My Favorite Martian

My Favorite Martian.

Yesterday, the NASA Mars rover, Perseverance, landed on the red planet. I was slightly intrigued, but not nearly as interested as I would have been if it had happened in the 1970s. In the 1970s, Americans were obsessed with Mars, Unidentified Flying Objects, Martians, aliens, and Skylab. Remember Skylab? Remember folks making a quick buck on Skylab repellent when we knew the orbiter was going to be falling back to earth, crash-landing somewhere?

Skylab was the first United States space station, launched in May of 1973. Six years later, in 1979, its orbit began to decay, and NASA could no longer communicate with the satellite. I was 12 at the time, and while we awaited the “crash,” I was truly concerned Skylab would cut my life short when it fell to earth. I felt sure I would die without ever having kissed a boy. Kids in the neighborhood were talking about it, and I was terrified. My parents tried to tell me the odds of that happening were very minute, but when you’re 12…it’s scary, especially when people are selling Skylab repellent, even as a joke. Skylab came “crashing” to earth in July 1979…ultimately disintegrating over Esperance, Australia, where residents saw bright lights and heard sonic booms before finding debris from the space station spread over their town.Once I heard it had fallen in Australia, I could relax, and I desperately wanted one of those t-shirts announcing “I survived Skylab.” I didn’t get one…I’m sure my parents thought it would be a ridiculous waste of money, but I sure wish I had one now…just as a silly souvenir.

Today, with the landing of Perseverance on Mars, people are talking about Martians again. “What if we hear whispers from Mars?” “What if we see alien beings on the red planet?” It’s enough to make a 12-yr-old kid worry, right?

I spent my entire childhood looking for UFOs in the sky. We heard about them from every angle, including The Brady Bunch. Remember when Greg tricked Bobby and Peter into thinking a UFO was flying past their house? Remember the chaos it created?

I don’t know that I’ve ever seen a UFO, but when I was six or seven, the local high school had its annual bonfire. I don’t even really know what happened, but maybe a helicopter flew nearby? Who knows? It had to be 1973 or 1974, when UFO talk was at its peak. Someone at the bonfire made me think there was a UFO in the vicinity. To me, at that age, “UFO” meant alien spaceship ready to land, kidnap me, and probe my belly button to learn more about the human race. I was terrified. I ran to my friend’s mother’s car as fast as I could and jumped into the backseat. I don’t even know what happened after that. She took me home, but I truly believed there had been an alien spaceship at the bonfire…hovering over TR Miller High School, in Brewton, Alabama. Hmmm…why would an alien spaceship want a small child from Brewton, Alabama? Short answer: no alien spaceship wants a kid from Brewton. No offense to the kids from Brewton, but if I’m landing an alien spaceship somewhere, it’s more likely to be in the desert in Arizona or somewhere…not small town Alabama.

Adding to my personal belief in alien beings was the TV show called My Favorite Martian. I don’t even know how I watched it, since it premiered in 1963 (four years before I was born) and only ran for three seasons…in reruns, I guess…probably after school. My Favorite Martian starred Bill Bixby as Tim O’Hara and Ray Walston as “Uncle Martin,” or the Martian anthropologist who crash-landed on Earth and was rescued and taken in by O’Hara. I don’t remember a lot about the show itself, but now that I have it on my mind, I plan to watch a few episodes on Amazon Prime. Yep, if you’ve never seen it or if you liked it back in the day, you can watch it free with your Amazon Prime membership. I’ve actually watched the first episode and found it rather entertaining. Just be forewarned…it’s filmed in black and white. Also, the first episode has some racy references about “a man’s metabolism.” Who knew?

Of course, seeing Ray Walston in My Favorite Martian made me think about Fast Times at Ridgemont High. Yes, this is how my brain works…from Skylab to Fast Times at Ridgemont High…it’s why I’m good at Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. (Not familiar with Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? It’s a game based on the premise that we are all separated by six degrees of separation or fewer. In the “Kevin Bacon” version, participants try to find connections between Bacon and another famous person in six steps or fewer.) Walston was awesome in Fast Times. I don’t know if his character, Mr. Hand, a history teacher at Ridgemont High, would be very interested in the Perseverance landing on Mars, but surely he would recognize it as a significant historical event.

It is an historical event, indeed, even though the people of our country don’t seem nearly as excited about it as we have seemed about other NASA missions. I guess we have all been conditioned to it by now. And while I don’t find it particularly interesting, I will be listening for news of life on the red planet…life that’s bigger than an amoeba.

Where Are The Killer Bees?!?

In the 1970s, the fear was real.

If you were alive then, you know it’s true. You likely had some fear of killer bees, quicksand, and UFOs. Thanks to movies and TV, we heard about them all the time.

UFOs are featured on an episode of The Brady Bunch…Peter and Bobby think they see a UFO, only to find out it’s a hoax carried out by oldest brother, Greg. See a clip here from the episode titled Out of This World. We saw quicksand on Gilligan’s Island and lots of other shows. See a clip from a quicksand episode of Gilligan’s Island called Man With a Net  here. And killer bees? Movies about killer bees were rampant in the 1970s…The Savage Bees, The Swarm...we were scared.

When I was seven, I attended a high school bonfire with a neighborhood friend and her family. She had older siblings, so she got to go to all the cool stuff. I remember the excitement around it. I thought the bonfire was amazing…right up until panic set in. It seemed like everyone got scared, but it might have just been the little kids. Somehow, we thought a UFO was in the area. I think someone saw a helicopter and thought it was an alien spaceship. Kids started running in all directions. We ran to my friend’s mother’s car…and we talked about it at school for weeks. I don’t know how likely it was that an alien spaceship wanted to investigate kids and teenagers in Brewton, Alabama, but my 7-year-old self was convinced they wanted me. Our fears were fed by movies like Close Encounters Of The Third Kind, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, and Escape to Witch Mountain (which starred a young Kim Richards of The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills). Call me crazy, but I still think aliens from far away lands might be watching us. I’m always watching for flying saucers in the sky. If there is ever a UFO in my area…and if I’m awake…I’m going to be the one who sees it.

Alien_Flying_Saucer_-_panoramio-2

I spent my entire childhood worrying about quicksand. Like I said, it was featured in cartoons and television shows. I remember seeing it on Gilligan’s Island; Johnny Quest; Scooby Doo; Batman; Fantasy Island; The Six Million Dollar Man; Tarzan; The Dukes of Hazard; and more. It was everywhere on television, and we watched a lot of television as kids. That was our screen time. We saw quicksand so often on television that we thought it must be everywhere. In Alabama, back then, we still had woods where we could roam. I didn’t roam as much as my brother did, but when I did, if I found myself stepping into thick mud, I was immediately convinced it was quicksand. My friend, Mary Ann, says she used to poke the ground with a big stick in front of her to make sure it wasn’t quicksand. It seemed that any time quicksand was featured on TV, the victim sank completely, drowning in it or they sank up to his/her neck…except for one dead arm sticking out. For years, I thought that anyone who died in quicksand left one arm sticking up out of it. Yet, I’ve never seen quicksand. I’ve seen a warning sign for it near the Battleship USS Alabama, in Mobile, but I don’t know if it’s still there. So where did all the quicksand go?!?! Why don’t we hear about it anymore?

As for killer bees…well, that fear was absolutely real. They were on every kid’s mind in the south. Heck, we already had fire ants before everyone else, and those were scary enough. But killer bees?!?!? Those were like flying fire ants! I remember watching a made-for-TV movie called The Savage Bees in 1976. It was about a ship that arrived in New Orleans with a dead crew….killer bees. That television movie just made it more real for me. New Orleans was just a couple of hours way from where I lived in Spanish Fort, Alabama! What if killer bees came in on a ship from another country? It was almost enough to make a kid afraid to go outside, because if killer bees were in the area, there was no escaping them, according to the TV movie. If they wanted you, they would get you…through cracks under doors and vents to get into your house. I don’t remember all the details, but I know a lady drove an “airtight” VW Beetle into the Superdome with a swarm of bees all over it. She drove onto the field, and when the temperature reached a certain point (49 degrees?), the bees died…saving the city of New Orleans and the rest of the US from the savage bees.

Movies and TV loved trying to scare us in the 1970s. Maybe you remember Skylab falling. Remember Jaws? Weren’t we all afraid to go into the water? Heck…I’m still afraid! Or who remembers Squirm? It was released in 1976. It was a movie about worms attacking people. I was in fourth grade when it was released. I didn’t get to see it, because it was rated R, but my friend, Greg Wilson, got to see it. I remember when he came to school talking about it, and we all gathered around to hear about it. He’s fearless now, and I guess his parents knew he was fearless then.

Anytime I mention quicksand, UFOs, or killer bees to a friend or family member who was alive in the 1970s, we laugh…it becomes a funny conversation. And then, we always talk about how we never hear about those things anymore.

Maybe I should be reminding folks to be careful…watch for quicksand under your feet; watch for UFOs in the sky; and drive an airtight VW Beetle to avoid the killer bees.