WRESTLING THE BEAR - Page 2
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WRESTLING THE BEAR
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Bert pulled his arm back and shook his head, rolling down his sleeve. That’s when someone handed him the flier. He almost tossed it, thinking it was just an ad for the circus. It had a drawing of a bear standing on two feet towering over some men in spandex. But in bold black the letters said: WANTED. WRESTLERS!! $500 to the man who can pin Victor, the world champion wrestling bear. Call and register for your three minutes of fame. Saturday, March 22 at the Light Guard Armory Hunting and Fishing Show between 1-3:00 p.m. Hosted by the one! the only! fabulous Hulk Hogan. No fee. Hurry, number of entrants limited!

The Hunting and Fishing Show was an event he knew well. It was one of the formal father and son outings he’d participated in years ago. It was an annual event, along with the annual Let’s Try Bonding Hunting Trip up north. Both activities relieved his father from having to make eye contact.

His father, Ralph, had remarried so many times that Bert confused the wives – Vivian, Jane and Suzanne, maybe others. They were as blurry to him as they seemed to be to his father. Here one day and gone the next. Bert and his father preferred to pretend that the women didn’t exist. He doubted that his father knew or cared that Bert had never married. It pleased his father that Bert took care of himself, held a steady job, and could dead lift 600 pounds.

They’d go out hunting each November, opening day of the season, an almost holiday in Michigan. Classrooms emptied and thousands of men phoned in sick. The last time they went was years ago. Bert and his father had loaded the pickup and headed north on I-75 with Bert in charge of navigating. They arrived just before daybreak. That year there was no snow for tracking. The frost made it hard to walk quietly through the woods. No matter how carefully they’d tried to step, each footfall sounded like bones crunching. They headed for a blind that Ralph had set up the week before and crouched in it waiting, eyes fixed on the brush and on the horizon. “Remember, don’t drop your shoulder when you shoot,” his father reminded him, feeling like he was fulfilling his role as a proper parent. They leaned back on an old mattress. A pocket of air remained thick between the two men as they crouched in the blind without touching. Nothing was required of Bert. Just squeeze the trigger at the correct time. Except that day Bert peeked into his father’s eyes for the first and only time, and was almost swept away. The sadness felt heavier than any of the weights he’d ever lifted. It sucked at him until he shook his head and closed his eyes.

Bert tucked the flier in his pocket. The bar was steaming up. The only window in the place, up front, was completely fogged over. The band, “The Wailing Borrachos” played an extra loud raunchy Southwest Detroit Boogie Beat. Dancers crammed the small square that passed as a dance floor. Lucinda, one of the regular Friday night crew, tried to get him to dance.

“C’mon Bert. It’s a rockin’ Friday night and it’ll be gone before you know it!” She tugged at his arm. “What are you waiting for, come on!”

He didn’t feel like it. That’s what he was waiting for, to feel like it. To feel something. “Naw,” he said sitting tight on the barstool. “Just got into town and I’m sort of out of it. You know what I mean. Maybe later, honey.”

At closing time, she was waiting for him, sweaty from dancing and looking for a walk home or something more. She lived in the neighborhood, around the block from Bert’s apartment. Once a year they’d get together – her tiny frame and his bulky mass made for a strange coupling.

Bert could smell her desire. He knew all he had to do was reach out and pull her to his chest. The veins in his temples ached. His hands felt thick. He couldn’t make the leap from desire to action, from want to connection.