Johnny America


Things to Con­sid­er Be­fore Wak­ing a Sleep­ing Bear


Some­times when peo­ple talk about “wak­ing a sleep­ing bear” they’re not re­al­ly talk­ing about bears or even wildlife. They’re talk­ing about Chi­na or Rus­sia, but prob­a­bly Chi­na. You think, “Man, how did Chi­na get roped in­to this?” which is a le­git­i­mate ques­tion that de­serves an an­swer. What’s un­for­tu­nate is that we should be re­al­ly good friends with Chi­na and we’re not. Prob­a­bly be­cause of the com­mu­nism. Still, to “awak­en” the most pop­u­lat­ed coun­try in the world is rather dan­ger­ous. Do you know how many peo­ple they could get for an army?

This, how­ev­er, is not about Chi­na or oth­er metaphor­i­cal bears. It’s about re­al bears, sleep­ing and liv­ing un­com­fort­ably close to your home, thanks to lost habi­tat and the re­lax­ation of var­i­ous so­cial mores that once kept bears at ar­m’s length. These cul­tur­al shifts have turned the once-docile an­i­mal that in­spired at least two lov­able con­stel­la­tions in­to a volatile beast to be feared by men.

Con­sid­er­ing that, here are the ba­sics on bears:

The col­or of a bear’s fur is mean­ing­less. Some brown bears are black and some black bears are brown. Some black bears (who are black) iden­ti­fy more with brown bears. Re­gard­less, a bear will use its fur to trick you. And then maul you to death.

Bul­let-proof vests are use­less against bears. Bul­let-proof vest when used in tan­dem with bul­let­proof jack­et and slacks, maybe. Al­so, it’s a good idea to be as strong as the bear you am­bush. Don’t just as­sume you are, es­pe­cial­ly if you’ve been drinking.

Some­times the sleep­ing bear you come across is re­al­ly a stuffed bear, per­haps a toy or train­ing tool left mis­tak­en­ly by a troop of Boy Scouts. But more than like­ly it is a trap set by a re­al bear, which is pa­tient­ly wait­ing be­hind some bush­es. Act­ing like you are rid­ing the bear bucka­roo style so that some­one might take a “fun­ny pho­to” will on­ly serve to in­sult the re­al bear, which is in no mood for your shenanigans.

How much you can get away with when deal­ing with the bear is hard to say. Bears are un­pre­dictable and known to fly off the han­dle. Ask any park ranger or doc­u­men­tary film­mak­er. Bears can mess you up. But you could get lucky and once the bear has been jos­tled awake, she might of­fer you a bowl of ce­re­al, send­ing a less­er for­est an­i­mal for milk and a spoon. While you eat, it’s pos­si­ble that the bear will per­form a song she made up, sung to the tune of “Mr. Bo­jan­gles” but she’s sub­sti­tut­ed the lyrics for all this fun­ny stuff about wildlife. And then the song takes a sad turn and all the once-fun­ny stuff about an­i­mals is turned around in­to a poignant so­cial com­men­tary about dis­ap­pear­ing wilder­ness. But none of this reg­is­ters with you be­cause you are too busy think­ing how this bear’s home would be a great spot for your home.

“Are you even lis­ten­ing to me?” asks the bear, at which point you’re not even look­ing her di­rec­tion any­more, a big mis­take be­cause the once jovial bear takes a vi­o­lent swipe at the back of your head. And you say “Hey what was that all about?” and she says, “You could at least look at me when I sing to you.” And you say “I’m a dream­er, ba­by,” which sounds cool, but not to bears.

If you are think­ing of awak­en­ing the bear by jump­ing from a tree in a sur­prise at­tack, con­sid­er that some­times what looks like a sleep­ing bear is no bear at all, but some­thing that can be even more fright­en­ing than a bear, like your wife. You wake her up like that and, man, have you ever seen her temper?

It’s prob­a­bly just a good idea to leave the bear alone. Don’t tap on the glass (es­pe­cial­ly if you’re locked out); don’t talk back to the bear. Sur­prise the bear by pick­ing up the dry clean­ing; take out the bear’s trash with­out hav­ing to be asked. And don’t bring up the fact that be­cause you cooked the meal, the bear should clean up af­ter­ward. That log­ic does not work with bears. Last­ly, smile at the bear, un­less the bear tells you to “wipe that smile off your face,” in which case I’d do as asked. And if that fails, play dead.

Filed under Non-Fiction on February 1st, 2009

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Reader Comments

Calvin wrote:

Dude…I love it. The on­ly thing bet­ter would be if the E‑Trade Ba­by was read­ing it out loud.

Mark wrote:


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