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Roswell at Fifty

celebration of an interplanetary traffic accident.....or something

This is Dark Cloud on Wednesday, July 09, 1997.

When photographs became color and when they were first subject to the ministrations of overnight developers, customers started noticing a strange phenomenon. If the film had not been carefully handled, part of the development procedure could apparently splash excess emulsifier on the occasional print, and in so doing leaving a rather bright bluish white splotch. Depending where the splash landed, it could take on the patina of the surrounding color, leaving the impression of metallic crust. This was first brought to my attention in the 1960’s, when I was trying to figure out what seemed to be an unremembered light fixture in a family photograph. They were not real common, but enough so that one got used to them.

So it was with some surprise this last year when an individual was showing me photographs of his house in Wyoming. A part of Wyoming without trees or plants over a foot high. On this charming piece of the American Dream, someone had constructed a cement structure with a flat roof, no windows, and a door frame. “It looks like an artillery bunker,” I said. “It has no door or windows.” Well, yes, that was true, said my momentarily dejected companion. “But it could,” he said brightly, much in the manner of a realtor explaining that the fourth upstairs bedroom could be made into a nursery.

He had several other photographs of what would normally be called out buildings but what must in this case be called plumbing necessities. Incredibly depressing hovels. In my search for something, anything, pleasant to say about what apparently was this man’s dream house; I noticed a splash of bright color in the middle of the endlessly brown field behind the house. “What’s that?” I asked hopefully, realizing as soon as I said it that it was just a splash of emulsifier. But I was not to be let off easy.

“That,” said my companion with a knowing nod, “is a UFO.” He said it like he was saying “Oh that’s cousin Eva with her brood.” He went on to explain that since his property backed up against a bloom of Minuteman silos - location, location, location - he often got visitors of this sort, apparently checking out our ancient nuclear arsenal, our advances in plumbing fixtures, our cement housing. He had, of course, several tales to go with this to elevate the initial level of believability.

Yes, he had been captured. Yes, they had taken him aboard. No, he didn’t want to talk about it, but since I asked - I hadn’t - he would tell me about it, emotionally wrenching as it was. I came very close to saying it was just a stray drop of acid, for God’s sake, but by this time he was into the light being pulled upwards. Oh, you’ve heard the story, you know the drill.

This month we celebrate the whatever it was that happened in Roswell, New Mexico fifty years ago. I know, wherever my acquaintance is now, he has the good door in the frame and a butane torch of greeting in the window, if he had one. And I expect he is very happy. I think of him every time I see the very likely non-event written up and wonder who would believe such a thing. He would. He wants to believe it. Lots of people do. I do, but I can’t.

I myself have the most difficulty believing that a civilization that could build a flying saucer, supersede our known laws of physics, travel across a dark and dangerous universe, and at the last minute have a fatal traffic accident in New Mexico, perhaps with the little woman screaming “Harry, HARRY!” as such a sophisticated vessel hits an unexpected planet. Or if our nefarious military was capable of shooting it down, why would it pass up such a great ploy for funding in those paranoid years? I cannot construct a situation that would explain any behavior associated with the event except the one the flyboys tried to foist off on us. Confusion, dummies, military spokesman, the usual.

Not believing Roswell is not the same as not believing we are not alone, or that whoever is out there is more sophisticated, better, and more interesting than we are. I have no problem believing that. I just don’t think it happened in Roswell in 1947 any more than I think people would travel across the universe to rest their bright blue flying saucer in a dismal Wyoming field to view nuclear missile silos. Although, I prefer that scenario to the thought they were just gathering design hints for their own habitations.