"Have you ever seen a UFO?" #4

“My sister says that she did. When we were very young and living in Lebanon, Ohio”


I’d done Interview 2 with Niki but it hadn’t made it into the recorder, so we had planned to do the interview again the next evening. Niki showed up with her roommate, Gretchen, who was just as game, and in order to keep an element of surprise I spoke first with Gretchen then Niki.

During the interview, Niki asked a number of questions of Gretchen, mining for information, and I began to wonder about my planned approach, which was to be…well…fairly passive, to ask the questions but not chase down details and opinion, to take the stories as offered. However, H.o.p., when interviewing me, certainly didn’t take that approach, and neither did Niki. And as Niki dove in and began her enthusiastic questioning of Gretchen, I sat back and thought about it, listening to them both, and considered that Niki’s approach was likely much better than what I’d initially envisioned.

My life long habit is to leave on the cutting room floor 99.99 percent of what passes through my mind during conversations and interviews, and I’m seeing that may perhaps be problematic as the very few points where I make an observation seem like little floating islands out of context of what were my thoughts that led up to the observation.

Should I even be making observations? It’s one thing to pursue a line of inquiry, to entice and invite opinion and detail. Should I offer any more than that?

Another thing, as is becoming obvious in these interviews thus far, I should probably reconsider the order of the questions as well, though I’d like to keep “Have you ever seen a UFO” as the opening inquiry.

“I believe that they’re there…”

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: Recording? OK. Have you ever seen a UFO?

GRETCHEN: Ooooh. Not personally. But I believe that they’re there. I think that it’s not something outside my imagination. I don’t think it’s hard to believe.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: OK. Do you know anyone who’s seen one?

GRETCHEN: I don’t….my sister says that she did. When we were very young and living in Lebanon, Ohio, that’s where I’m from, originally, in the Cincinnati area, she says she has. And I believe her. I never thought she was weird.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: When she was a child?

GRETCHEN: Yeah. We were very young. I remember that. But it’s like, we had hot air balloon races there all the time, so I kind of just passed it off as like…we’d go out in the field, there was a huge field behind where we lived, so we’d go out there and see tons of hot air balloons lifting off at the same time. People would go out there and practice, practice the courses, so…sometimes at night you would see them too. So I kind of passed it off as that.

NIKI: You think a UFO moves that slowly?

GRETCHEN: I don’t…

NIKI: That she would mistake a hot air balloon for a UFO?

GRETCHEN: I don’t know. I was probably five. I was young. I mean I was young enough that I really don’t remember it real well. I just remember…it was kind of like more a country area not even like suburbs we were outside the suburbs almost.

NIKI: I mean I just don’t think about it floating like that. There’s no reason why it wouldn’t, I mean, it’s unidentified…


NIKI: I just don’t think about it like…I think more about it like…Sound of hand smacking as she gestures a speedy take off.

GRETCHEN: There’s no real perimeters…it’s not like, it could be like, could just be what someone else, what someone else has created…(unintelligible) something means that it has to go light speed, like…? I don’t think…

NIKI: What is it that she saw? What is it…she came to you like, “Gretchen! Gretchen!”

GRETCHEN: Like, she didn’t tell my parents. Like, “Mom and dad are going to think that I’m crazy.”

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: Oh, she didn’t tell them?

GRETCHEN: Yeah, she was nervous.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: How old was she?

GRETCHEN: She’s two and a half years older than me. So, she was probably seven and a half. Eight, maybe. I was five, six? So, it was around that age, I guess…


GRETCHEN: But I just kind of, you know…

NIKI: What did she say…what did she say that it was…

GRETCHEN: She just said it was big. Like, “I could see the moon and something passed over the moon.” And she was like, “I don’t know what it was, it was like very close.” It just seemed…it wasn’t a plane. She was like, “I know it wasn’t a plane, but I don’t know what it was.” She really was very nondescript and from what I can remember, like, it’s not like…this big, round object that was flying. It wasn’t, it wasn’t like that. It was a quiet thing.

NIKI: This is exactly what Juli said last night–can I?–“Anticlimactic.”

(Portion of conversation clipped.)

GRETCHEN: We hold all these expectations, for those of you, for those of all of us, I guess, who believe in other life forms and…and just the whole thing, it’s like…you expect a certain thing because the media showed you it, this little green man who’s flying a saucer, and it’s like no, well, one person knew off the bat knew at one point and from there everyone just took off with it and the Twilight Zone got a hold of it and, you know what I mean, it’s like you have like this expectation and it could just as well have been a hot air balloon.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: There’s a long history of UFO sightings. There were some freaky UFO sightings back in the 1400s. Illustrations done of them. Many of them occurring in Germany? (I was off by some a century. And by many I meant two I’d seen from Nuremberg.)

“You see these stories where people say that they saw it in the woods, next to them on the road. Really, what do you do if that happens? Do you suppose you get out of your car and go check it out?”

NIKI: You see these stories where people say that they saw it in the woods, next to them on the road. Really, what do you do if that happens? Do you suppose you get out of your car and go check it out? If it was landed, like “Close Encounters” style…


NIKI: You would park your car by yourself. You think you’d…

GRETCHEN: I’d probably sneak around it. I wouldn’t sprint up to it, but I, I think I’d…if you were in the woods…I don’t think I’d have a choice…

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: I think I’d be a coward and leave.

GRETCHEN: Oh, no. You would have to. At that point I’d be like I don’t care if I’m abducted, I have to know. Your curiosity isn’t that strong? It has to be! If a UFO landed right there?

NIKI: I’d feel more comfortable if it was in town, like, if there were buildings around and…

GRETCHEN (laughing): And people?

NIKI: I don’t know why I think it’s on some back country road in the middle of nowhere. I mean, why would I be there anyway?! (Laughs.) But I think I might too, I might freak out about it at the last minute.

“I think it’s funny when people act like they’re so freaked out when these extraterrestrial beings poke and prod them because if we got ahold of something like we didn’t know? What are we going to do with them? We’re going to suck them dry and completely keep them forever.”

GRETCHEN: You don’t think you’d just park your car and get out and just kind of like duck down and watch? Just look for movement or something?

NIKI: I would have to.

GRETCHEN: You would! You wouldn’t be just, “Oh! Gotta go! Gotta call the cops!” Yeah, right. You wouldn’t do that.

NIKI: I think it’s funny when people act like they’re so freaked out when these extraterrestrial beings poke and prod them because if we got ahold of something like we didn’t know? What are we going to do with them? We’re going to suck them dry and completely keep them forever. That’s exactly what we would do is take samples.


NIKI: So I don’t see why that wouldn’t be reciprocated and why that’s so far out of the realm.

GRETCHEN: That’s true.

NIKI: OK, this is your story now. Go. There’s more to the game.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: I have three questions. The second question is, what is the most interesting coincidence you’ve ever experienced?

GRETCHEN: That’s a tough one. That’s vague. Interesting coincidence…

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: Oh, the third one’s even vaguer.

GRETCHEN: This is one I feel like I need to be a little prepared for. If I was able to think about it then…

NIKI: It was a hard one for me to answer as well.

GRETCHEN: Can I hear the third question first or…


GRETCHEN: As far as coincidences go, I…

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: No, sure. That’s fine. We can do the third question.

GRETCHEN: I’m not necessarily sure I believe that coincidences are coincidences. I guess my view of the coincidences is…


GRETCHEN: I feel like things…I’m not one of these people, like, “all things happen for a reason”. I don’t necessarily think that. I don’t like. Humm. That’s a tough question. I really don’t know how to answer. I can’t really think of a specific…

NIKI: I was asking the curator from the gallery today, I was telling her about your project? And I asked her hers. And she grew up in Guyana. And she was in New York City and was shopping in a store and saw somebody that she was in elementary school with, that she was friends with in elementary school, and they hadn’t spoke since they were seven or eight years old.

GRETCHEN: You think that’s a coincidence? I just don’t think…

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: George’s story was that he was in Vietnam and went to play pool and there was someone that he had grown up with, used to go to school with, would go over to his place on Sunday. George didn’t relate this as a coincidence. It was instead what came to his mind to relate when I asked him if he’d a story he would like to tell.

GRETCHEN: If that counts as a coincidence then I…

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: There are different levels of coincidence. You’ve got some freaky and more mundane and every day.

GRETCHEN: There was a boy who I was…I was just talking about this today, actually…there’s a boy who I went to a Christian, like, pre K until about third grade, I went to a Christian school? And from pre K until about third grade there was a boy named Allen ______. And we talk now all the time, like we’re really good friends? We talk on the phone like two or three days a week and I don’t talk to that many people on the phone like that often. So, anyway, he and I, we grew up together, and then we ran into Panama City, or rather we ran into each other in Panama City, we were staying like four doors down from each other our senior year of high school. We hadn’t seen each other since third grade. But we knew…like in Springborough…I was seeing a girl in a Springborough t-shirt and I said do you know Allen _______? And she said, “This is him.” And he was like, “Who are you?” And I was like…I didn’t expect it to be him. I said I was Gretchen and he was like, “Oh my god! Where have you been?” So I guess that, that’s a big deal, and we still talk and we’ve been friends since.


GRETCHEN: So I guess that’s a big one.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: And the third one question is…

H.O.P.: Oh, the third question? Da-da-da-dah!!!! H.o.p. sings the opening notes to Beethoven’s 5th.

What is a story you’d like to tell?

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: We’re on to the third question. What is a story you’d like to tell? A little piece of history?

GRETCHEN: I think my favorite childhood story is…I feel like I’m an entrepreneur, I have an entrepreneurial spirit, but everyone in my family seems to be as well. When I was, again, like five, six? Very young. This is one of my like first memories? I actually remember like doing something? Where I don’t remember the memory I actually remember doing it? My best friend and I, Eric __________. He lived like diagonal from me? We had a little cul de sac where the hot air balloons take off from? But we would always go around our neighborhood trying to make money any way we could and I don’t know what for, I mean, like, thinking back, what ever were we trying to make money for? We didn’t ever do anything that required money, we were just always trying to make it.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: When I was a kid we tried to make money for candy.

GRETCHEN: But you had like probably a corner store to go to buy that candy, like I didn’t. Like, “Hey, mom! (unintelligible) for some gas money!” I’m not a saver either…

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: Yes, we were a few blocks from a store.

GRETCHEN: We lived in Turtle Creek Township which is like right outside of Lebanon. There’s nothing like…Highway 48 is what connected us to the city and it wasn’t close, we weren’t allowed to go there. So anyway we would go down and like try to shovel snow, mow grass, rake leaves, do whatever we could, like that kind of work. Finally, my mom was like we need this garden, we had this garden like the width of this rug in our back yard and she always wanted a tomato garden. She was like, “I love tomatoes. I want to grow tomatoes and peppers.” But there was like all these like thorny like teeny tiny bushes like teeny, well, just horrible weeds that require gloves. And so Eric and I were like, “No, no, we don’t need gloves.” And so we’d go out there and are like trying to pick them up and we’ve got thorns all through our hands like, OK, we’ll have to go about this a different way. So, I’m like, well, what if..and we used to ride our bikes everywhere at the time, so we both had just gotten bigger bikes like we’d had our training wheels taking off our first bikes and then we finally upgraded and we thought we were like so cool because we were above the rest of the neighborhood kids, we had these bigger bikes. So, I’m like, what if we took off the front wheels of the bikes and peddle through the ground? Stick them into the ground and peddle as hard as we can and it would be like tilling up the ground.

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: That’s interesting.

GRETCHEN: He was like, “I could do that”, so he takes off the front wheels like here’s our money maker, we’re gonna do it, and we get out there and we put our bikes in the ground and we’re like, “OK, you’re ready?” And we start peddling and we’re going nowhere. We’re stuck in the ground. It didn’t work out and my mom ended up giving us money. She was like, it was a good effort and a creative one, so…

IDYLLOPUS PRESS: Very creative!

GRETCHEN: She was like I’ll give that to you but don’t mind the garden. So my dad rented a tiller and dug it up. But it was the beginning of my entrepreneurial spirit.

NIKI: And hence the 4th of July water stand…

GRETCHEN: It’s not my first and last lemonade stand either. People go like, “Oh, that’s cute,” and I’m like, “No, it’s cute when I was like five. Now, I’m trying to make money. That’ll be three bucks.” “But I’m a runner!” “But I’m a sales person.”

NIKI: You weaved a good tale, right there.


Part 1 of 2. Read the interview with Niki here.

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Juli Kearns

Juli Kearns is the author of Thunderbird and the Ball of Twine and Unending Wonders of a Subatomic World (or) In Search of the Great Penguin. She is also an artist/photographer, and the person behind the web alter of "Idyllopus Press".

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