I’m sitting on the beach, it’s thirty-eight degrees outside. It’s colder than a witch’s sports bra. I am sipping a beer with my wife, eating Chili Cheese Fritos directly from the bag.

As a teenager, I used to sit on this beach a lot. When I needed to think, I would sit alone, long past sunset, until I would get so cold I was no longer able to biologically have children.

Sometimes I would sit for hours after the sky went dark and stare at an endless Gulf of Mexico. The sound of wind and water does things to me.

One night, I was on the beach in the dark. I was sixteen, and I was sad because of something that truly doesn’t matter now—though, back then it felt like the end of the world.

I felt overlooked by the universe, unexceptional, and unloved. They were feelings I couldn’t shake.

I was wondering why people act ugly toward each other. I was wondering if anything existed in the distance

besides waves and foam.

That’s when I saw two shapes approaching.

Two elderly women were walking the shore, I could hear them laughing. They wore heavy jackets, wool caps, and carried backpacks. They were wiry, and athletic.

One woman was Puerto Rican, with white hair and a dark complexion. The other was from Australia. I will never forget them.

The women said they were traveling the world together on a shoestring budget. They had already visited four continents, walked hundreds of miles on foot, and relied on the kindness of strangers.

They had been sleeping in tents, riding in cabs, living out of backpacks, frequenting motels and hostels, and eating like royalty.

Then, both women sat next to me in the sand. One woman removed a hip flask. She asked if I wanted a sip.

“No thanks,” I said.

Not only…

It’s funny, what you think about in your final moments.

I’m watching a sunrise through tall Southern pines. It’s making its heavenly climb, and I’m looking right at it, sitting on the hood of my truck.

Last night, I was almost killed. I’m not joking. I was nearly hit head-on by a red truck that was driving in the wrong lane.

It was dark. I was the only one on the road. I saw headlights speeding toward me. And I mean speeding.

I expected the vehicle would get out of my way. It didn’t. I almost swerved for the ditch.

I closed my eyes. I expected a loud sound, followed by pain, maybe the voice of Charlton Heston.

What I heard was a vehicle scream by fast enough to suck the rust off my hitch.

I pulled over. My heart beat hard enough to crack my sternum. And I cried.

It’s funny, what you think about in your final moments.

I thought about the old woman from my childhood church. She was white-haired, and balding. She claimed that on the night my father died, she had a vision. She said she

saw him laughing in heaven.

For years, I was not happy about her unsolicited remarks. I don't know why.

I don't feel that way anymore. I'm glad she told me.

During my brief encounter, I also wondered if I’d wake up to abalone gates. Would I see Granny? My uncles, my aunts? My father?

Or: would I wake up as a baby squirrel, high up in a longleaf pine. A mockingbird, tweeting in a nest, maybe? Or a newborn hound, in someone’s barn? Or a hungry raccoon, nosing through garbage for some fresh loaded diapers?

I thought about my wife.

When we first married, I once told her I didn’t want her to remarry if I died. I joked, saying I wanted her to grieve me as a lonely widow. We’d laugh about that.

But last night, I was…

Soon, the whirr of spinning brushes, the high-pitched scream of a motor, the sound of water.

The last time I washed my truck was in the spring of ‘03. I remember it well because I had a violent fever and was hallucinating at the time.

The only thing I recall from that day is walking outside, without pants on, and washing my truck with a garden hose while singing “Mister Sandman.”

Next thing I knew, my wife was at home with bags of groceries in her arms and shouting, “What in God’s name are you doing?” Then, she threw me into the backseat and drove me to the ER.

“What’s wrong with him?” the doctor said.

“I don’t know, doc,” my wife said. “I left him in bed, I went to the store, and when I got home I found him eating a jar of Turtle Wax.”

“This is very bad,” said the doc. Then he snapped his fingers before my eyes. “Sean, can you hear me?”

I nodded and said, “When can I open my presents, Mommy?”

So today goes down in my

own personal history. I took my truck through an automated car wash. I don’t know what made me do it.

First, I bought some licorice at the gas station, then I purchased a ticket for the car wash.

It was great. There were big brushes spinning on hydraulic arms, and high-powered spray nozzles shooting water with enough pressure to bore holes through bricks.

And I was a child again.

It’s funny, sometimes I can’t recall what I had for supper last night, but I still remember when they built the small car wash next to the Conoco station.

I remember the bulldozers breaking ground before it was built, and the old men who stood at a distance, shaking heads in disapproval.

“A car wash,” one man grumbled. “When did people get so lazy they forgot how to use elbow grease?”

“Bah humbug,”…

These are the conversations you hear from old men with rural accents.

It’s an old cafe. The coffee cups are bottomless. The waitress wears jeans. On the walls are mounted bass and a few buck heads.

There are old men in the corner, seated around a table with mugs. These are rural men with old-world accents like your granddaddy probably had.

They are discussing crucial topics like:

“Hey, Charlie! What the hell was the guy’s name who used to date Sharon? You know, he had the big ears and always looked like he’d just sucked a lemon?”

They say things like:

“Did you hear Marilyn’s son built his house with the kitchen window facing his mama’s kitchen window so in the mornings they can wave to each other when they make coffee?”

They say:

“Looks like Mike is running for mayor again, can you believe it? That skinny-dipping stunt he pulled in high school is gonna come back to bite him, just watch.”

These are the conversations you hear from old men with rural accents.

Their reparte doesn’t follow one

line of thought. One man says something. A man across from him says something unrelated.

Everyone gets a turn. Round and round it goes, until you realize they aren’t actually talking to each other. They are simply reporting the news.

A young couple walks into the restaurant. The young man wears a work jacket and boots. He is carrying a baby-carrier by the handle. The young woman is holding his arm.

They are both so young they still squeak when they walk. They sit in the booth behind mine.

“What time do you have to go back to work?” the girl asks her young man.

“As soon as we’re done eating,” he says. “I’m sorry, I wish I had longer.”

She seems disappointed. It’s the weekend. Nobody wants Daddy to work on the weekend.

They order burgers and…

I crawl out of bed. I walk downstairs to see my mother at our dining table. The tabletop is scattered with paper envelopes and a calculator.

I am in bed. Mama is up late. The kettle on the stove is whistling. The sound wakes me. I look at the clock, it is two in the morning.

I walk downstairs to see my mother at our dining table. The tabletop is scattered with paper, envelopes, and a calculator.

She leans over a mess of bills that might as well be a tablecloth. She punches numbers on the calculator and makes a grimace. I know my mother. I know that look.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

She runs her fingers through her hair. “Oh, I’m just robbing Peter to pay Paul, go back to bed.”

“Who’s Paul?”

“Paul Newman, who else? Now go to bed.” She buries herself in her hands.

“Have you been crying, Mama?”

“I’m not crying, now go to sleep.”

“But, I can’t sleep.”

“Upstairs, now!”


She points at me. “I don’t wanna hear about your ‘but.’ I want you to go to bed.”

“I’m not tired.”

“Well,” she says with a sigh. “Then just pretend

to sleep, I don’t care what you do. Go upstairs and count your blessings.”

This is what all Baptists do. We do not count sheep, or listen to meditative sleep instructional CD’s by Deepak Chopra. That stuff is for Methodists.

“Blessings?” I say to my mother. “WHAT blessings? We’re probably gonna STARVE to death aren’t we?”

I don’t know what has come over me, talking like that. I storm upstairs, slide beneath the covers, I stare at the ceiling.

I can’t sleep because life has dealt my family nothing but lemons. And I’m worried. We have limited means, tall debts, no father, and a car that leaks oil. And now my mother is having to pay this Paul fella.

My mother comes into the bedroom. She sits beside me. She touches my hair and doesn’t…

Over the years, the baby grew considerably bigger. She turned into a girl. She could could run faster, jump farther, yell louder, and arm wrestle better than any cowboy I ever knew.

I was three years old when I officially became a cowboy. I’m not joking. I had a pair of aluminum six-shooters and a horse head on a broomstick to prove it.

I would ride through fields, straddling my horsey-stick, smacking my hindparts and shouting, “Giddyup, Trigger!”

Also, though you might not know this—and I don’t mean to brag—I have saved the world on three separate occasions. And I was also the best man at Tonto’s second wedding.

Sure, I dabbled in other professions like, for instance, the second grade. But no other calling suited me. I was meant to be a modern day drifter. And you can’t change who you are.

Some are born to be doctors and lawyers and such. Others are born Roy Rogers.

When I turned seven, I was at the height of my cowboy career. I’d just done a stint as a lawman in Dodge, with Marshal Matt Dillon and Chester Goode. Then, I was offered a job working with my hero, Roy Rogers.

He’d just fired Dale, his previous sidekick. Roy admitted to me that he was getting tired of Dale always nagging him to take out the recycle bin.

So you see, I had big plans. I was going to ride all over creation with Roy, shoot bad guys, strum songs, and be in charge of Trigger’s gluten-free diet. It was going to be great.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

One day, while I was riding the lonesome trail, Miss Anne called me to the hacienda for cheese sandwiches and apple juice—Miss Anne was my babysitter.

“Come on, Sean!” she called. “Something big has just happened!”

The next thing I knew, I was in a hospital, in a maternity ward, and I was holding an infant. A real live baby girl.

Cowboys, you’ll note, don’t know much about newborns. Not unless…

I met him when I worked on a landscaping crew. He had just turned his life around and moved in with his brother. He was short, built like a refrigerator, and could bench press a Pontiac.


I am writing on behalf of my twelve-year-old son, tell me how I’m supposed to deal with a bully at school, this isn’t easy.



You wrote the wrong guy. I hate to disappoint you, but I am too underqualified. Still, I wish my friend, Paulo, could chime in on this. He would have a good answer.

Years ago, I found some used lumber for sale in the classified section. I drove to South Alabama with Paulo to pick it up.

Paulo moved here from Los Angeles, he comes from a large Mexican family. His sister-in-law made the best homemade chicken mole you’ve ever had, his brother was a preacher.

Paulo grew up in gangs—and I don’t mean the kind that play patty cake after soccer practice.

Paulo had been to prison. He had ornate tattoos on his arms, hands, and one large design on his neck.

I met him when I worked on a landscaping crew. He had just

turned his life around and moved in with his brother. He was short, built like a refrigerator, and could bench press a Pontiac.

The address in the newspaper led us to a farmhouse that had a long driveway, blocked by a livestock gate.

I dialed the number in the ad and told the lady we had arrived. The gate opened automatically, via electronic remote.

“Wow,” said Paulo. “Now that’s what I call a FANTASTIC gate.”

You will note, I am using substitute words. Paulo is from East L.A. He would never use the word “fantastic.”

We drove toward the house. I saw the pile of cheap used lumber calling my name. Paulo and I tossed pieces into my trailer until it was lunchtime.

I explained to the lady that we were breaking for lunch and would be back in a few…

“My grandkids are coming to town this week,” she says. “Wanna make sure they have enough food.”

The woman in the checkout aisle is small, white-haired. Her cart is full, mounding with Gatorade, Cheetos, and ice cream sandwiches.

I love ice cream sandwiches.

She is bent at the waist, her joints are as thin as number-two pencils. She is struggling to push her cart.

I offer to unload her buggy. She thanks me and says, “Aren’t you a sweet little Boy Scout?”

A comedian, this lady.

If I am lucky enough to see old age, I will be a comedian.

She’s out of breath, leaning on her basket. If I didn't know any better, I'd guess her back is killing her.

“My grandkids are coming to town this week,” she says. “Wanna make sure they have enough food.”

This explains the Mountain Dew, the Goldfish, and the ice cream sandwiches.

We talk. Grandma is friendly. No. She is perfect. Dressed to the nines, hair fixed. It is nine in the morning, she is bearing pearls and ruby lipstick.

She is the American grandmother. Nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, frozen in time. The kind of woman whose lifelong occupation is

to keep stomachs full while wearing matching blouse and shoes.

When the cashier finishes scanning, the old woman thanks me. I offer to take her groceries to the car. She tries to pay me.

No ma'am. I’d rather sell my soul to Doctor Phil for thirty pieces of silver than take your money.

I roll her cart toward the parking lot. She holds the buggy’s side.

I suggest she grab my arm. She does, and for a moment, I am ten-foot tall and Kevlar.

She has an economy Ford. The trunk is tiny. I have an idea: I ask her to let me follow her home and unload her groceries.

It’s too much. Too personal, too fast. This embarrasses her.

“No thanks,” she says. “I’ll have my grandkids unload when they get here tomorrow. My grandkids, they’re visiting me…

Dear Thelma Lou,

When I first brought you home, I couldn’t quit saying, “You’re the sweetest puppy I’ve ever known.”

I would do this for hours, speaking in a high-pitched voice like a certifiable lunatic.

But I couldn’t help myself, it was true. You actually are the sweetest puppy I have ever known.

Tonight, we are apart. You’re sleeping in a veterinary clinic instead of with me.

I don’t want you to worry about anything. It’s just a small, harmless tumor on your eyelid, nothing serious, doctors say you’ll be fine.

Tomorrow morning, the surgeon will sedate you, you’ll go to sleep, they’ll snip the tumor. Voila. Before you know it, you’ll be eating cat poop again.

But nighttime is the hard part. You’re in a cage, and I’m not with you. I’m writing you because I want you to know I’m thinking about you.

And you shouldn’t be scared because—and you might not know this, Thel—though we are apart, we are actually together.

Distance might separate us, but distance is

not real. Nothing can separate love. I know it sounds crazy, but hearts do not know the difference between miles and minutes.

I first came to believe this when I was seventeen.

One night, I was on a truck tailgate in a hayfield outside Freeport, Florida. I was eating barbecue, looking at the sky, missing someone I once loved.

And it all sort of hit me at once. I don’t know what hit me, exactly, all I can tell you is that “it” hit me.

I can’t explain it. If I could explain it, then it wouldn’t be the real thing.

But when this moment happened I saw something—and I swear it on Bear Bryant’s grave. It was a shooting star.

Suddenly, I felt warm all over. It was as though I were surrounded by…

I’ll keep this short. That way, you can get back to making coffee, trimming your eyebrows, or scrubbing oil stains off your driveway with a wire brush. So here it is:

Don’t be mean.

This three-word phrase doesn’t come from me. A six-year-old named Lacy offers it to you.

I met Lacy this weekend. When I saw her, she was bald, pale, and she wore pink cowboy boots.

Her father told me that Lacy is in remission. Doctors expect her to make a full recovery, but it’s not smooth sailing yet.

“We’re different people ever since it happened,” her father adds. “We’re treating every day as a gift, you know?”

I lowered myself to Lacy’s eye-level. At the time, she was eating a butterscotch lollipop and reading a magazine upside down. I was hoping to get a few words of wisdom—on the record.

“Lacy,” I said. “Do you have anything you’d like to tell my friends?”

She removed the candy from her mouth and said, “FRIENDS? WHAT FRIENDS? I DON’T SEE THEM!”


they’re not here.”


“No,” her brother explained. “He’s speaking figuratively.”

“COOL, THEN I’LL SPEAK SPANISH! WATCH!” Lacy began talking in Pig Latin and picking her nose with both thumbs.

“I didn’t know you spoke Spanish,” her brother said.

“Sucker!” said Lacy, then she laughed until she was nearly unconscious.

We got off track a little, but I was eventually able to get a few remarks from Lacy once she stopped digging for gold.

“Lacy,” I said. “Let me put it like this: if you could tell people one important thing, after all you’ve gone through, something super important, what would you tell them?”

She thought long and hard.

“Well,” said the wise girl. “I would say I got a SUPER big booger on my finger, do you wanna…