From the February 1st, 1990 edition of New Times:
On Easter morning, 1968, I hitched up my fuzzy blue pajama bottoms and skulked from my bedroom before dawn to look for Easter eggs. I was five and a rebel. I padded through the silent house, feeling like a thief, and peeked out through the curtains hiding a sliding glass door that opened onto our back yard patio. It was still dark outside.
There was no sign of my faithful basset hound, Sam, whose sniffing talents I had hoped to employ in my search. But an odd and wondrous thing was happening out there: shimmering fairy lights were shooting out of Sam’s doghouse. They bobbed in the air above the patio, glowing pink, orange, pale green and blue. The lights soon assumed the shape of a cartoon rabbit—something like Bugs Bunny, but without a face. The rabbit hopped toward me, giving me a feeling that it wanted to say hello. My mother’s rhododendron bush caught the side of its head and sent it spinning—now a frog, now a lion, now a coyote—then it regained its shape as a rabbit and stood on the other side of the glass, looking me up and down. I wanted to let it in, but I couldn’t work the lock.
In a flash, the sun was out, the rabbit was gone, and I held a brightly-wrapped present in my hands. Inside was a Smokey the Bear picture book with a 45 rpm record of a nice lady reading the story aloud. I had just been visited by the Easter Bunny. I was sure of it.
* * *
My parents no doubt listened to my wild Easter Bunny tale with the same calm concern they showed when I woke up screaming about monsters in my closet. They probably assured me that all was right in the world and then they went off to consult Dr. Spock to see if there was anything further to be done about my misconceptions.
Years later, I started thinking of my Easter Bunny encounter as a clever trick perpetrated by my father, who owned a hardware store and thus had access to all manner of electronics and colored spotlights. I was too old to believe in the Easter Bunny, but still young enough to attribute infinite wisdom to my old man.
Still later, when my friends in college tried to persuade me to take certain drugs of a hallucinogenic nature, I often told the story as a polite way of refusing their offers (“I don’t need to see God; I’ve seen the Easter Bunny.”)
That was how the story stood until a few months ago, when a friend persuaded me to read Whitley Strieber’s supposedly true account of his adventures with alien lifeforms, Communion. And now I’m thinking, Maybe that Easter Bunny was a UFO and I’ve been abducted by aliens—just like Whitley.
And you’re thinking, Maybe he took those hallucinogens in college after all….
Let’s try to keep an open mind here, shall we? Aliens are no stranger (and far more often glimpsed) than the quarks some of our leading quantum physicists are hunting down, or the black pygmies thought by many to reside in the forests of Big Sur. The really repugnant thing about aliens—let’s admit it—is that we loathe to think there might be intelligent life in the universe that’s more intelligent than we are. We don’t want to come into contact with a lifeform that communicates via the telepathy of angels and be caught having Dan Quayle as our vice-president.
Strieber’s aliens are intelligent, true, but they’re also rude. The little blue ones in overalls sneak up and grab you while you’re in bed. Then the bug-eyed skinny ones like you saw in Spielberg’s Close Encounters of the Third Kind steal your clothes and work you over with a rectal probe. It’s all so terrifying that your brain shuts down and represses the whole episode, leaving you with a flimsy screen memory. (After one of his abduction episodes, Strieber told his wife he’d been visited by a barn owl.)
And here’s something that really makes you think: Most people who claim to have been abducted by aliens find they were first abducted when they were very young. For instance, Strieber has a memory of throwing up on a train ride when he was a boy of twelve, and later—through the magic of hypnosis—he learns that while he was on that train, aliens nabbed him and injected him with something that made him sick.
While reading that passage I immediately thought, Hey, I threw up in a train when I was a kid, too!
And, of course, I’ve seen the Easter Bunny….
Everyone raise your hands now. How many of you have ever been train-sick? How many of you have been visited by the Easter Bunny? How many of you have seen a UFO? How many of you—be honest—have been abducted by aliens (rectal probes optional)?
I set out to interview some of SLO county’s UFO believers. The stories that follow are true—or so everyone claimed. The names have been changed just for the hell of it.
* * *
Deep in the Los Padres Forest, far from all the city lights, the Red Wind Foundation set aside 200 acres for the perpetuation of Native American culture. Myrna Running Beaver, a Jewish native of New York, came to live and work on the Red Wind land through a chain of circumstances both strange and spiritually meaningful. From 1973 to 1975, she and many other inhabitants at Red Wind saw UFOs virtually every night. Bright lights traversed the dome of the sky in seconds, made turns at 90-degree angles, and generally behaved in ways that satellites and man-made aircraft do not.
The chief skeptic at Red Wind was an old Chumash Indian named Uncle Stan. He refused to believe the stories of Myrna and the others. It didn’t matter to him that the term UFO meant Unidentified Flying Object and nothing more, as Myrna explained. Uncle Stan was beyond such idiocies.
Then one night Uncle Stan’s wife woke him up to tell him his house was full of red light. And yes, Uncle Stan had to admit, she was right. Outside the window there was a rather flat spaceship emitting a fiery red beam without a sound. Odd. The whole thing disappeared all at once and Uncle Stan and his wife stayed up all night talking about it.
In the morning, Uncle Stan admitted to Myrna that there might be something to that UFO business, after all….
* * *
Myrna didn’t take her interview lightly. After she finished telling me about her experiences at Red Wind, she insisted on calling up someone who had been there with her. The person on the phone confirmed that everything Myrna had told me was true. It could hardly have been a set-up, since I had prepared for my interview by simply walking into Myrna’s Los Osos home and saying, “So Myrna… seen any UFOs lately?”
Myrna also claimed she had vivid dreams of walking into a field at Red Wind to meet the aliens. She told them she came in peace and then realized it was unnecessary to speak because they could read her thoughts and communicate with her telepathically. They said they were friendly.
And one more thing: According to Myrna and the person who vouched for her on the phone, Chumash folklore tells of a messenger from the North Star called Tobet who arrived on earth to deliver instructions to the medicine men. Those instructions are secret, but Myrna thinks they must have something to do with the Chumash goal of living a life of balance and harmony. “We are caretakers of Paradise,” say the Chumash. “Earth is the Mother.”
* * *
Prior to all the drugs, kinky sex, and weird fame that came to him as the bass player for the psychedelic rock band, Titanium Daisy, Zoyd Roland was a seventeen-year-old virgin, like most of us. In 1966, enrolled as a freshman at the University of Akron, he was supposed to be joining his astronomy class in the park to look through a large telescope.
Instead, Zoyd had driven a mile further to another part of the park to make out with a girl. It was a starlit autumn night, about eight o’clock, and he and his girl, Rikki, were just topping the ridge of a hill used for sled runs in the winter when Zoyd’s whole body began to tingle. Everything in sight was suddenly glowing a weird orange color. Rikki grabbed him, screaming, “What is it? What is it?!”
A bright orange sphere loomed above them, as big as a four-story house. It floated 50 or 60 feet above the trees in a sky that had previously been pitch-dark. Zoyd completely freaked out. He stood there looking at the sphere—it seemed to be getting lower—and then, BOOM? WHOOMPH? It was gone.
Zoyd and Rikki got back into their car and raced the mile back to where the astronomy class was being held, sure their classmates must have seen it, too.
When they got there, half of the class had already left; the other claimed to have seen nothing. Zoyd asked where everyone had gone. He was told the class was over—it was almost twelve o’clock. He couldn’t believe it. He asked to see someone’s watch. He and Rikki were sure they had seen the UFO no later than half past eight.
* * *
Zoyd is now a professional artist who divides his time between Cambria and Laguna Beach. His wife of 20 years, Thoretta, refused to believe this story until she was introduced to Rikki during a visit to Ohio in 1972. She asked Rikki if anything strange had ever happened to her. Rikki said, “The strangest thing that ever happened to me happened with Zoyd….” She proceeded to tell the above story just as Zoyd had told it.
Thoretta and Zoyd have taken it upon themselves to educate me about some of the more famous cases of UFO contact. Betty and Barney Hill, for example, were abducted in the Adirondacks a while back. The aliens stuck a probe in Betty’s belly and told her she was pregnant—this, long before amniocentesis techniques had been developed.
They also showed her a map of where they came from, which Betty later recreated for the authorities. No such arrangement of stars existed, they said. They were wrong. When computer-generated star maps were developed, Betty’s map was shown to be a perfectly drawn representation of the Pleiades star system, looking from their vantage point TOWARD earth.
All poor Barney got was a triangular rash on his stomach that never cleared up. It eventually killed him.
Those Pleiadians got around. The Meier family in Switzerland has been taking pictures of them for years now. I sat down with Thoretta one night and watched a videotape called The Meier Chronicles that explained it all to us. The head of the household, Buddy Meier, has sort of a working relationship with the Pleiadians. They tell him when and where to go with his camera, he sets up (this can take a while, since he only has one arm), then the aliens fly by in their saucer-shaped aircraft.
The videotape is fairly convincing, as homemade videotapes of aliens go. Buddy even has a photo of one of the aliens. They look just like us, except their hairdos are thirty years out of fashion and their earlobes are longer than ours.
“Whoa… the Buddha had long earlobes,” I said to Thoretta.
“It’s something to think about…” Thoretta replied in that conspiratorial tone of hers.
Zoyd informs me that the Pleiadians now have their own cable television network. Sexpots from outer space with beehive bouffants and clinging rhinestone-studded gowns are getting up on Art Deco podiums and acting like TV evangelists—or game show hosts. The aliens learn quickly.
They also take out full-page ads in New Age magazines. One such ad in the January 1990 issue of Magical Blend reads: “Channeled Extraterrestrial Communion Events featuring Savizar and Silarra and their delightful and wise channeled E.T. buddies….”
Anything to make a buck.
* * *
Two years ago, Hank and Lawanda Emerson were caretakers of a ranch way up on San Simeon Creek Road. Hank was fond of taking long walks on the ranch and ruminating. The topic might be nuclear disarmament, the rise of illiteracy in America, the bills in yesterday’s mail—it didn’t matter, really. It was the ruminating that was important. So important that Hank nearly missed the strange metallic sphere hanging in the sky as he crested a hill.
But no, there it was: damndest thing he’d ever seen. A genuine UFO, without a doubt. Hank’s heart thundered at the incredible sight. The UFO regarded him in a somewhat calmer manner. Then it flew off at an amazing rate of speed and Hank went home to tell Lawanda.
As is still the case with all lurid gossip and weird events, the news soon reached the Cambria Library. From there it passed into the community at large. Cambrians—first a few, then many—packed picnic lunches, drove up San Simeon Creek Road, picked a nice spot on top of a hill or beneath the shade of an old oak, and sat down to wait for the aliens to arrive. Most were disappointed, but a few actually did get a glimpse of the strange hovering spheres—they’ll swear it even to this day
According to library lore, two years before the San Simeon Creek sightings, the spheres were seen out on Highway 46. They’re due back any day now.
* * *
Gives one hope, doesn’t it?
Many of us want to believe in aliens, for whatever reasons. Some think mankind has wreaked such havoc with the earth’s environment that we’re close to the point of no return. Aliens represent a quick fix. They could blow the minds of a few CEOs from the major industrial polluters, patch up the hole in the ozone layer, and maybe do a few TV spots (“Don’t use hairspray cans and styrofoam, humans, or we’ll reverse the earth’s gravity and float you all out to space.”) It’s the alien as Mr. Fix-It.
Others are looking for a new god, or at least an entertaining substitute for the Praise The Lord Club (watch for those Pleiadeans, coming soon to a cable TV station near you). It’s the alien as Higher Power—which puts us in the role of servants, absolved of any responsibility for our own lives.
It’s funny how the aliens seem to conform to any given person’s expectations. Myrna, so full of wonder and Indian lore, related her UFO sightings as a poetic experience. Zoyd—product of the paranoia and psychedelics of the ’60’s—had the more frightening vision. He’s convinced there’s some sort of alien conspiracy going on. (“Do you think the aliens introduced the AIDS virus?” he asked me one day.)
Leave it to the Cambrians, neighbors of Hearst Castle, to turn UFOs into a tourist attraction.
What’s going on here? Has the universal unconscious sprung a leak? Could geophysical shifts be creating magnetic waves that effect our temporal lobes in ways that make us hallucinate our personal visions of Close Encounters of the Third Kind? Are the aliens empaths that reflect our deepest longings and hidden fears? Are they midwives to a higher form of consciousness in the human species? Do they exist at all?
I don’t think it’s my place to answer that last question. All I can do is leave you with a quote from Umberto Eco’s latest novel, Foucault’s Pendulum:
“I have come to believe that the whole world is an enigma, a harmless enigma that is made terrible by our own mad attempt to interpret it as though it had an underlying truth.”