On discovering sighting of aliens is full of hot air


May 10, 1993|By MIKE LITTWIN

The adventure began early on Saturday morning, about 8 o'clock, with a noise. A loud, sucking noise. One neighbor at first thought it was somebody in the house vacuuming. But nobody -- well, nobody sane -- vacuums at 8 a.m. on a Saturday.

My wife -- who knew I wasn't vacuuming -- thought somebody was letting the air out of our tires. That's how you think when you're stunned from sleep. That if we're attacked, the people would go for the tires first.

I thought nothing of the noise because I remained deep in sleep -- dreaming, as usual, about bungee jumping with Hillary Clinton. Until my wife starts shrieking, "Get up!!! Get up!!! Look out the window!!!!"

There it was, right out our window.

No, there they were.

The first object in view was a giant liquor bottle, maybe Early Times, scraping the roof of the house across the street. This is absolutely true.

I knew what it was, of course. It was a UFO. Had to be.

And it wasn't just the liquor bottle. The sky was awash with wondrous and weird and multicolored and downright scarily unidentified objects, apparently bent on visiting our neighborhood.

For years, I'd been a skeptic on this subject, despite the many fascinating shows Geraldo has featured on UFOs, usually involving women who had been forced to breast-feed alien infants. The main reason for that skepticism has been the proliferation of the video camera.

It used to be that only a chosen few ever saw UFOs and aliens because they always landed in a Nebraska wheat field. (What kind of travel agent could these aliens have? I've got one trip to America, I'm at least going to see Graceland.)

Now, however, no matter where you are or what you're doing, somebody's getting it on video. You've got to figure that if aliens landed, we'd have seen it on "America's Funniest Home Videos."

And yet, there they were. I, of course, was terrified. My wife says I looked as if I were on the set of "Invasion of the Body Snatchers." There's a reason for that. All the literature on UFO kidnaps suggests one thing -- the kidnapees are invariably subjected to a gynecological exam. That's not the way to spend your Saturday morning.

But just as I was about to call the CIA, FBI or maybe Janet Reno, my wife said, "I wonder why all those balloons are landing in our neighborhood."

Oh, balloons. Sure, balloons. Giant, hot-air balloons are attacking us.

"Must be something to do with the Preakness," she said.

I looked out the window again. Sure enough, there were kids and grown-ups all laughing and having just the best time talking to the guys in the giant balloon in the street in front of our house.

Most of my experience with hot-air ballooning is from watching "The Wizard of Oz," and who will ever forget that frightening moment when Toto jumps out of the basket and Dorothy may never get home to Kansas, which, if you've ever been to Kansas, may not be as frightening a prospect as I had first assumed. This, however, seemed pretty non-threatening.

The only remaining mystery was why all these balloons had descended on this particular neighborhood. Master balloonist Arthur Foy cleared it up. He had been one of 30-odd participants in what is called a hare-and-the-hounds race as part of the Preakness festival.

It seems one balloon -- the hare -- leaves first, heads to who-knows-where, lands and then the balloonist marks an X. Those in the pursuing balloons -- yes, the hounds -- drop a beanbag from the sky, and whoever's beanbag lands closest to the X wins.

Then the balloonist must find a safe place to land. My neighborhood happens to have all the wires underground, with only trees as a potential hazard.

"The kids love this," Foy said. "It's always fun landing in a neighborhood and seeing the reaction."

The reaction is fairly unanimous. One small child said, "This is even better than Saturday morning cartoons."

In celebration -- and as part of custom -- Foy breaks open a bottle of champagne, explaining that in the early days of ballooning in France, when the balloons landed, the farmers would usually get their axes and demolish them. An offer of champagne, it was learned, tended to calm the citizenry.

Times have changed, though. Nobody in my neighborhood reached for a single implement of destruction. How could they? They had their hands full operating the video-cams.

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