BY SEAN DIETRICH
I am mid-20s. I am a cub journalist for a tiny local newspaper with a circulation of about six. My biggest dream is to write for the Tallahassee newspaper someday. But it’s not working out. They’ve turned down all my work.
But I’m still trying, God love me. Namely, because I am an idiot.
Today, I am at a small-town nursing home near Tally, doing an interview with someone exceptional. My hope is that the said Tallahassee publication will recognize my immutable genius and publish me.
It’s a pipe dream, yes. But hey, if a writer doesn’t dream then he is a CPA.
My interviewee today is an elderly woman who doesn’t even know I’m here because she has Alzheimer’s.
She used to be a tenth-grade teacher. She has changed many students’ lives. She is nothing short of inspirational.
The woman sits in a wheelchair, watching “Jeopardy!” and blurting out answers along with gameshow contestants.
Which makes it a little hard to concentrate.
I ask my lead-off question.
But I am answered with: “Who the [deleted] are you? And where’s my blueberry yogurt?”
“This man is a writer,” the dayshift nurse explains. “Remember, I told you? He’s trying to get published with the ‘Tallahassee Democrat’? He wants to interview you?”
“I don’t care who he is,” she says. “Where’s my yogurt, you [deleted deleteds]?”
So we are off to a great start.
I ask another interview question. She answers without breaking eye contact with the TV.
“What is the Treaty of Tordesillas!”
After several minutes, I am about to give up on my interview effort altogether. Mostly, because I’m too distracted by Alex Trebek’s episode du jour.
Truthfully, I’ve never been a fan of “Jeopardy!” It moves too fast. By the time I’ve figured out the first question, the show is finished and the 18-year-old from Sheboygan who designs nanotubular probes for NASA has won 12 thousand dollars. Roll the credits.
But then, my interview is saved.
A nurse walks into the room. She has heard about the difficulties I’m having with my interviewee and she is here to rescue me. Turns out, the nurse used to be one of this woman’s students.
“I actually decided I wanted to BE a nurse because of this woman,” the nurse explains. “I was in a bad situation, living with my boyfriend’s family, my mom had just died, my boyfriend was beating me. This woman made me believe I could make it into FSU. She actually helped me apply. She is the reason I am what I am today.”
“Who is Saint Hubert!” yells the elderly woman. She looks at me with excited eyes. “Saint Hubert! Ha!”
I smile at her. Mainly because I don’t know anyone named Hubert. I don’t think anybody is actually named Hubert.
We are interrupted again when the elderly woman’s son drops in to rescue my fledgling interview. He, too, has heard about my struggle and wants to help. He is early 60s. White hair. Eyeglasses.
When the lady sees her son, she shouts: “Yogurt, where’s my yogurt! I need yogurt! Now!”
He is able to calm her down, and eventually, I receive more of the woman’s biography:
“When I was a kid,” her son says, “Mama was all about civil rights, that was a big issue back in her day. She wanted to take several students to a Doctor King rally, but my dad was like, ‘No, it’s too dangerous.’
“She went anyway, and my mom actually got attacked by a guy in a parking lot. Guy tried to cut her throat. Pushed her up against her car. I’ll never forget, my mama looked her attacker in the eye and started quoting scripture. He let her go.”
“Who is Andy Williams!” the woman hollers.
Another person interrupts our interview. A middle-aged woman comes barging through the door to resuscitate my comatose interview.
Her name is Chaniqua. Chaniqua is another woman who was once a student of this woman.
“I almost killed myself,” says Chaniqua. “I was a mess when I was a kid. She took me to lunch one day, talked me off the ledge. She said she believed in me, said I could live with her if I needed to. She’s the reason I’m alive. The reason I went to school.”
“What is a Keebler elf!” the old woman screams.
So anyway, after what could be deemed strangest interview of my life, I am about to leave when the elderly woman using the wheelchair turns to faces me.
She seems to be waiting for me to say something, a farewell maybe. But I can’t find the words. Because I am out of my depth. At my core, I’m just an unpublished hack with a notepad. That’s all I’ll ever be.
Even so. Because there is a roomful of people watching me, I feel I am obliged to say some parting words.
“I’m inspired by how many lives you’ve impacted, ma’am,” I say.
“Me?” she says.
I nod. “Yes, ma’am. I heard you had quite an effect on a lot of students. I heard you made a big difference.”
“You heard that?”
“Yes, ma’am. Heard you made a huge impression on hundreds of kids over the years.”
She smiled bigly.
“You mean to tell me,” she said, “you heard all that, all that wonderful stuff, and even after all that, even after you heard what a great person I am, you STILL didn’t bring me any [deleted] yogurt?”
The article never made the “Tallahassee Democrat.” But I’m still holding out hope.