I just want one brief trip into outer space

by By Ken

When I discovered an old copy of George Adamski’s “Flying Saucers Have Landed” on a musty shelf in our family cellar/bomb shelter, I knew I’d have to use it on my schoolmates. I trooped into class the following Monday, the hard-back weapon tucked securely in my coat.
My first goal was to convince my friend John, the class brain, who had told me flatly that UFOs were “fiction.” Within five minutes of viewing Adamski’s fuzzy-gray photos of hovering disks, John changed his mind. I was just a lonely, fat kid in the fifth grade, but I had made my first UFO convert.
As I drifted into junior high and beyond, I made a few other halting converts, but most of them were unsteady believers, if not downright backsliders. My buddy John retrieved his skepticism even before we left elementary school. Meanwhile, I went on to bigger and better things, having read Adamski’s “Inside the Spaceships” and similar fare. While other guys worried about which girls to ask to the eighth-grade graduation dance, I was trying to decide whether, if I were offered a ride on a UFO, I would prefer one of the small round models or the huge, cigar-shaped “mother ship” that Adamski had visited. I generally opted for the mother ship, since it was there that I could inquire directly of the higher-rank aliens what they had in mind for the earth.
In 1976, when I was a high school freshman, I saw my first UFO, an extremely bright light hovering in the late night skies over a reservoir where I was skating with my father and sister. The next year, I trekked into the national forest to examine my first cattle mutilation. She was a red heifer with her guts pulled out through a gash in her rear end, a silver-dollar incision where her navel used to be, and half the hide lifted off her face. Photographing the carcass with imagined Holmes-like precision, I made sure also to scan the skies with my instamatic, in case it should spot on film any lingering UFOs that might have been invisible to the naked eye. When the prints came back from the City Market store, no spaceships appeared on them. But I still think the dead cow photos are kind of interesting.
It was in 1977 that I began to seriously question the whole UFO thing.
Until then, I had been part of an embattled minority, valiantly holding on to flying saucers in the face of almost total mockery. Even President Carter’s claim to have seen a UFO brought mainly muted smiles. But I knew that my minority status was changing when Spielberg’s “Close Encounters of the Third Kind” was released. Sitting in my old gray Mercury Comet at the drive-in, windows rolled down, watching Richard Dreyfuss form his mashed potatoes into a model of a volcanic formation next to which the great mother ship would later land, I remarked loudly that this was a really stupid movie. I was overheard by a girl in the car next to mine, who complained vehemently that I was ruining the show for her. I looked over and to my surprise, I saw that she was one of the top students in my high school — someone I would have thought incapable of being seriously engrossed by the antics of alien seekers. After all, wasn’t I an alien seeker? Why wasn’t she engrossed in me? After “Close Encounters, …” I swore off alien movies, and I haven’t been to another one since.
In the 20-odd years since I started questioning the saucer scene and stopped watching the movies, I have nevertheless read enough on the topic to keep entertained. Thanks to a researcher named Linda Moulton Howe, I have a better idea why UFOs mutilate animals: they are monitoring environmental toxins, which might endanger the human spawn on which the aliens rely for their own future generations. I’ve also learned why the push continues for the development of the “Star Wars” defense system: it’s to knock those cigar-shaped UFO carriers out of the skies if they ever prove hostile. Want to know how flying saucers zip around so effortlessly? I can point you to literature that describes extraterrestrial propulsion systems in detail. And what about those puny, pale aliens found in the southern California desert?
Well, go visit the World Wide Web. All you could want to know, and much more, is only a few mouse clicks away. For me, though, the real draw is gone now that aliens have become mainstream, and everyone and her brother-in-law are discovering that they have been abducted. A hypnotherapist I heard on the radio estimates that from 15 to 30 percent of Americans have, at one time or another, been taken aboard a flying saucer, though only a fraction of them know it. Now, I think that’s downright disgusting. Here I spend half my youth wanting to get picked up by aliens, and the space brothers (or sisters, or whatever) totally ignore me. Instead they come along and grab folks who are incapable of even remembering what happened until some shady mesmerist gets ahold of them. This definitely is not fair!
On the other hand, I’ve decided that failure to hitch a ride on a UFO is no sign of failure at life. I doubt that UFO aliens will probably never visit my personal world again, especially since I’ve taken to reading the Skeptical Enquirer, which I’m sure they find offensive. I’ve also eschewed George Adamski, who confessed, in a moment of drunken sanity, that he began his UFO career after Franklin D. Roosevelt destroyed Adamski’s old vocation as a rumrunner by ending prohibition. Sure, there are other George Adamskis out there, and some of them have quite a committed following. But as for myself, I’m setting my sights on more realistic hopes. Now, instead of seeing a saucer or going up on one, I’m nurturing fantasies about seeing a balanced federal budget or hitching a ride on Social Security when I retire.

Ken Smith’s column originally ran in the May 11th issue of The Dakota Student at the University of North Dakota.