I’m afraid cause its my schools dance party and what should I do about a boy who I like? I dont think hes even going to ask me about the party if no one does something quick.

We are supposed to have are dance partners all ready but I don’t. So should I wait so he can ask me, or can I ask him since I’m a girl?

My grandma said ask you since my parents are not alive anymore.



You have a crisis on your hands. This is serious. But before I say anything else, let me first clarify what your letter says so I can make sure I understand correctly:

1. You are 10 years old.
2. There is a school dance.
3. You want to go.
4. With a cute boy.
5. And you want him to invite you.
6. But he’s a guy.
7. And guys are too busy picking belly-button lint to realize what’s going on.
8. Which is

exactly how I spent my entire school year when I was 10 years old.

All this has you conflicted. On one hand, you want to go to the dance with this boy. On the other, girls don’t traditionally ask boys to dances—although this rule never made sense to me.

So basically you’re stuck.

Well, the first thing I can tell you is try to get used to it. Because it won’t be the last time.

I stress this because when you get older you’ll be tempted to feel bad about yourself when you get confused about romance. Someday your heart might get broken and you’ll want to point the blame at yourself.

I don’t know why, but we tend to blame ourselves when something doesn’t work out. And when we’re lonely, it’s easy to think we’re not good-looking enough, or popular enough, or wearing…

This isn’t my story, it’s his. He talked, I listened. And I tried to quiet the skeptic who lives inside my brain.

The tale takes place at night. There are hardly any cars on an old two-lane highway near the Louisiana-Texas line.

He is a middle-aged ironworker, walking the shoulder with a sack over his back. An army duffle bag, olive drab. The same pack he’s been carrying since Korea.

The steelwalker’s personal life is a mess. He’s left his home and his kids. He cries a lot. He has pushed away his family. He’s isolated himself. And he’s tired. Tired all over. Tired of being alive. Tired of… Everything.

But he likes to walk highways. And he particularly loves the Milky Way, which is his travel companion this evening.

In most cities you can’t see the “River of Heaven,” as it was known in ancient Japan. There’s too much skyglow in urban places.

Last year when he was working the iron in Detroit, he never saw the Milky Way, the bright city lights obscured it. He did a stint walking

skyscrapers in Tulsa, too. Couldn’t see stars there, either.

But in quiet parts of Texas, the ribbon of the Milky Way eases through a pristine purple sky and puts on a perfect show. Yes, tonight is a perfect night.

And if all goes according to his plan, this will be his last night alive.

A truck stops beside him. The brake rotors grind, blue exhaust coughs from a tailpipe. A white-haired guy in a crushed cattleman’s hat kicks open the door and says, “Need a lift, pal?”

“Nah thanks, I’m alright.”

“You sure? Be glad to carry you somewhere.”

The ironworker thinks about the stranger’s offer. His feet are sore. His knees aren’t what they used to be. He glances at the sky one last time. “Hell... Why not.”

He throws his bag into the bed and crawls into…

Eighteen-year-old Abby Bosarge is on TV. Channel 13, the news station out of Biloxi, WLOX. Your source for Gulf Coast updates, severe weather information, and Pat Sajak spinning the Wheel of Fortune at 6:30 P.M.

I turn it up.

Abby is looking right into the 6 o’clock news camera, smiling at heaven knows how many thousands of us in the viewing audience who are awaiting another nightly episode of Pat and Vanna.

I’ve never met Abby, but I find myself feeling nervous for her because, hey, it’s a big deal being on TV. Especially for a kid.

But Abby doesn’t look nervous, although God knows she has every right to be. Gazing deeply into a 50mm lens is brutal. For the unbaptized, staring at a TV camera is a lot like a possum staring at the high beams of a Peterbilt semi.

Abby wears a floral print dress. She is lean, with fair complexion. She wears a Gilligan hat to cover her recent hair loss. There is a bandage on an exposed area

of her skin. She is beautiful. Blindingly beautiful.

I turn up the volume again because Abby talks quietly.

She tells the world about how her life went downhill recently. About how once she was a high-school athletic phenom, receiving offers from Division I schools. And about how recently the doctors told Abby she was dying.

Acute myeloid leukemia.

AML is an axe. This year about 20,240 people in the United States will be diagnosed with AML. It’s rare, but it’s wicked stuff. The five-year overall survival rate for AML patients is about 27 percent. Or you can think of it like this: only 27 percent of folks who hear the words: “You have myeloid leukemia” will live long enough to pay their doctor bills.

The treatments for such diseases are hell. If the cancer doesn’t kill you, the therapy will.

So the TV journalist is asking Abby…

This morning there were two dozen homegrown tomatoes on my doorstep. I arrived home to see Piggly Wiggly bags hanging from my doorknob, and I almost lost control of my lower extremities.

It’s a little early for tomato season, but this is Florida, and apparently someone got an early jump on the horse race.

I come from country people. And country people regard tomatoes as holy things. We get excited about items like tomatoes. Deeply excited.

We are the kind of people who show our love in non-obvious ways by using things like vegetables, casseroles, love notes, Dairy Queen products, saturated fat, and passive aggression. Sometimes we use all six.

I saw no note attached to these tomatoes, which struck me as odd. A secret tomato-admirer, perhaps.

I brought the bags inside. I opened them. There were tomatoes of every shape and color. Yellows, greens, reds, and even rich purples the color of eggplants.

Purple tomatoes, my mother once told me, are magic tomatoes. “You’ve hit the tomato jackpot,” my mother would say,

“if you come across a tomato so full of magic that it’s turning purple.”

Well, I have a thing for tomatoes, magic or otherwise. I’m crazy about them. My mother used to grow them in the summers of my youth. If I close my eyes I can still smell the greenery in her garden. Her small patches of tilled earth were surrounded by chicken wire and human hair clippings.

The clippings were mine. Back in those days, my mother used to cut my hair with dull scissors on our back porch. In fact, this was a primary reason for my traumatic childhood. Because my haircuts were a cross between Bozo the Clown and a regulation cue ball.

Often, people at school would say things like, “Hey, who cuts your hair? Ronnie Milsap?”

Directly after my weedwacker haircuts, my mother would gather hair clippings into a dustpan and…

“Tag! You’re it!”

I’m watching several kids play tag in a neighborhood. Eight children scream: “Jon’s it! Jon’s it!”

Jon is “it.”

Their high-pitched laughter is followed by the sounds of tiny feet running upon grassy earth.

Jon is a second-grade redhead who chases his friends like his reputation is on the butcher block right now. Because in Kid World, it is.

I was walking my dog when I came upon them. But now I’m a spectator at this fracas, along with two moms who shout idle threats between their conversations.

And I’m remembering when I was “it” during boyhood games of tag.

When I was in fourth grade I had red hair and I looked like Danny Partridge with a serious carb addiction. Our games of tag were intense. SEC rules. It was a full-contact sport.

One time, Katrina Hoskins was “it.” Katrina was three feet taller than the entire fourth grade. She could pick me up and twirl me overhead like she was a shooting guard for University of Kentucky.

Katrina thought I was cute and often proclaimed that she

was going to marry me. But when I told Katrina that I was keeping my nuptial options open, she used an Encyclopaedia Britannica to dislodge my jawbone during a game of tag. She selected “Volume 3: Bolivia—Cervantes.”

“Tag! Jon’s it!”

“Am not!”

“Are too!”

Someone starts crying.

“Hey!” shouts a mom. “Don’t hit your brother, or so help me, I will come over there and...!”

I wasn’t lucky enough to have kids. We wanted them. We tried for them, but it didn’t happen. Even so, I always imagined what my own children would be like.

I had it all planned out in my imagination. If we had a boy, he would’ve been named Lewis. If it were a girl, I would have remortgaged our home to spoil her and make her queen of the United States. And she…

I receive lots of mail each morning. I have compiled some of these emails together and presented them in a generic Q-and-A format, like I sometimes do. So let’s get started:

Q: Hi, Sean, I hate your stories. I don’t like you. I am an angry person who squashes bugs and waxes the steps of nursing homes for laughs. You, sir, are an idiot, your writing stinks.

A: Hey, thanks. I’m not exactly a huge fan of your writing, either.

Q: Howdy, Sean. Longtime reader, first time emailer. How do you go about finding stuff to write about?

A: Long ago, believe it or not, I used to go to Kmart for material inspiration, but then Kmart closed.

Q: Kmart?

A: Yes. We had a great little Kmart in town. When I began writing this column, I would hang out at Kmart before work because my friend Jay was an employee and gave me free nachos and ICEEs.

Q: So what happened?

A: What happened was Kmart, a sacred American pastime, founded 122 years ago in 1899, a company which used

to operate 2,100 stores nationwide, shut down their stores. Currently, there are 34 Kmarts remaining in the U.S.

Q: Really?

A: Thirty-four.

Q: So where do you get material now?

A: Beer.

Q: Be serious.

A: Okay, well, I write seven mediocre columns each week. Meaning: finding human stories is my full-time pursuit. I dig for them anywhere I can.

Q: What do you look for in a story?

A: Nostalgia is a big one. But perspective is the most important thing to me. With the right perspective it’s possible to find something great in any event. My mama taught me that.

Q: So do you keep a journal or what?

A: You bet. Early on I realized I’d better start carrying a journal because producing a daily column is not a part-time job.

When I started traveling a…

It was a redeye flight. Pre-pandemic. My wife and I flew out of Phoenix Sky Harbor International Airport at an ungodly hour of night.

We had been in Arizona to visit my cousins. July in Phoenix was hotter than playing tag in the attic. Earlier that day in Glendale I’d seen a college kid at our hotel frying an egg on the hood of his car as a joke.

Our nine-o’clock flight had been cancelled, so we took a flight departing from PHX while the rest of the sane world was sleeping. We sat in the rear of the plane; livestock class.

I watched the pinprick lights of the Copper State twinkle from 30,000 feet as my wife slept with her head on my shoulder.

The aircraft was mostly empty except for a few sleep-deprived flight attendants and us masochists.

On my other side was a woman wearing pink medical scrubs. She was drifting in and out of consciousness. Her head kept falling onto my other shoulder, whereupon she’d catch herself and apologize.

“Oh, jeez. I’m sorry, sir.”

I smiled. “Don’t be.”


had cropped salt-and-pepper hair and wore a hospital lanyard nametag that read LPN. She seemed restless.

I started the conversation. “You’re a nurse.”

“Yeah,” she replied groggily. Then she closed her eyes again, signaling we were done talking.

I glanced at the flight attendants, half-sleeping, buckled in their jumpseats. I was jealous. I tried to fall asleep, too, but it wasn’t happening. My wife was snoring like a GM 6.6 liter diesel.

I pointed to the nurse’s hospital nametag. “Originally from Phoenix?”

She shook her head, eyes still closed. “Nobody’s originally from Phoenix. I’m from Georgia. You?”

“Sunshine State.”

The sound of turbine engines hummed beneath us and we both tried to sleep. But failed.

She said, “So what do you do?”

“Very little.”

Her turn to smile. It was a great smile, but there was sadness…

The wedding was held at an abandoned bank building in small-town Florida. It was a rundown building with old security cameras still mounted on the walls and ballpoint pens on chains. The bride got the venue for a bargain.

I was working as a Sheetrocker at the time. I got off work early and showed up with John Tyler to erect the folding chairs.

There were 40 chairs, the brown kind that every church and civic league used back in the day. We also unfolded old-fashioned card tables with steel legs. The sorts of tables that were responsible for 99 percent of all finger amputations within the U.S. at one time.

Next, the caterer arrived. Although, she wasn’t an actual caterer, she was the groom’s grandma. Her name was Marge. She was gray-haired, wiry, from Queens, New York. And I fell in love with her.

Marge barked orders like a jayvee football coach. She had a northern accent that sounded like submachine gun fire, and everything she said sounded like she

was supremely ticked off.

Marge and her daughters prepared so much food they had to rent a U-Haul van just to carry all the casseroles and chafing dishes.

The designated gift area was located at the old walk-up teller windows. When guests arrived they were to bring presents to the windows that were manned by Laney Daniels and her mom. Laney accepted all gifts and jokingly asked guests for valid IDs and account numbers.

Gifts were then stored in the walk-in vault.

The altar was a couple music stands I stole from a local school, both covered in text which read: “Property of Okaloosa Walton Community College.” Which I thought was a nice touch.

And the flowers. You should have seen the magnolias and lilies, Marge did the place up nicely, you would have never recognized the old bank.

Soon, cars began arriving in the parking lot. Before the…

It’s raining. Hard rain. Old Testament rain. I’m driving and I cannot hear my truck radio over the roaring water on my windshield.

This is what our local meteorologists calls “overcast with 10 percent chance of some precipitation.”

This is definitely “some precipitation.” This is what we in West Florida call a frog choker.

I am wearing my nautical-yellow rain slicker. Water drips from my hat brim like someone recently emptied a mop bucket onto my head.

My dog sits in the passenger seat beside me. Her head follows the windshield wipers. Left. Right. Left… I don’t know how she doesn’t pull a neck muscle.

We are caught in a ridiculous traffic jam. There is a major gas shortage in Florida, which is causing a gasoline panic. Everyone is hitting the highways in search of filling stations, draining the gasoline supply.

All our local gas stations have gone belly up. I’ve tried six different stations this morning. Bupkis.

Throw in “some precipitation,” and you get the slowest moving gridlock known to civilized man.

In traffic like this it will

take me 14 hours to get to the supermarket; 23 hours to get to the post office; and I might as well forget going to PetSmart. Which is where I was going.

Now traffic is moving again. Hallelujah. I’m driving at a pretty good clip when suddenly...

I slam my brakes.

Tires screech. My truck fishtails.

There is a guy is running across the highway in front of me. And I’m caught in a skid, braced for ultimate disaster.

The young man is holding up both hands, screaming at traffic. I can read his lips. “Stop!”

Thank God my truck does.

The kid jogs across a slick highway, through the booming rain. Cars slide to a halt. This boy is out of his mind, he just came scarily close to becoming a full-time harp player.

Car horns blare behind me. All-weather…

Out of the 7 billion people in this world, I saw you.

It was yesterday. You let a lady cut in line at the supermarket. An elderly lady. She was wearing a plastic COVID face shield, toting a fanny-pack oxygen cylinder. I watched you follow this woman to her Nissan Altima and load her groceries.

And last week I saw you. You were mowing a lawn. You, your teenage son, and your friends had all organized a weekly lawn maintenance schedule for a man whose legs were amputated due to diabetes. You work free of charge.

It was also you who returned my neighbor’s dog when the animal went missing. You hiked through four miles of backwoods with a pocketful of dog treats, calling its name. You aren’t even from our town. Someone told me you were vacationing here from Oregon.

Oregon, of all places. The Beaver State.

You sent money to 16-year-old Sara, a terminal cancer patient, as part of an online fundraiser. Altogether Sara raised nearly one hundred thousand bucks before she

died. And while you couldn’t save her life, you certainly showed the world how beautiful her life was.

You adopted a baby with fetal alcohol syndrome even though you are 56 years old and have already raised three children.

You donated blood.

You donated a stack of Louis L’Amour books to our local library. For which I can’t thank you enough.

And those are just the apparent things you did. What about the itty-bitty everyday things you do? Things nobody sees?

Like when you held the door for the gal walking into the Dollar General.

Or when you handed a few bucks to the guy outside Walmart who held a handwritten sign reading: “Hungry.”

Or how about each time you put on your scrubs to work a double shift in the emergency department? You administer IV fluids, take patient samples, and supervise a junior staff of…