From the Night Factory
11. Bear Hunting
I went hunting for bear. Not just any bear, but one I could relate to. My hunt took me into the malls to rub shoulders with Christmas shoppers. It was hunting season. I sought the right bear in every potential store, but none spoke to me. It could not be just any teddy bear; there had to be a chemistry that would attract me to it.
I did not have a teddy bear in childhood. I was in my late twenties and married to my first wife, Matsui-san, before I had my first bear. We found Bartholomew Theodore Bear at Gimbels in Manhattan. He was the size of a fat three-year-old. We brought him home and dressed him in an Equus T-shirt. She had taken me to see Equus, with Brian Bedford, when we were dating in Boston. Married and living in Chicago, we once took Bartholomew to dinner with us at Lawrence of Oregano. The waitress asked if Bartholomew was planning to eat and I replied, “No, he’s stuffed.”
It was over thirty years ago, but I remember when our friend Eileen came to visit. She saw Bartholomew and was delighted with him. She picked him up and began cooing and babbling to him as if he was a baby. Then she punched him in the stomach with unexpected ferocity. Lightning blasted through my nerves, yet the next moment she was laughing at the effect this act had on me. She then apologized to the toy, but she made her point; it was not a bear, it was a fabric of fake fur wrapped around foam pellets or some such lifeless filling. The shock and anger dissipated and I, for one, was forced to realize how absurd my reaction had been. A degree of humiliation filled me and I laughed at myself, having been made the fool, forced to face this false delusion. Still, to this day, I remember the shock and anger; it causes me to wonder what significance it reveals about myself and perhaps the rest of humanity, the extent of our compassion and the strength of our imagination. Furthermore, despite the insight provided by Eileen’s uncustomary violence, her experiment with my psyche, yet I quickly went back to treating Bartholomew as if he were a sentient creature.
When my first wife and I separated, childless, Bartholomew became a point of contention. She was returning to Japan. We fought over custody. It was eventually concluded that we would share custody. I would keep Bartholomew a year or two, then I would send him to Japan for Matsui-san to keep a year or two. It did not work out that way.
In 1983, I travelled to Japan with a very dear friend who paid my way. Bartholomew was too big to pack, so I carried him aboard the plane. As it turns out, we had three seats together and one was vacant, so Bartholomew was buckled into the aisle seat, a big hit with the stewardesses.
When we arrived in Japan, because my friend worked for the Japanese consulate, we did not have to queue behind the other travelers, but passed through our own customs gate reserved for diplomats. They lifted Bartholomew and I was concerned that they might cut him open to inspect his contents, but the uniformed guard only shook him and listened with a grin on his face, laughed and handed him back.
Bartholomew never came back to the United States. When I inquired of my ex why not, she said he didn’t want to return, that he had forgotten how to speak English. I never got to personally question Bartholomew to have him affirm it.
I married a second time, another foreigner from another island. This time a British woman, Ms Keogh. A second bear was brought into my life by my stepmother-in-law, a gift when she came from Scotland to visit. This was McNeill. I do believe we might have upset Mum when we commenced doing surgery, but Ms Keogh and I could not tolerate labels. The pedunculated skin tags were simply snipped off, but labels had to be carefully excised without opening up a seam. The scar that was too hard to remove was the embroidered “Harrods” on the bottom of his left foot. We bought McNeill red shearling boots.
McNeill stayed with us for a few years. He had a bum right leg that would not rest straight and the heavy boot only made it worst, but I’m sure he wasn’t unhappy for it. Then our grandson came to live with us for a few years, and when our grandson returned to live with his mother, McNeill chose to accompany him.
I am a few short months away from being sixty-one. What does it say about me that I have been hunting for another teddy bear to call my own? Am I a sensitive man given to expressions of emotions, willing to redirect my protective and nurturing nature with childlike devotion towards an inanimate object? Is the teddy bear just sublimation, supplanting a desire for a dog? Am I a tottering codger reverting to childishness? In any case, I have my bear.
Professor Featherstone was wedged into an assortment of stuffed animals on a shelf at the back of a thrift store in Trenton. They were having an after-Christmas sale. There were plenty of teddy bears to choose from, but Professor Featherstone was the only one to beckon me. He had a stern expression, as if he was annoyed. He was bearlike in appearance and not too cartoonish. Thirteen inches tall, the bear was manufactured by Gund “exclusively” for Kohl’s Department Store. He had three claws sprouting from every foot, a feature I have not seen before. He cost $2.50.
As soon as I had him home, I began to modify him. Of course, all the tags were removed, beginning with the price stapled into his ear. Using a Sharpie, I colored his tan nose and tan claws to make them black. Lastly, I darkened him with a sponge soaked in Irish Breakfast Tea. Right now he sits beside me on the desk, the muse inspiring this essay. Others pray to their icons of the Virgin Mary or direct their communications to a crucified Jesus. I prefer to direct my conversation to Professor Featherstone in order to sort out my thoughts. He is not overbearing.
Bentzman will continue to report here regularly about
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