Many of my friends and family will fondly recall my old pal Morty. Anyone who met this elderly gentleman will surely remember him for he was a unique individual who cast a very long shadow. He’d be the first to admit that he was far from perfect, yet everyone loved him in an Oscar Madison kind of way. Despite his many faults, I was happy to invite him into my home.
Morty had fallen into a downward spiral long before I met him in 1995. I didn’t see it at the time, but in hindsight I should have realized that he had serious issues and his days were numbered. But don’t get the impression that it was all doom and gloom. We got along famously and he was really quite helpful, especially around Halloween or Christmas when he helped me decorate the loft. And boy, was he the life of every party, broken lampshades notwithstanding.
It’s perfectly natural that you might be curious about Morty’s issues. It’s a delicate subject but you couldn’t hide the fact that Morty had an extremely bad skin condition. I had to break out the vacuum every two or three days to clean up large flakes of dried skin that resembled pale Kellogg’s Cornflakes. And he didn’t just shed skin from his scalp but also his nose, forehead, neck and upper back. And yes, I was aware of this issue before I welcomed him into my home.
I recall our first meeting as if it were yesterday. My friend Patrick and I had spent a Saturday afternoon scrounging around an antique dealer’s barn and various outbuildings north of Kingston at Rideau Ferry, Ontario. Morty had been hanging around the shop and when Patrick and I were ready to head back to Toronto, Morty was seated between us in my GMC pickup.
We were only a few minutes into the 250 km. return trip when a large piece of Morty’s lower lip peeled off and landed on the floor. Patrick noticed this and somehow he discreetly picked up the wayward piece skin and place it in the cup holder.
Oh, did I mention that Morty was a moose? Or more precisely, he was the head and antlers of a moose that had been stuffed and mounted on an oak plaque sometime in the 1890s. When I found him he was hanging inside a dusty old barn, but the antique dealer mentioned that he found Morty nailed to the outside of a barn and thus exposed to the elements for a few years, hence the bad skin, one missing eyeball, loose antlers and thinning hair.
When we got back to my place I found a spot for Morty on the wall just inside my front door. He was the first thing you’d see when you arrived. At Christmas I strung tiny lights through his antlers. At Halloween I substituted a string of miniature jack-o-lanterns. For Mardi Gras I draped strings of beads around his neck. One year I had a party for Game 7 of the Stanley Cup Final and Morty guarded over the beer cooler, hockey stick firmly planted in his mouth and a hockey puck lodged in his open eye socket. He looked as if he could be the fourth Hanson brother.
My good friend Kate was one of the few people who never did warm up to Morty. Kate’s 40th birthday party was held at my loft and 40 people sat down for dinner at one very long table. Despite the crowd, Kate managed to keep her distance. I have an idea why.
Shortly after Morty came to live with me I was driving northbound on Avenue Road and Kate was riding shotgun when the car ahead of us changed lanes abruptly. On went the breaks and splash went our nearly full cups of Tim Horton’s coffee. Later that evening we were driving home from a day in the country and Kate inadvertently put her fingers into the cup holder. Feeling something wet, and thinking that it was a coffee-soaked napkin, she plucked it out and was about to put it in the Tim Horton’s bag for disposal.
“What is this?” she asked with mock horror.
Her demeanor changed from mock horror to a look of genuine terror when I replied, “Oh, that’s just RML — Reconstituted Moose Lip.”
If you should ever need to bring a weathered moose lip back to life, I can vouch for the effectiveness of soaking it overnight in Tim Horton’s coffee.
I lost most of my photos of Morty in a hard drive crash in 2003. A few years after this surviving photo was taken in 2000 Morty was accidentally knocked off the wall and both antlers became dislodged. With a gaping hole between his ears, I reluctantly sent him to auction. Unfortunately he failed to attract a bid and was eventually disposed of by the auctioneer. R.I.P., Morty The Moose.
Postscript: I saw several moose on my Toronto to Winnipeg trip aboard VIA Rail but they were generally neck deep in water or 200 meters into the bush. The closest I got to a moose on the Saskatoon to Vancouver run is depicted below.