Let me set the scene for you: It’s a clear, balmy night in the small town of Roswell, N.M., and the stars are shining as brightly and crisply as I’ve ever seen them—and no, it’s not the first time I’ve ever looked. I’ve made the decision to spend the night here as I make my way to Phoenix. As of this moment, it’s been an ordinary night quite like any other, only for some reason I feel like it’s not taking as long for me to sober up, and I’m not happy about it.
A screaming comes across the sky.
As is always the case when I travel, I’ve got my copy of Gravity’s Rainbow, and I’ve cracked it open for a little reading before bedtime. Strange as it may sound, I’ve never made it past that first sentence, usually due to drunkenness, but as I’ve said, I’m not feeling so drunk tonight. And again I will fail to read on, for as I make my way toward that elusive second sentence I’m suddenly interrupted. An eerie light floods the clouded window pane of the cheap motel room I booked on expedia.com. The light draws closer, and I tremble as the rational part of me recedes as quickly as what little shadow persists beneath the window sill.
This was the culture from which I sprang. This was the terror from which I fled.
I’ve also got my copy of Richard Wright’s Black Boy, which is admittedly a bit unusual, even for me. And it turns out flipping it open real quick and reading the first thing you see isn’t as comforting in a potential crisis situation as you might think.
There’s a knock on the door.
That’s probably in a book too, but it’s mostly just what happened. I went to the door and opened it, as is my custom. Standing before me was a rather plain-looking fellow, medium height and nondescript, with an unusual, incredible kind of marking in the shape of a horse on his left cheek. He opened his mouth as if to speak, and then did.
“You lookin’ for UFOs?”
I was astonished. I’ve seen my fair share of birthmarks, but this one was simply unforgettable.
“I said, you lookin’ for UFOs?”
“Please, come in.”
Once we were inside, it was much easier to hear, on account of the motel being right along the highway. “I still didn’t hear what you said,” I admittedly sheepishly. He proceeded to tell me all about these things called UFOs, and about an incident that happened in Roswell in 1947 where some people say aliens crashed even though the government said it was just a weather balloon. Rather skeptical, I questioned him at length, but he insisted that he didn’t mean “water” balloon, and that weather balloons were an actual thing, too. Needless to say, I quickly sided with the UFO believers. Fortunately, he was on their side too, because this could have gotten really awkward.
And so it was under these unexpected circumstances that I found the inspiration for this week’s “Drawing Board” column, because when I returned home and told my mom what had happened, I found out that some people don’t believe in UFOs, which makes no sense, so I thought I’d set the record straight. You probably don’t realize this, but UFO stands for Unidentified Flying Object, so of course they exist! I mean, heck, “unidentified flying object” pretty much describes every bird I saw until the age of 11. And it wasn’t until I was 15 that I developed the ability to recognize birds with any kind of regular accuracy. I mean sure, I had heard of birds in school and stuff, but whenever I asked my parents, “Hey, guys, is that a bird?” they’d just shake their heads and laugh. So even though it would be many years until I learned the term UFO, it turns out I had been seeing them my whole life.
Even today people see them, but the government tries to cover it up by saying they’re just weather balloons. Yeah, right, weather balloons that lay eggs? I’m not that stupid, at least not anymore.