Cruising with Elvis in Bigfoot’s UFO

While Portland Maine is soon following its othercoastly sister into hipster hell, it still has cool people and weirdness to enjoy. This Memorial Day weekend, the Firecracker and I hopped in the Honda and drove to Bernieland to hit Ben & Jerry’s ice cream and the beer mecca of Waterbury, where we sampled Heady Topper and Sip o’ Sunshine and many great beers by 14th Star, Hillstead Farms, and many others. Then we shot over to the FunSpot arcade in the wilds of New Hampshire (our adventure is regaled here)  before entering America’s frostbitten toe of weirdness and meth, aka Maine.

We stopped at Sebago Brewing and Maine Beer Co., the latter an old fave and the former a new one. The WhistlePunk from Sebago is a great IPA, and MBC always brews interesting things. We skipped Allagash this time around because our local pub (the Cloverleaf Tavern of Caldwell NJ) just had a tap takeover. But we’ve been there before. It was raining and cold when we arrived, and all the clothing stores were tourist traps or yuppie scumpits ($200 for a vinyl raincoat?) so I my only choice was to stop in the Belgian beer bar Novares Res, where I knew they sold hoodies emblazoned with hooded monks and beer barrels. I nabbed a snazzy sweatshirt and was thus well clothed for the chill.

There’s much to do in Portland but we got food out of the way first, with a lobster roll for Firecracker and a roll stuffed with whole belly fried clams for me. That evening we met a lovely couple from … where we’d just left, Laconia NH, who gave us a bug-eyed stare, like we were following them. (“You went to the FunSpot?” It has a reputation…) A lovely evening was had, I had a great smoke beer from Germany, we regaled each other with tales. Antonio told us of growing up in the Philippines, and they laughed at our rutted road adventure when the GPS tried to kill us.

But hey, you’re saying, what about Bigfoot?

What about him?

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I like Bigfoot.

I know he doesn’t exist, but I like him anyway. Part of me wants them to exist, and another part wants us to never know definitively if they exist or not. This is because I was around seven years old when I first heard the word sasquatch, and I want that mystery to always remain. (Probably saw Sasquatch: The Legend of Bigfoot)

So I’m glad my visit to the International Museum of Cryptozoology in Portland Maine left me utterly sure in my belief that bigfoot will never be discovered, no matter how many okapis, coelocanths and giant squids we find.

A lot of tourists are disappointed by this museum, but it’s not a sideshow. Go to Ripley’s Believe it or Not if you want that stuff. This museum is about cryptozoology, the study of undiscovered critters, and ones that may be extinct, or not, like the thylacine, or Tasmanian tiger. It’s a marsupial predator:

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Much of the museum is pop culture memorabilia, and our love of these creatures. And that’s just fine. There’s a bunch about the Mothman and UFO sightings. (Though if you’re into the Mothman, you really should visit the Mothman Museum, which I did).

They have a few Fiji Mermaids, the product of creative taxidermy. It was interesting to see them up close. One of my favorites was my friend Kim Parkhurst‘s sculpture of a tatzelwurm, a two-legged lizard whose gaze caused death, if you believe the medieval hype.

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When I was in sixth grade, the homeroom bookshelf had plenty of awful paperbacks full of ghost stories and what-ifs and old legends, which I absorbed like a sponge. A favorite was this story of cowboys gunning down a pterodactyl in the American desert:

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And they give plenty of time to my home state’s favorite cryptid, the Jersey Devil (which if you dig deep enough, was a political prank by a young Ben Franklin about the Leeds family, and we’ve been “seeing” this horse-faced bat-winged cloven hoofed critter ever since).

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I’m a skeptic at heart, but I have a lively imagination, and I like to hope we haven’t ravaged the Earth so terribly that there aren’t undiscovered charismatic megafauna like the hairy hominid we call sasquatch hiding from us in the depths of the forest and jungle. I’d love for a small population of thylacine to have survived. My friend Gerry’s daughter Alibeth would be delighted, she’s a thylacine fan. We took her to see the titanosaur at the Natural History Museum in NYC a while back, and we were both saddened to learn that their thylacine exhibit had moved on.

There are still wonders out there, even if there’s no sasquatch. We can preserve them and ourselves if we stop acting like science is a matter of opinion. But expecting people to believe scientists over political hucksters? I’d sooner believe in Bigfoot.

(P.S.: I totally stole the title from this Adrenaline O.D. album)

 

In Honor of Bigfoot: The Legend of Boggy Creek

I dunno if you heard, but they found Bigfoot. (He was cruising in Elvis’s UFO). Apparently some dudes down in Georgia found a body of a large hairy beast in the swamps known to harbor Skunk Ape, the stinky sasquatch of the South. Unfortunately when they thawed out the freezer with the body, it turned out to be a rubber suit. Big surprise there. Despite finding possum and human DNA in the samples they gave for testing. It looks like someone decided to stuff roadkill in a suit and pull a hoax, but they made a big splash, and who doesn’t love a good hoax? I sure do.

Frozen rubber suit and some roadkill = media bonanza

Growing up in the ’70s, there was a huge Sasquatch vibe. Bigfoot captured the perfect combination of budding environmentalism and mystery needed to soothe the malaise borne of enormous collars and paisley prints, and the creeping realization that our country was becoming a garbage-covered shithole. The idea of an angry ape in the woods, pissed off at us throwing Chunky bar wrappers and empty cans of Tab on his turf, was a tempting one. Maybe he would beat up Richard Nixon, stomp a Japanese car, and throttle an oil sheik, and we’d be number one again.

Six Million Dollar Man and his lover


There were a lot of Pissed Off Nature movies in the ’70s- grizzlies, piranhas, sharks, ants, spiders, whales, frogs, worms, snakes, alligators, and even killer bunny rabbits were all out to get us. Why not sasquatch? In 1973 a quasi-documentary called The Legend of Boggy Creek was made as a low-budget labor of love by Charles Pierce and Earle Smith, who also gave us the eerie docudrama The Town That Dreaded Sundown, about a Zodiac-esque killer who haunted Texarkana in the ’40s. This came first, and was perfect drive-in fare; it became a huge hit, making $20 million when movies cost 50 cents. The Godfather only made $134 million! It even inspired The Blair Witch Project with its shaky camera style.
The story told by the narrator is of when he was a child in the ’40s, of the Fouke Monster– an apelike creature sighted in “the Bottoms” swampland where Arkansas, Louisiana and Texas meet. It’s a haunting area, memorably depicted in Joe R. Lansdale’s novel The Bottoms, which isn’t about Skunk Ape but you can imagine the beast of Boggy Creek lurking in this area. The movie is more of a nostalgic documentary on rural swamp town life with occasional appearances by a huge hairy beast in the woods that’s probably a bear. While it never approaches the documentarian mastery of Louisiana Story or the like, it has a down home charm to it, because many of the people who claim to have seen the creature play themselves re-enacting the sighting, or daily life.

A simpler time, when Indians didn’t cry by the river.

Folk songs written for the film, such as “The Ballad of Travis Crabtree,” about a young swamp hunter who’ll remind you of Huckleberry Finn, give it a “Grizzly Adams” vibe. My favorite is “Where the Creature Goes,” where we hear the singer pine for the creature’s “lonely cries ringing out over his watery domain.”

How I miss his lonesome cry.

The Boss-Man and I watched it one night, and it is definitely a window back to the early ’70s. Nowadays the closest you’ll get to this is stuff like “Ghost Hunters” on television, where someone recounts a spooky tale while the camera creeps around with night-vision on, and some low-budget effect recreates what they claim they saw right before they pooped their pants. The beast may be a guy in a suit, but they keep him shrouded in the dark woods where only his silhouette can be seen, and the first-time actors do a fine job of being themselves and then shitting bricks. One fellow says he took aim but wasn’t sure if it was an animal or a man, and didn’t want it on his conscience.

I don’t have any beef jerky, dude!

So why are there still bigfoot hunters out there, even though the hoaxer who created the famous “walking ape” footage admitted it on his deathbed? It’s something we’d like to believe in. I know I wish we had wild man-apes cavorting in the woods. Or something undiscovered. Cryptozoologists like to remind us that the okapi was “undiscovered” until 1902, despite natives insisting that it was out there, but that was in Africa, a much wilder place.

The sequels to The Legend of Boggy Creek were Mystery Science Theatre 3000 material, but the original has a sort of hokey, low-budget charm to it. Can you imagine an era when something like this would gross 25% as much as something like The Godfather? Well, I guess it still works; The Blair Witch Project made a bundle, was shot on a shoestring and based on vague folktales. I only saw it years later because the Discovery channel ad campaign rubbed me the wrong way. But nowadays when you hike in the woods, you’ll joke more about the witch than the sasquatch. Or maybe manbearpig.