This much was certain—because of the mess it left, the bear had been eating from a dumpster behind the Rib House just before it was electrocuted. The bus boys claimed it climbed the power pole because it was frightened by a dog. “The dog was still hanging around,” they told me. “That black lab. What else could scare a bear up a pole like that and then not be run off by it tumbling down all scorched to hell and back.”
I wrote whatever they babbled down. I was there for rock radio WOOM, not the newspaper or the police, so I let them elaborate and embellish any way they wanted. A bystander who said he was hunter guessed the bear weighed one hundred and fifty pounds. The dog I saw looked to be about seventy-five, so it seemed to me the bear lacked spirit. And now it lacked everything, smoked the way it was from crawling onto the cross bar and taking however many volts run through those lines.
It was a better story to cover than most in Moorefield, but I admit a good reporter would fact check something like that, put the number of volts in his story, but WOOM’s listeners didn’t care. They wanted to hear the voices of people they might recognize and details about the burned body of the bear during the three minutes of stories we snuck in before the hour, running it up to when every other station broke for news, their listeners maybe switching to where they knew music was playing instead of voices.
Those bus boys had a peach of a story to tell, and I had them on tape. “First the lights flickered,” one said. “Something you can’t have in a restaurant. And second, we were going out back to smoke no matter if it was World War III starting up because we got our break right then. And there’s no missing any kind of bear, don’t need to be no grizzly, when it’s laying at the bottom of the electric pole at the edge of your parking lot and all crisped like he’d walked slowly through fire.”
“One more mess we weren’t getting stuck with at least,” said the other guy, older than forty by the look of him, a bad age to be a bus boy. “We just walked up to that bear like men who believed dead was dead and there wasn’t anything like resurrection or second chances in this world.”
WOOM kept that story going. It was better than a hundred-dollar jackpot phone-in promo to spruce up the ratings, and I did my part by talking that bear up as long as I could. Our listeners knew the dee-jays would get that bear into their patter between rock blocks, laughing about how Rib House patrons might think twice about parking behind the restaurant without checking over their heads.
The newspaper version, it turned out, got picked up by the wire service and started appearing in city papers, and then, a week later, Saturday Night Live’s Weekend Update milked some laughs from it. A long time to stay in any kind of news as entertainment cycle, but that wasn’t the end of it until my mother called her two cents in over the phone so long after the event that I thought she read about it in a monthly magazine.
“That bear’s story is a tearjerker, for sure. People love a good cry. After a while, people get tired always hearing about how Jesus rose from the dead. That one about John the Baptist is a better story. Like all the rest of us, he doesn’t get a second chance. I never understood why he doesn’t get more publicity.”
“People want happy endings, Mom. I think you’re wrong.”
“Angels? Rescue? That’s so boring. If that bear falls off the pole and is still alive and nursed back to health, it’s nothing more than gossip. And afraid of a dog, they say? That big thing afraid of something half his size? I knew somebody just like that, and you would have known him, too, if he hadn’t run off with his imaginary angel, a story so old that nobody would ever report it. But that bear frying like a serial killer on the hot seat is news and then some, a tale to tell everybody you know.”