January 11, 2010

Amateur Ethnography: Home Sweet Home

This one is going to be weird. I just finished reading Dan Brown's newest novel, so this week felt sorta like a treasure hunt with clues, riddles, and hidden symbols. Strap in.

Last week, as I was editing the Church Experiment, I started working on week 34. For some reason, I mentioned the home I grew up in. That house has always had a special place in my heart. Mostly because I had an amazing childhood. Whiffleball in the front yard, riding my bike around the neighborhood, walking to the local United Dairy Farmers, the excitement surrounding Christmas, Easter egg hunts, and so on. I remember every square inch of that house. If there is a Heaven, I'm convinced I'll spend all eternity as an eight-year-old kid on Jackie Lane. They have Big Wheels in Heaven, right?

That night (after editing my book), I dreamt of my childhood home. Basically, the new owners were leading me around the house, showing me the renovations. Outside, there was a huge baseball complex where a wooded area used to be. It was beautiful.

A couple of nights later, I wondered if it meant something. I started toying with the idea of visiting my childhood home and asking the current owners if I could wander around the property. I thought it might be interesting. Or maybe give me some closure.

That night, I dreamt of Jackie Lane again. This time, the whole street had been renovated. A huge hotel now sat at the corner, and my childhood home had been transformed into a giant casino. People were everywhere.

I woke up and convinced myself the two dreams were a sign. This week, I felt like I was supposed to drive twenty-five minutes to my childhood home and knock on the front door. Whatever happened after that was out of my control.

I tried to talk myself out of it. It's cold. I don't want to track snow into their home. What if they think I'm crazy? What if they're crazy? What if no one answers? What if bound4glory answers? (Just kidding ... I love ya, b4g.)

Luckily, it didn't work. After watching Up Saturday night, I was ready for an adventure. So, on Sunday afternoon, I pulled into the driveway of my childhood home. It has been over twenty-one years since I last stood in that spot, but yesterday, I was back.

I knocked, and ...


Well, that's not exactly true. The current owners have at least three thousand dogs, and they all started barking. After waiting for a couple of minutes, I realized no one was home. (Or, at least, they weren't answering.) So, I spent about fifteen minutes wandering around the perimeter, being amazed at how small everything seemed (seriously, I'm convinced everything shrunk over the years), and reminiscing about a simpler time in my life.

I decided maybe I wasn't supposed to connect with the current owners of my childhood home, but maybe I was on Jackie Lane for another reason. So, I decided to walk about five hundred feet to the end of the street. I grew up in the shadow of a neighborhood bar, and Sunday, I stepped foot inside that bar for the first time.

And that's when things got interesting.

It's hard to narrow this week's adventure down to one stranger because I met so many in the bar. I spent almost two hours inside, watched parts of two playoff games, and drank two beers. But here's the interesting part ...

I had four key conversations in the bar.

First, I spoke to a woman about her recent DUI. She supposedly had three beers and got behind the wheel of her car on a Thursday night. Bad choice. She lost her license and is currently preparing for her court date in late January. She is hoping to have the offence reduced to reckless operation, which will get her license back. She took a sobriety test and blew over a .08, but she said she would refuse all tests next time. The other option could be not drinking and driving.

She seemed pretty reasonable overall, but her boyfriend/husband was a little dramatic. Not only did he claim to have thrown his car keys at the arresting officer, but he had a few amazing quotes. For example, he said this to the cop: "I was getting DUIs when you was in high school." Not sure that's the best angle to take. He also mentioned he owns a Samurai sword, but I feel like pulling a sword on a cop is a terrible idea.

That conversation actually led me to conversation number two. Chuck was part of the first conversation, but we eventually broke off into our own discussion about his son, a former cop. His son fought in Iraq, and is currently working back in the United States. After twenty minutes, Chuck and I wrapped up, and he shook my hand goodbye.

Those first two conversations were the appetizer. About that time, the main course walked in.

The young, black woman never told me her name, but she sat right next to me at the bar. When the bartender saw her, she said she was just warming up, so he left her alone. Then, she turned to me and asked if I knew any single men in their twenties or thirties.

Ummm ...

"Not many, why?" I asked.

She told me she needed a boyfriend. Or, maybe someone to hang out with at her apartment. It seemed obvious where this was going. I left the city, drove into the suburbs, and was propositioned by a black prostitute? Are you serious? She might have been the only black person in Clermont County, and she was sitting next to me. This is paraphrased, but here's a pretty good idea of how our conversation went:

"How old are you?" I asked.


"Why do you want a boyfriend?"

"I'm bored. I need someone to hang out with," she said.

"Where do you live?"

"Just down the street in an apartment complex."

"Aren't there any people there you can date?"

"No," she replied, "they are all old and weird."

"Well, you should hang out where young people hang out," I suggested.

"Where do young people hang out?"

"I live in Clifton. Lots of young people hang out there because of UC."

"Yeah, but I need a nice guy. My last boyfriend is in jail."

"Oh, really?" I asked. "What did he do?"

"Domestic abuse."

"He hit you?"

"No, just pushed me around. He's in for two months. If he does it again, he'll go to prison. But I didn't press charges. The people at the apartment complex called the cops."

"Well, I'm sorry to hear that. I hope you find a good guy."

"Thanks. So, do you know any young, single guys?"

About that time, the bartender asked if she needed anything. She said no, and then said, "Maybe I should go." He told her that was probably a good idea.

After she left, almost everyone in the bar reacted. From what I understood, she walks up and down the street, comes into the bar, talks to people, often rambles about God, and creeps most people out. I asked if she was a prostitute, but the bartender told me he thinks she's just crazy.

Bizarre encounter.

Finally, that leads me to the bartender, Joe. Seriously, this guy might have been my favorite bartender ever. First, he sounds exactly like Charlie from It's Always Sunny in Philadelphia. It was amazing. We chatted about him being from the west side of Cincinnati, his girlfriend, some of the random homeless people near the University of Cincinnati (Joe went to school at UC for a couple of years), football, and ... me.

I mentioned I live in Clifton. Joe asked why I was in Mt. Carmel. After pausing, I decided to share the truth. I told him about The Church Experiment, my new experiment, the two dreams, and the fact that I grew up five hundred feet from my bar stool.

Joe had actually read the Cin Weekly article last May about my experiment, so we transitioned into a God discussion. I mentioned my atheist visit, and he told me he probably leans that direction, but he also said he doesn't agree with mocking religious folks. I talked about some of my visits (he specifically asked about Touchdown Jesus at Solid Rock) and summed up the whole thing with my standard line (which I believe more every day) that people are just people, regardless of religion. There are crazy Christians, crazy atheists, crazy Muslims, and so on. And there are nice people in every faith. We're all just trying to make life work.

Okay, this is getting long, so I'll wrap it up. These amateur ethnographies are going to be much different from The Church Experiment. I'm not even sure any of this is interesting for any of you (bring on the jokes), but it has been fascinating for me over the past two weeks. Honestly, yesterday was one of the best experiences I have had in a long time. Meeting new people, talking about life, taking leaps of faith into the unknown ... it is fun stuff.

An experiment, a couple of dreams, an empty house, and a walk to the local bar. Life takes us to the strangest places if we just stop to listen every once in a while.