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October 9, 2015 Poetry


Soili Smith

Bellerium photo

How about this:

A bear walks into a bar and the bartender says, “hey bear, what’chu doin’ here?” (the bartender is played by a young Gary Coleman). The bear ignores him and takes a seat, wedging its legs into the space between the stool and the bar. Annoyed, the bartender rustles up an empty glass and chucks it at the bear’s head.

The glass bounces off the head – Ting! – right back into the bartender’s hands.


The bruised bear is less impressed. It rises up, sniffs the air through its moist snout, and swings a heavy paw at the bartender, mauling his face.

         The bartender bleeds to death.

The punch line was the bit about Gary Coleman.

            What a mess!


Gary Coleman walks into a bar and says something sassy, but the bartender’s a bear, so instead of replying he stands on a big rubber ball and juggles. There’s a song maybe too, in the foreground perhaps, something an organist might feel inclined to play.

         Very loud. Deafening, even.

It’s just as unnerving a scene as it sounds, but Gary’s taken bear-aware training, so he knows it all just means the bartender is more afraid of him than he is of the bartender.

He avoids eye contact and moves upwind before backing away slowly into the safety of the crowd.

Nobody dies.

(It was supposed to be a metaphor for racial inequality in America (or the difficulties of a long-distance relationship (which are pretty similar when you think about it (Maybe even the same (maybe))))).

No? Okay:

So there’s this bear, right? His name’s Willis. And there’s this particular neighborhood bar that he likes to go to, but like, this particular bartender at this particular bar is crazy into this particular show from the Seventies/Eighties called Diff’rent Strokes that stars a young Gary Coleman. So one day the bear’s like, “hey bartender, why are you always watching that show?” And the bartender’s like,

              “what are you talking about, Mister?”
              “what are you talking about, bear?”
              “what are you talking about, Ursus americanus?”

Fuck. I’m telling this wrong.

There’s a bartender in New York in the early Eighties. He’s large and hairy, a brutish sort, but well manicured where it counts. One day, while mopping up before the happy hour rout overtakes him, before his elbows are stained with booze and sweat, before he cuts Joe off with that no-bullshit twitch of his left brow, before he glances outside and mistakes a dying street lamp for the sun, he discovers a mysterious business card with a mysterious phone number on it wedged between the legs of a not-so-mysterious stool.

This ledge is lonely. Yet

What? No. Forget that – it’s not part of it.                                                

The bartender’s in the back office now, and without the backdrop of exposed brick that is an iconic New York bar, he has lost the elegance previously attributed to this mystery-business-card leap of faith. But still, he waits, a red phone poised against his ear. When the ringing abruptly stops, the man on the other end of the line identifies himself as Gary Coleman.

So we lose time. Days, months, years—who’s to say?  All we can be sure of is that Gary is there now too, and it’s mutually understood that he and the bartender are madly in love.

They move in together immediately.
They buy a dog and name it Chicago.

But Gary, at this point, is still identifying as heterosexual, and that’s not likely to change. If he were to expose himself now it would be career suicide. Surely the powers-that-be would cancel the already plummeting Diff’rent Strokes? And then what? Gary is a concurrently disabled, queer, and black man who understands most intimately that America is not concurrently free, home and brave.

The bartender, in the selfish state that can only be understood by lovers of his rugged constitution, is unsympathetic. Gary’s unwillingness to go public with their relationship frustrates his mate. Month after month of rising tension between the two, of endless are-you-going-to-let-him-talk-to-me-like-that’s and what-about-decorative-pillows-don’t-you-understand’s and not-tonight-I’m-tired’s eventually bubble over;


Gary kicks the bartender out of his apartment.
The bartender sues for custody of Chicago.

         In a way, they’re both mauled. Concurrently.

Of course that isn’t the end though, and now you’re wondering if the bartender ever cut open his wrists. And did he use the razor Gary bought him for their one-month anniversary when he did? And did the steel slice in that good way sadomasochists always say it does in their interviews with Oprah? And was it ever beautiful?

         Well, was it?

Never mind. I’m getting somewhat     adjacent. This wasn’t how it was supposed to go.

What I’ve been trying/am trying/will continue to try to say is:

I’m really bored with Skype sex, and reruns, and tent sex, and hospital rooms which is fine because somewhere in the world is a hard edge, keen and unequivocal.

I’d like to suggest I’m stalling, but I won’t implicate resolution
in this. It sucks, I know. But I’m

slipping. Aren’t you?

a bear

a bar



Gary Coleman.



image: Caleb Curtiss