My phone rings. I answer it.
“Hello,” the young voice says. “Is this Sean Deet… Deet… ”
My last name has always been a source of frustration for telemarketers and non-German-speakers. I help the poor girl out. “Sean Dietrich,” I say.
“Thank you, Mister Dietrich. I’m writing something for my school newspaper and your wife scheduled this interview for us. Is now a good time?”
“I have all the time in the world. Can I ask your name?”
“Oh, shoot. Sorry, yes. My name’s Lindsey.”
Long silence. The sound of rustling papers. An electric pencil sharpener.
“What grade are you in, Lindsey?”
“Fire at will.”
“Um… My first question is, what do you like about writing?”
A very good question. In fact, I have done more than a few interviews, but I rarely get straightforward questions like this. I have to think for a few moments about how to answer. Finally, I say, “I guess I like how it makes me feel, the act of writing, I mean. I can’t explain it.”
She says in a whisper, “How… It… Makes… Him… Feel…”
“I also like meeting new people who I get to write about. I enjoy meeting people.”
“…Meeting… New… People…”
More silence. Followed by paper sounds. The noise of a child clearing her throat. “Are you happy with your life?”
Good Lord. This child is aiming straight for the jugular. She’s asking existential questions that I don’t know if I have answers for. Besides, what is happiness, really? Is this a yes or no question? Or is it a matter of percentages? Is anyone ever truly happy? If so, do they stay that way forever, or only for a few weeks? I mean, I know some who have everything they want—health, stuff, money, family, success, a pasta maker—and they still want more.
“Sure,” I say.
“What about you, Lindsey? Are you happy?”
“Uh, yeah, well, I guess so.”
“But you aren’t sure?”
“Well. I’m happy right now.” She steers the interview toward the most important topic of our discussion. “What are your dogs’ names?”
“Thelma Lou and Otis Campbell.”
“Those’re funny names.”
She’s giving her age away. You can tell a lot about people by how they react to names like Thelma Lou, Otis Campbell, Andrew Taylor, Floyd Lawson, and Bernard P. Fife.
I ask, “Have you ever seen the ‘Andy Griffith Show?’”
“Oh sweet baby Joseph.”
“What is it?”
“The ‘Andy Griffith Show’ is only the best TV show of all time. My dogs are named after two characters on that show.”
“That’s pretty cool. I’ll have to watch it sometime. I thought about naming my hamster Peppa Pig, ‘cause that used to be my favorite show, but it’s not anymore.”
“What’s your favorite show now?”
“I like reading better.”
There is hope for America.
The girl has more questions and we talk a little longer, but she is in a hurry, she has to go to ball practice. She says, “What kind of advice would you give a writer like me about writing stories?”
I am truly stumped. First of all, I don’t have any advice. I am not much of an advice guy. The only times in my life I have ever actually given advice, it didn’t work out well for those who followed it. One guy ruined his transmission, and the other guy lost $1,326 dollars to a man selling black market timeshares. So I quit giving advice.
“I’m sorry, Lindsey, I’m not an advice giver. I think my advice is worthless.”
“What about you, Lindsey? What kind of things would you tell me if I asked you for advice?”
“I dunno. What kinda stuff do you wanna know?”
“Just give me some advice.”
I hear the cogs in her brain turning. It sounds like the whirring engine of a Dodge Charger. Whereas my mind’s motor sounds more like a ‘43 Studebaker on a January morning in Winnipeg.
“My advice is love yourself,” she says. “And don’t let anything make you feel dumb, even if people aren’t nice to you, but don’t be a wimp either, because that’s not being nice to yourself if you’re just being a baby who takes everyone’s crap all the time.”
“Everyone’s… Crap… All… The… Time…”
“And,” she goes on, “I think girls should quit obsessing over them selfs and putting dumb filters on their Instagrams, and people shouldn’t be so worried about what other people think.”
“I would say that if people can’t get a cat or dog they can always get a hamster. I’ve had my hamster for a long time and he’s a good friend, his name is Hairy, spelled with an ‘I.’ And he’s a great one, but he can’t sleep with me anymore because that didn’t work out too good.”
“You sound very happy, Lindsey. You must actually be happy in life.”
She has to think about this for a little bit. “I’m not always happy. But I think the main thing is that you try to make your friends happy and then they can make you happy when you need it.”
“You sure know a lot for being so young. How’d you learn so much?”
“I dunno. I grew up in lots of foster homes after my mom died when I was a baby. It was all pretty hard until I got adopted, but I learned about a lotta stuff.”
Yes. That must be it.