My Own Doc Emmet Brown. With Mind Lasers.

When I am old, and I pad my life story with outrageous lies designed to make my grandchildren think that I was a cross between Tom Swift and the Last of the Pirate Fighters*, there are a few stories that I won’t have to make up. Like how, when I was young, my dad was a professional UFO hunter, and how I would sometimes spend evenings at the undisclosed location of The Site in the foothills of Austin, Texas.

Project Starlight, as the group was named, was led by Ray Stanford, who is a really interesting guy. The group looked for UFOs, partly through psychic phenomena (hey, that seemed as reasonable in the seventies as the possibility of nanobot takeover did in the nineties), and partly by attempting contact through beaming laser messages and mathematically-encoded circles of floodlights aimed heavenwards. Here’s an excerpt from an article published in Texas Monthly, in February 1976:

“Let us review the purpose of all this equipment, which is known collectively as UFO/VECTOR (UFO/Video Experiment Console for Transitional Overt Response). Let us postulate a UFO hovering over the hills west of Austin looking for action. As soon as it is sighted, the PSI crew, each in a white suit, each with a penlight in his or her pocket, will scramble. They put on their radiation goggles; the magnetometer bleats; the light circle flashes pi pi pi; from three coordinated camera positions 35mm still telephoto pictures are taken; video signals are recorded; video data is transmitted; through the photomultiplier photos are, uh, multiplied; a soon-to-be-installed gravitometer records any gravitational effects the spacecraft might be producing; a parabolic dish with a microphone attached records the sound.”

Anyhow, you can see pictures of me hanging out at The Site, with the UFO/VECTOR equipment in the background, and lots of skinny men in tight sweaters standing around gravely examining it. (My mom shot photos for the article; I think the photos of me are from that set.)

A year or so ago, I asked my dad what he had heard about Ray, and he said that Ray was interested in dinosaurs, and had put together an outfit called “Cretaceous Tracker”, which made me fervently hope that Ray was traveling to inner Brazil in search of a Lost World plateau. Nope, Ray was legit, and has been spending time looking in Maryland streambeds for dinosaur tracks. Just this week, national newswires have been carrying the news that Ray recently published a find of some importance. Rock on, Ray!

Of course, Ray seems to have his share of skepticism (and sour grapes?), as his past is more… eclectic than many paleontologists (Cleveland Museum of Natural History flame 1 flame 2.) Ray’s 1974 plans for a time-travel device — the Hilarion Accelarator — seem in particular to strike a nerve with staid Ohio rock-hammer types.

Anyhow, I have fond memories of Ray, and the time he used to take to describe to me how a Star of David inscribed in a circle is actually a geometrically precise way to assign the loci of plasma-carrying propulsion lasers for interstellar drives (hence the importance of this sign to ancient religions.) Also, once when I was waking up screaming a lot in the middle of the night, Ray staked our house out from the middle of the street, and detected that “an entity” was shambling up out of the sewage ditch across the street and heading for my nursery wall every night, which was causing the yelling. Yikes! Ray “directed some psychic energy” to disperse the entity, solving the problem (and the night waking, apparently.)

Now, wherever that story moves the needle to on your bullshit detector, you have to admit that having a psychic-warrior mad-scientist uncle type who was willing to stake out your bedroom like a cop and fight ghosts with mind lasers is pretty damn cool. Thanks, Ray! Congratulations on the find!

The full article on Project Starlight is available from Texas Mothly here: Texas Monthly February, 1976: “Planet X! We’re Waiting For You!”

* It is my fervent hope that, when the granchildren check my references, that Kate will say “Why yes, dear, your grandfather did win my hand from my father, the bloodthirsty Pasha of the Ottoman Pirates** through single combat!” and clench her ivory knitting needles in her teeth with a glitter in her eye. One hopes to marry into this kind of family.

** I’m confident that, if asked, Kate’s dad will affirm that he used to be the bloodthirsty Pasha of the Ottoman Pirates, and that I bested him only because I swept the leg.

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