Then I got some literary advice from my late father—I don’t know how he knew to tell me this. He told me to simply run my mouth, and write it down.

This is all a beach vacation is. You carry enough raw materials to the beach to construct a patio, then you lug it all back

CAPE SAN BLAS—It’s nighttime. I am walking the beach. I am lost. Bad lost. All the beachfront bungalows look the same in the dark. I have no idea which one is our vacation rental cottage.

I am tired. Depleted. I’ve been walking for a long, long time. Almost ten minutes now. I will probably die on this beach. They will find me curled up dead, clutching my last will and testament, which will be written on a Piggly Wiggly receipt that was in my pocket.

It’s been a busy day. We spent the whole day on the beach doing family-style beach things like hauling beach equipment to the beach then setting it up. Then, once we finally got our equipment situated, we took a deep breath and spent the rest of the day hauling it back to the house.

This is all a beach vacation is. You carry enough raw materials to the beach to construct a patio, then you lug it all back. If you

finish your vacation without needing spinal fusion surgery, you did it wrong.

That’s life. Vacations come and go, but you can’t put a price on chronic joint pain.

I have a lot of memories here. Long ago, I was a redheaded kid without much going on in the looks department. I met this girl at church. I liked her and she seemed to like me.

She invited me on her annual family vacation to Cape San Blas. I agreed to join them because this girl was very cool.

A few weeks later, I met them here on the Cape—which is a promontory headland that extends into a body of water. In this case, the Gulf of Mexico. I was so nervous I could hardly think straight.

When I pulled into the cottage driveway, the girl came traipsing down the steps to meet me. She was wearing a…

I stood before each painting and stared for a long, long time. Long enough to watch mildew grow. I even cried at a few paintings. I don’t have many heroes, but Norman is one of them.

When I was a kid, I came across boxes of “The Saturday Evening Post” at a flea market. Hundreds of issues. Each one had a Norman Rockwell illustration gracing the cover.

I clipped all the covers from the magazines and pasted them to my bedroom walls until no wall showed behind them. It took me an entire afternoon to completely wallpaper my bedroom in Norman Rockwell.

When my mother saw this, she almost had a nervous breakdown because, in her own words: “It looks like a French bordello in here.”

I had no idea what bordellos were, but if my mother was right about what they looked like, I hoped to visit one someday.

My father came to my room. I was sure he was going to get upset because I’d ruined the walls. Instead, he admired each illustration like a man attending an art exhibit.

As it happens, I have only been to one art exhibit in my life. It was a Norman Rockwell show

at the Birmingham Museum of Art, years ago. To be honest, I don’t know how I heard about the show. I am not exactly the kind of guy who keeps his finger on the pulse of the art world while sipping from a bottle of expensive vintage Château Lafite.

Actually, I don’t know much about art. And when it comes to wine, the only time I’ve ever tasted an expensive label was when my band played at a bar in Orange Beach.

After hours, the bartender said, “I gotta get rid of some opened wine or it’ll go bad, y’all want some?”

The wine was one hundred years old and cost several hundred bucks per bottle.

My fiddle player, Dewey, spit out his Red Man chew and said, “Bring on the vee-no, Frenchy!”

The waiter poured three glasses. We band members clinked the rims together…

The sun rose over the Alabamian highway, and it was pure majesty. The sound of birds was music. I was on my way to speak to a book club who finished reading my book.

I don’t usually speak to book clubs, namely because I’m no good at it. I’ve found that avid readers are smarter than I am. Most often, it goes like this:

A man in steel-rimmed glasses stands and asks a question like: “What was your subjective motivation within the pretext of the outlined apparatus of your—dare I suggest?—almost quasi-static prose?”

I usually just mumble something about current tax laws, take a sip of water, and say my closing remarks:

“It’s been a bona fide treat, folks. A bona fide treat.”

Then it’s off to KFC for some bona fide supper.

This book club, however, is different. These are thirteen-year-olds.

A girl named Claire emailed me several weeks ago. She told me their group of friends formed a club that reads books instead of playing

with phones.

At club meetings, members store cellphones in a locked safe. Their mothers serve pimento cheese sandwiches and juice boxes. And the kids talk about, say, Leo Tolstoy.

They are smart kids. They read authors like Robert Frost, Carson McCullers, Walt Whitman, and one redheaded writer whose truck has needed new brake rotors since 2002.

I arrived in a residential neighborhood of manicured lawns. I wasn’t sure whether I should wear my tweed jacket with the elbow patches. I decided against it.

Their mother invited me inside. I shook hands with kids and parents. A kid named Brad held his hand out and said, “Cellphone, please, sir.”

He locked my cellphone in a fireproof safe with the other phones, then showed me to the den. The living room was full of kids sitting on the floor.

The round table started by discussing…

They were people who took one look at me and decided that I was underwhelming. Or those who told me to use the back door when entering their house—in case company was over.

The weather in Alabama is exceptional. The winding roads snake through parts unknown. Kudzu is exploding in all directions. The sky is the color of blueberry ice cream. The weather is hot.

Long ago, I dated a gal who wasn’t all that nice to me. In fact, she left me feeling like I would never amount to squat.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hashing over ancient history, but I am thinking about how some people over the years—either with or without words—told me I wouldn’t amount to much. I remember these people with vivid clarity.

They were people who took one look at me and decided that I was underwhelming. Or those who told me to use the back door when entering their house—in case company was over.

Chances are that you have these people in your history, too. I know this because you are human. And if you are not human, but you are, for instance, a walrus, and you are still

reading this, please reach out to me. You and I are going to make a lot of money together.

But today, in these Alabama hills, I am grateful for the people who treated me crummy.

I am not trying to be weirdo-spiritual about this. I am simply telling you the truth. When I step back and think about it, these people were very important in making me into me.

So if I ever won some award thingy like they do on TV, at one of those fancy award ceremonies where celebrities in designer clothes who have about as much body fat as a pine tree, stand at a microphone and thank other beautiful celebrities in designer clothes for being so beautiful, and so celebrity-ish, and so low in body fat, but totally forget to thank the twenty-year-old volunteer who brought Starbucks coffee to their dressing-room every day for two…

The smell of turf, the taste of roasted peanuts, the sound of cheering, the long line of ladies waiting for the restroom, jogging in place and clutching their bladders.

ATLANTA—SunTrust Park is a madhouse. Think: Disney World, only if it were filled with people who were old enough to drink Coors and get into fistfights with security.

The smell of turf, the taste of Cracker Jacks, the sound of cheering, the long line of ladies waiting for the restroom, jogging in place, clutching their bladders. It all makes me want to say out loud:

“God, isn’t this great?”

Yes. It really is. It’s better than great. Tonight, there are forty-two thousand people here. The best teams in the National League are facing off. The Dodgers and the Braves. I am a lifelong Dodger-hater, so you can imagine how big this is for me.

I have bumped into several friends who I didn’t expect to see tonight.

I saw my pal Bo, who is my fishing buddy. And by “fishing buddy,” I mean that we have never actually fished together. But once, when Bo’s wife was out of town we sat in his eighteen-foot

bass boat, which was still on the trailer, watching his children almost burn the house down with bottle rockets.

Also, I ran into my buddy Lyle. He has been rooting for the Braves ever since the team was still in Milwaukee, back before the Civil War.

And my friend Allen. I found him seated in the Chop House, which is an outdoor restaurant in centerfield where you can order nachos served in a baseball helmet. And if you are lucky, a home run ball might fall into your nachos and explode chips onto everyone seated within a five-foot radius, whereupon you can stand atop your table holding your baseball high for the TV cameras, screaming “WHO’S YOUR DADDY?!”

I have seen this done once. The guy who stood on the table was approximately seventy years old and about as coordinated as a seasick giraffe. His adult daughter was humiliated.…

If there’s one thing I love, it’s the simple joy of hating scorpions. We live in the woods of West Florida, and we have a lot of scorpions.

I have been stung by scorpions at least nine times in my life. That’s not counting the times I’ve been stung in my sleep.

A few years ago, when I was getting dressed, a scorpion crawled up my shirtsleeve and stung me on a very sensitive region of my body. Since this is a family column, I won’t use the word for this specific body part. So let’s just say that name of this body part rhymes with the word “fipple.”

I went to the ER because I got worried when this usually tiny body part swelled to the size of a hubcap. My doctor made me lift my shirt and his exact words were: “Hooo boy, look at that.”

Then, he called several of his night-shift buddies into the room and the nurse had to start charging a nickel at the door for admission.

The doc sent me away by saying, “Don’t worry, if it was one of the really bad ones, you’ll know in a few hours.”

I started to get nervous. The really bad ones? As opposed to what? The really good ones? What did he mean? What would happen to me? What exactly made the really bad ones really bad? But before I could ask the doctor anything else he was already in the hallway, demonstrating his golf swing to nearby nurses and X-ray techs.

Wildlife-wise, we have a lot going on in our backyard. Our house was built on ceremonial frog mating grounds. When we first moved onto the property, it was surrounded by miles of pines, swamp, and native blood-sucking insects commonly known as “real estate developers.”

Our realtor warned us beforehand. She said, “Are you sure you wanna buy this place? It isn’t anything but…

I love fat babies. They do something to me. They make me feel like the world is warm and squishy. When I hold my niece, Lucy, I feel nothing but squish.

CRACKER BARREL—I am eating breakfast with a cute date. My date is a baby. A fat baby. She is my niece, Lucy.

I love fat babies. They do something to me. They make me feel like the world is warm and squishy. When I hold Lucy, I feel nothing but squish.

It’s as though the entire world is one big wonderful bouncy castle with all the cynical people standing outside, and all the happy people jumping inside, playing tag, laughing, and eating popsicles.

Maybe it’s Lucy’s fat little thighs. You should see them. They are Virginia hams. I could just eat her. And her cheeks. They are big and round, and when you kiss them you taste baby.

Babies have a taste and smell. Their skin is so new that it gives off a fresh scent. It’s the same idea as new vehicles with new-car smell.

This year, my wife and I bought a van that we use for traveling to my speaking engagements. It’s not a new van, mind you. In fact

it’s not even a pretty van. It looks like the kind of utility van that LabCorp medical professionals drive when collecting urine samples from reputable places of business.

But it is the newest car I have ever had, and it still has new-car smell. Sometimes I just sit in our van and breathe in and out until I get a headache.

Still, new-car smell is not half as nice as new-baby smell. Babies smell like flowers, and lavender, and cheese grits, and cookies, and biscuits.

Here in Cracker Barrel, I am watching Lucy demolish a biscuit with her bare hands. She is wearing a pink ribbon around her head and a floral-print onesie. She is a non-stop eating machine.

All she does is eat. She finishes the biscuit, then starts eating strawberries, yogurt, four strips of bacon, eight sausage links, a supreme pizza with Canadian bacon and…

We are having an Andy Griffith Show marathon. We start with the first season, episode one: Aunt Bea comes to town.

Early evening. My mother-in-law (Mother Mary) and I are watching the Andy Griffith Show. We are whistling along with the opening theme song.

Mother Mary is wearing hearing aids. The television volume is turned up as high as it will go, blaring so loud that pieces of the popcorn ceiling are falling into my beer.

We are having an Andy Griffith Show marathon. We start with the first season, episode one.

The plot is simple: Aunt Bea comes to town. Opie doesn’t like her. In the final scenes, everyone hugs. The end. Roll the credits.

Mother Mary says, “TURN IT UP!”

“But Mother Mary,” I say, “the television is all the way up.”










So we watch TV together. And even though we’ve both seen this episode a hundred times, we still laugh at the jokes and whistle with the credits.

Episode one ends. Cue episode two: Andy and Barney catch an escaped


“TURN IT UP!” says Mother Mary.

“I CAN’T!”








They can hear our television blaring from the U.S. Embassy in Beijing. Whenever Barney Fife speaks, the sound of his voice shatters our windows and cracks one of my fillings.

Even so, this is the best show on the planet. I have loved it for my whole life.

As a boy, my friends always wanted to play “Army,” or “Cowboys,” or if we were in Marvin Kowalski’s basement, “Weatherman.” But I usually voted for playing “Andy Griffith.”

I had the clothes for it, too. My mother bought several khaki-colored safari shirts from the thrift store. If you…

I am not old, but I am old enough to remember a time when music was melodies presented in AABA song form. Back before the internet. Back when we still had ABC Sunday Night Movies, and newspapers were everything.

Dust off your turntable. Play a few forty-fives and LPs. Pour yourself three-fingers of Ovaltine and relax. Today is National Vinyl Record Day.

Now, I know what you’re thinking because I was thinking the same thing. You didn’t know there was such a holiday. Well, there is. And it’s today.

This morning, my friend told me about this holiday. I got pretty excited because (a) I have not listened to my vinyl records in a long time, and (b) I couldn’t think of squat to write about this morning.

The thing is, I am like most modern Americans. Usually, I listen to music on my phone, which has terrible sound quality.

Ray Charles, for instance, singing over a crummy cellphone speaker is not nearly the same experience as listening to him sing over a crummy record-player speaker.

So I went to the attic, found my heavy boxes of LPs, and hauled them into the living room. I dropped them on the table, smiled at my wife, then announced in a nostalgic voice, “I think I pulled my groin.”


I collapsed onto the sofa and screamed for fifteen minutes. I really tweaked it good, too. I now walk like John Wayne after his yearly colon exam.

But I have my father’s records to keep me company. My mother’s, too. Most of these albums have been with the family since my childhood. Such as:

—“Hank Williams Sings”

—“Walt Disney’s Country Bear Jamboree”

— “Four Tops Live”

—“Beach Blanket Bingo” (Frankie and Annette go skydiving!)

— “Love is the Thing” by Nat King Cole

—“The Music Man” (1957 Original Broadway Cast)

— “Willie Nelson and Family”

— “Songs, Themes, and Laughs from the Andy Griffith Show”

—“Modern Sounds in Country and Western Music” by Ray Charles

I am listening to albums on an Amplitone suitcase turntable with a brand new needle. They take me back in time. These songs resurrect people I…