Where were you when the lights went out?

Several unanticipated problems arose this afternoon when electric power failed at the local shopping mall. Fortunately nobody was hurt, and order was eventually restored.

The restaurants in the food court of course could not cook more food. One fast food establishment had some sandwiches and salads already prepared, but financial transactions were still difficult without use of the cash registers. Eventually, the manager discovered that one of his recently-hired workers was home schooled and was able to calculate correct change in her head, so the food was sold before it spoiled.

Emergency lights came on in the main corridors of the mall, but the rear sections of many stores were shrouded in darkness. One customer, trapped in darkness in a dressing room, mistakenly put on three pairs of pants in his confusion. Eventually he found his way out of the dressing room. When the magnitude of the problem was realized, store employees and regular customers all over the mall began using their cell phones as flashlights to rescue those customers who were trapped in the darkness. One helper spent fifteen minutes trying to comfort a woman apparently frozen in terror in the darkness. When a second helper arrived, the two of them discovered that the first helper had been consoling a mannequin.

Some customers became confused about which store was which in the darkness. A number of men of various ages stumbled in and out of Victoria’s Secret, claiming that they were trying to find the tools department of J. C. Penney.

Most traumatized were the people trapped on the mall’s escalators. Security was able to assist those who were near the top or bottom of an escalator when the power went out, but those trapped in the middle had to wait nearly two hours for electricity to be restored.

Happy April Fools’ Day to all, and to all a good night. J.

UFO sighting

Until this week, I had always assumed that reports of UFOs were the result largely of human imagination and a desire to believe in extraterrestrial life. A man can change his mind, though, and after what happened to me last night, I know that UFOs exist.

Let me say first, though, that the definition of a UFO does not require belief in extraterrestrial visitors. The official meaning of the acronym UFO is Unidentified Flying Object. Many things that are unidentified are still of earthly origin. Often people who report seeing UFOs are in fact responding to the sight of weather balloons, man-made aircraft, or even natural phenomena. An airport’s radar may pick up UFOs from time to time—some are aircraft that have failed to identify themselves properly, others might be flocks of birds or similar natural objects moving through the air.

Much of the evidence I’ve heard to support the idea of extraterrestrial UFOs in Earth’s sky seems rather shaky, to tell the truth. I’ve heard people seriously propose that UFOs are often seen near military airbases because they are investigating human technology, especially that involving flight. To me it has always seemed more likely that those witnesses are seeing experimental craft, vehicles made here on Earth even if they are unlike most aircraft. The sheer number of reports of UFOs from generally reliable people has not shaken my doubt; reliable people can be sincerely wrong about their interpretation of what they have seen.

I have lived near airports much of my life, including small airports, large public airports, and USAF bases. I have observed aircraft appear to behave in startling ways, especially when I’m viewing them through the windshield of my car. An airplane might seem to have jumped from one location to another at an impossible speed, but the appearance of rapid movement is due to my having traveled along a curve in the road. Moreover, in spite of my many sightings of aircraft, most of them remained “unidentified” so far as my knowledge is concerned. I cannot tell the difference, for example, between a Cessna and a Piper, or between a DC-10 and a 787. I’m a little better at identifying birds. Minutes before I witnessed my first UFO, I saw a pair of ducks fly over the road. Although the sun was going down, I recognized their outline as ducks rather than geese or hawks or herons.

But shortly after I saw the ducks, I saw an amazing thing through my windshield. I supposed it could be described as “cigar-shaped,” if the cigar had been smoked to about half its length. I could not tell how big it was because I did not know how far away it was; likewise, I could not tell how far away it was because I did not know how big it was. It was hovering over the road, seen in silhouette in the deepening twilight. I stared at it for several minutes, and it remained hanging in the air, neither drawing closer or moving away from me.

Most vivid of all, though, were the lights on the UFO. As I say, I’ve seen standard aircraft, and I am familiar with the kinds of lights they use. These were entirely different. For one thing, these lights were in a vertical array, perfectly round, and in several different colors. They flashed on and off in what appeared to be a regular pattern. As I recall, the pattern began with yellow, followed by red and then green. And, most puzzling of all, whenever the lights changed to green, the cars behind me would begin honking their horns. J.