Here Be Monsters Podcast

The Podcast About the Unknown

HBM065: We Pay Them In Meat

Walk through any natural history museum and you’ll see rows of effortlessly clean animal skeletons.  Chances are you're looking at a strange form of human/insect symbiosis happening in the museum’s back rooms.

Preparing an animal’s skeleton for display is incredibly labor intensive for human hands.  So curators have turned to a family of beetles with millennia of experience.

The dermestidae family of beetles have followed humans since our early history.  They’re opportunistic eaters, and they like the things we like: grains, bacon grease, leather, silk scarves, books, carpets.  And as early humans traveled, the beetles came with, colonizing across the globe.

The majority of humans’ relationship with these beetles is and has been contentious, as they tend to wreak havoc on human possessions.  They’re often exterminated as pests

But several species of the dermestidae family have a taste for dead flesh. Including dermestes maculatus, aka. “The Hide Beetle”.  And for this reason, curators have enlisted their help as “museum volunteers.”

At least, that’s what Chris Stinson of the Beaty Biodiversity Museum in Vancouver, British Columbia calls them.  He’s the Curatorial Assistant of Mammals, Reptiles, and Amphibians and he approximates that he has 20,000 of these volunteers to prep the museum’s collection. 

In this episode, Here Be Monsters producer Jeff Emtman smells the beetle tank, listens to them eat an owl skull, and holds a real flesh-eating beetle.*

Jeff Emtman produced this episode, with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music: The Black Spot

Happy Birthday Paul.  We don’t know when your birthday actually is, but we hope it’s a good one...this year and every other.

*Due to dermestes maculatus’ preference for dead foods, they’re perfectly safe to handle, unless you’re a wild turkey (and if you’re actually reading this, you probably are).  

Timelapse of beetles eating macaw, owl and pheasant, from London’s Natural History Museum

HBM064: A Shrinking Shadow [EXPLICIT]

Erin was fat as a kid. Since middle school, she tried all different methods to lose weight. From a young age she developed the idea that the most important thing she could do with her life was lose weight.

That's part of why she and HBM producer Bethany Denton were such good friends in high school. They were both fat, nearly the same size. Both tried and failed to lose weight since childhood. Together they felt safe to enjoy food without judgment.

Bethany (left) and Erin (right) as teenagers.

But they parted ways after high school.  Bethany moved to Washington State and Erin to Indiana for college. They fell out of touch, observing each others’ lives mostly through the distance of a Facebook news feed.  

And there, Bethany began to notice changes in Erin.  She looked thinner, but also more hollow.  Her eyes sank into her head.  Bethany was ashamed that she felt jealous.  She also thought her old friend might be gone...turned into a shrinking shadow of her former self.

On this episode of Here Be Monsters, Erin explains how she developed her obsession with exercise and her intense desire to lose weight.  She explains how she descended into a dangerous place with her eating disorder.  She would later understand her symptoms of anxiety, insomnia and irrationality to be typical of starvation, as observed in a 1940s experiment known as the Minnesota Starvation Experiment.

After losing over 100 lbs, Erin hit rock bottom the summer after graduating from college. Her anxiety became intolerable, she was constipated, and her hair was falling out. After months of living with every characteristic of anorexia nervosa, she was given an official diagnosis once she became underweight.

"I felt like a shell...I felt so hollow."

In 2014, Erin sought treatment. The first step in her recovery was a process called refeeding. It's the process of replenishing a calorie deficit, providing a starving body much-needed energy to repair internal damage.

Erin has since made nearly a full recovery. Today she lives in Portland, Oregon and works at a bakery. She keeps a blog about her experiences with anorexia.

If you are suffering from an eating disorder, you can get help today. A good place to start is Eating Disorder Hope. Erin also recommends the website Performing Woman; she personally found it inspiring to her recovery.

This episode was produced by Bethany Denton, and edited with help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White.  

Music: The Black Spot  |||  Serocell

HBM063: The Art of the Scam, by Malibu Ron [EXPLICIT]

Presumably, any given mystic falls into one of two categories: true believer or scam artist. It's foolish to think that this is a categorization that can be made at first glance. Spotting a good scammer is near impossible, unless they tell you outright.

On this episode of Here Be Monsters, Jeff Emtman has a conversation with an internet mystic who identifies as scam artist. Vice would call him an "Etsy witch"; he calls himself a "haunted demon seller." Regardless, he doesn't give out his real name.

For the purpose of this story, let's just call him "Malibu Ron." Malibu makes his living selling trinkets supposedly imbued with spirits: sex demons, werewolves, mermaids, djinn, vampires, etc. They aren't. Malibu sells his intangible beings and spells online for as little as $5 and as much as $11,000.

Malibu got into the business of internet mysticism about 10 years ago while he was very sick. He had to take extended medical leave from work. In his months of recovery, he read a lot online and discovered Etsy Witching. As a joke, he posted a cheap ring imbued with a sex demon. It sold for $12. He decided not to go back to his old job and instead focus on becoming a full-time witch. He now manages many (he won't tell us how many) identities and stores online.

Malibu feels no guilt about his scam. He has a moral line and he doesn't cross it. No death curses, no sex enslavement of real people, and no spells to heal the terminally ill. He doesn't sell things that could make him feel guilty. And further, he says his clients are mostly rich. And he says his clients believe in magic because it protects them from realizing their cosmic insignificance. Malibu doesn't believe in magic (except for God, and maybe aliens).

Part of Malibu Ron's shoe collection.

Malibu Ron.

Malibu says that he lives well, but that he's no Donald Trump-- he's not rich. He spends his money on shoes. He values his personal collection of Nike Dunk SBs and Air Jordans at over $20,000. Several of his pairs are one-offs, meaning he's the only one in the world who owns them. But his home, his clothing, and all of his other outward appearances (apart from the shoes) are modest.

Most of his clients are happy with his services, though Malibu does receive occasional death threats when his spells don't work. He says many of his clients would likely benefit from therapy and that, for some, magic rings may take on that role.

 Jeff Emtman produced this episode with help from Bethany Denton and Nick White.

Music: Serocell ||| The Black Spot

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HBM062: The Near Death of Sir Deja Doog [EXPLICIT]

Before Doog could walk, his family gave him a guitar to hold and encouraged him to play music. By the time he was twelve, he'd started writing songs as a way to make sense of the confusing world around him. Back then he was just Eric Alexander, the friendly weird kid who dressed like a punky cowboy.  In college a fellow musician asked Eric what his middle name was. "Douglas," Eric replied. "Douglas? Doug, Doug... Doog... I'm going to call you Doog." The name stuck, and eventually Eric created his raspy, crass musical persona: Sir Deja Doog.

In his early twenties, Doog started hearing voices, seeing and feeling things that weren't there. He worried that he was losing his mind and avoided telling his friends what was happening. For years he was in and out of the emergency room and psych ward. He sought treatment and was medicated on and off for depression, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

But his problems persisted. In 2012, Doog became homeless and started hitchhiking up and down the West Coast. All the while he experienced terrifying hallucinations and suicidal thoughts. Throughout this period he continued to make music. With little more than a broken iPhone and an old guitar, Doog recorded hours of harsh, distorted music. Later he edited these recordings into a video he called Bad Dharma. (below).

Doog's symptoms worsened. By 2013 he started having partial seizures. One night he had a vision that he was being abducted by ancient aliens, so old he could see through their papery skin. One of the aliens poked Doog behind his left ear.

A few weeks later Doog was in the hospital again, feeling suicidal. This time the doctors gave Doog an MRI. When they scanned his brain, they found a small, calcified tumor called a glioma. The tumor was in the left hemisphere of his brain -- just inches from where the alien poked him in his vision. Doctors told Doog that he needed brain surgery immediately or he would soon die.

Faced with the prospect of an early death, he ignored the doctors’ orders fearing the surgery would affect his musical creativity. Instead, Doog decided to focus his energy on creating his masterpiece: Sir Deja Doog's Love Coffin.

For months, Doog obsessed over Love Coffin. He wrote and recorded day and night through partial and full seizures and debilitating headaches. It was only once his album was finished and his symptoms became unbearable that he agreed to surgery. Doctors removed the tumor and some surrounding parts of his brain.

Today, Doog continues to recover, and he's slowly re-learning how to be independent as his brain heals. Seventeen months after surgery Doog was in remission, but soon after that doctors found gliosis in his brain—scar tissue that forms after severe brain trauma. Doctors continue to monitor him for additional cancers. It is possible that Doog will need chemotherapy.

Doog performed for the first time after his cancer diagnosis on Halloween of 2015 (picture above). Since then, he's released an EP called The Return of Sir Deja Doog.

This episode was produced by Colleen Leahy and Christopher Mosson, and was edited by Bethany Denton. Additional editing help from Jeff Emtman and Nick White.

Music: Sir Deja Doog

HBM061: The Natural State of Hitchhiking [EXPLICIT]

Jeff Emtman left home in the summer of 2011 to hitchhike the United States, to see if strangers would chop him up and put him in their trunks, if he gave them the option to.  He was 22 years old with straight teeth, a trimmed beard and a strong fear of strangers.

This episode picks up just after Jeff came a little too close to true violence, in the form of a fatal shooting at a restaurant in rural Mississippi.  He turns around, decides to head back to the land of dry beds and predictability, Washington State, his home.  

It was a summer of thunderclaps and heavy rain.  Jeff learned to judge the weight of clouds, learned to determine when they might fall from the sky from holding too much rain (see photos below).   

It was also a summer of uncertain interactions with strangers, including a lead-footed grandmother, a chain gang, a child who could nearly levitate, and a car mechanic who whispered into Jeff’s ear a strange blessing.

This episode takes place roughly in between two previous episodes of Here Be Monsters about Jeff’s hitchhiking.  The two previous episodes are How I Learned to Love Rejection, parts 1 and 2.  Jeff’s full photo/audio diaries from the trip live here.

This piece was written and produced by Jeff Emtman, with editing help from David Weinberg, Nick White, Bethany Denton and Rebecca Brunn.

Music: The Black Spot | | | Serocell  | | | AHEE (New!)

This episode marks the beginning of our 5th season of Here Be Monsters.  That means that we’re bringing you another 20 wonderful, beautiful and troubling stories over the next 9-ish months.   We’re currently working on stories about sexual synesthesia, brain tumors, and flesh eating beetles. Keep an eye out on your podcast feed every other Wednesday.  Subscribe here.