One of The Big One’s favorite places to visit is Ye Olde Bass Pro Shoppe, or as he calls it, the “fishy store.” I think we once took him there on a whim, when we were at a loss at how to entertain him. But one look at a tank full of fish, and he was hooked. (I’m here all week, folks.) Now he just likes to go there to see the fish, look at all the animals that have been stuffed around the store, and to watch daddy play the shooting gallery game very poorly. I’m glad that it’s a cheap way for him to be amused, but every time I walk through those doors I feel powerfully out of my element.
Look, I like the outdoors as much as anyone else who’s seen Ken Burns’ National Parks documentary. I was born in Michigan, where the state pastime is hunting and unemployment. I have more than a few relatives who are hunters and fishers, including an uncle by marriage who is a taxidermist. But I don’t think there’s a single store where I feel more out of my element then in a Bass Pro Shop. I don’t even have a big issue with hunting or fishing, though I’m not wild about big corporate “rustic” stuff. I like camping well enough, though I can count the number of times I’ve been on one hand. I think it’s more that it’s this entire subculture of America where I relate to very little. I’m not sure I’m comfortable telling people that I can’t grow a beard and that I know almost zero country songs. It’s not dissimilar to a white suburbanite who finds themselves in a mostly black neighborhood: it’s not really a latent prejudice so much as the feeling that you’re a long way from a Starbucks.
And yet when I walk through those doors, I feel like this is something I should get into. Maybe I could buy a tent, and maybe I could buy a fishing pole. It’s not that hard! I’d go up to the shopkeep and say, “One camp please!” And he’d show me the tents and I’d be on my way! Off into the wild, just like Lewis and Clark if they drove a Taurus.
Or maybe I’d hike from Kansas to Katmai National Park, which my globe assures me is not really all that far. I’d live off the land, communicating with elk and stripping trees of their bark to fashion a motorhome. And if that didn’t work, I’d build a dugout out of sod and moxie, which is plentiful in Alaska. There I would commune with nature, which is another way of saying I might actually grow a beard. Then those bears wouldn’t boss me around anymore.
One day I would be hiking in the shadows of Denali when a large grizzly on a motorcycle will appear and break a bar-stool over my head over a disputed game of Nerts. An enormous brawl spanning Alaska and most of the Yukon will ensue, while I draw from the power of my suddenly mighty beard to overcome the brass knuckles that the bear uses to work my rock-hard gut. Then he would remember that he’s a bear and maul me mercilessly, taking my beard as a prize. But the mountains would sing of the man from Kansas, who grew a beard and challenged Klondike Grizzles, the baddest biker bear in the world.
And that’s what goes through my head whenever I walk into Bass Pro Shop.