You are pretty dadgum special, you know that? As a matter of fact, on a scale of 1 to 10 you’re a 68. You have a lot to offer, friend.


I’m a 27-year-old guy, and I want to tell my neighbor that I’m in love with her, and I don’t know how. We’ve spent the last three years always together, walking dogs, and hanging out. She’s helped me through some tough times.

We have tons in common, and she likes my foot massages—that has to be a good sign, right?

Now she’s started seeing this new guy and I’m afraid it’s too late to tell her how I feel. He’s better-looking than me, and more successful... I’m 70 percent deaf, with health issues, including one run in with cancer, but now I’m in remission, I know I’m no prize catch.

I get that you’re busy, but I’d really like some advice,



I’m inside the DMV right now, writing you on my phone. I’ve been here one hour. I’ve taken a number and I’m standing in line. My number is 68. They are now serving Number 07.


Anyway, you did the right thing coming to me. I have extensive experience in the field

of being a big, fat, frightened chicken. Which is exactly what you are. Welcome to the club, Colonel Sanders.

I once spent four weeks building up courage to ask Anna Moody to the movies.

“You wanna go to the movies?” I asked.

She said, “Hey, that sounds fun!”

I almost passed out.

Then she added, “Oh, you mean with YOU? I thought you meant as a group. Sorry, I gotta… Um… Clean the… Um… Freezer...”

Ever since then, I’ve been famously opposed to freezer cleaning.

But enough about me.

You like her, and it’s keeping you up at night. You lie in bed, replaying memories of massaging her sweaty, clammy feet.

It’s time to be courageous.

Now look, I’m no expert, but if you ask me, you are pretty…

Marilyn. The woman who’d helped him make his family. Who’d turned his kids into adults. Adults who had successful lives and successful families. They live in successful cities, they do successful things.

Mister Vernon died last night. He went easy.

You never met him, but you knew him. He was every white-haired man you’ve ever seen.

He spoke with a drawl. He talked about the old days. He was opinionated. He was American. Lonely.

Miss Charyl, his caregiver, did CPR. She compressed his chest so hard his sternum cracked. She was sobbing when the EMT’s took him.

Caregiving is Charyl’s second job. She’s been working nights at Mister Vernon’s for a while.

She arrived at his mobile-home one sunny day. Mister Vernon was fussy, cranky. A twenty-four carat heart.

She listened to his stories—since nobody else would. He had millions.

He talked about creeks, mudcats, frog gigging, bush hooks, and running barefoot through pinestraw and Cahaba lilies.

And he talked about Marilyn. Marilyn was the center of his life once. His companion. But she was not long for this world.

He talked politics, too. Charyl and he disagreed. Mister Vernon would holler his opinions loud enough to make the walls bow.

He was a man of his time. An oil-rig worker, a logger, a breadwinner, a

roughneck. He helped build a country. And a family.

Each day, he’d thumb through a collection of old photos. His favorite: the woman with the warm smile.

Marilyn. The woman who’d helped him make his family. Who’d turned his kids into adults. Adults who had successful lives and successful families. They live in successful cities, they do successful things.

“He sure missed his kids,” says Charyl. “They hardly came to see him. They were so busy.”


Last night, Vernon asked Charyl for a country supper. She lit the stove and tore up the kitchen. She cooked chicken-fried steak, creamed potatoes, string beans, milk gravy.

“Marilyn used to make milk gravy,” he remarked.

She served him peach cobbler. Handmade. The kind found at Baptist covered-dish suppers.

“Marilyn used to make peach cobbler,” he said.

After supper,…

Thelma Lou, the bloodhound, is sixty-five pounds of droopy eyes and ten-miles of legs. And she is sprinting toward parts unknown. Muscles flexed, ears flying. We’re talking full-on demonic possession.

My dog stole my cellphone. I was trying to watch the Braves game when she stole it from my armrest and left for another zip code.

Thelma Lou, the bloodhound, is sixty-five pounds of droopy eyes and ten-miles of legs. And she is sprinting toward parts unknown. Muscles flexed, ears flying. We’re talking full-on demonic possession. And I’m chasing her.

Of course, any dog owner will tell you that it’s a bad idea to chase a dog. You must never chase a dog. Dogs are programmed to run away from you when you chase them.

Instead, experts stress that the best way to recall a dog is to pat your thighs and unleash a string of profanity that causes small trees and most domestic varieties of hydrangeas to die.

Not me. I’m chasing and hollering:


Thel is already a mile away, galloping a dirt road into a neighborhood of mobile homes. The trailer-park neighborhood is quiet tonight. Folks are sitting in front yards, seated in lawn chairs.

One man is shirtless, with many tattoos, his name is Miller. Miller’s mother—I’d guess late-seventies, maybe—is seated beside him. She is smoking a cigarette and wearing a patriotic bathing suit which provides less coverage than number 08 dental floss.

Granny is spraying Miller’s kids with the water hose. They are laughing and giggling.

“What kinda dog is that?” Granny asks me.

I’m not making eye contact with Granny in case of any possible swimsuit malfunctions.

“A bloodhound,” I say.

She stabs her cigarette and adjusts her bikini top. “Nice-looking dog, Sweetie Pie. What’s your name?”

She winks at me.

So Miller decides to help me. He chases Thelma. And he runs faster than I can. He darts away so quick that his baggy jean shorts almost rip and he nearly spills his beer.

But Miller is committed to…

I want Willie Nelson to live forever. And I’d like it if the lady who throws my newspaper at three in the morning would inherit a million dollars.

How I got invited to a corporate business convention isn’t the story here. But let’s just say there are lots of people wearing nice suits and finishing sentences with: “Did I already give you a card?”

There is a guest speaker. He is famous. I don’t care for him. His talent: complaining.

He complains about America, religion, the economy, pro-sports. About lukewarm fried eggs.

The people love him. They applaud after each purple-faced rant.

The woman next to me says, “Oh, I watch his show on TV all the time. Don’t you just love him?” She grinned. “By the way, did I already give you a card?”

I do not love him. If you ask me, he needs considerably more fiber in his diet.

I leave the main event and make the long drive back home. The sun is setting. It is a stunning sky.

I don’t know what’s happening to the world. People are angry. TV personalities earn seven-digit incomes by getting peeved.

Well, maybe I am feeling particularly inspired by the guest speaker. Because I have a mind to make a list

of my own complaints.

My first complaint: sunsets.

Sunsets don’t last long enough. They only give a few minutes of sky-painted glory, then it’s goodnight, Gracie.

I know. That’s not a real complaint, but give me time, I’m new to this.

Complaint two: puppies. They grow up too fast. There is nothing half as marvelous as razor-sharp puppy teeth. This, I know.

I’m also complaining that there aren’t more barbecue joints.

I don’t mean the fancy kind where waiters wear all-black and use iPads to email copies of your receipt. I’m talking concrete-block joints with ugly bathrooms, decent service, and food that your doctor warns you about, served in red plastic baskets.

Something else: I wish people gave more compliments for no reason.

Hardback hymnals. I’m not happy about their disappearance. Give me elderly Miss…

My uncle was his own man. He rolled his own cigarettes, recycled his coffee grounds, went fishing whenever he wanted, and didn’t mind letting others cook his supper.

It’s the middle of the day and I just woke from a nap. My bloodhound has her head on my chest. She is snoring. There are noxious fumes coming from her backend. I’m worried she’s about to make a pile on my bed.

My nap was not a good one. Sadly, this is because I wouldn’t know how to take a decent nap if I tried. I come from Baptist people who believe napping to be the Eighth Deadly Sin.

The only person I knew who took naps was my uncle. He was a believer in midday rest and he used to claim that this was the secret to a happy life.

“The secret to a good life,” he once told me. “Is after lunch, strip your clothes off, fold’em up nice and neat, and take a nap.”

My uncle took naps in his ‘52 Dodge RV with the windows open. Nobody ever bothered him when he napped because we didn’t want to know what Baptists

looked like without clothes.

He was an odd bird. He had a large handlebar mustache and he spoke with a funny cadence. I can close my eyes and hear his unique voice in my head, telling a story. His stories were good. His work ethic was not.

One summer, my uncle attempted to fix our air conditioner. It took eighteen days, fourteen thousand cigarettes, and a lot of naps. Finally my mother knocked on my uncle’s RV and said, “Screw it! I’m buying a new air conditioner.”

He was in the middle of a nap at the time.

My uncle was his own man. He rolled his own cigarettes, recycled his coffee grounds, went fishing whenever he wanted, and didn’t mind letting others cook his supper.

He minded less if someone offered to buy lunch. My uncle’s favorite pastime was inviting people to lunch at…

So the news is blaring on a television in my room. It’s been playing the same sort of thing for five days. Men in suits, shouting at one another. Footage of one man punching another. Swearing. Pharmaceutical commercials. Politics. Pop music. The Kardashians.

A nice car stalls in traffic. Horns honk. People shout. Four Mexican men leap out of a dilapidated minivan. They push the broken down vehicle from a busy intersection.

In the front seat: Jocelyn. A seventy-three-year-old woman.

When she is out of harm’s way, one of the men says something in English:

“You need a ride, ma’am? We’ll take you wherever you wanna go.”

They drive her home, across town. She offers to pay for their gas. They decline. She offers to feed them. They accept.

Years later, Jocelyn dies. At her funeral, Jocelyn’s daughter sees a group of unfamiliar Mexican men.

They tell her the story I just told you.

Chase. He is middle-aged and clumsy. He has the idea to repair his own roof. Bad idea. He climbs on the house while his wife is away.

He loses his footing. He trips. The shrubs break his fall—and his leg.

A neighbor’s fourteen-year-old son sees the accident. The boy calls 911, then performs first-aid. The kid even rides to the hospital inside the ambulance with him.

When Chase awakens,

there is a boy, sitting at his bedside, mumbling a prayer.

“Called your wife,” says the kid. “I found her number in your phone.”

That boy is an adult now, and and he is one of Chase’s closest friends.

There’s a girl. I’ll call her Karen. As a child, she was abused by her father. Karen leaves the details out when she tells me the story. Karen left home when she was old enough to drive. She drove six states away and tried to forget her childhood altogether.

And she did. One divorce and two kids later, things were looking up. She had a job managing a cellphone store, a nice apartment.

Her aunt called one day. Her father was sick. Stomach cancer was eating him from the inside out.

“Why the hell should I care?” was Karen’s first…

I wanted to be one of them—the old men, not the nurses. I still want to be one of them. I can’t wait until my hair turns white and my skin looks like aged paper. My highest ambition in life is to be elderly.

I am driving five hundred miles south. I’m going home. But my trip gets off to a rough start because the woman inside my GPS is a Godless heathen who refuses to talk to me.

I’m driving blind through South Carolina—eating crackers and pimento cheese.

The cheese was a gift from a woman at a country church I visited this morning. I sat in the back row in a room of mostly white-hairs.

After service, Miss Nelle sent me on my way with pimento cheese, a jar of homemade peanut butter, and a SOLO cup of banana pudding. Leftovers from the church refrigerator.

I have never met Miss Nelle before today.

So I’m rolling through the Carolinas and the scenery takes my breath away. Tall trees, swallowed in green. Sprawling farmland, framed with sky.

And suddenly, I realize that I’m lost without the help of the devil-woman in my GPS.

I stop at a filling station outside Ridge Spring. I’m here to buy a map. The clerk has tattoos and a bushy beard.

“Sorry, dude,” he says. “We don’t sell

maps, but I can get you to Georgia, easy.”

He guides me to Augusta using the ancient, but widely practiced art of hand gestures.

Augusta—I’m in a bookstore. I ask the cashier to show me the atlases. She hands me a Rand McNally paper map. The kind of maps I was raised on.

This was the same kind of map Chad Williams’ daddy taught us how to read in Boy Scouts, when he took us white water rafting in Tennessee. It was the same camping trip that Elliot Stevens got so constipated he had to go to the emergency room.

The bookstore woman has greenish hair. She is pregnant with twins. She also tells me she is an amateur poet. I ask her to recite a poem.

She doesn’t even pause. She rattles off a magnificent verse about twins.