A newsroom. I was in my mid-20s. Unruly red hair. Big nose. A necktie that was suffocating me. Don’t ask me how, but I had a job interview. I was pure nerves.
I had no business being there. But then, I have a well-documented history of being in places I shouldn’t be.
“No journalism degree?” the editor said, squinting at my resume which read like a Hardee’s breakfast menu.
“So, what’s your degree in?”
I explained that, at the time, I was in my ninth year of community college. And I was showing true potential as a promising liberal arts major.
“Aren’t you a little old to be applying?” she said. “What exactly is it you want, here?”
Her question paralyzed me. I didn’t know how to answer. She waited. I made no human-like sounds. She asked me to leave.
Goodnight, John Boy. Thanks for playing.
I loosened my necktie. I ordered three tacos from a Mexican dive downtown. The tacos came doused in a red sauce that would forever burn the protective lining from my lower gastrointestinal tract.
I sat on a curb. What DID I want?
I saw a group of young men, walking the street, wearing suits and neckties. They did not look like me. They were cleancut, perfect teeth.
They probably had vocabularies which did not contain words like, “y’all,” and “twelve-pack.”
It was at this moment that I was interrupted.
Across the street, I saw a young woman struggling to lift a wheelchair from her trunk. I approached her and offered to help. She asked if I’d lift her sister from the vehicle and place her into the chair. I did. I sort of had to bear-hug her sister to lift her out of the passenger seat.
And this did something to me. I discovered what I wanted.
And I’ll share it with you, if I may:
First: I want my friends to feel important. I want children to feel loved—all children. I want dogs to follow me for no reason. I want my mother to be proud.
I want to fish during the summer. I want to go entire decades without washing my truck. I want to leave my family in better shape than I found them.
I want to notice anyone who feels invisible. I want to make sad people laugh. Hurting people smile. I want to eat too much peanut butter.
I want to meet kids who’ve lost fathers—just like I lost mine. I want to tell them that there’s life after death.
I want pop-stars to get less money. I want kids with cancer to get more. I want young folks to know that success is a myth. I want people who claim they’ve attained success to stop claiming they’ve attained success. There’s no such thing.
You buy a 10-bedroom mansion, you immediately want 25 bedrooms. Being a millionaire might make you feel like a bigshot for a week, but then you’ll meet billionaires.
I want my funeral to be well attended. I want it to be a bonfire party, a baseball game, and I want my friends to eat barbecue.
That day, I want people to sip beer and say to themselves, “Wasn’t he a mess?”
I’ve always wanted to be a “mess.”
And not that you care about this, but I’m no journalist. The truth is, most of the time I don’t know what I am.
But I do know what I want. I want this pandemic to be a memory someday. I want to hug people again, instead of video-calling them. I want to be someone who treats the homeless like royalty. I want to help women lift heavy wheelchairs.
I want you to know that your life matters. I want to be the one who puts those words into writing.
And most of all…
I never want to wear another necktie again.