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CIRQUE

Michael Engelhard

Mating Dance Under the Midnight Sun With each paddle stroke, muscles play in her tanned, well-rounded shoulders. Straight, chestnutcolored hair falls to the nape of her neck, barely concealing the swan-like curve. “Such a beautiful day, non?” It is indeed. I cannot believe my luck. Here I am, with an exotic woman, on a remote northern river, a blue sky smiling above everything. What more could a man want? It all began with an ad. Or rather, with the idea that, after so many years of romantic shipwrecks, of forever stumbling into the pits of physical attraction and carnal confusion, a soul mate could perhaps better be found by comparing souls. I therefore decided to have my profile printed in Alaska Men magazine, the path-breaking periodical that has been “bringing you Alaska bachelors since 1987.“ “You,” meaning the female half of the Lower 48. “Bachelors,” meaning, “husband material,” in the words of the magazine editor herself. This illustrious and illustrated gem also gave the world a T-shirt with the slogan Alaska Men—The odds are good, but the goods are odd and the Firefighter Calendar, a longoverdue male equivalent of the swimsuit calendar and Playboy centerfold. Actually, the odds in places like Fairbanks or Anchorage seem about even, and as for oddity—judge for yourself. I certainly qualified for the honorific Alaska Man. Although German-born, I had been a resident of the Big Dipper State for almost four years. So, undaunted by the commodification of my body, I sent in a filled-out questionnaire, together with a picture of my expressive, clean-cut features against the

backdrop of a bush plane. (Not my own—the plane, that is.) Asked to describe my ideal first date to the readers, I did not hesitate for a second: My ideal first date would be a weeklong wilderness trip together because I believe that’s where your compatibility and true colors show quickly. They ran a full page in the magazine, and I was happy with the way I looked and sounded on glossy paper. I was hoping for the mother lode, this time around. As a safety precaution against love-crazed stalkers, crank calls or bomb threats from jealous exes or current boyfriends, I had my phone number unlisted and rented a mailbox at the post office in town. (Paranoid was not one of the character traits I had cared to mention in my sales pitch.) As it turned out, the readership was rather diverse, and not at all limited to the continental United States. I received fan mail from England; one letter arrived from Quebec, in broken English, another from a black nurse in Kotzebue. A lonely sounding fisherwoman trawling off the coast of South Africa cast her net wide and wrote to me on yellow legal pad paper. One of my female pen pals grew up in a lighthouse. She admitted she talked a lot with dead people. I received notes from female prison inmates that made me blush although I pride myself on not being prudish. Some epistles contained locks of hair. Others were smudged with lipstick kisses, or steeped in mysterious perfumes. Quite a few women were suspicious. They wanted to know why I had used a portrait shot for a photo. Was I obese? Or missing a limb? Foolishly, I had believed in the old saw that eyes are the windows to the soul. I quickly became an expert graphologist, a reader-between-lines. At times, Mike Burwell the colorful stamps intrigued more than the enclosed words. But every time I peered into the dark hole of my mailbox and spotted the white or pink flash of envelopes, I trembled with the prospect of having hit the jackpot. Letters and pictures of women in various poses and stages of life lay scattered all over my 14 by 14-foot plywood palace without running water. (Hence the self-described rustic minimalist in the magazine.) I bought a cardboard folder and organized my correspondence alphabetically, and

Profile for Michael Burwell

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Cirque, Vol. 6 No. 2  

A Journal for the North Pacific Rim

Profile for burwellm
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