Chased by Bears

October 18, 2007 at 1:17 am (Waxing Nostalgic)

Byron Beck of Willamette Week did a nice write-up about bears this week. I’ve had a couple of experiences involving bears, and thought I would share mine.

In the early ’90s, I worked at a Nationally Recognized Convenience Store chain on 82nd Avenue. As always, there were a lot of interesting characters that came and went. One fellow, a postal worker, came in every day. He drove a cherry-red Mustang convertible with the vanity plate BigBear.

My favorite beer at the time was Hamm’s Big Bear malt liquor. It seemed like a good conversation starter, so I asked if he was an imbiber as well.

“I don’t drink. It dulls the senses.”

He was in his mid-forties, I would guess. Kinda looked like Chuck Norris, with white hair and beard cropped short. Chick-magnet material, or midlife crisis? Let’s find out.

“So what’s the deal with the vanity plate?”

He explained that he was a member of a society out of Big Bear in California, and how they were trying to preserve the way of life of the red grizzly, or something to that effect.

“I’m all for protecting the big red bears!” I laughed. My older brother said I had ursine qualities…

“Well, if you’d like some information, I could set you up.”

“Sure,” I replied. “I’m up for new learning experiences.”

“I’ll be right back,” he said. he went to his car, popped the trunk, and came back with two newsletters about bear preservation, and a blue ballcap with a golden bear on it. “Here you go.”

He seemed nervous all of a sudden, and had to get back to work.

As did I. My coworker, a flamboyantly gay chap we dubbed Timberly was running about, cleaning things and waiting for aliens to land on the store roof. (He even called 911 one time. Meth…) The phone rang, and Timberly answered. “It’s for you.” he handed me the phone.

“Hello?”

“I got to know.”

“Excuse me?” I responded.

“I got to know.” It was my friend with the bear materials.

“Know what?”

“If you’re interested.”

“Well, I’ll read the pamphlets, but I’m not sure I want to commit to anything.”

“I wasn’t looking for a commitment. Maybe just a date?”

What?”

“You know, with all that talk about bears, I thought you were dropping hints.”

I didn’t quite know what to say. “I think we have a misunderstanding. I was making small talk because Big Bear is my favorite beer.”

“Oh. So you’re not gay?’

“Um, no. I’m in a relationship. With my wife,” I lied. “I have to go.”

Timberly was standing there, listening. “What was all that about?”

I relayed the conversation, and Timberly burst out into fits of laughter, but got it together enough to explain to me what a bear is.

“Oh, crap. Maybe I should give the hat back?”

Mr Bear returned a couple of times, then quit coming in. I couldn’t bear (pun!) to wear the hat, so I gave it to an unsuspecting teenager. I almost wish I’d kept it now.

Before that, my first encounter with bears happened in 1979. One Labor Day I was wandering around downtown, looking for an open store that sold beer. None were open, so I decided to try going into a bar. I was barely (stop that) eighteen, but was older-looking and had a beard. Let’s give it a try.

I saw a bar with its open sign on, at the base of the Morrison Bridge. It was called Dahl & Penne, and looked just divey enough to be affordable. I pulled open the door, not ready for what I saw.

Dozens of middle-aged men wearing red-checkered shirts and string ties were square dancing. I heard the term ‘dosey-doe’. And I did, turning and heading the other way. A chicken hawk followed me for six blocks, until I circled a block completely before stopping to give him a dirty look. “What?” He left me alone, but it weirded me out a bit.

These days, I don’t fear the bears. I know a few, and they are great guys. It’s comforting to know that if I wanted to dress only in tighty-whities, a leather vest and a skipper’s hat, that I’d have a place to go drink. (Never say never!)

Bears are a little more well-known, thanks to John Waters’ A Dirty Shame. The adventures of Papa, Mama and Baby Bear caused extreme chaos in Baltimore. When Mizelle and I left the Laurelhurst Theater after the showing, an extremely intoxicated girl at the bus stop took one look at me, clawed the air in front of her and said, “Grr…grr…”

“Careful, Goldilocks, or I’ll eat you!”

She giggled, not the least bit afraid of bears…

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