The old man showed up to visit his granddaughter in the pediatric oncology wing of the hospital. It was late. He took the elevator and got a few weird looks from other passengers since he was carrying a bouquet, a boombox and wearing a snappy suit.

He walked into his granddaughter’s hospital room. The little girl’s face turned 101 shades of thrilled.

“Grandpa!” said the child in a weakened whisper.

The nurses cleared away the girl’s supper of Jello and creamed potatoes. Her mother dabbed her chin.

He placed the boombox onto a chair. He straightened his coat. He hit the play button. The room began to fill with the silken sounds of the Count Basie Orchestra. Then came the trombone-like voice of Old Blue Eyes. The song was “The Way You Look Tonight.”

“I promised my granddaughter I would teach her to dance,” the old man recalls. “Told her I’d make sure she knew the Foxtrot, the Samba, the Rumba, and the Waltz before she got married. But we never got around to it, so I wanted

to fix that.”

The nurses helped the frail child out of bed. The little girl’s head was bald. Her limbs and face were swollen from the effects of the medications she’d been taking. And she was tired. Cancer is not for sissies.

“Let me have your hands,” said Granddaddy.

Her little hands fit into his old palms nicely.

“Now stand on my feet,” he said.

The child placed her stocking feet atop the old man’s shoes. He stooped to kiss her shiny head. “That’s good,” he said.

He moved his feet back and forth and told her to follow his lead. They had to pause now and then because they were both prone to laughing fits.

The nurses videoed with their phones. A few orderlies watched from the doorway. The girl’s mother sat on the hospital bed, watching.

“This is how Grandpa…

I receive a lot of mail in the form of emails, letters, private messages, texts, Morse code, etc. It is impossible to answer all these messages, so I have compiled some of the most commonly asked questions, and will answer them here:

Q: This world is a mess, why don’t you ever address the central problems of our society? It seems irresponsible to not cultivate awareness. Why are you pretending that humanity is one great big happy family, and everything is hunky dory? This isn’t helping our country.

A: I think someone needs a nap.

Q: No, I’m serious. Don’t gloss over the question with your glib, sophomoric attempt at ill-timed humor.

A: You could use a beer, too.

Q: Hi. I just want to know: Is Sean Dietrich a real person, or just a secret team of a bunch of wannabe writers pretending to be one guy?

A: We aren’t wannabes. We’re never-weres. Big difference.

Q: Ginger or Mary Ann?

A: Lucille Ball.

Q: Come on. That’s not fair. Please comment on this age-old debate.

A: It’s not

a debate. Not really. Dawn Wells, who played Mary Ann on “Gilligan’s Island,” former Miss Nevada 1960, received more fan mail than Tina Louise (Ginger) and nearly every other actor at CBS Studios combined.

Even after Wells’ heyday she still received some 5,000 fan letters per week from hormone crazed post-pubescent boys, most of whom were offering to bear her children. Not that I would know.

In a scientific poll conducted by researchers at CBS, the results found that post-boomer males voted Mary Ann over Ginger, 3-1.

Q: You write a lot about dogs, but why don’t you ever write about cats? Don’t you like cats?

A: Funny you should mention that. As I type this, I am currently on my porch surrounded by six neighborhood cats. Two are sleeping near my feet. One cat is beside me, communicating telepathically with…

He was tall, lean, and young. When he approached me, he hugged me. Then, his mother hugged us both. A three-person club sandwich.

He must’ve been a foot taller than I was. His voice squeaked with adolescence. His skin was freckled. He had a long neck. He recognized me.

“I liked your books, sir,” he said, through a nervous stutter.

Sir? No way. Such titles are reserved for men who wear penny loafers when fishing.

“I read them all when I was in the hospital,” the boy went on. “I kinda got to know you, and it was like we were friends.”

His mother tells me his story. It’s a long one, and it’s not mine to repeat. But he has the determination of a saint, and he still has a long road ahead of him. He suffers more than other kids his age. And as things stand right now, he might not survive his struggle.

Before he walked away, he told me something. Something that stuck with me.

“You know what I do when I’m

down?” he said. “I list ten things I love every day. I write’em on paper. My dad told me to do that.”

He tapped his finger against his head. “Gotta keep on thinking ‘bout things I love.”

I was mute. I couldn’t seem to find words. I noticed a large moon-shaped scar beneath his hairline. I tried to say something, anything, but I just smiled.

He hugged me one more time. His mother took his arm, they walked away. The boy walked with a pronounced limp, holding his mother for balance. And I can’t quit thinking about him.

On the off-chance that he is reading this, I’ve come up with a few things I love:

1. I love Mexican food. In fact, I have had a lifelong love affair with it. A Mexican man I used to work with with used to make a…

Here is the letter I got:

“I’m struggling. My name is Joe, and I'm an addict. I've been to drug rehabilitation twice. I actually spent my 21st birthday there. Five years later, I'm still using drugs and I'm lying to my parents about where my money is going. I'm hurting my health, I know. It’s hard because I really want to be sober, but it’s just hard to stop. I guess I’m writing to you because your letters really are therapeutic to me.”

Dear Joe,

Today I sat down to write you a response even though, I freely admit, I know nothing about the nature of addiction. I typed one sentence when something happened. My wife came bursting into my office, shouting, “Otis has gone missing!”

Otis is one of our dogs. Otis is an alleged Labrador who might as well be our oldest child. He smells like a giant armpit and has chewed approximately 39 pairs of my reading glasses. But he is loyal, and he is mine. And we love him.

This dog, however, has

been known to dig beneath our fence and explore the greater Birmingham metro area. I don’t know why he escapes. He has a pretty cushy life here. We feed him Science Diet, which costs more per bag than a four-bedroom beachfront condo.

My wife and I tore into our backyard and found a big hole beneath the fence. My heart dropped.

“Otis!” we shouted.


He was gone.

Within minutes we were canvassing the neighborhood. I was barefoot, jogging on the sidewalks, hollering, “Otis! Here, boy!”

None of our neighbors had seen him.

My wife and I split up to cover more ground, cruising side streets in our respective vehicles. We were circling the neighborhood while horrific scenarios were dancing in our heads.

In a moment like this, you find yourself acting irrationally. You find yourself losing your own sanity.

“Dear Lord,” you…

Birmingham. A public park. It was sunny. I was walking my bloodhound, Thelma Lou, trying to get her to do her business. I wore a blue plastic poop-baggy over my hand. Ready for action.

The park was alive with people. People of all kinds. From all walks.

I passed a priest. The padre was elderly, with dandelion-fuzz hair. He walked on the paved track alongside a young man whose hair was in cornrows, whose skin was painted in tattoos. They were having a discussion about something evidently important.

At one point I think the boy was crying. Whereupon the priest put his arm around the young man and they hug-walked in silence.

I also passed a middle-aged man with freckles, sitting on a blanket with his beautiful Asian wife. They were having a fancy picnic, complete with champagne. My dog nosed around their plates and we were instantly introduced. We talked.

“Today is our 30th anniversary,” said the woman. “We met when we were in the Air Force, overseas, in Germany.”

I asked them

to say something in German.

“Ich liebe dich,” they said to each other. Then they kissed.

I asked what this phrase meant. The woman just smiled at me and said, “Look it up.”

I practiced this phrase several times, committing it to memory, using a faux German accent. But, much to their amusement, I sounded like a prodigious idiot.

Meanwhile, in the distance, I saw a busload of young Black girls filtering into the park. They were maybe 8 or 9 years old. There must have been a hundred of them.

They were running on the track, jogging in various directions, hollering, laughing, doing cartwheels. Some wore school uniforms. Many had beads in their hair.

Several girls were playing elaborate hand-clap games at breakneck tempos, shouting in loud rhymes.

“Double double this, this! Double double that, that…!”

A few of the girls were interested in my…

I was raised by women. After my father died, it was women who stepped in and taught me how to be a man. I am a card-carrying mama’s boy.

It was women who instructed me to be respectful, patient, diligent, sincere, attentive, spiritual and most importantly, how to put the toilet lid back down.

Women taught me to revere heaven, country, neighbor, and dog. They taught me to wash my hands before meals, to say my bedtime prayers, and I was taught to refer to my elders as ma’am, sir, or whenever I was I trouble, “your honor.”

And so it was that my youth was shaped by a gaggle of aunts, cousins, and matronly women who wore bath powder and polyester pants. I grew up being carried to and fro by females. It was a wonder I ever learned to walk.

When I was a baby, it was women who dressed me in ridiculously frilly outfits for Sunday service, such as yellow jumpsuits with white patent leather shoes. And

they dressed me like this until was in my early thirties.

It was women who cut my hair. My mother gave me haircuts on the front porch with a stainless steel mixing bowl placed over my head. She used a pair of equestrian hair clippers which predated the First World War, draped me in a bath towel and gave me a popular hairstyle common among Navy SEALs.

But I am grateful for women. For it was women who taught me to believe in God, and how to memorize Bible verses. Throughout the years, these maxims and proverbs have stuck with me. Such as the verse:

“And the Lord doth go before thee; he will be with thee, he will not fail thee, neither forsake thee: fear not, neither be dismayed.”

And it was my aunt Eulah, the fiery Pentecostal, who made me memorize uplifting verses to encourage me during dark…

I wish I had a few million bucks. You know what I’d do with it? I’d buy a piece of land, way out in the middle of the country and build bunkhouses for kids who are having rough childhoods. Kids without parents, or kids who are neglected, or orphaned. I would call it Camp Okie Dokie.

Camp Okie Dokie would also be a shelter to many, many stray dogs and rescue animals. We would have the largest collection of cats, dogs, horses, pigs, zebras, and giraffes this side of the Mississippi River.

So you’d have a bunch of kids and dogs and livestock living together in one enormous summer camp. Therefore you would also need lots of Glade plug-ins.

Oh, and the library. Our library would be ridiculously big. Monumentally big. Existentially big. The building itself would be about the size of a medium Midwestern city.

Children would have access to a lot more than just books at this library. With their library cards they would be allowed to rent baseball

gloves, Louisville sluggers, bicycles, guitars, water guns, camping gear, and fishing rods.

Fishing will be a big deal at Camp Okie Dokie. There will always be a full-time fishing guide employed by the camp, perpetually on standby, who will take kids fishing whenever the heck they feel like going. Day or night.

There will be 42 ponds on Camp Okie Dokie’s property, which will all be stocked with so much bream, bass and crappie that all you have to do is sneeze, and fish will start jumping into your boat. Kids will be encouraged to catch as many as they can since there will be a fish fry every Friday evening with hushpuppies and four metric tons of cheese grits.

At the fish fry, live music will be provided by musicians who don’t suck.

Nightly, there will be an old movie played on the massive theater screen erected on…

Watford City, North Dakota. Population 6,027. Unless somebody died last night. You’re looking at a whole lot of rocks and dirt out here.

The town of Watford City is a fleck-on-the-map hamlet located within the Badlands of the Roughrider State. It’s your quintessential Western town. You’ve got everything here you’d need to be happy. You have a hardware store, a pharmacy, a beer joint, American Legion Post 29, and a phonebook with at least six pages.

And, of course, there is the giant eight-ton bust of Theodore Roosevelt standing outside the local motel, which attracts dozens of tourists each year.

Senior prom was last week, which is a big deal in a town like Watford City. And, thanks to the Internet Age, prom is an even bigger deal these days because of something called a “promposal.”

For those who have been living on planet Jupiter, today’s teens rarely just ask someone to prom. They “prompose.” This is like a marriage proposal for high-schoolers wherein a teen pulls an elaborate stunt to ask his

date to prom. This is usually videoed or photographed for social media.

Promposals are meant to be cute, but sometimes they can get downright freaky. Some teens go all out for their promposals.

Some young men have organized streetwide flash mobs to propose to their dates.

One kid from Pennsylvania tandem-skydived for his promposal, wearing only his underpants, carrying a banner that read “I just ‘dropped in’ to ask you to prom.”

She said no.

One poor kid in Nevada videoed his promposal by bringing donuts to a girl’s house. In the video, a girl answers the door wearing a huge smile. She is clearly overwhelmed by the gesture when she excitedly says, “Oh my gosh!”

At this point, the 16-year-old nuclear physicist holding the donuts looks shocked. There is a long moment of awkwardness before the boy finally says something like: “Wait, this is the wrong…

Monroeville, Alabama, is quiet today. The town square looks perfect at dusk. The birds are chirping. The shops are lined in tight rows. The Victory roses are in bloom. Mel’s Dairy Dream is doing steady business.

An occasional muddy Chevy truck cruises down Main Street, windows rolled down, with godawful modern pop-country music blasting, just to remind everyone that, yes, although this sophisticated town is the “Literary Capital of Alabama,” birthplace of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Truman Capote, local teenagers here, like anywhere else, still play music loud enough to fracture Pittsburgh steel.

Today is the Monroe County Public Library’s 95th anniversary. I am in town to storytell in honor of the occasion. Why they chose me for this gig, I don’t know. I come from people who used books only for fly swatters. I am a dropout with no pedigree. But here I am.

I am standing in this small-town library to honor the American institution of books, and all people who hedge their lives around the power of


You can keep your politicians and your social influencers. Librarians are my heroes.

“I wanted our library to be fun,” says the head librarian. “I wanted kids to feel at home. I remember when I was a kid and librarians were always telling us kids to hush. That’s why we never shush children here.”

The library in this rural county has been in operation since Babe Ruth was hitting homers, movies were silent and the Model A was hot.

Meantime, in 1927, a bunch of do-gooders in Monroe County, Alabama, were deciding to offer literature to all. It was a unique time in America, an era when nearly 5 million U.S. citizens didn’t know how to read their own names. This library was a haven.

Today, this humble library owns the largest collection of books in the county. It’s also a famous place. Nelle Harper Lee and Truman…

“And that’s how it happened” said the elderly woman in the nursing home, finishing her story.

This concluded our six-hour interview.

After an interview that long, my brain’s gray matter was leaking out of my ears.

I was a younger man. I was only at this nursing home for a quick local newspaper story about the new Walmart being built. That was it. A few soundbytes. A few quotes. Everyone goes home.

The elderly woman, however, misunderstood the purpose of my visit and thought we were doing a story about her entire life. Her presentation included a long, detailed illustration of her ancestral genealogy dating back to the Phonecians.

When our interview finished, the nurse wheeled her away. I collapsed on the rec room sofa and tried to uncross my eyes.

And that’s when I met him.

He was sitting in a wheelchair parked beside the TV, wearing a large Stetson, attached to oxygen, drinking an O’Doul’s. He was watching “Law and Order.”

The man wasn’t just old. He was old-old. He looked ancient enough to have the Social Security number 4.


glared at me, took a sip from his longneck, and announced that he had to visit the little boys’ room.

I looked around for a nurse. There were none.

So he made stronger eye contact with me. “I said I have to take a leak. It’s kinda urgent.”

I blinked. “Are you talking to me?”

“No, your guardian angel. Yes, you. Take me to the john or run and fetch a mop.”

I wheeled him out into the hallway and looked around for a young person in scrubs to save me. But there were no medical staffers.

When we arrived at the bathroom the man upturned his wheelchair footplates and looked at me. “Don’t just stand there. Help me.”

“Uh,” I said, “I’m not sure I’m supposed to be doing this…”

“So you’re just gonna let me…