Meeting a bear in Bakersfield, California, is unusual but it does happen. In times of drought the bears follow the riverbed down from the Sierras and wander into the city. Last year there were about twenty cases; the bears either die or are tranquillized and returned to the wild, depending on how lucky or threatening they are.
But my experience one afternoon two or three droughts back was certainly unusual, some folks say incredible. I was in the OK Bar talking to Sam the barman, when the street door slammed open and this big bear walked in. Big? It was huge, though skinny, and had a real mean look in its bloodshot little eyes. It waddled right up to the bar, reared up on its hind legs and plonked two pawsful of claws on the bar counter. A couple of the boys just sidled out, leaving me and Sam and a not-so-young woman in high heels, short skirt and low-cut T-shirt who sat on the barstool at the far end.
“I need a beer,” said the bear, not aggressively but firmly.
Sam reached for a glass. “Oh no you don’t,” said the woman, “remember the city ordinance, Sam, we don’t want no cops in here.”
Sam grimaced. “Sorry, sir,” he told the bear, “we can’t sell no beer to bears in Bakersfield bars.”
“Why not?” growled the bear, softly, maybe a little too softly.
“Read the sign. No shirt, no shoes, no service. City ordinance. No beer for bare bears in Bakersfield bars.”
“I’m tired and hungry and thirsty too. Just gimme a beer.”
“Sorry, sir, I can’t do that.”
“You tell him, Sam,” said the woman.
The bear turned towards her. “You keep out of this, I don’t need no provoking today. It’s hot and dry out there.”
“Get lost,” she said, unwisely; perhaps she was slightly drunk.
“You, Sam, get me a beer real fast or I’ll have her for lunch.”
“Wish I could, sir, but….”
The bear reared up, turned, took one step and swung his paw at the woman. She fell off the barstool, unconscious, I thought, but it turned out later that she’d had time to die of fright. The bear tore off her right arm and gnawed on it. Sam and me were paralyzed with fear. Then the bear tore off her T-shirt and stretched it over his neck, kinda tight. He took her shoes and put one on a claw on each hind foot. He faced Sam again.
“Now I’m not a bare bear no more. Gimme my beer!”
At this moment Sam was mindful of his civic duty and responded heroically. “Sorry, sir, I can’t sell beer in a Bakersfield bar to a bear on drugs.”
“Drugs?” asks the bear, looking puzzled. “What drugs? I ain’t got no drugs.”
“Oh yeah?” says Sam, white with fear but dutiful to the end. “What about that bar bitch you ate?”
I miss having Sam around.
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