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The Weekly Blague

The Bear in Number 12


"Modernistic, almost avant-garde, all acute angles and big vertical sheets of glass jutting toward the street, the red-brick structure stands in the middle of a row of mid-19th-century Greek Revival townhouses, on a tree-lined Greenwich Village block between Fifth and Sixth Avenues. In its mismatched eccentricity, 18 West 11th Street cries out to be noticed, and I noticed it—and the Paddington Bear in the window—right after I moved to the neighborhood. I don't remember what kind of costume the bear had on that summer day in 1991 (probably a bathing suit and sunglasses), just that I stopped to look and wonder why the house was so different from every other house on the block." –from The Village Voice


The above paragraph is the opening of a book I'm working on. Tentatively titled No Future, an excerpt ran in The Village Voice last year. It's about the connection between Observation Post, a radical student newspaper at the City College of New York in the 1970s, and a house that the violent antiwar group known as the Weathermen, or Weather Underground, used as a bomb factory. The Weathermen were not very good bomb makers, and they accidentally blew up the house. Three Weathermen died in the explosion. Eventually, a lavish new house was built on the site, and the owners, metals magnate David Langworthy and his wife, Norma, displayed a Paddington Bear in the window. Every day the bear had on a different costume. If the Yankees were in the World Series, he'd be wearing a Yankees uniform. If a nor'easter was coming in, he'd be wearing a rain hat and slicker. I called him the Paddington Bear of Cognitive Dissonance.


In 2014 the house was sold and the bear disappeared, probably never to be seen again in that particular window.


I wondered about the bear's fate. I missed walking by the house to see what kind of costume he had on. I inquired about the bear on Nextdoor. Nobody knew what happened to him.


One morning last week, I was walking down a block I've walked down many times: West 10th Street, between Fifth and Sixth Avenues, one block from where the bear used to be. This time, a beautiful bow window at number 12 caught my eye, and standing on a table in the corner of the window was Paddington Bear, wearing red rubber boots. (It had rained the previous day.) I don't know how long he'd been there, but he's not in any of the Google street view images taken between June 2014, around the time he disappeared, and November 2022. It was the first time I'd seen the bear in nine years.


Several days later I returned to check out his costume. He was still wearing red rubber boots, though it hadn't been raining.


If the Yankees or Mets should miraculously squeak into the playoffs, perhaps the new owners will be moved to dress him in the appropriate uniform, as his previous owners always did. Then again, it's football season, and both New York teams could prove to be interesting this year. Paddington Bear would look just fine in either Giant blue or Jet green.


Please join me for a discussion of Nowhere Man: The Final Days of John Lennon on Wednesday, October 4, 6 p.m. at Subterranean Books in St. Louis.


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