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Something Wild

Alien lore and so much more

By David Templeton

Writer David Templeton takes interesting people to interesting movies in his ongoing quest for the ultimate post-film conversation. This time out, he calls up self-styled UFO researcher John Price to discuss the extraterrestrial comedy Men in Black.

JOHN PRICE is a born storyteller. As founder of the UFO Enigma Museum in Roswell, N.M.--where joy-riding aliens may or may not have crash-landed in 1957--and having grown up under the shadow of his hometown's "Martian Mecca" reputation, Price has heard so many "true" stories about flying saucers and such that he's become a walking, talking reference library of UFO lore and legend.

Suggest a subject; he'll come right back with whole string of well-spun stories. "Men in Black?" he says, when I phone him up at the sprawling barracks-like bunker that houses the atmospheric museum. "Sure, I can tell you about the 'men in black.'"

Smack in the middle of Roswell's 50th anniversary celebration of the event that many view as Day One of the invasion of planet Earth, Price's yarn-spinning skills are warmed up and in high gear, the result of trading tales day and night. His museum, it seems--lovingly crammed with funky UFO "evidence" and even a full-sized diorama of the alien crash site itself--has been packing in the tourists and TV cameras from around the globe. Price has also been signing a lot of books. Roswell: A Quest for Truth (Truthseeker, $19.95) is his charming, folksy memoir of his life as a UFO researcher.

Not surprisingly, Men in Black, the movie, starring Tommy Lee Jones and Will Smith as two of the well-dressed men in question, is an even bigger hit in Roswell than it is everywhere else, with lines of excited filmgoers wrapping around the block. In the wild, effects-driven romp--in which New York City has become a kind of Ellis Island for extraterrestrials looking for a home away from home--it is the "men in black" who diligently keep track of all the visitors, erasing all evidence of their existence while making sure they mind their manners.

"I saw it last night. It was very humorous," drawls Price. "But I was rather surprised that the 'men in black' were portrayed as, you know, our people, working for our own government. Most people think they're from some secret international organization.

"Some people . . . ," and here his voice drops down to a conspiratorial murmur, "even think the men in black are aliens themselves."

I experience a chill. A little one. Right down my back. Not so much from what Price says, but from the way he says it.

"So, um, who do you think they are?" I ask, shaking off the feeling. "Not sure," he replies simply. "But tales of the men in black have been prominent since the 1950s. People claim that if they snap a picture of a UFO, or get some documentation--or get too close to a story--they are always followed around by men wearing black suits, who come into their homes, ask them a lot of questions, and take the evidence."

He tells of a young couple he met who claimed they'd snapped some photos of a flying saucer and were soon visited by two dark-suited men who took the photos "for analysis," not knowing that the couple had stored the negatives in their safe.

"When these two guys never came back," Price says, "[the couple] went back to the safe, opened it up . . . ," he pauses dramatically, "and the negatives were gone."

Wham. Another chill. "So, do you believe this?" I ask.

"Don't know," he says shortly. "I guess about the wildest thing I ever heard was four or five years ago." It seems that a woman came to the museum shortly after it opened, complaining that a man had persistently followed her for days after some UFO evidence had been uncovered by friends of hers.

"She said that she was driving down the highway, and she looked behind her down the road, and there was this guy in a black car, following her . . . " He pauses, as I brace myself. "Several feet above the highway."

Wham! A full shiver, head to toe. Price chuckles. "That one's a little wild, even for me," he says. "Sometimes you have to wonder if some of these people aren't just plain fantasy-prone." As for personal experience with the MIB, Price has decidedly mixed emotions.

"They've been here, sure," he says. "Right after we opened the museum we would get mysterious people comin' through, government written all over them. Real, real, real nice suits--not always black--but dark. Expensive shoes, GI haircuts. They wouldn't ever speak. You could greet them and they'd just sort of . . . nod. They wouldn't sign the guest book, and they'd kind of look quickly without really taking anything in. Then out the door they'd go."

"Wasn't that kind of scary?" I probe.

"No sir. I thought it was kind of fun myself," he says, suddenly growing silent.

After a long pause, he continues. "I always said to myself that if they would just once try to shut us down, then I'd know we were on to something. That we had some real evidence here. Something important. I've always been a little bit disappointed that no one ever has. But we're still collecting," he adds brightly. "Sooner or later, they'll be back."

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From the July 17-23, 1997 issue of the Sonoma County Independent.

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