sweet guy with no place to put his emotions. She could feel her anger waning. So she crossed the street and quickened her pace.

She cut down a path near the coffee shop to try and avoid another sympathetic character and almost bumped into Colleen, who was tracing the same path in the opposite direction.

“Carole,” said Colleen. “I was just thinking of you. We’re starting a new mural and I know that’s something you love. We absolutely want you involved. Want to have coffee?”

“Can’t talk,” said Carole, huffing past. “Gotta go!” She felt her anger fading again and — was forced to imagine last summer’s incident of her neighbor’s cat destroying her flowers — to stay on task

“See ya later, alligator,” Colleen called after her.

Carole put her head down and did not look up. Nonetheless, “Hey Carole!” yelled one person and “Call me!” yelled another.

With her head down and her pace quickened, Carole walked right into a parked car. The Soupster’s car. With her old friend the Soupster in it.

“Carole,” he said, getting out of the car, a concerned look on his face. “My goodness! Are you all right?”

“Oh, Soupster,” she whined, as her embarrassment overwhelmed her. “I’m trying to say angry and I just can’t!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – August 29, 2013

Our Town – August 29, 2013

| Guest Written, Mary Ann Jones, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships | August 29, 2013

The Soupster is called on by the teacher.

Our Town retired school teacher Elsbeth Newhauser picked up her walking stick and dog leash and called her bulldog Gerta to her side. The two always left the house for their walk at the same time every morning and followed a route that took them down their residential street to an intersection with a four way stop. It was there that they would cross the main road before continuing on their journey.

This day, however, when they got to the intersection, Gerta abruptly sat down and refused to move. “Now, come on,” Elsbeth encouraged, motioning forward. She had barely finished her sentence when she noticed a large dog charging across the street towards them. Elsbeth gasped and pulled Gerta out of the way, then watched in horror as a bicyclist raced down the hill and flew through the intersection, swerving from side to side. A speeding car followed close behind and slammed on its brakes, but failed to stop before careening into a utility pole.

When the action came to a halt, the bicyclist was laying on his side in the street. The woman in the car struggled to open her door, then emerged, waving her arms in the air. “Why did you stop in the middle of the street?” she yelled at the bicyclist, as he scooted out from under his twisted bike.

“I had to!” he shouted back. “It was all I could do to miss hitting that dog in front of me!”

As they argued, a frantic-looking young man ran up to the intersection, looked at the other two and asked, “Have you seen my dog? He’s a large Lab.” That was enough to spark an even bigger argument between the three about whose fault the accident was.

Finally, Elsbeth’s teacher’s instincts kicked in. She tapped her walking stick on the sidewalk and shouted, “People! Listen!” The bicyclist, motorist and dog owner immediately stopped talking and looked at her. “I don’t know whose fault this was, but we’re not leaving here until we figure it out!”

At that moment, the Soupster rushed out of a friend’s house nearby, approached the group, and politely raised his hand. “Yes, Mr. Soupster,” Elsbeth said, as if calling on one of her former students.

“Mrs. Newhauser, allow me to describe what I observed just now from the front window. The dog, which was off-leash and clearly in violation of city leash laws, came running down the sidewalk and dashed across the road in front of the bicyclist. The bicyclist had, just seconds before, failed to stop at the four-way stop as he sped down the hill. The motorist, who slowed down, but didn’t fully stop at the intersection, was looking down at her cell phone as she passed me.”

“Thank you, Mr. Soupster,“ Elsbeth said. “Well then, I hope you’ve all learned an important lesson about following the rules and being considerate of your fellow students….I mean…fellow citizens.”

“Yes, Mrs. Newhauser,“ they responded all together.

Submitted by Mary Ann Jones

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Comments Off on Our Town – March 28, 2013

Our Town – March 28, 2013

| Guest Written, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Rose Manning, Small Town Stuff | March 27, 2013

Is there such a thing as too much help?

“Hey, Buddy. Good to see you.”

“How’s life, Soupster?”

“How is life? How can you ask such a question?”

“I am fixin’ to leave this dang town.”

“Oh no, Buddy. Why do you want to leave Our Town?”

“I just have to, Soupster. It seems that nobody can mind their own beeswax. They are always sticking their nose into my business.”

“Whoa, there! It is a small town and it is spring and it is foggy and you know we just use each other for entertainment this time of year. Just what is this business you are talking about, Buddy?”

“Soupster. Everybody is just too dang nice.”

“Did I hear that right? TOO NICE? What is wrong with that?”

“Do you remember when the doc told me to walk at least twenty minutes every day?”

“Yes, I do and I do see you out there sometimes.”

“You got it, Soupster. Sometimes is right. It seems every time I get my shoes on and start out I can’t get more than a half block from home and somebody stops to give me a ride back home. I explain what I’m doing and turn them down but there is always another do-gooder neighborly sort right behind them. Finally, I give up and get all my exercise crawling in and out of cars. As soon as they drop me off and pull away I start out again. I haven’t made it a full block all week.”

“They are such good and kind people, Buddy.”

“Well. That is not my only problem Soupster.”

“Do tell me more.”

“Well you know how my Taurus is always leaking. The trunk is real swampy so on nice days I leave the trunk lid standing open so it will dry out.”

“Does it work?”

“Not hardly. Some do-goody has to walk by and close the lid. I even took it to the airport, thinking it would work out better there with all the strangers coming and going but I hadn’t even finished one cup of coffee before it was shut tight. And there’s more, Soupster.”

“More?”

“All the young ‘uns are now helping me up the curb and stairs even when I don’t want to go. They also stop and wait to help me cross the road when I don’t want to. I just want to stand in the yard and watch the birds. We caused quite the back-up at the round-a-bout yesterday.”

“Buddy, please don’t leave Our Town. Wait until the weather turns for the better and all the tourists come back. The nice people will get over it and barely have time to bother with you.”

Submitted by Rose Manning

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Comments Off on Our Town – May 3, 2012

Our Town – May 3, 2012

| Crazy Theories, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Seasons, Small Town Stuff, Spring | May 3, 2012

“Coffee delivery,” the Soupster announced, as he approached the four men sitting and standing outside Giant Gene’s auto shop. Indeed, he carried a cardboard holder with four paper cups.

“You’re a good man,” Giant Gene told the Soupster, taking the holder and distributing the cups. Charlie, also called Red, raised his in salute. Billy, called Kid, gave an elaborate bow of thanks, almost spilling his. Miguel drank greedily. He was, understandably, sometimes called Santana, since that was his last name.

“Pretty slick,” the Soupster told Gene. “I call you to see if my alternator is ready and you rope me into catering your morning staff meeting. What are you guys doing standing out here, anyway? Don’t you have cars and trucks to shorten the lives of?”

“Shhhh,” said Gene and turned to the other guys. “I think today is definitely the day. It’s my day.”

“Today is what day?” asked the Soupster.

“The day Gene thinks Leonard will finally take his snow shovels inside,” said Red. He pointed across the street to a neatly kept home surrounded by a white picket fence, against which was balanced a silver snow shovel, a black plastic scoop and an ice breaker.

“We think Leonard is the last person in Our Town to put them away,” added Billy.

“We bet on it,” said Giant Gene. “Miguel thought it up.”

“Whoever picks the day Leonard puts the shovels away has to buy lunch for the rest of us for a week,” explained Miguel.

“That’s the first prize?” said the Soupster. “The winner buys lunch for everyone for a week?”

“No,” said Miguel. “The prize is the honor of winning.”

“We call it the Santana Ice Classic,” said Giant Gene.

“Look,” said Billy, “Leonard’s coming out!”

Leonard stepped out onto his cute front porch and took a breath of the morning air. He came down the stairs. The tension at Giant Gene’s was palpable.

When Leonard got to the shovels he paused slightly, looked up in the general direction of Giant Gene’s, walked out the gate and got into his car.

“Darn!” said Gene. “I thought I won!”

“It’s been getting pretty warm,” the Soupster said. “Do you ever worry that Leonard knows what you’re all up to and he’s leaving his shovels out there on purpose?”

“Soupster,” said Billy. “That would be crazy!”

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Comments Off on Our Town – April 5, 2012

Our Town – April 5, 2012

| Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff | April 5, 2012

“Soupster, are you crying?” asked Laine as she encountered him on a bench near the harbor.

“Oh, just deep thoughts,” the Soupster admitted, wiping his cheek with the side of his hand. “I was just thinking about Clarence… and novels.”

“OK,” Laine said, sitting down. “I’ve got a minute. Tell me what’s on the Soupster’s mind. This can be like in one of your Our Town columns.”

Some gulls squawked at her joke, but the Soupster didn’t.

“Good old Clarence,” said the Soupster. “I was giving him a bad time about some old snow shovel he borrowed and gave me back bent – this was just last week.”

“Now, he’s gone,” said Laine.

“Clarence, The Novel, is finished,” the Soupster agreed.

“Explain,” said Laine.

“A great thing about Our Town, maybe the best thing about it for me,” said the Soupster, “is the fact you get to see the same people in all different kinds of ways. You might see them with their kids at a concert and then where they work and then maybe leading around a group of people who look just like them and you figure they must be relatives.

“All these same people, like Clarence, develop in front of you, like characters in a novel,” he concluded.

“Clarence, The Novel, is finished,” said Laine, nodding with understanding. She and the Soupster let a long pause occur, respectful of their friend’s passing.

“We only get to know part of the story,” said the Soupster. “I only knew Clarence, The Novel from the middle to the end. I never `read’ the beginning.”

“If it was anything like the later parts, it had to be a good read,” chuckled Laine, toasting Clarence with an imaginary drink in one hand.

“Seeing kids grow up in Our Town is cool,” said the Soupster, “That’s the beginning of the novel.”

“You know, you may never read the end of those novels,” she said. “You probably won’t.”

“That’s okay,” said the Soupster. “I’ve always liked the beginnings of novels best. I love the first 10 minutes of every movie I see.”

“Well, if this is an episode of Our Town, we must be near the bottom of the page,” said Laine. “Because I have to go.” She stood and walked a few steps, then turned and smiled.

“And so Laine, The Novel, continues,” she called back. “But this chapter is finished.”

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Comments Off on Our Town – October 20, 2011

Our Town – October 20, 2011

| Crazy Theories, Neighbors, Our Town, Relationships, Small Town Stuff | October 20, 2011

Originally published November 6, 2003

“I was saved, Soupster, but by which I do not know,” said Charles, a former college professor who now drank a lot of coffee. He had four tiny espresso cups arranged in front of him, two of them empty.

The Soupster looked around. Besides the barrista, washing mugs out of earshot, the men were alone.

“You know Bluto, the pompous blowhard?” Charles said, blowing pretty hard himself. “I owed that man $1,000. You’d have thought it was the Hope Diamond the way he pursued me around Our Town. Showing up at social occasions with that ridiculous `I’m going to bite you’ look on his face.”

“Bluto has bitten people,” the Soupster remarked. “He almost bit me once.”

“I considered that,” said Charles.

“Anyhow,” he continued. “Bluto was on my tail in a major fashion and I was doing my best to stay one step ahead of him. Which is not hard, Bluto being Bluto.”

“He’s not stupid,” said the Soupster

“Nonetheless,” said Charles. “On a proverbial `dark and stormy night’ he finally caught up with me. Right outside the fishing supply store. There I was face-to-face with Bluto’s ugly visage. He held a bag, bulging with orange nylon and I thought he was going to brain me with it.”

Charles chugged the third of his espressos.

“Bluto grabs me with his giant paws and squeezes hard,” Charles continued. “`Where is me $1,000, you barrel worm,’ Bluto thunders. `I don’t have it,’ I say weakly. `What’s that in your pocket?’ says Bluto. `That’s me, er, my mail,’ I say.”

“So Bluto grabs the mail and rifles through. `Ahoy,’ he cries, holding up my Permanent Fund Dividend check. `This will do,’ Bluto says.

“`But, Bluto,’ I muster the courage to ask ‘I owe you a $1,000, but that PFD is worth more than $1,100,’ I say. And Bluto, he agrees with me. Could have knocked me over with a feather. `An eleven hundred dollar PFD,’ the ogre says and laughs and thrusts his bulging orange bag into my chest.”

“And walks off,” Charles continued. “So I’m left there standing in the pitch-black cold rain, minus one PFD. I stare into the bag. And what is in there? A life vest! I take it out and put it on. It’s a nice life jacket, the kind with the big ring behind your neck and the large reflective patches on the shoulder so the Coast Guard can find you at night and pluck you out of the water.”

“And as I’m admiring the jacket a car comes screeching out of the dark. And – this I swear – the car’s headlights pick up the reflective patches and the vehicle veers a second before running me down.”

“I see your dilemna,” said the Soupster. “You were saved by either a Permanent Fund Dividend or a Personal Flotation Device.”

“Yes, Soupster, yes,” Charles cried, lurching for his remaining coffee cup. “Which PFD saved me?

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Our Town – November 4, 2010

| Darkness, Marriage, Neighbors, Newcomers, Our Town, Relationships, Seasons | November 4, 2010

(Originally published Nov. 17, 2005)

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 subjects 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.

“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 9, 2010

| Accidents, Children, Darkness, Neighbors, Nicknames, Our Town, Recycling, Relationships, Seasons, Storms, Weather | September 9, 2010

The Soupster remembered his conversation with his neighbor’s grandson with some regret. He felt he was a little harsh with the boy when the youngster tried to lecture him about recycling. The Soupster searched his mind for the just right word to describe his own behavior – which was gruff and hostile out of reflex.

“I was `churlish,’” thought the Soupster and because he was alone, he said aloud, “Like a churl.”

The truth was that the boy had hit a sore point. The Soupster’s mental commitment to recycling often outstripped his physical actions. To wit: The Soupster’s mud room overflowed with paper bags of mixed paper, stacks of newsprint, aluminum cans and sheet metal, tin cans, glass bottles and jars and a good-sized sheaf of cardboard leaning against the wall.

“I must get all that stuff out of my mudroom,” the Soupster thought.

But it was night.

And not just night, but a night that signaled the change in seasons from summer to fall. To wit: A particularly dark and blustery night in Our Town, with the rain blowing sideways in good-sized drops.

Nonetheless, to make up for his churlish behavior, the Soupster put on a slicker and cap, filled his arms with recyclables and jammed them into the passenger area of his car. When he was finished, the Soupster had just enough room in the front seat of his car to cram in behind the wheel.

This time of night, Our Town’s real action was in the supermarkets, which blazed in the blackness like little Las Vegases. But the Soupster kept true to his quest and drove by the stores without stopping. He could think of a few things he needed, but what if someone saw the state of his car right now? “Lucy, you’d have some ‘splainin’ to do,” he chuckled.

It being unusual conditions to be using the Recycling Center, the Soupster found himself alone there, surrounded by big metal bins on which the heavy raindrops beat a complex rhythm. One-by-one, he tipped up the metal hatches of the bins with one hand and tossed his recyclables in with the other. Glass, metal, a plastic bag of shredded paper, the cardboard and mixed paper and the aluminum and tin cans. All that was left was the #1 and #2 plastic, which were to be deposited in four-foot high canvas bags supported by sideways wooden slats.

Depositing the bag of #1 plastic went without incident. But the bag of #2, not so much.

When the Soupster tipped over his second bag, the supporting piece of hard plastic at the bottom of his bag fell out and into the bin.

The Soupster tried to bend over the edge to retrieve it, lost his balance and tipped over into the bin with his head among the #2 plastic and his feet sticking straight up in the air. He tried to pull himself out and could not. Slow minutes passed.

Then, the area was bathed in light as another car pulled up to the plastic containers holding the upside down Soupster.

For good or ill, it was Steve “Big Mouth” Larssen, out on a late-night recycling run himself.

“Number two plastic?” said Steve, surveying the scene with his hands on his hips. “Soupster, I’d think you were at least #1.”

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Our Town – August 26, 2010

| Children, Eddy Rau, Guest Written, Neighbors, Our Town, Recycling, Relationships | August 16, 2010

The Soupster woke up in a foul mood. Not only was it a drizzly day but he was spending it with his next-door neighbor’s computerized grandson, Johnny, a 4th grader who walked around with wires coming out of his ears.

The first sign of danger was finding Johnny going through the garbage can with little piles here and there.

“Mr. Soupster, where do you put your aluminum? This pile is #1 plastic and this pile is #2. Where are your recycling containers?”

“#1 & #2? There’s a difference? Who recycles plastic anyway? What’s the point?”

“But, Mr. Soupster, plastic is made out of oil! The city sells it to people who make it into blankets and socks and everything. Don’t you understand anything about recycling?”

The Soupster groaned, definitely not his day—socks made out of milk cartons?

He was quiet for a moment, regrouping his thoughts.

“Johnny, don’t bother me about recycling. You don’t really know anything about recycling. I know about recycling. Didn’t my mother make me wash and dry the used aluminum foil and fold it to use again? Could I ever get the used plastic bags can full enough to meet her standards? Didn’t I have to be so careful with the wax paper around my sandwiches that it could be reused all week? Didn’t my mother hang our clothes to dry on a clothes line in the sun or inside on rainy days?”

“But, Mr. Soupster…uh, sir…”

The Soupster glared, “Don’t interrupt me, I’m just getting started.”

“We didn’t throw away our shoes – Dad just took them to the shoemaker to be repaired. Don’t suppose you have ever even heard of shoe polish. He pushed his lawn mower! He picked up pennies from the street. Have you ever picked up a penny?

The Soupster paused for breath and Johnny jumped right in.

“Wow, sir, you have a lot of good ideas. Let’s make a clothes line for you right now! We can go from this tree to the side of your house. Maybe another one inside, from the dining room wall to the stairs for rainy days.’

The Soupster’s eyes rolled to think of actually hanging up laundry. On the other hand, he thought of the McGrowls next door looking at his long underwear hanging in front of their
windows and a devious smile appeared on his face.

“Let’s get started on that clothes line right now, Johnny. We’re going to make this world a better place!

– Submitted by Eddie Rau

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Our Town – June 3, 2010

| Gardening, Guest Written, Neighbors, Relationships, Rose Manning | June 3, 2010

Neighbor Tom and I strolled down Main Street in one of those constant sunbeams that sometimes envelops Our Town.

“What a day, Soupster!”

“Yes, indeed, Tom, it is special.”

“Soupster, have you noticed Our Town seems to be in a growing epidemic?”

“What, Tom? Epidemic? Are you saying we are diseased?”

“No, Soupster, not that kind of epidemic — a growing epidemic.”

“Oh! Are you referring to those ten pounds everyone seems to gather during Our Town’s dark spell?”

“No! No! I mean growing, growing!”

“More population, Tom? I am puzzled. I thought we were declining slightly.”

“Soupster, can’t you hear? I am obviously not making myself clear. I said ‘growing.’ You know — peas and potatoes, carrots and kale, radishes and rutabagas, food and flowers and I don’t know what all.”

“Oh! You mean gardening.”

“Yes.”

”Sure enough, Tom, I am even thinking of planting a small patch or pot of greenery myself. How about you? Has the ‘grow your own bug’ bitten you yet?”

“Yes, I’ve been thinking about it…but, Soupster, it seems like there are two types of gardeners here. There are the Master Gardeners and the Disaster Gardeners. My neighbor Joanie to the north is a master, complete with a certificate to prove it, and she has a spectacular vegetable spread. She puts crops in their raised beds at the correct time, starting early with the cold weather types and moving to the more delicate species. In May they all get a nice white blanket for two weeks to keep the root maggots at bay and she circles the whole garden perimeter with clever pop bottle slug traps she makes herself.

“And the other type, Tom?”

“Well, Soupster, that would be my neighbor Kurt to the south. He is the ‘disaster’ gardener. He planted his garden in a rubble patch and when he weeded out everything he didn’t recognize, he ended up with a great crop of horsetails. Not a pretty picture.”

“Hey, Tom, come on — what do you say we take a look at the new environmentally correct seed packets, dirt and natural fertilizer and then sign up for a table at the fabulous new Farmer’s Market?”

“Okay, but I will pass on the natural fertilizer. After all, I am just a beginner.”

– Submitted by Rose Manning

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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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