I knocked on the manager’s office door. The voice said, “It’s open,” so I walked in.

I was a teenager, unattractive, and a little unkempt. I looked about as fitting in this franchise bookstore as a muddy goat at a wedding.

Also, I was an introvert, which made job interviews almost as hard as it was talking to girls. The only way to know if an introvert boy is romantically interested in you is whether he looks at your shoes instead of his.

“Yes?” the bookstore manager said. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m here about the, ah, job.”

The man put on his glasses and looked at me. “YOU?”

His exact words.

The manager gave me a belittling smirk. I could read his mind. In his eyes I was white trash. I could tell by the look on his face that this was going to be the interview from hell.

I handed him my application; that little sheet of paper that devalues your entire life into pathetic, one-word responses.

My application was garbage. At age

17 I was a dropout. I had only ever worked grunt jobs, swinging hammers or salting French fries. I had shaggy hair and wrinkled clothes. I was wearing a button-down shirt bought from a local thrift store.

In fact, I was such a regular at my local thrift store that store employees knew me by name and often gave me free stuff. Usually, they gave me free books. Mountains of free books. They knew I was a lover of the printed word. Books were all I had. Books were my closest friends.

“So why do YOU want to work in a bookstore?” the manager said.

“Um,” I began. “‘Cause I heard you give discounts on books.”

He tossed my application into a tray and laughed. “You must be really into comic books, huh?”

“No, sir.”

“Your application says you dropped out of school.”