A 2000 story for my “Sidecar” column for New Times LA, an alternative weekly published from 1996 to 2002.
“And if it happens that I’m the lucky one to capture a Sasquatch,” he says breathlessly, “the world will praise me and say, aren’t we glad we had someone stubborn enough to continue on with the quest!”
BY AL RIDENOUR
Daniel Perez dreams of a film star named Patty. She has large pendulous breasts, stands over 7 feet tall and carries 700 pounds of well-toned muscle. During her one famous walk-on, she moves across a sandbar like well-oiled machine. If Perez had been on location in Northern California October 20, 1967, he would’ve shot her in the back before she got away. It would’ve been an act of love.
Perez loves Bigfoot, and Patty was the best Bigfoot ever. She appeared in a short and jostled 16mm segment captured in a streamside clearing at California’s Six Rivers National Forest by Bigfoot hunter Roger Patterson (hence her nickname, “Patty”).
If someone had just pulled a trigger, Perez says, cynics who see Patty as an extra in a monkey suit would’ve been forever silenced. “A body doesn’t leave skeptics any choice,” Perez says. “A film gives them choices.” As director of the Norwalk-based Center for Bigfoot Studies, Perez has spent 16 years studying what he calls the “Zapruder film of Bigfooting.” Frame 344, he can tell you, is the best profile; 352 the chilling head-on stare; on 952 the curtain of brush closes forever.
Neither the loose-cannon academic, nor the paranoid big-game hunter you might expect, Perez is a slight, athletic 37-year-old electrician perfectly embodying the rationalistic lawn chair and paperback school of self-education. The Jaguar in the driveway and his expensive looking smile both radiate a perfect allegiance to the suburban mainstream.
Leading the way past the many closed doors of his large, strangely vacant and compulsively neat home, he opens the door to a library/storage room — the Center for Bigfoot Studies. Forget the microscopes and mammoth number-crunchers, this one-man institution, houses merely an old PC, a few file cabinets stuffed with clippings, and several hundred books on Bigfoot and cryptozoological cousins like the Yeti, Abominable Snowmen and the Louisiana Skunk Ape. There’s also a collection of reproduction plaster footprint castings, Bigfoot posters, dolls, refrigerator magnets, cans of Bigfoot Ale, a Bigfoot juice bottle, and even inflatable Bigfoot feet.
“I’m a collector as well as being a researcher,” Perez admits. “I guess you can call it a hobby, but I prefer to call it an investigation.”
Perez emphasizes the role of his collection in writing his four-page monthly newsletter, Bigfoot Times, and researching his self-published 1992 pamphlet analyzing the Patterson film, Bigfoot at Bluff Creek. His magnum opus is an exhaustive bibliographical compilation, Big Footnotes published in 1988 and intended as a sourcebook for fellow researchers. Citing books from as early as 1556 when the creature went by “wild man of the woods,” or his Native American name, Sasquatch, the compilation even includes references to the big guy’s appearance in comic books, films, TV, and novelty records. (In case you’ve already forgotten Rex North’s “Oh, Please, Mr. Bigfoot, Put me Down”?)
Once on the tongue of stand-up comedian’s everywhere, discussion of Bigfoot today has largely receded to rarefied Internet chat groups and attendees of the annual Sasquatch Symposium in Vancouver. Perez wants to find a photo of himself as a speaker at this event, and hauls out a scrapbook containing a curious mix of public and private images. There are pictures of famous sites and scholars, fellow fans, and Perez himself sporting camo or showing off new infrared goggles, photos of the “Legend of Bigfoot” tourist trap near Willow Creek, California, Disneyland’s mechanical Matterhorn Yeti, a bus ticket from Norwalk to Seattle from one of Perez’ early expeditions, a photo of his kid sister in a Chewbacca mask.
“That’s me,” he says pointing to a person dressed in blue fur suit. “Actually that’s near my home in Norwalk, near the railroad.” The suit, he says, was crafted to disprove the notion that a costumed prankster could fool the public, to demonstrate “that a person in a suit looks like just that – a person in a suit,” he says.
But why blue?
“That was just what the store had.”
It was in 1972 that the drive-in classic *The Legend of Boggy Creek* originally piqued Perez interest in bipeds that go bump in the night. During his senior year, at Santa Fe High School in Santa Fe Springs, administrators allowed him to convert hallway display cases into a mini Bigfoot museum. “That was a real golden year,” he recalls. College didn’t go as smoothly. “I was a biology major at Humboldt State University, but I dropped out. I guess we did quite a bit of partying.”
Around 1984, he took up his current profession as an electrician. That year he also hung out his shingle as researcher for the Center for Bigfoot Studies. For nearly ten years Perez conducted research from a bedroom in his parents’ home. His father, a retired electrical engineer remained skeptical about his son’s obsession. “It doesn’t bother me because I know they know nothing about Bigfoot,” Perez says.
“They thought I was going to grow out of it,” he says incredulously. “So what if other people drop out?” Perez is clearly appalled by the fickle deserters who’ve drifted on to trendier paranormal pastures. More prominent now among the thinning ranks, his stubborn pursuit is transforming him into a de facto authority. “These files that I’ve accumulated — all the work that I’ve done,” Perez gestures passionately from wall to wall, “this is going to be important.”
From 1995 to 1999 Perez lived in a motor home, working in the Bay area as an electrician and occasionally traveling through Bigfoot’s stomping grounds in the Pacific Northwest. Despite his proximity, he still never experienced that face-to-face epiphany of every Bigfooter’s dreams. On his last outing to the woods of Northern California, Perez and a fellow Bigfoot-hunter took special measures to lay bait for the beast. “We had the sound a baby doe makes and blasted that out in the woods all night until the morning.” No animal showed. Not even a worried deer. “It’s about what I except,” Perez says grimly. “I can almost guarantee failure every time I’m out.”
But the fates have thrown him a bone from time to time. He’s encountered colossal footprints on soft soil near Mt. Whitney in 1986 and down near Hemet in 1979. Whether or not he himself ever meets up with the mythical hominoid, Perez remains steadfast in his belief that the creature does exist. “And if it happens that I’m the lucky one to capture a Sasquatch,” he says breathlessly, “the world will praise me and say, aren’t we glad we had someone stubborn enough to continue on with the quest!”
Even if the world doesn’t praise him, Perez would be happy with the cash a Bigfoot snapshot would earn. In this frenzied seller’s market, he says National Enquirer, would be his first choice, “because they have the deepest pockets. Why would you want to call Scientific American or the Los Angeles Times? So you can give you 20 bucks for your million-dollar photo?” The disgust in his voice is evident and grows shriller at the suggestion that in the Enquirer, it might be viewed as just another PhotoShop forgery.
“If they’re buying, who gives a shit what the world of science thinks? Why should I give a shit about the world of science? They never gave a shit about this stuff! We had good evidence in ’67! They had two eyewitnesses! They had color movie film! They had several people who verified the film site was there! They had plaster of Paris casts! What more do they want?”
Perez’ sounds as if he’s talking about his personal efforts going unnoticed. He scowls across the room at his collection of plaster casts as if he’d just plucked them from someone else’s garbage. It seems like a good time to change the subject. Scattered throughout the house are a couple items of track and field memorabilia, including a pair of bronzed running shoes downstairs. Perhaps Perez was once a track star?
“Those belong to an old girlfriend,” he snaps, his expression darkening further. The woman, it turns out, was not particularly intrigued by furry creatures with large shoe sizes. “I never even brought it up much with her. But she knew,” he says. “Anyway, that’s from the ’80s — a long time ago. Right now I’m just happy that that situation is over. If anything I don’t really want somebody at my side.”
Not even a nice female Bigfooters? (Perez Big Footnotes is dedicated to “the first woman… or man to collect a Sasquatch.”)
“I guess there are,” he says. “I’ve met a couple, but they don’t do much for me. I like to do my own thing,” he mutters.
His ideal type, he admits, is closer to the cardboard woman standing in the corner. It’s a life-size cutout of a female athlete clutching a camera. That’s track star Mary Decker, he explains. “Kodak asked her to hawk their disc camera, and the guy at the store said I could have that after the Olympic games in ’84, so that’s how I got her. You’ve got to admit, she’s awfully cute.”
When someone confesses to keeping company with a cardboard woman for 16 years, certain questions naturally arise. One of them being “Are you happy?”
Perez hesitates. “I’ve been doing this so long. It’s a day-in-day-out out grind with the Bigfoot work. When I started it might’ve been super-interesting and now, now it’s like a job.”
What if he’d just quit that job, left Bigfoot behind back in the purple haze of the early ’70s?
Perez sits wide-eyed, like he’s watching some awful backward time-lapse version of his life. It’s long. It’s uncomfortable, and when he finally speaks it’s even worse. “I guess, I’d probably be married with a family. All my brothers and sisters have been married and have kids. All except me.”
If you were in that room and waited to hear him say it like that, it’d break your heart. Even more it’d make your trigger finger itch. Perez was right — back in ’67, Patterson should’ve been shooting bullets when he was shooting film. Now it’s up to someone else to go out and blow a hole in that monster before he claims another fan’s life.