Classy Hand’s Phil Keeling, the Conquistadork, has released his very own comedy album! You can buy it on Amazon.com today!
A twist on the original text: ‘The Lorax: He Speaks for the Tress’ is a mock Grindhouse trailer that chronicles the badassssss adventures of The Lorax, an ex-lumberjack-cum-pimp with a green thumb way up the keister of industrial America. The Onceler, his power-CEO arch-nemesis, kidnaps the Brown Barbaloots an holds the world for ransom under his maniacal chainsaw assaults.
NOW IN 3D!!
Written by Lee Keeler
Directed by Lee Keeler and Zach Graber
Produced by Yotam Dor
Photographed by Jake Hill
Edited by Kevin Erhard
Production Design by Britt Faulkner
Sound Design by Ashley Holland and Adam Latz
–Editor’s note: Gaby Dunn first wrote an original piece for Classy Hands well over a year ago and since then, we’ve found ourselves reposting her material almost weekly. Gaby has become somewhat of an internet celebrity in the interim. Her growth in popularity has little to do with us. Instead her blog, 100interviews, has taken off.
Recently Gaby finished her 100th interview for the project and will be publishing the final pieces over the next few weeks, in time for the deadline she set for the project. Everyone here at Classy Hands wishes a hearty congratulations and wishes her all the best. This is her most recent 100interivews article.–
Image courtesy of Kadampa.org
Buddhism, I learn, is a science of the mind.
In fact, in the free e-book ‘Modern Buddhism’ by Geshe Kelsang, it’s defined as “scientific methods for improving our human nature and qualities through developing the capacity of our mind.” This is not the scientific method I remember from grade school.
After work a couple Fridays ago, I head to an office buidling in Chelsea and take the elevator to the fifth floor. There I find Geshe Kelsang’s Chakrasambara Kadampa Meditiation Center and its resident teacher, Kadam (or “Teacher”) Morten.
The center is a few rooms used as a kitchen, an office, a bookstore and a big carpeted meditation and prayer “temple.” Golden statues of the Buddha line the walls, above them are paintings of the different Buddhas, representing different aspects of the enlightened mind. There’s also a platform with a pillow, from which Kadam Morten leads meditations and classes like “The Key to Happiness” and “Understanding the Mind’s Potential” while students sit on the carpet or in folding chairs. It’s a simple, beautiful set-up.
Morten, a welcoming guy who looks way younger than his actual age, is originally from the primarily non-spiritual country of Denmark. His father was a diplomat so the family split time between home, New York and Switzerland. When Morten was 10, his parents became interested in transcendental meditation, then a popular 1970s fad. That was when Morten learned to meditate.
In Switzerland, Morten’s father became sick with cancer. Morten remembers practicing meditation as a way to relieve his own stress. Back then, Eastern medicine was not mainstream; it would have been seen as absurd to teach meditation to sick people. There was less of an accepted medical connection between the mind and the body.
When Morten was sixteen, his father passed away.
“I felt no peace,” he says. “At that point, that was obviously a huge event within our family, traumatic, tragic. It was definitely, for me, really for my whole family, a bit of a spiritual wake‑up. I was basically interested in, for lack of a better way of saying it, exploring the meaning of life…That’s what I was trying to work out: Why are we alive? Why do we have to die? What the heck is going on?”
His fascination with meditation and Buddhism continued when he went to college in York, England to study English literature. There, he found a Buddhist center and kept gravitating towards what he calls “a meditative way of thinking.”
Buddhism is a religion and philosophy encompassing traditions, beliefs and practices based on the teachings of a 4th through 6th century man named Siddharta Guatama. He is commonly known as “The Buddha” and in short, believed in enlightenment as an end to the cycle of suffering and rebirth.
Morten says the main commitment is not to harm others and the main practice is to give love and to understand the potential for compassion, the mind and love. He does also wish to achieve enlightenment himself.
The Buddhist center is where Morten met his teacher: the aforementioned Geshe Kelsang, an 86-year-old Tibetan man. “Geshe” is a title meaning “spiritual friend.” Geshe Kelsang had been raised a monk in a Tibetan monastery, and fled to India when the Chinese took over the country. There, he went into a retreat for 20 years. When Morten met him in 1981, Kelsang had been sent over to the West to set up Buddhist Centers in Europe.
Morten gestures behind me to a series of three photos of Geshe Kelsang outside wearing a winter hat. They’re hanging on Morten’s office wall. He’s the cutest, thinnest old man I’ve ever seen. His smile practically blooms on his face. I tell Morten I think Kelsang is adorable.
“He is an authentically happy fellow, which is quite rare,” he says, admiration evident.
I ask if Kelsang is considered “enlightened” or if enlightenment is seen as possible for the modern human being.
Morten says enlightened people will never announced their own enlightenment. To Morten, Kelsang is enlightened and one of his teacher’s main goals is to help now modern people have access to a mind of enlightenment.
His followers would regard Kelsang as enlightened, as “a source of inspiration in our own lives,” Morten says.
While Morten liked Kelsang, he fell in love with his teacher’s focus on Buddhism’s practicality.
“What I liked is that it explained our experience in terms of the mind, as opposed to in terms of some old story. It was just explaining it all in terms of the mind. The reason we’re unhappy is because we have unhappy minds,” he says. “We have agitated minds, like anger, or attachment, or jealousy, insecurity, these types of minds. Then you can learn to identify those in meditation, and you can learn to let go of those. That just felt very practical to me.”
The Chakrasambara Center has a couple days a week where the general public is welcome to sit in on a class. Morten says his classes usually focus on meditation and then one specific practical tidbit for students to apply to their everyday lives: dealing with stress or channeling rejection, etc. Someone need not be a Buddhist to be studying Buddhism: It’s not uncommon to identify as, let’s say, a “Jewish Buddhist” or the cutesy “JewBu.” Morten says people from other religions sometimes use Buddhism to deepen their appreciation of their own faith.
“The lovely thing about Buddhism is that it’s very practical, and you don’t have to be a Buddhist to make use of that practice, so people can introduce meditation or integrate meditation into their lives with any spiritual background or no spiritual background,” Morten says.
Buddhism, he says, is a method. It’s training yourself to learn about your own mind, and subsequently, on a basic level, it’s how to let go of unhappy states of mind and cultivate positive states of mind.
As Morten finished school, he split his time between classes and Kelsang’s Buddhist Center. He describes it as an internal “discussion between the Western perspective and the Buddhist perspective.” He was caught up in his secular studies, but remained drawn to Buddhist teachings.
Morten was among Geshe Kelsang’s first students. He was around before there were any teachers, or a set protocol for becoming a teacher. The first time they met, Geshe Kelsang told Morten to study and train to become a teacher.
“That was like the first thing he said to me, was that I should do that,” Morten says. “I thought he was joking, actually. I thought I was already taking enough exams at the university,” he laughs. “He wasn’t joking.”
Westerners were gaining interest in Buddhism and Kelsang wanted Morten’s help. I joke that the Beatles’ time in India really did a number on the popular hippie culture. Morten laughs, “Blame it on the Beatles,” he says. Whatever the reason, the interest was there. Tibetan teachers were being invited out to the West more and more frequently.
Kelsang’s teachings, Morten says, focus on the practical. Westerners, more so, wanted to understand how to use Buddhism in their everyday lives. In Tibet, there was a moreacademic approach to Buddhism.
Kelsang’s teacher gave him permission to re‑present the Buddhist teachings, or the Dharma, according to the needs of modern Western people. Morten says it’s something Kelsang has done with great creativity and energy: Kelsang has written 25 books on how to begin and progress on the Buddhist path.
Gradually, he began to set up centers and to train Western teachers. “He saw that if it was to flourish in the West, it needed to come through Western teachers,” Morten says. “Otherwise the danger is that it remains a bit of a trip. It remains exotic.”
In that way, Kelsang was radical and ahead of his time. He began his own Buddhist tradition, which he called the New Kadampa Tradition. Morten’s been there from the beginning.
After graduation, Morten and a few other young enthusiastic types moved into the Buddhist Center in York and started training to become teachers. For a decade, starting in 1984, Morten taught full-time all around England. In 1994, he came to New York and Washington DC to start spreading the New Kadampa tradition in the States.
“It didn’t exist here. Basically, when I arrived, there was nothing,” Morten says. It was also pre-Internet and so advertising was truly grassroots. “It was just me and some posters that I would walk around town and put up and say, ‘Hey, come and listen to me if you’re interested,’” he says. He sometimes placed ads in the Village Voice. “It was like starting up a band or something.”
Gradually, people started coming to hear him lead meditation and to speak on topics like learning to deal with anger, improving relationships or increasing self‑confidence. Sometimes Morten spoke on more profound topics like the ultimate nature of reality or the nature of consciousness. “Buddhism is very, very rich because it’s basically an exploration of consciousness, so it’s very interactive, and it’s very dynamic,” he says.
“That’s the cool thing that [Buddhism is] a science and it’s a religion although the thing about religion, especially these days, is it’s a dangerous word because I think immediately people associate it with a dogma,” he says.
Buddhists, for example, do not mix church and state, so to speak. There are no restrictions on the LGBTQ community (there are gay Buddhist teachers) or stresses to vote one way or another, which Morten calls “dangerous, dangerous stuff.” Kelsang does not want the centers to get involved in politics, however Morten says he is a “radical” person: two of the main teachers at the top of the tradition are Buddhist nuns, a position women don’t usually hold.
“Forget the patriarchy,” Morten says. “It was just very modern even though he is an 83 year old Tibetan. He just wants to bring benefit to all living being. Of course, everyone equally has Buddha nature.”
Buddhists tend to verify their religion through experiences: If you meditate this way, you will have this verifiable experience.
““People associate faith with believing in something unbelievable. In other words, faith involves believing in something that is irrational,” he says. “…Everything can be tested and verified in your own experience.”
But, I counter, Buddhism has fantastical stories about the Buddha, just as Judeo-Christian religions have in the Bible. Morten says whether or not those stories are true is unimportant to Buddhism.
“What’s important is are you becoming more peaceful, more loving, more compassionate? Is your own anger reducing? Geshe Kelsang says the real source of happiness is inner peace. Whatever’s on your mind is peaceful, you’re happy and you can experience that directly,” he says.
“We tend to think that there are stressful situations. We will say, ‘My job is stressful,’ or, ‘My kids are stressful.’ But they are only stressful if your mind is relating to them in such a way as to produce stress. Basically, if you investigate your mind, which is what we do in Buddhist practice, you will discover that there is some rejection taking place in your mind. So, the example that I often use is, if you are running to catch the subway train and the doors close in your face, then almost everybody’s response, it’s like a universal response, is, ‘No.’But if you think about it, it doesn’t make any sense, because actually the doors have closed. So we are resisting or actually rejecting what has taken place,” Morten says.
He compares it to driving the handbrake on.
“We are taxing our system. So, if we are constantly resisting our life and the circumstances in our life, guess what? You get exhausted and you become unhappy. You get angry. You get bitter,” he says. “So what we learn to do in meditation is first of all, to develop a peaceful mind.”
Meditation, Morten says, is a science. Paying attention to your breathing gives you momentary peace, through which you learn peace is possible. From there, potential is limitless.
“It’s basically telling you that your happiness is in your own control. It’s your responsibility. Rather than go around blaming all these people for making you unhappy or making you angry or whatever, no, it’s my mind. I need to start training my mind,” Morten says. “We learn to recognize those in our own experience and let them go. It’s like, ‘Oh, look. Anger. No big deal. Just let it go.’ Then, instead learn to respond with a creative mind, with a positive mind, a flexible mind and finally, a happy mind. So, in Buddhism, we can verify. Happiness comes through peace.”
In terms of the mind as a science, Morten says humans have unlimited potential for love, and for the use of their minds. They just have to believe in their own potential.
“The mind is this incredible thing. Sadly, most of us in our life, we don’t identify with our potential. We walk around identifying with all our limitations. We think I’m a loser or nobody loves me and all I need to do is find one person who will love me and then I’ll be happy,” Morten says. “We go about life in a very passive way, grasping on to ourselves as being stuck and then just trying to see if we can find some kind of situation that will make us comfortable. But the real problem is you have an uncomfortable mind, doesn’t matter how comfortable the situation is.”
Morten says by learning to identify the person who angers you regularly, you can instead begin to see them as a sparring partner, someone created to test your peaceful mind.
“Instead of being an object of anger, they become your object of patience,” Morten laughs. “You’re growing as a person through your relationships, through your difficulties. I think one of the misconceptions about Buddhism is that it’s also about running away, heading for the hills or becoming an aesthetic or walking around very slowly and drinking tea very slowly.Actually, it’s about developing a quick mind. It’s really a very creative practice that enables you to make use of anything that’s going on in your life as part of your training, as part of becoming a better person.”
I tell him I find all this really great in theory, but I’m skeptical about the ability to implement it in real life. I’m a very stressed out person, and it’s hard for me to imagine breathing my way through problems.
“That’s why people come here regularly,” Morten says, gesturing to the center.
“They get a dose of inspiration, not just from the teachings but from hanging out with other people and meditating together so that you feel that it’s not just you,” he says. “That this is something that’s really possible in our society.”
When I heard there was going to be a Green Day musical a while back, I was ecstatic. My days as a teenage RENT-head had left me hungry for another kick-ass rock opera and at heart, I wanted to believe I was still that eighth-grader writing the lyrics to “Minority” on her trapper-keeper in white-out pen.
When I found out the musical would be based on the band’s 2004 albumAmerican Idiot, I was less excited.
If you’re going to make a pop-punk Broadway musical using the music of Green Day, it’s easy to see why you would use American Idiot. It’s already a concept album with strong characters and a topical plot. All the writing is basically done for you in a way it wouldn’t be if you were skipping around like the ABBA songs do in Mamma Mia.
When I finally saw the finished product, I found the choice of American Idiot just plain lazy. I would have much rather seen a Green Day musical using one of their better albums, where someone had taken the time to write an original show around the music. A good example would be 1994’sDookie.
Off the top of my head, ‘Dookie: The Rock Opera’ could be about a listless high school stoner (“Longview,” a song the band’s members said is about smoking weed and masturbating) who goes crazy, ends up in a mental hospital (“Basketcase”) and meets a fellow inmate with whom he falls in love (“She”).
She teaches him to grow up (“When I Come Around”) and they bust out of the hospital together (“Enemius Sleepus”), standing up to the warden and their oppressive parents (“In The End” and “F.O.D. (Fuck Off And Die)”). The girl gets killed in the struggle and the musical ends with the reformed stoner visiting her childhood home to honor her memory. He is now a free man (“All By Myself”).
I know. It took me ten minutes to think of and it’s super brilliant.
But then I got to think more about it, and my first thought was: “Fuck you, Green Day for selling out.” (Well, not really. I still love you, Green Day. Please come visit me like the three Dickensian Ghosts of Warped Tours Past: Christmas Billie Joe, Christmas Tre Cool and Christmas Mike Dirnt.)
My point is that other just as awesome pop-punk bands deserve their own musicals too. What about Blink 182? I’d love to see a musical based on the 1999 album Enema Of the State. That album was formative for me, and not just because it inspired me to Google both “enema” and “sodomy” in the fifth grade.
Here’s what I picture for the Enema of the State musical:
A high school couple is fighting while they’re on a date (“Dumpweed”). We’re introduced to the reckless, fun-loving character of Tom. His girlfriend is crazy but he’s also immature and stupid. She leaves him during this duet.
Tom, a musician, goes to a house party to tell his friends what happened. He’s upset (“Don’t Leave Me”). They get so drunk that they think aliens have abducted them. All the friends sing this song at the party, and it’s also a metaphor for Tom feeling like an outsider even among his buddies (“Aliens Exist”).
Meanwhile, his best friend and band mate, Adam, and Adam’s girlfriend, Wendy, have a tender moment because they’re going to different colleges soon (“Going Away to College”). Adam is going to a really prestigious Ivy League school and Wendy is staying behind to attend community college. Adam is drinking away his sorrows about leaving her. Every high school kid in the audience seeing this on a school trip decides to forgo Sarah Lawrence and get a job at Taco Bell. For love.
The play fast-forwards a few years. Adam has graduated from college. He meets up with Tom, who is still a train wreck. They’re happy to see each other but it soon turns into Adam reprimanding Tom for being such a mess (“What’s My Age Again?”). This song is staged like a musical tug-of-war not unlike RENT’s “What You Own.” I should probably just admit that the part of Adam is actually played by Adam-Pascal-from-the-past. I don’t know. Make it happen.
Anyway, they part on bad terms with Tom revealing that Wendy, who Adam still loves and hopes to win back, is engaged to someone else (“Dysentery Gary”).
INTERMISSION: Everyone gets some Fruit Roll-ups and Gushers as snacks. They talk in the lobby about what a genius the playwright is. A vendor sells temporary tattoos of giant blue butterflies like the chick on the album cover has on her arm. All the old people use the bathroom.
Fast-forward five years. Adam has cancer. He keeps thinking about whether he should tell his former best friend, Tom, who he hasn’t talked to since they fought (“Adam’s Song”).
He’s also filled with regret about Wendy and reminisces about the good times they had (“All The Small Things”). During this song, rose petals fall from the ceiling onto the audience. It’s amazing. The Lion King can literally suck this play’s dick.
This scene is split-screened with Tom also singing about the old days. He misses Adam too.
Plot twist! The guy who Wendy is engaged to is revealed to be Tom! He sings the end of the song to her. Oh no! DRAMA!
All three unknowingly go to a local frat party. They feel old, wondering what they’re doing there (“The Party Song”).
Adam sees Wendy from across the room. He tries to seem like he’s with one of the dumb sorority girls who, in a wink-y homage, is dressed like the nurse from the cover of the album.
He sees Wendy kiss Tom and realizes Tom is her fiancé. He fantasizes that Tom’s and Wendy’s relationship is horrible and unhealthy (“Mutt”).
Wendy and Adam reconnect outside the party. They contemplate getting back together. Wendy misses Adam, but admits she and Tom are happy. Adam tells her that he’s sick and decides it’s time for him to move on from all his past drama (“Wendy Clear”). (Their names are also in the songs! Take that, Green Day!) Adam tells Wendy to marry Tom and be happy.
All three remember when they were younger and the strong friendships they had (“Anthem”). The “slavery” in the lyrics is a metaphor for Adam’s illness. The audience won’t have time to question this total stretch because they’ll be too busy getting out boxes of tissues.
During the instrumental, Adam is dying. His nostalgia turns into him singing full-on hallucinations of being seventeen again. Off to the side, Wendy and Tom get married.
The musical ends with Wendy and Tom at Adam’s side in the hospital. As he dies, he sings the repeated, “I time bomb.” (COME ON. Are you seeingthis shit?!)
Curtains close. A projector displays the words “What’s Your Age Again?” The audience exits, contemplating their own mortality while being moved to tears.
Everyone involved wins twenty-five Tony Awards.
Posted originally on Tought Catalogue
When I was in Los Angeles in June, my friend Jake and I were milling around outside the Upright Citizen’s Brigade Theater waiting for another friend to put us on the list for his show.
While we waited, we decided to go into a bookstore we’d passed and look around. We’d been in there for about fifteen minutes when the door jangled open. Over a row of video tapes, I spotted a young man in a leather jacket with shaggy hair. He had rushed into the shop and was anxiously going through a few books on the shelves. He seemed to be looking for something and was annoyed when he couldn’t find it.
I watched him. When he looked up, my brain did a flip flop. He looked reallyfamiliar. He looked….he looked like someone I knew, maybe? No, that wasn’t it. He looked like a celebrity…he…was he a celebrity? All of a sudden it came at me like a rush. It was the Doctor.
At that point in my life, I’d never seen an episode of Doctor Who. I’d seen .gifs and stills on Tumblr though. His face is unmistakable.
“What’s up?” Jake asked, realizing I was staring at some dude as he rifled through pages in books.
“I think he’s from Doctor Who,” I whispered. “I’m not sure. I don’t watch it.”
Coincidentally, we were only a block away from where my friend Charlie lives. Charlie is a HUGE Doctor Who fan. If anyone could tell me if it was really the Doctor, it was Charlie. I texted him, hiding my phone from sight. “We’re at the bookstore nearby. Come here NOW. There is something you need to see.”
In minutes, Charlie breezed in the door. I grabbed him by the front of his shirt and dragged him behind a bookshelf. He was very confused. “Don’t look now,” I whispered. “Behind you. Is that Doctor Who?”
Charlie’s eyes widened. He turned a little and glanced behind him. His face said it all. “That’s Matt Smith!” He whispered back. He was totally buggin’. Matt Smith still had not found the book he was looking for and he was still very frustrated about it.
“You have to say hi!” I told Charlie. “You’re such a big fan.” Charlie paled. He didn’t know if he could. Before we could decide, Doctor Who had left the building.
“That was still really cool!” Charlie said as we too exited the bookstore. Still early for the show, we walked to the end of the same block and went into a stationary store.
There, at the cash register, was Matt Smith again. He’d apparently found what he was looking for.
“Charlie,” I said. “This is a sign. Go talk to him!”
Charlie ambled up to the Doctor. I didn’t hear what he said but then, the guy was smiling wide and shaking his hand, “Thank you so much, Charlie,” I heard him say.
From the back of the store, I yelled, “Was I right?! Was it him?”
Matt Smith laughed. “It’s me!,” he called back.
He and Charlie chatted a bit about how his season has been great and how good the writers are now. He seemed genuinely happy to be talking to a fan and Charlie was complimentary without being a weirdo. He signed a paper Charlie was holding (I think he wrote “Matt Smith The Doctor”) and they took two picturestogether.
“I don’t watch the show,” I told him as I snapped the photos. “I literally recognized your face from Tumblr.”
He thought that was funny. Charlie gestured to me, “I keep telling her to watch it!” he said. At sort of the same time, they both said, “Now, maybe you will!”
So that’s how Charlie and I met the Doctor.
And last week, I started watching Doctor Who.
Originally posted on gabydunn.com
“It has a head like a deer, stands upright like a man and hops like a frog,” reads an account of an unknown creature by 1700s explorers. “It sometimes sports two heads –- one on the shoulders, and one on the stomach.” Picturing such an animal brings up some pretty weird images. Claims of having seen it were widely ridiculed.
That is, until Europeans discovered the kangaroo in 1770.
About a month ago, I finished reading Bill Bryson’s popular science book ‘A Short History of Nearly Everything.’ In it, he talks about how museums and governments used to finance expeditions to the far corners of the Earth to seek out a new animal or plant species. On a timeline of the Earth’s existence splayed out like the wingspan of a person holding their arms up to the side, humanity takes up less than a fingernail. We haven’t been around very long.
In the era Bryson’s writing about, people in general had an easier time accepting our small place in our planet’s autobiography. We don’t know everything the vast Earth has to offer, ergo, let’s trek around and find out. Explorers sought to catalog every living being on Earth. New creatures were discovered in droves.
In Yann Martel’s novel ‘Life of Pi,’ the main character wonders how a Bengal tiger could hide in a city without being sighted. His zoologist father answers that animals are better at hiding than people would ever guess — if you took the world and shook it out, animals unlike any we can imagine would fall out of even the most populated metropolises.
A good number of the animals that we take for granted now were discovered only about 100 years ago. The mountain gorilla was not discovered until two were shot in 1902. No one had seen a living giant panda until the very end of the 1800s. In the last 10 years, four hundred new animals larger than household cats were found and classified.
So why is it so hard to believe there are still animals we have yet to discover?
In my head, I picture a young Loren Coleman, the expert who runs Portland, Maine’s Cryptozoology Museum, like Nigel Thornberry; a safari hat on top of his tiny head, a magnifying glass bigger than his scrawny arm.
Loren is currently the world’s leading living cryptozoology expert. He’s written 35 books in the field. He’s consulted on movie sets. His museum contains 2,300 items from a collection 51 years in the making. He’s hoping to expand in three months because the back of the bookstore that the museum is currently in has gotten too small.
But what is cryptozoology? Loren describes it as “the study of hidden or unknown animals,” which on its face, sounds like a perfectly reasonable scientific endeavor. But cryptozoology is both immensely popular and wildly contentious. The people that love it really love it and the people that hate it really hate it.
Cryptozoologists study cryptids, or creatures that have not been proven to exist. Some “celebrity cryptids” include Bigfoot, the Yeti, the Loch Ness Monster and the Chupacabra. Hence, the widespread ridicule attached to the field. “For one thing, the names don’t exactly help,” Loren later says.
His personal favorite is the Yeti, because it sparked his interest in cryptozoology when he was just 12 years old in March of 1960. On TV one night was a Japanese mockumentary called “Half Human” that followed the discovery of abominable snowmen or Yetis. Loren was transfixed. He watched the movie again when it re-aired the next morning. On Monday, he went into school where he lived in Decatur, Illinois and asked his teacher about the Yeti. She said three things: they don’t exist, go do your work, and stop bothering me.
Undeterred, Loren went to the library and asked the librarian the same question. She came back with a stack of books.
“I found out there was this whole world that no one in school was talking about,” he says. Cryptozoology quickly became Loren’s passion. When he was named “paper boy of the week,” he talked in his interview about his dream of going to the Himalayas to search for the Yeti. Needless to say, it got some attention in Decatur, which is described on its website as a “classic Midwest small city.”
By the time he was 14 years old, Loren grew into Decatur’s go-to person for cryptozoology, once called “romantic zoology.” His parents, a firefighter and a homemaker, allowed him to go on expeditions with game wardens. He wrote to famed naturalist and cryptozoologist Ivan Sanderson seeking advice. Sanderson wrote back and took Loren under his wing. Loren wrote to many others interested in the field, at one point communicating with 400 people around the world. Pre-Xerox machines, if he wanted to send copies of an article out, he would have to buy as many newspapers as he needed and meticulously cut them out to mail.
“I was a good kid and very bright,” he says. “I was the oldest of four and the only one that went to college. My parents were like, ‘As long as you don’t get hurt, it’s fine.’”
Loren attended Southern Illinois University because he’d heard reports of swamp apes being studied by a folklorist down there. He majored in anthropology and zoology and interned with an archeologist, which he found boring. After graduation, he went into social work but continued to investigate on the side.
“I was a hippie and I had long hair and went hitchhiking around, investigating,” he says. “Some people say I couldn’t be called a hippie because I was always working.”
Loren also became Decatur’s first Vietnam War conscientious objector. Sanderson personally wrote him a letter for his FBI file. Loren was arrested and had his hair cut off. He spent two years doing alternative service in the States. I immediately start drawing parallels to his fringe interests when it comes to zoology too; he’s a loner, Dottie. A rebel.
“I’ve always had a personality for questioning authority,” he says, when I make the connection. It’s one he’s made as well. He says his passion for cryptozoology definitely links with his political radicalism. Other jobs have included draft counseling for soldiers and creating a union for a mental health hospital.
Even within cryptozoology, Loren is somewhat of a controversial figure. In one of his books, he explores what the sex lives of the Bigfoot might be in a chapter cheekily called, “Sex and the Single Sasquatch.” His argument was that Bigfoot is not a noble savage like people prefer to romanticize; it’s an animal and it deserves to be studied as one would study other animals. “I’m a radical in a field that’s already radical,” he says. “People refuse to listen to research like that because they’re prudes, I guess.”
I ask if he was bullied as a kid for his interest in cryptozoology, if it made him an outcast causing him to identify strongly with fringe movements. Loren says he was in the science club, but he liked baseball and was never bullied. He later sat on his high school’s reunion committee and was an honored guest, a reward he finds amusing considering he wasn’t a popular kid.
“It didn’t matter to me that I didn’t go to homecoming. As a kid, my interests were weird but my dress and behavior weren’t weird at all,” he says. “And anyway, I wear the word ‘weird’ like a badge of courage or a badge of honor. Being weird opened a new world for me.”
Let’s get some basic facts out of the way now: There is not one Bigfoot. You did not see theBigfoot; you saw a Bigfoot. The name was coined by a group of construction workers’s wives in a 1958 newspaper article about sightings. Yetis too are often mistakenly referred to in the singular; “the Yeti” instead of the correct “a Yeti.” Yetis are apes and Bigfoots are humanoids; they have very different footprints. The famous 1967 footage of a Bigfoot walking into the forest, called the Patterson-Gimlin footage, has not been debunked; there was no deathbed confession of inauthenticity from anyone involved and claims to have been “the person in the suit” are currently unfounded.
No one yet knows exactly what the footage is showing, though Loren points out a few specifics I’d never noticed before: 1) the creature has breasts and is a female, unusual for an ape costume at the time 2) the creature walks the way an ape does, with limited mobility to the hips and neck and 3) its thigh muscles are visible and moving. He also notes that 1967 was the first year an Oscar was awarded to a film for “Outstanding Makeup.” That film was ‘Planet of the Apes’ in which nothing is as advanced as what would have been needed for the Patterson-Gimlin footage.
“We have enough evidence to keep our minds open,” Loren says.
Therefore, the footage is prominently on display, but Loren allows visitors to draw their own conclusions. The museum itself is small, but not lacking for items (which Loren calls “popular cultural artifacts”). There’s an 8 foot tall taxidermy Bigfoot in the front of the store (“Scares every UPS delivery guy,” Loren says), a Fiji mermaid movie prop in a cabinet, a replica of the Minnesota Iceman, a 150-year-old ostrich foot-turned-ashtray, and a photo of three fishermen with what looks like a sea serpent; Loren blew up the original so that anyone coming through the museum could see their faces, recognize them and provide more information.
Loren gives Josh and I a tour of the museum, along with a few other people, one woman in ’80s glasses and a legit wolf t-shirt and a bigger guy with an eyebrow piercing who treats Loren as a revered celebrity. (My friend Charlie nearly drove off the road when I mentioned I was meeting “some cryptozoology guy…Loren something.” Apparently, he is pretty famous.)
Loren and I had communicated via email after Josh went to the museum while in Portland for a comedy show in February. Though the museum is only two rooms, there’s a lot to be said on the tour; Loren makes corny jokes but does a good job explaining his collection. He describes himself as “very serious but also with a sense of humor.”
One thing that strikes me during the tour is that Loren is not trying to prove anything to his visitors. He’s not defensive and he’s not a lunatic. What I had imagined was some quack with a taxidermied ape’s foot trying to prove to anyone who would listen that he’d snared a Bigfoot. Loren is incredibly pragmatic; he’s got a “Tower of Hoaxes” at the museum where he illuminates any fake cryptids of the past and makes very clear which popular sightings were debunked. He’s an intense researcher (in fact, when he first greets me, he knows entirely too much about me already). Loren’s not interested in proving anything to anyone; he’s just interested in the truth.
“I’m not evangelical about it,” he says. “I’m skeptically open-minded, and I think everything needs to be examined scientifically with the data coming first.” Later he calls himself “passionate, but not emotional.”
“Western science decides if animals exist or don’t exist,” he says, during the tour, and later refers to himself as a “scientist” because why shouldn’t he? “Every history museum starts out as someone’s private collection,” he says. Later he tells me, “It doesn’t bother me if people snicker at it. Let them snicker and move on. I’m not defensive.”
Loren’s collection ended up in Portland after his second marriage. He divorced for the first time in San Francisco, moved to Cambridge with a woman he was seeing where he attended graduate school at Simmons College. Then, he met his second wife and the two moved to Portland where they later divorced. Loren has two sons; one of whom works for the Red Sox. When they were young, Loren took them on summer vacation to Loch Ness in Scotland to look for ‘Nessie’ with an expedition team. He later got a call from the older son’s teacher saying he’d been claiming he searched for the Loch Ness monster during summer break. Loren told her that was quite right, “and then I educated her on cryptozoology,” he smirks.
“I have a very thick skin about this stuff,” he says. “People always ask me, ‘You don’t really believe in this, do you?’ And you know what? There are two types of people I distrust; true believers and true debunkers. I always say, ‘I don’t believe in cryptozoology, no. Belief gets in the way.’ I do not believe in Bigfoot, because belief is based in religion. What I do is I explain scientifically or I denounce scientifically.”
I tell Loren I’d assumed he went to college for science and was unable to major specifically in cryptozoology. I’m right. The first college classes on cryptozoology weren’t taught until 1989. Loren says that during his education from 1960 to 1969, there were five people in the entire country studying cryptozoology at college. Today, there are thousands. “It turned from a handful of us to a phenomena,” he says.
“When I started, a professor would scratch their head and give me a B- on a paper I’d written and someone else would write the same paper, with the same amount of sources and research and get an A,” he says, “but now people like me are the professors,” he smirks, “We’ve got people on the inside.”
Loren says he gets about 750 emails a day; he follows up on just 20. Many are young people just getting into the field. Loren says he always answers those because “I used to be there.” Often, too, parents will contact him, concerned that their child will grow up to be a “freak” because of an interest in cryptozoology. Loren reassures them that for most people, cryptozoology is a gateway interest. “Maybe it means he’ll grow up to be a marine scientist the way a child with an interest in dinosaurs may grow up to be an ecologist,” he says. “It’s a way to deal with being interested in animals.”
Loren says as a child, he always believed he’d be a naturalist of some sort. He describes himself as a “pacifist and a vegan, who advocates for the live capture of cryptids.” One recent email he answered had to do with rumors of two Bigfoot being shot. The idea concerned him. Another crytpid investigation Loren was on the forefront of was the Montauk Monster, a supposed new creature that turned up dead on the shore in Long Island in 2008. Loren coined the name and was one of the first to say it was just a raccoon corpse.
He estimates that out of 100 claims made, 80 are misindentifications. For example, someone sees a coyote and thinks it’s a Chupacabra. One percent are actual, crafted hoaxes, like 2008’s Georgia Bigfoot costume, “which get 95 percent of the media attention,” Loren laments. (He later says the hoax drew 1.9 million viewers to his website so he couldn’t be too angry.)
“New animals are discovered all the time,” he adds. “Real discoveries get no attention. Mysterious ones linger. Fake ones get all the news.”
In 1999, Loren co-authored a masterwork called ‘Cryptozoology A to Z.’ It was published as an overall look at the field for modern readers. Where once museums funded expeditions, Loren says most of the money for new investigations today comes from documentary film companies.
“It’s a very long term situation,” he says, noting that it took 55 years to discover the mountain gorilla. “This Twitter generation wants everything instantly but that just doesn’t happen with the discovery of an animal.”
So here’s where I feel like I missed something. I understand the reluctance to associate science with fantasy, but does humanity really think we’ve discovered all there is to discover? Are we so arrogant as to presume we’ve seen it all? It feels like we’ve entered a lull period, where our imaginations have dulled lest we look stupid by being wrong. But you know how most everything was first figured out? By intrepid pioneers willing to, at first, look dumb. The timelines drawn up by our history textbooks eliminate the clutter — the debunked theories and unsuccessful test runs — that led to life as we now know it.
I don’t know if I believe in cryptids, but I do think not everything that can be explained has been explained. I enjoy the possibility. The discovery of an exciting celebrity cryptid, a Bigfoot or a ‘Nessie,’ would open so many scientific doors. It would make us all re-imagine the reality we perceive. If Bigfoot is real, then what else is out there beyond the accepted walls of your city’s Museum of Science? What else are we wrong about? It would cause a re-examination of just about everything. It’d be fantastic.
The next big discovery on the horizon, Loren says, is the Orang Pendeck, a crytpid that may soon (re: in the next 20 years) be discovered to be real and living in Indonesia. Loren says confidently that it “will happen” when I ask about the chances of discovery. The Orang Pendeck would be a brand new primate, “as good as Bigfoot,” in Loren’s opinion because it opens the door for Bigfoot to exist.
“If Bigfoots exist, why do you think so few people have actually seen them?” I ask. Loren goes on a bit about how their numbers are limited, how they’re a very intelligent primate, how 95 percent of where they live is trees, great for hiding. I press on, “But why has no one seen one?”
Loren gets a certain look in his eye. “They’re seen all the time,” he says. “But no one says anything because people will think you’re crazy. People have lost jobs, have lost lovers for what they’ve seen. It’s something I call the ‘ridicule curtain’ and it slams down around anyone who talks about something outside the norm.”
He tells me his museum has been visited by workers from the Environmental Protection Agency, the Center for Disease Control, and from Homeland Security, all of whom tell Loren they’d face flack at their jobs if their office-mates knew they’d gone to a cryptozoology museum.
“But why though?” I ask. “Why is this something that people are so adverse to?”
“They’re scared of the unknown,” he replies. “They like the status-quo equilibrium and anything else makes them feel uncomfortable.”
He tells me he went on a puffin watch — boarded a boat to look for puffins. On board, he couldn’t help himself and started asking the weathered sailors if they’d ever seen a sea serpent.
“You’d be surprised what people admit,” he says. “People have these experiences and they don’t say anything because nobody’s ever asked them.”
Posted by Gaby Dunn on 100interviews.com
If you are an avid reader of Classy Hands, that a few issues ago we launched with a comic by artist Ryan Estrada titled, “Sci-Fi Drive By.” NOW for the low low price of totally and completely free, you can download a file containing EVERYTHING Ryan has ever done, including the recently completed, 200 page graphic novel “Aki Alliance!”
Go here for more information and to download: http://www.ryanestrada.com/complete/
There have been a lot of super cuts popping up all over the internet, but a lot of people don’t know that they were ghost-edited by a guy named Ty Breckinridge. Breckinridge dropped out of the Art Institute of Des Moines before moving to Los Angeles to become a full-time supercutter, citing that “yawl bitches need culture like your mom’s dick needs some hash”. We shook our heads, not knowing what this meant, but we know that Breckinridge is operating on a higher artistic stratosphere than anything we can even hope to comprehend. We’re proud to be presenting the first in our ArtSmartArt series, with many more to come.
Written by Lee Keeler and Kevin Erhard
Starring Lee Keeler and Derek Underwood
Shot by Tomoaki Iwakura
Edited by Kevin Erhard
Background music, “Science Center” by Emeralds