You are special.

You are infinitely, unbelievably, absolutely, once-in-a-septillion-years special. That’s right, I’m talking to you, one of the nine-point-two people reading this.

You might not realize your specialness. You might not believe you are unique. You might think I am full of a plentiful substance common to barnyards and hog pens. You might think you are merely ordinary. But you’re not typical. You, my friend, are a regular freak of statistics. And this is the fact.

Right now, there are 7.8 billion humans on the planet. The total number of humans alive right now represents 7 percent of the total number of humans who have ever lived—which is 117 billion humans. And all of these people, past and present, have one thing in common.

They ain’t you.

Nobody has ever been you. Nobody ever will be you again. Nobody will ever have your specific list of traits, talents, and body odor.

This is not some weird new-age schtick. I am speaking mathematically, you are an isolated occurrence. You are an arithmetical rarity

so improbable that statisticians still have not figured out how in the Sam Hill you happened.

There is no formula for you. There is no numerical way you could have happened. But just look at you, here you are. Breathing.

You probably waltz around this world thinking your life is no big deal. But au contraire Fred Astair. Science tells us that the paltry possibility of you being born was nothing short of supernatural. We’re talking about nanoscopic odds here.

To illustrate your uniqueness, I will use the illustration of a rock and a fish:

First, imagine that the entire globe is covered in one big, expansive ocean. Now imagine that there is only one little fish swimming in this great ocean. Let’s call this fish Angie because Angie Broginez was the name of the saintly teacher who struggled unsuccessfully to teach me algebra in community college…

I have here an email that says:

“Dear Sean, I have a crush on a girl in my class. She is super pretty and I know that she would think I’m a good guy if she only knew me. I’m not super handsome or anything like that and I’m quiet, but I am super smart and people think I’m funny. I’m 15 and live in Mount Pleasant. My mom is not alive or I would ask her.”

You’ve come to the right person, Fifteen. If you’ll bear with me, I’m going to tell you a true story.

There once was a boy who lived in a land far away. He was an average redhead who had a deep affection for carbohydrates, “The Far Side,” and late night comedy. This young man knew he wasn’t particularly attractive in a traditional way.

In fact, when this boy later saw photographs of himself, it turns out that he spent his youth looking like Danny Partridge. And his hair? His red hair had the same look and feel as

electrified cotton candy.

So anyway, there was this girl in his junior high class named Maggie. She ignored him. And who can blame her? This boy often sent Maggie anonymous love poems written with all the creativity of coleslaw:

“Dearest Maggie, your hair is like spun gold, and your eyes, the color of the water in the public pool after it’s been recently chlorinated…”

So you can imagine how filled with angst I was when the annual Sadie Hawkins dance came along.

For anyone who grew up Mars, a Sadie Hawkins dance is an antiquated ritual people don’t practice anymore wherein girls invite boys to a dance, instead of the traditional way, where a boy asks a girl who then tells him that she will be, quote, “busy washing my cat that night.”

Usually, with a Sadie Hawkins dance, all girls go after the best-looking…

Sandy was seated on the porch, wearing an apron, folding clothes from a giant basket. She was a certified laundry fairy for three unkempt children. It was an average Tuesday, 1945.

There was a chicken boiling on the stove inside, freshly plucked. She’d made a mulberry pie with berries from the backyard tree.

A radio atop the pie safe was playing KFBI 1050 AM out of Wichita. Red Foley was singing “Smoke on the Water.”

Sandy had spent the whole day hanging clothes and bedsheets on a clothesline. She always washed linens on Tuesdays. Her mother had always washed linens on Tuesdays. It was what laundry fairies did.

Although, sometimes she wondered why she went to so much trouble keeping house when her husband, William, was still a few thousand miles away, fighting a cussed World War. He hadn’t been home in a year.

Sandy’s children asked her every day—every SINGLE day—“When’s daddy coming home, Mama?” And each time she answered, she would look into their little eyes and say, “I don’t know, sweetheart.”

War had been a part of

their lives for so long, she couldn’t remember existence without fighting. War was in their drinking water. War was in every newspaper headline. Every radio advertisement. Every magazine ad.






Sandy folded a tiny pair of underwear belonging to her 4-year-old son and a shudder went through her. What if Daddy never did come home? Throngs of good men were dying overseas every day.

Just last week, her next door neighbor, Gladys, received a visit from the Western Union man who delivered news of her 19-year-old boy’s end. Another lady in church just lost her husband and brother on…

I bought a jigsaw puzzle at the grocery store today. The box features an ornate cathedral with red roses and blossoming foliage. The cathedral is in Germany. The puzzle cost two bucks.

My mother and I used to do jigsaw puzzles. Big puzzles. We did them together. I was no good at jigsaws, but she was an expert.

Long ago, puzzles cost seventy-five cents, and provided hours of distraction. We needed distractions back then. We welcomed anything that took our minds off my father’s untimely death, and the gloom that came thereafter.

My mother looked for distractions that made us laugh, things that made us smile, games, puzzles, crafts, or road trips.

Once, she took us to Branson. She took me to see a Dolly Parton impersonator. The show was spectacular. After the performance, the woman in the blond wig hugged me so tight she nearly suffocated me with her enormous attributes.

When my mother saw me locked with the buxom woman, she shrieked and started praying in tongues. She yanked me by my

earlobe and drug me away. And I have been a lifelong Dolly Parton fan ever since.

Anyway, my mother loved doing things with her hands. She made large quilts from old T-shirts, she gardened, she did puzzle books, anagrams, crosswords, cryptograms, she knitted, crocheted, and painted.

She played cards with me, sometimes checkers, and she was a Scrabble fanatic. But jigsaw puzzles. Those were our thing.

My mother started each puzzle by saying the same thing:

“We gotta find the corners first, that’s how you do it.”

The idea was that once you found the corners, the rest of the puzzle would come together. Thus, we would sift through twenty-five hundred pieces, looking for four corners. Once we found them, we’d dig for the edges.

We’d place pieces into piles, then link them together. Piece by piece. Section by section. Mama and I could spend a…

The Choctawhatchee River is 141 miles of magic. You might think that sounds whacko, and you’re probably right. But I am just naïve enough to believe in magic.

The Choctawhatchee’s headwaters start as two separate forks, located in Barbour and Henry County, Alabama. The river then flows southward, snaking its way through Geneva County, lulling itself past the Florida line, finally emptying into the Choctawhatchee Bay of my youth.

The water undergoes many changes on its journey to the Sunshine State. Even the color of the river changes slightly as it slices through mud, clay and silt.

In some places the water is olive green. In other places the water can look more reddish, like iced tea. By the time the water spills into the 129 square miles of brackish bay, the water is almost silvery blue.

When I was a young sap, old men used to say the Choctawhatchee River was different from other tributaries. Not only is the water staggeringly clean, the river also contains some of

the oldest fish known to man. Among these species is the Gulf sturgeon, a frightening armored fish that traces its origins back to the Triassic Period, shortly after the birth of Willie Nelson.

These are wicked fish, known to jump right out of the water and assault fishermen. I know of a man who was knocked out of his boat and injured by a whopping sturgeon while he was eating a liver wurst sandwich.

So there is a special element that is unnamable about the Choctawhatchee. Using a fishing rod, I have spent entire summers trying to figure out what this unnamable charm is, but I have no answer except to say that, yes, it’s magic.

Which brings me to a recent example of this particular magic. A few days ago, near Hartford, Alabama (pop. 2,624), something happened.

A kayaker was paddling along the river and saw something stuck in the…

In my family, there was no real difference between religion and fried chicken. The two items went hand in hand. When you attended church events, you ate fried chicken. Any other dish was borderline paganism.

We did not, for example, get together at the Baptist covered-dish suppers to eat chickpeas. To my knowledge no kale ever crossed the threshold of my childhood fellowship hall. And it would have been more acceptable to smoke Marlboro Reds in the sanctuary than it would have been to eat anything containing tofu.

So it was fried chicken. All the way. We had drumsticks that were roughly the size of Danny DeVito, and white-meat breasts that required the strength of three men to lift. There were short thighs so large that you would have sworn someone’s husband was missing his left leg.

The frying was done in the church kitchen by women with names like Jeannie, Delores, Carla May, Delpha, Martha Ann, Voncille, Wanda Lou, and Eleanor Sue. They worked at a GE stove that

was Harvest Gold and featured electric eyes that never sat level.

These women used ancient iron skillets, heirloom pot holders, and wooden spoons that had seen so much action they didn’t even look like spoons anymore but gnarled pieces of hickory.

The galley’s formica countertops were adorned with a fine dusting of King Arthur flour. There were industrial-sized jars of Crisco on each surface, slipping and sliding in puddles of polyunsaturated fat.

If you stepped into this kitchen during a frying frenzy, you were met with a cumulus of hot air so sultry with artery-clogging vegetable shortening, you could inhale once and experience a fatal cardiac event.

Meantime, you and your cousin would be out in the fellowship hall dining area, setting up steel folding chairs. These were dangerous chairs you handled, chairs with a particular folding mechanism capable of slicing the fingers off little boys who operated them incorrectly.

It was sundown at the beach. There was a small group gathered at the public beach access, dressed in wedding attire. The bride wore flowers in her hair and carried a bouquet. The groom wore slacks and a nice shirt. Everyone was barefoot.

I sort of grew up barefoot. In fact, I grew up on this very beach. I remember working as a beach attendant/lifeguard one summer, after getting my heart broken by a young woman who shall remain nameless.

One morning I showed up before work, when this beach was empty, I waded into the cool water and I asked God to notice me. Pathetic, I know. But that’s all I wanted, was to be seen. A body can go a whole lifetime without feeling like anyone sees them.

I remember I was in chest-deep water when a seagull immediately landed beside me. He dunked himself in the Gulf, then shook his feathers violently so that it looked like he had a little mohawk. I laughed, then dunked myself beneath the saltwater, reemerged,

just like my new friend.

And the seagull stayed put, floating alongside yours truly, just staring at me. At the time I didn’t know what this mini experience meant, but it seemed to mean something.

“Is everybody ready?” shouted the groom. “Let’s get started before the sun sets!”

So the wedding party plodded across the beach in our bare feet, moving into position.

“Why’re you carrying that big book?” a kid asked me on our walk. “Are you the one marrying them?”

“Yes,” I said.

“You a preacher?”

I almost choked on my own spittle. “No.”

The story goes: I was legally ordained about a decade ago because a friend asked me to do their wedding. So I sent a certified check to a strange mail-order ordination company that charged me $150 to be a man of the cloth. In return, they sent me a little…

JACKSONVILLE, Fla.—A car accident. A crushed car, sideways in the median. Years ago.

She saw the car and pulled over. She jogged toward it. It was instinct. She opened the door. The man wasn’t breathing.

She had been working part-time at a pre-school. Pre-schools have mandatory CPR certification classes. Only a few days earlier, she had practiced resuscitating dummies in a church fellowship hall.

She pulled the man out of the battered vehicle. She found his breastbone. Thirty compressions. Two rescue breaths.

He’s alive today. A father of four. He keeps in touch.

ATHENS, Ga.—Nineteen-year-old Billy didn’t want to get into a fistfight. He’d never been in a fight before. He saw a younger kid being beaten by two large boys. He couldn’t stay out of it.

Billy, who’d never thrown a punch in his life, pushed himself into the conflict. He fended off the two attackers, but not without being beaten-up.

Billy took the kid to the emergency room. They became fast friends. He brought the kid home to meet his parents. The boy told them he’d been living

with his uncle—who neglected him.

Billy’s parents invited the kid live with them. They fixed the guest bedroom. They bought him a Playstation. They fed him. They made him one of their own.

When Billy got married, the kid was his best man. When Billy had his first son, the kid became a godfather.

When the kid wore a cap and gown to receive a diploma, seven people stood and clapped for him.

HOOVER, Ala.—Leigh Ann was your classic shut-in. She was too old and feeble to go anywhere.

Most days, she sat in a recliner watching her stories on TV. Sometimes she forgot to feed herself. She had nobody. She’d been lonely ever since her husband passed. Leigh Ann had no children.

One day, a young man who lived on her street noticed the street-address numbers on her house,…

A fast-food chain. I was standing in line, waiting for my Oreo milkshake. There was a group ahead of me, with ages ranging from mid-twenties to mid-sixties, all dressed nicely. Mostly women.

The older group members were wearing pearls and blouses. The younger ones wore modern hairstyles, jeans, and tattoos. They were all teachers.

“It’s Teacher Appreciation Week,” one teacher explained. “We’re here because we get free stuff.”

“They give us free burgers today,” said another excited teacher.

“This is a fun week for a teacher,” added another woman. “They have buy-one-get-one deals at all the good restaurants if you show your school ID. My husband is going to take me out every night this week. He just doesn’t know it yet.”

Turns out, the deals for teachers are never ending. All over the US, teachers are getting major discounts and freebies this week.

At Barnes and Noble, for example, all teachers get free coffees. At most franchise fast-food joints teachers get free fries, burgers, tots, hot dogs, sandwiches, shakes, cookies, ice cream, and apple pies.

There are companies offering discounted Caribbean cruises, half-price cellphone plans, and even free underpants.

There are deals to be had at AT&T, Michael’s, Levi’s, Vineyard Vines, J. Crew, Verizon, and of course, Crocs.

This week at Office Depot, teachers get 20 percent off. At Dollar General, teachers get 5 percent off for a whole month. And at select local restaurants, teachers receive free fishbowl Margaritas the size of above-ground kiddie pools.

“But they only give you one Margarita,” said a teacher. “And that’s not nearly enough for a teacher.”

While my Oreo delight was being whipped to perfection, I asked several of them how they entered into education.

“Oh, I always knew I wanted to be a teacher,” says one. “My mom says I used to line up my dolls in my room like students and boss them around.”

“I was a music major,”…

I was interviewed by a kid. I’ll call her “Kay,” but that’s not her name. Kay is a foster child who loves Auburn University football.

Kay is also serious about the sanctity of the interview process. Kay wants to be a lawyer when she grows up.

She got in touch with me because this is National Foster Care Month. Today happens to be National Foster Care Day.

Her digital recorder sat on the table. She gave me bottled water. She also had prepared homemade pimento cheese because she knows pimento cheese is my favorite.

It was very good cheese. However, instead of using pimentos, Kay used homegrown habanero peppers from her foster-mother’s garden that were spicy enough to strip the paint off interstate pavement. My lower intestinal tract will never be the same.

The interview was for Kay’s school. She was supposed to be writing about people who were fascinating. But she couldn’t find anyone like that, so instead she wrote about me.

She pressed the button on the recorder.

“Please state your name.” Her pencil was poised mid-air.

“Sean Dietrich.”

“Your FULL name, please,” Kay said.

“Sean P. Dietrich.”

“What does

the ‘P’ stand for, please?”



“No, not really, I was just trying to make you laugh.”

But Kay does not laugh. She doesn’t move a facial muscle. Kay will make a very good prosecutor.

“Tell me how you started writing?”

“With a pencil,” I said.

“Please be serious.”

“Okay,” I said. “I’m a writer by accident, really.”


“I was no good at anything else. And believe me, I’ve tried it all. I’ve worked a lot of jobs.”

“What kinds of jobs?”

“Oh boy, let’s see…. I’ve been a drywaller, a landscaper, an electrician’s assistant, a house painter, an ice-cream scooper, a beer-joint pianist, and once, after a wild night in Biloxi, I got ordained.”

“Is that true?” said Kay. “Were you really ordained?”

I retrieve…