Thursday, August 15, 2002


copyright 2002 by William Kowinski

Two crop circle investigators from England arrived here in Pluto, California this week, and since "Signs" has been cleaning up at our local cinema, it seemed like a timely time to find out what's new in the world of bent corn.

"Signs" is that movie about crop circles and aliens, with Mel Gibson playing the part of Bruce Willis, and there's an army recruiting officer who talks just like Laurie Anderson. You've seen it, right? It says that the crop circles are navigational markers for space ships carrying hostile aliens. If there are such crop circles in our town and a hostile alien invasion is imminent,the public has a right to know.

Or if the English investigators discovered a corn field in Pluto, that would be news, too. Pluto is a little bay town in far northern California. We have a year round climate that doesn't vary much--it always seems to be about 60 or 65 degrees Farenheit. That's not hot enough to grow corn really, but we do have a lot of dairy farms and clover fields, and lots of flowers in the bottoms over close to the coast.

Our population is more seasonal than the temperature. When the students at the local college leave in the spring, we lose about half. Tourists pick up some of the slack in the summer, and the migrating hippies who congregate on the Plaza downtown. Right now the students are only starting to drift back in, so we're a little slow on news.

But when I caught up with the investigators as they gingerly eyed the denizens of the Plaza just after the noon whistle, it turned out that Nigel and Bruce-the two Brits-- weren't interested in corn, or any other crop circles. They were here to investigate a new possibility.

"We've gone right off crop circles," Nigel confirmed. "We're onto something new."

"Something big," Bruce whispered.

"Very big," Nigel agreed.

Bruce looked both ways before he talked. "Traffic circles," he breathed. "That's why we're here."

Apparently news travels a little slow from here to Jolly Old, since Bruce and Nigel were under the impression that Pluto's traffic circles had just appeared. However, hearing they've been here for a couple of years didn't discourage them.

"But you never saw them being built, did you?" Nigel said. "One day they weren't there, and the next time you drove that way, they were. Isn't that right?"

I had to admit this was true. They nodded wisely. "And come to think of it, they all appeared at pretty much the same time," I added.

"Of course," Bruce said. "That's how it works."

"And don't you think it's odd," Nigel intimated, "that your town has no stop lights, but suddenly acquires six traffic circles?"

I did think that was odd. This all was making me a little edgy. But did they think traffic circles were really the work of aliens?

"They don't make much sense otherwise, do they?" Nigel said. "I mean, what kind of intelligence would think up traffic circles?"

"Not human," Bruce said. "Clearly."

I had to agree. But what is their purpose? The same as the crop circles?

"We think so," Nigel said slowly. "Same idea, different aliens."

"Somewhat smarter, we think," Bruce added. "Than the crop circle variety."

That didn't sound good. "Smarter?" I asked. "How much smarter?"

"Well," Bruce considered, "I'd say, at least smart enough to avoid a planet that's mostly water when you're allergic to the stuff. Or at least capable of the forethought to equip the fleet of faster-than-light flying saucers with some rain coats."

"We feel they have in fact invented Gore-Tex," Nigel stated.

"That doesn't sound good," I suggested.

"It's not all bad," Bruce said, smiling. "Just remember what they've created as navigational aids."

Nigel stared at me. I guess I looked baffled. "Traffic circles," he said. "Confusing. Disorienting. Nearly impossible to navigate."

"If traffic circles are an indication of how they think," Bruce said, "it's entirely possible they'll never get here."

"They probably won't find their way out of their own solar system."

"Think of it. Thousands of huge space ships circling around each other, nobody knowing who is supposed to stop for who, and where to get on or off the orbital path."

"They'll be there forever." Nigel and Bruce smiled at each other. I too was relieved.

Until I saw Nigel cast a wary eye around the Plaza. "Unless," he said ominously, "they're already here..."