This article was published in the daily newspaper The Saginaw News, Michigan, USA, on March 8, 2004.
Alien beings affect some
Monday, March 08, 2004
It's early afternoon, and Jeff is sitting in front of a dozen- plus Delta College students, each ear and eye tuned tightly to him and his out-of-this-world story.
Leaning against the chalkboard over his shoulder are three pieces of art he's authored. They depict a different alien being the 37-year-old mid-Michigan resident claims to have confronted.
"That dude in the middle," one student says, pointing toward the painting of a preying mantis-like creature that seems to crackle with a menacing static. "Man, I don't know about him."
But that's beside the point.
Class of its own
"There are people who say you shouldn't be teaching this kind of thing in your classrooms," says Alan G. Hill, a Delta associate professor of sociology who has dealt with unexplained phenomenon such as Jeff's close encounters for decades now. "Some just think it's a waste of money."
Hill is not one of those people. As the instructor of this class -- titled Social Issues Seminar -- his interest in the paranormal has manifested itself during the past several years into an educational setting that explores sociological movements such as riots, rumors, urban legends and today's subject, alien abductions.
Some might deem the subjects irrelevant, he says. There was a time when those same critics had similar words for two other topics his class touches upon: Christian and Islamic extremism.
"People used to say, 'How could that be important?' " Hill says.
Then Heaven's Gate and 9/11 happened.
What Hill is attempting to do with his class isn't to find the truth behind the topics or to turn his students into believers, he says. Whether the preying mantis dude is real is for the individual to decide, not for the teacher to determine, he says.
Instead, he wants to explore how these subjects fit into modern- day sociology.
"Let's just say this isn't true -- let's just pretend there's an explanation for all of this," he poses to his class. "This is still one of the most amazing sociological phenomenon we've ever come across."
Hill's students seem to prove that point, some staying as late as 45 minutes after class just to hear his guest speaker's story.
Jeff -- a mid-Michigan resident who chooses not to reveal his last name to protect his father, who is involved in high school athletics -- has visited Hill's class for the past five years.
"I have no love toward these experiences," Jeff says, the two Diet Cokes he's brought into the room an indicator he knows this will take a while to explain. "This isn't something I enjoy."
Jeff believes he's faced something extraordinary -- whether real or imagined -- since he was a young boy; back when he discovered what he thought were "big rats" inhabiting his home, back when "Santa's elves" visited his bedroom one Christmas Eve.
Jeff is older now and knows better. These aren't rodents he's seeing. Sometimes they're much nicer than that.
Other times, he says, they're much, much worse.
It was 1998 when Jeff returned to Central Michigan University as a student. The night after final exams, he woke up to find someone or something forcibly turning his head to its side.
Enter Mr. Mantis
"The next thing I knew, I had this," Jeff starts before turning to point at the preying mantis-like creature framed in his middle painting, "this thing coming down at my face."
He had a sense the man-size being wanted him to calm down even as it stuck a needle-like object into his ear.
"It wanted me to relax," Jeff says, a hint of 6-year-old exasperation still resonant in his voice. "I was like, '(Expletive) no.' "
Jeff fought the encounter to no avail, waking up the next morning with strained neck muscles and an eye he could barely see with.
Not all of his experiences were so chilling.
In 1994, he says a small gray alien creature woke him from sleep so he could escape a fire raging in his apartment.
Sometimes, Jeff says, the encounters are even laughable.
Jeff's girlfriend -- another so-called abductee he met through friends in the UFO movement circle -- moved in with him several years ago. That didn't sit too well with the beings visiting her.
One night a creature woke him from sleep, paralyzed him, and seemed to complain that Jeff's abductors were interfering with his girlfriend's abductors.
"I guess I was making his job difficult," he laughs. "There seemed to be a scheduling conflict there."
Jeff says his encounters are slowing down now, his last coming more than a month ago. That's a contrast to the daily visitations he once received.
Coming to this classroom once a year is "therapy," as he calls it. Jeff tries to avoid the media with obvious exceptions. He believes -- as Hill does -- that topics such as his experiences need attention more than coverage, ears more than television cameras.
Jon J. Gallagher, for one, is listening.
"You can watch as many documentaries as you want," says Gallagher, a 21-year-old student in the class. "When there's a guy sitting in a room with you -- someone you can shake hands with -- that makes it very real."
Ryan J. Ames, a 19-year-old "pretty devoted" Christian, says he opposed claims such as Jeff's before he took Hill's class.
"Now I'm able to step back and have an open mind about it," Ames says.
Nineteen-year-old Nicole J. Bates began the semester unaware of what she was getting into.
During a break in the first of the three-hour classes, Bates told Hill she probably would drop out because she didn't believe in the paranormal. Hill swayed her to stay, saying believing isn't a prerequisite to the course; only an open mind.
After hearing Jeff, Bates admits she's playing a different tune now.
"There's no way (Jeff) was making it up," she says, adding that if his experiences aren't real, she at least thinks he believes they are "I still don't know what to make of it."