I-Bar Christmas-light Coat-hanger Thing in the City Night Sky (1986)

It was some weeks ago that I remembered this event. I wouldn't call it buried, but for some reason I’d simply forgotten about it until then. After working for a while with my writing group, the few of us walked from our regular coffee shop on the pier to the local tavern up the street (I had coffee; the others by now preferred wine), and we got to talking about local author Tom Robbins, who was hugely popular when I was in college in the 1980’s. I remarked that I’d seen him speak once at the UW, back in the day. Soon after telling the others the bare facts about this, and that he was an engaging speaker, there was something that nagged at me, though, and I knew there was more to the story. I just couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Yes, I’d gone to see the author. A friend and I drove up from Olympia for the event, to see him at the University’s Kane Hall, a mammoth auditorium where I’d once taken a 101 Psychology course with 700 other freshmen before transferring to another school. The lecture hall was even more crowded on this occasion, and I remembered that Robbins, the author of “Even Cowgirls Get the Blues”, “Jitterbug Perfume”, et al, was funny and entertaining, and seemed to know how to work the audience. But I knew there was something more to it, and I was sure there was a UFO connection. It bothered me, because this idea seemed tacked onto my recollection of the event, like a flag or a post-it note. It felt artificial, like I was reaching for something not there.

It wasn’t until the next morning that the rest of it came back to me. I was surprised that I’d not remembered it sooner, because it was something I’d been aware of for all of my life since the day it happened. It wasn’t a buried memory or traumatic, just weird. This would have been sometime in 1986, and my friend Birdy and I drove the 70 miles north on I-5 in my dilapidated Impala for the event. It was just as we entered the city, reaching downtown, with the financial district on our left and 1st Hill on the right, where several hospitals are (the neighborhood is nicknamed “Pill Hill”) that something floated directly, noiselessly over the car. I think it moved from right to left, and it flew more or less like a helicopter, crossing the freeway and going between the tall buildings of downtown. It was easy, superficially, to dismiss this as a helicopter, except there was no helicopter there, not that I could see. Rather, it was all glowing and golden, seemed to have a plain shape like an iron I-beam, and was strung with all colors of hanging lights along tangled wires like a Christmas tree, one rather sloppily decorated. Add to that how it flew into the narrow spaces in between buildings, and the whole picture becomes very strange. I’d thought at the time that it must be a helicopter, though, landing at the helipad of one of the hospitals – which maybe it was. Maybe I remember it in reverse: that it came out from between the buildings and headed for the hill. This was certainly how I thought of it for at least a year afterwards. But it always haunted me, because there was something subtly not right about it – like, for instance, the ridiculously gaudy decorations and unsafe flight pattern.

Neither Birdy nor I said anything about it. We’d both seen it, clear as day, although it was night. It was impossible to miss. We had some time after parking the car to nose around the University Campus before the reading. Still, I can’t remember it ever coming up between us. We found a dark corner and smoked a little weed, then went on into the lecture hall for the event. When Robbins came to the stage, after the applause had died down and a few introductory remarks, he read from a new story, something not yet published, which he explained, “This is a story about how I saw a UFO.”

Addendum to the above entry:

Riding the airporter shuttle back to Whidbey from SeaTac last week, I had a chance, as we passed through the above-mentioned stretch of the I-5 corridor, to take a good, close look at the conditions there as I would have seen them so many years ago, approaching from the same direction. The spaces between the buildings at that exact spot were much wider than the concentration of high-rises only a block or two further north, and there seems in fact to be a helipad at Harborview Hospital that more or less abuts the freeway. Everything about the location admits the likelihood that what I saw was exactly what I half-way took it as: a Medivac helicopter coming in for a landing, or, alternately, taking off again.

Except there is still the matter of its appearance. I perhaps didn’t see it entirely clearly, but I have always remembered in such stark detail the weird, loose hang of that string of lights beneath the aircraft, run from one end to the other, and the vivid golden color of something – these details and the lack of any coherent shape to the object. There was no “helicopter” that I could see, only a minimal structure supporting sloppily-hung, ornamental lights. There was also no sound as this machine floated low and directly overhead.

Like with so many of these “encounters”, I feel like I’m being played with, and it may be no one but myself and my imagination in this tricksterish role. Yet there is, so often, just enough unlikely detail to let me doubt these dismissals, and either add support to self-delusion, or ask that I look more deeply through the cracks.


Revenge of Floaty Military Thing

My last post described a strange military jet airplane that seemed to float silently beside the highway in mid-day, over a patch of woods not far from where I live. It’s been several months since I wrote that post, but I have thought of this sighting many times since then. Not obsessively, and not to attach any particular significance to it. I really don’t imagine that this airplane was necessarily anything but what it appeared to be, which was a normal military jet that seemed to behave strangely. Yet I’ve also allowed it to signify a certain possibility of meaning, and in so doing, certain synchronistic or curious phenomena constellated around it [link previous post and addenda here].

I’ve noticed something else curious in how I think of this as well. I now remember it differently from how I did before. In this new memory – which I tell myself is not how I saw it, yet which persists, seemingly of its own – there are two impossible features. The first is that the airplane had a long, silver-metallic pole that stuck down several meters from the belly of its fuselage, that may have also had a blinking light at the tip of it. This feature is identical to a sighting that I had of an actual UFO in the late 1980’s [link to post here]. If this pole or antenna were actually jutting from the underside of the plane, it would’ve been impossible to land without breaking it, or at least retracting it. Also, to say it again, I’m quite certain this feature wasn’t there at the time, yet, despite this, I can’t seem to help but remember it this way. The other addition or distortion I have is even stranger: I distinctly remember there being a hatchway open, also on the underside of the fuselage, and a man in a white sweatshirt who wore a flight helmet, leaning out of the opening, smiling and waving down at the traffic that passed beneath, perhaps specifically at me. This is just bizarre, like some cartoon version of what actually happened. Yet every time I think of it, this is how it appears to me in memory.

I postulate nothing about these reconfigured memories beyond what they present themselves as, yet both features have curious referents. The pole or antenna relates directly back to a UFO sighting of my early adulthood. The smiling man who waves reminds me of an attempted kidnapping when I was quite young, when a man tried to entice me into his car. He pulled the car up beside me, opened one of the back doors, and smiled brightly and with one arm, gesturing for me to climb inside. Since I’d been warned about exactly this at a recent school rally, I knew to run away, and that’s what I did. But the knowledge that things could have gone very differently for me has never been far from mind, and though it may seem a stretch, to relate this early incident to what I imagine seeing a man in a airplane doing, the psychological association of “abduction” is valid, because what I’m describing is fundamentally a psychological event, with the concept of the UFO as an invisible, though central, constellating event.

Memory seems never to be only one thing. In fact it isn’t. Yet memory has been the underlying and constant theme throughout these posts, since all are based on memories of observations and impressions, either near or distant in time. Moreover, these recollections are the interpretations of memory – descriptions, which exist apart from the memories themselves and may be more or less accurate, yet are not the thing itself. The description is unavoidably a modification of the memory, a shaping of recalled sense impressions and thoughts and feelings into words, which recollection itself is an ever-shifting modification from the original experience. There are gaps between these things, epistemological gaps and reinterpretations. And though I’ve tried to describe what experience I’ve had as accurately and truthfully as possible, I know that these distortions are an inevitable result of the highly plastic medium of consciousness – a consciousness impacted by this image or idea of the secularly numinous, which in some cases, and from a certain perspective, can be described as contact experience with the UFO – which are exactly the spaces this original sighting and its memory seem to be playful within. A trickster. A shape-shifter. Yet I don’t know that anyone is doing it to me but myself.

This is the nature of the recognition, what I call the alien as myself, as it is my own consciousness which seems to be the most fundamentally mysterious thing to me, and my experience, as such, of the UFO or “ET” which provides the most direct portal to it, which fixes my attention on it, whatever the ultimate nature of that phenomenon is – self or other or both, or beyond such categorization.

Floaty Military Thing Invalidates All Thinking

I’d been driving north in the early afternoon last Friday (as of now, three days ago) between Coupeville and Oak Harbor, where a Naval Air base dominates the northern half of Whidbey Island both economically and demographically. To see military aircraft of different ages, from the very new to the old-but-still-flying, particularly this close to Oak Harbor, and in close proximity, is normal. There’s nothing in the least unusual about that. But when I saw a large military transport jet, deep gray-green, looking to be a newer sort and eerily hanging over the woods alongside the highway, it caught my eye for two reasons: first, I don’t normally see that large of an airplane along that particular route, especially flying that low (it was only a hundred or so yards above the treeline), though I couldn’t say that it never happens; but secondly, and most strangely, because it hardly seemed to be moving at all. It may not have been moving. It looked as though it simply floated over the forest.

I was driving in the opposite direction and moved past in relation to it, so any movement seemed like it could easily have been that of me going past at fifty miles an hour while it stood still in the air. If it flew (as opposed to simply floating like some kind of blimp) it hardly seemed to go even ten miles an hour. Also, I couldn’t hear the sound of any jets. My car stereo was up, not so very loud – enough to mask the ordinary sounds of the road – though I wouldn’t think a large military jet flying so close by would be overwhelmed by it, not hardly. It had a single, white, blinking light at the bottom of its fuselage. This for some reason also struck me as odd, or significant somehow, this single, plain light. Otherwise, it had no running lights that I could see.

I craned my neck around to watch it not moving as I passed nearby and under, looking as closely at it as I safely could in the highway traffic. I thought to pull off to the side, but there wasn’t enough of a shoulder to do it safely. I still wish that I had.

This sighting bothers me, for a few reasons. The obvious conclusion is that it is likely not a sighting of anything all that unusual. This was likely just some conventional military jet transport with vertical lift technology. The fact that it was so quiet is strange, certainly, but also not inexplicable. Perhaps jet technology has been developed that makes that little noise. I’ve seen fighters pass close over the I-5 freeway near Fort Lewis that I could scarcely hear from inside a car. If that’s all this was, I have no problem with that; I feel no need to try and spin something exotic out of the mundane. But the image of the thing haunts me, because there was something just wrong enough about it (and just public enough also, hovering that close to the highway) that I had to notice, and enough about it explicable enough, without any more than the common knowledge of military technology, that I also have to dismiss it, and I can’t escape this feeling that somebody is playing with me, because I am now stuck so firmly in this liminal zone of how I think of this thing. I wanted to write this up immediately, I was that intrigued by what I saw, but at the same time I keep thinking, it’s nothing, it’s nothing, don’t make a fool of yourself, tilting at windmills and the like. To post this is to invalidate the point of this site by making something out of nothing. But not to post it is to invalidate this work also, to communicate these moments of liminal strangeness.

Shortly after posting this, in the Oak Harbor coffee shop where I was working, in a nearby conversation that I couldn't help overhearing a man said, "I've been tilting at windmills..." Quixote lives.

Further Addendum:
Before seeing the strangely floating jet airplane last Friday (now one week ago, exactly, as I write this) I’d gone to the gym in Coupeville, and in its small parking lot, I noticed that the minivan I’d parked next to had one flat tire in back. It could’ve been somebody’s car from the physical therapy office that shared the building, but turned out to be that of the older woman inside, the only other person at the gym just then. She came outside and I showed it to her, and we hovered around her van for a few minutes, trying to figure out what to do about it. We finally decided that calling AAA was probably the best thing. So I went on inside and had my workout, then found her still waiting in her van when I came out again. She told me that several people had stopped to tell her about the flat tire while she’d been waiting – a nice gesture, but by now she’d more than gotten the point. The tow truck should be along in a few more minutes, she said.

I got into my car and drove on to Oak Harbor, and it was along the way that I saw what I described above. I wondered at the time if there was some kind of connection between these things: the flat tire, my telling the old woman about it, and then this. It seemed reaching to look for any causal relationship, but the feeling that there was some connection nagged at me.

So when I came to the gym again, exactly one week later, that same older woman was there, cycling on one of the stationary bicycles beside the desk as I signed in. She told me that after waiting for the tow truck to come that day, after all those people also told her about the flat she now knew pretty well that she had, and several more hours spent at or around the tire shop, getting the flat fixed, that nobody could find anything wrong with the tire, other than it was flat, neither the tow truck driver nor the repairmen at the shop. Unless someone had come along and let the air out as a prank, the tire had gone spontaneously flat for no reason they could see.

This only added to my uneasy feeling that there was some kind of set-up, that the one thing led toward the other, with my awareness at the pivot point.


Early Complications Regarding Sleep and Gravity

When I was very young – my best guess puts me between 5 and 8 years old – there were two events I remember centered around sleep, or at least the bed and my attempts at sleep.

I can’t say why these experiences didn’t occur to me earlier. They’ve not exactly been lost to memory, but at the same time I’d not recalled them readily either, not in connection with these – what I’m referring to as numinous – phenomena. They certainly qualify. In fact, I’ve always thought of them as relating in some very general way to the UFO experience, as it presents itself in my life. Yet these remain as isolated events, without inherent reference to anything but themselves, and were not precursors to, nor as far as I’m aware did they follow upon, anything. I’ve thought of them in this connection because of their peculiar flavor, a kind of sense at the back of my head that I get when I contemplate events of this nature. This has as yet been the ultimate litmus test for those episodes that I’ve detailed in this site, this beguiling synesthesia that leaves me with the feeling I’ve come up against something “alien” or other.

In the first memory, I’m in my bed, but I’m not asleep. It’s very early in the morning, and I’ve only just woken up. It was probably what woke me; if I wasn’t up already, this would’ve done it. I remember the foot-end of the bed picking up and dropping, over and over again rapidly, an oscillation running through the bed frame’s foot end only, like someone had taken it up by a few inches and shook it hard and really fast. But there was nobody else in the room with me. Neither had there been an earthquake, though these do happen sometimes in the region – in the Seattle area and its surrounding suburbs. No one in my home or in school that day said anything about an earthquake though, and it would’ve been all the talk, and it had distinctly been only the foot-end of the bed that shook like this, not the head, not throughout. No one but me, it seemed, had experienced anything. I don’t recall what happened, if anything, after that, though it seems this shaking may have occurred over more than one night. I don’t so clearly remember. For all the racket this must have caused, there was no response from my parents or my older sister, who were also in the house – my sister in the room below mine. I recall the slight, staccato impact, the sound, however restrained, of the bed’s footpegs hammering the floor, though gently, and so quick – more a vibration than a pounding.

The other, similar event came later. I woke up suddenly from a dream – it was almost certainly a dream of falling – to find myself above the mattress by a foot or more and plummeting back towards it. My face slammed into the pillow a split second later and my whole body bounced, suddenly wide awake and utterly perplexed. Flying dreams would later be a common theme for me, but seemed the coda to a similar dream, one of falling from a height, one too seamlessly spliced into my waking life.


Bookending Highway Sychronicities

In the short story that I’m working on now, entitled “Twicehorse”, I have my protagonist driving across the country, moving from Seattle to New York State in a wounded, old truck. I’d been working up to the point where he stops for his first night. When trying to find a plausible location on the road atlas for him to wind up, my eyes came to rest on the dot marked Superior, Montana, which seemed a reasonable place, both location-wise and in terms of its anonymity. I knew nothing at all about it, though the particulars of the actual town are not that important for the story. It was just for its location, more or less arbitrary, where a man driving in a slow and ailing truck for a long day might finally stop to rest.

Driving myself all day Tuesday from where I’d stopped the night before in eastern Idaho – this was my second day on the road, returning home to Washington State from a winter spent in Utah, and I’d taken a detour from my usual route through Oregon – I’d forgone, out of impatience, the smaller and more scenic rural highways I’d traveled the day before in favor of the interstate and its speed, and finally convinced myself to stop when the shadows had grown suddenly long, the sun abruptly hidden behind surrounding mountain peaks, and though I knew I could’ve carried on for another hour or two in the remaining daylight, it was beginning to feel as if my nervous system were revolting. It shot signals out in sudden waves of sick anxiety, despite the comfortable rhythm that I’d finally settled into. So I decided that the next decent-looking motel would have to do. I’d noticed a sign some miles back already for a run-o’-the-mill sort of place that promised nothing extravagant, that seemed perfect in fact, and the next exit up was the one to take. It wasn’t until I’d carted my bags into the room that the significance of Superior, Montana, the speck of a town where I’d stopped, occurred to me. I’d come to rest in the same town where I was making my character stop – albeit traveling in the opposite direction – and had done so without knowing it.

It was a fine town for my purposes of waiting the night out, of getting food and rest, all of one small street zig-zagging its way beside and beneath the I-90 freeway amongst mountains and thick pine forest, with nothing in particular to distinguish it, at least to my eyes. The police department stood directly across the road from the motel. The old couple filling in for the absent owner at the front desk didn’t know how to work the credit card machine. But mostly, for myself as for my story’s protagonist, the specific characteristics of the town were unimportant. Whatever else I may have imagined about the location (for the purposes of the story) was not there to be found – not so far as I could see – and it seemed there was nothing especial to be gained in being there beyond a meal or two and a night’s rest. It was the incidence of the name, its spot upon the map – a reference point in my mind, in language, in space – the virtue of its location more than anything else that informs this constellation of events, though one may ask what else is there, what if any meaning is leaned-towards in this index of co-arrangement?

In the story that I’m writing, my protagonist is reading a particularly difficult book of fiction, one that subsumes his actual life. His fictive world is blurred into the road on which he travels.

In another odd constellation, I’d bought and downloaded the audiobook of Trish and Rob MacGregor’s Aliens In The Backyard: UFOs, Abductions and Synchronicity (which is an excellent book, by the way) the next morning while still at the motel. The audio file’s duration is 7 hours and 47 minutes, and I started listening to it as soon as I’d gassed up the car and entered onto the freeway. The book finished its play-through with the familiar, “Audible hopes you have enjoyed…” just as I swung into my neighborhood’s entrance back home on the island.