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Why Big Foot is a Recluse

by Mark Spencer

Big Foot has a thing for the CNN women. He watches CNN night and day. When the male anchors are on, he gets morose, nurses his can of Budweiser, and then naps. He always sleeps on the sofa in the living room of our cabin, which is okay because there are only three bedrooms, and no one wants to share with him.

He thinks he’d get to meet Linda Stouffer and the other CNN honeys if he called a press conference. But I tell him to think again — that, for one thing, he would first have to take a bath (which he would never do) and then trim some of the fur, especially excise the knots. Classy women, like the ones on CNN, don’t go for guys with knotted fur, I tell him. Maybe biker chicks but not The Lovely Ladies of CNN. He has a short attention span, though, and before I’m done giving advice, he’s moaning softly and drooling on the oval-shaped rug that lies between his sofa and the TV.

* * *

The four of us have been holed up in this cabin in the Ozark Mountains for three months. J.D. spends most of his time in his room meditating or watching MTV. Or The Beverly Hillbillies. He’s as bad about Elly May Clampett as Big Foot is about Linda Stouffer and Robin Meade.

“J.D., you know, these reruns are over forty years old,” I say.

J.D. looks at me, blinks, his black-coffee eyes glazed over. He’s in his eighties, but he likes his women young. His third wife was fifty years his junior. I’m just trying to keep him in touch with reality. It’s difficult with all these guys. It’s a good thing they have me to look after them.

Elvis has a TV in his room, too, and watches the shopping channel when he’s not playing old records. He comes into the kitchen every hour or so to make a peanut butter and banana sandwich. Today I’m at the table, studying maps. He says, “I saw some nice earrings I think Priscilla would like.”

I don’t look up. I’m concentrating on obscure back roads in Tennessee where we might head next. It’s depressing to look at Elvis, at how much weight he keeps packing on, his long straggly coal black hair. And he thinks he has a chance with Priscilla. “To her, you’re dead, Elvis. To a lot of people you’re not. But to her, you definitely are.”

“I can lose weight. You’re supposed to help me.”

“Then put down the damn peanut butter and banana sandwich!”

“It’s my last, man.”

“Uh huh.”

Elvis waddles back to his room to listen to himself on scratchy forty-fives. He lugs an old record player around with him everywhere he goes, along with old scrapbooks and hair dye.

* * *

When I spend time in my own room, I try to do some writing. I used to write fiction, but now I do only confessional, first-person memoir stuff. It’s the hot genre.

* * *

Today, I go out and walk around the woods by myself. It’s almost Christmas, and I can see my breath, and the nearby creek is frozen. The air is still, and all I hear is my breathing and the rustle of the leaves I’m walking through. Then I hear gunshots in the distance, and I worry again that we’ve stayed too long. I know that the hunter I rented the cabin from won’t come around, but others might stumble on us, might recognize one of us. There are locals who know we’re here; they just haven’t figured out who we are. Yet. In Grandview, a town twenty miles away where I go for supplies, I’ve told some shop keepers that I’m here with my dad, my grandfather, and his pet bear retired from the circus.

A mile down the trail that links the cabin to a gravel road is our mail box. I pull out the mail, stick in another letter J.D. has written to Elly May, and flip up the rusty red flag.

The mail today consists of a flyer for Wal-Mart and an envelope from O.J. Simpson, who wants to join us, but I don’t even bother to open his letters any more. Between him and Big Foot, somebody would end up hurt.

There’s also a letter from my ex-wife. She always tells me she made a big mistake and wants me back, will appreciate my attempts to make her happy and will, in turn, become my love slave. Helen is a dark-haired, willowy goddess, the most incredible woman I have ever known. When she left me, I almost jumped off a bridge, almost put a bullet in my brain, almost slit my wrists, almost locked myself in the garage with the car running. I should have known Johnny Depp would walk into her pet store one day back home in Ohio. “He knows all about Betta tropical fish,” she wrote in the note stuck to the textured door of the almond-tone refrigerator.

I know something about Bettas, too. They’re very beautiful and graceful, but they don’t live long.

Part of me wants Helen desperately. The other part of me runs and hides. In that way, I’m like Big Foot, Elvis, and J.D.

* * *

When I get back to the cabin, I tell the gang I’m going into town for supplies. They have their standard requests. Peanut butter, bananas, and microwaveable cheeseburgers for Elvis; organic foods for J.D.; broccoli and strawberries and Budweiser for Big Foot.

Driving the SUV for the first time in two weeks, I enjoy the smell of the leather seats and the good stereo playing Mozart, and I enjoy the hills and pine forests. I see a deer. Then I descend a treacherous stretch of crumbling black asphalt into town.

Something is going on. Slowly, I cruise Main Street. There are a lot of out-of-state plates and rental cars. The sidewalks are crawling with guys wearing cameras around their necks and holding tape recorders, asking the locals questions. Apparently, the media have gotten wind of our general whereabouts.

Tabloid accounts of him slaughtering herds of cattle really annoy Big Foot. The truth is he’s a vegetarian. But he chortles over the reports that he’s twelve feet tall (he’s only eight). A couple of years ago, The Globe ran a piece about a woman who lived with him in her mobile home in Kentucky for six months. There was a photo of the woman, her heavy thighs straddling a Harley, her ample breasts barely constrained by a black leather halter. She said that he never cleaned up his shed fur or threw his crushed beer cans in the trash but that he was an incredibly gentle and passionate lover and had ruined her for any mere man. Nodding and grinning, Big Foot still reads that story every day.

The tabloids accuse J.D. of being wily, of knowing that being a recluse just makes people more interested in him than they would be otherwise, and the stories tell about him cursing and waving his fists at people who used to track him down in Cornish, New Hampshire, about how these people often pleaded with him to be their “catcher in the rye.”

Elvis is in awe of stories about the healing powers of his old sweaty silk scarves. He wonders whether the stories are true. The crippled walk again; the cancer-ridden go into total remission; the blind see — as soon as they touch a discolored silk scarf that Elvis tossed from a stage thirty or forty years ago.

With the activity in town, I figure we don’t have much time. Somebody is bound to mention hearing that there’s some “writer” living out in the woods with his father, his grandfather, and his grandfather’s pet bear.

* * *

As I approach the cabin, I see a car, a Ford Fiesta, faded red, rust on the quarter panels. I get out of the SUV and look inside the Ford. The black vinyl of the driver’s seat is split and rubbed raw.

I see no one. The forest animals have gone silent. The huge, old satellite dish on the roof is still. Then I hear the rustling of dry leaves. I head toward the northwest corner of the cabin, and I almost run smack into an old woman. She’s stout, and her hair is dyed blonde. She grins, her face crinkling up, and says, “Howdy,” and gives a little wave. “Jerry here?” She has a 1951 first edition of The Catcher in the Rye in her right hand, J.D.’s photo on the rear of the dust jacket, a young man with dark hair and soulful eyes.

“Jerry who? I don’t know what you’re talking about. No one’s here. Except me.”

Then Big Foot lets out a howl. Linda Stouffer must be on. Or Robin Meade. The old woman arches an eye brow that needs to be trimmed and plucked and cocks her head toward the cabin.

“That’s my grandfather’s bear. Used to be in the circus. Kind of dangerous, though.”

“Jerry invited me.” Out of her parka, she pulls a handwritten letter from J.D. “I’m Donna Douglas,” she says. “You know? Elly May from The Beverly Hillbillies?”

I nod several times.

“And you are?” she asks, leaning toward me.

“Oh. I’m Mark. Mark Spencer.”

“Pleased to meet you. Can I see Jerry now?”

“Ah, let me see. He might be gone. He might have gone back to New Hampshire. Or he said something about Fort Lauderdale. You never can tell with Jerry. Stay here.”

“I love this picture of Jerry,” she says to my back. “I wouldn’t mind him catching me.”

I slam the door in her face, leaving her out in the cold while I go in and tell J.D. he has company. “You invited her?” I say. “You promised you wouldn’t invite anybody if I let you write letters.”

J.D. is sitting on his bed in the lotus position, but he looks up at me eagerly. “Does she have those tight jeans on and her hair up in pigtails?”

“Come here, J.D.” I motion him over to his window and very gingerly part the heavy black drapes a sliver. “Look.”

J.D. leans his old white head toward the sliver. He’s trembling. He smells of Vicks Vaporub. He takes a look and jumps back. “No.”

I nod.

He whines, “Send B.F. out to chase her off.”

J.D. starts chewing a thumb nail. He’s hunched and haggard, the flesh of his face loose and grayish. I put my hand on his shoulder. “The great deception of TV reruns,” I say. “Time gets away from us all, J.D.”

“But it’s going to be all right. I invited Britney Spears, too, and I know for a fact she can’t be older than twenty-three.”

Then we hear the front door opening and Elvis’ voice.

“Can I help you, ma’am? You look like you’re freezing... Oh?... Well, Jerry will be glad you came if he sent you that letter. Come on in, ma’am. It’s too cold for you to be out there. You want a peanut butter and banana sandwich?”

The front door closes.

“Real pretty cabin you got here.”

“Thank you. Thank you very much.”

“I’m Donna. And you — you look familiar.”

“I’m El... Ernie.”

“Pleased to make your acquaint–-. Oh, there’s the bear!”

“He’s harmless, ma’am.”

“He drinks beer?”

“It keeps him mellow.”

J.D. looks at me with defeat in his eyes.

I say, “You’re going to have to go out to see her.”

“I suppose so. But I don’t have to be nice.”

“For Christ’s sake, J.D., you invited her. Say you’re thrilled to meet her but that you have to catch a plane. We really do have to leave here. Grandview is crawling with paparazzi.”

We go to the kitchen. Donna is sitting at the table. Elvis is at the counter, making huge peanut butter and banana sandwiches.

“Hello,” she says, looking back and forth from J.D. to me, not getting up.

“This is Jerry,” I finally say.

“Oh.” She looks down at J.D.’s photo on the back of her copy of Catcher. “Oh,” she says again. “Of course.” She keeps sitting there.

J.D. looks stricken. He looks a hundred and fifty years old.

I reach over and pick up the book. “Jerry admires your work in television a great deal and is speechless at getting to meet you in person, Miss Douglas. He would like to autograph your book, and he’d like you to sign something for him.”

I hand the book to J.D. and pull a pen out of my pocket. Donna digs a receipt from Wal-Mart out of her parka and scribbles her name on it, and before she even hands it over, she’s saying, “I have to get going. It was nice to meet ya’ll.”

J.D. hands over the book. His signature is small and shaky like a child’s.

* * *

As we’re all packing our suitcases and loading them into the SUV, ice crystals falling and sticking to our shoulders and caps — Elvis winded from the exercise, J.D. hunched and his long head hanging, Big Foot reckless and graceless and belching beer — I think of Helen. I purposely conjure up certain images: Helen spitting toothpaste into the sink, clipping her toenails, cracking her knuckles, picking her nose with a long, sharp, blood-colored fingernail...

I would be so disappointed. It wouldn’t take long. She would be, too.

We all let our loneliness get the better of us at times, and we long for company besides each other — Linda, Robin, Priscilla, Donna, Britney, Helen...

And sometimes they come, eager and expectant. After all, we’re supposed to work miracles — as lovers, as healers, as catchers.

But today’s visit from Elly May has reminded us of why we hide.

Copyright © 2006 by Mark Spencer

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