Friday, December 21, 2018

I Never Got to San Francisco

I'll tell you something.

In 1967, everybody was going to San Francisco for the Summer of Love. I wanted to go to San Francisco, I wanted to be a hippie, I wanted to wear flowers in my hair, but I couldn't. I was living in Boulder, CO, I was married, my wife had just given birth to our son, I was chasing flying saucers for a living, and I didn't know what kind of flowers you were supposed to wear.

You probably think that if I was on such good terms with flying saucers, I should have had no trouble getting a quick hop to San Francisco, taking my family with me, and even finding out which flowers I was supposed to wear.

Notice that I said I was "chasing" flying saucers. I never caught any, nor did anyone else on the University of Colorado Scientific Study of Unidentified Flying Objects, better known as the "Condon Project" after its director, Edward U. Condon. The U.S. Air Force had given C.U. $313,000 to study the UFO phenomenon so that the matter of little green men in their flying teacups and saucers would be laid to rest once and for all. A psychologist who was part of the study team hired me to be his research associate, because he had no knowledge whatsoever about green men or the kind of saucers that aren't content to stay put on your dining-room table, and I did.

I knew all about UFOs (or "oofoes," as Dr. Condon called them), because I had read everything I could about them, and the psychologist hadn't. So, I helped him prepare the questionnaire that we gave to people who had had sightings, I interviewed them, I wrote letters to people who claimed to have made contact or had close sightings (such as actor Stuart Whitman in the 1965 NYC blackout), one night I went up in the control tower at Denver Stapleton Airport to observe one land as was promised by a Mr. X from the Western Slope (It didn't.), I coded sightings for the computer study, and I flew to Harrisburg, PA, to investigate a flurry of sightings and to gather evidence. (We didn't see any flurries, and we brought back only a Super-8 film of a wiggly white light on a totally black background, a Super-8 film of two small silver lights in a blue sky, and a sample of fungus.)

Meanwhile, my family was growing. My wife and I didn't get any bigger, but my son was growing like a house afire. No, wait! A house afire doesn't grow at all. In fact, it gets smaller as the fire keeps going. So, to be more accurate (This is important, the part about being accurate.), my son was growing like a house abuilding or a-adding on. I realized that chasing flying saucers would probably not be a career to keep me in rocking chairs and dentures later in life, no matter how much money the Air Force would throw away at us, and I began to look around for another career.

This Search for Another Career was probably a Good Thing, because I was becoming an embarrassment to the Condon Team. Whenever visiting dignitaries, high-level Air Force officers, or internationally known scientists and flying-saucer experts arrived to see how well we were spending money, the protocol was first to establish everyone's credentials. No one questioned the Air Force guys, because we could see by their outfits that they were the ones paying our salaries. But when two un-uniformed people got together, the opening conversation usually went like this:

FIRST SCIENTIST: What's your field?

SECOND SCIENTIST: Astrophysics. (Sometimes, "Plasma Phenomena.")

FIRST SCIENTIST (turning toward me): And what's your field?

ME: English literature.

Therefore, rather than take the chance of getting flying-saucer burnout, I applied to IBM to be a technical writer. (Remember that part about being more accurate? That's important when you're a technical writer.)

I got the job, I didn't get flying-saucer burnout, I missed the investigation of Snippy the Horse, and my wife wasn't embarrassed when people asked her what I did for a living.

IBM sent me to Poughkeepsie, NY, for programming school, and every morning at breakfast I played Scott MacKenzie's "San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)" over and over on the juke box the entire time I was in the dining room.

And that's the closest I got to San Francisco in the summer of 1967.


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