In the food court is a merry-go-round. There is a single-file line waiting to board the carousel. First in line is an older man. He has white hair, and he walks with an uneven gait. A young woman is holding his arm.

It’s a sunny day. The Birmingham Galleria Mall is busy. There are hundreds of people beneath the tall atrium. They have places to go and things to buy.

I am here with my wife, who is shopping for blue jeans at Old Navy.

Shopping for jeans with your wife is a dangerous gamble. In the Western world, the leading cause of divorce is shopping for blue jeans at Old Navy with your wife. Ranking second is chewing your food too loud.

It goes like this:

Your wife locks herself in the dressing room with eighty-seven pairs of jeans. While she tries them on, you, the husband, go to the designated detention area with other husbands.

Intermittently, you wife emerges from her room, modeling jeans that look exactly like the jeans she wore when she entered the store.

Then, she glances at her reflection and begins speaking in foreign tongues. She asks things like: “Does this chino inseam appear too constricting?”

And: “Do you

think these boot-cuts too are too roomy on the calf region?”

We husbands have no idea what our wives are actually asking. This is why we often mumble. Because we know our words don’t really matter when it comes to blue jeans. Our wives will make their own decisions.

We know that by the end of the day our wives will have at least two emotional breakdowns, and likely leave the store without a single pair of blue jeans because they hate blue jeans and they wish blue jeans would’ve never been invented and they hate anyone who wears blue jeans including members of Congress, anyone below age thirty, and Cher.

And instead of buying jeans, our wives end up getting something like a “cute little cardigan that was on clearance.”

Then everyone goes out for ice cream. The end.

The best thing a guy can do…

The back half of her body was shaved bald, covered with bruises, stitches, staples, and dried blood. It was a curious site to her eyes. She tried to lick her wounds, but the people in scrubs wouldn’t let her.

She was lost. The old girl had traveled this trail before and it always led back home. But this time she couldn’t find the right smell.

It wasn’t for lack of trying. She kept her nose to the ground for something familiar. But there was nothing.

After all, she wasn’t exactly a young pup. Her nose wasn’t as good as it had been. Long ago, she could sniff a man’s pant leg and know exactly which denomination he was and which party he voted for. But now she was lost.

She followed the smells until she found a highway. Big machines shot across the highway so fast it made her ears hurt.

She lost all sense of smell and sound. This place was not familiar. This was a world she didn’t belong in. This place belonged to the big machines on wheels.

Across the road was what looked like a neighborhood. She could see rooftops through the traffic. The homes looked familiar. Or did they? Maybe that’s the neighborhood

where she lived. She couldn’t remember.

Besides, all she could feel was hunger. She needed food. That’s why she’d left home in the first place. Her owner wasn’t very nice. He would often go days without feeding her, and it had made her skinny. Sometimes, he wouldn’t give her water, so she would drink from ditches.

Early that morning, she crawled beneath the fence and left. She was only looking for food and drink. What she found was a highway.

WOOSH! WOOSH!

Big machines rocketed past her. She should’ve turned around and gone toward safety, but hunger made her cross the highway.

She pranced on the pavement, hoping that the big machines would avoid her. One machine sped by so fast it almost lifted her from her feet. Then another. And another. And another.

That’s when it happened.

She heard…

Over my bed hung the painting of a mother and son, saying grace at a crowded cafe table. It was right beside my all-time favorite painting: elderly musicians, playing music in a barbershop.

I love flea markets and antique stores. This is because I like old things for which there is no use.

Antique pocket knives, porcelain cowboy figurines, hundred-year-old snuff tins, arrowheads, and tin coffee pots.

I am holding one such coffee pot. A percolator just like this used to sit in my father’s garage workshop on an electric hot plate.

I had my first coffee from a tin pot. It tasted like ditch-water and aluminum. But it didn’t matter because in that garage my father and I talked about things.

Things like: fishing, batting stances, the proper way to clean fried chicken bones, and God.

“Is God real?” I once asked.

He smiled. “Have you ever seen a little sign from above? Something that just sticks out, and seems like it means something?”

I shrugged.

“Well I have,” he said. “I see’em everywhere, every single day. Once you start looking for them, you see all sorts of little things that prove there’s someone Upstairs.”

I miss his simple explanations.

At this flea market, I find a Norman Rockwell compilation book.

You probably won’t care about this, but as a boy I had this exact book. My father gave it to me.

My father handed it to me and said, “Old Norm sees the world in such a happy way. I think you’ll like old Norm.”

Norm.

After my father died, I cut out the pages of that book and tacked them to my bedroom walls. They were reminders of who my father used to be.

Over my bed hung the painting of a mother and son, saying grace at a crowded cafe table. It was right beside my all-time favorite painting: elderly musicians, playing music in a barbershop.

I once visited a Norman Rockwell exhibit. I drove to Birmingham to see it. I was first in line at the museum. The lady who took my ticket said, “Oh, you’re in for…

The woman who cleans our room this morning brought her daughter to work with her today. Her daughter is in sixth grade.

Guntersville—we are hurricane evacuees in upper Alabama. The destruction from Hurricane Michael is all over television. It’s sobering to see. If the storm would’ve moved a few miles west, it would’ve ruined our home on the Choctawhatchee Bay.

The woman who cleans our room this morning brought her daughter to work. Her daughter is in sixth grade.

“My name’s Samantha,” says the girl. “I’m helping my mom clean today.”

Samantha holds a basket of cleaning supplies. I introduce myself, but before I can finish talking she says in a shy voice:

“I already know who you are. My friend reads your books.”

And it takes all I have not to cry in front of this sixth-grader. Maybe it’s becasue I’m a softy. Or maybe it’s because of the storm. Or maybe it’s because in this child’s eyes I am a writer.

A real writer.

About me: I wanted to be a writer ever since before Samantha’s age. And it was a ridiculous idea for a kid like me to hold.

After all, I didn’t have the confidence God gave a

turtle. I was shy, lazy, slow, I made terrible grades in school, and I was a lousy first-baseman.

As it happens, Samantha and I have a few things in common. My mother was a cleaning lady many years ago. She toted vacuums, carpet cleaners, laundry bags, and spray bottles by the metric ton.

She scrubbed toilets, washed windows, mopped floors, and emptied crumbs from toaster ovens.

My mother was our family’s champion. She was a college graduate; a hard worker; she could grow anything in container gardens; she could make quilts from old clothes; she could bake fresh bread that attracted people from four counties; she could read an entire novel in two sittings; she could memorize entire passages of scripture—mostly pertaining to being nice to your sister.

She was above no task, and beneath no one. She taught me…

When my haircut is finished, I bid these men goodbye. I wish I had a good joke to tell them, or a good story, but that would only spoil it. Today, I am here to listen.

I’m in North Alabama, far from the aftermath of Hurricane Michael. Long stretches of the Gulf Coast are trashed. But by a divine miracle, my family is safe, alive, and accounted for. So are my friends and neighbors. A miracle.

So I’m getting a haircut.

I almost went for a haircut yesterday, but I couldn’t pull myself away from the televised hurricane coverage. It was high adrenaline stuff.

Gone are the days of sedate news reporters who look like your father’s dentist, seated behind news desks. Today, we have a breed of brave journalists, fearless, with the courage to risk their lives for breaking news, public safety, and six-figure incomes.

Yesterday, I watched one such reporter stand on a beach, enduring gale force winds that were strong enough to ruin most reproductive organs.

He screamed into the camera: “It’s windy out here, guys! Super, super windy! Back to you, Bob!”

I shudder to think of what could’ve happened if he hadn’t told us that.

Anyway, my mother texted me

today and told me the lethal storm passed over her home yesterday. Today, she is enjoying sunshine, crocheting a scarf.

Like I said, a miracle.

So getting back to the barbershop. When I enter the shop, a bell on the door announces my arrival. This is your average clip joint. There is a barber’s pole out front.

Inside are men who gather for no particular reason. They pause their conversation when I enter.

I greet them. They are quiet. But soon, they go back to telling stories like before.

I am grateful for their stories. I’m tired of hurricanes, storm surges, and reporters with death wishes. I need something to take my mind off the anxieties of Hurricane Michael. And that’s exactly what I get here.

Soon, I am sitting in a barber’s chair overhearing stories of all kinds.

Nobody says a word at first. Not because we can’t think of anything to say, but because we are strangers.

Hurricane Michael is making its way onto shore while I write this. Michael is 350 miles across, 90 miles in diameter, and very ugly. This is a storm that’s roughly the size of South Dakota, arriving on Floridian soil like an unwanted houseguest.

I am miles away, watching a television while this storm batters Franklin County, Gulf County, and Bay County.

The big TV in the corner of this restaurant is tuned to the Weather Channel. The joint is nearly empty, the lunch rush is over. A few people gather around the screen, arms crossed, eyes unblinking.

We are a varied lot of strangers.

There is a woman with her hand over her mouth, watching TV. Her name is Ellen. Her mother lives in Gulf County, and she can’t get a hold of her.

Gulf County is a war zone right now. The live-coverage proves this. And Ellen is a mess. The TV shows palm trees bending forward, 100-foot waves swallowing boardwalks, flooded highways.

Mexico Beach is devastated. Port Saint Joe is waterlogged. Apalachicola is covered.

Between reports of tribulational destruction, the TV rolls commercials which advertise: Metamucil, Capital One credit cards, chocolate-flavored laxatives, Quaker Oats, and how to get a good deal on a reverse mortgage.

But when the commercials are over, we who gather at the television remain silent while the monster makes landfall.

I recognize the places shown on TV. One reporter is perched only fifteen miles from my front yard. I can sympathize with Ellen, worrying about her mother. In fact, I have been sick about my own mother—who decided to stay behind and weather out the storm.

I texted my mother a few minutes ago.

She texted back: “The wind has gotten bad, we’ve moved to the back room, but we’re okay. I love you.”

Then, I texted my sister—who also stayed behind. She wrote: “I’m scared, please pray for us.”

So while I write…

With eyes still closed, he says, “I’m gonna make this coin turn from heads to tails by resting my hand on it.”

Waffle House is full of people who are fleeing a hurricane. While I write this, Hurricane Michael is circulating in the Gulf like a Margarita in a cheap blender. I’ve seen TV footage of this storm filmed from outer space. This sucker looks angry.

Hurricane Michael slowed down last night, but meteorologists tell us he’ll get meaner when he hits warm Gulf water.

Satellite images on the national news projected the eye of the storm making landfall around 7:00 PM. Then, computer models estimate that Michael will gain strength and run directly into my garage door.

So this is what everyone's talking about at this interstate Waffle House. This one-room building is alight with nervousness in the air. We are all evacuees, eating waffles and hash browns.

“You think the storm will hit our house, Mom?” says a boy behind me. He might be six years old.

His mother is tall, lean, and wearing a service uniform. A hotel maid, maybe. Or perhaps she works in dry cleaning.

Her hair is a mess. Her eyes are baggy like she hasn’t slept in ten years.

“Hush,” she says. “And eat your dinner.”

But the boy is becoming anxious. He’s hardly touching his waffle. “What about our house?” he says to his mother. “What’ll happen to it?”

“Eat, I said.”

“When will we be able to go back home?”

“I don’t know, now quit worrying and eat.”

“I’m scared.”

Join the crowd, kid. You and two million others. Michael is a storm that threatens to suck our houses from the foundations and launch them into orbit somewhere near Jupiter.

Behind the boy is an old man seated on a stool at the counter. The man wears a cap with “Massey Ferguson” embroidered on the front. He overhears the boy and his mother.

The man wipes his mouth, leans over the divider,…

I consulted the Weather Channel. Things weren’t looking good. The TV rolls footage of mudslides, floods, torrents, and frightening commercials advertising Preparation H.

We have evacuated Florida, and my wife managed to fit all our earthly possessions into a midsize SUV.

We are travelling with 2 large dogs, 57 pieces of luggage, 6 boxes of wedding pictures, 10 years of past income tax records, and a glass cake dome my aunt Eulah gave me for a wedding gift.

Our evacuation decision happened this morning. I opened the paper to find a headline which read: “Hurricane Michael: Everyone is Going to Die: Continued on Page A5. ”

Then, I consulted the Weather Channel. Things weren’t looking good. The TV rolled footage of mudslides, floods, torrents, and frightening commercials advertising Preparation H.

The weather woman announced:

“Hurricane Michael could be the MOST devastating storm in history, ladies and gentleman. Right now, we go to Danny McDannyson, who’s live on location, bringing NON-STOP coverage of this devastating disturbance.”

Then the camera cut to a man wearing a Naval issue windbreaker, standing on the beach somewhere off the coast of Hiroshima.

“THANKS STEPH, THIS STORM CONTINUES TO BECOME MORE DEVASTATING BY THE MINUTE, AND AS YOU CAN SEE, I AM STANDING ON THE BEACH, FOR NO SENSIBLE REASON, WHERE WIND SPEEDS WILL SOON BE STRONG ENOUGH TO PEEL A MAN’S EYELIDS OFF HIS EYE SOCKETS AND...”

“Thanks Danny, any recent developments?”

“YES, STEPH, MANY DEVELOPMENTS OVER THE PAST FEW MINUTES, OUR METEOROLOGISTS ARE TELLING US THAT THESE NEW DEVELOPMENTS KEEP DEVELOPING WHILE THIS STORM CONTINUES TO DEVELOP.”

“Thanks Danny, I understand the National Weather Service issued an update on the storm’s position, can you tell us more about this?”

“STEPH, I WOULDN’T CALL IT AN ‘UPDATE,’ INASMUCH AS I WOULD CALL IT A ‘DEVELOPMENT.’ BUT REST ASSURED WE ARE KEEPING OUR EYES ON THESE DEVELOPING NEW DEVELOPMENTS, AND BRINGING YOU DEVELOPMENTAL INFORMATION AS THIS DEVELOPS...”

“How about the National Weather Service’s spaghetti models, Danny, what do you make of them?”…

And I’m thinking about the lead car. I know what the family inside it is doing. They’re doing the same thing my mother and I did once. We were too stunned to even cry.

It’s overcast. I’m with my wife and my bloodhound. We are on a wide porch of a rental house. This is the main road which cuts through town. There are sounds of kids laughing, playing. Easy traffic.

This is an old porch. The kind my father used to sit on. I can see him in my mind, shirtless, reading baseball box-scores. Or carving a pine stick.

My wife is asleep in a rocking chair. My dog snores beside me.

I see vehicles. Lots of them.

The first car is a police cruiser—blue lights flashing. Another cruiser follows. Then comes a slow-moving long black car—with curtains, and chrome fenders. It’s followed by the world’s longest line of cars. A million headlights.

The cars are flanked by a railroad crossing.

The train is running. The funeral procession comes to a halt at the flashing railroad-crossing lights.

There’s a man on the porch of the house next to me. He's within spitting distance from me.

“A funeral,” I hear him say to his wife.

They step off their porch together to stand in the yard.

This is

what we do.

A few other folks in nearby houses do the same. It seems like a good idea. My dog and I walk off our porch to stand by the mailbox.

Across the street, a woman in an apron holds hands with a little girl. An old man is in his driveway, holding a wrench. Watching. Kids stand beside bikes.

A few cars pull to the side of the road.

We've all stopped what we're doing.

And truth be told, I don’t even know why we do it. Of course it’s a gesture of respect. But why? Why respect a stranger we’ve never even met?

I guess it's just how we do things.

The string of cars is impressive. There are models of all kinds. Fords, Nissans, BMW’s, a few work trucks. A motorcycle.

The…

An elderly man was bagging my groceries. He had white hair and liver spots. I’m guessing mid-seventies. He noticed my Braves cap. And I noticed the familiar look on his face when he said, “You think the Braves can do it this year?”

I am listening to baseball on the radio. Two dogs are sleeping around my feet. The New York Yankees are battling the Boston Red Sox in the division playoffs.

Chances are, you don’t care about baseball—and I don’t blame you. But this column isn’t about baseball.

Tonight, I promised myself I wouldn’t write about baseball. Too many people already write about it.

Sure, I grew up with baseball. It was in my drinking water. My father ate, breathed, and read about it. And when autumn rolled around, I remember him listening to October baseball like some men listened to preaching.

My father would park his truck in the driveway. We sat in the front seat, listening to a radio. The sun was high. Crickets whined. My father explained plays while sipping beer. And I felt like the most important human on the planet.

But like I said, this isn’t about baseball.

I remember the fall evening when he said, “One day, you’ll listen to these games without me.”

And silence filled the truck.

His eyes became glassy after he said it. Then, he tousled my hair. And I’ll never forget this: he offered me his beer.

To the rest of the world I was a child. But that night, in his eyes, I was a man. I held the can with both hands. I took a swig. It tasted like frog urine. I almost gagged.

He laughed. “When you’re older, it won’t taste so bad.”

I am sipping a beer right now, listening to WCCM 1940 AM radio. The Sox are fighting. I don’t particularly care about the Sox, and I care even less for the Yanks. But anxieties are high. The championship is riding on their shoulders. Thusly, I require another can of frog pee.

Earlier today, I went to the grocery store for tonight’s supplies. Namely: Chili Cheese Fritos,…