THE FLYING SAUCER
All Original Written and Photographic content is Copyright MEL BIRNKRANT
I wrote the following letter, ten years ago, to a friend, who also grew up in Detroit, one year in age and one mile away from me. She had just written that she and her husband were once good friends with a man named Stephen Greer, who is a known authority on the subject of UFOs. My letter was in response to hers. In it, I told of my single Flying Saucer sighting, then segued, unexpectedly, into the craziness of Colorforms, an out of body experience, and dreams of flying through old Detroit.
Last week, I was discussing flying in dreams with a new friend, who is a writer of Fantasy. I was surprised to learn that she has never flown in dreams. I just assumed that everybody did, and that they were probably, far better at it than I am. All my life I have been striving to perfect my aerial abilities, and success has been far from easy to achieve. I believe that dreams of flying, for some, must be connected to one’s self esteem. In youth, especially as a child and teen, I flew badly in dreams, sort of like swimming through the air. My stroke du jour, much as in real world water, resembled the doggie paddle. And I often struggled to attain an altitude, just out of reach of assorted earthbound entities, trying to grab me from below. These were the dreams of a child fraught with insecurity.
On rare occasions, I had the power to, not only, fly, but be invisible at the same time. Mercifully, this helped me escape the ever grasping hands of those, who, even though they couldn’t see me, somehow sensed that I was there, and continued groping madly at the, seemingly, empty air. Later, I got better. No one was out to get me any longer, but nonetheless, swimming motions were still required. I longed to fly free like Superman, or maybe, Peter Pan.
It wasn’t until I lived in Paris, at the age of 20, that I finally achieved that goal. One memorable dream, in which I flew high above the city, floating long and leisurely, I committed to a painting, at the time, 4 feet high by 8 feet wide. It is now rotting in the basement.
The wonderful thing about flying in dreams, once free flight has been achieved, is the fact that you can actually feel the motions of it, soaring, dipping, somersaulting, flipping, then halting and hovering in mid air. I eventually reached a state of grace, where flying became commonplace. Even in dreams that are quite ordinary, my feet are often levitating, an inconspicuous fraction of an inch above the floor.
In the weeks before I wrote this letter, I had embarked on an extraordinary journey. Over a series of successive evenings, just before I fell asleep, instead of snoring, I was soaring, high above the lost city of my youth. And, in spite of what Motown has become today, I found it all unchanged. Although, I was still awake, I could see every detail clearly, as I sailed aloft, effortlessly, rediscovering, remembering, exploring, moving freely, through both time and space.
August, 14, 2002
I have long been fascinated by “Flying Saucers”, as they were called when I was young. My friend Bucky and I used to stand outside at night for hours, trying in vain to see a flying saucer. But I had to wait a few years longer, before I finally saw one.
My one and only UFO sighting happened on an autumn night, many years ago, when I was "dating" Marcia Nelson. We were just disembarking from my fathers Cadillac. Yes, I drove his car on dates. I was 17 at the time. I had just parked near Livernois Avenue. ["My Detroit" as I remember it, now, has only three avenues remaining: Woodward, Livernois, and Harper.]
It was a beautiful crisp autumn night, and I had just stepped out of the car and walked around to open the door for Marcia. In those early dating days, such were the things that a gentleman did. It was dating etiquette. If the rituals were successfully performed, one might earn a Goodnight Kiss. How times have changed! I don't think kisses are an issue any more. But in those days, when our role models were more like Archie and Veronica than Bill and Monica, a kiss was a BIG thing.
Anyway, I had reached the passenger side of the car, and quite by accident, looked up at the night sky, which was crystal clear with a full moon and stars as bright as such a full moon would allow. At the same time, there were many white, fluffy well-defined clouds, like the perfect clouds one sees in a Disney cartoon. Towards the south, the clouds had gathered, to form a blanket, obscuring half the sky, all the way to the horizon. But, directly above, the clouds were still spaced far apart and separate from each other. They moved swiftly, from west to east, across the autumn sky, for a West Wind was blowing strongly. I say “white” clouds, because they were so low that the lights from the used car lots that ran all along Livernois illuminated them from below. This made them seem all the more ideal and cartoon like, against the dark black sky.
Do you remember those used car Lots? They stretched for many miles along the full length of the avenue; row after row of vehicles, all parked diagonally. Each had a price tag painted on its windshield; and their newly polished chrome, sparkled like a million diamonds, beneath the glare of a multitude of bare white light bulbs, dangling from a web of wires overhead. Livernois was Detroit’s Great White Way!
I think we were stopping for something to eat; it was about 10 or 11 P.M. I had parked on a dark residential street, one block east of Livernois, somewhere, between “Seven Mile” and “Eight Mile Road”. The restaurant was called “Robin Hood's”. They served hot dogs, there, split down the middle with cheese tucked inside. Then they were wrapped in bacon and deep fried. They called these "Friar Tuck's". Such things were to be expected in the land of “Sherwood Forest”.
Now, reaching for the door handle, I happened to glance up; and There It Was! The object in the sky above appeared to be a giant oval, of no definable color. It hovered not much higher than the clouds. In fact, it was so low; it picked up some of the light from below, while the moonlight, coming from behind me, reflected brightly along its leading edge, defining its shape clearly. It was not flat and disk like, but seemingly fat and fully rounded, seamless, and, without any texture or structural detail. And it was HUGE! The hack-kneed saying, often heard on such occasions, really DID apply! It WAS "as big as a Football Field", indeed! And I was startled at seeing something so enormous, and so close by in the sky, without hearing an equally big noise. It was SILENT. There was no noise on Livernois that night. And, the lack of any sound was like a sound unto itself. I would call it a deafening silence. The object was moving as fast as the clouds were moving, but in a different direction. Thus, its trajectory crossed, rather than followed, the path the clouds were taking. It traveled south, away from me, against the wind that swiftly blew the clouds from west to east.
I shouted to Marcia to “Get out quick, and see what I am seeing!” But, as she clambered from the car, the majestic oval continued southward and disappeared behind the solid bank of clouds that obscured the southern portion of the sky. I don't think Marcia saw much of it, but she did see “something” and, therefore, did not doubt my word. And so, we stood there for over an hour, hoping it would appear again. But it did not! When the clouds, eventually, converged and covered the entire sky, we left.
From the time that I looked up, until it disappeared behind the clouds, the object had remained in view, no more than, 20 seconds; but the impact that those 20 seconds had on me emotionally made that tiny slice of time seem like an eternity.
I have often thought back on the event, and wondered, not about what I saw, but rather, how strange it felt to instantly realize that I was seeing something that was not explainable, something unique, something, unlike anything I had ever seen. It was not like hanging out with Bucky, hoping that every airplane that crossed the evening sky would be a flying saucer, then hearing the engine, and seeing the green and red wing lights, and knowing it was just a plane. This was something huge and silent, moving in a different direction to the wind and clouds. And the feeling I got all over my body was a kind of terrible tingling that I had only experienced in childhood Nightmares, just seconds before some sort of monster was about to pounce.
I remember one dream, in particular, that I had, when I was five or six. When we moved to Seven Mile Road, for the first few weeks, we lived it the rooms in the back, over the garage, while the rest of the house was being painted. In the dream, I am sitting in the left of the two rooms. It is empty, except for a strange round decorative table that we did have, in real life. The table was not tall, and stood on a triangular base with three short legs. The upper section was drum shaped, with a round top piece and a round bottom piece, held apart and divided by four vertical slats that met in the center to form four open triangular shelves, on which objects could be placed on four sides of the drum. Some sort of decorative shape or window was cut out of each divider, so one could peek through it to glimpse the other objects, placed in the pie shaped sections, next to it. This whole drum shaped unit rotated, balanced on a spindle that came up from the tripod legs. It was stained and varnished a dark cherry brown in color.
The dream, which I had three times, was all the more terrifying the second and third time, because, by then, I knew what was going to happen. It begins as I am sitting on the floor of this room. A little girl, about my age, is sitting on the floor across from me. I do not know her. The table is sitting in the center of the floor between us. The empty room is painted light yellow or cream color. We can see each other's faces, only slightly, through the slots of the table. Now, as we sit there in silence, the table begins to rotate by itself, slowly at first, then faster and faster, until it is spinning as fast as a top, and I can see her face more clearly through the flickering slots.
Then IT happens! Something, I should say Some Things, for there are many of them, begin to form in the corners of the room, and along the edges of the floor and ceiling. They materialize, like a cloud of jet-black smoke. But they are not made of smoke, they are living demons, small, and black, and naked, and I dare not look at them. But seeing them becomes unavoidable as they multiply and move closer, until, like an ink blot, seeping, or a mold, rapidly growing, they cover the entire walls and ceiling. I know that we are about to engulf us, and I dare not think what will happen next. As the table continues to spin, the room and the creatures begin to spin, as well. And a feeling that only happens in nightmares washes over me. It is a sickening tingling, a stomach turning loss of gravity, like going down in a fast elevator! Yes, that is what it’s like, plummeting in an elevator, only worse, a roller coaster, maybe, although, I will not experience a roller coaster, until many years later. I close my eyes and feel the room spinning around, and in the final seconds before waking, I feel the room turn upside down; and anticipate a thousand tiny hands about to grab me. They do not! Thank God! But I remember the feeling, even now, and mercifully, it only happened in the dreams of babyhood.
Now, standing on that back street, in Detroit, on that perfect autumn evening, I glanced up at a silent object in the sky, and I got that selfsame feeling. But this was not a dream. I had given up thinking about and looking for unidentified objects in the sky, years before. This sight was not sought out. It was thrust upon me, unexpectedly, at the most arbitrary of times. And how did I know instantly that this was Something Extraordinary? Why did I get that feeling, like being five years old again, and experiencing that long forgotten sensation, tingling through my body, as if, that table in my dream was spinning?
Now, I will tell you a very strange thought I had, one night, a few weeks ago. I know it is just a fun thought, the kind of plot a science fiction writer might concoct, but it is a curious idea, that echoes a kind of romantic Irony that I found mysteriously amusing, at the moment, and wondered, later, if I had, perhaps, intuitively and inadvertently, stumbled upon a genuine possibility.
But first, I must go back to a time when I was working for Colorforms. About 20 years ago, the owner and inventor of Colorforms, Harry Kislevitz, was living in California, and going slightly nuts. He had surrounded himself with, a retinue of “New Age” hangers on, whom he supported, in exchange for their fawning admiration.
One person, he had discovered, was some sort of astrologer, who specialized in "corporate readings"; making charts of the executives of corporations, based on their birth date, and especially, the hour of their birth. This would supposedly help fellow workers understand and work with each other better.
Harry ended up flying him to New Jersey, all expenses paid, as well as giving him a fee of several thousand dollars to do astrological charts and profiles of “everyone” at Colorforms, the 10 or 12, so-called, executives. I was included in that group, even though I worked at home. Much complaining preceded his arrival. The Comptroller bitched about the cost, and everyone else had something derogatory to say. By this time, Harry was generally considered a pain in the ass, and crazy, and this was viewed as one more outrage and intrusion from the mad king, in absentia.
We all sent in our birth date and hour of birth ahead of time. I actually called my mother in Florida to make sure I got the hour right. A few days later, I was required to go to Colorforms in New Jersey for a personal interview. I found myself practicing my self-control and laugh stifling skills, in anticipation, as I drove down there.
Immediately upon arriving, I was whisked into one of the offices to meet this personable young man, in person. He was tall, young, surprisingly clean cut and good looking. And he had already prepared “my chart”, beforehand, based on my birth information. It was nicely done, a regular crafts project, with metallic paper, representing the various mineral elements, corresponding to each hour on the clock. This presentation was what we in the “art trade” call “eyewash”, an obvious attempt to impress. And while I was somewhat impressed with his appearance and demeanor, I remained a disbeliever, at least, until he began to speak.
He invited me to take a seat, and for an hour, told me all about me. He was essentially reading, word for word, what he had already written, before he met me, not sizing me up and observing body language for clues, much as a fortune teller might do. To be honest, I was blown away, and quite swept off my feet by what he had to say! It felt like he had known me all my life. His insights, some of which were a surprise, and not all of which were positive, were, at times, more perceptive than mine.
The personal interviews were audio taped, and we all listened to them together in a meeting that followed, a few days later. Thus, each set of pre-crafted observations was shared with all the others. Having worked with and studied these men for years, I have to say, he NAILED them all!
The astrologer stayed for a week, during which he conducted a seminar. This was recorded on video tape. Then all of this material was sent to Big Brother Harry in California. When all was said and done, I, for one, was more than impressed, and thought, Harry got his money's worth, for once.
Before you get the wrong impression, let me say, that I believe the idea that heavenly constellations influence our lives is hard to swallow. But I do believe that one can perhaps use these things as some sort of gauge of parallel events, as if they are both similar manifestations of a coincidental destiny. I don't think the rooster's crowing makes the sun rise, although the rooster might. But I do think the two things can be rather accurately predicted to coincide, connected by coincidence, and seemingly related.
Later in the week I invited the astrologer to come up to our house for dinner. Harry's wife Pat, who had, by then, separated from Harry, was escorted by Lou Serard, Colorform’s plant engineer. After dinner, the Guest of Honor offered to entertain us with an experiment in Group Hypnosis and self-awareness. What followed was both amazing, and almost comically Surreal.
At the astrologer’s request, we all lay on the floor of the front room, while he spoke to us from the couch. Pat is a very refined Southern lady, but also a very good sport. She went along with it willingly. Still, the scene was more absurd than a Marx Brother's movie. Fortunately, the room was cloaked in darkness, so only Eunice and I knew how filthy the flea-bitten flocatti rug, on the living floor, really was, or that it was sometimes mistaken as a litter box by our six cats, in the light of day.
I was hoping to experience something extraordinary, and I did! Eunice, on the other hand, thought the whole thing was a lark, and rather stupid. She remained incredulous and unimpressed. But, I found it to be one of those rare experiences in my life that was truly "Out of the Ordinary".
I have spent a lot of time, before falling asleep at night, trying to induce dreams, without actually being asleep, usually, without success. A few times, it has happened quite by accident that I could actually SEE fleeting visions in my head, while still awake. But, until recently, this would never happen, when I chose, but only when I least expected it. On this occasion, to my absolute amazement, I could see everything clearly, and remember every detail, afterwards, as well.
After some preliminary Hypnotic Mumbo Jumbo, the astrologer instructed us to imagine we were in a wonderful place, and I instantly found myself lying on the grass in open country. I was looking upward at the sky. But, at the same time, I could also see the trees, and many flowers, and the hills and mountains of the countryside all around me. This ability to have full 360-degree vision has occurred only one other time, in a memorable and more recent, sleeping dream. But, even if only in a dream, it is nonetheless startling to experience perceptive powers, beyond those we possess, or can even visualize, in real life.
He asked each of us to speak out loud, and explain to the others what we were experiencing. I went first, as I was excited to share it. And afterwards, I was so absorbed with what I was still experiencing, that, although, I could hear the other’s voices, I can remember very little of what they said.
For most, Eunice included, it didn't seem to work. But I found the experience quite Exhilarating! Lying on my back, in the flower-strewn grass, surrounded by all of nature, I could see the sun rising and setting. And I saw stars appearing, one by one, until a million of them filled the sky, and then the moon came sailing across the heavens, followed by the sun rising again and setting, again, and again. I also saw clouds of every imagining, forming and changing, suggesting and becoming wondrous things, as they quickly traveled from one horizon to the other. Some clouds grew dark and angry, transforming into storms, as they rolled by, complete with flashing lightening. Afterwards, rainbows appeared, with every color of the rainbow, and others, I had never seen before. But, mostly, it was all a lovely summer day with fluffy white clouds and bright sunshine. All this I saw; and while it was all happening very quickly, it also seemed to continue for many years. As if I had been there in that place forever, and would continue to be there, even after I awoke.
When all the tales were told, the astrologer said: "Now, I want you to leave your bodies, and fly straight up 100 feet into the air. Then, look down upon yourself and fly down closer. And, tell us what you see".
Lou, who later had a romance with his secretary Gina, both leaving their former spouses and marrying each other, said he saw himself as Superman. Knowing Lou, this did not surprise me. Would that I could see myself, in such macho terms as he.
Now, like Superman, I too, flew straight up 100 feet into the air. And when I looked down, I was amazed to behold that I was no more than A CRYSTAL SPHERE [about the size of a large cantaloupe, and ever so slightly oval in shape]! I have no Idea where that thought or concept came from, or even the very words, Crystal Sphere. I had never had any reason, or occasion, to utter them before. Now, I spoke these words, for the first time, describing myself to the others. Meanwhile, even as I spoke, the Universe continued to swirl around me. And flying closer, I could clearly see the sunlight, moonlight, starlight, all the colors of the rainbow, and the darkness too, reflected on the surface, and at the same time, flowing into, and being absorbed, within the depths of the crystal sphere.
The light inside was tiny and condensed, like looking through the wrong end of a telescope. I could see it reflecting and bouncing around. As I hovered above it, the outer appearance of the object changed subtly, depending on the angle, from which I viewed it. From certain angles, it became gray and foggy, yet, at the very same time, the sphere remained transparent and crystal clear. And, while I was aware that light was pouring into it, I could also see that beams of radiance were shining out again.
We were instructed to re-enter our bodies, and shortly thereafter, we reentered the Real World. I could understand why Lou saw himself as Superman; I believe he had held that opinion for years, even in his waking state. But I have no idea where that Crystal Sphere came from. I would find it arbitrary and absurd if I hadn't "seen it with my own eyes".
Now, let us return to the present time. I think you may see where I am going with this. My ability to visualize things, before I fall asleep, has improved over the past twenty years. Either that, or my desire for absolute clarity, like my eyesight itself, is no longer as demanding as it used to be.
So, during my aerial explorations of Detroit, just a few weeks ago, of course, I traveled up and down Livernois Avenue. I swooped down and into the Woolworth's store on the corner of Seven Mile Road and Livernois. You might know I would head for there. And I became 8 years old again, checking out all the stuff in the toy department. I saw the bin from which I once shoplifted a cap bomb, and felt again the guilt and shame, that I have carried to this day. I smelled the Hot Dogs "with everything", including chili, which never failed to draw me like a magnet to the refreshment stand, beside the Exit door. And, I flew out that door, for once, without a hot dog in my hand, and up, to dip again, into the bookstore, just north and across the street. It was called, "Doubleday’s" I believe. I am twelve or thirteen now, and looking at the Pogo books, admiring, a cardboard Pogo Mobile that soon would be hanging in my room.
Then out again, and, without ascending high, into the record store next door. Now I am seven, staring at a wall covered in all the 78-RPM albums available, at the time. There weren't that many, then. They could all be lined up on one wall, their covers fully displayed. I see "Dumbo", with its disappointingly monochromatic cover, in only blue and white, but great music inside, right from the movie soundtrack, and next to it, the full-color album of songs from the newest Disney film, "Saludos Amigos". I would come to learn them all, by heart.
Then, out and up again; where will my memory lead me next? As I float and ponder pleasantly, night falls. And in the clear sky all around me, stars appear, and then dim slightly, as the full moon rises. And all along Livernois, thousands of bare light bulbs from the used car lots and neon signs twinkle on, and illuminate me, from below.
I look down, past the years, and in-between the many white fluffy clouds, like the perfect clouds, one sees in a Disney cartoon, rushing beneath me from west to east. And there below, I see myself, when I was only seventeen years old. I am getting out of my father's car. And, as I watch, I walk around to the passenger side, and reach for the door handle. And then, for some reason, perhaps by accident, I look up.
Could it be that what I saw, at that moment, floating above the city of Detroit, was actually myself, having traveled back in time, from 57 years in the future, in my true dream form, a Crystal Sphere?