If anything can make you go starkers, it might be growing up in Glen Ridge, New Jersey, 13 miles from downtown Manhattan but, as Franzoni tells it, closer in spirit to a Teheran military academy than Broadway or the Blue Note. The Glen Ridge of his adolescence was a place where jocks and cheerleaders ruled with an iron pom-pom, making life miserable for anyone who didn't fit in. (The town would later be skewered in the documentary Our Guys, about a rape committed by members of the high school football team.) No wonder he elected to go to college as far from New Jersey as possible-to Oregon and to Reed.
"I totally blossomed at Reed," he says. "It was the first place I was ever really accepted. I owe everything to the college. Reed made me realize I was an intellectual person and taught me to value fierce intellectual independence. It taught me that I could learn everything." He recalls writing a paper on King Lear for a class taught by Robert Knapp. "Knapp ripped it to shreds," Franzoni says. "It was a ten-page paper, and I got eight pages of comments back. I resubmitted it eight times, and I still wound up with a C+ for the class. But it taught me how to write." Franzoni adds, "I'm constantly using the skills and knowledge I acquired at Reed."
While in college Franzoni formed Face Ditch with Neil Minturn '79 and Randal Davis '77, and before his senior year dropped out of Reed to pursue his music, working as a surgical assistant to support himself. (He still gigs, and has recorded some 10 albums. Asked to characterize the type of music he plays, he grins sharply and shrugs, "evil jazz.")
Before leaving Reed, he'd taught himself computer programming on the school's old card-operated IBM 11/30, and he used those skills to earn a living. From 1983 to 1988 Franzoni led the life of a high-paid techie in Manhattan, writing programs for banks, the NBA, Avon, AT&T/Lucent, even the Swiss government. "That was my ambitious phase," he says. "Work was all that mattered. But all I got out of it was that I noticed that I was eating at better and better restaurants."
By the end, he'd grown uneasy with his job, which often involved creating automated systems that took jobs away from low-wage earners or gave them the sort of mindless, repetitive work that could force even a lab monkey to take hostages. "I was contributing to the First World-Third World division." Franzoni had what he calls his "Blues Brothers moment": he told his boss he was quitting. "I'm going back to Oregon and putting the band back together," he said, and headed west.
Once back in the Beaver State, besides playing music, he began spending a lot of time camping, and it was on one such trip with his wife that he had what he calls the "15 seconds that changed my life." He encountered-possibly, anyway-Bigfoot.
Henry Franzoni does not claim to have seen a Bigfoot. He says only that he may have encountered one, that other explanations-and, Lord, he's heard them all-don't fit any better.
"We were camping in our van," he says, "and we suddenly smelled this incredible odor, I mean, just awful. Like nothing I'd ever smelled before. And we noticed that, all of a sudden, all the birds fell silent. We heard something outside, then the smell went away, and the birds started up again." Rank odor is a hallmark of many Bigfoot en-counters; the creature is said to possess a foul, mephitic stench usually associated only with cadavers, fecal matter, refuse dumps, and corporate lobbyists.
Up to that point, Franzoni had been entirely uninterested in the topic of Bigfoot. But with characteristic zeal he began to investigate the phenomenon, which lead him to the Bigfoot Research Center and a $2.5 million research project that combined anthropology, forensics, computer modeling, and plenty of outdoor legwork.