Philly The Bear

I inherited a bear.  Most kids get a watch.  Maybe a house or some cash. I got a three hundred pound bear named Philly. 

It was 1975 and my older brother Buddy Will and I were working with the old man outside of Lexington for the Karasek and Sons Carnival. 

We had this bear wrestling act. It was easy money, some towner would try and impress his girl, sign a waiver and get in a cage with Philly. If he could last three minutes, he'd get a hundred bucks. No one ever lasted three minutes. Philly was a goodhearted baby and loved to play. He was de-clawed and wore a muzzle. He never lost, he was too damn big to lose. Afterwards he'd sit down in the cage and Buddy Will would give him a soda pop and he'd grab it between those big paws and guzzle it down.  Then he'd belch and everyone laughed.  We never mistreated that bear and we would beat the stuffings out of anyone who'd tried to take liberties with Philly. 

It was almost Labor Day and Pop was working the bally and suddenly drops dead before the last show of the evening.  We'd made plans to go to Florida for the winter, but now all that changes. 

The money we saved from the season went to bury Pop. Buddy Will and I didn't know what to do.  But Karasek used to be a wrestler and he told us that we could make some nice money taking Philly around the horn on the pro circuit.  He made some calls and in late September, Buddy Will, Philly, and I pull into this armory in some desert town near the California border. The armory look like a bombed out quonset hut. But I'll be damned there was a line outside to see that wrasslin' bear. I stayed with Philly while Buddy Will checked in with the promoter. When he came back, we took Philly in on a chain. Buddy Will sells Polaroids of Philly in the lobby for a buck while the promoter takes me into the dressing room.  When I walked in all the wrestlers  gave me the stink-eye. Only the ones playing cards ignore me. I'm an eighteen-year-old beanpole with long hair and they let me know I don't belong there. 

The promoter introduces me to this little guy in a mask that doesn't speak English named Humberto. He's gonna wrestle Philly. So this other guy translates and I tell him there are only three things to remember about wrestling a bear. Don't smack his nose, don't punch him, and don't pull his fur.  The translator tells me Humberto wants to know why?  I thought that was kind of a stupid question and joked that Philly might kill him if he did any of those things.   Bad move.

Humberto freaks out and rips off his mask  and throws it on the floor and starts rattling off a bunch of Spanish. 

"What's wrong?" I ask the translator. 

Before he can answer I hear this booming voice behind me yell out.  

"He doesn't want to wrestle your bear."

Sitting on a bench behind me is this really fat, old guy with yellow hair, wearing a golden robe. He had a boot in one hand and a flask in the other. He stunk of booze and weed. 

The wrestler slowly lifted himself off the bench, squinted at me and said quietly, "Humberto says there is not enough wine and women in this world to make him wrestle the ursus.  I on the other hand, have already made peace with Buddha, Krishna, Baby Jesus and all spiritual deities of this world and the next. My name is Professor Gaylord Gossett and I would consider it an honor to wrestle your beast."

Suddenly I heard screaming from the lobby. A guy ran into the room yelling. 

"The bear's gone nuts!"

I rushed into the lobby and found Buddy Will. As usual he'd been distracted by a pretty girl and didn't see some punk toss a cigarette butt at Philly. The poor old bear hadn't gone nuts, he just got scared. 

He bolted and climbed to the top of the bleachers like King Kong. Buddy Will was holding off the security guards, a couple of off-duty cops with itchy trigger fingers. They wanted to shoot Philly, but I climbed up the bleachers and stood in the line of fire. 

I begged Philly to come down but nothing worked, not burgers, not soda pop. Nothing. 

I feared for Philly's life. But out of nowhere, here comes Professor Gaylord Gossett in his gold robe.  One boot on, one boot off. 

"Let me handle this youngster. I've spent time with the great shamans of India. They taught me hypnosis and mind control. I believe I can communicate with this poor creature."

I can't really say I believed  the Professor could do that, but I knew the cops wouldn't start shooting with  him in the way, so I was fine with it. 

Philly cocked his head to one side as the Professor started speaking in a strange language and waving his hands about like he had swallowed his tongue or something. Then the most amazing thing happened. Philly laid down on the the bleacher and mellowed out. Buddy Will walked up and attached the chain and everything was cool. 

So was the rest of the evening. The Professor and Philly had a great "match" and we got paid in cash. 

We were loading Philly into his trailer around midnight when this tall woman approached us. She was beautiful with the greenest eyes I've ever seen and hair as black as midnight. 

"The Professor would like to see you," she said. "Don't leave."

A few minutes later the Professor arrived dressed in a cream colored suit with cowboy boots and a bolo tie. As he lit his cigar he introduced us to the beautiful woman. He said her name was Teal and she was his secretary. He then made us an offer. 

"I want to buy that magnificent animal," he said. "Our minds melded as one tonight and when they did I saw a lineage to a thousand Roman soldiers."

Buddy Will scratched his head.  "Yours or Philly's?" 

The Professor ignored Buddy Will and reached into a grocery bag Teal was carrying. He fished out a roll of cash and began counting it out. It was ALOT of money. 

"Boys, I'm getting out of the grappling game. I have a little avocado farm nearby called The Resthold Ranch.”  

Philly would be a great roadside attraction. He is  weary of all the travel. If one is not careful the road will own you. He told me that tonight. Let him live a life of leisure with me. Just a couple of old wrestlers in retirement."

Buddy Will and I talked for a few minutes and decided a fresh start might be nice for all of us. We settled on a price and offered to throw in the trailer, but the Professor didn't want it. He insisted Philly sit in the backseat of his convertible.

"A final caravan of one to his kingdom in the desert," he said. 

I gave Philly one more soda pop for the road and scratched his ear before Teal drove them off into the night. 

When ever I was in the neighborhood I made it a point to drop by the Resthold Ranch and visit Philly and the Professor and pick-up a bag of avocados. Funny thing, Teal was always there but it was never the same girl twice. 

Philly looked happy and  the Professor looked happy. His neighbors looked nervous, but that made the Professor even happier. 

As for Buddy Will and me, we split our money and moved on. What we did with the dough is a story for another time. 

Dan Farren is a writer living in California.

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