Category Archives: Animals

For The Birds

 
A family of robins moved into my yard. Two adults, two fat fledglings, one just a little fatter than the other.

The fledglings eat constantly, and it is a wonder how many worms the adults manage to find to feed them day after day after day.

I was thrilled at first. These delightful visitors, my guests, evidence of life happening!

And then the lawn furniture. The patio, the spot under the tree where I like to read.

Bombarded. Destroyed with the collective birdshit of two adults, two fledglings, one just a little fatter than the other.

That fat little bastard, who eats all the worms then perches over my spot, more than seems necessary.

Do you see me, little bird? Can you see me watching you? I know what you are doing. I see you.

Fat Bastard Bird

So it occurs to me that the robins have perhaps worn out their welcome. They have turned theory into practice and ruined it with consequence.

And of course, they haven’t done anything.

They are birds.

That is what I tell myself now, because I can.

Shit happens.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Raccoon/Raccoons

 
A raccoon tried to break through my skylight above my bed last night.

No wait. Let me back up.

It was a hot day in the summer of my childhood.

The Metro Toronto Zoo, a heavy, hazy day by the lion’s den, the lions more lifeless than bored. But I had already turned away from their prone and insensible bodies.

To peer into the contents of the garbage can, tipped toward me for my benefit. Two brilliant eyes stares back, up at me.

“Hey, girl!” the Groundskeeper had said, “want to see these things close up?”

The raccoon was terrified. In to grab a snack, then suddenly caught and on display like every other damn thing.

His arms were braced against the inside of the can.

An arm flashed rigid and grasping against the pane of the skylight, illuminated by the light of the moon. 3:00AM, alone and terrified, I stared up.

Just as the tiny fingers pushed through, digging into the wire mesh beneath, curling up under the frame of the skylight.

But the groundskeeper was a kind-hearted soul, who said to me, “OK. Step away now,” as he tipped the garbage can all the way down, slowly, gently, to the ground.

Beside us the lions stirred, and were still again.

Her babies. The landlord had called the exterminator, and he had taken away her babies from the old broken down chimney. She was here now, looking for them.

Trying to get in.

And nothing!

For long moments, nothing.

Then one tentative hand. Pause, back in the can again.

Then out.

Out, out, out!

An explosion of grey and black and teeth and fur and tail and ring, ring, rings!

An explosion of glass and wire; of wood and rot and rodent fury had I not.

Had I not.

Hit the lights, jumped on the bed with the only thing at hand – a long cardboard tube of old Christmas wrap – and thrust it into the skylight, the heavens, the mother raccoon.

Those clever little raccoon hands.

The trapped raccoon, mad for his freedom, scattered gravel and garbage in his wake as he ran blindly from his little prison and jumped up, hitting the fence, climbing hand over hand.

Straight into the lions’ den.

Trying to get out.

And I remembered.

I remembered the lion coming to life. I remember her flat then lithe and ready and liquid and pouncing onto the raccoon, with grace, with ease, front claws out then in, embedded deeply into raccoon flesh and then the lion breaking the raccoon’s neck with audible “pop” and then devouring the raccoon in great gulps as the Groundskeeper turned to me and said, “My god, good Lord!

And then in that space between shock and awe, it occurred to me.

As much as I resent raccoons, even hate them, I might as well respect them.

They do what they can.

I jabbed again at the skylight, nearly losing my balance on the bed.

The mother raccoon hissed once, and was gone.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Pet Shop Boy

 
There is a time and place for everything.

At the pet store, for example.

Feeding Ivan, our pet tarantula, means having to go to the pet store – a place that reminds me of a kind of low-grade zoo/high-end furniture store – every two weeks or so to buy 6 individual live crickets.

Her favourite.

It is not a lot. It’s something like $0.90 dropped into the bucket of a ba-zillion dollar industry.

I know what to do and say at the pet store to get my paltry 6 crickets as quickly as possible so I can get out of there as quickly as possible, and get on with my life:
 
1. Go directly to the register.

2. Repeat the line:

Do you sell individual live crickets? I only need six, but I’ll pay for the dozen.”
 
Pet stores almost always only sell live crickets by the dozen. The clerks are usually quite helpful and sometimes won’t even charge for the full dozen.

But the clerk at this particular store seemed to have fallen off the back of something…

  • A truck
  • An after school special
  • The last immediate century

…And right in front of my existence.

He refused to look up, his hands fumbling under the counter at something that I will imagine as not the crotch of his pants. He sighed heavily at the question and answered, all the while fumbling like it was the best thing since sliced bread and there was no tomorrow and like his life depended on it.

“Yeah,” he said, jutting a jiggling elbow to the back of the store, “just go to the back and ask the brown guy.”

Go to the back and ask the brown guy.

He said it like he said it all the time, everyday. He said that like it was the everyday, said like it wouldn’t leave me standing there, forgetting totally my mission to get out of the pet store as fast as I could and on with the rest of my life.

I stood there, not knowing how to react, something like a ba-zillion responses flashing in my mind. I stood there for so long he stopped fumbling.

We made eye contact.

And something clicked.

WHAT?”

For both of us.

MIIIIIIKE! Go ask Mike!”

Go ask Mike.

Who got me the crickets, all six, but charged me for the dozen.

When I returned to the register to pay, the clerk had disappeared – two bubbly teens working in his place now – had disappeared like some racist mirage. A false blip on an otherwise limitless horizon where people can congratulate themselves for voting Obama.

The Black President.

But as I left, crickets in hand, I saw him again.

In front of me, again, sitting in the food court.

Eating kettle chips.

As real as anything.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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The Taxidermist*

 
There was a time I would go out of my way, past the subway station and down the vacant city blocks, past the dinky little pharmacy and the cramped and sloping tenements, just so I could stand under that big sign and stare in through the window.

TAXIDERMY STUDIO

Morning, afternoon – to my great relief and disappointment, it was never open.

And so I continued my vigil, as often I would find the time.

But on that day, I sensed something inside.

Movement.

Someone was in there. Very much alive.

 

He sat there at the far end of the studio, slumped behind an ancient makeshift table, hands folded primly across his belly. I glanced at the long nails on his fingertips and imagined them stripping skin from flesh. He was framed on one side by a black bear whose outstretched arm pawed tentatively at the air. On his other side stood two pheasants, male and female, their heads bowed low in supplication. He was crowned by a gigantic moose’s head, which jutted out from the wall behind him and hovered, it seemed, but mere inches from his own.

The studio was filled with a heavy, tactile musk. I swallowed a little with each breath to avoid choking on it. The floor was littered with rubber bands, glass eyes, plastic bags, skull fragments and errant tongues. I carefully picked my way around them. He waited until I stood just a few feet away from the table before he lifted his head, and spoke.

Chinese? Pay double.”

I’d lived in the big city long enough and had learned how to respond in kind.

“I’m Vietnamese. So I should only pay half.”

A twinkle came to his eye. He sat there plump and contented and smiled; a King or demi-god preached on an altar of bone and antler.

A deranged Buddha.

The Taxidermist.

 

I heard laughter, impossibly, to my right.

And there, between empty six-packs of Stella Artois, between Tim Hortons cups brimming with seedling plants and amongst a clutch of three scratching hens and a roaster, mid-strut, beside a yawning coyote and under the serene face of a mounted caribou, I saw him.

The Apprentice.

He was wearing a blue lab coat, faded and frayed at the edges, with metal picks and wooden skewers sticking out the pockets. Invisible just a moment before, he now sat there very plainly on a wooden stool, laughing and gesturing wildly around the studio.

“Nothing is for sale here, girl! The man works on commission only.” The Apprentice smiled at me. He jeered, biting the tip of his thumb.

I tried to explain…what?

That I had felt compelled to go out of my way just to stand in front of the studio?

That I did this more than I would like to confess, especially to myself?

That I needed to come inside?

For what?

All around us, from each corner and from every crevice of the poorly lit studio, The Taxidermist’s creations loomed – listening, waiting. Some lingered, merging with the dust and the shadows, while others leaped out in harsh relief, eager to meet my gaze. I caught the contemptuous glance of a thin-faced red squirrel. A wall of gaping fish – trophy pike, largemouth bass, a lonely gar – sighed audibility as a trio of raccoon skulls leered, mouths partially open. The pheasants regarded us inquisitively, while the coyote took in everything with his teeth bared, obviously bored.

“I just wanted to have a look,” I said.

“A look!” said The Taxidermist. “Vietnamese? You look like this,” he pulled the corners of his own blue eyes hard, as if tying to connect them to his ears. Watching me through narrow slits, he laughed. The Apprentice laughed.

It was early yet, but the sun was already setting into winter’s afternoon. The studio was so narrow and crowded that I had to turn around to leave. But I didn’t want to turn my back on The Taxidermist, and I didn’t want to lose sight of The Apprentice. Saying nothing, I willed myself to stay in place.

The Taxidermist rubbed out his face and shifted in his seat, suddenly became very sober.

“It’s OK. Is OK. Everyone,” he murmured, “is from Africa.”

“Everyone is from Africa,” repeated The Apprentice, nodding vigorously.

“You, me, Sammy Davis Junior,” said The Taxidermist, pointing. His accent was thick, but it rolled off his tongue sweetly, deliberately. I tried to place it (Central Europe? Polish, maybe?), but was interrupted by The Apprentice.

“Listen, girl! We’re all the same! Everything is the same! Everything but the skin, and sometimes the hair, and maybe the eyes,” he mused. He braced his hands against his legs against the stool. A metal pick fell to the floor as he did so, but he made no move to retrieve it.

“Have you ever seen aurora borealis?”

The Taxidermist, too, sat up. He reached out and began caressing the black bear on its neck and muzzle, his hands trailing countless rivulets in the soft dark fur.

“You see my shop? I do it all, except the eyes.”

“The man does it all,” confirmed The Apprentice, who started telling me about the lost art of taxidermy. About how the fleck of a brush can make or ruin a specimen completely. About how the positioning of the limbs or the ears or the curvature of muscle can deliver life and expression, or reduce a specimen to awful caricature. About where to cut along the carcass, keeping ever mindful of the toes and that delicate spot around the nose and lips.

The Apprentice rambled on about the animals that had passed through the studio, all creatures great and small (nothing illegal, no pets) and forever in debt to the exquisite touch of The Taxidermist. He spoke darkly of the hunters and sportsmen who had commissioned work from the studio and never returned to pick it up or pay for it.

“Like throwing away the fucking Mona Lisa. Like spitting in da Vinci’s face!”

The Taxidermist, The Apprentice assured me with a grand sweep of his arm, was a master of his art. A true master.

“The man, he knows,” he said, much to The Taxidermist’s obvious pleasure.

Did I, by the way, want to know the secret to taxidermy?

“Arsenic,” whispered The Taxidermist, leaning back against his seat, hands clasping again on his belly. He closed his eyes.

“I know,” here his voiced raised considerably, “what to do with the skin.”

 

But it was obvious, even from the outside looking in, that The Taxidermist’s masterpieces hadn’t left the studio in years. Most were covered in layers of dust and detritus, their coats dulled in uneven blotches by the sun, their fur and hair falling out in turns.

The studio was a wonder, and it was not; a halfway house for things otherwise forgotten, and going extinct everyday.

There were times, said the Taxidermist, when he would let out his more impressive specimens – the spiny porcupine or the smiling alligator, perhaps – to the movie studios and museums.

But no more.

The universities and colleges still ask him to take a on a student or two every semester and the newspapers still sometimes want him to do an interview for (what else?) human interest.

He no longer returns their calls.

The fish, the fowl, the severed and defleshed heads are less relics now than witnesses to the creeping decay and its final promise.

He will never sell them.

Of that I remain utterly certain.

 

It was almost dark now. I began laying down excuses to leave (“have to met up with some friends”, “dinnertime” “it’s almost dark now”), but was saved by The Apprentice, who jerked his head sharply to the side and caught my eye.

“Hey. I like Lenny Kravitz myself.”

He laughed so hard he almost fell off his stool. At this, The Taxidermist’s eyes flew open.

“Enough!” cried The Taxidermist, hands slamming so hard on the table I would swear he shattered it into splinters. His voice was piercing, insistent. It shocked me. The Apprentice, for his part, was reduced to a fit of giggles, which he tried to suppress with both hands over his mouth.

Pushing himself slowly from his seat, The Taxidermist stood up. Grinning, he playfully shook his head at The Apprentice then turned to address me.

“I need to go to my doctor’s appointment. My diabetes.”

He winked.

“Goodbye girl.”

I waited until The Apprentice joined him behind the table and watched as he helped The Taxidermist to the back of the store before I retreated to the front.

I walked out onto the sidewalk. I heard the loud click of the lock. I felt more than saw the lights go out behind me.

I may have looked back, but I don’t remember.
 
 
 
*Long-listed for the CBC’s “Canada Writes Competition”, June 2014.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Duck Calling

 

Duck Ducklings

The questions were unexpected and extraordinary.

“Are you raising ducklings?”

“How are you going to keep a duck in the city??”

“Will that be good for the ducks, especially with the dog being there???”

No mention of the fact that the duckling – at turns named Donald and Daisy and Howard and Daffy; at turns referred to as “it” or “they” – has two heads, or upon closer inspection (but not that close, isn’t the wooden stand a dead giveaway?) are clearly not alive.

All of the sudden, a two-headed duckling living in the city, being raised in my apartment and with my dog around, was as plain as the beaks on their faces. The real issue, the one more vital than the simple, evident fact of their existence, was my terrible and selfish decision to take the duckling home with me.

It was touching, in a way, and also remarkable; this concern for something so small and innocent. People do have a way of getting past the obvious.

I cleared the air (Everyone! These are fake real ducklings. Please stop asking how I am going to raise a duck in the city!), and laughed and laughed.

Soon after, I put the duckling under glass to keep the dust off of them.

And now I sometimes catch myself looking at it, terrified they cannot breathe.
 

Ducks Under Glass
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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@ The Gopher Hole Museum, Torrington, Alberta

 

Ice Skating Gophers
 
 
“So, do you have a taxidermist on site or how does this,” I paused to gesture around the room, “um, work?”

The woman standing next to me was standing next to me out of the same sheer curiously that compelled me to ask the question – that, indeed, compelled both Stephen and I to take a last-minute detour 130KM out of our way on this, our last day in Alberta, Canada.

The Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop. June 2012.

The woman standing next to me was Granny Gopher. The woman standing next to me could, in fact, be none other than Granny Gopher.

We were in the presence of the Grand Matriarch of a little speck of a place known as Torrington, Alberta.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Magnificent Torrington!

A place you could not rightly call beautiful. A two-minute walk in any direction takes you to the very edge of town, will take you to that exact spot on the Albertan horizon where the sky and earth fuse into a vast, indistinguishable one.

This has not in the least deterred the good people of Torrington, who decided to celebrate the awe and splendor of life in Torrington as they thought best.

Through taxidermy.

Through dead stuffed gophers to be exact.

The Cowboy

Why gophers?

Because, unless yet despite being employed otherwise, gophers are a bane on the town of Torrington, destroying crops and leaving holes around town, attracting still more pests in the form of predatory badgers that dig still more holes in their pursuit of Torrington gopher meat.

These holes can be dangerous. They can break legs: human, cattle and horse. They are unsightly and cause erosion.

Torrington’s residents kill Torrington gophers by the thousands.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Is the Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop world famous?

No. Not really.

True, when it opened its doors on June 1, 1996, there was a bit of what you could call a media frenzy – newspapers at home and abroad, including big name publications such as the Wall Street Journal and Newsweek ran stories of what could be called the Torrington’s embrace of its “controversial” museum.  But now, as we trudge on toward the end 2013, it is fair to say that Things have died down for Torrington’s Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop. Publicity comes at a trickle, these days.

It seems fitting, then, that it was only incidentally that we found out about Torrington.  A turn of events, a kind of kismet that you wouldn’t actually call fate had lead us Torrington:

“You’re into taxidermy, right?[1] So there’s this place that you should check out before you leave. It’s got all these stuffed squirrels or rats something. It’s like an hour away from Calgary.”
“It is expensive?”
“It should be like two dollars.”
“Okay. Maybe.”

That is how it went down.

Is the Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop infamous?

Again no. Not really, no.

There was that scrap it had with P.E.T.A. When Torrington settled on dead stuffed gophers to attract tourists, the People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals wrote many, many letters. It was a campaign of protest. Of indignation. Protest letters soon followed from all over Canada, France, The United States, the Netherlands, Germany and Japan.

Eventually, Torrington sent a postcard to reply to P.E.T.A.

“Get stuffed,” is what it said.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

Inside Torrington’s Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop.

“Television screens. The walls are full of little TVs”, is what I said to Stephen.

Inside Torrington

 
I lied a little above when I said Things have died down for the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop. There was a bus full of visitors due that day Stephen and I were there. That’s also why Granny Gopher was there, in person persona, dressed up and ready – to entertain half of the group (12 people) outside in order to allow the other half to comfortably tour the very small museum. In the gift shop, which you enter and exit during your visit to the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop, is a map. It is dotted with hundreds of pins representing visitors from all over the world.

But why gophers?

“Our museum is a whimsical portrayal of life in the tranquil hamlet of Torrington. There are 77 mounted gophers in 47 displays with different themes: hockey player, hairdresser, farmer, etc. Each character is dressed to compliment the artist’s picturesque background”, reads a handout I was given at the Gopher Hole Museum And Gift Shop.

“Admission:
Adult………$2.00
Under 14…… .50″

The gophers, I am convinced, could have been depicted doing absolutely anything, anywhere.

But almost all of the 47 TV boxes are of Torrington: the post office, the library, the Torrington Viscount School, Torrington’s Trinity Lutheran Church, Torrington’s Village Office, the Torrington Hotel and someplace called John’s Air Cooled Marine Engines Service.

Torrington Hotel

There is an unreal tangibility about the gophers of Torrington. Torrington’s gophers.

Because the gophers are embedded into Torrington’s very concrete, in a way, they fill Torrington’s very air.

There’s Clem T. GoFur, Torrington’s official greeter and town mascot.

Ladies and Gentlemen: Clem T. GoFur

Ladies and Gentlemen: Clem T. GoFur

Clem is 12 feet tall, clothed and smiling, and is the first thing you see as you turn in from the highway and into Torrington. There is a plaque listing, among other Things, his D.O.B (June 20, 1991). There is a nearby sign that reads, among other Things:

I am a handsome gopher
A mascot if you please
Torrington’s my place of birth
And where I take my ease

Hello to everyone of you
We’d like to shake your hand
Come in and see our heritage
Living off the land.
[2]

My feeling is that the sign is meant to compliment the lyrics of The Torrington Gopher Call Song, which includes, among other Things:

There’s millions of these rodents that are causing such a fuss,
They dig their home in the prairie loam, turning everything to dust.
If you fret and worry that the Gopher will be gone,
You can always take some with you and release them on your lawn
The moral of this story is to be wise before you speak,
Lots of us do like them, but their damage is not cheap.
There always will be gophers, their lives not in hand,
So just sit back and watch them as they dig up all our land.
[3]

Torrington’s fire hydrants are painted up as gophers – Clem’s GoFur Clan – at the apex of which sits Granny Gopher of course. You may find each of hydrants – each member of the GoFur Clan – on a self-guided walking tour of Torrington using the very thoughtful map provided at the Gopher Hole Museum and Gift Shop by the TORRINGTON TOURISM ACTION SOCIETY.

They have names and a pretty involved family tree, complete with individual back-stories.

The GoFur Clan

The GoFur Clan

They are as real as it gets.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

“We don’t have an on-site taxidermist. There’s a man we send the gophers to. He stuffs them. Sometimes people send us gophers, like the albino one we have. The cowboy,” said Granny Gopher.

Why gophers?

Lacking lakes, mountains – natural attractions of any kind – without grand architecture or dramatic origins and bereft of anything you would call a vibrant arts or culture scene, Torrington looked deep into itself and came out the other side of itself.

Clem T. GoFur Too

If it happens in Torrington, it happens to Torrington, it happens through Torrington.

It had to have been always about the gophers.

~*~*~*~*~*~*~

What is there left to say?

I have never encountered a place that meant itself so much as Torrington, Alberta.

 
 


[1] “Yeah.”

[2] By Carol Pfeifer, a Torrington resident.

[3] Lyrics by Dennis Oster.
 
 
***********************************************************************
 
The GoFur Clan [as described by the TORRINGTON TOURISM ACTION SOCIETY]:

1. Granny is the matriarch of the GoFur clan, the mother of Trixie, Mabel and Junior. Her grandson, Clem, is the official town greeter. Granny and Gramps were among the earliest settlers of this region, at a time when becoming a province of Canada was still in Alberta’s future.

2. Gramps is the patriarch of the GoFur clan who is getting a little too old to cut the mustard anymore but he sill enjoys a bit of barley, He’s always happy to welcome visitors whenever they drop in to see him at the south end of town.

3. Auntie Mame is Granny’s sister who married an elderly European count and went to live in Gofalia when she was still in her teens. They lived happily in their castle for many years but then the count died, Auntie Mame returned to Torrington to be with her kinfolk.

4. Trixie is Clem’s mom and the daughter of Gramps and Granny. She is a nurse who cares for the sick and bandages the scraped knees of the youngsters in town. When Homer was inured falling from a hay wagon that was passing through town, it was Trixie who cared for him and when love blossomed, married him.

5. Homer grew up in Saskatchewan and arrived in Torrington when he fell from a hay wagon that was passing through town. Trixie found him at the roadside and cared for him while he recovered from his injuries. They later married and raised their children, Clem, Tubby and Peggy Sue, in the town.

6. Mabel was the town’s schoolteacher when she met Butch on a hoilday. She is very involved with community affairs and still teaches part-time at the school while also raising a family of little GoFurs.

7. Butch is the sailor of the GoFur clan. He was a crewman on a cruise ship when Mabel met him. After a long courtship, they married and Butch settled down in Torrington. Shy and retiring, he’s often found peeking out at visitors from behind the bushes and shrubbery.

8. Junior is the bachelor son of Granny and Gramps. He’s the musician of the GoFur clan and is the leader of his own musical group which provides music for many local events. During the winter, he travels in the south but if you’re lucky, you may find him at home during the summer.

9. Ellie May [mentioned only in entry on Baby Jessie. See below].

10. Clem [mentioned only in entries of other GoFur family members].

11. Tubby is the comedian of the GoFur clan. At family gatherings, he’s always the one with a lampshade on his head, surrounded by smiling faces. Tubby is the opposite of his rather quiet, subdued brother, Clem [,] who stands at the entrance of town, watching visitors as they pass by.

12. Peggy Sue is the baby sister of Torrington’s official greater, Clem. She’s normally found just outside the Lutheran Church, dressed in her ‘Sunday best’, as she leaves church after attending Sunday School.

13. Baby Jessie is the daughter of Clem and Ellie May. She used to enjoy watching the trains that passed through Torrington. Now, even though the line has been closed and the track removed, she still likes to sit and remember those good times.

14. Clem Jr. is the “chip off the old block” who tries to imitate his father, Clem, in every way. You’ll notice that they even dress alike. When he grows up, he thinks he’d like to be a fireman. He likes to play on the swing and slide in the playground.

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Take Out

 
The light lit up the room in a queer way. Things glinted, they shone, they were infused with a shimmering beige-gold glow that bounced gaily off the chandeliers above and suffused the plush carpeting below.

People get married in that room, and in that light. They celebrate bah mitzvahs and have work parties. And when I was there, they were, also, selling reptiles.

Imagine that!

Because when I say that “I went to a Reptile Expo”, it was in this light, this glittering haze that I wandered the rented ballroom, eventually aimlessly, and which brought on yet another small, but not insignificant existential fit.

Reptiles in take out trays.

Snake to Go

Snake to Go

Everywhere!  The makeshift aisles brimmed with them, they were piled high and spilled under tables, even.

.

.

.

    S

        T

    A

        C

    K

E

    D

.

.

.

Chow mien displaced by corn snakes. Bearded dragons instead of vindaloo. Tiny chameleons in otherwise empty humus containers, with a few holes punched in the lid, for air. Vendors with names like DragonsONE, Tails & Scales, Oddball Exotics, Slime Beards: Designer Boas & Pythons and, my favourite, Gecko Brothel.

Word.

A man in a ponytail bought his four-year-old son a little gecko. The boy shook it as he jumped around excitedly, examining it in that wonderful light. A woman offered to set up an axolotl[1] tank “anywhere in the house” for me, complete with a carefully selected axolotl.  They were, in her words, “very unique”. They came in various colours.

And this:

I saw a man pay a brick of tens and twenties for an albino python, specially bred. The breeder placed it in a brown sack for him, and in a just a slight tick of the mind’s eye, I swear I saw him throw the sack over his shoulder like he did it all the time.

Who knows?

And of course it all made a kind of undeniable sense.

I recently acquired a tarantula, and it is basically like having an alien in my house, not exactly living with me but existing alongside my daily comings and goings.  It is very, very silent and feeds only once a week – a of diet 3 to 4 live crickets. I’ve seen Ivan kill dozens of times.

That’s the tarantula’s name, Ivan.

Ivan

I got Ivan from someone who was moving and could not take her along. I bought a book to help me learn how to care for Ivan. There was a warning printed on the insert. On tarantulas and keeping tarantulas as pets, it could not be more clear:
 

  • Even though they may appear to be merely large, gentle spiders, they [tarantulas] are still venomous animals, and enthusiast keeping them as pets must acknowledge this fact. Even if the pet is well known to be gentle and harmless, the enthusiast must assume that the potential for a serious reaction always exists, and must be prepared to take appropriate action.
  • In addition, many of these animals are known to have urticating or irritating bristles. Even if the pet’s bristles are known to be relatively benign and inoffensive the enthusiast must assume that, upon exposure to them, the potential exists for a serious reaction. Of particularly grave consequence is the trauma caused by the bristles in the human eye
  • Tarantulas have been kept as pets for only a few decades. There is much that is still not known about them…The keeper of a pet tarantula must acknowledge that these creatures are still wild animals and must treat them as such. Keeping any animal as a pet requires a great deal of responsibility. Keeping a wild animal as a pet absolutely commands that responsibility (Schultz and Schultz 2009 emphasis mine).

 
I have a friend who has a brother who has snakes.  “They don’t need much,” she said. “Lots of people collect them and keep them in drawers, even. There are collectors who have walls of drawers.”

Reptiles in take out trays.

Animals so different from people, in ways completely different from how other animals are very different from people, wild and biblical, the stuff of legend and nightmares and evolutionary wonder, all carefully coiled and secured and immobilized and handy.

They probably don’t mind it; in fact, given the chance, they’d probably appreciate the care shown to their particular tastes for small spaces and special feedings.  But it’s weird, really weird, having them available like that and ranging in value from like $20 bucks to $2500 dollars.

More than the reptiles themselves that’s what really got to me about the Reptile Expo, that day when the snakes and turtles and dragons bathed in that pretty light before me: the reptiles, being there and being extremely manageable and terribly convenient.

Enthusiast. Collector. Keeper.

I think there is a word for this, this kind of devotion.

I think it would be OK to call it unrequited love. High romance. I think that would be close to something approaching it.

Here is something that is also included in the warning on the insert of my book:
 
 
UNDER NO CIRCUMSTANCES IS THE TARANTULA TO BE TURNED LOOSE INTO THE WILD!
 
 
 
References

Schultz, Stanley A. and Schultz, Marguerite J. (2009) The Tarantula Keeper’s Guide: Comprehensive Information on Care, Housing and Feeding (revised edition). Barron’s: Hauppauge, New York.
 


[1] A Mexican salamander whose name means, among other things, “water monster”.

 

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Actually Getting to Ride That Pony After All

 
I was SO MAD I gave myself a rage headache and that made me very sleepy so I feel asleep but then I woke up SO MAD again.

What to do?

Ride the pony until it dies. Stay indoors. Hydrate!

Any beating this?

Any beating this?

Is there a rainbow at the end of the pony ride? A light at the end of the pony tunnel? A sliver lining to this clip-clopping cloud?

HA, HA, HA!

No.

Noooooooo!  
 

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The Giant Fleshball of Mysterious

 
And we dug (digging being a huge component of the job, sometimes even the job itself). There were trenches and units all over the site (that’s were we work, a site) and as we continued to dig, as we dug, as we kept up digging, suddenly, shattering the rhythmic clanks and scrapings and pounds and scratches of the metal on dirt, of metal on rock , of metal on metal, a dull *THUD*, palpable, and a scream, human.

Primal.

Ear-splitting.

There! Right at the bottom at the end of a unit, exposed from the impact of the shovel, remarkably precise, debris collapsing around it like the dust of fallout, deeper than apparently possible, evidently impossible.

A near-perfect sphere.

Warty, fleshlike. Gigantic, and unambiguously, almost unapologetically staring up at us like a goddamn dare.

A giant fleshball of mysterious.

It began to pulsate, subtly. A Thing most certainly alive.

We edged around it, wondered briefly if it could be worked around, somehow, as if by the sheer will of communal defiance we could banish it from the here and now, repressing its discovery back under the surface of our minds as if it were something doctors’ tests would later confirm as benign the whole time anyway.

But of course we couldn’t do that, just ignore it, this fleshy alien intruder, and especially not after it began to extend something, something – began to extend this something out and up and toward and into the musky late afternoon air, sunlight throwing its various lumps and divots into terrible relief.

An appendage, jointed in two, folding out like the arm of a satellite, jerking and sputtering like a jalopy in its death throes.

An arm! No, wait! A Leg!

Toes? Toad’s? Toad’s toes!

Proof, as only crappy, out-of-focus photography can do it.

The Daring Fleshball.

A Toad.

An honest-to-goodness goddamn fucking live toad now only buried head first, so a little less like toad than ostrich. After still more self-conscious hesitation, I finally reached down pulled it forever away from its hibernation home. It was just small enough to almost fit in my hand, where it rested a little then defecated uncontrollably.[1] It tried to blink, but failed.

You should have seen it! Its expression, the utter stupefaction etched on the poor bastard’s ectothermic face, his eyes squinting at completely different angles, his mouth slightly agape, a tiny forearm grasping at the nothing of the empty space in front of it.

Jesus. I can’t imagine that, how it must have felt, to be torn so violently away from its great subterranean slumber just under the comfortable safety of the frost line. And with winter coming; it must have knew.

But I can venture a good, solid guess on what its last thoughts must have been.

What the fuck?

Whatthefuck?Whatthefuck??Whatthefuck???
 


[1] Can you blame it?

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