We meet in the back room of a Round Table Pizza on SE Holgate once a month. We sit around six plastic card tables stuck together and most months every seat is filled. The men and women range in age from early 20s to late 60s and if you just show up randomly you might think we’re celebrating a birthday or anniversary, but if you were to sit down with us you’d see that everyone here is a little off. Just about everyone here does a little something with their appearance to show they’re not quite right. It might be a dangling earring, some sort of purposeful fashion faux pas, a strange cut or color in their hair, but they all have something. You might miss it at first glance, but if you looked again you’d see they’re all flying some sort of freak flag.
An elderly man sitting across from me places both hands on the plastic tabletop and pushes himself up with a grunt. He looks like a homeless Peter O’Toole in Man of La Mancha. After he clears his throat he announces that in Russia, Yetis are captured and their wills are broken so they can be put to work in some of the outlying villages and there has been at least one documented case where a female Yeti was used as a sex slave. There are skeletons of her offspring on display, he says.
Everyone nods quietly and thinks on this.
Then he says that Stonehenge was in actuality made by the ancient Druids to be one big musical instrument.
Again, everyone nods. The elderly man sits down and the meeting continues.
I started going to these UFO “encounter” meetings almost a year ago in order to research a novel I was (and still am) working on. I thought it would be interesting and unique to have my protagonist fall in love with a girl who goes to these get-togethers so I Googled “UFO alien abduction support group, Portland, Oregon,” and found there were a lot more of these groups than I imagined. Two weeks later I was sitting on a foldout chair at some brick-and-mortar community center in Hillsboro with five other people talking, sharing, and finding truths I was not prepared to find.
I’m not sure exactly what I expected that first day. I guess I figured people who went to these meetings would look like someone on a most-wanted poster. I thought they’d all be complaining about their latest probing. I thought they’d tell their crazy story and not want to listen to anything anyone else said, but none of this was true. The people looked normal. I might as well have been at the DMV, on the bus, or in a library. During that first meeting I took notes on how they dressed and what they would say, but gave them little thought as people. It wasn’t until a few weeks went by that I started to see something I’d never seen before.
We don’t say we were abducted. We say we had an encounter.
There’s a woman dressed in a long, flowing, crocheted skirt in the back; she’s in her mid-thirties and she always brings a clear glass jug of water. It’s the only thing she’ll ever drink from, she’s told us. She stands and talks about how she saw two giants in red togas walking in downtown Portland last week. They were giants, she says, because they had six fingers on each hand and when they laughed she saw two rows of teeth. This is what you look for when you want to know if someone is a giant. This starts a low murmur, but no one is disagreeing with her. They are talking about what it might mean to have giants in Portland. They are trying to figure out why these giants would be here.
I don’t think she saw what she thought she saw. In fact, I don’t really believe most of the stories that come from these groups, but the stories aren’t the important part, at least not for me. Yeah, they’re funny and I repeat them to my wife and friends, and every once in a while someone will say something very credible that I just can’t explain, but two giants that are descended from fallen angels walking through Pioneer Courthouse Square on a Saturday night just isn’t one of those things. The important part of this story, and all the other stories like it, the part we can all learn from, is the group’s reaction.
When I was in basic training all us new privates had a choice to make on Sundays. We could either stay in the barracks and wax the floor, or we could load up in the duty van and go to church. I hated buffing an already sparkling floor so I always chose church. I’ve never been religious but I’ve always been curious so I decided to go to a different church, a different faith, every Sunday. This was at Fort Benning, Georgia, which is a pretty huge military base filled with a diverse population from all fifty states and all U.S. territories. You can complain all you want about the military but they do go out of their way to ensure everyone can practice their freedom of religion. Just about every faith you’ve heard of has a place to gather and worship on that base, and I went to all of them. One Sunday I even went to a Samoan church and the only time they spoke English was when they said bye to me on the way out.
Since then I’ve been intrigued by different religions and have studied all types. If a person is going to trust their immortal and eternal soul to something there must be something worth reading about in it. The first thing I realized is that there are so many, and the majority of them are a schism of something bigger. Judaism begot Christianity. Christianity begot Catholicism, Protestantism, and Islam. Catholicism begot the Byzantine. Protestantism begot Baptists. Islam begot Shi’ite and Sunni. I can go on and on but then I’d be as boring as the Book of Numbers in the Old Testament. My point is that there are thousands of different religions, and millions of ways to follow them. Why? Maybe because there are so many types of people. We all need to find a way to make that connection to something bigger, but some people can’t find a religion that fits. And those people, those ill-fitting people, they are the ones at my UFO meetings.
Like I said, I thought they’d all be sitting in a circle complaining about being abducted, tortured, probed, or whatever, but that was far from the case. Instead, they spoke about how special they were, and because they are special, the aliens, visitors, interdimensional beings or whatever, picked them. They are the only ones who can understand and be trusted with the message. What surprised me even more was the fact that all the messages I heard them talk about were positive. Some people will talk about corrupt governments or global cover-ups, but for the most part they talk about how to help mankind.
Yes, some of these messages sound completely ludicrous, but no one objects, no one argues the validity of another person’s point, and there is no ridicule. I’m not saying there aren’t opposing viewpoints, but what I found were deeply spiritual, optimistic people who care about humanity and each other, and I’ve never seen anything like it, not in any of the dozens of faiths and religious gatherings I’d been to in the past.
The homeless looking Peter O’Toole stands up again and blurts out that Pearl Harbor was an inside job. Then a woman who has to be someone’s grandmother puts down her knitting needles, stands, and talks about the first time aliens visited her. She was in the backyard of her house in Ohio making out with her high school sweetheart when a silver ship shaped like a tetrahedron with three illuminated portals on each side suddenly appeared and hovered over them. Her eyes light up and her hands flutter over her head when she describes the ship. She says because of that day, over forty years ago, she’s been able to communicate with them telepathically, and they’ve been a comfort to her during the most difficult times in her life.
A few minutes later a young kid who had identified himself earlier as an Occupy Portland demonstrator, says he’s seen the same type of craft and then talks about Ashtar, Polarus, and the Space Masters. I have no idea what any of it means, maybe no one does, but no one argues, no one calls him out.
Every meeting after a couple of these stories I’m usually sitting there thinking that these people are batshit crazy, but then I think, Why is believing this any crazier than living your life by rules written down by someone who may not have even existed thousands of years ago? These people aren’t out committing crimes or being evil. They’re not forcing their views on others. They’re not alienating people who hold different beliefs. And at some point in every meeting I end up with the same conclusion: We’re all batshit crazy.
That’s what I think. If we look objectively at the shit the human race does, most of it makes no sense. The whole concept of money is based on playing pretend, pretend to the death; we silly humans have the means to feed and house every one of our species but we don’t. Thousands starve and die of easily preventable diseases while others stockpile wealth they couldn’t spend in a hundred lifetimes. Our countries are separated by imaginary lines, lines we kill for, lines we die for. We also murder each other over which all-powerful deity is best, as if an all-powerful god needs us to fight for it. And what about love, faith, the class system, even our political structures?
We’re all insane, and we need to be in order to make sense of any of these things.
At the end of the night the older gentleman who organizes these get-togethers talks about the recent sighting of a couple aliens dressed as nuns in Las Vegas. Somehow this leads to the documents Snowden leaked, and these documents prove that thousands, maybe millions of the Tall White race of aliens are living under our oceans in bubble cities traveling up to the surface in submersible ships to tell our leaders how to rule. Everyone nods. I like being around them, so I nod too, but I’m not thinking about bubble cities or Tall Whites. I’m thinking about how I can get more people to these meetings because if you think about it, really map it back through history, maybe religion isn’t working. Hell, I’ve been to the Holy Land and it’s in pretty bad shape. They tried to kill me there and almost succeeded. I’m thinking if we’re really serious about world peace, people need to start coming to these UFO encounter meetings. I’m thinking about renting an alien mask and a van.