Before Close Encounters of the Third Kind came out in 1977, Steven Spielberg & Co. sponsored an art contest for kids across the country. The goal was to submit a rendering that most closely resembled the space aliens that would be featured in the movie. Like thousands of kids around the country, I answered the challenge. Sci-fi was right up my alley.
I didn’t win. In fact, I never even got a response. When the movie came out and I saw the aliens at the end, I felt cheated. They didn’t seem anything like the space creatures I’d seen in other sci-fi flicks and comic books – they weren’t even wearing space suits.
When a UFO recently appeared right down Hwy. 377 in Stephenville, it reminded me of my early fascination with space aliens, and, sitting two counties away (as terrestrial objects fly), I was a little jealous. Watching movie stars see aliens or UFOs for the first time is not quite as exciting as seeing the genuine article yourself.
I had read and re-read Chariots of the Gods when I was a kid and watched the X-Files for years. I knew the truth was out there – but I’d never thought to look in Stephenville. I should have – Texas seems prime territory for visits from E.T.’s kinfolks.
The first documented visit to North Texas by space types was also a rural jaunt, 111 years ago in a town called Aurora. It’s right off State Hwy. 114, just southeast of Boyd. As the story goes, a slow-moving UFO appeared in the sky around dawn and crashed into the town judge’s windmill, the explosion destroying the windmill, the attached water tank, and the judge’s flower garden. Aurora residents found a small, charbroiled alien in the debris and gave him a proper burial in the local cemetery.
The second space visit to our area came 50 years later. The “flying disc” that reportedly crashed near Roswell, N. M., in 1947 was transported to the Fort Worth Army Airfield (formerly Carswell, now Naval Air Station Joint Reserve Base) for further examination, on orders of Gen. Roger M. Ramey, commander of the Eighth Air Force. The military had already initiated a spin campaign in New Mexico suggesting that the mysterious disc and its otherworldly occupants had actually been a fallen weather balloon, and when the object and its dead crew arrived at the airfield, officials quickly confirmed that report. Unofficially, Ramey successfully swept the real story under the rug, and more dead aliens experienced North Texas D.O.A.
So far there have been no extraterrestrial casualties associated with the Stephenville visit – the third time around appears to be the proverbial charm. Their massive spacecraft was visible for several moments on Jan. 8, and dozens of local residents, including a pilot and a constable, got a good look at the surreal deal.
Now, local car dealers are accepting UFOs as trade-ins, city secretaries are wearing green alien masks, and high school students are going to class wearing tin foil on their heads.
Lost in the spectacle, however, is one alarming note: While we got a good look at them (or at least their spaceship), they got a good look at us. And I bet they felt cheated. If I had traveled hundreds of light-years in search of new life forms on another planet, and they turned out to be as shabby, ignorant, and greedy as we are, I’d be pretty demoralized.
We’re fat and lazy. Our lives lack meaning and a real sense of purpose. We have very little compassion for those less fortunate than us. We don’t believe in sharing things or working together. We can’t live in harmony with our environment or the hapless thousands of other species with which we share our planet.
More of us believe in the Easter Bunny than in evolution, and even though danger and self-destruction lurk behind each page-flip of the calendar, we seem incapable of disciplined political, economic, and social imperatives. As a result, we have so much internal self-contempt that we enjoy watching American Idol, Jackass, and Borat, just to see folks exactly like us being abused, degraded, and humiliated.
I say, let’s enjoy our extraterrestrial guests while we can because, after we finish building stupid, pointless border walls to keep earthly “aliens” out, we’ll probably start building retractable-roofed domes over our cities to keep space aliens out.
In fact, if a spaceship full of curious beings from some other planet swooped down and attempted to make contact with me, I’d advise them to high-tentacle it back to wherever they came from, before some slick operator here figures out how to trace back their route, strip-mine their planet, and start selling the inhabitants boxed sets of Survivor reruns.
E.R. Bills is a local freelance writer.