So you're driving around in rural Alberta and it's not the Alberta you know with mountains and foothills it's just flat prairie far as the eye can see, maybe the odd hoodoo here and there and they definitely are odd. And then there's a town, no leadup, no sign, just town. Not much of a town, for sure, but still a town. The bank is in an atco trailer sharing space with the local realtor. There's a gas station. They have a surprisingly nice playground though, and you're not really sure if that's a nice thing to say about it or kind of mean since it's the only nice thing you can think of to say about it.
But of course you're not just driving around randomly- you have somewhere to be. The house is in a nice enough neighbourhood, big old trees and well-manicured lawns, the picture of smalltown Alberta, could be 1960 for all you know. Hell, there's even some sort of 1960s rocketshiplooking extendovan on the street. Is that a barbecue you can see in its window? There's always some weird thing in the driveway when you come here Steve says.
There's old cars, too, hot rods in various states of repair, and toolboxes and a stack of cartons of protein shakes in the driveway. In fact, the last time you were here a year or so ago, there was a stack of protein shakes, right there . . . that's not the same stack is it? Steve deftly avoids the elderly mother of the owner who is outside gardening but you stop and talk and she tells you the same story she told you last year about how great it is that this house was built using lumber from old government buildings that were demolished to make newer government buildings. From the outside the house is maybe a little more ornate than you would expect in Alberta, a little more fortressy-looking, but otherwise doesn't really seem like it was cobbled together from spare parts. It's only when you go inside that you see it. That you're not really in a normal house.
Your eye isn't really drawn to any particular thing at first, since there's so much to absorb. Over there is a pair of outboard engines, and here's an old red wagon, and some antique bicycles and guitars and a display case with oldtimey telephones and gaslamps and whatnot inside, but then you see to your left that this floor is actually only there to provide a catwalk so that you can look down on the basement where two whole cars are being worked on or built or something in what amounts to a Victorian-style library with bookshelves two storeys high, complete with a grizzly skull next to a hippie love sign and some Reader's Digest books and a knight's helmet and a faux Egyptian bust. Of course, most Victorian libraries didn't have an entire wall devoted to a mural of Camelot or somesuch at sunset, looking out over the ocean. And there's the cars. Two of them.
But whatever, you're not here for that. Instead you climb the spiral staircase which has what one can only hope are structural support beams painted up to look like spruce trees. How do you like my spiral staircase the owner asks you. Yeah, it's . . . fancy you say. Yup, they're way safer than normal staircases he says. Because you know, if you fall, you won't go all the way down. You nod thoughtfully, but refrain from saying what you are thinking, which is that most normal staircases have railings and not just open spaces between the steps. And is that landing for the attic just free-floating plywood? Upstairs is why you're there, and you do what you came to do.
There's dust and there's bugs and there's the debris and detritus that you knew would be there. It doesn't matter. The owner, having displayed a certain tendency towards packratishness, is easily persuaded to keep much of the stuff. Most of the rest goes in the garbage, including piles of old expired medication. I can give you the number of the agency that disposes of expired meds the owner says. Sure you say, and when he turns around you toss it in the garbage. It's going to the dump where it won't be a danger to junkies looking to get high so who cares.
When you're done you try to make a clean getaway but the owner comes and says there's more stuff in the attic, and he leads us further up the spiral staircase. Someone lives up there, you discover. A mouldering mattress with sheets that haven't been changed in way way too long, and a plasma tv and a dr phil book on the nightstand about reclaiming your relationships. It's stifling hot and you instantly want nothing more than to leave. This guy's lived here two years now with no heat, can't talk him into moving downstairs the owner says. And he pushes aside the tarp wall and leads us past piles and piles of lumber under a roof made of that greenhouse stuff they used to use, kind of translucent plastic or whatever. How has this place not burned down you wonder. Anyways there's a bit more to do so you do it and get out of there.
And if you're still with me after all that, you might be wondering what the hell I'm talking about, what is this house. This house. It defies description. All I can say is it's the saddest place in the world.
Posted 7th August 2012
- Nathan Waddell