The Smiley Face of the '90s
I have just mentioned to a woman at the roadside fireworks stand outside Moriarty, N.M., that our car is headed for the 50th anniversary celebration of the alleged UFO crash in Roswell.
"What do you want to go there for?" she continues. "We have a lot of things here. Moriarty is the pinto bean capital of the world."
A town must play the cards it's been dealt. Moriarty's got the beans. Truth or Consequences, N.M., is named for the old TV game show. And Roswell has aliens. It has the International UFO Museum & Research Center. Farther down Main Street, it has the competing UFO Enigma Museum. The surrounding area offers two alleged UFO crash sites, plus a debris site. We're talking ground zero for the world's current cultural obsession. And for six days its population of 50,000 is swelled to double the normal size by UFO fans and nutbags from all over the world.
UFOs are one of the few international fields of interest where opinion and first-person observations carry just as much weight as fact, where one man's fleeting glimpse of a strange light in the sky is considered just as valid as 30 years of research and Air Force documents. Add to this the official acronyms -- USAF, CIA, and CSICOP (Committee for the Scientific Investigation of Claims of the Paranormal) -- the weather patterns, black helicopters, mutilated cattle, probed abductees, schizophrenics, hoaxers, and The X-Files, and you have the makings of a very profitable summer.
The scene outside the Roswell Convention Center is nothing less than an absurd parody of a county fair. Next to the Tilt-A-Whirl and other carnival rides floats a 20-foot, inflated alien tethered to a truck parked on the lawn. Competing radio stations blast that silly hippie song "White Bird." A big tent provides shade for reporters so they can deliver live updates for MSNBC. Amid it all, painted green and sporting fuzzy emerald antennae, a lowly burro offers rides for children.
New Mexico Gov. Gary Johnson stands outside the front doors of the main building, wearing a blue work shirt, jeans, and an alien-head pendant around his neck. News cameras weasel in for the soundbites, to be blasted across the nation:
"I visited the museum, and it was unbelievable," says the governor enthusiastically. "An amazing story. It was all there, except for a few facts."
He then puts his arms around two little girls clad in alien costumes, complete with almond-shaped eyes and spindly fingers, and strolls inside, chased by cameramen.
Some seminars and speakers attract sell-out audiences. One memorable exchange occurs between researcher Karl Pflock, who sides with the Air Force, which claims the Roswell saucer debris was a top-secret Project Mogul spy balloon, and author Kevin Randle, who plays to the cheap seats with the time-tested yarn about the actual UFO, recovered alien bodies, government cover-up, etc.
The argument over 50-year-old facts quickly grows tedious, but Randle saves the evening with cheap theatrics. As Pflock rambles on about the Project Mogul balloon construction materials, and how the Scotch tape and wood and foil obviously match exactly the witnesses' descriptions of materials found at the UFO crash site, Randle cuts him off:
"You want some Scotch tape? I've got Scotch tape!" He produces a tape dispenser and stretches out a few feet of tape. "Wood? I've got wood." He snaps a piece of wood over his head. "Kite string? Foil?" He shows them to the crowd, then throws it all dramatically to the dais and declares, "That's Project Mogul."
The crowd roars with laughter and applause. Pflock looks perplexed, deboned like a fish in a frying pan.
This Clash of the Titans notwithstanding, it's clear that most of the people are here for the junk, and a landscape of road signs points the way to it. "Crash here for best prime rib in the galaxy." "Tastee Freez food is out of this world." "The aliens have landed at Quilt Talk."
Inside the expo room, merchants dazzle the shuffling sheep with cutesy signs and displays. An Alien Artificial Insemination kit contains a package of Palmolive dishwashing soap, a sponge, and an eyedropper, to be used "at high tide only." A booth pitching The Book of Urantia, written by 23 aliens, features a slinky young girl in a black form-fitting catsuit with sunglasses. She coyly asks passers-by: "Are you fully developed?"
Two little boys in enormous cowboy hats sit behind a table of antique pocketknives. In particular, they are selling "The Roswell Incident Knife," a gleaming pigsticker emblazoned with an alien face. Pamela Stonebrooke, aka the Intergalactic Diva, says she has been abducted and impregnated by extraterrestrials four times, and her cassette tape includes songs about her alien-sex experiences. Someone else sells rocks for 25 cents, each painted with an alien face.
It really is a great country, when you think about it.
Not all locals are alien-friendly. Throughout the week, citizens have watched their innocent hamlet mutate into a Fellini film.
"I'm sick of it," says a high school girl -- but she's pouring coffee at the Alien Caffeine Booth. Another local, attending a banquet for UFO writer Whitley Streiber, adds: "The only little green men in Roswell are the faces of the dead presidents on fives, 10s, and 20s."