An Astute Wooly Mammal

by Bruce Reisner

It’s often mistaken for weakness. Unless people are correct about niceness. Maybe times changed, and it’s stupid to attempt friendship with people one is frightened of. I’m calculating. That’s also probably a symptom of some inadequacy or other. But, then, where would the social sciences be if everyone was completely on the ball? The idiot who lives in the house next to mine yelled over to me the other day, something about a bear walking on two legs. For the last twenty years I’ve been unable to step outside to check the mail without having to respond to a hellishly obnoxious neighbor. I’m seeing a very clear two sides to being a good neighbor to people who should probably be locked up.

Usually the guy asks me the same stupid battery of meaningless questions like, “How’s the ladies treating you?” He knows I’ve been a hermit for the last decade. I yell back across the quarter lot between our houses, “Great, Larry. Too good to be true.” That’s been my stock answer, for years running. He completes the cycle by yelling back, “Ya’ gotta’ have a pocket full of money if ya’ want a woman.” I know you can’t believe this stuff goes on in this day and age. The alternatives available to me in this situation can’t be committed to paper, so I’m still playing nice with the situation. I know how revolting it is.

Larry was mistaken about it being a large bear walking on two legs. The Sasquatch, or, Big Foot, is well-read and well spoken. It adores the English language, or whatever language is spoken where the so called ‘beast’ winds up. ‘Beasts’ have to keep moving to survive, unless it’s a person, like Larry, in which case he’s fairly well protected from himself and others. Larry is probably unaware that academics have been crying for generations about what has happened to a truly beautiful and unbelievably versatile language. It’s been opined that the English language made it possible to advance the arts and sciences, and the media has reduced it to capitalist blurbs and ugly catch phrases. I’ve become a good neighbor to the destruction of a great language.

There’s about five acres of wooded vacant lots behind my house up here in a hilltop slum, rife with deer and raccoons, birds and butterflies. There I go again, rationalizing life in Hell. Last time I dragged my gimp leg back to the vacant lot, Big Foot was sitting on the thick flat rock I often use as a park bench.

“Hello,” I said to it, the way you say hello to a stranger’s dog, to let it know you are friendly towards it, and to reduce the chances of it biting you into bleeding shards of flesh. Big Foot gave me a careful blank look, and indicated with a huge furry index finger that I could sit down on the flat rock, too. There was plenty of room for both of us. Of course I considered the worst possible outcome, like it could smile and say, “Jeez, you’re stupid,” before killing me. But I sat beside it. It didn’t talk right away, and I didn’t either. We watched some butterflies that were flying around for a few minutes, and then it said, “I notice you have a nasty living situation. Any thoughts about why that is?”

That’s a sign of intelligence, taking note of an environmental concern, and letting other people present their views before voicing opinions and facts. It was like I’d had this problem for years, and couldn’t help pouring it on the ground, like a box of iodized Morton’s salt. After I explained that I’m not a strong man, and I’m not a complete idiot, like Larry is, and it’s probably safer to tolerate him than to file a law suit for harassment, and that Larry has been known to resort to arson when challenged, Big Foot took a few moments to let me settle down. I’d gotten excited while talking.

“Are you familiar with the stages of psycho-social development?” Big Foot began. I had, when I was a goofy college kid. To confirm this, I dug memory and said, “Was that Eric Eriksson?”

“Well, yes,” he replied, “and also Piaget, and other social scientists as well. My name is Big Foot. What is yours?”

“My name’s Bruce.”

“You mean like Springsteen? Sorry about that. I couldn’t help that.”

It’s one of those jokes people say when they hear my name for the first time. It’s risky, cracking a common joke when you first meet someone. Sometimes it breaks the ice. Other times your new acquaintance assumes you are a worthless nitwit. I’m thinking it was a good move on Big Foot’s part. A lot of people said the exact same thing, and it’s usually tiresome, but it was the first time from a ten foot tall talking wooly mammal.

Right away we began relating the stages of psycho-social development to the situation I was in. Big Foot was astute to understand that when an adult is functioning at the social/emotional level of a two year old, the individual cannot develop relationships beyond the repetition of meaningless word groupings. Behavior takes the form of a childish game, not unlike peek-a-boo, or patty-cake. Yet an adult can be extremely dangerous while relating to the outside world at the level of a two year old. While an infant might scream and cry. the adult may commit a heinous violent crime. Like a school shooting. As an afterthought, Big Foot added, “but that requires more deliberation than an infant is capable of. In those cases, the perpetrator may have the emotional maturity of an eight year old.”

“Yes,” I said, “and some persons with personality disorders are locked into the level of a teenager.”

We had a very enriching, truly therapeutic discussion, and then we sat quietly together, watching fauns and butterflies. It would be the only chance I would get to chat so nicely with Big Foot. It won’t be stopping here again. He’s plenty smart enough to know that people like Larry own assault rifles.

Photo by Joshua J. Cotten on Unsplash


Bruce Reisner is an artist/writer living in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.  His poems, short fiction and visual art have been seen in Pittsburgh Post Gazette, Sledgehammer Magazine, Readthisplease (an anthology) and the Ranfurly Review.