I was a kid. I was riding in Daddy’s F-100. Forest green. Rusted fenders. Oxygen canisters on the back. Welding hoses, dangling. He was a young man. It was nighttime.

It was Saturday evening. We were leaving prayer meeting. We were often at church on Saturday nights because sometimes Daddy sang in the choir for prayer meetings.

And each week, on the ride home, after our Baptist congregation had prayed thoroughly enough to severely constipate themselves, we listened to the Grand Ole Opry on the radio.

That night, the Oak Ridge Boys were singing “Will the Circle Be Unbroken?” Daddy’s favorite. I remember my father turning it up. I remember those flimsy radio speakers distorting.

Then, the truck made a noise. A loud noise. A tire had blown out. Daddy gripped the wheel with both hands and guided the truck to the shoulder of the rural two-lane.

He left the doors open and the radio playing. He removed his church-shirt so that his scrawny, pale, bird-like torso was bare. And as his beloved

hymn played, he taught me how to change my first tire. He let me do all the easy parts.

Afterward, we sat together on the truck bed. The stars were above us. Minnie Pearl was telling jokes.

She told the one about the little boy who once said a cuss word in front of his mother. His mother was aghast.

“I’m going to give you a whippin’!” his mother said. After the mother administered corporal punishment, the boy looked at his bare hindparts in the mirror. “Look what you did, Mama!” he said, “you cracked it.”

I remember the pleasant feeling of being together with my father that evening. And I always think of him just that way. Young. Shirtless. Skinny. With the Opry playing.

It wasn’t long thereafter that one day the preacher visited our house. He was wearing a necktie, although it wasn’t Sunday. And…

I saw him when I got to Chattanooga. He was an old man, in the restaurant, seated in the booth directly across from mine. He was just sitting there, drinking coffee. His clothes were crumpled. He was unshaven. He wore a ratty cap.

When I am an old man, I will wear a ratty cap.

The waitress stopped by and asked if he needed anything. He said no, he was waiting for his daughter to arrive. But she was running a little late, he explained.

“You want some more coffee?” the waitress asked.

“Yes, please, darling.”

When I am an old man, I will call waitresses “darling.”

The waitress topped off his cup and scooted into the booth beside him. “I’m sure there’s a perfectly reasonable explanaion why she’s running so late.”

“Like maybe she’s stuck in traffic?” he said.


“Or maybe she’s in trouble. Maybe she’s had an accident.”

“I hope that’s not the case,” said the waitress.

The old man reached into his pocket and retrieved his phone. He was checking for any missed text messages. There were none.

The waitress just smiled

at him. “She’s just running late, that’s all. Lots of people run late.”

The old man smiled weakly. “We agreed on a time and a place for lunch. She said she’d be here. She always forgets me. Crime in Italy.”

When I am an old man, I will say crime in Italy.

“Just give her a few more minutes,” the waitress said. “Your daughter would not forget you.”


My lunch break ended. An hour passed. I was watching the old man as he played Wordle on his phone. Hell hath no greater torture than Wordle.

And when I was finished, paying our server, I could see the old man was still seated at the table. Waiting.

The waitress came by his table again.

“Are you sure you don’t want to order lunch while…

The letter came via email. And in the interest of keeping the identity of the writer anonymous, I have decided not to tell you that his name is David Eriksson, of Omaha, Nebraska, zip code 68104.

“Dear Sean,” the email began, “I recently read that you love Milo’s tea and drink it all day. Well, I have been to Alabama and eaten at a Milo’s. And I just wanted to say that Milo’s, like Alabama, is terrible. Milo’s tea is too sweet. I prefer iced tea from McDonald’s and I’ll take my response off the air.”

Dear Anonymous Person Named David, I appreciate you taking time out of your busy schedule to send me your opinion on iced tea. I must, however, respectfully disagree.

For starters, one thing you learn as an op-ed columnist is that all opinions are subjective. After all, who among us is qualified to say that one thing is better than another?

The answer is me. I am qualified. And McDonald’s tea is awful. I wouldn’t use McDonald’s tea to scrub oil stains

off my driveway.

In all fairness, you are from Nebraska. So you are probably not an iced tea aficionado. I have traveled through Nebraska. I have tasted the tea, which tastes much like sulfuric acid only with less sugar content.

“Ma’am,” I said to the waitress, “there is something wrong with my tea.”

“What’s wrong with it?”

“I don’t need an insulin injection.”

And one time, I spent the night in Nebraska after I made a speech in Osceola, Iowa. And let me tell you, it wasn’t easy finding a place to stay in rural Nebraska. Nobody could understand my accent.

Plus, it took us hours to find a hotel because, apparently, the power was out, and Eastern Nebraska’s computers were down. It was a region-wide outage that was tragic. Reportedly, 43 University of Nebraska-Omaha students were stuck on an escalator for six…

Dear Myra, on your first day of seventh grade, I wanted to sit down and write you a letter. Namely, I wanted to remind you not to be anxious about starting a new school.

So do not be nervous.

But then, of course, whenever someone tells you NOT to do something, your brain ends up doing it even worse. It’s human nature.

An example of this would be if I were to tell you NOT to envision your little brother, Jason, going poop. Immediately, you would envision little Jason, sitting on the toilet, waiting for the spirit to move, shouting at you, and saying, “THERE’S SOMEONE IN HERE!”

Which is what all people shout in bathroom stalls when people try to barge in on them. We use these words verbatim. I don’t know why we all shout these exact words in public bathrooms. Whenever a bathroom stall is locked, there is obviously someone in there. There is no need to shout about it.

This is why, whenever someone tries to barge in on me

in a public restroom, I start singing. Usually, I sing something from the catalog of James Brown. Such as, “I Feel Good,” or “Let a Man Come in and Do the Popcorn.” Because that is the kind of world I want to live in.

But what I am getting at is that you shouldn’t be nervous today, Myra, because you have nothing to be nervous about.

I know your parents are both recently deceased from a car accident. I also know you and your brother are living in foster care with Miss Pamela, whom you barely know.

Your life is upside down. And now it’s time to start a new school. You have anxiety. You have panic attacks. You’re nervous. But the truth is, you don’t need to be worried. And I’m going to tell you why.

Because today is no ordinary day, Myra. Oh, it…

There is a lot of talk in the writing community about how artificial intelligence chatbots are going to replace authors someday. The fear is that AI will take real writing jobs and we writers will eventually be forced to live in refrigerator cartons beneath an overpass.

This does not scare me because, as an English major, I know from experience that if you choose the right overpass, it’s not so bad.

To further investigate the matter of AI, I signed up for ChatGPT, which is a robot developed by OpenAI. This language-based bot can, without doing any legwork or actual research, piece together fragments of quasi-true information gleaned from the internet and write incredibly crappy essays. Exactly like us writers.

What frightens us writers, however, is that you can ask ChatGPT to write in the style of ANY author, and the computer will mimic an author’s unique prose and voice.

I decided to test this. I logged in and asked the chatbot a few questions. First I asked the chatbot if it

had feelings.

“No, I am not sentient. I am a machine learning model called GPT-3.5, designed to generate human-like text based on the input I receive. I lack consciousness, self-awareness, and true understanding. My responses are generated based on patterns and information from data I was trained on.”

Next, I asked ChatGPT to write 50 words in the style of Sean Dietrich. Which is me. This is where things got scary. Here is what the chatbot wrote:

“Let me tell y’all a little somethin’ ‘bout a Southern breeze on a lazy afternoon. It's like Grandma's sweet tea, cool and a’comfortin’. Makes you forget your worries and sets your soul a’dancin’. So sit for a spell, listen close, and let that breeze a’carry you to simpler times.”

I had to laugh. Because, for starters, we did not call my grandmother “Grandma,” she was always “Granny.” And Granny’s sweet tea…

“WAHOO! WELCOME TO THE WAHOOS STADIUM!” That’s what he’d always say.

Josh Parr’s wheelchair sat parked at the top of the stairs where he greeted all ticket holders with a high-five and a corny joke. He was the first person you saw when you entered Blue Wahoo ballpark.

“He was our front gate guy,” said his employer, Donna Kirby. “He was the guy who always shouted “WAHOO! WELCOME TO THE WAHOOS!”

“Josh was a people magnet,” said another friend. “He was made for this job.”

For the unbaptized, the Pensacola Blue Wahoos are a Minor League team. They’re a good ball club, consistently at the top of the Southern League.

This year, for example, the Wahoos outrank the Biloxi Shuckers, the Montgomery Biscuits, and the poor Mississippi Braves who are—God love them—sucking pond water.

Josh was an ardent Blue Wahoos fan. When he got a job at Blue Wahoos Stadium, it was like winning the lottery for him.

And he was good at his job.

“Not just anyone can be a greeter,” said Josh’s supervisor, Mike Fitzpatrick. “It

takes real personality to do what he did. He was a master.”

“Everyone wanted their selfie with him,” said another coworker. “The fans all stood in line to talk to him.”

On game nights, there he’d be. Sitting at the gate. Rolling his chair to and fro. Dolling out belly laughs and hugs and corny jokes.

One coworker remembers: “The first time I heard him say, ‘WAHOO! WELCOME TO THE WAHOOS!’ I just smiled all over. Because he made this job really fun.”

Josh Aidan Parr. Twenty-one years young. He was born with cerebral palsy. His mother had addictions while he was in the womb, which interrupted his brain development and led to lifelong muscular difficulties.

His youth was not easy. Throughout boyhood, his mother was unstable. Times were hard. Money did not grow on trees. His mother died by suicide when…

DEAR SEAN: I tried a tomato sandwich yesterday for the first time. My mom bought tomatoes at the grocery store and we made them with Hellmann’s and wheat bread. The sandwiches were okay, but not life-changing like you said they would be.

DEAR READER: You did it wrong. You do not make a tomato sandwich with store-bought tomatoes unless you are from Detroit. You must use homegrown tomatoes for such pleasantries.

Moreover, using Hellmann’s on a tomato sandwich is like dipping your French fries in Vaseline. It must be Duke’s, Blue Plate, or Bama brand mayo.

Lastly, wheat bread is not fit for tomato sandwiches, it must be white bread. Wheat bread is only for communists and people who don’t love the Lord.

DEAR SEAN: How do I stop my brother from stealing my beer? We are ages 24 and 26 and roommates. We split all the household expenses, but we buy our own beer because it’s pricey. He always runs out of money first and steals my beer and then I have nothing.

Please help me.

DEAR READER: The following story is true. My grandfather once pulled this prank on his coworker when they were on a work trip. First my grandfather purchased a manual bottle-capper. Then he secretly opened their beers and dumped red food-coloring into each beer. Then he recapped the bottles.

When his friend drank the beer he didn’t notice the coloring because of the brown bottles.

The next morning when his friend visited the commode, there were shrieks of terror coming from the restroom. “I’m dying!” the coworker shouted.

This is my wisdom. I offer it to you freely.

DEAR SEAN: My dog died from pancreatitis last week. My heart hurts so badly and I wish I knew how to function. Do you have any advice for me?

DEAR READER: When my bloodhound, Ellie Mae, died I thought I’d never recover. I cried all day.…