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|Essays · Poetry · Comedy · Art · Video||summer 2021|
Roswell My Eye: A UFO Hoax
published in Jan. 2003, bfleming
The library at Santa Fe Trail Elementary had a book called something like "Ghosts, Spirits and Poltergeists: The Photographic Evidence." I used to check it out all the time when I was a kid there. It was full of stories and photographs that claimed to make evident the presence of otherworldly manifestations. The sudden chills and night noises described in this book could have a million sources even then I knew that. I also had some pre-ironic sense of its trashiness. But I loved scaring myself by gazing at the photos and reading again and again the stories of injustice and gruesome violence behind them.
I was held rapt by one picture in particular. It was a stairwell leading up: very Gothic, very Amityville. On the third stair was a patch of light in a basic human shape. Two uprights came together, two other posts bent out where human arms would, and it was in proper length/width proportion. One day, one of my buddies was looking at this picture over my shoulder. Suddenly I gasped and looked at him, wide-eyed.
"Did you see that?"
"See what?" he asked.
"Are you shitting me?"
Of course I was shitting him. Just as I was shitting the investigators who, 20-odd years later, came to interview me about my UFO sighting.
I really did see a UFO. Or IFO, rather, since not only could I identify it, but I could describe what it was made of, provide receipts for the materials, and knew by heart the phone number of the person filming it. I also knew how high off the ground it was and how long it hovered there, directly over a six-lane freeway until the fishing line snapped and it drifted lazily over the treetops and quite literally into the sunset. I knew these things because the beta version, launched a few weekends previous, taught me certain lessons about weight distribution, viewing angles, and battery life that I put to good use in this bigger, gaudier contraption.
Making it was one logistical problem after another. I loved it. I felt excited and charged up, like Eustace, the forgotten Wright brother. The craft had to be light enough to be held up by a single helium balloon, yet tough enough to be battered about by worldly forces unpredictable by even the best meteorologist. To say there were flaws in the finished product would be generous. The Mylar was torn in places. The fishing line was perfectly visible. One friend remarked that the ship from Plan Nine from Outer Space could take this thing out with one hit from its wobbling Ray of Inconvenience.
Nor did we have NASA’s luxury of choosing a day with just the right launching weather. So one imperfect night, my friends and I brought it to a little-used baseball field, separated from the highway by a copse of tall alders. With one last-minute sacrifice of a couple redundant lights, the balance was perfect and up she went into the October sky.
That sky could not have been kinder. The three-foot disk, lit by an outer ring of white lights and an inner ring of red, topped out at about 60 feet, and the wind carried her to the end of her tether. I held her directly over the middle of the northbound lanes for 20 minutes or so. One friend filmed it with a Super-8; another went into the neighborhood across the highway for a neighbors’-eye view. Even the problems worked in our favor: When the fishing line got tangled in a tree, it did so at the craft’s optimal position. I was able to let go for a while and snap a few pictures. It’s on happy accidents like this that the field of ufology is built.
"Ufology" is a real word. It’s pronounced "you-folligy," and its students, I once thought, are the kind of earnest, misguided naifs found at Forum meetings or Burning Man. That’s why I thought I could post a short written account and a couple of photos on the UFO Reporting Center Web site (www.ufocenter.com). Imagine my delight when the webmaster asked if he could put those images on the site’s main page, and send out two investigators to talk to me about my experience. Was I going to say no?
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