My first impulse when approaching this writing was to say to myself that I don’t honestly think that much about aliens. I quickly realized that is not really the case. As a member in good standing of the Church of the SubGenius, aliens figure into our cosmology. Every July 5th, X-Day, many of us gather, rant about J.R.”Bob” Dobbs, and wait for the Xists in their alien escape vessels to save us before they destroy the world. So far, no luck with that prophesy.
Then there was the time when my friend Steph and I decided to travel to some key sites on our own Weird New Jersey tour. One of my favorite spots was in Grover’s Mill where the Martians landed in Orson Welles’ The War of the Worlds in 1938. I enjoy the fact that there’s an actual monument commemorating this run-in with fictional space people.
When I was a kid, I spent my summers away at camp in southwestern Virginia. I still think of it as an idyllic place of hiking, games, campfires, friends, mischief, and song. There was dream journaling, meditation, morning exercises, healthy food, and skinny-dipping, too, so it had a reputation as a “hippie camp.” I never minded that moniker for the place; I wore it proudly.
One night, I was in my cabin and we were all getting ready for bed. I remember very clearly standing by my bunk when a strange sound arose suddenly. It was incredibly loud, as if it were right next to our cabin. Was it a truck of some kind? It didn’t sound quite like that. It had a presence, like some kind of near impossible closeness. It was physical and disconcerting, like I would experience in California years later as the earth shifted beneath me in a minor earthquake. We all had a “What the heck was that?!” moment. We looked just outside and saw nothing. I shook off the weird feeling and eventually drifted off to sleep, enveloped in my cozy sleeping bag.
The next morning, all was not calm. A kid several years younger than me named Zach was visibly shaken. He was explaining something to campers and counselors in the dining hall, then took a few of us to the spot where he had seen something. The night before, he was certain he’d seen a UFO. He pointed to the sky, and traced out the path it had taken. Later, he drew a picture of it. It was more or less the kind of saucer you’d expect from the movies and other reported encounters. What stood out to me the most was the timing. He’d been up on the hill looking skyward at just about the same time I was in my cabin trying to reconcile the eerie, invisible, not-a-truck sound. Could I have heard a UFO? Judging from Zach’s emphatic mix of fear and wonder, I like to imagine I heard something as bizarre as what we saw that night.
Maybe the woo-factor of “hippie camp” made us more open to suggestion than most, so it could have just been the coincidence of some kind of an unfamiliar farm vehicle passing by at an unusual time, combined with a stargazing kid’s active imagination. Or perhaps our “good vibes” attracted some alien passersby and they swooped down to check us out. It’s a fun memory, and perhaps more fun for never having gotten a definitive explanation.