Have I ever told you about the time that I wrestled a bear? It was pretty exhilarating, I must admit. And really, I thought for sure I was gonna be killed, but luck was on my side that day. It happened about ten years ago when I was out camping with some old friends from high school. We were sitting around the campfire, drinking some root beers and ginger ales, roasting marshmallows and telling stories about the various forms of community service we’d been performing lately.
The night grew particularly dark as there was no moon that evening. In addition, a cloud cover had moved in from the northeast and made visibility virtually nil. One of my friends, growing tired from our full day of chopping wood for other campers, decided to retire to the tent. There were eight of us total on that trip. As it happened, a good night’s sleep was just what the doctor ordered for all of us, so we all decided to hit the sack. We stumbled around the campsite for a few minutes, with flashlight beams bouncing around, as we tried to put away all the food. We took the necessary steps to assure a relatively tidy campsite so that we’d be able to wake up in the morning and launch right into our morning prayers without having to do much preparation.
Everyone climbed into the tents. I was the only one who remained. I took one last look around to make sure everything was in order. It was. I realized, however, that before climbing into my sleeping bag I should really take a walk to the camp’s community bathroom. More than anything, I just wanted to splash some soap and water on my face, as I was sure it was grimy from our full day.
You see, in addition to volunteering to chop wood for everyone, we had also spent some time rescuing a trapped worker from a local coal mine. It was particularly random that we should happen upon a coal mine in the middle of Wisconsin’s Bong Recreation Area, but needless to say, upon hearing the muffled cries for help, we jumped into action. It didn’t take long for us to secure a country-mile’s length of rope to the back of one of my friend’s hybrid sport utility vehicle. Since we were all eager to be the one to climb down and assess the situation, we drew straws to see who received the honor. As luck had it, it was me.
The rope was tied around my waist as I was lowered slowly into the opening of the mine. The cave-in had destroyed the mine’s elevator system along with the secondary ladder escape route, so being lowered in was the only option. I had our trusty Coleman lantern in hand, a first aid kit, and a few Powerbars with me as well, as I slowly descended into the dark abyss. After what seemed like hours, I was finally able to make out the bottom of the shaft. There, laying prone beneath a fallen wooden support beam, was the mine worker whose cries for help we heard earlier. He had clearly lost consciousness. I became paranoid that I arrived too late until I saw the faint movement of his upper body rising and falling with each strained breath he took.
I yelled out to him, “Sir! Sir! Are you okay?”
His eyes slowly opened just as my feet finally touched the ground next to him.
“Am I dead?” was all he could ask.
“No sir,” I replied trying to sound as much like a living, breathing human as I could. The last thing I wanted was for my voice to resonate off these stone walls in such a fashion as to lead this disoriented blue-collar hero to believe that he was hearing the voice of a creature from beyond. “You’re not dead. You’ve been involved in an accident. The mine in which you have been laboring has collapsed around you. Can you move?”
He raised his arms in an attempt to sit up. He clearly had movement in his upper body, but his lower half was still pinned securely beneath the wooden beam.
“I’m stuck,” he said.
“Don’t worry,” replied trying to sound confident. “We’ll get you out of here.”
With that I quickly untied the rope from around me and secured it to the beam. Luckily, before descending into the mine I had thought to establish a system of communication with the others using only rope tugs. I pulled the rope three times quickly, followed by one isolated tug, then followed by a succession of four bursts of seven tugs each. This would indicate to the others that I had secured the rope to a fallen object that needed to be moved in order to complete the rescue.
In a matter of seconds, the beam was lifted from the gentleman’s torso and he crawled out from beneath it.
“I think I’m okay,” he said. “I don’t think anything’s broken.”
Wasting little time, I quickly gave the rope tugging signal indicating that I needed another eleven feet of rope. With the extra slack supplied in an instant, I quickly tied myself to the higher portion of the rope (figuring this would allow me to communicate more effectively with those above) and then tied the end of the rope around the grateful miner. Once we were both secure, I offered the man a Powerbar, which he hungrily devoured.
I gave a quick quadruple tug to the rope, indicating that we should be pulled up. It took some time and effort, but eventually we reached daylight once again. The miner was incredibly grateful. So much so, in fact, that he gave my friend Ed a great big kiss right on the lips. It sure was funny to see Ed with all that black soot or dirt on his mouth after that dirty miner gave him his thank you smooch. Strangely, however, no sooner had the miner detached himself from his grateful liplock, than he took off running. Clearly he had to get home to his family to assure them of his well-being.
Afterwards, we sat around the mouth of the mine shaft for some time. We felt the need to let the adrenaline wear off. Gary went to the car to fetch some ice-cold Capri Suns from the cooler when he returned with that morning’s newspaper, which we had happened to pick up in town earlier that day. He pointed out a small headline on the bottom of the front page that read, “Escaped convict ‘The Kissing Killer’ still at large.”
We all looked at one another with round eyes as we realized what we had done. We let a possibly injured, tired, hungry, and thirsty victim of a mine collapse run off into the forest all alone while a maniacal escaped convict was on the loose. We all just joined hands and prayed that he would make it to his family safely before he came face to face with this Kissing Killer.
As I continued my walk under the dark night sky to wash the dirt and grime from my face, I felt a sense of pride in having helped to save the life of a man who toiled so hard to provide for his family. But I couldn’t help but shake my head when hoping that he had made it home safely.
Putting the days events behind me, I finally reached the community bathroom. I went to one of the stalls and did my business. Then I walked to the sink and let the yellow run from the water before reaching my hands underneath it and relishing the feel of the cool water as I splashed it on my face. I took my time washing away the day’s events from my skin. It felt good to spend the day helping others in so many different ways. I knew then for what it was that I was put upon this earth. I was meant to be a servant to others. I made a mental note to put up a Craigslist posting as soon as we returned to civilization.
I dried my face off thoroughly, applied some Pond’s Facial Replenishing Cream, and made my way back to the campsite. I walked as briskly as I could given the state of darkness I was faced with. My flashlight, though effectively cutting a path through the darkness, wasn’t one of the stronger flashlights we’d brought on the trip, and it was fading. I thought nothing of it until I heard a rustling in some trees nearby. I glanced in that direction, but couldn’t make anything out in the darkness. I continued on.
I had only traveled perhaps another twenty feet or so when the rustling returned. Initially, I had thought that the sound was that of a racoon, or possibly a possum. It would not be uncommon for creatures like this to be rustling around in the foliage. However, I reconsidered these notions after this more recent occurrence of the disturbance. This was clearly a much larger creature. I scanned my memory looking for any trace of knowledge regarding the surrounding wildlife when I was suddenly thrown from my feet.
Something had jumped from the darkness and pushed me to the ground. I heard some heavy breathing coming from behind me. Is it possible that I was about to come face to face with a bear? But bears aren’t known to be found in this southern region of Wisconsin. How could this be happening. Slowly, as I listened to the sharp breathing, I stood up. I slowly turned around to face the beast that was certain to ensure my doom.
My eyes went wider than a Lincoln Continental. Standing there in front of me, was former Chicago Bear wide receiver Tom Waddle. He was clearly disoriented and appeared to be foaming at the mouth. As I stood with my mouth agape, Tom Waddle let out a roar that seemed impossibly inhuman. No sooner had the echo of his cry ceded into the night, than I found myself rolling along the gravel path with him on top of me. The struggle that ensued was akin to nothing I had ever experienced before. For more than forty-five minutes the two of rolled and wrestled there on that darkened pathway leading to the campground’s community bathrooms and showers.
Tom Waddle was relentless. Finally, he put me in a sleeper hold and had me moments away from unconsciousness. Struggling mightily to simply stay alive at this point, I reached out frantically for some sort of weapon that I might be able to brandish in order to fend this mighty Bear off. My hand found only handfuls of pebbles and the tiniest of twigs. Just as my vision began to fade and I thought all hope was lost, my hand felt something. What’s is this? Was it something I could use?
Despite my failing senses, I realized that my hand held the very Pond’s Facial Replenishing Cream that I had earlier applied to my clean and dry face. Not being able to consider any other options, I was able to remove the top from the Replenishing Cream and slide my fingers in to extract an extremely healthy portion of lotion. With all my remaining strength, I reached up to Tom Waddle’s face and smeared the cream all over his face. To my surprise, he fell off of me immediately.
I sprang to my feet as I watched the former Boston College star writhe on the ground beneath me. He pawed at his face with his Bear hands and roared in pain. Clearly, the Pond’s Facial Replenishing Cream was having some sort of chemical effect on him. I didn’t dawdle, but rather, turned immediately and ran to the campsite. I roused the others quickly explaining what had happened. At first they didn’t believe a word I said. It was only after I lifted my shirt and showed them the battle wounds I’d suffered that they came to their senses. It seems that during our scuffle, Tom Waddle had scratched the number “87” into my skin. This was the number Tom Waddle wore as a Bear.
In a matter of minutes we returned to the scene. Former Chicago Bear wide receiver Tom Waddle was still laying on the gravel path. He was motionless, however. Carefully, we checked for a pulse. He was still alive. The Replenishing Cream did not kill the Bear, it appeared to have only sedated him.
We quickly called the campground officials to the scene. In no time, an ambulance arrived and Tom Waddle was taken away.
The eight of us returned to the campsite, unable to fully comprehend what had happened. I fell asleep to visions of an interview Tom Waddle once gave after an amazing game where he caught pass after pass over the middle only to take the beating of lifetime. I remember the interview well. Local sports caster Mark Giangrecco had asked Tom a question, but all that Tom Waddle could reply was, “I’m not feeling too good right now.” This was a legitimate response considering he had more than likely been concussed.
The next morning we awoke and gathered in our usual prayer circle. No sooner had we said our amens then one of the campground rangers pulled up. He sauntered over to us, wishing us a good morning.
“We got back some information regarding your Bear attack last night,” he said. “It appears that the strangest set of circumstances developed resulting in your confrontation with him.”
We stood enraptured as we listened to the ranger.
“As I’m sure you boys are aware, the “Kissing Killer” has escaped from a local prison,” explained the ranger. “As it happened, Mr. Tom Waddle was out hiking by himself when he came face to face with the killer. Mr. Waddle explained to us this morning that the killer jumped on him, planting a kiss square on his lips. He said that when the killer released his liplock, he thought he was about to be killed. But instead, the killer said, ‘I’m gonna spare you, buddy. I got some help from a stranger today and I’m gonna go ahead and pay it forward. So consider yourself lucky.’ And with that, the killer planted another wet, sloppy kiss right on the mouth of Tom Waddle.”
Upon hearing this most unbelievable of revelations, the fellas and I all looked at one another.
“Well that doesn’t explain the crazy way Tom Waddle was behaving last night,” said Henry. “Why did he attack Mikey outside the bathrooms?”
“As a matter of fact,” said the ranger, “that’s where the story gets particularly interesting. It seems that after the Kissing Killer bounded away, Tom Waddle laid there for a moment before he could feel the saliva of the Killer still upon his lips, face, and tongue. Reaching quickly for something with which to wipe the offending fluids from his person, Mr. Waddle unknowingly grabbed a handful of poison oak leaves. It seems that he wiped these leaves right over his tongue. The resulting reaction sent Tom Waddle into a demented state of mind. He spent the next several hours wandering around the forest until he happened upon you.”
Needless to say, the group of us was dumbstruck at the story we’d just heard. We thanked the ranger for filling us in on everything and he went on his way.
We spent the next hour packing up all our gear as we prepared to head back into the city. That fateful night that I was attacked by a Bear was never spoken of again, but it’s something that will never be forgotten.