Rod Steward

A 25-year-old professional skateboarder is sitting on the floor of his Tempe apartment saying this to me:

"We don't have any footage of them actually penetrating anything, but they appear to go into the ground, they appear to come out of the ground; I think they would go right through you. I've got a scientist friend that thinks they are noncorporeal; that they would go right through you and you wouldn't even know it. They could be coming from another dimension. All that's really far-fetched, but the possibilities are endless until we get some scientists, biologists, whatever, to go out there and study it. If we've discovered some new animal that we didn't know about . . . that'd be cool."

Ah, but you have no idea what he is talking about. Well, neither do I. And, as you can plainly see, neither does he. That is because "they" are unidentified. Along with two other crucial qualities: "They" fly, and "they" are objects.

Unidentified Flying Objects.
Not, as the French would say, soucoupe volante typique--typical flying saucers--not those glorified pie tins that have been zipping about for decades, stunning the wanna-believers and dulling the rest of us with empty promises of friendly contact or merciless destruction.

What this young man is on to--if he is to be believed--is a variety of UFO that is pretty much brand-new. Perhaps organic, perhaps from outer space, but one that we, as residents of the Valley of the Sun, can call our very own. For over the course of two days in December of 1994, he videotaped these dark, hazy, eel-like objects dipping and weaving through the air in his Tempe backyard in broad daylight. His tapes, along with footage his partner has taken in New Mexico, will soon be released under a title that sums up everything I have written so far in five words and a colon. Rods: Mysterious Objects Among Us.

Yes, they are named Rods. And he is named Jeff Ferris.

UFO fanciers--like Christians, alcoholics and NRA members--come in a wide array of types and styles. From the polyester-clad, straight-faced citizens who talk of brain implants and monthly abductions, to the Ward Cleaverish, ex-military types who nervously relate cryptic tales of things on radar screens they were later informed they never saw.

Where Jeff Ferris falls is up to you. Nice, pleasant, Wisconsin-born guy. Clean-cut. Small tattoo on his right ankle that "signifies nothing." Plays drums. Part-time actor--was once a stand-in for Rob Schneider in a film, and appeared in a Wal-Mart commercial. Utilizes his considerable skateboard-stunt talents in antidrug shows at elementary schools. Has a wonderful relationship with his roommate of six years, a dog named Shelby. Thinks Carl Sagan is "a jackass."

And Ferris is absolutely passionate about the Rods.
The story begins two years ago, when Ferris (who has been interested in UFOs "since I was a kid") attended a UFO convention in Mesa, and met his future partner in Rod video, a filmmaker named Jose Escamilla. Los Angeles-based Escamilla had taped a slew of bizarre, airborne objects at his family home in Midway, a small town a few miles southeast of Roswell, New Mexico--the Bethlehem of UFO sightings.

"He had a workshop [at the convention] where you'd sit around and he'd show you videos and talk to you for two hours, and I was the only one who showed up," Ferris says. "So I really got to sit down and talk, and I was blown away."

What blew him away?
"Some of them look like typical UFOs, domed-saucer metallic-type things, but there was also these things that were flying in front of the camera at an intense rate of speed that you couldn't even clock," explains Ferris, sitting beneath a poster that says "UFO: Contact From the Pleiades." "They looked like bugs or something, and if you blinked, you'd miss them."

Hardly bugs, hardly just "something." Little did Ferris know, but he was viewing Rods.

"[Escamilla] kind of found these by accident, and in frame-by-frame slow motion, they were these long, cigar-shaped things that were coming out of the ground, shooting into the ground, and we estimated them from anywhere from a couple feet to a hundred feet in length. Doing computer work, there was a way to estimate the speed of one . . . and this thing went 900 yards in an 18th of a second. That's when I thought, 'What the hell is that?'

"He invited anyone to come out [to Midway] with binoculars and watch this. . . . I went out there. I'd never seen a UFO, so I wanted to go out there and experience it. That's how I got involved in what I'm going to show you."

Now comes the good part.
I'm in the living room; Ferris squats in a pile of videotapes, some of the 100-hours-plus he's collected, ready to load the VCR and slam me upside my skeptical head with Rod footage. First up is Escamilla's The Midway Sightings, which opens with a strident, pounding, classical piece. (Escamilla scored the tape himself, based on "the feelings he experienced when he made the sightings.") We see a few metallic things moving somewhat awkwardly through the sky--shaky round "craft" that jiggle against the blue sky. Generic UFO clips.

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