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By Weston Phippen
Jim Dilettoso is playing a duet on a piano with a man who has a cross made of his own crusty, drying blood on his forehead.
On Dilettoso's own head is a mass of curly grayish hair. His mane dips and sways with the fluid rhythm he lays down, and his swaying locks, combined with his wire-rim glasses and the handsome seriousness of his face, evoke the eccentric genius and renowned UFO researcher he's rumored to be.
Plucking out a tentative melody on the higher keys, a moon-faced Giorgio Bongiovanni beams as he tries to keep up. With his tangled brown locks, Bongiovanni might be taken for a Deadhead if it weren't for the blackish dried blood decorating his forehead. Ridges of the finger-smoothed ocher make a crude cross a few inches wide; around the cross, a field of fresher, redder blood is smeared.
Bongiovanni's blood sources are hidden beneath fingerless gloves. Eight years ago, Bongiovanni claims, the Virgin Mary visited him, delivered a message about Jesus consorting with space aliens, and, after Bongiovanni offered to help carry Christ's message, the Virgin zapped his palms with lasers that came out of her eyes. He's been carrying his stigmata ever since, rubbing the blood coming from his palms, feet and other sites onto his forehead to maintain his cross.
The duet draws a swarm of photographers who block the view of the other 500 people sitting at tables in the ballroom of the Gold River Casino in Laughlin, Nevada.
It's the culminating Saturday-night banquet of the Seventh Annual International UFO Congress. There's a giant blowup space alien in the parking lot. Extraterrestrials and E.T. hybrids disguised as middle-aged white people sit among the Earthly guests munching on a lasagna buffet. In the hall next door, you can get your aura photographed.
Sitting at the head table, naturally, is Arizona secretary of state hopeful and former Phoenix councilwoman Frances Emma Barwood, who is scheduled to address the gathering.
"This is all new to us," Barwood's husband, Mike Siavelis, says sheepishly as the evening descends into surreality.
Barwood merely smiles.
Her tablemates include Stephen Bassett, Barwood's UFO political consultant who's paid to work the space-alien side of her bid to become secretary of state. He's busy introducing Barwood to the luminaries of the UFO community.
The man sitting across from Barwood, for example, Dr. Jim Harder, once taught electrical engineering at UC-Berkeley but today helps people, through hypnosis, recover memories of being abducted by aliens. Bassett speaks of Harder in hushed tones, clearly wanting Barwood to know that she's in the presence of UFO royalty.
Harder's wife, Cedar, leans over to make an even more startling revelation.
"My husband," she says, "he's an E.T."
"Did he tell you that?" she's asked.
"He didn't have to. I realized it by observation."
She should know. She reveals later that she recently recovered memories of being abducted by aliens herself.
Until Barwood's speech caps off the night, the UFO Congress will entertain itself with bad stand-up comedy, a "song for the future" by a woman who says she learned it by channeling aliens, and several group photos.
But the highlight is a tribute given to Shari Adamiak, who recently died. Rather than eulogize Adamiak with a description of who she was or what she accomplished, a severe woman chooses instead to tell a remarkable episode from Adamiak's life.
Adamiak had accompanied UFO researcher Steven Greer on an expedition into Mexico. There, in a remote area, the two were surprised by soldiers carrying AK-47 rifles. Suspiciously, the soldiers' uniforms carried no insignia. Adamiak and Greer figured they were dead, but they prayed ardently to space aliens. In obvious answer to their plaint, the two spotted a flying saucer overhead.
The craft had no sooner passed when the soldiers, remarkably . . . .
At this point, the narrator halts, sensing that even in this atmosphere of abject credulity, her story is reaching ridiculous proportions. To make sure everyone gets the point, she says emphatically, as a challenge: "This is a true story."
. . . the soldiers, under the beneficent influence of extraterrestrials, walked to a van, dropped their AK-47s, picked up guitars and began strumming, enabling Adamiak and Greer to make their escape.
"True story," Bassett assures Barwood.
Truth by assertion: It's in abundant supply at the UFO Congress, where people are more interested in discussing the implications of aliens living among us than looking for hard evidence of actual landings or abductions. As Cedar Harder will say later, the conventioneers have "moved beyond talking about the nuts and bolts of UFO investigation."
Aliens are here. They are mating with humans.
And the lights that appeared over Phoenix last March couldn't possibly have been anything of Earth.
It's been a remarkable year since hundreds of Arizonans thrilled to lights seen over much of the state March 13, 1997.
When Barwood, then a councilwoman, asked the city to look into the sightings, she became a national media phenomenon and will no doubt bring much outside attention--and outside campaign donations--to her otherwise unglamorous race for secretary of state.
Jim Dilettoso's own star has risen as a result of his proclamations that the lights over Phoenix could not have been flares, airplanes or anything else manmade. His scientific-sounding claims have made him and his Tempe firm, Village Labs, a regular in television, radio and newspaper reports.