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)

 

Hail to the King

In honor of Halloween and scaring the hell out of each other, let me talk about Stephen King.

He wasn’t the first to scare the crap out of me. That goes to Alien, which still gives me bizarre nightmares. Then The Thing, Poltergeist and An American Werewolf in London came along. In 6th grade I started reading bullshit paperback collections that put forth old ghost stories and weird tales like “Gef the mongoose” as true, unexplained phenomena.

And then my mother let me read Stephen King. She’s a big fan of The Stand, but I’m not sure that was first. I think I chose Salem’s Lot, because I flipped it open and saw the word “fart.” I twelve or thirteen, living at my grandmother’s house, where the enormous oak rapped against my window at night like the tree from Poltergeist about to swallow me up and spit out my Hulk wristwatch. I was ripe to be terrified, and Mr. King did not disappoint.

I read The Stand, Cujo, Firestarter. I plowed through his voluminous collections of short fiction, still some of the best shocker and switcheroos and utterly crazy-imaginative tales I’ve read. And then came It, which upped the ante, by bringing horror to kids my age. I sat on the couch reading that book until I fell asleep, then fought nightmares of electric trees and rampaging Tyrannosaurs and undead creeps who could turn the floor into glue as I tried to escape. No clowns, though. Clowns never bothered me. Perhaps thanks to Alien and The Thing, my brain-beasties were always skinned and toothy four-legged monsters that looked like slabs of quartered chicken tied to bloody animal skeletons. (And don’t worry, that novel will be written soon enough.)

King is difficult to explain, except that he is a fantastic storyteller. People apologize for him. They call him a guilty pleasure. I haven’t read any of his books since From a Buick 8, but I loved that story. I also dug The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon. I was disappointed with the Dark Tower’s resolution, but I respected it. Those novels are as raw and unfiltered a journey through a very imaginative storyteller’s brain as we’re likely to get. I’ll forgive the indulgences, because he bared it all.

Like any big name, he probably should be edited more now that his very name is all that’s required to sell a book. But has he changed, or have we? I’m inclined to think the latter. I’m glad he’s still writing, and I’m glad that the “front of the house is for the fans,” but I still couldn’t step out of my car as we passed through Bangor. He gave me enough back when I first read his work. Maybe some of us have lost patience for moody character tales that descend into hometown horror, but I’m glad he’s still writing and that his books still resonate with millions of readers, including me.

Allagash Brewery Tour

The first craft beer I really enjoyed, and still enjoy, is Ramstein Blonde by High Point Brewing company. My palate has turned toward stronger flavors like double IPA’s and coffee stouts, but I still love a good lager and also wheat beers and Belgian whites. The best-known Belgian white or witbier is Blue Moon, and then perhaps Shock Top. The latter is better, but my favorite is Allagash White, and while Firecracker and I visited the northern corner of the States, we dropped by their brewery for a tour.

Allagash is best known for the White, but their Black is making the rounds of east coast taps. They stick to Belgian styles and modern variations. They made a traditional sour, made with wild yeast in from the air. It’s not very strong for a sour, but has a good flavor and is a good entry into sour beers. They are sour like a tart Jolly Rancher or a green apple, very crisp and refreshing.

They give a scholarly tour and let you sample their beers at the beginning of the tour. If you miss out, you have to wait until the next one. The Lonely Planet New England book has incorrect hours for their tour, so call ahead.

You get a walkthrough, which is exciting if you’ve never been to a brewery. It’s nice to see they run a very clean and professional shop, as you’d expect from a brewery that makes consistently tasty beer. If you haven’t had the White, I’d highly recommend it. It is smooth and tasty and not too heavy, with lingering flavors that cool you on a summer day and refresh the palate all year long. One of America’s best beers.

An amusing sign in their rest room.