The Bookstore

I knocked on the manager’s office door. The voice said, “It’s open,” so I walked in.

I was a teenager, unattractive, and a little unkempt. I looked about as fitting in this franchise bookstore as a muddy goat at a wedding.

Also, I was an introvert, which made job interviews almost as hard as it was talking to girls. The only way to know if an introvert boy is romantically interested in you is whether he looks at your shoes instead of his.

“Yes?” the bookstore manager said. “What can I do for you?”

“I’m here about the, ah, job.”

The man put on his glasses and looked at me. “YOU?”

His exact words.

The manager gave me a belittling smirk. I could read his mind. In his eyes I was white trash. I could tell by the look on his face that this was going to be the interview from hell.

I handed him my application; that little sheet of paper that devalues your entire life into pathetic, one-word responses.

My application was garbage. At age 17 I was a dropout. I had only ever worked grunt jobs, swinging hammers or salting French fries. I had shaggy hair and wrinkled clothes. I was wearing a button-down shirt bought from a local thrift store.

In fact, I was such a regular at my local thrift store that store employees knew me by name and often gave me free stuff. Usually, they gave me free books. Mountains of free books. They knew I was a lover of the printed word. Books were all I had. Books were my closest friends.

“So why do YOU want to work in a bookstore?” the manager said.

“Um,” I began. “‘Cause I heard you give discounts on books.”

He tossed my application into a tray and laughed. “You must be really into comic books, huh?”

“No, sir.”

“Your application says you dropped out of school.”

I observed my shoes. Chuck Taylors. Black, with scuffed toe covers. American classics. I would have told him why I’d dropped out, but something told me he wouldn’t have understood.

“Yessir,” I said. “But I’m a very hard worker.”

He interlaced his hands behind his head and leaned backward in his chair. The signature move of a man on a middle-management power trip.

“I’m sorry,” he said. “I can’t hire a dropout.”

Somehow I doubted that he was sorry.

“Our customers are BOOK readers,” he went on, twisting the knife. “Do you understand where I’m coming from here? We sell BOOKS. Big books, with lots of words. I’m sorry, but I have to hire someone who is at least… Literate.”

That word.

The interview ended. We stood. He did not offer to shake my hand.

As I was leaving, I opened my mouth to say something. I wanted to be clever. I wanted to quote some famous Shakespearean sonnet, or to rattle off a few words from a famous poet, just to let this man know I was not nothing. I was not refuse. I was not worthless. I knew stuff. I was literate.

Sort of.

But all I said was, “Have a nice day, sir.”

And I left.

That was a few decades ago.

Yesterday I walked through the front doors of that same bookstore. I was greeted by a book display in the center aisle. I recognized the author’s name on the dust jacket. I lifted one of these books into my hand. My skin turned into gooseflesh when I saw my own photograph printed on the back. And I wept.

After wandering through the store for several minutes, I made my purchase at the counter. My cashier’s nametag read STORE MANAGER. She was a young woman with blue spiked hair and a friendly smile. She rang me up.

I handed her my cash. Then, I cleared my throat and said:

“Let me not to the marriage of true minds
“Admit impediments. Love is not love
“Which alters when it alteration finds,
“Or bends with the remover to remove.
“O no, it is an ever-fixed mark
“That looks on tempests and is never shaken…”

The woman furrowed her brow, then smiled. “Um… Okay?”

“I’m sorry,” I said. “But I’ve been waiting 23 years to say that to the manager of this store.”

“Why?” she asked.

“Because I am not white trash,” I said.

71 comments

  1. Deborah Blount - March 1, 2022 6:25 am

    Good for you Sean.

    Reply
  2. Susan H Poole - March 1, 2022 6:46 am

    I only wish that other haughty Store Manager guy had been there so you could’ve iintroduced your handsome literate self to him. So there.🙂

    Reply
  3. Sheryll - March 1, 2022 7:33 am

    And you never were.

    Reply
  4. Naomi Smith - March 1, 2022 7:37 am

    Words hurt. As evidenced by your returning to a book store 23 years after your horrendous experience.
    I have always strived to use kind words all my life because of degrading words spoken to me in a 6th grade classroom, in front of all my peers.
    You and I were made of sterner stuff. You continued on to become a successful author, speaker, musician, husband…… and so much more. At age 40, I started college with 3 kids, 2 teenagers, one younger, my aging mother to care for, and my husband who worked very hard, 2 weeks out of state and 2 weeks at home. Thank God for a crock pot. I got up early 3 days a week, filled it up with something and drove 2 hours to the nearest college. All back before online classes.
    I got my bachelors degree the year our daughter graduated from high school, started teaching school, then drove to night classes over the next 3 years to get my Master’s with a 4.0.
    We overcame the words that were meant to degrade, and became successful adults. What really breaks my heart are all the people who were incapable of rising above and finding their place to shine. The hurtful words will always hurt, but woe be unto the ones who said them.
    Keep your words kind. But you know that, you prove it every time you publish your words. Thank you.

    Reply
  5. Janet W. - March 1, 2022 7:47 am

    Oh, Sean! Today you truly made me weep…for so many reasons. We, your many fans, would change so much of your life if we could go back in time. But what a poet, singer, preacher, and writer of life those experiences have made you! You touched my heart today.

    Reply
  6. Leigh Amiot - March 1, 2022 7:51 am

    “No one can make you feel inferior without your consent.”—Eleanor Roosevelt
    (But shame on those who try.)

    Reply
    • Linda H - March 1, 2022 11:50 am

      That comment from Eleanor Roosevelt is the first one that popped into my mind and I came to post it here. Glad to see someone else was of like mind.

      Reply
  7. Trish - March 1, 2022 10:58 am

    What comes to mind is “don’t judge a book by its cover”
    Thank you for sharing your heart!
    I told my Aunt, that lives in B’ham, that y’all are moving there — she’s so glad for y’all! My Aunt is 93 and so enjoys your blog, books & podcast!

    Reply
  8. Steve McCaleb - March 1, 2022 11:46 am

    Blows against the Empire….thank you Sean. Thank you for striking back on behalf of everybody who has been made to feel small, unimportant, and not good enough by some self-aggrandizing, puffed up goober (or goobette) as the case may be who thinks a tag with their name on it makes them LORD OF THE UNIVERSE. Whew, I feel better already. Thank you for giving all us “nothings” a voice.

    Reply
  9. Steve McCaleb - March 1, 2022 11:57 am

    Oh, I almost forgot….Miss Naomi Smith. I don’t know you but you are a bright and shining star in a world that gets darker every day. God bless you and all those like you.

    Reply
  10. Paul McCutchen - March 1, 2022 12:03 pm

    I read somewhere “The tongue is one of the weakest muscles but can inflect the most pain”

    Reply
  11. Cathy miller - March 1, 2022 12:15 pm

    Touching store. As a senior citizen, I look back and hope I never made a comment to a young person as painful as you heard. You showed the world in the best way possible – becoming a success story.

    Reply
  12. Bud McLaughlin - March 1, 2022 12:25 pm

    Wow, Sean. This hits home. I am sorry you went through that “power trip” but am glad you didn’t let hit destroy your spirit or ambition. Oh, welcome to Alabama (I live in Huntsville).

    Reply
  13. Butch - March 1, 2022 12:55 pm

    It is a very round World. That experience with the book store manager that belittled you, made you a better writer. I read evidence of that this morning. In fact he is my favorite writer. Without challenges there is no adventure Sean. The adventure continues, welcome to the Magic City…

    Reply
    • Linda Tucker - March 5, 2022 4:41 am

      My greatest motivation came from those who tried to put me down.
      I believe you could say the same, Sean.

      Reply
  14. Ann Robbins Phillips - March 1, 2022 1:00 pm

    Oh how I love this!!! No more words
    Are needed!!!

    Reply
  15. Nick Nichols - March 1, 2022 1:05 pm

    Amen, Brother Sean! No one is white trash! We are all made in the image and likeness of God, who alone can and does give us our dignity, no matter our skin color!!!

    Reply
    • Cynthia Russell - March 1, 2022 3:47 pm

      Nick Nicholas, words to live by … Thank You So Much for this quote!!

      Reply
  16. Ann - March 1, 2022 1:09 pm

    You have carried that for a very long time and now another chapter is finished and beautifully put to bed….excelsior!

    Reply
  17. Betty Martinez Lowery - March 1, 2022 1:11 pm

    The best revenge is living well. Oh, Sean, what sweet revenge indeed. Yours is a life well-lived!

    Reply
  18. Peggy - March 1, 2022 1:34 pm

    “ The only way to know if an introvert boy is romantically interested in you is whether he looks at your shoes instead of his.” One of the greatest lines ever written. And as my dear mama always said, regarding nasty inferior manager, consider the source.

    Reply
  19. Michelle Luster - March 1, 2022 1:37 pm

    Dear Sean, Thank you for sharing your experience of shame and struggle. Thank you for reminding us that we shouldn’t make assumptions about people by their clothes, skin, or social anxiety. I’m so sorry that happened to you.

    Reply
  20. Anne Arthur - March 1, 2022 1:43 pm

    So much pain, a heart shattered and burnt. And a glorious rising from those ashes to become a shining star. Sean, big bows to you for being who you are.

    Reply
  21. Sarah Latham - March 1, 2022 1:50 pm

    Sean, I am so very sorry for the hurt that fool inflicted. But I celebrate your spirit that never gave up…what he meant for evil the Lord turned in to good…I’m sure you recognize Joseph’s story from the Bible…because of your hardship & pain you live & write with love & compassion & can relate to hurting people & give encouragement…I thoroughly enjoy & am touched by your writing….No, you’re not trash, you’re a treasure! But more importantly you cheer for anyone who somehow thinks they’re trash…now THAT’S your real treasure!!

    Reply
  22. Shelton A. - March 1, 2022 1:51 pm

    Congratulations on finding your own book on display! Had to have been a very special moment. Truly happy for you. I hope the store manager had some clue as to why you demonstrated your literacy but probably not. What happened years ago is a past that simply is what it is. Hope you found a great book (besides your own). Enjoy getting to know your new neighbors and your new grocers and pharmacy. God bless you and Jamie plus your 4-footed children.

    Reply
  23. Charlotte Virginia McCraw - March 1, 2022 2:03 pm

    Well, there come the tears again. Your words do have a way of reaching in and pulling out my heart, which is apparently firmly attached to my tear ducts. No, Sean, you are definitely NOT white trash.

    Reply
  24. Jan - March 1, 2022 2:12 pm

    A wonderful story of the blessing you can achieve when you never give up. You are such a fantastic example for so many young people! Thank you once again, Sean, for bringing tears to my eyes and joy to my heart!

    Reply
  25. Maggie Priestaf - March 1, 2022 2:31 pm

    You sure “ain’t”!

    Reply
  26. Pingback: Sean of the South: The Bookstore | The Trussville Tribune

  27. Norma Gahm - March 1, 2022 2:40 pm

    Dear Sean…I loved it!! I am 86, a new follower of yours, recommend by a friend. Your stories put me right there; can see the interaction. You have an amazing way with words. I love to read, a retired teacher. Thank you, Sean, for a daily good read!!

    Reply
    • Ruth Mitchell - March 1, 2022 3:16 pm

      Thank you for your inspiration! There are many of us who harbor those same feelings of “showing we were not” what we were expected to be. What an opportunity that manager missed those years ago!

      Reply
  28. Cathy M - March 1, 2022 2:45 pm

    Arrogance and insensitivity are both terrible character flaws. I make it a point to not be in the company of people who suffer from either of those flaws. It is deeply hurtful to endure an incident like yours . I have had a few and I will have to say that I hope God used those in my life to make me be a better person. I guess you showed him🙃. Can’t wait to welcome you to our city. There is an army of people who want to know you and Jamie. You are a treasure and don’t you forget it🥰

    Reply
  29. Judy+Mercer - March 1, 2022 3:23 pm

    And once again, you rose above the thoughtless , judgemental and hurtful!! You are amazing, Sean Dietrich!!

    Reply
  30. Ann Davis - March 1, 2022 3:27 pm

    Powerful story!!! Gave me goosebumps!!!

    Reply
  31. Carol-Ann Dearnaley - March 1, 2022 3:28 pm

    Wow. Part of me really wished you had walked in and the old goat was still there, as impossible as that may be.

    The damage that we inflict when we allow our insecurities to take center stage.

    Reply
  32. Dorotha Coltrane - March 1, 2022 3:36 pm

    Reading all of these wonderful, uplifting comments has to be better than “getting back at” that store manager. He may never know it, but you proved him wrong. I am envisioning him as an unhappy old man, still believing he is superior. Welcome to Birmingham, Sean and Jamie! From an 82 year old woman who is looking forward to meeting you at the Hoover Library Theater in April!

    Reply
  33. Rhonda - March 1, 2022 3:39 pm

    Amen brother

    Reply
  34. Johnny Kemosabe - March 1, 2022 3:40 pm

    Today I learned that chicken salad sandwhiches are a uniquely American cuisine… i dont know what it is sean but i see an article in there somewhere.

    Reply
  35. Cynthia Russell - March 1, 2022 3:42 pm

    I ALMOST GOT TO MEET YOU … You were to speak at a little bookstore in Fairhope, Ala.. My sister who lives in Mobile texted me.. she had her reservation.. I emailed the book store right away & got my reservation even though I would travel from Slidell, La. to my sister in Mobile then we would go to Fairhope for you talk.. we were so excited!! Whoo Hoo!! after reading your books & your letters each & every day.. FINALLY TO MEET YOU IN PERSON!! WOW!! Then the normal, lovely world we knew started falling apart & events were getting cancelled.. you got cancelled … Just know we are still waiting to meet & greet you!! I wouldn’t dare go to New Orleans to see you … but goodness gracious to go to Fairhope & Meet You & listen to you.. THAT I WOULD SURE DO!!! WIN WIN WIN Situation!!! Fairhope, Sean, & visit my Family.. Oh YEA!! KEEP INSPIRING US!!

    Reply
  36. Branton Riley - March 1, 2022 4:23 pm

    Very moving. Sorry the old manger wasn’t around to eat crow!

    Reply
  37. Darlene Fuehring - March 1, 2022 4:40 pm

    Loved it!

    Reply
  38. Naomi - March 1, 2022 5:15 pm

    Sean, my uncle was an immigrant from Belarus, Russia. He was about 12 years old when he arrived in Birmingham, Alabama, having to learn English on his own. He dropped out of school in the 6th grade and started a printing company. By the late 1930s, he had about 60 employees and had the largest printing company in the state of Alabama.

    Reply
  39. Christina - March 1, 2022 5:24 pm

    If he only had eyes to see…

    Reply
  40. AlaRedClayGirl - March 1, 2022 5:26 pm

    The best revenge is to rise above the hurtful comments and become the best person you can be – which is what you did! Well done!

    Reply
  41. Sue Rhodus - March 1, 2022 5:33 pm

    Lawd..Lawd..Sean..I love you !!!

    Reply
  42. Bonnie Vandercook - March 1, 2022 6:08 pm

    Maybe no one can “make you feel inferior,” but at certain ages in life, those words can be so hurtful, cutting, and deep that they are difficult to forget. What does speak of character on your part Sean, is the fact you proved them all wrong. I wish more children and young adults would learn that valuable lesson much sooner in life. I was told in my college English class that the professor never gave a grade of A. She did that semester. For some, saying you can’t spurs them on to “just watch me”. You are one of those people. ^5!

    Reply
  43. Patti - March 1, 2022 6:12 pm

    Sean you move me to tears …. You make me want to give you a high five and a big hug every time instead with your stories.

    Reply
  44. maxnayagus - March 1, 2022 6:52 pm

    Bravo, Sean. I love this. And I love you. Ever forward, Friend. So proud of you. <3

    Reply
  45. Kate - March 1, 2022 7:17 pm

    This should be required reading for EVERYONE, those in churches, those who teach, those who are students, those that are trying so hard to do/be better, simply everyone. So many never realize that so many have fought hard to overcome where they might have landed by birth, and it is not always poverty one needs to rise above.

    Reply
  46. Becky+Souders - March 1, 2022 7:40 pm

    Bravo, Sean Dietrich. I’m sorry your teen self didn’t go back and straighten out that oaf! Love your words!

    Reply
  47. LIN ARNOLD - March 1, 2022 8:02 pm

    Just goes to show, never judge a book by its cover!

    Reply
  48. MAM - March 1, 2022 8:05 pm

    I was so hoping the old manager was there, although 23 years is a long time. I, too, was told once that I had nothing to say in an essay I wrote. I didn’t write creatively for about 30 years. It took me that long to get over it. Now I pound the keyboard for hours every day, writing articles, answering emails, commenting here and owning my own digital publication. So, I, too, finally fought back. Sean, I so admire everything you’ve been through and how you rise above it. God has led you on this path!

    Reply
  49. Mary Lou - March 1, 2022 8:28 pm

    People like that may manage a store that sells books, but they will never, ever understand or appreciate the majesty and simplicity, the heat and light, the love, loss and adventure that books offer. No, you are not white trash. And that manager is so much less a person than you are. I hope he grew up.

    Reply
  50. Rosemarie Livings - March 1, 2022 8:34 pm

    Sean, I’m happy for you that you got to let that pain go after 23 years. At 85, I so enjoy your daily musings.

    Reply
  51. Sandi. - March 1, 2022 9:50 pm

    Sean, remember that whenever someone points a finger at you and utters unkind, abrasive words, they have three fingers pointing back at themselves!

    Reply
  52. Mary McNeil - March 1, 2022 10:15 pm

    Too bad SHE wasn’t the manager for your interview all those years ago. Oh-wait – she couldn’t have been. Even without the blue spiked hair she was a woman,

    Reply
  53. Patricia Gibson - March 1, 2022 10:38 pm

    Way too often people judge without knowledge. Looks do not define a person.

    Reply
  54. Linda Moon - March 1, 2022 11:06 pm

    YOU were an introvert? That’s hard to imagine. Like you, I’m a lover of the printed word, but I wasn’t an introvert at 17 and probably never will be. I wept now, as you described seeing YOUR OWN BOOK at the bookstore. Don’t ever let anyone or anything come between you and your self-worth. Nevermore. Never again. I’m glad you finally got to say what you said, Author. And I’m weeping again at the Sonnet.

    Reply
  55. Jane M - March 1, 2022 11:18 pm

    Those comments said a lot more about the cruel store manager than it did about the young man standing before him. I am reminded often that we never know what difficulty someone may be enduring. Be kind always. Thank you for your beautiful stories!

    Reply
  56. Debra - March 2, 2022 1:43 am

    It’s lovely when life turns out well, isn’t it?
    as usual, my eyes got wet at the end, but this made me laugh:
    The only way to know if an introvert boy is romantically interested in you is whether he looks at your shoes instead of his.

    Reply
  57. Susan - March 2, 2022 5:10 am

    No sir, you are not. The manager when you were young was certainly not a gentleman. You, at 17 were the gentleman he wishes he was. Karma is a funny thing and I believe along the way he was served a heaping plate of it. So very glad you stayed hardworking and a gentleman. It would be an honor to shake your hand.

    Reply
  58. Stacey Patton Wallace - March 2, 2022 10:49 am

    No, Sean, you are not. You are a sweet, smart, talented young man, who daily makes this retired English teacher’s day. Sadly, that manager couldn’t see that; however, your family, friends, and daily readers can. I’m so proud of you. I wish I had been your English teacher. Love to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  59. Stacey Wallace - March 2, 2022 12:26 pm

    No, Sean, you’re not. You are a sweet, smart, talented young man. That man had no home training. I would have loved to have taught you in my English class. Love to you and Jamie.

    Reply
  60. Pam - March 3, 2022 1:54 am

    … and yea, NO ONE is trash! So sad that people/ we judge others by externals. I’m sorry that that happened to you. I’m thankful you didn’t let that define you and prevent you from pursuing your dream. Oh, to do what we are called to do for God’s glory with no regard for what people think.

    Reply
  61. Larry Wall - March 3, 2022 5:38 pm

    Sean – A lot of years back I saw a quote that spoke to me and some of the events of my own life that had resulted in hurt and disappointment. I have never forgotten the quote that “Disappointment only serves to sweeten the ultimate victory”. That quote has proven to be true a number of times in my business and personal life. I believe that is also true for your life. Thanks for the story here.

    Reply
  62. Larry Wall - March 3, 2022 5:52 pm

    P.S., Sean – the artwork for the story was spot on. Books do allow us to ‘dream’ of our most desired wants. The guy must be dreamin’ of being on Choctawhatchee Bay.( 🙂

    Reply
  63. Tawanah Fagan Bagwell - March 4, 2022 4:51 am

    You never were white trash! That was a mean man. It is poetic justice that you had books in that same store. You and Jamie mean so much to so many people. Thank you for the daily emails and the podcasts too!

    Reply
  64. Gayle Wilson - March 4, 2022 5:57 pm

    Yes, I had those look down on me as white trash. Like you, it gave me the determination to accomplish what I set out to do. Now I am retired and when I look back on the people who looked at me as white trash, I realize they were the same in a pretty good disguise.

    Reply
  65. Alice Keith (Palatka, Florida) - March 5, 2022 10:58 am

    All the gifts in Gods perfect timing. I love how sweet and humble you are, I know that comes from you beginnings. Some call it white trash, poor, blue collar but I call it blessed. We were blessed with simple childhoods full of love and guidance without all the trappings of the frilly stuff. Someone else will always have more. It’s a game you can never win. To be happy in our own skin with who we are and where we are now that is real wealth.

    Reply
  66. Lee Michael Faucette - March 10, 2022 1:14 am

    Callous Manager should have been careful how he used proud words as they have proud boots, strong boots, they walk off strong strong ….

    Reply
  67. CHARALEEN WRIGHT - March 14, 2022 5:39 pm

    Reply

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