It’s 1993. A heady time for an almost eleven year old Mellzah, filled with beanie babies and skorts. If the previous descriptors of the year didn’t give it away, I was a particularly naive ten year old, not yet tuned into the more exciting world of grunge and Beverly Hills, 90210 like my peers. 1993 also marked the release of Fire in the Sky and its accompanying press barrage, and at some point while watching afternoon television, I learned that this movie was based on a true story of alien abduction and experimentation, including something called an ‘ocular probe’.
1993 was also the heyday of Unsolved Mysteries* and the Weekly World News, both of which had a not-insignificant alien focus, and additionally, I had gotten my hands on the first book in the “Mysteries of Mind Space & Time: The Unexplained” series** which, being alphabetical, covered alien contacts. All of these converged into what was, for me, a minor alien obsession. Not the usual “wow, space aliens are so cool, I wish they’d take me on their ship to explore the universe” kid alien obsession, but a “I have just learned space aliens are real (because how could a movie say it was based on a true story if it wasn’t true?) and they are definitely out to hurt people and I need to learn everything about them so I can protect myself” kind of obsession. The same kind of obsession that led me to ask for an emergency window ladder for Christmas, not because I wanted to use it for preteen shenanigans (which is what I have to assume my parents thought, because Santa definitely did not come through) but because I was genuinely terrified that a fire would block the only set of stairs in the house in the middle of the night and my whole family would perish in flames due the the lack of emergency ladders***. But there’s no emergency ladder for aliens, so I would just lie awake in terror, every flashing light from the road an indicator of imminent ocular probage.
So it’s safe to say that I am more than a little familiar with the UFO crash and subsequent coverup in Roswell, New Mexico. In the intervening years, I’ve grown a lot more skeptical, the sense of utter devastation and betrayal being too real the day that I learned that anyone can claim anything is true and thus any media about it can also claim to be “based on a true story”. Now when I lie awake at night, any flashing lights from the road mean those little bastards are out behind my house again, maybe starting fires, and why haven’t I bought an emergency ladder yet, goddamnit!? Ahem. But even though I don’t believe-believe in aliens anymore (like ghosts and demons and footgrabbing monsters under the bed, they grow more plausible in the darkest hours when I don’t have more realistic, important shit to worry about (I basically haven’t had a single demon worry since early November or so, and I will know shit is back to normal when my mind turns back to demons hovering over me in the dark or potential ghosts in my shoes)), there was no way I was going to plan a road trip through New Mexico that didn’t involve a stop in Roswell.
Roswell. The town that turned a probable weather balloon crash into into an alien identity that would remain strong seventy years later, though not strong enough to open a UFO themed hotel, much to my chagrin. But lack of star-patterned sheets aside, I was beyond pumped to spend some time in Roswell. Alienville, USA. The Little Town That Could…n’t Identify A Once-Flying Object. Or as the French call it, Alie,NM. A place housing not one, but multiple discrete alien-themed attractions. I couldn’t wait to dive in.
The International UFO Museum and Research Center
My first stop was at the International UFO Museum and Research Center. This visit got off to a bit of a rocky start–there was an error at the credit card machine which is always awkward because you have to tread that line between assuring the cashier that no, this is not an awkward situation at all, you are assuredly not spending your last dollars of credit to purchase entry to a UFO research center, and thinking “oh shit, was my card stolen and canceled or am I somehow spending my last dollars of credit to purchase entry to a UFO research center?” and the cashier, for her part, made noticeable strides to make the entire transaction more awkward to the point where I just kind of wanted to slink out the exit even though I’d just paid to get in.
To be perfectly honest, even without the card snafu I didn’t really dig this place. The whole front area is walls filled with page after page of solid print material: it’s like trying to read a novel when at any moment someone could step in front of the next few pages, and it’s also in the loudest, most heavily trafficked area in the museum as it is right at the entrance. In other words, it’s a kind of frustrating and irritating reading environment and as a consequence my eyes began to skim over the text more and more and I walked away with only the barest impression of the facts. “Facts”. When I got a bit further in, my brain started registering some bold claims such as “Encoded in each of these [crop circle] designs are systems of knowledge referencing no less than the angles and alignments of the Gizeh(sic) Pyramids, the earth’s processional rate, its equatorial circumference, and the geometry that facilitates the imprinting of the soul into the human body.” I’m sorry, I’m gonna need to see some sources on that. Especially that last one. And no, I don’t accept the Weekly World News.
Alien Zone was the other solely alien-based business I visited in Roswell, and based on some of the interior signage I have to assume they are in fierce competition with the International UFO Museum as they do not allow anyone to wear International UFO Museum entry stickers into their displays. But believe me, it’s worth losing readmission to the UFO Museum to play in the Alien Zone. Why? Because Alien Zone is full of alien dioramas into which you can insert yourself. And insert myself I did, vigorously, with aplomb. The only place I didn’t cram myself was the playground area because it turned out that was for children only.
Biggie Biggie Biggie, can’t you see? Sometimes your words just hypnotize me.
Oh no, there’s been a horrible accident!
He’s okay, folks!
Roswell At Large
After Alien Zone, I checked into my hotel and took a quick swim in the outdoor pool in the afternoon sun. Refreshed, I decided to walk back down the main drag and see how many aliens I could spot.What I learned on my way is that the fastest way to spot a tourist in Roswell is if they are on foot. Roswell is not a walking town. Not due to lack of sidewalks–sidewalks were plentiful and in good repair. Not because it has hills that make your thighs scream and require a sherpa to navigate, no–it’s flat as a board. People just don’t walk in Roswell. It’s a car town. Every few minutes there’s the sound of furiously revving engines and squealing tires as yet another vehicle races away from an intersection. Huge groups of motorcycles swarm through. The air smells like hot exhaust and burning rubber.
When I said that Roswell embraced aliens as their town identity, I mean they really embraced it. Almost everywhere on the main street either had alien in the name or some type of thematically appropriate alien displayed prominently on the building or in the window. Their baseball team is the Invaders. Their credit union’s logo prominently features a UFO and tractor beam. Their streetlamps have alien eyes. There are tiny green paint footprints leading to a business. A UFO presumably brings abducted books back to book reseller Books Again. There are murals and murals and murals. Even chain restaurants play along, an Arby’s sign advertising that aliens are welcome (though I don’t know why we’d immediately want to sour our relationship with said aliens with one of Arby’s patented Gross Beef Sandwiches™) and McDonald’s going full UFO outside and in, a McNugget astronaut bobbing near the ceiling near his friend and murderer/wholesaler of his corpse, Astronaut Ronald.
We ended up eating dinner in that UFO McDonald’s, not because either of us particularly wanted McDonald’s but we were also reaching our exhaustion tipping point, considering all we’d crammed in our day, and neither of us really had the energy to try to find a decent restaurant. We just wanted to shove some food at the general food hole and sleep the sleep of the dead. Hopefully, aliens wouldn’t strike in the same place twice.
*To this day, the theme music makes me uncomfortable and a little afraid.
**The back of this very first volume, which I do still possess, posits that too much skepticism is a form of obsessive mental disorder that stops the sufferer from seeing the world as it really is, which is funny to me on so many levels. Obviously, the first one is that they’ve clearly done a “you smelled it/you dealt it, I’m rubber/you’re glue” thing to the skeptics who have made that exact claim about conspiracy theorists, AND maybe they get people to continue paying for the remaining 25 volumes in the series even if they read the first one and said “eh, I don’t know, this seems kind of vague and bullshitty” because they’d hate for the book people to think they’re not being open-minded enough. I’m dead, I love it.
***I’m not saying my biggest fear at the time was that my little lungs might not have had the power to squeeze out a “Damn you, Santa! Why couldn’t you branch out into emergency supplies?” at the very end, as the thick smoke filled my powder blue room, but I’m not NOT saying it.