....Or maybe just a case of the truly bizarre.
Have you ever seen a UFO? A bright light in the sky which you couldn't identify for certain? Do you believe in the existence of extraterrestrial life? With trillions of potential life supporting planets out there, it's hard not to. And what of those reports of crop circles or of random cattle disappearing, only to be found dead days later with blood drained and parts of their bodies removed with surgical precision? Then there are the people who claim to have been abducted by aliens, and subjected to all sorts of intimidating tests. Could such a thing really happen? Or has the imagination of hundreds of people all gone completely outer limits? Perhaps the biggest question of all is why am I bringing all this up under the pretense of a boating story? Well consider this rather strange encounter:
It was the summer of 1982, and Art and I were spending another weekend down at Barnegat Bay, N.J. like we frequently did that summer. Since I was unemployed that summer (But collecting benefits), I had plenty of time to goof off and enjoy the salt air and water, along with an ample supply of money to help advance me toward that goal. Our normal modus operandi was to hang out on Art's 26' Pacemaker cruising the bay during the day, and then anchoring out drinking beer and playing guitar music at night until we passed out. But on this particular weekend, the weather was not up to its usual routine. Normally it was either breathtakingly sunny and clear, or it was miserable and raining. And there usually wasn't much of a warning to let you know when it was about to go from one to the other. There didn't seem to be much middle ground either. But on this day, there had been a strange temperature inversion, or a back door cold front. The temperature dropped from its usual 80+ degrees down into the mid 60's. A thick fog had also rolled in. While not exactly normal, it wasn't unusual enough to warrant much thought, at least not initially.
Since the weather was acting a bit weird, we decided not to run around the bay blindly in a fog, and instead kept the boat in port and took a road trip to visit to one of Art's other friends, Rich, on his 32' Pacemaker which was moored down in Tuckerton, a few miles down the road from where we were. Despite the dense fog, we made our way cautiously down the road and made the trip in short order and arrived no worse for the wear. Which demonstrated that the fog had proven to be a less formidable foe than first thought. When we got to Rich's, the first thing we noticed was that the fog was especially thick there, which probably had a lot to do with our close proximity to the bay itself. We also noticed that in an open lot across the street from Rich's small private marina, there were a pair of long fold-up tables setup with cups, plates, a grill, a clam steamer and some other stuff. Normally a scene such as this would not have warranted a second glance on any given summer weekend. People were always having picnics and small parties on the inland beaches. But what attracted our attention and gave us pause to contemplate in this case, was the fact that there was not a soul around. I thought it a bit odd, but shrugged it off and pushed the thought out of my head as we continued across the lot to visit Rich. We then hung out with Rich for a few hours, drank a few beers, and generally shot the crap. I had pretty much forgotten about the scene across the lot until out of the blue, Rich mentions the "party" across the street. He claimed it was there when he got up, that he hadn't seen anyone there all day, and didn't have a clue about who might have set it up. So now it was really beginning to look very weird, so we decided to play Sherlock Holmes and take a closer look. We walked across to the other side of the street and approached the table and the other stuff. Once there, we found jars of pickles, peppers, relish, and other condiments, a clam steamer full of clams set-up and ready to go, a loaded charcoal grill, and a half keg of beer, still partially on ice and practically full. Open cans of soda, some nearly full, occupied the table. The table was also set with paper plates, and plastic cutlery, like someone was fixin' to sit down and have a feast. Yet, according to Rich, he had seen no one there all afternoon. There was certainly no one anywhere to be seen now. In addition, the fog had deadened all distant sound and the area was eerily quiet, much like the middle of a graveyard. But the big question remained, why would someone go to all the trouble of setting up and then abandoning an entire party setup, especially before it even got started? If the party was over, then why wasn't it cleaned up? Since the plates and silverware appeared to be unused, we figured that the party had not yet happened, which made the least sense. So after being a bit weirded out by the whole thing (Drinking a lot of beer will do that to you), we went back to Rich's boat and hung out until dark, hoping to see something happen across the lot. So to pass the time, while we drank our beer, we started coming up with all sorts of paranoia-inspired explanations for what might have happened to the party participants. Maybe it was like in that movie "The Fog" where evil apparitions made off with the people who were unlucky enough to find themselves trapped in the fog. Or maybe the fog was a cover for UFO activity, and little gray aliens had beamed all of the people away to do who knows what to them. Or maybe the creature from the deep had come ashore in the cover of the fog and helped himself to a people snack. Who knows? When night time finally hit, the party stuff was still there, as untouched as before. Figuring that by now nothing was ever going to happen, I mean, who in their right mind would leave a tapped keg of beer to spoil once the ice had completely melted? That's almost criminal! So we decided to go back over and "crash" the party, and enjoy it before the stuff could spoil. So Rich made off with the keg and the clam steamer. Art and I ended up with a giant sized jar of pickles, and some of the other condiments. And because we were such good friends, we felt obliged to help Rich drink the beer until it got late. Finally, a few very foggy (no pun intended!) hours later, we managed to pick our way back to Art's marina to crash for the night. We were not really completely sober at this point, but the (atmospheric) fog had lifted to some degree, so we weren't in any real danger on those lightly traveled back roads.
By the time Rich had arisen from his hung-over state the next day (which was close to noon), someone somewhere had finally cleaned up the remaining stuff, as if it had never been there, but we never found out the true story. As far as we ever knew, no one ever complained about any of the stuff being missing, nor did anyone ever step forward to claim ownership of any of it. No one had ever accused anyone of "pickle or beer-napping". Naturally, we ran through the plot lines of practically every cheesy "B"-Sci-Fi movie ever made, as we thought of all sorts of bizarre explanations for what we saw (or didn't see). It's funny what beer induced paranoia will do to a normally rational mind. As far as we knew, there were no reports of people mysteriously missing, or of dead people showing up on beaches drained of blood, and with parts of their bodies removed with surgical precision either. I'm sure there was probably a very simple explanation. But all told, it was the oddest, most bizarre experience that I had that summer.