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Goodbye New England’s Monstah Huntah

November 13, 2009

People often make noncommittal awkward comments about my accents, like “It’s very soft,” and I’m not sure what that even means, only that I don’t take offence because none seems to be meant, and that my ‘real’ accent is not at all soft. When I rang Dublin-home from Boston-home last year, I heard the sound of my husband crumpling to the floor with laughter before I had even said anything remotely funny. It’s the opposite of soft. It’s like a thousand Dunkin’ Donuts coffee-drinkin’, Fenway Pahk goin’ haahbahmastahs all shouting at once. Three days in Boston is all it takes, or one hour on the South Shore, which is where I learned to talk, and thus drop my ‘r’s and put them at the ends of words where they don’t belong. I don’t do it on purpose. I do it by design.

I love going to the New England Aquarium because it’s a great melting pot of New England people: medicated yuppie kids sitting glassy-eyed in strollahs, waiting to be engaged or otherwise stimulated, and oddlahs with mullets and teeny-tiny ‘Future Bikini Inspector’ t-shirts, trucking around the place, punching the fuckin’ shahk tank that runs down the centre of the building. “Don’t punch the fuckin’ shaahk, Tylah!”

I’m not sure where I’m going with this, only that because I grew up in a town next to the water, I spent the first few years of my life thinking that this group of animal was called a staaahhfish. Staaaahfish

Last week, a bunch of staaahfish washed up dead on a Sligo beach, a phenomenon that has since been attributed to weather factors, and not a little real-life trailer for 2012, nor a response from beyond about the series of Saturday lunchtime Knock Apparitions.

What I realised is this: every time I see the word ‘starfish’, it takes me a while to figure out how to pronounce it. Same with ‘shark’. And ‘monster hunter’. The words separately are fine, but taken as a phrase, pronouncing the terminal consonants makes me feel like an animal wearing a costume. A lady in a Bigfoot suit. And she’s wicked pissed.

Fuckin’ A.

Which is all a very long way of saying that Robert Rines, who specialised in Nessie-chasing, playing the violin, and patent law, has died at the age of 87. They don’t make monstah huntahs like Rines anymore. I really don’t know much about him, only that his obit tells us he held over 800 patents, which makes the 300 or so held by Nikola Tesla, another well-loved-but-not-sufficiently-appreciated inventor, polymath, and eccentric, seem like small turbines.

Here’s a much more personal remembrance of Rines, by the folks over at Cryptomundo, from which I’ve learned two things. One, that the guy who devoted much of his life to the search for the Loch Ness Monster also devoted his energy to turning kids on to science (and also, intellectual property law). Two, that there’s a frickin’ cryptozoology museum in Maine. (Maine, if you can just sort out your gay marriage shit, you’ll be the perfect state, forever.) Check it out! And in case you didn’t know, the storefront at 826 Boston, one of Dave Eggers’s national network of creative writing centres, is the Bigfoot Research Centre, complete with cryptozoology store. And I guess, three, I learned that Rines may even have reduced the amount that New Hampshire kind of sucks.

Sure, there’s probably no Sasquatch or Nessie. But like it or not, much like the Indiana Jones fantasies that spark a kid’s interest in archaeology even when it turns out to be far from the real thing, it’s Nessie and Sasquatch that can open their minds to the spirit of curiosity and debate, and probably by the age of twelve or thirteen, they will no longer be arguing with the neighbour kids about whether Sasquatch is one immortal creature or an actual species – they’ll have moved on to other things. Maybe it will be the science of that which we can more easily observe. Maybe it will be the creation of fictional worlds where the monsters can or do exist. Or maybe hunting for monsters is just part of being a person. Check out this article about why monsters are a useful part of our moral imaginations. And why real people in the real world continuing to snap fuzzy pictures of monsters says something pretty positive about us. Besides, I’m not sure if Bigfoot or Nessie could be anything like as monstrous as we humans have the capacity to be.

So thanks, Robert Rines. You may never have snared Nessie (although that wicked sucks for you), but you probably turned a lot of would-be Sasquatch-hunters into scientists, writers, curious and/or moral human beings. You spent your life in the ‘hero phase’ of the monster story, and if you spawned a new generation of monstah huntahs, then that’s no bad thing. Even if we don’t believe in monstahs, we need monstah huntahs in our lives, to remind us that the world we inhabit is made a lot more interesting, not by the most realistic, but by the most outlandish imaginings we bring to it. And if anyone wants to invite me on a monster hunt, I am totally game, and it is very likely you will get me to believe in Bigfoot, even if only for a weekend.

Seventy-six years ago yesterday, the first photo of Nessie was captured, which would be followed about a year later by the most famous and much clearer photo, of a dog-paddling Nessie, later revealed to be a hoax. Happy Birthday, Nessie photo.

You can also check out a Google Earth thing of North American Bigfoot sightings. There goes my Friday.

(Thanks to Shane Hegarty for the link to Rines’s obit.)

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