There are many ways to portray an alien invasion in Science Fiction: The conspicuous in-your-face massive landings of extraterrestrial spacecraft –favored by summer blockbusters like Independence Day— or the more insidious form of a ‘silent invasion’, by way of infiltrating aliens that are indistinguishable from us into our communities or sensible military and/or civilian installations, so that these invaders can slowly but surely defeat us from within. This is undoubtedly the most disturbing form of alien invasion, because it could be happening right before our eyes and we wouldn’t even realize it… until it’s too late.
Some of the best examples of UFO-themed films make use of the alien infiltration plot: John Carpenter’s The Thing, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, They Live, etc. My friend and colleague Robbie Graham treated the subject at length on his seminal book Silver Screen Saucers. He also mentions how historians tend to treat these films as examples of the Cold War paranoia that spilled into many aspects of American culture —“anyone could be a Commie traitor!”— and yet the reason why aliens are the ultimate ‘5th columnist’ in the popular imaginarium, is because since the beginning of the modern era of UFOs there were those who claimed contact with the occupants of those shiny flying saucers, and those UFOnauts looked just like us according to the excited accounts of the Contactees. Indeed, it would be later when we would get reports of ‘alien-er’ visitors sporting all sort of anomalous body lengths and features: from big-headed dwarves to spindly giants, with hairy trolls and goblins in-between.
Let’s take for example John Carpenter’s The Thing, which we mentioned earlier: The reason the movie is so particularly thrilling is not only because anyone –or anything!— could be the shapeshifting alien parasite, but also because the story takes place in one of the most alien environments in our own planet –a base in the middle of Antarctica. A place so inhospitable you can literally freeze just by taking a stroll outside if you’re not wearing the right gear. The landscape itself becomes another predator chasing after the movie heroes once they lose communication with the outside world, making the situation even more claustrophobic. You die if you leave, and you die if you stay.
Yep, The Thing is probably one of the few horror movies I actually like and rewatch regularly. “But let’s be serious here,” one might say: “The Contactees were all hoaxters and charlatans (Venusians? Gimme a break!) Besides, invaders that look like us and infiltrate sensitive facilities happen only in the movies and TV shows, right?”
Well, that’s what I used to think, but once listened to the account of Mikey Kampmann, I’m not so sure anymore…
Now, you might not be familiar with the name of Mikey Kampmann, and there’s a good reason for that. He’s not part of any UFO lecturing circuit trying to peddle crazy stories about the Galactic Federation, or all the benevolent races trying to raise our ass to the 5th dimension and stuff. No, Mikey is just one of those adventuring types who felt the need to leave the small enclosures of his hometown and travel to the farthest reaches of the planet. And by “farthest” I mean “end-of-the-freaking-world” farthest!
On episode 166 of the Duncan Trussell Family Hour podcast, Mikey explains how he managed to get a job at the American south pole station for four months to fulfil a long-time dream. He doesn’t have any scientific or technical degrees, therefore he ended up as breakfast cook in charge of feeding 250 hungry base personnel each morning all by himself –so I guess in a John Carpenter-like scenario Mike would be Nauls, though I don’t know if he actually spent his tour roller-skating through the base’s corridors, at the beat of Stevie Wonder.
Mikey then goes to explain to Duncan the hurdles and steps he took in order to apply for that position at the station (the physical examinations, making sure you don’t have any cavities, etc.). He also discusses the type of scientific work they conduct there (astronomy-related stuff) and other aspects of the daily life at the base, like the fact that during the summer months the sun is always up; which, although fascinating on some level, makes the listener think this is going to be a pretty ordinary chat –even for a DTFH show, which will ALWAYS be filled with philosophical and metaphysical ponderings.
But then, Mikey drops a bombshell of Cosmic Watergate proportions…
At around 36 minutes into the recording, the conversation veers toward the strange lore circulating around the base with regards to ‘aliens’: How his boss at the base told Mikey on his very first day how ‘the grays’ are not often seen during the summer “because they mostly come out in the winter.” Was the comment part of some sort of weird initiation ritual in order to have some fun and break the tedium at the expense of the ‘ice rookies’, or is this an indication of what psychologists would describe as ‘cabin fever syndrome’? Given the quirkness of human nature, one would tend to think it was perhaps a bit of both.
And yet Mikey then proceeds to recount one personal experience he had inside the base, which would suggest perhaps there was something truly anomalous going on inside this remote station. The incident involved a couple (a man and a woman) who worked together in the kitchen with him; he explains how although they were a very lovable people and he got along great with them, there was something odd about these individuals he couldn’t quite put his finger on: Despite their claim that they came from Colorado “they had these accents that were bull$#!t” Mikey says, that made them sound foreign to him. The couple also said they had waited 3 whole years trying to get a job in Antarctica, whereas his own application only took a week at the most. Who spends 3 years of their lives waiting to go to Antarctica to become… a dishwasher??
One day the couple were at the dishpit and Mikey was bringing in some dirty dishes from the mess hall. The woman was standing right in front of the man, and as Mikey got closer he could hear they were having some sort of conversation; but he soon realized the man and a woman were not talking in any language he’d ever heard before!
“It wasn’t English or Spanish, and I didn’t recognize it (…) it sounded DIGITAL, truly!” he explains to Duncan, who asks Mikey to try and imitate the sounds he heard. Mikey’s recorded rendition of the ‘language’ –which I encourage anyone to hear– does sound like clicks and ‘tsk tsk’ snaps made out with the tongue, but he claims they had a mechanical quality to them.
The woman –who had her back toward Mikey and therefore could not see him as he was approaching them– was the one speaking to her husband in those robotic squeaks; the man eventually saw Mikey out of the corner of his eye, then looked at her wife who was still ‘talking’ and said to her “stop!”.
Mikey does not explain what he exactly did after he finally reached out to where they were standing at the dishpit. My guess is he probably left his load of dirty dishes by the sink and walked out of there without saying a word to them –the way most of us would’ve reacted in such an awkward situation.
To this day Mikey has no clue as to what was going on between this dishwashing couple from Colorado and their bizarre form of communication. The ‘legends about the grays’ he and his co-workers used to engage in —“who do you think is an alien?”— were mostly fun to him and didn’t take them too seriously. But could the man and woman he worked in that kitchen day in and day out be actual alien infiltrators?
In truth, the evidence supporting that outlandish claim is rather tenuous a best. We only have the testimony of a single man who, as sincere and honest as he sounds in the recording as he retells the event, remains as fallible and prone to making mistakes as the rest of us. We also have to take into consideration the unusual circumstances in which the event took place (i.e. in the middle of the south pole!) which would surely take its toll even among the most stable of individuals. Mikey also doesn’t shy away from the fact that life inside the base could be pretty hectic –lots and lots of wild parties where excess of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity were the norm. Maybe Mikey was recovering from a bad hangover and imagined the whole thing up?
There are also other avenues to consider, of course: Duncan proposes to him during the episode that instead of being scouts of an alien invading force, that perhaps these guys were human agents at the service of a foreign power, using some sort of secret language in order to pass sensitive information covertly. Although that seems a more reasonable assumption, it is not without logical holes either –wouldn’t it be easier to communicate through other means that wouldn’t raise suspicions among your co-workers, like using numbers or code-words in English that would sound innocuous to any bystander casually listening in?
Here I could propose a third possibility: What if these people were actually agents working for some American intelligence group, who were conducting a covert test meant to study the reactions of the personnel stationed at the base when faced with non-ordinary situations? Something akin to what is popularly referred to as gaslighting?
One thing’s for sure, and that is that after that bizarre incident at the kitchen Mikey started to closely watch the movements of the dishwashing couple, trying to learn more about them. He would casually spy on the man and woman during their free time, as they would wander off visiting the areas of the station which weren’t restricted, just like everybody else; but he never observed them doing anything unusual, or caught them off guard while they were taking off their human skin to groom their reptilian scales.
And Mike turned out to be not that casual in his espionage hobby, as he nonchalantly started out a rumor around the base about the possible alien nature of the couple! By the end of the summer season during his last week at the base, he was eventually confronted by them during one of the farewell parties. But instead of being mad or assimilating him into the Borg for blowing their cover, they acted as if they were amused by his suspicions!
“You think I’m an alien?” the woman teasingly asked Mikey point blank.
“I… I don’t know!” was the only thing he could blurt out as a reply. He did bring up the event at the dishpit, but didn’t have the nerve to actually ask her about the weird clicks. The three of them just kept drinking, laughing and enjoying the party –now I LOVE this anecdote because it’s so ambiguous: Ultimately the woman never denied Mikey’s suspicions; she just deflected him in the most ingenious way and at the most appropriate time. If these were aliens, they were surely masters in human psychology.
Mikey ends up the account by saying how, in some sort of symbolic gesture and as a compulsory way to express their feelings of fondness for each other at that moment, the three of them –Mike, the wife and the husband– leaned over and dry-kissed.
…And that’s it. No further mention of a hot human/reptilian menage-a-trois (Sorry, Ben and Aaron!). A few days later Mikey packed up his bags and left the station, never to see the odd couple again. He was only left with an ineffable sense of love and unity with two beings… who may or may not have been from this Earth.
Because even if they were from another world, why feed our fears into thinking they are among us for nefarious purposes? As much as I am a fan of John Carpenter’s The Thing, I prefer stories like K-Pax or Starman, in which the alien is visiting us out of a sense of sheer curiosity, and a desire to reach out to without freaking us out with their sole presence.
Who knows, maybe there’s another parallel universe in which washing human dishes is considered the ultimate form of extreme resort. Think about that next time you eat at your local diner –and be sure to be generous with the tip.