Did you arrive on this planet without a set of instructions?
If so, perhaps you had the good fortune to stop by UFO Expo West last weekend at the Hyatt Hotel at LAX, where a "cosmic instruction manual" was on sale, offering solutions to this and other pressing problems experienced by extraterrestrials.
More than 800 UFO buffs made the pilgrimage to the two-day gathering, paying $19 to $26 each for general admission, and an additional $21 to $29 for each of the three dozen featured workshops they attended.
Between workshops, they could stop in the corridor and have their auras read ($10), their psyches explored ($20 for 20 minutes), or buy model flying saucers ($5 to $300, the latter a special-order item with blinking lights to help viewers get their psyches in tune).
Inside the workshops, there were several recurring themes: UFOs are for real; aliens are among us, and the U.S. government and the media are conspiring to cover it all up.
Featured speakers included John Lear, son of the inventor of the Lear jet and a near-legend among UFO buffs. Surrounded by half a dozen black-vested bodyguards (necessary, it is explained, because the government is trying to silence him), Lear informed his standing-room audience that:
* No less than 40 flying saucers have been recovered by the U.S. military, several subsequently reconstructed and flown by the Navy.
* Mars is populated by an advanced underground civilization of beings who resemble us.
* More than 70 alien species are already visiting Earth, among them a reptilian race.
* The government is holding an alien at a secret site in Nevada.
Dramatically delivered, the presentation got a rousing reception from the faithful, who heartily applauded Lear's blasts at the media for conspiring to withhold his findings.
But even at this gathering, not everyone was buying it. Two fellow UFOlogists (as they call themselves)--Canadian physicist Stanton Friedman and author Budd Hopkins--suggested that Lear's perceptions were colored by what they called his embattled outlook.
After Lear's speech, when a reporter attempted to question him about his findings, he broke off the interview in less than a minute and retreated behind his security guards.
Other speakers included George Green, investment banker by trade and UFO buff, who said that 18 months ago he was contacted via shortwave radio by beings from the Pleiades, a cluster of stars in the constellation Taurus.
The Pleiadians told him that aliens have already landed on earth. They take human form, but can be differentiated because they lack human energy levels and their "replicate" face masks tatter after a long period of exertion.
Among those whose masks have visibly tattered: the replicate George Bush. Next time the replicate Bush gives a TV speech, urged Green, watch his face at the end for signs of his tattering mask.
The faithful absorbed this announcement with respectful silence.
And there was a San Jose attorney with the pen name of William Bramley, whose $23.95 "The Gods of Eden" has sold nearly 10,000 copies, a best-seller for the UFO genre.
Bramley's research indicates that aliens first arrived several thousand years ago to mine Earth of its riches. Discovering the work to be more arduous than anticipated, however, the aliens genetically re-engineered a native species--early Homo sapiens--into a slave race.
Were humans ever to learn of the true nature of the alien presence, however, we would revolt against them. To distract us from this knowledge, the aliens have encouraged our international conflicts.
In an interview afterward, Bramley explained that, unlike other authors who use pen names as a marketing device, he cannot reveal his true identity. If he did, colleagues might laugh and his credibility before judges might be diminished, putting his clients' welfare in jeopardy.
And yet, amid the dozens of speakers with outlandish questionable claims, a few presented less easily dismissed evidence that, just maybe, something else is up there.
Navy physicist Dr. Bruce Maccabee, who has been investigating UFOs for 20 years, screened photos taken in the Florida resort of Gulf Breeze, where, within the past several months, UFO sightings have been frequent.
Maccabee explained that to be considered credible, each sighting has to be vouched for by at least one other observer independent of the photographer. Maccabee said he has developed a new technique designed to more credibly capture UFOs on film.
Through stereo photography, in which a single camera simultaneously takes a pair of photos from slightly different angles, Maccabee said he has been able to calculate that the photographed UFOs have come to within a few hundred feet of earth, and are themselves hundreds of feet wide.
Stanton Friedman, a Canadian nuclear physicist who said he has been investigating UFOs for 31 years, likewise said he believes that UFOs are indisputably flying over us.
Two of them once collided during a thunderstorm over Roswell, N.M., he said, presenting a photocopy of the Roswell Daily Record's front page of July 8, 1947. The headline on the leading story read: "RAAF (Roswell Army Air Field) Captures Flying Saucer on Ranch in Roswell Region."
Military officials subsequently said that what people saw was a weather balloon carrying a tin-foil target. However, allegations persist among area witnesses of at least one UFO crash-landing on the site.
Friedman said he and a colleague have corroborated events surrounding recovery of the wreckage with 22 sources, almost all of whom were interviewed independently of each other.
Six of the witnesses allegedly handled pieces of the wreckage, Friedman said. One described a piece of metal-like foil that "could not be bent or broken . . . or even permanently dented" by a 16-pound sledge hammer. Almost weightless, it is . . . like a metal with plastic properties."
Citing evidence of this crash, and alleging that a full 20% of the sightings compiled by the Air Force have never been explained, Friedman said he was certain that UFOs are real. He said the government needs to quit denying the evidence or hiding it and should declassify its extensive UFO files for the public.
As evidence that the media is starting to move in this direction, Friedman cited an hourlong CBS special scheduled for Friday at 8 p.m., focusing on alleged UFO abductions of humans for study purposes.
In these abductions, humans are allegedly levitated in a bright beam of light, and are examined on board for several hours by aliens before being levitated back to their homes, their memories of the abduction erased. The abductees subsequently remember the incident through hypnosis.
A CBS spokeswoman confirmed that the coming special, narrated by James Earl Jones, features three abductees whose stories will be offered on camera.
"The producers premised the show on the belief that there is something here, or they wouldn't have done it," said the spokeswoman. However, she said, the show was produced independently of CBS News, and has not been vouched for by the network's news division.