Close encounters of the ankle sox kind

“Pull up iTunes,” Barry said, as we were driving. “There’s a particular song by Brave Combo I want to hear. You can guess which one.”

We were a few miles south of Roswell, New Mexico, and I knew exactly which one he wanted:

I wanna see a flying saucer, I wanna see a flying saucer.
I wanna see it land in front of my car,
Or fly in formation over my back yard,
Carry me off to the nearest star,
I wanna see a flying saucer, I wanna see a flying saucer!

We stopped for breakfast in Roswell, and the place seemed pretty normal. There were no green-skinned aliens in the restaurant, just a lot of silver-haired humans. Our waitress was an efficient woman who looked to be in her late 30’s.

One of the two regulars at the next table asked the waitress a seemingly innocuous question about siblings, and she matter-of-factly answered, “I don’t know anything about my brothers or sisters. My Dad died when I was real young, and I guess my Mom had a lot of kids. I came down with TB, and it didn’t look like I was gonna make it. So she took me to the hospital. But, you know, she never came back to get me.”

She refilled their coffee cups and then turned away to the kitchen, leaving the fellows speechless.

After breakfast, Barry and I walked down Main Street, counting no fewer than seven stores selling only alien souvenirs. Most of them were run by silver-haired ladies, one of whom sat knitting behind a counter full of alien heads and spaceship jewelry.

If there was ever a town that took a theme and ran it into the ground, it was Roswell. We laughed out loud at the creative and humorous t-shirts, mouse pads, and bumper stickers — we bought one that shows a picture of an alien and a crashed spaceship and says, “How’s my driving?” Many of the shops had 8-foot inflatable aliens out front. One was wearing an apron that said “Alien: The other gray meat.” A Coke machine in the center of town showed an alien drinking Coke.

We went into the International UFO Museum and Research Center, expecting to spend an hour or two, but came out over three hours later. The exhibits were pretty amateur, but the wealth of clippings related to the Roswell incident were fascinating. If you aren’t familiar with the story, in 1947, a local rancher found the remnants of a strange flying craft that had crashed on his land. Accounts differ as to whether all four green-skinned aliens were dead, or if one of them was still alive. Anyway, he told the sheriff, who told the Air Force, and they came out to see it.

Suddenly, the military decided to hush up the incident, telling the rancher and everyone who knew about it that it was merely a weather balloon. But they supposedly used some pretty strong-arm tactics, and the rancher never spoke of the incident after their treatment of him. Others who were involved would only tell their spaceship and green alien stories 40 or 50 years later.

Of course, the actual wreckage of the ship vanished into the hands of the military, never to be seen again. So there’s no physical proof, only a lot of stories, some that agree and some that conflict, documented 50 years after the fact.

There are enough stories of the military cover-up, I’ll accept that part of the story as true. But what were they covering up? If it wasn’t a spaceship, surely it would be declassified by now? Not special technology or materials; that sort of thing has been surpassed many times over in 60 years. Not a political thing; the Soviets aren’t even our enemies any more. Maybe it really was a spaceship!

Of course, as I worked my way through the exhibits and got to the panels about close encounters of the first, second, and third kind, it became much more difficult to take any of this stuff seriously. The displays showing removal of alien implants destroyed any last shreds of credibility.

My favorite parts? Photos of crop circles, a collection of alien cartoons, and the gift shop, where I succumbed to an impulse purchase: Ankle socks with with little green alien heads all over them. Just the thing to wear to a restaurant with a giant sign reading “Aliens Welcome.”