THE search for extraterrestrial intelligence will be conducted in the wrong place. Recently an organization of scientists known as SETI (the search for extraterrestrial intelligence) received a whopping $100 million federal grant to scan the heavens for possible signals from life in the vast elsewhere. Why? On at least six occasions here on earth complete strangers have told me they were from outer space.
The first time it happened was in 1965 on a Greyhound bus. A round-faced man name Ego Ago (a name you don't forget) asked me if I wanted to know what was going to happen on the first day of the year 2000.
``Won't cost you a crundel,'' he said.
``You know, money,'' he said. ``Somewhat equivalent to your $1 bill.''
I asked him what country he was from.
``Not country,'' he said, ``planet.''
He looked lucid, friendly, and thoughtful. He was plainly dressed in a blue sweater and dark pants, a cleanshaven man who was three days past a haircut. His pink ears stuck out. I laughed.
``Fandopal,'' he said. ``Half the size of earth and about 1,000 light years from here in another galaxy.'' He said this matter-of-factly as if he didn't expect me to believe it because so many other nonbelievers had walked away from him.
``On the first day of the year 2000,'' he said, ``all the French horn players on earth will be compelled to play the same note at the same time. The heavens will open up and....''
He grinned and grinned.
`` ... and what?'' I asked.
``I don't know,'' he said. ``I'm only a galactic messenger. Beware.'' He moved to another seat.
Recently a rather rumpled older woman sitting on a park bench with several bulging paper bags at her feet started talking to me as I passed by. If I gave her money, she said, she would reveal an ``astonishing'' secret. I gave her some change. She took a notebook from one of the bags, an old leatherbound notebook stuffed with scraps of paper. The pages were filled with tiny writing.
``There is impending good,'' she read, ``Soon all violence will stop, all wars will stop, all plates will be filled with good food because the Viceroy will arrive in his spaceship and make the necessary changes ... ''
I listened politely and suddenly realized how slow I had been.
Of course; my receptivity was being tested by these galactic messengers, perhaps a group of roving Unarians from El Cajon, Calif. The Unarians (of the Unarius Foundation) own a huge piece of desert land there designed to be a landing strip for more extraterrestrials who will be arriving ``soon.'' Unarians gather frequently in El Cajon and talk about their lives on other planets.
But, of course, such assertions can't be true, can they? Crundels from Fandopal? French horn players signaling a millennium? Impending good from the Viceroy? SETI, do you know the way to El Cajon?