Bare means naked, but to bear is to carry something. A bear is also a brown furry animal, but most people keep that one straight. If you can‘t bear to remember it all, just imagine a lumbering grizzly carrying a heavy load, and you’ll bear this knowledge with glee! If a bear bares his teeth, though, run! – the internet
One true friend and man of Mystic, Connecticut is the Bear. His name does not mean to endure, you do not bear the Bear, although it might hint his attitude and constitution both reflective of the cool endurance he was capable of. I once implied to him in a conversation that his death was immenent. He scoffed at me and said he would outlive me, and I believed him. So, although the odds were on my side, I’m somehow surprised that he passed first, and saddened.
Once, he handed me a coaster and winked. It read, “There are those who know, and there are those who know the ones who know, and there are those who don’t know” He looked at me and said, “Think about it.” So I did.
Bear is a beloved of Mystic. He is never afraid to start a conversation with a beautiful person and can change a room with his ease. His name cannot be called enough or answered enough for the satisfaction of Mystic. The town will be satisfied of him when the bridge is too tired to go up.
I see him with cheeks are full of red streaked beer drinking whiskey veins, and his eyes are sunk in thought above them, they are sheltered in some barracks of a glance. His hair streams behind like old broom straws. He doesn’t sit as much as pillars on a barstool.
Bear is a man who knows sainthood can only be possessed by children and bodies of water, and has given himself to be part of that mad sweet easy life that is rarely partaken in. He has a charm that has lately become rare. To see him walking down Holmes or Pearl Streets is to see time confused at the edge of his footsteps, because his presence, so constant to Mystic, has become timeless.
Bear, he is called Bear. It is because of is indomitable beer built round tummy and unyielding posture. It is the result of courage and guile and expertise at being a spirited human. It is because he leads the old horse of his sweet soul one more time to the riverside to converse and walk and drink.
His confidence in the goodness of a city is contagious. Yes, it is the fine reassurance of a friend and a gentle ear at the pub that sways our attentions back to him year after year. He is not the neatly packaged turmoil of the modern soul, but a beautiful old Bear, a little mangy, heart pounding out a march of sweet cunning disposition. He is always ready for the proper fight. Yet, he is an expert pacifist and gentleman.
The days of drinking coffee with John Lowe and Goose and Bear at John’s are long since over. In those foggy nineties days Linda would stop by, walking in her soldierly way, smiling gently, and join the table before going off to cook at the Steak Loft. She is the Tuesday night bartender at John’s. She has never rushed and never will rush no matter how desperate some maniac gets for a fifth gin and tonic. But, while Linda was on watch, curating a pace for the place, Bear’s glass was never dry. Except, when she was lost in a dream watching over the pool table. I blame him for some of the good nature of John’s Cafe!
Now John Lowe is dead. They have paved the road three times since he died and will pave him deeper into the past every year, sequentially in no particular order. That is the untraceable burial ground of an old pub owner. It is no different than any man’s nor worse.
And one would never know any of this if you didn’t spend half a lifetime listening to whispers of Mystic. The few times the old men speak before you become one; it is worth listening. Before they get paved over and redone as fire hydrants and new mailboxes in your present and sidewalks, and lose all their humanity; it’s worth noticing a word or two that comes out of their mouths.
The bar, Johns Café, now gone, still holds the old energy. The energy of a place that has dealt and taken the blows of those who blew into Mystic or never left it to begin with. There was simply too much spirit there. It wouldn’t dissipate with something so commonplace as death or pavement. It is because, some of the old faces are still there.
There is a copy of Drifting, by Stephen Jones that paints the old river men of Mystic in their glorious golden past prime. It is a book that tells of rowing stoves down the river in john boats and placing them in huts and feeding them to keep warm.
The ridiculous impulses of the New England Yankee to row deep into the night are divine.
There is a particular story by Stephen Jones about rowing into downtown Westerly after drinking Narraganset Beer in a Watch Hill bar, and then setting out for the sloop and instead of going into a nice warm berth deciding to row all the way to Watch Hill. This trip, a splendid little Heart of Darkness Light, ends in spasms of dawn exhaustion, raw hands and heart. Jones is the rarest of local narrators. He is a subversive scholar of a grand sort. He is the soul mate of Bear whether they know one another or not.
Up on the wall at John’s, there is a post card from Saint John signed by the crew of the Argia, the ship whose sailors always report for duty at John’s after sunset. But more importantly, there is a window tinted dark for privacy and refuge from whatever forces seek to bend Mystic. On the dark glass there are gold letters emblazoned with the words: John’s Café. All, or most, or a good part of this may be held together by Bear.
To see Bear at The German Club, rather than John’s café is a rare occurrence for me. It can be akin to seeing a bear at a picnic table. He is a four-limbed larger version of a man. Yet, he is the bartender at the German Club on occasion. The German Club is certainly in Mystic, but it is on the way out. At the German Club, Mike and Reid and Jimmy will be sitting there smoking cigs, and seriously considering, as if it was going to be a life altering experience, whether to take a Jello shot or not, which once it has been brought up, is basically happening. Those men in their sweet generous spirits are the very teeth of life, he who bite into Jello shots with glorious expectations, believers in the miraculous curing power of alcohol, mouths full of premium tobacco smoke. They are the unheralded deacons of the glorious rotting apple of capitalism. They are the seeds of a strange new third way. It is precarious. They subvert the buying system by living cheaply and within the resource of their community
Bear is given to wanderings, and it is healthy to his spirit, because when he returns to John’s Café, then he is refreshed for having been away. The beer tastes lovelier there he thinks.
While I was putting my back into selling beer, he was putting his into being human. When you are around someone who is being an authentic human, you know it. You can learn from it. People don’t realize there are Bears in Mystic. In truth there is only one, as irreplaceable as they come.