Phenom

I'll Be Your Mulder
(or Why I Decided To Become A UFO Investigator)


UFO Image

by Clive Thompson

What would you do if your mother said she saw a massive UFO flying over her summer cottage?


Me, I nearly choked on a piece of steak.

I was visiting mom for dinner and we'd been discussing the X-Files—which she's never actually seen—when she dropped this bomb. Apparently, she'd woken up at midnight, gone into the kitchen for a smoke, and seen a huge ball of light slowly rising and descending over Lake Ontario, for two hours.

"It didn't make any noise at all, just went up and down. It was so quiet that I could hear the leaves rustling in the breeze," she said, dragging on about her fortieth cigarette. "Really weird."

Yikes. I've long had an absorbing interest in UFOs, though I've never actually seen one. But this was coming from my mother—a stolid Ukrainian farm girl, not given to flights of fancy. Since she was adamant that it wasn't a helicopter or plane, I figured it was my filial duty to figure out what was going on. After all, I was a journalist by trade. How hard could UFO hunting be?

I soon found out. A few weeks later, I'd been mocked and ridiculed by every police officer, meteorological expert and military official in Ontario I'd contacted. And I'd gotten exactly nowhere. ("Hello, I'm calling to inquire about a huge glowing object that appeared over Lake Ontario last summer." "Excuse me, son, am I hearing you right?")

I decided I needed professional help. So I called the Mutual UFO Network.

MUFON, I should point out, is not exactly a household word—but over the years (and much to the alarm of my friends), I've developed an embarrassingly extensive collection of UFO literature. As a result, I'd long known about MUFON, the world's largest civilian UFO investigation organization. Founded in 1969 and currently made up of a volunteer army of 5,000 investigators, MUFON has arguably the best rep for semi-detached reasoning in a field distinguished by many, ahem, committed theorists.

According to MUFON's monthly magazine, they're always looking for new recruits to train as UFO investigators—"stable, objective people who have an above-average interest in the UFO subject," including "police officers," "insurance investigators," and "newspaper reporters."

Hot damn. After locating the MUFON hotline—in the phone book under 'UFOs'—I was soon on the line to Mike Strainic, my regional MUFON head.

Strainic took a little while to figure out whether I was for real. Since he's so often contacted by lunatics—or reporters looking for a freak-of-the-week interview—he's justifiably suspicious of my motivations. But after I explained my mother's case, he got more interested, and took my desire to work with MUFON more seriously.

"With all this hype about the X-Files, you run into some real weirdos," Strainic said. Still, he wasn't taking any chances—he told me to order a copy of MUFON's Field Investigator Manual and study it carefully. "Then call me back if you're still interested."

I shelled out the $50, and a few weeks later, the manual landed in my mailbox—a fat binder emblazoned with the Star-Trek-like MUFON logo.

Interestingly, a large part of the manual is devoted to dispelling the common phenomena that people regularly mistake for UFOs. One of the biggest causes of UFO sightings, apparently, is the stars and planets, so a MUFON investigator must be intimate with star charts and MUFON's groovy "Dial-a-Map" star-chart selector. Venus, in particular, is a notorious UFO stand-in — its huge, flaring presence, after being refracted through the sludgy air that hovers over most industrial towns, greatly freaks out locals (as well as the U.S. Air Force, which once actually fired on Venus, believing it to be an incoming commie threat. Your tax dollars at work.)

Later on, things get technical, and they break out the insider lingo. There's a handy chart detailing the industry classification system for UFOs, created by Allen Hynek in his book The UFO Experience (Ballantine Books, 1972—and stolen by Steven Spielberg for the title of "Close Encounters of the Third Kind." Hynek identified UFO events by the proximity of the anomalous event (far to near) and type of encounter (brief visual sighting to full-fledged, anal-probe abduction). The well-trained investigator would be able to tell you immediately that an AN1 was pretty common, but if you'd experienced a CE5, you are likely in dire need of medical—and possibly psychosexual—assistance.

The emphasis in the manual is quite desperately on a just-the-facts approach—you can almost feel the authors straining for credibility. MUFON demands investigators standardize their responses by filling out forms for virtually everything. (The possible physical reactions of witnesses to UFO sightings range from "eardrums vibrated" and "dry-heaved" to "spinal column ached.")

Things get stranger when the manual moves into areas such as "animal mutilations." A cattle-mutilation report form, apparently, is considered proper when one encounters a cow with a "neatly cored rectum and/or tail removal" and "pale pink to white muscle tissue, indicating blood drained from animal." But the lid doesn't really blow off until the manual's extended section on "Investigation of Entity Cases," complete with illustrations of "standard" descriptions of aliens, to aid abductees and CE5s in fingering their abductors.

Hmmmm. I closed the report, considering my own aptitude for UFO investigation work, and the words of the manual's introduction: "The investigator should always conduct him/herself as a scientific researcher, looking into each case as objectively as possible. The primary concern of the researcher should be to ascertain the truth."

Cheesy, perhaps, but in the postmodern swill of pre-millennial American angst, it's rare indeed to find anyone devoted to truth—no matter how obscure it might be. It's almost an old-fashioned notion, even though, like the show says, the truth's out there.

You're either part of the solution, I figured, or you're part of the problem. I reached for the phone, and dialed up Mike Strainic.  </end>

This spring, Clive Thompson, entered the MUFON investigator training program in Toronto, Canada. A report will be filed here, in the pages of STIM, upon the completion of his studies.

May the force be with him.


Entity drawings from the MUFON Field Investigator's Manual.

Top illustration by Jamie Barnett.

CLIVE THOMPSON is the editor of This Magazine, a bimonthly alternative political and cultural magazine based in Toronto. Thompson is a frequent contributor to The Times of London, The New York Times, and The Globe and Mail, as well as the Toronto based zines Shapeshifter and Glue. He lives in Toronto.


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