Wednesday, October 3, 2012

Teddy Bear and the Alaskan Bares

Note: This is dedicated to John Carlson: a travel companion, drinking buddy, and former co-worker.  He is a kind man, good friend, and simply a damn, good guy.  John, I can't believe we lived so close to each other in Atlanta and saw each other so little.  I know I speak for so many others---I just can't believe you're gone.  

Damn it, Carlson.

If you’ve never been to Alaska, you owe it to yourself to check it out. The raw beauty will blow your mukluks clean off your feet.  Glaciers, mountains, the Northern Lights, and for me…bares.

My Alaskan journey took place in February 1986, when some sunlight was returning to the area.  I was joined by Maureen, Mark, and John.  Maureen was a cool, easygoing chick who would’ve done well in the 60’s.  Mark, the burly, offensive lineman type who’s good to have on your side if there’s a rumble.  John’s a Long Islander who looks like an off-the-boat Irishman, forced to avoid the sun.  He’s also quite flappable and prudish, like any good Irish Catholic.

Here’s some news, Alaskans like their alcoholic beverages; great, something in common.  That weekend was Anchorage’s Fur Rendezvous (aka Fur Rondy), a festival featuring dogsled races, a parade, but from what I could tell, its purpose was to sell you a button and get the booze pouring.

During our first night on the town, I encountered two men that I’m pretty sure would’ve fought me for 1) Drinking a screwdriver, 2) Wearing a red shirt.  I think the second guy was part bull.  A learning experience for sure.

The population of Alaska is 99.4666% men and the remainder, some quite discerning ladies.  Men without women, living in winter darkness, simply put---want to fight.  Red shirt wearing, screwdriver drinking outsiders are evidently a prime target.

The morning’s hangover delayed our arrival at Portage glacier until early afternoon.  That’s one big piece of slippery ice.  A few miles down the road was the perfect thawing place called The Bird House Bar.  The t-shirt I purchased noted its address as 33rd and Bird.  32nd and 34th were nowhere in sight.

The Bird House was part cabin, part shoebox.  I’m not sure where its fame came from, but it’s a fair guess that freezing tourists from the glacier needed a place to recover.  Everything inside was in some stage of the log to lumber transition.  The bar was solid wood, bar stools were logs.  It’s a staple stuff on the walls and ceiling place.  Ceiling reserved for bras, of course.  We found a table away from the bar and hoping clear liquids didn’t promote violence, I decided on a gin and tonic.

We nursed cocktails, wading back into the buzz pool.  A barrel-shaped man in his 40’s approached, introducing himself as Teddy Bear.  Let’s change that to a Teddy Bear-shaped man.  He’s apparently the welcoming committee.  I have to admit I didn’t listen too closely to him, not wanting to become too friendly with a local given my brief history.  “Do you folks know the history of the Birdhouse bar?” he asked with not his first beer of the day in hand.  Admittedly, I wasn’t versed in 33rd and Bird lore.  He goes on, sounding like Charlie Brown’s teacher to me(wah wah woh wah wah), until I hear “naked.”  “Teddy Bear, could you repeat that last part?”  He told us this bar has a history of people getting naked.  About all he got out of us is a doubtful nod and Ok.  “And my goal today is to get everyone at this table naked.”  Awfully pie-in-the-sky, Mr. Bear.  We laughed and wished him luck with that.

The day went on and so did the drinks.  Teddy kept checking in on us, insisting naked was going to happen.  In all fairness, I should be clear that Teddy Bear couldn’t have given rat’s ass about seeing us three males naked.  Maureen was the obvious target.  We were collateral, naked damage.

Out of nowhere, Maureen started negotiating with him.  “If the guys take off all their clothes, I’ll strip down to my bra.”  Now, I have no problem with naked, it’s just that Maureen in her bra was not incentive, nothing against her bust.  Her ace-in-the-hole was John.  There were not enough bra-clad women in all of the Yukon to get him naked and she knew it.

Joining Teddy Bear was his sidekick, Darwin.  Seriously, a man who shares his name with the Father of the Theory of Evolution was using those much-evolved genetics to get strangers to disrobe.  I’m sure Teddy and Darwin have an impressive, naked resume.  They did show me a picture of some 20 naked patrons showing off their rear ends at that same bar, so there was precedence for naked at the Bird House.

Gin and tonics were my friend.  Not like beer or whiskey.  With the G&T, drunk gently slinks up on you, like a dog not allowed on the couch inching its way to your lap.

Drunk was definitely slinking.  Although, Mark and I plotted against John, there was no way naked would happen. But as long as John didn’t know that for certain, we could still get some decent panicked blushing out of him.  And did we ever.

Out of nowhere, Teddy Bear and Darwin delivered a whole bunch of naked to our table.  These guys play the game like it’s meant to be played, shrinkage be damned.  I almost feel obligated.  I’m held back by the notion someone might want to fight me because I’m circumcised.

I should note that there’s nothing quite like tourists’ facial expressions when they walk into a dark bar, their eyes adjusting from the bright outdoors, and they come face to face with two naked, middle-aged men.

Even with no intention of playing the game, it’s fun to mess with John.  Mark or I pretended to plot, then one of us would make a trip to the bathroom, causing John to blurt out, ”Oh my god, he’s going to do it!!!”

The look on John’s face when he emerged from the men’s room to see Mark and me in our tighty-whities was everything you’d expect it to be.  His entire body just wilted, like his last line of defense had crumbled and the enemy was taking his clothes prisoner. 

A small crowd gathered, in expectation of a very, very special moment.  The crowd: a husband, wife (Mary, the self-proclaimed millionaire, real estate tycoon), and son.  Yes, a son.  Seems Alaska has its own brand of Hill People.

Mary was a big fan of men getting into their undies.  She cheered as Maureen ordered John to his.  She even helped with the process.  All John could muster was, “There will be no pictures of this!”***

Maureen was a good sport, taking off her sweater to reveal a pretty sturdy bra, much to the chagrin of the undressed duo of Teddy and Darwin.  Mary, openly hot and bothered at the three of us men, could not get her top off fast enough.  Did she wear the sheer bra on purpose?  Something told me this wasn’t Mary’s first Bird House-undressing-rodeo.

She after demonstrating a unique way of checking us for tonsillitis, invited us to her hot tub.  Seemed we reached the intersection of 33rd and Weird.

John unveiled a seemingly brand new freak flag to fly as he announced he was all for the hot tub.  Mark maintained a sense of reason.  I found my limit was a hot tub event out of an Appalachian porno.

In the end, two bras were added to the ceiling, we got John dressed and back to Anchorage, and we all left knowing we had a real estate agent in the area ready to give us all she had.  Certainly, Teddy Bear and Darwin lived on, seeking out nudity where one would expect none, like a log cabin bar at 33rd and Bird.

***-Maureen - scan and post to your heart’s content!