I considered bolting, but that would’ve been childish. Instead, I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and recognized me. His nose was running, and his eyes were puffy, his hair was a mess.

I was fired from the only retail job I ever had. The important thing to remember here is that I wasn’t fired because I was a bad worker, or undependable. It wasn’t because I was a crummy person, incompetent, tardy, or lazy.

It was because—and I will never forget this—I didn’t iron my shirt.

The bossman came into work and looked at me with disgust. “God,” he said. “Don’t you ever iron your shirt?”

At the exact moment he said this, I was eating a ham and swiss on rye—heavy on the mustard. And it’s impossible to defend yourself intelligently with a mouthful of ham and swiss on rye with mustard.

He fired me. I packed my things and I was gone in fifteen minutes.

So yeah, I’m messy. I don’t mean to be, but I am.

My truck, for instance, is a mess. A few days ago, I found a small oak tree sprout growing in a pile of decomposing trash in my floorboards. I couldn’t bring myself to uproot the thing because I love greenery.

My office is a mess, too. I have fifty thousand books. Tall stacks sit on every flat surface so I can always see them, and one day when I am gone, God-willing, someone will think I actually read them all.

I don’t know how I became so messy. I didn’t take a special course to learn how. It’s just a gift.

My mother is tidy. My father polished his lawnmower engines for kicks. My sister keeps a house so clean you could eat supper off her toilet seat. My wife irons our dog-bed covers.

Me? I have a tree growing in my truck.

Yesterday, I was in the post office. I stood in a long line. The room was full of folks with violent winter colds.

After every cough, I covered my nose and mouth with my shirt and mumbled the Lord’s Prayer.

The man in front of me hacked so hard he almost blew out a lung. Then he sneezed.

“Bless you,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said.

That’s when I noticed his familiar profile. It was my old boss. And, by God, you could have sliced a watermelon on his starched collar.

I considered bolting, but that would’ve been childish. Instead, I tapped him on the shoulder. He turned and recognized me. His nose was running, and his eyes were puffy.

We shook hands, and while we pumped hands he said, “Oh, wait, we probably shouldn’t be shaking hands, I’m sick with the worst cold of my life.”

How nice.

“I actually saw you come in,” he went on. “I didn’t say anything because I didn’t want to make it awkward…” he paused. “I know you probably hate me.”

As it happens, I don’t hate him.

Certainly, I might have once enlarged a photograph of him at the Walgreens film department so I could hang his picture on my garage wall and throw darts at it.

And yes, I might have ordered twenty-three Domino’s pizzas to be delivered at his house one Memorial Day weekend. But I was young, and the pizzas were all my cousin Ed Lee’s idea.

“I was going through a divorce,” he told me. “Those were the darkest days of my life, I was a total jerk, I know that.”

He went on to explain that during that particular year, his wife left him. Then, his father took ill and needed hospice care. His oldest son was running with a bad crowd. His daughter hated him and tried to run away.

And I felt five inches tall. I was sorry I ever called Domino’s and ordered twenty-three pizzas. I should’ve stopped at four.

“Man,” he said, “things are good now, I’m better. I’m working out, eating right, and I’m in a much happier place. I just want to say I’m sorry. I shoulda never fired you, you were an okay guy.”

Well, I suppose being “an okay guy” is a lot better than being something else.

Anyway, he mailed his packages, I mailed mine. We talked in the parking lot until he realized he had to pick up his granddaughter from school.

He extended his hand one more time.

“Oh wait,” he said, withdrawing it. “Sorry, I keep forgetting about shaking hands with this bad cold.”

I gripped his hand anyway. Then, we hugged and slapped each other’s backs.

There are some things more important than colds. Big things. Like feeling the way I do right now.

“Happy New Year,” I said.

“Thanks,” he said. “You too.”

And that’s when I decided, once and for all, to always iron my shirts, forevermore.

No, I’m just kidding.

I hurried home to water the tree growing in my floorboards.

22 comments

  1. Camille - January 6, 2019 11:58 am

    I wonder if he knows what a success you are now, wrinkled shirt and all!

    Reply
  2. jane jones - January 6, 2019 12:02 pm

    I do love your sense of humor. My husband did not have trees growing in his truck, but he did have grass sprouting on the floorboard.

    Reply
  3. Nancy Rogers - January 6, 2019 12:15 pm

    Ironing is highly overrated, the shirt will just get wrinkled again. Now trees, they can never be overrated. Happy New Year!

    Reply
  4. Cynthia Harmon - January 6, 2019 12:28 pm

    As my mother told me when I complained about a teacher, you never know what people are going through. I believe this led me to be a better person. You are one of the kindest people I know.

    Reply
  5. Naomi - January 6, 2019 12:37 pm

    You never know what makes people mean. I have had a lot of mean people in my life and it’s usually at some of the worst times in my life. The only thing I know for sure is that we have to forgive; we cannot hold a grudge until we die because that means we have let another person destroy us. Even Jesus, as he hung on the cross, said, “Forgive them Father, for they know not what they do”. God takes care of mean people and, hopefully, convicts them of their bad behavior.

    Reply
  6. GaryD - January 6, 2019 1:09 pm

    My mom use to starch and iron my shirts and I hated it. I especially despised those stiff and itchy collars. To this day I will not wear a shirt with a collar, even on Sunday.

    Reply
  7. Ginger Hubbard - January 6, 2019 1:19 pm

    My house is very tidy but my car looks like the old commercial “Tennessee trash”. Except i don’t litter, because why would anyone ever just throw trash out on the ground?

    Reply
  8. Liz Watkins - January 6, 2019 1:42 pm

    You never know what is going on with other people! That’s why we should alwas try to be kind and nice!

    Reply
    • Chuck Gerlach - January 6, 2019 3:01 pm

      So, so true. So true!!!!

      Reply
  9. Penn Wells - January 6, 2019 2:15 pm

    Yes

    Reply
  10. Shelton A. - January 6, 2019 2:54 pm

    23 was a little excessive. Glad you could talk things out-life can take some strange turns, can’t it?

    Reply
  11. Edna B. - January 6, 2019 5:05 pm

    My mom was very neat and all my children are neat. I’m the messy one. Don’t really know why, but as long as it isn’t hurting anyone I guess it’s okay. Sean, you have a wonderful day, hugs, Edna B.

    Reply
  12. Judy - January 6, 2019 5:58 pm

    I am a tree waterer too…an organized one, sort of hahaha

    Reply
  13. Elizabeth Edens - January 6, 2019 6:10 pm

    I love greenery!

    Reply
  14. Linda James - January 6, 2019 8:52 pm

    I had mushrooms growing in the back floorboard due to a windshield leak. It was a pretty crummy car and I often got stuck when it wouldn’t start. My husband wasn’t sympathetic.we were too young and stupid. So, I decided to redecorate the aweful thing. I spray painted stripper on it with the intent of spray can painting it. I don’t remember what became of that thing, must have had amnesia… Can’t believe I did such a dumb thing! Often wondered what the next owner thought of my mess.

    Reply
  15. Diana Sarafin - January 6, 2019 9:19 pm

    A very sweet story Sean, brought tears to my eyes. Thank you.

    Reply
  16. Pat - January 7, 2019 12:29 am

    Love it!

    Reply
  17. Frank - January 7, 2019 2:58 am

    I just finished changing my un-ironed shirt because I laughed so hard at your story today that I blew boogers from my worst-cold-ever over the whole thing.

    Why am I still laughing? Because I had a tree growing out of the carpet in the back of my 4X4 1978 Chevy Blazer (used to haul firewood back there). I never knew anyone else with a similar story.

    I’m proud to find that puts me in good company with another ”okay guy.”

    Just love ya, Sean!

    Reply
  18. Jill - January 8, 2019 2:42 pm

    Love and acceptance, most importantly, forgiveness.

    Reply
  19. Allen Berry - February 6, 2019 2:59 pm

    Ha! My dad’s old truck once had a stalk of corn growing in it. We’d have pulled it, but it was Silver Queen, and that’s some tasty corn!

    Reply
  20. Nan Williams - February 7, 2019 11:08 am

    My car is always a disaster! I don’t have any greenery but I do have plenty of dog hair and trash. “They” (whoever “they” is) say a disorganized desk is a sign of a great mind. Since I don’t have a desk to be disorganized, my car. will have to do.

    Reply
  21. unkle Kenny - February 7, 2019 7:05 pm

    It was long ago at a place that rymes with done deal , I was a maintenance mechanic, 3rd shift . The maint super had a name that rymed with sil dogsson. He was big ben’s spawn . They took great delight in theating us mechanics like taxi cabs . It went like this Sunday nite at 10:00 pm till mooday 7:00am till friday.Then with a twitch of their forked tongue they would order you to work Saturday morning from 7:00am till 3:30 pm . At this point we were near or past exhaustion. Another twitch of the spawns tongue and yoy were forced to work Sunday from 7:00am till 3:30 pm . Wait fore it ,you had to go back to work at 10:00pm that nite . The song 8 days a week was sung under our breath . I was on my way to quit one friday and big ben called me to his office and surrounded by the band o devils he told me I was being terminated, I was confused and asked if that ment I was fired? Yes he hissed ! You mean I don’t have to work tomorrow and Sunday I asked . No it said again. FREEDOM AT LAST , I loaded my tools and cruised out of there quiet and so happy , good bye gates . I realized after years had past that that was one of the best days of my life . I have seen all of the men from that day in stores and walked up and taped them on the sholder when they turned around the look on there face was precious. Then I would say the same three words to each one :I FORGIVE YOU . case closed.

    Reply

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