Category Archives: Places

House Haunting

 
I like to walk around in other people’s houses when they are not there. It thrills me.

I like to open kitchen cabinets and refrigerator doors and I like to peer under beds and parse paint choices and peruse bookshelves.

I like to straighten pictures and nudge knick-knacks just a touch to the left, just a touch to the right.

I walk, I look, and I wonder about the people.

Would they notice the planter askew, where I had moved it with my finger? Would they mind that I used to bathroom? I startled the cat on my way to the bedroom, poor thing. I creaked the floorboards going up and down the hallway.

Tee-hee! Ha, ha, ha!!

I think about how fun it is to haunt people, and then how ultimately pointless.

Tee-hee.

And then we gave notice on our apartment, and for a while I wondered about my own paint choices, the books lining the shelves in my living room, the contents of my refrigerator. My plants, my furniture, the crusty dishes I left in the sink.

And I thought about being haunted.

Do I want to live somewhere where the people before had painted the walls a deep, insistent mauve? Where the kitty litter had been kept, of all places, in the kitchen? Where Anne Rice enjoyed such an undeniable presence?

And which Anne Rice? Anne Rice, Queen of the Damned? Anne Rice, The Pious? The Once and Future Anne Rice?

Does it matter?

There were hand smudges on the walls of my new place. I painted over them but sometimes when I pass along the hallway, I can almost just see them.

And I admit that for now I will avoid looking directly into the dirty mirrors strewn around this place, I will throw away the greasy microwave that was left here, I will sprinkle “Nature’s Miracle Just for Cats Urine Destroyer Intense Urine Stain & Odor Remover” around this godforsaken place like freakin’ holy water.

I think that would be best, don’t you?

Ha, ha, ha.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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In Cahoots

 
It’s strange now to see anyone using a pay phone. Stranger still to see anyone using a payphone on the subway platform, but there she was.

The woman in the farmer’s galoshes.

I don’t want to reveal too much; I don’t want to, you know, compromise her identity or anything, the woman in the farmer’s galoshes with the big scar running from the corner of her left eye to the middle of her rather prominent forehead.

She picked up the phone and dialled, punching in the numbers without hardly ever even looking at the keypad.

The phone rang a few times, it must have, before she got an answer. She tapped her thick fingers against the plastic sides of the telephone booth as she waited.

Her nails were immaculate.

“So you’re home after all,” she said, finally. “Meet me at our spot in half an hour.”

A pause, the heavy underground air ringing my ears.

“Oh, sorry. Did I wake you? Alright then. Meet me at our spot in an hour. Can you get to our spot in an hour? Is an hour enough? Alright then. I’ll meet you at our spot in an hour.”

She hung up the phone, placed the receiver back in its cradle with a semi-satisfying click, the woman with immaculate nails in the farmer’s galoshes with the big scar running from the corner of her left eye to the middle of her rather prominent forehead.

And there I was. Standing there, right next to the booth, the action, pretending to read Didon’s Play It As It Lays, and trying to be cool, just be cool, and wondering.

Was it possible that I had just witnessed something clandestine, at 4:00PM on a Sunday?

I mean, should I even be telling you this?

She timed it perfectly. Our train arrived. The doors opened and the woman got onto the subway car ahead of me.

I tried to catch her eye as she turned, and I failed.
 
 
 
 
 
References

Didion, Joan. (2005). Play It As It Lays: A Novel. Farrar, Straus and Giroux (revised paperback edition): New York.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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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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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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Franchise

 
Sunday in deep afternoon in a coffee place in a small town in the middle of nowhere, surrounded by highway. Not that that makes that much of a difference. It doesn’t matter.

These coffee places spring up everywhere and nowhere. That is their, for lack of a better word, charm.

These coffee places are – this coffee place is full of people who don’t stay long; they come and go in perfect turnover, replacing each other like a low shuffling tide.

The uniforms for the employees… they are supposed to be able to wear them home, on the bus, to the mall, on the way from school without arousing the notice, suspicion or contempt of others. That’s not a lie, really, but it’s just not true, either. You can spot them easily, pick them from the crowd so fast, when they do any of that.

Actually, most of the employees at these coffee places are not fresh-faced teens but people about the exact age and build of my mom. My mom could be working here, and probably yours as well.

A lot of moms like our moms work here. They repeat orders dutifully to make sure they got them right, and then go out back when it’s time for their break.

There is an Indian family sitting near the door, eating from Tupperware filled with food from home. No one is bothering them about it (as long as they eat fast and somewhat furtively); they have already bought their coffee.

A trio of teens, draped in fading black t-shirts and determined sneers, plop down into their hard plastic seats, hands full of donuts and extra-large something-somethings. They sing along with songs they say they hate.

…I came in like a wrecking ball…All I wanted was to break your walls…All you ever did was wreck me…

(It is obvious they will be back here later, if they can’t get a ride out tonight).

… I came in like a wrecking ball…

Dog-eared newspapers can be found here and there, brought in by people from the outside. They are the only thing people seem to read in these coffee places.

There is an old man sitting next to me, thumbing through a section of newspaper. He stops to scratch his beard. He finds the Sudoku and does it with his finger.

I have a pen in my bag, but I do not offer it to him.

Obits

I read the obituaries until my coffee gets cold, which seems faster than can honestly be expected.
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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They Call Him Pinto

 
“Pinto…McBean?”

That’s Pinto MACBEAN.

M-A-C-B-E-A-N.

He flashed across our vision as we drove through the streets of Bow Island, Alberta, lost as anything. A beige and orange dollop blur that beckoned from the horizon.

PINTO, large, bold and black was stamped on the brim of his cowboy hat.

Those eyes, vast yet warm. That crescent moon smile and John Wayne-ish bandana. That lovely, pear-shaped body. His gun (a six-shooter?) hanging rakishly off his hip, his two hands impossible mittens, at once waving hello and resting just above the gun.

PINTO MACBEAN

As if to draw?

As if to give us pause?

Et tu, Pinto?

Ceci n’est pas une pistolet, Pinto.

An information booth, itself non-descript and patient, Sorry We are Closed hanging dead centre of the window yet open for business, stood in Pinto’s wake.

Coffee mugs graced with Pinto’s likeness were on sale on the one shelf set up on the one wall that had much of anything. Stationed behind an enormous counter, the old woman inside offered us bags of free dry edible beans, her head just peaking from above a vast edge Formica.

Different kinds, assorted sizes. As much as we wanted! That was, after all, why Pinto was there; to signify the importance of the dry edible bean industry in Bow Island, Alberta, letting us know exactly, You are Here.

The Bean Capital of the West.

Bow Island, Alberta, which is not an island. Population 2,025, according to the 2011 Federal census.

Bow Island, Alberta, a place, a nearby sign reads, that remains In the Heart of the Golden West. The Last Frontier.

In case you didn’t know.

I took kidney beans and black beans.

Weeks later, when we unpacked the car, we couldn’t find them. Not anywhere! Not a bean.

Kris swears he didn’t take them, but later admitted that they were spectacular in his stew.

We’ve never said another word about it.

Pinto Info?
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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Interlude!

 
He had a kind face, with laughing eyes and an easy, well-worn smile, the Australian man did; and he talked oh so pleasantly as the boat rowed us down the gentle river towards the pagoda, his voice all silk and perfume.

The water rippled playfully; lapped up the side of the boat with a splish-splash-splish in time, of course, with the dip-dripping of the paddles.

I listened, mostly, while he talked, and almost missed it when he said, “Of course, this could all go pear shaped and we’ll be lost!”

He laughed in small breaths that battered the morning mist, marinating the air around us; that floated off into the landscape.

Pear shaped?

How alluring! That full-bodied, voluptuous body! Bottom so fine and contours so beautifully scrumptious; that taper into that inevitable, delicate nape. The sweet spot that is neither bottom or nape.

How nice it is to have such sexy problems!

Perfume Pagoda 2014
 

 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

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What Canadians Mean When We Say…

… Sorry*

 

  • Excuse my behaviour and/or poor judgment.
  • Say that again, please. I require clarification.
  • I didn’t hear you. Please repeat.
  • I do not mean to offend.
  • My fault!
  • Please like me.
  • I want to made amends.
  • I’m reluctant.
  • I disagree.
  • You are out of line.
  • What is happening?
  • I don’t like this.
  • No.
  • Let me mull this over a while.
  • Are we still friends?
  • I’m leaving.
  • Over here!
  • I hate myself.YOU
  • Respectfully, no.
  • Seriously, make me.
  • Bored now.
  • Hello.
  • I should, but I won’t.
  • No fair!
  • I am out of line.
  • Whatever! Maybe.
  • I’m exhausted.
  • Mic check, mic check.
  • Welcome!
  • I’m uncomfortable.
  • Motherfucker.
  • I do mean to offend.
  • You caught me.
  • This is happening??
  • Goodbye.
  • I don’t know.
  • That’s perverse.
  • Please stop.
  • End. Of. Discussion.
  • Oh, hell no!
  • I want to, but I can’t.
  • Shit.
  • OK. But what now?
  • There was a pause in the conversation.
  • I do not need this in my life right now.
  • You are behaving suspiciously.
  • Exclude me from your plans.
  • Acknowledge me.
  • I want something from you.
  • YOUR FACE.
  • I am interrupting and I apologize, but I’d like to interject.
  • Do shut up.
  • I am in the right.
  • Ain’t nobody got time for that!
  • This is pointless, but go on.
  • I did hear you, but I do not understand.
  • You should know!
  • I am not listening.
  • This is your fault.
  • I will now invalidate your existence.
  • Yo.
  • I got too excited.
  • You are in the way.
  • Am I in the way?
  • Which way is it?
  • Get out of the way.
  • We’re closing soon.
  • You have a point, but I don’t care.
  • How disappointing.
  • Word.
  • I love you.
  • You lost me.
  • That’s a lie.
  • I just don’t care.
  • I am not sorry.

Mayor Not Sorry 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
*My friend, Anna, once talked about the “niceness” of Canadians and how, in her experience, this being nice – describing other people, places, and situations as nice, nice nice (i.e. “He seems nice”, “the Prime Minister is doing a nice job”, “What a nice office”, “It was nice”) and saying sorry, sorry, sorry all the time – is just a highly-toned yet mostly unconscious form of passive aggression.

Anna, I’m sorry.
 
 
 

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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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From Beneath Me, They Below

 
I don’t know who my downstairs neighbours are, but every now and then I get clues. Sounds that waft up from beneath, pricking the hairs on the back of my neck, altering me to an otherworldly presence as I go about with my own daily business.

Voices, muffled thumping, the creaking of imaginary furniture.

His cough, her laugh.

Sometimes glimpses of blurry faces passing me in the foyer of the house we share, where the separate entrances of our apartments meet.

That’s how I know my downstairs neighbours.

I think they have a baby, way down, way down, down under there. Or maybe they are periodically torturing a cat, skinning it alive with crooked razor blades at 2:00AM in the morning – an easy joke to make when you dislike hearing the disembodied crying of a baby at 2:00AM in the morning.

Blink and you could miss them

Blink and you could miss them

Who are these people?

I fell asleep the other night to the sounds of the downstairs neighbours having not-so-great sex. It was kind of like being haunted by the laboured moaning of determined, yet defeated spirits.

I feel like the baby should have been crying that night.

But it wasn’t.
 

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