page contents

Robert Kerbeck

This summer, while watching the hit science fiction series, Stranger Things, I was reminded of my UFO experience, except that my encounter really happened. I had a spaceship in my Malibu backyard. It’s something I only tell friends late at night after a lot of drinking. 

For the record, there was no alcohol that night. 

In fact, it was dusk. For reasons I’ll never understand, something drew me to the balcony outside my bedroom, which has a view of the Pacific Ocean. Less than half a mile in the distance, I spotted red lights over the water. The moment I noticed them, I sensed they noticed me. The object moved to my backyard almost instantaneously. I’d say two seconds. Without sound. The flying saucer—for that was exactly what it looked like—hovered thirty feet off the ground, at my eye-level, staring at me. No sound, just red lights in a circle around what we “earthlings” would call the cockpit. I whispered downstairs to my wife, who was watching her favorite show.

“Gardia. Gardia.” 

Silence from her and the spaceship.

“Gardia,” I hissed. 

“WHAT? I’m watching Downton Abbey!”

I flinched and, though the spaceship remained where it was, I could tell it’d heard my wife’s voice. Then the ship was gone, back out over the ocean, as quickly as it arrived. The whole event took less than a minute, maybe thirty seconds. I’ve never seen the ship again, or any UFO, though I did learn from the Internet that there is a deep-water trench off of Malibu that serves as their underwater base. 

The Stranger Things series reminded me of another alien: my best friend, RJ, who is voting for Donald Trump. What’s worse is RJ recently tried to convince me to do the same. Late at night. When alcohol was involved. 

“Name me one thing Hillary Clinton has done,” he said. Our families (me, him, his wife and son, my wife and son) were seated together in the lobby bar of our New York hotel. 

RJ came from a conservative family. His father had been in the Army and all four of his brothers graduated from West Point. He’d gone in a different direction and had become a successful actor, which is how we met. We were roommates at a summer theatre festival and then acted together in New York in the Clifford Odets play, Waiting for Lefty. Later, we lived next door to each other in Santa Monica. We became big brothers to the same black child. For nearly a decade, we took turns picking the boy up to take him for tutoring, the cost of which we shared. He was there when I met my wife. He was best man at my wedding. I tell people that if their car broke down on the side of the road in the middle of the night, they’d be lucky if my handy friend was the one who stopped. 

And he would stop. Just not when it came to discussing politics. 

“Name me one thing Hillary has done,” he repeated. 

“I don’t want to get into it.” 

“Come on, one thing.”

I made the mistake of listing Hillary’s credentials: First Lady, U.S. Senator, Secretary of State. 

“Yeah, but name me one thing she’s done.”

I’m sure others could have come up with a list of her accomplishments, but I was tired. I was buzzed. I wasn’t a policy wonk. Also, as we lived on opposite sides of the country, I didn’t want to fight with the best friend I rarely got to see. He wasn’t going to change my vote. I wasn’t going to change his.

I mumbled a response about how I couldn’t support someone who mocked the handicapped or judged people by their ethnicity. He cut me off. 

“See, you can’t name one thing.”

I should’ve remained silent as I had with the spaceship. 

“I’m so sick of you blathering on and on,” I said. The sleepy ears of our children pricked up at the sound of my raised voice. Our wives became quiet. “You won’t listen. You don’t want to listen.” 

“That’s not true. I’m asking you what Hillary has done. Tell me.”

“That’s what you don’t get. I don’t want to tell you. I don’t want to talk politics. Yet you go on and on, like a bully.”

That was the end of our conversation. While RJ and his family didn’t fly off as abruptly as the UFO, they did leave. We’ve sent some texts since that night. Though they don’t seem to be about what happened, of course, they are. He sent me a picture of his smiling nine-year-old son. I texted back an emoji I’d never chosen before. We both used lots of exclamation points. 

Based on his short stories, fourteen of which have been published in the last year, Robert Kerbeck was selected for mentorship by the managing editor of Tin House. His non-fiction piece based on his experience with O.J. Simpson was featured on Narratively, and his personal essay about his father, George Clooney, and Yoko Ono can be read on Word Riot. His fiction has recently appeared in Cream City Review, Cortland Review, Gargoyle, and The MacGuffin. His play, "Putin And The Snowman," opened Off-Broadway in July.