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Corned beef, a limerick and social isolation

He toured with the circus, locked Alf in a suitcase and wrote limericks for The Sunday Long Read. How “Tork” finds joy amid uncertainty. 

Tim Torkildson poses for a selfie in his Provo home. He’s proud to wear the rainbow suspenders. “I even wear them to church on Sundays,” he said.
Tim Torkildson poses for a selfie in his Provo home. He’s proud to wear the rainbow suspenders: “I even wear them to church on Sundays,” he said.
Provided by Tim Torkildson

Corned beef simmers in a slow cooker. Pungent cabbage boils in a pot on the stove. The kitchen is small and modest like the living room, where two TV trays stand beside an off-white couch, in lieu of a dining table. Tork is at the screen door, his blue eyes wide, his face gray with stubble, pants held up by rainbow suspenders, talking to a reporter from KSL.

This income-controlled apartment in Provo is a long way from Tim Torkildson’s old life. Back in the 1970s, he toured with the Ringling Bros. circus, making people laugh. Later, he wrote limericks about the news and issues of the day for The Sunday Long Read. Writing poetry brings him joy now, as coronavirus sows dread and grief across America. That, and cooking for his neighbors.

“So I face it this way, right?” he asks, as he turns the bulky camera on himself and closes the screen door on the reporter. The porch is close enough in a time of self-isolation.

In the circus, he used to perform with Michu Meszaros, who would go on to play Alf, the fuzzy space alien in a sitcom of the same name. One morning, Alf poured beer on Tork’s Book of Mormon. Tork wasn’t having it. He locked his co-worker in a wardrobe trunk and was fired.

Somehow, years later, Tork ended up a poet. He would scan The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal or The Washington Post. When a certain story inspired him, he’d convert it into a limerick — or, as he calls it, a “Timerick” — then send it to the reporter who inspired him. Eventually, he became a regular contributor to The Sunday Long Read.

These days, he does them for fun. A recent Washington Post story titled “Coronavirus has largely spared Wyoming, so far. Amid protests to open up, some worry the worst is yet to come” led to:

“There once was a cowboy named Bill / who never, no never, got ill / He saddled his horse / and drawled ‘There’s no force / to stop me from roaming at will!’”

About half the time, Tork says, his muses respond and thank him for making their day.

“I feel very strongly that one of the reasons I was put here on Earth was to make people laugh, is to make people laugh,” he says. “It’s still happening. And I’m grateful for that.”

Sometimes, smiling is a first step. And that’s why he doesn’t cook for himself.

Tork wakes up early, sometimes before dawn, to bubble some broth or make “hobo casserole” — a hodgepodge of leftovers drenched in cheese and Alfredo sauce. He misses water aerobics at the rec center. He wishes he could see his grandkids. But his hands are still full.

The clock ticks closer to 1 p.m. That’s when he’ll start handing food out his front door, feeding his neighbors just because.

“Life couldn’t get better,” he tells the reporter. “How can it get any better?