Tuesday, July 05, 2016

COLUMN: Men in Black

Bad news, folks. We've got trouble, right here in River City. If recent reports are to be believed, our area could be looking at a danger the likes of which we, and quite possibly the entire human race, have never seen. And you know what happens whenever a troubling news story of such grave importance comes to our attention?

That's right, we send in the humor columnist.

Other reporters might be afraid of causing a panic, sensationalizing the truth, or fictionalizing news when there really is none, but that's never stopped me. Let's monger up some fear, what say?

Over the past two weeks, news stories, posts on social media, and calls to 911 have logged multiple sightings of mysterious men in black hanging out along the roadside at various locales in our neighboring Muscatine County. It's been reported that these ominous looking black-suited figures have been seen lurking in the shadows and occasionally trying to make contact with passing vehicles along Route 22.

Some people are assuming that it's just bored teenagers out to scare passersby, but my journalistic intuition says otherwise. Occam's Razor tells us that the simplest explanation for something is usually the correct one, and what explanation for these events is simpler than a FULL SCALE ALIEN INVASION OF MUSCATINE, IOWA?

So-called "men in black" have long been associated with UFO sightings, alien conspiracies, and high-grossing Will Smith movies. The stories are usually all similar: some hapless person witnesses a UFO, but before they can tell anyone, they're visited by mysterious men dressed in black who intimidate and threaten them into silence. Some claim these men in black belong to a secret branch of the government or some kind of shadow organization. Others say the men in black are aliens themselves. Whatever they are, it's clear that Muscatine is rife with 'em, and even the local police have taken note.

"We take this seriously," the Muscatine County Sheriff's Office posted on Facebook. Which is good, because I sure don't. But what's an intrepid reporter to do on a boring Friday night but assemble a crack team of investigators (namely me and my friend Jason) and head down to Muscatine to see these men in black for ourselves. Thankfully, I took notes:

8:45 p.m., Route 22.

"So why would aliens pick Muscatine of all places?"
"If I had to guess? Office furniture."
"Hon DOES make a quality workstation. You think they need file cabinets for their spaceships?"
"Colonizing a planet has got to require a crazy amount of paperwork. They must have an abundance of clerical staff onboard."
"But you're presuming these aliens take humanoid form. What if they're a race of gelatinous blobs?"
"Then they'll definitely need someplace to put their pens."
"I can't argue with that logic."

9:04 p.m., Route 22.

We have yet to see any Men In Black, though we HAVE encountered several Deer In Brown. None seem especially alien in nature, but I can attest they're equally terrifying to encounter by the side of the road.

9:15 p.m., Route 22.

"You know who I feel sorry for right now?"
"Dapper businessmen with car trouble."
"Imagine trying to hitch a ride and instead everyone just screams and calls you an alien."
"Welcome to Trump's America."

9:25 p.m., Muscatine.

We just passed a cop with a radar gun. Happily, we weren't speeding. When a police officer asks what you're doing twenty-five miles away from home in the pitch middle of the night, you probably shouldn't lead with "looking for aliens."

9:32 p.m., Muscatine.

It must be noted that Muscatine mayor Diana Broderson has no comment on the men in black sightings. To be fair, this might be because I never asked her for one. Still, her silence speaks volumes.

9:40 p.m., Muscatine.

Perhaps Muscatine has a long-standing relationship with alien visitors and we need to look deeper to spot any anomalies. Jason decides to see if he can re-arrange the letters in "MUSCATINE" to reveal a clue. After several minutes, the best we can muster is "INSEAM CUT" or "MAN CUTIES." More research may be required.

10:04 p.m., Muscatine.

I know it's a bad stereotype, but it's true: We stop for gas to find no fewer than SIX Muscatine County officers inside buying doughnuts. I ask them if they'd had any MiB sightings this weekend. They roll their eyes at me with a look that suggests we're not the first to ask this question tonight. "No," one sternly responds. "What's the deal with these sightings?" I press on. "Is it just kids playing a dumb prank?" "I HAVE NO IDEA," says the officer in a tone that clearly indicates our conversation is over.

10:20 p.m., downtown.

No MiB to report, but we DID notice that Muscatine's bridge over the Mississippi now has a colorful light show in the evenings. Or perhaps it's a series of coded signals to the alien mothership. We drive to the scenic overlook for a closer look and quickly discover we're not the only ones assessing the bridge for possible alien communications. Our car, however, is the only one NOT fogged up and bouncing, so we decide to back away slowly.

In the end, our search was fruitless, and no bogeypeople jumped out at us as we drove around. Perhaps the men in black have moved on to greener pastures. I'm going to assume that they caught wind of my investigative prowess and buggered off. Or maybe that's what They want us to believe, whoever "They" are. Of course, most good conspiracy theorists also presume some sort of sinister bias on the part of the media, too. So if you believe in MiB, you probably DON'T believe anything I have to say. I could be one of Them. Heck, I could be an alien. (I'm certainly looking more and more like a gelatinous blob these days.)

I promise you, though, I'm NOT a Man in Black -- I don't even OWN a suit. But if any of you aliens ever need a Man in Ill-Fitting Khakis, I can probably make some time.

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