Mishka The Bear
by Spencer Golub and David Hancock

The term “composite photo” is borrowed from acting. It’s a spatially and financially economic way to show the actor off in different types of roles, his different looks, different lights in which he might be cast. The composite photo does not credit the person looking at it with much imagination, nor does it display much imagination on the part of the actor who put it together with some equally unimaginative photographer.

In tradecraft, a composite photo is a dossier of an “op,” generally of the personal appearance (that is, character assassination) variety performed under different covers. A cover refers to both the costume and the role or functions that disguise the agent’s true motive and identity. Sometimes the phrase “Wear the Bear” is printed on the composite photo dossier. The phrase is essentially a reversal of the thought behind the popular adage of being “loaded for bear,” as in being ready for action. “Wearing the bear” actually means that you are no longer “loaded for bear,” because you are no longer approved for action, have had your operational status revoked, in fact, and with it your real and assumed identities. The statement “Warner was sick of death, but not sick of killing” is agency speak for an agent who is “wearing the bear” as opposed to being loaded for it. The name “Warner” is a simple composite formed from parts of “wear” and “bear.” Sometimes an agent is simply said to be “Warnered.”

A composite photo op or “Warner,” is an agent who has lost his identity, his cover and his borders or personal boundaries, so that all of his aliases get confused and run together like watercolors in the rain or countries on a map from some other century where the printed boundaries no longer apply. It is something like running into yourself on the street, or running into someone else in, say, London and thinking it’s in Bogota. What do you do? How are you supposed to react? Or how can you do anything but react, since you can no longer act and, even if you could, you don’t know how. A crisis ensues. You are now the Bear Clown, the Nazi Clown Forest Ranger, or the Forest Ranger who is also the Bear, the hunter and the hunted, without knowing which is which or what follows what. It’s 1987 but you think it’s 1978, or you always think it’s 1978, so you only read books that were published in that year. And because you search mostly in vain for clothes of that precise vintage, you end up wearing something that is both timeless and outside the norm of what clothing is or should be. You wear a bear suit, the same bear suit every day. Your sequencing, as well as your composition, is all messed up. You’ve come to assassinate Hitler and rid the world of the Nazi menace, but you get your decades mixed up, and it’s 1920 instead of 1940. You tell yourself that you’ve arrived early on purpose in order to get a jump on logic, so that you can trick the future into revealing itself to you. You are both too visible and not visible enough. You are not clearly articulated. You are no longer “Horatio;” you’re “The Ghost.” Your shoes no longer fit, because your shape has shifted. You confuse sound and light, inside and outside. You are afraid to go out in case you are in. You are frightened by sudden noises because they hurt your eyes. You distrust photos, because they are too loud to be decipherable. You can touch the bridge of your nose with your tongue and worry that when someone says it looks like your eyes are popping out of your head that they really are popping out of your head. Your head is so unusually big that it gets stuck in places where it does not belong—in circuses and on stages—and it no longer stays in frame. You have given up wearing hats because they have given up on you. You no longer carry a wallet, because you have no need of photos. Or is it that you have no need of photos because you can no longer carry a wallet in a bear suit that has no pockets? You wish you could still wear shoes, but really, what’s the point?


Mishka the Bear wasn’t merely a secret identity, but was also part of a composite being with his own sad history. According to the official record, upon graduating into the Analogical Unit, Mishka was given his bear identity, costume included, much as was done for all graduates of the Barnum & Bailey Clown College when it was still in operation. Hemispheres forbade the assignment of clown identities to members of its Analogical Unit, so that B & B’s more avuncular types would not turn up with bullets up their noses and with their intestines wrapped around their necks under their ridiculously high collars because someone mistook them for field agents. Clowns would not enjoy sporting the ear-to-ear smile furnished courtesy of a Stolypin or a Colombian “necktie” that would make their wide, garish costume ties seem pale in comparison and the rest of them turn paler still.

What does a man wear under a bear suit?

The paleness of death, the remains of the empty suit, the thing that is unspoken.

Mishka’s bear head was getting tight around his real ears, and the heat from his costume was beginning to take its toll, as he recalls mostly older men and women doing on the turnpikes traveled by bus where he sometimes found himself. A bus is a perfect incognito, much better certainly than a bear suit. But a bear suit on a bus generally means only that a performer has missed the circus train and has had to make his own travel arrangements or else was going off course on some personal errand. But why then wear the bear suit? To entertain children and disarm their parents? Literally to disarm them? To get the drop on them, so to speak, which is the language that is spoken here, in the Americas—that is, in the America that belongs to those born there and the America that is inhabited by aliens. Costumed bears stand up for aliens, who always think better of wearing their native costumes in public, except in parades.

Mishka was not always a bear, although it is as a bear that he wished to be known so as to divert attention from who and what he really was. The costume was an accident at first and a design only later as he came more regularly to perform unbearable acts. When not performing such unspeakable tasks (as most circus acts abetted by the absence of a non-functional mouth opening usually are), Mishka laid low, that is he hibernated, generally in foreign climes or else for shorter terms in safe houses and occasionally, prisons.

The bear suit seemed such an obvious ploy, and yet was accepted without being spoken of, much like the elephant in the room. And why not? Why wouldn’t the world take seriously the unspoken presence of men in bear suits riding silently on buses, standing by roadsides and perhaps fishing objects and missives out of abandoned cars?

The thing about persons in bear suits is that they compel you to question all of the given circumstances, to assume and expect nothing. In The Journal of Metaphysical Tradecraft, Homer investigated the ontology of bear suits. On the backs of numerous receipts from fast food restaurants, he poses the following series of Socratic questions:


Does a person in a bear suit remove his head indoors, when checking into a hotel, riding in elevators, eating alone or with others in a dining room? 


Is the head removed in situations where doing so makes things easier—for example, getting into cars, especially sports cars? In the case of the latter, does the bear head come off when the top comes down?


Is the head regarded as a hat and so removed as a courtesy to others in theaters?


When the head is taken off for the night (if it is taken off for the night), where is it put? On the night table alongside the bed for easy access or in the case of a sudden knocking at the door? In case the person in the bed awakens suddenly in the middle of the night and forgets that he is Mishka the Bear? In case a phone call in the middle of the night requires a stepping back into character, even though the “bear” cannot be seen? 


Is the bear’s head not simply put somewhere, but rather stored in a closet or in a double capacity drawer, if one has been thoughtfully provided by the management for especially tall, bulky or hard-to-store objects? 


Does the choice to store rather than simply to put the head somewhere suggest the need or a desire to hide the head? Does it suggest that this, above all other parts of the costume, is the most easily or most logically hidden?


If the head is kept in plain sight, is it used as a container for other things—a gun, an appointment book, lottery tickets, hearing aids, stray teeth, photographs, wallet, computer flash drive, CD, microfilm, gloves, removable paws?[1] 


Does a man in a bear suit sleep alone? Does this occur only when he is not in a state of complete undress?


If clothes make the man, do costumes unmake him?


What does a person wear under a bear suit?


Are two heads better than one? Perhaps, if you require a second head as a hiding place for a stash of uncut diamonds?


Can a person who has slipped out of his bear suit as easily slip out of his bare persona? Can you ever be fully dressed or costumed without a persona?


Are persons in bear suits natural carnivores, and if so, more so than you and I? Where did the loose teeth come from? Are they bear teeth or human teeth?


Can a person in a bear suit dissemble, or does the bear suit set a limit to his dissembling?


Does the bear suit tell the wearer not what he is but only what he is like? So too, the observer of the bear suit with the unseen person inside it? Is perception, then, reduced to resemblance or to dissemblance? Is Mishka the Bear the perfect means not so much to avoid detection as to confuse it? The question becomes not “Who is Mishka the Bear?” but “Who is Mishka the Bear like or unlike?”


It is in the space of this confusion that Mishka the Bear performs his act. It is through this gap in understanding that he escapes. It is as a correspondent that he does not relate. It is as a bear that he does not belong. He is so hugely seen, but so little known.


If he were to remove his bear costume, would we be able to see him anymore or any more clearly?


Mishka the Bear is a perfect spy, because he confuses perception by setting our reasoning faculties against themselves. He is irrationalism performing in realistic settings, chewing the scenery with his presence, where previously we saw no scenery at all. The fact that his presence lures us into his act makes his act unspeakable. You cannot say what you do not know how to say, and so you are reduced to animal grunts and growls, to pre-rational forms of expression of the inarticulatable.

The perfect spy makes the rest of the world into accomplices who are as perfect as he is, because they cannot tell or cannot tell anyone what is going on. The spy counts upon his accomplices being close-mouthed, which is why the head worn by Mishka the Bear has no functional mouth opening in the first place.

However, Mishka has to make sure that a world of silent accomplices does not make him fat and lazy. In order to guard against such complacency that could lead to fatal miscues and missteps, he removes his head at bedtime and dreams a real life for himself so that when he awakes he is able to articulate difference and the limits of correspondence. 

[1] This last item, or set of items, answers the time-honored rhetorical question: “Does a bear shoot in the woods?” with a not so rhetorical response—“Only after he has first removed his paws so that he can eliminate the problem of the hair trigger.”

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Allison Scarpulla

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