Night Crawler

While not encumbered by bones, the bathroom, bedroom, dining nook, and kitchen are sprinkled with moose antlers, turtle skulls, whale vertebras, raccoon claws, and wild boar tusks. "But that's not what you came to see," says Bones, opening a door leading downstairs to a laundry room cluttered with stray parts -- whale ribs casually tossed over the rafters; boxes filled with the tiny bits that make up ankles, wrists, and toes; an exquisite giraffe spine; huge tortoise shells filled with the sort of odds and ends that find their way to the laundry room; two mummified cats wearing tiny shoes and a sign that says "Puss in Boots."

"We had a 7-foot alligator spread out over the washer and dryer not too long ago," says Bones. "My wife wanted to paint it, but it started to stink."

But there's more.
Down another flight of stairs lies the "pet cemetery" -- a sprawling cathedral of bones. Rows and rows of skulls, thousands of them, everywhere you turn, covering every inch of wall space and most of the floor, gleaming between the slats in the ceiling -- all chalky, white, and vacant. There are too many to take in at once: hundreds of armadillos, baboons, cheetahs, giraffes, caribou, tapirs, pythons, tigers, wolverines, and more, all lined up in tight, organized rows. There are 30 breeds of dogs here, 1,600 seals and sea lions, and a number of human skulls. The only way to deal with the multitude is to concentrate very closely on one individual skull. They smell like ceramic, but more like warm, dry ... bone. They're porous and somehow yielding to the touch. As I move my hand from one head to the other, caressing the craniums of orangutans and porpoises, Bones begins a low, rumbling recitation.

"That's Baldy. He was in captivity for 30 years. When he died he was so riddled with arthritis his spine was fused together. You see that a lot in captive animals. That's a sea lion. He got a nylon line wrapped around his head. Over the years, it slowly cut through his skull and into his brain, until it killed him."

It is said, in scientific circles, that you can tell more about a life from a skull than from a face. T.S. Eliot wrote, "Let the whiteness of bones atone to forgetfulness." Bones makes me understand it. Everything I touch has a story and he knows each and every one. "That one was hit by a car. That one was taken out by a propeller."

There are too many bones, too many stories. His voice fades from me and I begin to see only shapes and lines again, the organic geometry, the clean white planes, the interweaving patterns, the tongue and groove: examples of fine craftsmanship and an artist's eye.

Send comments, quips, and tips to crawler@sfweekly.com.

By Silke Tudor

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