Over the years, I have lived in a tent, a solarium, a pickup truck, a sublet beneath a man who was eventually taken away in restraints. But the most memorable of all accommodations - and the most romantically (if almost laughably) Canadian - was the summer I lived in the log skyscraper.
You may have seen the structure yourself if you have ever wandered a couple blocks off Main Street in Whitehorse, or peered at it through the windows of an idling tour bus. Outside, it offers an unlikely architectural sight: four log cabins stacked on top of each other, with an external staircase creakily rounding upward (guaranteed to give any fire marshal instant insomnia). Inside, each unit boasted a bathroom of a size usually found at the back of a Greyhound bus, enough hot water for a whole 30 seconds of showering and a stove that could be easily reached while standing in the middle of the living/dining/bedroom/office, so that you could scramble eggs without leaving a thought unrecorded on the laptop.
A wooden Leaning Tower of the Yukon, the building was completed in 1947, when it was used as a provisional residence for engineers building the Alaska Highway. Almost 60 years later, it provided shelter for a Toronto novelist and his girlfriend - now wife - who had driven across Canada and required a place to stay for the summer. Six hundred dollars a month got us a 12-foot-square love nest that beat any four-star suite on the va-va-voom front.
And there were secondary advantages. A two-minute walk from the Taku Lounge (which, on some especially foolish nights, would require half an hour to totter home from). A window through which I could spot my girlfriend coming home from her shift at the Klondike Rib and Salmon BBQ still wearing the T-shirt I loved that smelled of perfume and tartar sauce.
Not to mention some eccentric neighbours. The unit below was occupied by a young fellow who twice tried to sell me his pants (while wearing them). And on the top floor, in the log penthouse, a guy who worked at the video store up the street but who seemed to spend most of his time practising Led Zeppelin licks on an electric guitar while sitting on his two-foot-wide deck, a roost that provided a commanding survey of the backsides of downtown businesses and, just visible over the rooftops, the brooding Yukon River itself.
We have kids now, two of them, and the idea of returning to spend an hour - let alone an entire night - in what was our place on the second floor of the log skyscraper is plainly unthinkable, the kind of stunt even illusionist David Blaine would take a pass on. But the reality of changed circumstances doesn't stop me from mentally going back there from time to time. Taking a seat on the slanted front porch next to my sweetheart, the two of us gazing up at the northern sky as it dimmed over Grey Mountain beyond town.
Andrew Pyper is the author of four bestselling novels, including Lost Girls, The Wildfire Season and, most recently, The Killing Circle.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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