Close Encounters for the Third Time

For the first time in my life, I was finally able to sit through a viewing of Close Encounters of the Third Kind without getting freaked the fuck out. Finally, I was able to follow the plot, feel something for the characters, and get thrilled at the end sequence instead of averting my eyes every time one of those aliens appears on screen, like I had all my other viewings during my childhood and adolescence.

You don’t understand — aliens freak me out, and this movie is what did it. It struck a five-note chord in my soul because it hit right fucking home with me. Spielberg managed to put as many aspects of modern life into the movie as possible, and it hit my life so perfectly that it became too real for me to understand. At that age, I could not seperate fact from fiction.

When it debuted in 1977, I was a scant 5 years old, and my mother, my infant sister and I were living in the flat but sometimes arid and foothills-ish land of Lubbock, Texas. Mother was in the Air Force, stationed at Reese AFB. We spent a lot of time on base, hanging out in the squadron headquarters, walking on the tarmac during air shows, hearing the planes fly overhead all day and most nights, hiding from tornados in the NCO club. It was a military life for my mother, and as her son I got to experience every week the same kind of military environment you see in the movie.

Secondly, like the kid in the movie, I had toys. Battery operated toys that made noise. Record player. I had a toy xylophone, and our trailer had floor vents, and the TV was on a lot showing soaps during the day, news at night, Budweiser ads. We drank Coca Cola and shopped at Piggly Wiggly. Ate at McDonald’s and bought our gas at the nearby Shell station. Watch the movie to catch all these references (and boggle at the incredible amount of product placement, thank you Spielberg). It was too, too close to real life.

Third, and this is most important, I kinda looked like the kid in the movie. Had a big head and everything, and tottered along when I walked. My bedroom was at the back end of our trailer, with a hallway on the side connecting my room with the bathroom, a second bedroom, and the kitchen. Built into the wall of my room was a vanity with a huge mirror. If you stand in the kitchen and look down the hallway, you can see a reflection of yourself looking back.

So one night, shortly after watching the film, mother sent me to my room to prep for bed. My room, the hallway, and the kitchen lights were off, and as I began to go down the hall with only the light from the living room behind me, I saw a silhouette in the mirror and I freaked. It looked just like one of those aliens, big waterhead and all. Apparently I let forth a blood-curdling scream because mother ran over to see what the matter was, and I pointed crying. Can’t remember if she laughed (probably did), but she held my hand, pulled me down the hall, turning lights on all the way down, and proved that there was nothing there, that it was just me. It’s all a blur after that.

And there it is. A five-year-old’s freakout that stayed around for a lifetime. All through my adolescence, I tried sitting down and watching the movie whenever it’d come on TV, just to shed myself of the phobia. Even though some of the “fright” sequences would spook me a little, it was the final contact sequence at the end that would make me cover my head, change the channel, turn off the TV, or look the other way. I just couldn’t get over it…until tonight.

Now that I’m an old man, I get it. I can handle it. Yeah, there’s still some residual creep-factor; always will be when I think of the lights in the sky and the waterheads on the ground. But this time, I was able to judge the movie on its merits, philosophically, technically, cinematically. I was able to keep in my mind that those aliens are kids in rubber masks. That the big aliens are puppets. That the big-eyed kid wasn’t me. It finally makes sense. This finally means something.);


I’m sitting here at the very tail end of the weekend, and I can’t help but feel like I’ve completely wasted my time. Trying to find the words to say, to put together, to make myself feel like I’ve done something, like I’ve not let 56 hours of my life slip by with nothing to show for it. But it’s hard. There was once a time I could flood the page with meaning and passion. Once, I could fixate on a drawing and produce a thing of beauty. Now, I just want escape. Want to create without having to explain. Want to put out a chunk of creative output without providing a back story. Want to not be distracted. But in my middle age, all I can think of is my job and how, even though it’s great, I just want to turn off and escape it when I’m not at work. And when I’m not at work, I don’t want to work on anything; I just want to wander, to leave, to be unmotivated. And that is the horror of it all. That my motivation has vanished, and that I spent the last 56 hours of my life with nothing to show for it.

Diarrhea of the Mouth

A character flaw has recently come to my attention. Apparently, I have a tendency to tell stories from my life as an automatic response to memories triggered by the current conversation. You talk about being an english major, and I wax on about the three times I took the same literature class. You bring up multisided dice and I’ll unravel an other-people-story about my old gamer friends carrying suede drawstring baggies everywhere they went. If you say “hey, what’s up?”, I’ll rant about how my job stresses me out because I’m doing this hot project and my manager needs the numbers like yesterday and I really really need some coffee would you please serve me a small light roast I mean dark roast to go wait for here.

What alerted me to this was a conversation with an old friend who was chatting with me about a thing she did and how tough it was. She was venting about the circumstance and seeking some consolation. What resulted was me blabbing about a similar story from my adolescence. I fell into the pattern of the coffeeshop conversation, where you can sit and chat for hours and nothing is really said; it’s more like synchronized monologues. But other people know better than that. She called me out. Said I should write down my stories somewhere. Sell them, make money. Our conversation ended shortly thereafter once I realized I’d insensitively hit her tilt switch, and we haven’t talked much since.

If you notice me doing this kind of thing, call me out on it. Let me know in no uncertain terms that my behavior is annoying. Sure, it’ll hurt like hell emotionally to learn this lesson at such a late stage in my life, but I’ll learn. Eventually, I’ll stop talking and return to being the sounding board everybody wants in their life.

Roller Coaster

Technically, I am in-between jobs. As of Thursday, I am no longer a contractor, and as of tomorrow, I will be a full employee. And it’s about time.

But not without a thrillride, first.

See, on Tuesday, the manager responsible for my conversion got a call from Human Resources, and the message was to walk me out the door immediately. They got the results of my background check and did not like what they saw. That caught him by surprise, so he called my manager and told him the news. My manager threw the time-out signal. He remembered a conversation he and I (fortuitously) had in passing last week about how there’s another guy with my name in this state who’s apparently a criminal. So they immediately grabbed a conference room and phoned the HR staff again to discuss his conversation with me.

Shortly thereafter, he pulled me into the room for a chat, and HR agreed to have the background-check vendor send me a copy of the results. The determination that day was to keep me on as a contractor until a formal dispute could be launched and everything discovered once and for all.

So, Wednesday, that’s what I did. I reviewed the background check and found four notes regarding the criminal record of a man with my name, my exact birthdate, in Baxter county (where College Station is), who apparently has a major problem with drinking and driving and is currently serving the last of his 7 years in state prison for his third conviction. Coincidentally, he’s been in jail during the entirety of my time as a contractor. So I brought all this up to the HR rep, and he prompted me to call the vendor to begin the dispute process.

I explained to the vendor’s operator that I was not this guy, that I’ve had difficulties before with his name, birthdate, and felony record screwing me over, and that I have never been to Baxter county, so she took down some extra info like my driver license number and my biometric info (weight, height, eye color, hair color) and said she’d forward the info to the researchers for reevaluation. They’d let me know in three business days. After the call, it became a sit-and-wait game.

Luckily, they did their work quickly (because it really should’ve been a no-brainer) because they contacted me the next day to announce the other guy’s record has been expunged from mine, and that there’d be a note attached to my record (should they have to do another check on me in the future) stating what happened. I also got a call from HR telling me the head of security reexamined my case and gave me the green light to conversion, that the company apologizes for any potentially embarrassing (read legally-actionable) inconveniences, and that Monday would be my first day as a fully-badged employee with all the rights, duties, and responsibilities thereof.

And it’s about time.

I kinda feel like celebrating, but with the roller-coaster of this past week, I think I’ll hold off until I get my first paycheck. Just to be on the safe side.