These be the turtles, what live in the pool, in the lobby of the building where I work. In the afternoons the big one lifts itself up from the water and sits on the rocks. The small ones climb up on the big one's shell and peer over the lip of the pool. All the better to stare down the humans and plan their revenge against us.
Last Wednesday-Thursday (that mushy middle of the work week) I was waiting for a cab to take me from work to my physiotherapist. I sat down at the lip of the two-tiered turtle/koi pond in the lobby of the hotel when a group of children skated by. Look! They shouted, pointing at the water. They’re humping each other!
I twisted my head around to look. I assumed they were talking about the turtles and not the koi or a couple of humans who’d stumbled into the pond. The turtles were definitely not humping one another, but a small, light-shelled fellow had climbed on top of one the big ones, and from that elevated vantage he was staring me down.
It appears that after several months of being looked at by me, the turtles had decided to look back. Maybe they’d figured out that there was an entire world above the concrete lip, and they were taking stock to see if it was worth invading. Probably not. What does a hotel lobby have that a few turtles want? Aside from the lost & found box behind the front desk. And of course, the sweet taste of panic-flavoured human flesh.
Have you ever competed in a staring contest with a turtle? It’s a loser’s game. Even if the turtle turns its head, you can’t be sure that those jet beads aren’t still fixing you in their gaze. And when the turtle finally slides off his friend’s back and slides into the water, it’s not out of defeat. He’s simply toyed with you enough. Just long enough to make sure that everyone in the hotel lobby has witnessed you in a staring contest with a reptile.**
*Or: Turtle Games Will Tear Us Apart (Again)
**Or whatever those primordial creatures of armour and slime are.
You know who reads this site on Friday? Nobody, that's who. So if you're reading this, be congratulated then, on naming yourselves amongst the nobodies, the ghostly few pushed so far to the margins that even to themselves is their own existence up for debate. This is my scattershot Friday list for you, my blog subalterns at the wet drippy end of the workweek.
- I didn't really catch on until today that this is the best possible time of my whole life to become a gambling addict. I work right across the street from the casino. I don't even have to walk outside; by pedway and pedway I can amble on over and empty my pockets. I work in government offices connected to a hotel, and most of the hotel patrons are of a mind to gamble. I've listened to them in the lobby and in the hallways, husbands and wives going over their gambling strategies, clutches of conventioneers convinced that they've got a handle on the best machines, the surest things on the floor. They are all losers. They have come here to find that out.
- I just went downstairs to the lobby to get a cup of coffee from the cafe. When the barista took my money and tapped out the order on her touchscreen, the clicking of her long fake nails on the plastic screen sounded like insects knocking in hte walls of an old house.
- It turns out that I have a turtle-related secret. Today for the first time in two weeks I spotted the turtles in the fountain again. The one with the dark green shell was sitting under the waterfall, submerged maybe half an inch, his belly resting against a tile slab and his limbs floating relaxed in the water. He (all turtles are males to me until proven otherwise) was letting himself be rocked back and forth by the waterfall, in much the same way that swimmers let their bodies be nudged by competing ways.
As I was watching him, the shy turtle, the one with the bright orange shell, swam out from underneath the waterfall and pushed its head out of the water for some air, before submerging again and kicking off for other parts of the pool. When I turned my attention back to the darker turtle, he was staring straight at me, his little crenellated seedpod of a pod swivelling to track my movements. I leaned closer and saw the little black balls of his eyes, but I must showed too much interest. He backed away in little increments until only his head and front limbs were visible. Then he retreated to the other side of the waterfall.
I stopped to talk to a staff member who had seen me watching the turtles. There were six at one point, but apparently most of them have been stolen. The staff believe that only one is left. How many people know about the existence of the shy orange turtle? I must be one of the only people who stops to watch them on a regular basis.
Lucky me: there are turtles swimming in the fountain in the lobby of my office building. So far I've seen two, although there may be more; they tend to hide out behind the miniature waterfall that rings the trench at the fountain's perimeter. Whatever space lies behind the falling water serves as the turtles' home. The trench is there for our mutual entertainment - at least, I'm hoping that the turtles find us entertaining when they emerge from the waterfall to pull their bodies up on the decorative rocks and stretch their necks out to stare back at us. Are we not equally as strange and ugly to them as they are to us? When my eye meets the dark eye of the turtle, I imagine that its stare communicates the following message - You are amusing to gaze on, Unshelled Thing, and one day you will be my food.
The turtles in the lobby are probably the closest this city gets to a zoo. I believe there are koi ponds in select backyards, and every Easter the ritziest hotel in the city installs a wooden pen full of chicks and bunnies in its lobby. And there's a neurotic parrot at the pet store on North Albert Street. If you close your eyes and imagine all those creatures together in a field, then you've got a really lame zoo. But it's free.
Across the road from my high school you could cut through the woods and come to a river about twenty yards in. It was shallow, fast-flowing, the colour of weak tea. Trout flashed brightly and snapping turtles sat on granite rocks near the bank. Once my girlfriend waded out and picked one the turtles up. She cooed at it while the creature swung its head around on its neck and tried hard to bite at her forearms with its weird curved beak. Once it realized that it couldn't get at her, it pulled its head as far under its shell as it could manage. Snapping turtles aren't generally very good at retracting their body parts under their shells, so it mostly just lowered its head and affected a really pissed-off look. You could tell, as my girlfriend rocked it back and forth, that the turtle had given up on fear and simply decided to wait until it could bite off a thumb.
Ever since then I've admired turtles.
This post, by the way, is my first foray into using Writely, Der Web's spanky free full-feachah word processing app. lication. It's not bad, but in the bottom left hand corner a little strip of text claims that "No one else is editing this document". This phrase, quiet and unassuming, has been taken up by my brain and turned into a deadpan voice muttering into my left ear. This is my personal Voice of Paranoia and Sleep Deprivation, and is usually the first sign that my neurotransmitters are all a' flooey, jumping synapses and pulling out normally dormant regions of my consciousness to the fore. Consequently, I don't feel informed; I feel as if someone at any moment could start editing this document. Someone living in a cave in the heart of a mountain, sitting there with a year's worth of rations and a dial-up connection. Weird bastard.