Provo poet lives to make people laugh

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For more than 20 years, reporters around the world have been receiving poems from a Provo man who reads their work and has something to say.

“It’s an obsession for me,” Tim Torkildson said. “Whenever I read something interesting I just have to respond to it in verse.”

Sometimes sent electronically, other times in the mail, poems range in length but are always witty and always rhyme.

He subscribes to at least seven papers — ranging from The New York Times to his hometown paper the Minneapolis Star Tribune — and responds to anything that “tickles” or “outrages” him.

The first poem he remembers sending was back in 1993, a serious poem about the Waco, Texas siege.

Since then the 61-year-old has written thousands.

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During an average week, he’ll write and send five poems to various reporters and news outlets. About 90 percent of the time he doesn’t hear back, but the few times he does is what keeps him going.

In January, Rachel Abrams from The New York Times wrote about the curiosity and persistence that eventually led her to interview Torkildson and publish three poems he sent her.

More recently, Torkildson said he received feedback from a reporter in Europe who called him a “genius” and told him she would “treasure” what he had done with her stories.

To hear feedback like that from a professional writer is gratifying, Torkildson said, especially as a college dropout. He likes the friendships it forms, and hopes someday his hobby could lead to a full-time poetry-writing career.

“I miss doing something that makes people happy,” he said.

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For a good chunk of his life, Torkildson worked as a clown for the Ringling Brothers. His poetry writing started years ago when he was a young father traveling with the circus. Since his kids were home in Provo, he’d write them poems as a way to stay in touch and let them know he was thinking of them.

After arthritis forced him to leave circus life, Torkildson spent 15 years teaching English in Thailand before finding his way back to Utah Valley.

In July 2014, Torkildson received some press from multiple national news outlets after being let go from his part-time job in Provo for supposedly promoting a “gay agenda” through teaching about homophones.

In between jobs, he’s searching for something that makes him and others happy.

“I’m not made to cause people unhappiness,” he said. “If I’m not entertaining people I’m not happy.”

(From an article by Keri Lunt Stevens in the Provo Daily Herald, Wednesday, March 4. 2015)

Costume Changing at the Circus.

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The mad dash to change into a show costume during a performance of the Ringling Brothers Circus during the 1971 season was like nothing else I have ever experienced. A combination of marathon, avalanche, Keystone Kops chase and traffic jam, it would cause a saint to cuss and cause the vilest sinner to repent on their knees. Doing it a dozen times per show was exhausting.

The show costumes were cloth monuments to splendor and bombast. They were designed by Don Foote, who never met an epaulette he didn’t like. Covered in spangles, cloth of gold, rhinestones, feathers, fake fur, tassels, and enough tinsel to decorate the Chrysler Building, each one weighed a good forty pounds. Putting them on was akin to getting into a canvas diving suit, along with the metal helmet.

There were around 25 of us all having to change costumes at the same time, in a space about as big as a grade school cloakroom, with only one attendant to help.  Prince Paul, the evanescent dwarf clown, paid the attendant five dollars a week to help him into and out of his costumes – so that left the rest of us pretty much on our own fiddling with zippers and trying to attach worn-out Velcro.

My first year on the show I had to wear a rabbit costume for Spec. Once entombed in this horror, I began to steam, and smell, like an oyster bar. I could barely see out the mesh covering on my bunny head, and collided with pillars and elephant tubs on a regular basis. My knees were so black and blue that they could have passed for ripe plums.

The costumes were dry cleaned only once during the season, right before we opened at Madison Square Garden in New York City. As the season dragged on the costumes became so ripe that even the flies began to wear gas masks before venturing to buzz into men’s wardrobe. Stiffened with sweat, perfumed with the ether of a thousand ill-digested meals eaten on the run, each piece of wardrobe began to take on certain characteristics of the charnel house.

For the Manage number with the elephants one season we were issued bright orange three-piece suits with rakish orange derbies made of heavy velvet. I had the wardrobe guy sew a long piece of elastic string inside the brim of my derby, and when I was out doing the high kick I would pause, take aim, and throw my hat out into the audience. With screams of delight the kiddies would reach for it, only to groan in disappointment as the derby snapped back to me on its elastic string.

Only the ineffable Otto Griebling was exempt from costume changes. He stoically stumped about in his bedraggled tramp outfit during every production number, surrounded by diaphanous houris-like showgirls who would implore him for a single caress; he answered their impassioned pleas with a contemptuous flick of his filthy bandana.

A few years later I returned to clown alley in a much more exalted position, as advance clown. Steve Smith and I were partnered to travel ahead of the show to appear on television and do shows at schools.  Occasionally we stopped by to see how our fellow buffoons were doing. One evening while we were visiting, during the break between the matinee and evening performance, a wild hair entered our respective wazoos. The alley was empty, and the wardrobe attendant had gone out to get a ham sandwich. Smith and I silently crept into the men’s wardrobe, armed with dozens of balloons. We inserted same into all the sleeves and pant legs of the show costumes and inflated them. Then we sat back to await the fun.

As soon as come-in was over the clowns rushed pell mell into wardrobe and began pushing and shoving each other to get at their costumes to get them on in time to make it to the back door for the start of the Grand March. Meeting with nothing but soft yet unyielding resistance at all turns, our colleagues swung their arms around like windmills and hopped about like sailors at a hornpipe, trying to insert their arms and legs where they had normally always done so with ease in the past. They finally wised up to the fact they had been bushwhacked and began popping the balloons with the ubiquitous pins and needles the wardrobe attendant kept handy.

Once their bewildered grunts turned into the rumblings of a lynch mob Smith and I stole silently away, chuckling in evil delight. In the scheme of things we should have been punished with some bad clown karma for that insouciant peccadillo, but I don’t believe we ever were. We just had a helluva lot of fun that season doing the advance work. With no costume changes . . .

Brian Williams.

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My memory is so elastic it can bring most anything

Into focus when a story needs a villain or a king.

If you check upon the substance, you may find it’s not quite true.

But facts lined up in rigid order make but an insipid queue.

 

I prefer a tale including lots of action and romance.

(Maybe just a little slapstick, with some seltzer down the pants.)

I don’t have to be the hero, when I’m giving out the story;

There is room inside my version for a troupe to share the glory.

 

My advice to Mr. Williams is to bluff it out in style.

Recollection isn’t truthful – it is full of fuss and guile.

Let the person who has never his life story overblown

Have the right to cast aspersions and to throw the fatal stone.

Sincerely Yours, Irvin Feld.

Ringling program.

I wish my memory would shut up.

It is not a reliable narrator – either of my past glory, or my past shame.

And it grows less selective and discriminating as time slips by.

I would prefer a Buddhist silence in my head, so I could sit and meditate on the Greatness of the Universe, and the Nothingness of Existence.

But willy-nilly the old experiences creep into my mind as I sit in my cruddy old blue recliner, with the upholstery worn to a whitening nub; so I succumb once again to writing them down for posterity (or “posterior” as Stan Laurel once said).

I’m remembering come-in with Ringling Brothers.  The twenty minute warmup before each show where the clowns went through their paces as the audience straggled in to find their seats and grab something sweet from a passing candy butcher.

Over the years I came up with a number of solo gags to keep myself busy out on the track; the crowds were too distracted to react very much to my shenanigans, so I didn’t feel like going out of my way to entertain them.

On occasion I would simply do some ‘carpet clowning’.  This meant going into the audience and improvising with the people.  I carried a large silk handkerchief, so whenever I spotted a bald man I’d stop to polish his dome and then check my makeup in it.  Good for a titter or two.  Or I’d bring along a peacock feather to tickle someone behind the ear two rows down.  Also good for a chuckle or two.

Then one day my muse kicked in, and I invented the perfect carpet clown routine.  I blew up a large red balloon, ran a bent paperclip through the knot, and attached it to a spring clothespin.

I stealthily attached the clothespin to the coat tail or back of the blouse of passing audience members, and then watched serenely as they would amble on, unaware of the cargo they were now carrying behind them, which would bounce softly up and down on their keister.  People around me, who observed my sly machinations, grew hysterical as they tried to stifle their laughter.

The payoff came when my victim sat down.  BLAM!  They’d pop the balloon.

It’s not often that a man can take such complete satisfaction in his work as I did with that clown gag.  It got so I began to look forward to come-in, instead of kvetching about it like everyone else in clown alley.

The only centipede in the clown white was the constant demand of audience members for me to autograph their circus programs.  I should have been flattered, but instead grew irritated at how often this interrupted my balloon caper.

I tried ignoring these requests, but soon discovered that the popcorn-munching townies didn’t take kindly to that; they had paid their admission price and by golly they wanted their money’s worth – which included my autograph on their program!

But once you sign one autograph you are inundated with a dozen other requests – and there went my chance to stick a balloon on a fat lady’s butt!

I grew so resentful of these interruptions that I began signing the circus programs with the name of the owner of Ringling Brothers – Irvin Feld.  I’d usually write something like “I hope you spend a lot of money here today.  Sincerely yours, Irvin Feld”.

I must have signed his name in hundreds of circus programs.

That would have been back in 1971.  The Blue Unit of Ringling Brothers.  So check your program from that season, all you circus buffs  If you find my counterfeit scribble in it, you’ve got yourself one heck of a collector’s item!