163 total views, 1 today
The Soupster sees people who bite off and chew.
Originally published April 24, 2014
Sitting with Chavez outside Harrigan Centennial Hall Building, the Soupster could feel his friend’s distress radiate out like static electricity. Chavez shook a Funny Times newspaper at the Soupster with vigor. “How dare they `dis’ Our wonderful Town!” he said. “Look at this!”
Chavez pointed to a particular cartoon in the newspaper. Funny Times is a monthly collection of cartoons and humorous essays from all over the country. Chavez’s finger tapped a four-panel job that “dissed” the federal government for making embarrassing announcements only in places so remote, so forgotten, that no one would ever hear. Places like Minden City, Michigan; Bellows Falls, Vermont; Skaneateles, New York; and Sitka, Alaska.
Sitka, Alaska?? A place so forgotten, so remote that the federal government could make a major announcement and no one would ever hear? Our Town? Chavez didn’t think so!
Nor did the Soupster. “That’s troubling,” the Soupster said. “Because Our Town is about as famous as you can get for its size.”
“James Michener announced that he was going to write his novel `Alaska’ right here,” said Chavez.
“Well, how about October 18, 1867?” countered the Soupster. “The whole Castle Hill thing. People have sure heard about that. This is definitely not a place so forgotten and so remote that no one ever hears anything.”.
Chavez tried to agree, but he was drowned out as the main doors on the Centennial Hall Building swung open and about a dozen people poured out. Some held Rib-eyes, some held Sirloin Tip, some held T-bones and one held a Porterhouse.
“Who are they?” asked the Soupster.
“Steakholders,” Chavez said proudly. “These people are discussing the thorniest issues that face Our Town and coming up with creative, collaborative solutions.”
“Symbolic,” Chavez said. “They’re not afraid to get into the meat of issues, right down to the gristle and bone.”
“A little extreme,” opined the Soupster as the Steakholders disbursed, “nonetheless admirable.
“We need these guys,” said Chavez, “You see…”
But Chavez was drowned out as the Hall Building’s doors again parted and a second crew of people exited. This time each of them held a short and pointy wooden stick, the kind you would use to secure a tent to the ground.“
And them?” asked the Soupster, as that crowd moved on.
“A group of different stakeholders,” said Chavez.
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The Soupster remembers a determined little fellow.
Originally published August 22, 2002 and June 5, 2008
“Crash!” the Soupster heard as he stepped from the café, clutching a cardboard cup of java.
Across the street furious construction activity was under way – the systematic dismantling of portions of a large hotel for a major renovation.
This being Our Town, teams of workers scaled the building from ladders and scaffolding — working quickly to take advantage of an all-too-brief period between downpours and squalls.
“Crash, bang, ticka, ticka, bang!” sang the various fixtures and materials as they were removed and carted away, piled on the ground or, most musically, sent plunging through three long tubes that ran from the roof down to a dumpster. “Ticka, ticka, clack, clack, crash!” the tubes sang.
Striding purposely from one part of the site to another was Mel, who the Soupster still called “Little Mel.” Now six feet tall and 40 years old, “Little Mel” was the general contractor for the entire renovation. To the Soupster, however, “Mel” would always mean “Big Mel” – Little Mel’s late father, who had been the high school shop teacher.
Big Mel always had been surrounded by an army of students. Now Little Mel had his own army of tough and competent construction workers. As Little Mel moved among his worker-troops he exuded the confidence of a commander who does not need to argue but leads naturally.
It had been almost 30 years earlier to the day that the hotel was originally built, and the Soupster remembered seeing the two Mels back then. Father and son walking down the street toward their car. Little Mel, lugging inches off the ground a red fire extinguisher that was half his height and more than half his weight.
Big Mel had a much larger fire extinguisher in his arms. Father and son were carrying safety equipment back to the school.
Little Mel could make about five steps before he had to readjust the extinguisher’s position in his arms. The child had to pull with all his might.
“It’s okay to put it down,” said Mel. “I can’t believe how strong you are carrying it this far.”
“No!” said Little Mel. “I want to take it all the way!”
“Well, good job!” said Big Mel. “I am quite amazed!”
With another loud “Crash!” the Soupster was jerked back to the present.
Although he could not hear any voices from the construction site, he watched as one young worker strode angrily across the work site and confronted Little Mel. The young worker said something; Little Mel listened and nodded. As the young worker talked, he seemed to calm down. Little Mel kept nodding, then reached across and patted the young worker’s shoulder.
The young worker broke into a smile and Mel beamed back at him. They shook hand and the young man bounded happily back to work. Little Mel yelled something after him.
Through all the “bangs” and “ticka, tickas” and “crashes” the Soupster couldn’t make out what Little Mel had said. But he guessed it went something like “You sure are strong. Good job. I’m quite amazed!”
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The Soupster is called out on his talkativeness & put to the test.
Originally published July 12, 2012
Carrie told the Soupster he talked too much and her criticism stung. The Soupster knew he could go on and on – maybe a tiny, little bit? — but he didn’t know his friend had been suffering. And for “quite a while,” no less.
“I bet you can’t keep your conversation to a minimum even for one day,” Carrie threw down the gauntlet. “Not even for one whole day.”
“I can,” the Soupster insisted. “And I will!”
Today was the day. The first mission of the new, zip-lipped Soupster was to check the mail at the post office. As the Soupster strolled downtown, he had to duck into a few storefronts to avoid fellow chatterboxes who might stress-test his mettle.
“Soupman!” The call came from Charlie, a hiking buddy who, unfortunately, happened to be in a store the Soupster had judged free of customers. “Tell me what’s new with the Man in the Can?”
“Not much,” said the Soupster, wishing he could have thought of a one-word answer. “Gotta go,” he said slipping out of the store.
Out of the frying pan and into the fire? Two busfuls of visitors hit the sidewalk and poured around the Soupster like a human wave.
Hide in plain sight? The Soupster pulled his cap low on his forehead and attempted to avoid eye contact with the cheery migrants surrounding him.
No use! The Soupster felt his lapels being patted and looked down into the face of an older man wearing a tag that said, “Hi! I’m Horace!”
“Hi, I’m Horace,” he stated the obvious, grasping the Soupster’s hand and shaking it vigorously. “I’m new to these shores.”
“Hi, Horace,” said the Soupster.
“Yup, this is some different place,” Horace said. “Where’s all the big box chain stores? Don’t you have any big box chain stores?”
“Nope,” said the Soupster.
“Our bus driver said he was taking us all over town but we only went five or six miles one way and then seven or eight the other. That can’t be all the road you have.”
“Yup,” said the Soupster, zipping his lips so tight he could taste metal.
“And this rain I keep hearing about,” Horace plunged on. “It’s certainly not raining now. Is going to rain soon? Am I going to get wet? I mean, isn’t this town too nice to be built by people who get rained on every day?”
As the Soupster moaned silently, a beam of sunlight illuminated a break in the throng of tourists ahead. “Yup,” said the Soupster, shaking Horace’s hand. “Nope,” he added. And then the Soupster escaped.
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Chickens and Eggs?
Originally published April 4, 2002
The Soupster juggled in his arms: a half gallon of milk, some donuts, a box of cereal, bananas and a jar of salty Greek olives. He had come in for the donuts and unconsciously filled his arms with items as he wandered around the store, greeting the large number of people he knew.
Then he got in line.
“Soupster,” said Stevarino, the shipwright, next in line, whose real name was Stefan. “Could you hold my stuff, too, while you got so much in your arms.”
“If I really don’t want to buy anything, I have to take a shopping cart,” chuckled the Soupster. “If my arms are free, I will fill them with groceries.”
“Primordial,” Stevarino said. “Grazing behavior – like cows in the pasture. Fulfilling the Prime Directive, as Captain Kirk used to say.”
“Speaking of philosophical,” said the Soupster, reaching into Stevarino’s cart and picking out a dozen free range eggs. “Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
“No, really,” said the Soupster. “I just spent most of Saturday helping this crazy woman put up a whole display of chicken-and-egg items in the big glass cases at the entrance to the library. Every item incorporates both a chicken and an egg. And thus, each item incorporates the question – `Which came first, the chicken or the egg?”
“I think it depends on how you approach the answer,” said the always-philosophical Stevarino. “If you’re talking about genes, for instance, the egg came first. Something that was almost a chicken genetically – but not quite – laid an egg which would develop into something that was just barely a chicken in genetic terms. What grew from the egg was technically a chicken, while what laid the egg was not. The egg came first.”
“Or,” Stevarino continued. “A religious person would say the chicken came first. That even if God created the egg first, what He ultimately was creating was a chicken. The egg was just the means to an end. He had in His mind the plan for a chicken and the egg was just where He started the cycle of chicken creation.”
“I see,” said the Soupster. “What the question is really asking is not ‘which came first, the chicken or the egg?’ but ‘which came first, the design or the creation?’”
“The Creation,” said Stevarino, “Don’t get me started.”
“You’re next, Soupster,” said Bess, the checker, a little loudly, since she knew she had to pierce her voice through all of the two philosophers’ ponderous thoughts.
“Gotta go,” said the Soupster.
“Oooh,” said Stevarino. “I’m having a Sitka moment. I can see about 18 people shopping, in line or working here and I know everyone’s first name. Where does that happen?”
“Only in Our Town, that I know of,” said the Soupster.
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The Soupster wonders who was pulling his leg.
Originally published March 13, 2008
The truth is, the Soupster was already in a terrible mood when he stopped at the store on his way home. And when he walked from his car to the front door of the supermarket, the Soupster made the mistake of looking up at the big roadside message board. He froze, muttered to himself and jumped to conclusions.
“Don’t,” the sign read and the Soupster, absurdly, took the message personally.
“Don’t what?” he growled. “Just spewing negativity with complete abandon? Typical. That’s the trouble with the world. Everywhere it’s `Don’t!’”
The Soupster took hold of the door handle, but then let go of it, took a step back and turned to face the sign. Like a person with one of those cell-phone earpieces, he spoke to the air.
“Look at that,” he said, his voice loud enough for passersby to hear, and pointing to the empty ladder up to the road sign. “Nobody is even there! They just put `Don’t!’ in your face and then they walk away – probably on one of their frequent breaks. `Don’t what?’ I’d like to know.”
The Soupster stopped spouting long enough to see a woman carrying a grocery bag give him a pitying stare and a wide berth.
Inside the store, he tried to ignore the “0 trans fat” and “Gluten free” signs. The “fortified with Omega-3” and “Acidophilous added” did not make him feel any more positive. A funk is a funk is a funk.
The Soupster tried to raise his spirits by remembering a pretty little city park he had once come across during travels in the Lower 48. A sign at the entrance had said: “Picnic, fly a kite, rollerblade, sunbathe, jog, dance” and so on. All the things you were supposed to do, instead of the “No dogs!” and “Keep Out!”
And his mood did lighten, buoyed as well by the checker’s friendly interest in what he was buying. But when the Soupster walked out the door, he saw the road sign had changed.
“Don’t Go Home,” it now said.
The Soupster got back into his car, stunned. “Don’t Go Home?” He was going home. Until now, he had been perturbed. But on the road back to his house, the Soupster felt angry.
“What kind of sick joke is that store playing on people?” “Is it even possible the sign was meant specifically for me?” “Why shouldn’t I go home?” The Soupster’s mind raced.
Two doors from his house, the Soupster pulled over to the side of the road. “Even if the sign has nothing to do with me, it is irresponsible to make people wonder if something is wrong at their home,” the Soupster stewed.
“That’s mean,” he decided and turned his car around in the direction of the store. The Soupster wasn’t sure who he was going to talk to or what he was going to say to them, but he was going to say something to somebody to straighten the responsible parties right out!
But as he neared the store, he realized at once that he would do none of that. For the sign had changed again.
Now it read: “Don’t Go Home Until You Try One of Our New Mango Shakes!”
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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!”
537 total views, 1 today
The Soupster learns that sometimes more than the peppers get stuffed.
The Soupster sat at a back table at Nemo’s Café, spooning Rockfish-and-Beach-Asparagus Chowder into his mouth. Hunched over his steaming bowl, he read a copy of his publication, the Sitka Soup.
Then the Soupster stiffened. “Waiter!” he called out. “There’s a fly in my Soup!”
Manny, the new waiter, hurried over to the Soupster’s table and examined the stew. “I don’t see anything in there,” he said.
“Not in my soup,” said the Soupster, waving a copy of his publication aloft. “There’s a fly in my Sitka Soup!”
Indeed, there was a fly, on page 10. (Ed. Note: yup!)
“Can’t help you there,” the waiter said.
“Manny,” asked the Soupster. “Have you ever encountered a real fly in a bowl of real soup?”
“Not flies in the soup — no,” said Manny.
“Stuffed fish and animal heads on the walls, like Guinness Book amounts of them — definitely.”
“Do tell,” said the Soupster.
“A place up north I worked at one summer, Ike’s Roadhouse,” Manny said. “In his younger days, Ike was an Olympian athlete of hunters. And he liked to stuff his trophies. Moose, goat, sheep heads on the roadhouse walls. Stuffed gamebirds all over. Mounted fish. An entire black bear.
“Doesn’t sound real hygienic,” said the Soupster.
“I have to admit that Ike’s place wouldn’t have passed inspection,” Manny said. “That is, if there was an inspector within 1,000 miles.”
“Anyhow, Ike was such a good cook, everyone was happy to overlook the occasional ptarmigan feather in the oatmeal,” Manny went on. “There was a bit of discussion sometimes about exactly what critters went into the fricassee, but that didn’t stop people from scarfing it.
“Then Ike got old and his son took over. And then the son got old, so the grandson took over. But Old Ike still went to the restaurant every day and sat in a chair in the corner, telling stories and taking silent naps.
“Old Ike would be telling you some tall tale and would fall asleep in the middle of a sentence and revert back to his silent, sleeping mode like an unconscious Jabba the Hutt.
“One day, a visitor arrived and announced that he’d journeyed 4,000 miles for a taste of the Roadhouse’s famous sourdough flapjacks. The man evidently read about them in some Great Land handbook and got an insatiable yen.
“So, the grandson makes the flapjacks and the visitor chomps away, all compliments. The visitor remarks on how colorful the Roadhouse was, with all the taxidermy.
“Then, he asks who started the establishment. Ike’s grandson proudly says Old Ike started the roadhouse half a century ago. And, tells how the old Sourdough has been in the restaurant every day since.
“`In fact,’ says the grandson, pointing to his granddad in the tangle of taxidermied creatures. `Old Ike is right there.’
“The look that crossed the visitor’s face was pure horror. You could see he was having a hard time telling if Old Ike was stuffed, too.
“The grandson turned around for a second, to chuckle at the old man sleeping away. And when he turned back, all that was left was a $20 bill and a half-eaten stack of pancakes. The visitor was gone!”
496 total views, 2 today
Discussing Our Town’s flaws, the Soupster sees an old acquaintance.
Originally published July 15, 2010
A strong sun shone on the well-named Clement Climes, who was sitting on a folding chair scarfing a Hellfire Halibut Spicy Skewer at Santa’s Seafood Truck downtown.
The Soupster noticed the pepper-induced sweat dripping off Clem’s brow. “I prefer the Sweetly Rubbed Salmon,” the Soupster said to his co-diner, simultaneously ordering the Rub.
“Paradise today,” said the Soupster, as his salmon sizzled on the grill. He gazed at Our Town’s gleaming water and green mountains. “Clem, you grew up here. Remind me of something wrong with this place.”
Clem sucked a couple of ice cubes from his drink and crunched them against the wildfire in his mouth. “When folks leave, they really leave,” he said in a jalapeño-choked voice. “Nobody ever moves a half hour or an hour away – how could they? They’re gone. It’s hard on the adults, but really hard on the kids.”
“Once they leave the Our Town Bubble, they’re gone,” Clem concluded.
The Soupster retrieved his perfectly prepared salmon. “I feel like I’m leaving a bubble when I fly out of the country from the Lower 48,” he told Clem, after a bite. “I feel like when I’m overseas, I can no longer take it for granted that anything is going to make sense. Come to think of it, I feel that way about the Lower 48 now, too.”
“But you hail from the Lower 48,” said Climes. “How do you feel about being so far from your old stomping grounds?”
“Fine,” said the Soupster, taking another bite. “I do miss people and never, ever expect to see anybody from there anymore.”
That moment an extremely tall tourist walked right up to the Soupster and clamped his gigantic hand on the much shorter man’s shoulder. “Soupster?” he asked.
“Chris Louie?” an amazed Soupster yelled up to him. “`Shrimp’ Louie?”
“We went to the same high school,” the enormous Shrimp explained to Clem.
Clem looked back and forth between the two men. “Soupster,” he said, “I thought you got named Soupster in Our Town because you publish the Soup. You mean they called you Soupster all along? How did you get the name?”
“That,” said the Soupster, “is a whole story in itself.”
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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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The Soupster witnesses the meeting of the living and the dead.
Originally published Aug. 14, 2008
Nearly everyone was pleased with the blossom and tree-filled visions of Betsy and Lawrence Brooks, writ large in the municipal flower beds and green strips in Our Town. The Soupster would have said every single person in town was pleased, but as a scientific observer of human behavior, he left the door open for a few oddball Nature haters.
Only Lawrence actually worked for the city — as a gardener and landscaper — but Betsy could usually be found working alongside him, just not for pay. One irascible codger of the supervisory variety tried to shoo Betsy away for insurance reasons, but Lawrence had enough moles at city hall to call ahead if the codger was afoot and Betsy would temporarily vaporize.
They were an exceptional team. Lawrence, red-green colorblind, compensated by refining his sense of line and contrast, Betsy handled color decisions and was a top-flight plant nurse. After more than four decades, the couple were as much of a local institution as any of the buildings they beautified. So when they decided to skedaddle South to be closer to the grandkiddies, and after they promised to visit often, the city honored the Brooks with their likenesses set in a brass memorial in their favorite garden on Lincoln St. “Lawrence and Betsy, landscapers,” their plaque read, “1960-2002.”
Ambling downtown, picturing a mocha milkshake and skewer of grilled king salmon, the Soupster saw an older tourist staring gravely at the Brooks’ memorial. “Sad, isn’t it,” said the man, as the Soupster came alongside.”So young.”
“Come again?” asked the Soupster.
“But a delight to see city gardeners so exalted,” the man continued. “I myself own a landscape firm in Los Angeles. We are forgotten there among the glitz and bling and blather.”
“I don’t think you understand…” said the Soupster.
“Of course I do!” insisted the tourist. “I more than anyone know of the power of living plants. They have the ability to heal the wounded soul. To watch things grow is to embrace life!”
“Sure but…” the Soupster tried to say, but the older man cut him off.
“Still, it is nice to see the appreciation… at the end,” the tourist concluded sadly and slowly began to move away.
And, as these things will happen sometimes, Lawrence and Betsy Brooks — back to Our Town on one of their frequent returns and looking like two fit, tanned fiddles — came marching down the other side of Lincoln Street.
“There they are!” said the Soupster. “This is what I was trying to tell you.”
“Who?” said the confused tourist.
“Lawrence and Betsy Brooks!” said the Soupster, pointing.“Right there!”
Had they been in a cartoon, the tourist’s head would have spun completely around. He looked at the Brooks, then at their likeness on the plaque and then back to them, several times.
“Do you want me to introduce you?” the Soupster innocently asked.
As the older tourist hurried off, “You people are very, very strange,” the Soupster heard him say.
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The Soupster finds the third time is the charm.
It’s a fact well-known by the people living in Our Town that other Our Town folk may play multiple roles in life and one never knows for sure what roles they might be. Your child’s skating coach could be also be your dentist. Your waitress, starring in the town melodrama, crumbles your pickup’s fender. Your elderly neighbor plays a swarthy villain in the same production and then bakes you Christmas fudge.
This is why Road Rage is not as endemic in Our Town as in other burgs. It’s just too fraught to hurl unkind words and gestures at someone who might turn out to be your sister’s boyfriend’s brother. The immediate release of tension does not feel good enough to overcome the dread of possibly making an enemy of someone you might badly need some day. You don’t want to flip any kind of bird at all at your cardiologist.
One fine summer day, the Soupster strode into a local hardware store, where he spied Carol Worthington buying towel racks for her bathroom. Worthington owned the local jewelry store and the Soupster needed to do some business with her. Carol was a serious recluse – she hired charismatic young people to run the front of the store, while she crafted sparkles in the back room.
Should the Soupster say hello? Certainly, if Carol was looking at him. But she wasn’t. Should he tap her shoulder? Before the Soupster even knew what he had decided, Worthington’s shoulder was tapped by him.
But it wasn’t Carol Worthington at all.
“Pardon me?” said the woman, a stranger.
“Sorry, I thought you were someone else,” said the Soupster, moving on.
At the clothing store, the Soupster thought he saw Carol Worthington again. Not wanting to make the same mistake, he regarded the woman from a distance. Carol’s medium-length brown hair, the same bangs. The same mid-length kind of dress that Carol always wore, running shoes she called “trainers.”
The Soupster was both more confident in the details of his sighting and put aback by his recent case of mistaken identity. This time he didn’t need to tap. The instant he entered the woman’s personal space, the Soupster knew it wasn’t Carol.
“Can I help you?” said pseudo-Carol. “Do I know you?”
The Soupster slunk away. He kept his head down, lest he see another false Carol. His head felt light, as with a low blood-sugar level. He stumbled into the soda shop and grabbed a brown padded stool by the counter. He had no sooner ordered than a woman sat down next to him.
“Hi, Soupster,” said the real Carol Worthington, patting the Soupster on the arm. “We have business together, don’t we?”
Carol ordered a confection from the young man at the counter. She turned to the Soupster.
“What’s wrong with you?” Carol said. “Why do you keep looking at me like I’m a ghost?”
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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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The Soupster compares consumer choices.
Garth McGregor was a big guy, but looked strained carrying the enormous box on his shoulder. A sheen on Bart’s skin indicated a relative rarity in Our Town – sweating outside.
The Soupster held the door from the post office for the bigger man and then followed him to his truck.
“Can I get the truck door for you, Garth?” the Soupster asked.
“Thanks, Soupster,” Garth said.
Garth drove a white pickup with a crew cab and wanted to put the box on the rear seat. He grunted as he did so.
“It’s a big microwave oven I just ordered online,” Garth said. “One heavy puppy.”
“Was it a special model?” the Soupster said. “Did you look at any of the stores in Our Town? You know, ‘Buy Local’?”
“I know, I know,” said Garth. “But I was reheating some haggis my brother sent me in the middle of this great BBC penguin thing I was watching on my e-reader and the microwave burned out. Just died.”
“Wow,” said the Soupster.
“No, the haggis was still delicious, even lukewarm,” said Garth. “But, like a zombie, without even thinking, I ordered another one on the e-reader.”
“This microwave is a nice unit,” Garth continued. “But I didn’t realize it was so big and heavy. I could’ve gotten a smaller one. I’m not looking forward to lugging this up the goat trail to my house.”
The Soupster noted the model number of the microwave and asked Garth the price. Garth told him and the Soupster wished his friend “Warm Haggis!” as Garth drove off.
“Warm haggis,” the Soupster thought, which led to another thought and then another thought until a new thought surfaced in his mind as “I need a new fluorescent bulb for my office lamp.”
At the hardware store, the Soupster was again pressed into service as a doorman. Lottie Brandywine came striding out the entrance with her usual confident commandeering of space. She was followed by a tall young man with his long arms around a big box.
As the young man passed, the Soupster noticed the item was a microwave oven, pretty much the same model that Garth had tussled with a half hour before. He followed the young man, who followed Lottie.
Lottie popped the hatch of her car with a handheld device, instructed the young man to put the box in there and thanked him.
The Soupster sidled up and greeted Lottie.
“New microwave?” he asked.
“Aren’t we nosy,” she answered.
“Well, I just saw Garth McGregor lugging a similar microwave at the post office.”
“Oh, yeah? What did he pay?” Lottie asked. When the Soupster told her, she smiled. “I paid $8.96 more. And I didn’t have to lug it anywhere.”
“Buy Local,” the Soupster said.
“Bye, bye,” said Lottie.
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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?”
“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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Whole Soup is a PDF version of every page of the Soup, just as it appears in the printed edition.
Whole Soup is a PDF version of every page of the Soup, just as it appears in the printed edition.
The Soupster takes a road trip.
The Nat Mandel Sitka Trivia Crossword is a locally created crossword that has local clues and appears here as a pdf version that can be viewed or printed.
The Soupster talks about nicknames and writing.
Would you like to create an Our Town?
The Sitka Soup would welcome an infusion of “new blood.” You may tell your story in words (450-500 of them), or as a graphic “cartoon” strip. We would even consider a short original photo essay with B&W photos. Your Our Town must be closely connected with the life of Sitkans, and the Soupster must make an appearance, even if it’s a brief one.
If we run your Our Town, we’ll pay you $50. To submit: Email your creation to firstname.lastname@example.org and put “Our Town” in the Subject line. Or call: 747-7595.
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.