ET Go Home
UFO crowd reminds me of an encounter I had with some New Jersey state troopers
back in the early 70s. I’d hitchhiked up to the Watkins Glen festival with
my buddy Terry to see the Dead, the Band and the Allman Brothers. It was a very
unsettling experience. An estimated 600,000 people showed up for this weekend
event. It was late in the game for freakdom and drug culture, a time of nascent
Woodstock nostalgia tinged with the fresh memory of Altamont, acid laced with
speed in abundance. All three bands were at the top of their form. The Dead
peaked there, and should have called it quits on the spot. I’d been following
them for some number of years at that point, they were the first rock band I
ever saw, but I never made the slightest effort to see them again after that,
and stopped listening to them entirely once I heard the Ramones.
ET Go Home
Anyway, this incident with
the cops occurred on the way back to South Jersey. We were hitchhiking, doing
pretty well considering that neither one of us was really in any way coherent.
Terry was about 6-foot-4 and kind of chubby. He giggled a lot. I was the speedy
end of the pair, 5-11 and 125 pounds, hair hanging halfway to my ass. We’d
gotten a ride down as far as the George Washington Bridge from a bunch of Krishnas
who fed us some awful brown rice glop and wisely decided to interact entirely
with Terry, who was amenable to their line of crap. Fat, smelly hippies gave
us a ride as far as Exit 5 down the New Jersey Turnpike. The van was full of
flies and I was glad to get out. I was crashing hard off three days of acid
and speed, starting to get a little irritated with Terry’s vanilla attitude
and constant giggling.
As we walked along the shoulder,
far too twisted on dope to figure that our best bet for a ride lay on the exit
ramp or beyond, I extracted the largest goddamn booger I have ever seen from
my right nostril. It was a classic meth booger. This thing was huge, the size
and shape of a decent escargot, streaked with blood. I held my finger out to
"Ever seen one this
"No." Terry giggled
"I’m going to
put it on you!" I said, laughing maniacally as I began to chase him down
the shoulder of the New Jersey Turnpike. He screamed like a little girl and
fled. I kept chasing him, howling like a werewolf until we heard the siren.
A state trooper screeched to a halt just a few feet ahead of us, gumballs flashing.
I flicked the monstrous snot into the grass off the shoulder and attempted to
The trooper climbed out
of his cruiser real slow and languid, Southern style, chewing gum and wearing
mirror shades, just like me. I figured we were in for a hard time. He stretched
a little, taking his time. Terry kept shifting from foot to foot and swaying
back and forth. I felt like a busted television set, all snow and ghosts, but
I had a knack for appearing sober when confronted by agents of The Law.
"What have we here?"
the trooper drawled as he approached us. "What are you boys doing?"
"Going home from a
concert, sir." I replied.
"Uh-huh. You carrying
"No sir," I said.
"We don’t believe in drugs."
"Then what was that
you threw into the grass, there?" His mirror shades locked onto my mirror
shades, and for just an instant the acid resurged and I caught a glimpse of
infinity. It didn’t look pleasant.
I said. Terry stifled a laugh. I wanted to kill him.
"Let me see your eyes."
I took off my shades, trying not to look like Charles Manson. He turned to Terry.
"What’s that little dance you’re doing there? You nervous?"
"No, sir," Terry
replied. "I’m just tired."
"You two boys stay
here." The trooper walked back to his car and got on the radio. A few minutes
later, two more patrol cars pulled up. The three officers conferred among themselves,
and the two new arrivals set to examining the grass alongside the highway, squatting
and running their hands through the greenery. I kept waiting to hear an exclamation
of disgust, but it never came. They found nothing. The first trooper drove us
over to Rte. 130 and advised us, "Don’t be here when I come back."
A few years back Dr. John
Mack pretty much torched his creds as the Golden Boy of Harvard’s psychiatry
department when he came out as a xenophiliac and issued a book entitled Abduction,
chronicling his experiences treating patients who claimed to have been molested
by the Little Grays. He’s made a specialty of this practice. Maybe it’ll
become a new branch of psychiatry, like substance abuse treatment. I doubt it
will ever acquire the celebrity cachet associated with addiction specialties,
though: the Grays seem to avoid the likes of David Bowie and Darryl Strawberry
in favor of people who actually work for a living.
Mack has another book out,
and it’s awful. In Passport to the Cosmos (Crown, 320 pages, $24),
he attempts to make the case that the abduction phenomenon is an evolutionary
prod designed to curtail the human species’ tendency to behave like Homer
Simpson. He fails, miserably. It’s a testimonial to the incredible corruption
of the medical establishment and Harvard University that this mediocrity is
permitted to practice psychiatry and retains his position as a professor at
that institution. Contradictions and bad science abound in this tedious tract.
He attempts to liken the abductee experience to shamanic practices, and yet
dismisses out of hand any experience related to the use of mind-altering agents.
He gives credence to the most preposterous encounters with the space brothers
without even considering the possibility of a Stage IV sleep disorder or Michael
Persinger’s microseizure theory.
John Mack is either an active
agent or a dupe of those forces intent on constructing a new quasi-religious
instrument of social control out of the UFO/abductee phenomenon. Given his curriculum
vitae, I’m inclined toward the former. This book contributes nothing whatsoever
to the discourse on this subject and should be shredded to manufacture decent
toilet paper for the impoverished citizens of the former Soviet Union.
Joel Achenbach, a staff
writer for The Washington Post, has done a terrific job of reportage
on the more serious end of the search for extraterrestrial intelligence. His
recent Captured by Aliens (Simon & Schuster, 415 pages, $25) is a
lucid presentation of the difficult work being done by authentic scientists
unconcerned with attaining celebrity status. The book is a clear and sober account
of the history of exobiology and related pursuits and the often infuriating
obstacles presented by shortsighted government beancounters on the one hand,
and hysterical UFO cultoids on the other. It is also a loving tribute to the
late Carl Sagan, to whom celebrity came naturally and gracefully as a consequence
of his chosen vocation of making astroscience accessible to the masses.
Captured by Aliens
is by far the best book yet on the subject of the possibility of extraterrestrial
life. Achenbach’s sharp wit and solid science combined with his compassionate
approach to the quirky characters attracted to the field make for a perfect
book with which to arm oneself against the arguments of yahoos and gazoonies
enamored of the Little Grays and their minions. It is the perfect beach book
for summer 2000.
The Little Grays are at
best a mirage and at worst a fiction. It stands to reason, then, that fiction
might better convey the deeper meaning of the abduction experience than any
attempt to present this phenomenon as "fact." Pulitzer Prize winner
Robert Olen Butler has written a touching, richly comic novel exploring the
deeper meaning of the phenomenon in heartfelt human terms, Mr. Spaceman
(Grove Press, 223 pages, $23). The flyleaf summarizes the basic plot as well
as I could:
"The night before the
turn of the millennium, a tour bus bound for a Louisiana casino is suddenly
beamed inside a spaceship hovering high above the Earth’s surface. As its
twelve passengers emerge nervously from the vehicle, they come face-to-face
with the being who has brought them aboard, a sixteen-fingered zoot-suited alien
named Desi. Over the course of the next twenty-four hours, Desi will seek their
help as he readies himself for the final phase of the mysterious mission he
has traveled across the galaxies to fulfill."
It’s a first-person
narrative told from Desi’s point of view, and the voice that Butler provides
for this creature is outstanding. Desi is powerfully empathetic and hungry for
the emotional richness to be found in even the most mundane human experience.
His speech is peppered with slogans gleaned from advertisements. He has a human
wife, a former hairdresser from Alabama named Edna Bradshaw, and a cat. His
struggle to avoid being deified by the humans he chooses to reveal himself to
is very touching, as are his responses as he reviews the human stories he has
collected over the years.
There are odd resonances
with underground filmmaker Robert Downey’s wonderful Greaser’s
Palace, but this work is clearly Butler’s own, a virtuoso piece in
which he freewheels through many diverse and deeply moving human voices as Desi
recollects his experiences with humanity. The resolution is a fine twist, wholly
unexpected and completely logical.
What you see by the side
of the road is largely dependent on what you expect to see. I stopped hitchhiking
in 1976, but that’s another story, for another time.