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. Writing is fun.”
Bill Shakespeare eat your heart out.
She says in a whisper, “How… It… Makes… Him… Feel…”
“And 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, Sean?”
This child is aiming straight for the jugular. She’s asking existential questions right off the bat. Questions I don’t know whether 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 pretty 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. Why did you choose them?”
She’s giving away her age. 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.
“Have you ever seen the ‘Andy Griffith Show,’ Lindsey?”
Sweet baby Joseph.
“What is that show about?”
“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 the way you do?”
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. So I quit giving advice.
“I’m sorry, Lindsey, I’m not an advice giver. I think my best advice is to never take my advice.”
“What about you, Lindsey? What kind of advice would you give me if I asked you for advice?”
She laughs. “I dunno. What kinda stuff do you wanna know?”
“Doesn’t matter. 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 anyone make you feel dumb, even people who aren’t nice to you. Be nice to people. 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.”
I grab a pen. “Everyone’s… Crap… All… The… Time…”
“And,” she goes on, “I think girls should quit obsessing over themselves and putting dumb filters on their selfies.”
“Well, 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.”
“That’s good advice. Better than any I could give.”
“You sure know a lot for being so young. How’d you learn so much?”
“I dunno,” she says. “I grew up in lots of foster homes after my mom died when I was a baby, I guess I’ve learned a lotta stuff. I guess I have a kinda different sper-fective.”
Yes. I guess you do, darling. Thanks for the interview.