Big Foot walks in to teach my first year Creative Writing class and goes, “Anyone else think it’s hot in here?” He makes some joke about it being ninety degrees outside and that it’s him, hairy old Big Foot, in the shirt and tie. No one laughs. He puts his briefcase on his desk, sits down, and starts to take attendance.
“What’s that smell?” says a guy in the back, and Big Foot just stares at the class list checking off names with this embarrassed look on his face; because if there’s one thing worse than Big Foot smell, it’s hot Big Foot smell.
When he’s done he stands up, grabs a piece of chalk, and writes on the board: Stephenie Meyer. “Who did the reading?” he says and only a few of us raise our hands.
“How bout some real literature,” says Gary, which is the kind of thing Gary always says, and I can tell that whatever Big Foot has left for this job drains out of him right there.
“Come on guys,” he says. “Do I have to hold the book open for you?” Big Foot puts the chalk back on the ledge, wipes the dust from his hairy hands, and totally launches into it: the story about the lumberjack that left him books in the forest when he was a kid, his cousin on his mothers side (the Yeti) who’s teaching Social Studies in New Paltz and how his cousins unhappiness is directly tied to his unhappiness because it was him, by God, it was Big Foot who convinced his cousin to leave his comfortable snowy lair in the Himalayas for the apparent luxuries of upstate New York. He goes on about how he, the Big Foot, was famous for a minute, and that he’s not quite sure where it all went wrong. Then, of course, he brings the government into it. Fictitious Beast Placement program this, FBP program that, and a few of us fall asleep at our desks because we’ve heard the same speech for like three weeks in a row.
Big Foot looks at me in the middle of his rant and I feel bad because after last weeks class a few of us went out for beers and when Big Foot ended up at the same bar we all pretended not to notice him. But who doesn’t notice Big Foot walk into a bar? So he comes over, pulls up a chair, and drops the exact joke we were all thinking, which is the one about Big Foot walking into a bar, and it goes over about as well as you might expect, which is not at all. We’re a few drinks in when he asks if anyone’s read the new Stephen King. Gary stands up, a full beer still on the table in front of him, and walks out.
“I didn’t have a choice,” Big Foot says after it’s just him and me. “The lumberjack brought what he brought.” His eyes are glossed over and his tie is loose around his neck. He wipes a giant hand down the front of his face from top to bottom, takes hold of his pitcher of beer, and drains it. “You smoke, Kevin?” he asks. When I say yes, we head out onto the patio. A couple of girls stop him and ask for an autograph and he gives me this look like: see, this famous stuff still happens! He does this cheesy disco move thing as he’s signing the autographs and the girls are laughing, but not with him, and it’s painful to watch.
He comes over and pretends to look for a cigarette in whatever pair of pants he thinks he’s wearing and finally asks if he can just bum one from me. I hand him my smokes and he destroys like five cigarettes just trying to get one out of the pack that’s smoke-able. “Sorry,” he says, “Cigarettes aren’t exactly Big Foot friendly.”
So, we’re there smoking and he kind of opens up to me. Tells me about his wife who’s still on the ranch back in Montana because they think it’s important for the kids to be close to the woods, “You know,” he says, “so they know where they’re from.” He tells me he’s worried the college won’t give him the time off to write his novel and then proceeds to talk about the novel for like an hour, his long arms swinging away all theatrical as he works his way through the plot, which, as you might expect, borrows heavily on his life as Big Foot, but seems, to me at least, more complicated than it needs to be. “It’s hard to explain,” he says when he’s done, and then goes to get us another round.
When he comes back he’s pretty drunk and goes straight into saying stuff about Gary and how Gary wouldn’t know literature if it jumped out from behind a California Redwood and beat his ass. He’s spilling beer all over himself while he does this impression of riding Gary like a bucking bronco; the whole thing, beer in one hand up high while his other hand pretends to smack Gary’s imaginary ass. When he’s done, he motions across the patio to these girls and says, “Damn, I got a thing for redheads.” He can tell I think it’s kind of creepy and lets out this huge laugh that makes everyone on the patio cover their ears. It’s sort of this shriek mixed with a howl you’d never want to hear while camping in a tent in the middle of the woods.
“Damn,” says Big Foot. “I gotta watch that.” He asks me for another smoke and I hand him the pack and tell him to just keep it.
“You’re a good guy, Randy,” he says.
“Kevin,” I say.
“Right, Kevin. Another round?”
He brings back these blue drinks with curly straws and says, “The bartender called them Sasquatch’s.” He hands me mine and downs his in one gulp. “I like you, Benny,” he says and lays a giant sloppy arm across my shoulders.
A few hours later we’re back inside and the bar is about to close. Big Foot is on like his nineteenth Sasquatch and he’s over at the jukebox slow dancing with himself to Air Supply. He won’t let me leave so I’m just sitting at the bar nursing a Coke when the bartender yells that it’s time to wrap it up. Big Foot goes, “Hang on there, Chief. I love this part!” He keeps dancing with his eyes closed, head tilted toward the ceiling mouthing the words. The lights go up and there’s this awkward moment where the jukebox stops in the middle of the song and Big Foot keeps dancing with himself and singing out loud.
“Can I call you guys a cab?” the bartender asks me.
“That’s okay, I’ll get him home,” I say and walk over to the dance floor. I wrap my arm as far as I can around Big Foots waist. “Come on, buddy,” I say. “Time to go.” We wobble toward the door and he says, “I love that song. Do you love that song, Kevin?” I tell him I do, because honestly, it’s Air Supply, and who doesn’t love Air Supply?
We make it into the street and there’s like a million college kids everywhere because all the bars are closing. A couple of guys walk up to us and start hassling Big Foot. They’re all, “If it isn’t Mr. Famous Guy thinks he can waltz into town and take a job from a more qualified professor.” They give Big Foot a push and he ends up on his ass in the middle of the street. There’s this gang of like six guys gathered around him so I decide to step in. “Guys, guys, guys,” I say. “Cut him some slack, he’s drunk.”
“What, you got your boyfriend helping you now?” one of the guys says to Big Foot and then the cops show up and everyone splits in like three directions at once. I help Big Foot to the curb and when he sits down he starts to cry. I take his hand in mine, which is to say I take his one hand in both of my hands due to its size, and tell him to look at me.
“Don’t listen to those guys,” I say. “You’re a fantastic teacher.”
When he pulls it together he asks to borrow my cellphone so he can call his cousin, the Yeti. I sit on the curb outside the bar for another half hour as Big Foot stumbles around on the sidewalk crying off and on into my phone to his cousin on the other end. It’s like 4 a.m. by the time I get him into a cab.
So here we are in class a week later and Big Foot’s in the middle of his rant. He’s looking to me for what, solidarity? Friendship? Dude’s on his own, I think, and then he looks at the class and keeps talking: trying to do the right thing this, scientific curiosity that. “Do any of you have any idea what it’s like to be me?” he asks and looks around waiting for someone to say something, anything. And we all just sit there, because how could we know? How could we possibly know.
Chris Tarry is a Canadian musician and fiction writer living in Brooklyn. His work has appeared in The Literary Review, The G.W. Review, PANK, The Drunken Boat, Opium Magazine, and elsewhere. Chris is a three-time Juno Award winner (the Canadian Grammy), and makes his living playing bass in New York City. His most recent album Rest of the Story, is a book of short fiction and jazz album rolled into one. http://www.christarry.com.