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I floss daily, brush after every meal, and trouble deaf heaven with my bootless cries.

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Saturday, July 18, 2009

Notes on Bear Week

I just got back from Provincetown, Massachusetts, where I spent a week with O., and Roo, the Old Man. They frolicked on the beach every morning while I was off at the Provincetown Fine Arts Work Center taking a poetry workshop. In the afternoons, my Old Man would take O. off exploring while Roo napped and I wrote poems to bring back to the workshop. Then we'd all go off to try to find a restaurant which would tolerate our children and not necessitate taking out a second mortgage on our home.

We've been to P-town twice before, both times so that I could take workshops at the FAWC. (I love the FAWC because people there actually call it the FAWC, which is pronounced "fahc," which starts to sound a lot like "fuuuck" when you say it often enough. Who wouldn't want to take a workshop in fiction, poetry, or painting at "the fuuuck"? It's kind of like "the shit," only better.) Provincetown has a long history as an artists' and writers' retreat, and is well-known for its many art galleries and its local literary giants. Located on the tip of Cape Cod, it's also a big old tourist trap. And, most impressively, it's one of the most well-known gay resort towns in the US.

Both times we've been to P-town before, we've heard people talk about "bear week." According to the Ptown Bears website, bears are "a subculture of gay men who embrace natural body hair." But that doesn't seem to sum it up entirely. Based on my observations, and conversations I've had and overheard in P-town, bears tend not only to have a goodly amount of body hair, but also observable facial hair, and a particular type of build. Bears are big. Even short bears are big. They're often muscular, but whether they're built or not, they generally have a belly. Many of them seem to favor leather. Motorcycles are not uncommon. Apparently, there are associations between bears and firefighters, I'm not sure why. Maybe because of Smokey? Only YOU over there in that body-conscious tank top with luxuriant chest hair tufting out can prevent forest fires.

Well, this year, we were in luck. The week we had planned to be in Provincetown? Bear week! My Old Man was a bit disappointed that he'd gone through the trouble of doing some extra manscaping (to make it more likely that he might pass for your average gay dad as he singlehandedly shepherded the children though the extra-queer-friendly East End). Why bother, when it's bear week?

Anyway, having observed bears in their natural (vacation) habitat for a week, I can report that although bears are not aggressive, they are not friendly, either. I smiled or said hi to every bear I passed during my stay in P-town, and I got not one smile back. I imagine they're probably friendly to other bears, but not to skinny tourist women in big hats.

Maybe part of the reason the bears in P-town were not particularly friendly to me is that Bear Week has become a well-known enough event that even the clueless straight people who vacation in Provincetown know about it, and thus the bears become something of a spectacle, perhaps in a way that gets annoying. Maybe a lot of silly tourist women were smiling extra widely at them during this last week. (I tend to be pretty friendly generally, but I was probably smiling a little wider at the bears. Who doesn't get excited when they're on vacation in a wild place and they see a bear?)

We always enjoy spending a week in Provincetown, but it has its annoyances and drawbacks. It's fucking expensive for one. If I hadn't had a fellowship for my workshop, I'd never have been able to afford the tuition and lodging, but trying to feed yourself and keep yourself in coffee and your kids in ice cream is a mammoth expense in itself. It's also a crowded tourist spot that has grown up in a town that was founded long before the revolutionary period (this is where the Pilgrims signed the Mayflower Compact , recall). So by the end of the week, we're ready to leave and get back to a less pricey and less jostled existence.

That's why as we were heading out of town, my Old Man cued up the perfect "Sayonara, Cape Cod!" song, "Walcott" by Vampire Weekend. Walcott, Don't you know that it's insane? Don't you want to get out of Cape Cod? Out of Cape Cod tonight? It's an especially perfect song for us, given our destination, back to the loving arms of the Jersey Shore. Walcott, All the way to New Jersey, All the way to The Garden State, Out of Cape Cod tonight

But when we came to the verse where they sing Walcott, Fuck the women from Wellfleet, Fuck the bears out in Provincetown, Out of Cape Cod Tonight, I couldn't sing along with as much gusto. I mean, I don't know any women in Wellfleet, so who am I to say? And although the Provincetown bears did not return my smiles and greetings, I don't hold it against them. I still salute their embrace of natural body hair (hey, we have something in common!) and their grizzly aesthetic.


But maybe I'm misreading that line. Maybe Vampire Weekend mean something entirely different when they say "Fuck the bears out in Provincetown." It's hard to say what "fuck" means after you've spent a week parsing out the nuances of poem after poem at the FAWC. Fuuuck!


Blogger Orange said...

E. in your reading on the bears, did you learn whether the term applies to all husky, woolly, bearded gay men? Because I know two such men, but I don't know if they identify at all with the bear subset. Maybe they're just guys who don't like shaving, do like eating, and happen to be gay.

12:20 PM  
Blogger DoctorMama said...

How'd that one hairless one slip in there? They need some quality control.

1:49 PM  
Blogger E. said...

Good question, Orange. My guess is that gay men who are into bears might dub your friends bears. But from what I saw in Provincetown, there's definitely an element of self-identification.

DM, maybe the skinny guy with no visible body hair is like a bear-in-training. A cub? I do notice, however, that he seems to have a bear claw tattooed on his shoulder, with a word under it that looks like "tracks." Maybe he's just a really big bear fan, and the other guys have him in the shot as a kind of skinny mascot.

7:13 PM  
Blogger Rayne of Terror said...

Dar Williams is from Wellfleet I think. Mrs. Chicken just saw an intimate concert at a church there.

5:15 AM  

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