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.
And then, shooting up missilelike from a field is a Rod. My first Rod. There are more Rods, as the score takes a glorious turn into a "Moon River" vein. Rod after Rod zooms past, twisting in the air. I don't know what to make of this stuff, I really don't. It's weird, it's goofy, it's fascinating. When I play back my audiotape later at home, I hear myself chuckle and say, "What the fuck?!"
Ferris is saying other things. He points to the screen.
"There's a Rod--there's another Rod! This is the best daylight footage I think I've seen."
Imagine being very drunk and very sleepy and seeing a silver centipede fly by from a long way away. That's what one of the Rods looks like.
"Some of them appear to have little legs," acknowledges Ferris. "Look at this!"
He pops in his self-made tape, explaining the recipe for Rod spotting he learned from Escamilla, revealing how the Tempe footage came about.
"Set up your camera, aim it at the sky, get something in the background, a tree or something, let it run for two hours, then you sit down and watch a tape for two hours of your backyard. Jose had talked to me and said, 'Why don't you do that?' So I borrowed a camera from my dad and I set it up and I started seeing these things."
Rods, Rods, Rods.
What they remind me of are these small, dark parasites that recently showed up by the hundreds in a stagnant New Times drinking fountain over the course of a long weekend. But, obviously, Ferris' Rods are not in any drinking fountain, and they move much faster than weekend parasites.
You don't have to be an expert or lucky or insane to make a Rod sighting. Unlike conventional UFOs, they seem to be like smiles; they're out there, you just have to be aware.
Ferris certainly is. He's got a video he picked up in a thrift store for 50 cents; a bad documentary on Arizona ghost towns done out in the desert on a hand-held camcorder.
"I watched it all the way to the end and it's rolling credits with the desert in the background and, whoosh--this thing flies by," says Ferris. A Rod.
"I was watching the news about this earthquake in Mexico and they were showing this church that had been demolished, and a Rod flies by in the background."
One night he taped the show Sightings.
"It's showing black helicopters which are associated with cattle mutilations and a Rod flies right by them. I've got some other stuff: Footage from The Stuntman where the guy dove out of his helicopter into a cavern in Mexico that's miles deep, and there's like whole fleets of white Rods flying by this guy in this cavern. So we think it's like a nesting ground for them possibly."
I suggest that Hollywood Westerns may be an untapped mother lode of Rod appearances. Ferris is way ahead of me. "Oh, yeah. There's a Rod in Geronimo and in Maverick, too, I think.
"They don't broadcast live pictures from satellites anymore, and I'll show you why. During the STS-48 mission in the late '80s, they were broadcasting as it happened, and there are Rods--things that look like Rods that showed up there in space." We watch this video, which becomes even more of a visceral experience when Ferris puts on a CD of his hard-core band, Stand to Reason, turns the volume way up and plays air drums as outer space reveals itself to be Rod Central.
Now check this out:
"I've got some awesome Bigfoot footage where Rods appear. Look at this. This was in the Himalayas." Insert tape, and there is Bigfoot tramping through the snow. Guess what scorches by?
"Look for the Rod in this thing!" gushes Ferris, gesturing at the Bigfootage. "I was just watching it, and I'm like, 'Holy shit!'"
Ferris' and Escamilla's Rods have attracted TV's Inside Edition, though the segment presented another opinion.
"They did have the Skeptical Enquirer guys on; that's basically their job to try and discredit things--I'm sure the government pays them a lot of money to do it anyway--so they said they'd spent an afternoon, and they made one of these objects on a computer," Ferris says. He shows me the broadcast, two dour fellows reveal their computer-generated Rods. To me, there are, well, certain similarities.
To Ferris? "It doesn't really look like what we're videotaping."
Then he slips in a clip from Hard Copy. It is Playboy's 40th-anniversary playmate, Anna Marie Goddard, out in the woods on a shoot. She and the crew are in an RV, messing around with a video camera at night, when what appears outside? "Sasquatch!!" someone yells. Sure enough, there in the headlights we see what looks like a tall guy in an ape suit with leaves on his butt.
Luscious Anna Marie admits she was "scared! I was scared to death!" We like this a lot, but, even on close inspection, there are no Rods anywhere to be seen.
Let me say this: No matter what they actually may be--undiscovered organism, UFO pet, insects from another dimension, computer-made hoax--Rods, like The X-Files, In Search of . . . and The Outer Limits, are good fun to watch on TV for an hour or so.
Ferris, however, will say something different.
"I want people to know about this stuff, I want to educate people about this stuff. If somebody wants to, I will bring them into my apartment and show them this stuff. . . . Have you ever been driving, and you thought you saw something out of the corner of your eye, a bird or a shadow? Once you know what Rods look like, and you get in the frame of mind of how to see them, I think you'll see them.
Get the Weekly Newsletter
Our weekly feature stories, movie reviews, calendar picks and more - minus the newsprint and sent directly to your inbox.