The first time I saw Frank I was on my lunch break, wandering the green pathways and semi-fresh air of the city zoo. He was sitting in front of the bear, smoking a Stuyvesant Blue. He’d cut a hole in his fur suit, roundabout where his mouth would be, through which he slipped the stub, dragging on it in quick stammering puffs. Smoke twirls frisked the air between him and the grizzly that swayed about like a drunk walking the line. From the other side of the fence, Frank’s eyes followed its every move. A gap-toothed girl holding an ice-cream tugged on her mother’s pant leg: ‘Mommy, mommy! Mommy, mommy! A smoking bear!’ The mommy scowled at Frank, scooped up the kid, ice-cream teetering dangerously and seethed through the revolving gate and into the city.
After that, I noticed him in the supermarket once; his fur glowing yellow under the fluorescent lights. Clutching a basket brimming with milk, steak and honey, he seemed oblivious to the stares.
The third time I saw Frank, I was watching the game at this local dive I like. It was Sunday noon and the air in the pub was raw with traces of the night before – a sickly mélange of cigarette smoke and vomit. I was nursing a Pilsner when I noticed brown fur peeking out from behind an oak tree in the courtyard. It was Frank. He was sipping whisky through a straw while reading. ‘Hi there,’ I offered. ‘Do you mind if I sit down?’