A well-dressed Jim Moroney stood at a podium at the Unitarian Universalist Church in Studio City one recent evening and said: "I was abducted by an alien. I mean, how do you tell someone you're dating that you were abducted by aliens?"
The native Canadian goes on to describe how late one evening in 1987, at the age of 27, while on a drive between Edmonton and Ontario, he and his car were beamed up, so to speak, onto a spacecraft by aliens 3 feet tall. They spoke to him in perfect English.
Moroney's audience is unfazed, which is not surprising considering he is appearing at the monthly meeting of Mutual UFO Network (MUFON). The 60 or so people gathered here tonight include UFO enthusiasts, film and television researchers, ex-military employees and newcomers.
They most certainly are not skeptics.
Steve Murillo, director of MUFON's Los Angeles chapter, explains. "Some people have had direct experience, others have had sightings, and then some people haven't had sightings or experiences at all but believe in the phenomenon for some reason or the other, so are here to get answers.
"Once you've seen something, you realize that it's all real," Murillo continues. "Up till that point, you think it's a bunch of malarkey and crazy people seeing things in the sky. But when you've had a profound real sighting, your world changes."
Among other things, you might become fearful. Nan, a MUFON member in her 50s, will not reveal her full identity to a reporter. "Are you with the government?" she demands, covering her mouth to ward off bacterial infections. "Don't take any pictures of me."
A longtime resident of Studio City, Nan became interested in the extraterrestrial more than 30 years ago, when she saw a mysterious green-lit object in the sky by the Hollywood Sign. Since then, her experiences have grown to include direct alien communication through telepathy.
"I don't know how many races they have, I don't know about the one that contacted me, but just know that they're very telepathic and they know things," Nan says quietly, pulling her baseball cap down low over her eyes.
In April 2011, the Search for Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence (SETI) Institute announced that it was forced by a lack of government funding to put its Allen Telescope Array into hibernation. The program, located in the Lassen National Forest, consisted of 42 radio dishes in a field listening for extraterrestrial signals, in an attempt to find new evidence of life in the universe.
That news was a blow to UFO hunters in Southern California, where MUFON received more than 200 reports of sightings last year.
Alex Mistretta is director of investigations for MUFON L.A. He has a makeshift office in his Mid-City studio apartment, with a replica of the iconic "I Want to Believe" poster from Agent Mulder's desk on The X-Files.
Mistretta says he recently investigated a case in which two witnesses in Malibu reported seeing a craft exit the ocean. Both witnesses immediately called the police; within moments, a vehicle carrying a few men turned up at the scene and questioned them for hours.
"I checked with my sources at the FBI, and there's no way for that call to be directed to the FBI," Mistretta tells a reporter excitedly. "The call would have gone to the Highway Patrol, they should have been first on the scene.
"My source said that there was no way that those men were FBI." In other words, they were from some secret arm of the government.
Murillo and Mistretta are interested in exploring Pine Mountain, a community hidden in the Los Padres National Forest about 100 miles north of L.A. They believe it's a hotbed of UFO sightings.
One day recently, Frankie Sanchez, honorary mayor and resident of Pine Mountain, pointed out the golf course where a resident saw "little people" come out of a spacecraft. "We see lights with no sound move across the sky at night, and you just have to let it go," Sanchez says. "Who are you going to believe about what it was?"
The town has three airbases within 150 miles: Vandenberg Air Force Base approximately 100 miles west, Edwards Air Force Base about 100 miles east and Lemoore Naval Air Station approximately 150 miles north. Could the sightings be debunked as military crafts?
Longtime resident Linda Scheimberg doesn't think so. She saw an oval object in the sky on the evening of Feb. 10, 2010, descending from south to north silently, with bright white lights and glowing green sides.
"It was not a plane, or a jet or a helicopter," Scheimberg says. "I don't know what it was, but it was not anything like I've ever seen before."
Vandenberg AFB confirmed to the Weekly that the craft wasn't theirs. Edwards AFB was unable to give a definite answer but said it was highly unlikely to be one of their crafts. Lemoore did not respond to inquiries.
Such are the tortures of UFO hunters.
"I quit MUFON once and asked them to leave me alone, because I was so frustrated as I was spending so much time driving around everywhere for nothing," Mistretta says. "It's a very devious field where it wants to show itself, but it doesn't. It teases you."
Back at the MUFON meeting, Moroney wraps up his speech, the million-dollar question awaiting him at the end.
"Of course, people ask if I was anally probed," Moroney says with a laugh.
"The truth is, I don't know if I was."