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John Bear

I was 9 years old when my father took me and my brother to see "The Bear," a French film about two grizzly bears trekking around the British Columbia wilderness in the late 19th Century.

It's a cool movie. It's basically about a big bear and a cub walking around. It has very little dialogue, and the only humans in the movie are a trio of bear hunters.

And that is when my movie-going experience took a bizarre turn.

During a pivotal scene, it appears that one of the hunters is going to shoot one of the bears, the big one, with a high-powered rifle. My father, a prime candidate for lithium if ever there was one, stood up and shouted "If they shoot the bear, we are fucking leaving!"

I placed my thumb and index finger on my eyelids and pressed my eyes toward one another, the international sign for embarrassment I had mastered by the age of five. As uncomfortable as it was, I arrived at an epiphany that day - I don't really find my surname all that wondrous.

My brother and father were on never ending quests for more bear tchotchkes: pocket knives, onyx statues, artwork, Native American-inspired tattoos, etc. They were obsessed. It was weird.

I never participated. One time, I was at an arts and crafts market that was throwing out a monstrous pile of chainsaw art. The manager said I could help myself. They had bears and roosters. I went for a rooster.


Don't get me wrong. I like my name. It's easy to remember and has generated a fairly sizeable list of nicknames, all of them in Spanish for some reason.

Perhaps my favorite thing about my given surname, however, is the disappointed facial expressions it garners from white people when I show and they realize that they weren't speaking to a Native American on the phone.

"Oh," they say, crestfallen.

"Yeah," I reply, corners of mouth rising.

If it's any consolation to them, I am a large mammal best left alone during the winter months.

To quote Butch Coolidge in Pulp Fiction: "I'm American, honey. Our names don't mean shit." This is true. My last name is German, and the spelling is the English version that likely bears little resemblance to however it was spelled in the home country. It has nothing to do with those furry brown critters that climb into unlocked Subarus to finish that vanilla latte. In German Bear is spelled "bär."

But I do like bears. I've lived in New Mexico and Colorado for 30 of my 37 years, but I've never seen one in the wild. I fed a cookie to one at a zoo. They've been coming into town recently. I've spent countless hours listening to the radio and stumbling around in the dark, but it just hasn't happened for me. Everybody at work thinks this is so funny.

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