Well, I figured out why I keep trying. I figured it out a few nights ago.

I received an email sent in by a reader. Well, actually, I don’t know if you’d call him a reader. I should probably just call him “Bill.”

Bill wrote: “My sister sent me some of your blog entries and I liked them initially, but I began to lose interest quickly…

“Your work is often full of indecorous humor… You’re sometimes trying too hard to be folksy...

“Before you get upset with me, Sean, I do not wish to disrespect you. I have been teaching college English for a long time.”

Well, Bill, I’m embarrassed to say that when this email showed up I was watching “The Golden Girls.” I should be humiliated to admit that I was not reading heavyweight literature like T.S. Eliot or Melville. Because I’ve pretty much proven your point. Even though I’m not sure what your point was exactly.

Anyway, in this particular “Golden Girls” episode Burt Reynolds was a guest star. And since this is a family column, I won’t share every indecorous detail of the episode because, for starters, I don’t technically know what indecorous


What I will tell you, however, is that Burt Reynolds came bursting into the room and the scene went like this:

(Studio audience applause—also a few cat calls.)

BLANCHE: My God, you’re Mister Burt Reynolds!

BURT REYNOLDS: I hope so, or else I’ve got the wrong underwear on.

(More cat calls.)

The thing is, I’m not claiming to be a true writer. Real writers wouldn’t draw inspiration from “The Golden Girls.” Real authors draw inspiration from Bach preludes, and they smoke fine cigars.

A few months ago, my friend Robert organized a meeting with a well-known author like this. Robert and I arrived at a large estate in Central Florida. A woman invited us into a mahogany study.

On the walls were pictures of this writer, gracing magazine covers, playing golf with celebrities, shaking hands with high-ranking officials,…

Another exercise was the “Question Jar.”

Before we got married, my wife and I had to take a mandatory church marriage class. The Baptist church would not marry anyone without it.

The idea was: After eight weeks of rigorous marriage training, couples would receive an official certificate, trimmed in gold, with their names on it. And this certificate would prove to the world, without a doubt, that couples were spiritually prepared to stand at an altar and combine health insurance policies.

Keep in mind, this certificate wasn’t a marriage license. This was a “Baptist pre-marriage class certificate,” from the back of the “official Baptist marriage workbook,” purchased for $24.99.

Within the Baptist tradition, you see, you can’t do anything without first obtaining a certificate and unanimous committee approval. Even Sunday greeters are required to attend a four-week class that teaches them to properly say: “Here’s your bulletin, possible wayward reprobate sinner, sir.”

Thus, my future-wife and I arrived at the fellowship hall each week to participate in courses that prepared us for cohabitation.

These courses featured many important

games which the workbook termed “marital building exercises.” Many of which were developed by professional marriage book authors—some of whom had been married to the same person for as long as three to four years.

One such exercise was the Egg Test.

In this game, the future-bride (Jamie) balances an egg on a spoon clenched between her teeth. She wears a blindfold and walks across a room.

The future-husband (me) stands on the opposite side of the room (over by the piano). He uses ONLY his words to guide his future-wife through an obstacle course made up entirely of folding chairs which represent the confusing Maze of Life.

On the chairs are Post-It notes, labeled with various day-to-day marriage problems like: “car trouble,” “bills,” “career,” “children,” “chapter 11 bankruptcy,” “sharing the covers.”

In this exercise, the woman stumbles over chairs, spoon held in her mouth. She is thus…

I am in Alabama, covering Hank Williams’s 96th birthday in his home state. My first stop is a nursing home. I have an interview with a man named Earl.

Earl is not an authority on Hank’s music or anything. He’s just a fan.

He sits in his wheelchair beside the window, listening to music at such a high volume that the windows are cracking.

He is slouched. A stroke has impaired his speech and his thinking.

“Grandad used to be sharp,” his granddaughter says. “He used to have these great expressions, sometimes I kick myself for not writing them all down before his stroke.

“One thing I do remember he used to say: ‘Life don’t always work out the way you want, but it always works out.’”

Mister Earl listens to music coming from a smart TV. The song is Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues.” He bobs his head. You can see the toe of his Velcro shoe moving. The song makes him come alive somehow.

“I-I-I used to p-p-play this song!” he shouts. “Turn it up!”

“Up?” his granddaughter

says. “It can’t go any higher.”

This makes Earl swear like a commercial trucker. He weaves together a quilt-work of cuss words so elaborate that it ought to be on display in the Smithsonian.

I don’t get far with Earl, so we part ways. Soon I’m on my way to the next interview.

Hank Williams is on my truck stereo. The tune is “Dear John.” This music reminds me of my redheaded father. I don’t know why, and I guess it doesn’t matter.

Once you lose someone, off-the-wall things can remind you of them. A bird. A flower. A pocket knife. I remember listening to Hank Williams with my father when I was a boy. In some ways, he and Hank were similar. My father was skinny like him, and a singer. And both men died too young.

My next interview…

Imagine that you have hired one of those courtroom typists to follow you around all day, transcribing your conversations.


How do I come up with things to write? I want to be a writer, but right now I have writer’s block and the words aren’t coming. I have an essay due in my class for creative writing so I need a quick answer.



Here’s what you do. And pay careful attention to what I am about to explain.

Pickled eggs.

Now before you roll your eyes and quit reading, let me tell you a story about a kid with an incredible stretching stomach.

This kid’s pals used to travel far and wide simply to dare him to eat things because this kid had a gift. And by “this kid,” of course I mean me.

I could eat two large pizzas with no problem. Buffets? I laugh at buffets. If you would have cut a bowling ball into bite-sized pieces, I could have eaten four and still had room for layer cake.

My buddies would often buy a giant jar of pickled eggs and watch me eat myself silly while chanting, “PUKE! PUKE!”


these friends are all insurance salesmen, dentists, and chiropractors. You have to worry about America’s youth sometimes.

But anyway, I would eat eggs then go home. I would be so sick that I couldn’t go to sleep for at least four semesters. So I would stay up all night, writing. And so began my literary career.

Of course, the real trick was not the eggs. It was the friends. Because during these eating exhibitions we would have great conversations. And that’s what creative writing is, a one-sided conversation.

Have you ever paid close attention to yourself during conversation? Words flow. There’s no pressure to come up with something profound. Entire paragraphs fall out of your mouth like building blocks.

You speak a few words. They add a few. Someone tells a joke. More laughing. Friendships are strengthened. Memories are made. And…

I had no idea that I was wearing an actual “Arkansas Beaver Tail” hairdo because I couldn’t see the back of my head.

You can imagine how shocked I was to discover that for the past two months I have been wearing a mullet haircut without knowing it.

This is not a joke. So please try to remain calm and do not get so horrified that you drop your cell phone, tablet e-reader, newspaper, or eight-month-old son.

But as it turns out, I have been parading around the Free World wearing a hairstyle that is cut short in the front, but long in the back. A hairstyle commonly known as an “Achy-Breaky-Big-Mistakey.” Or in certain regions, “The Mississippi Mudflap.”

I figured this out when I walked into a salon yesterday. As soon as I sat in the chair, I knew something was wrong. Because four professional hairdressers surrounded me and ran their fingers through my hair, saying things like, “You poor baby.” One of them even dropped her eight-month-old son.

Said one stylist, “What kind of a person did this to you, sweetheart?”

I had no idea what they were talking about.

“What do you mean?” I asked.

Jessica gripped the long hair behind my head and yanked it. “This,” she said. “I hate to break it to you, but THIS is a Tennessee Tophat.”

“A what?”

“You know,” another explained. “A Squirrel Pelt, a Texas Tidal Wave, a Dothan Dangler.”

“What’s that?”

“You mean to tell me you’ve never heard of a Kentucky Neckwarmer? A Floridian Fun Flap? A Missouri Compromise?”

“She’s right,” said another stylist. “Your hair is a full-fledged mullet.”

A girl named LaShanda held my long rat-tail and said, “I’ve never seen one up close before.”

“Yep,” said Jessica, holding a handheld mirror behind my head. “Business up front, party in the back.”

Of course this explains a lot. When I first got this haircut three months ago, I knew something was wrong. I got it in Huntsville, Alabama. I drove…

I am greeted by Alecia and other members of her team. We all exchange hugs. Alecia says, “Thank you so much for being here.”

NASHVILLE—The book publisher’s building is large, modern-looking, and intimidating. There is a mirror-like finish on the outside.

There is an intercom by the front door. Before getting inside, you must present a valid ID, a birth certificate, the blood of a sacrificial ram, and five years of past tax returns.

No, I’m only kidding. The intercom is probably for weeding out crazy people.

Which is why the most important thing to remember when speaking into this intercom is to relax and be yourself so the receptionist doesn’t think you’re a crazy person.

I mash the button.

“Hello,” I say, using a 17th-century British female accent. “I am not a crazy person.”

The voice says, “Do you have an appointment?”


The door unlatches with a buzzing sound. And I am inside the HarperCollins building. This place is fancy. Tall ceilings, big windows. There’s a pianist in the lobby playing “Moon River” on a six-foot baby grand piano.

Again, this is just a joke. He’s actually playing “Red Sails in the Sunset.”

I am greeted by Alecia and other members of her

team. We all exchange hugs. Alecia says, “Thank you so much for being here.”

This seems to be the phrase of the day. I hear it a few hundred times from many nice people.

These are book-people. Their lives revolve around books. Anything you can imagine doing to a book, they have already done it. They eat, sleep, and bench press books.

They think in complete paragraphs that are virtually typo-free. Some copy editors even do double air quotes with their fingers before and after every sentence they say.

There are cubicles everywhere. People at computers. Bookshelves. Coffee makers.

The walls are lined with posters featuring some famous book covers. And these posters all leave you struck with the feeling that pretty much all people in the Western world—including various cast members from “Love Boat”—have written runaway bestsellers.


I have not been able to find our dishrag drawer since the late 1990s.

I am looking for the peanut butter in my kitchen. But I can’t find it. I can never find things in my own house because I am married.

Just when I figure out where the silverware is located, or the peanut butter, or the master bathroom, my wife changes everything around. Then she changes it again.

When I ask her about it, she offers no explanation other than: “I moved the peanut butter above the dishrag drawer.”

If I actually knew where the dishrag drawer was located it would be smooth sailing. But I have not been able to find our dishrag drawer since the late 1990s.

So I just keep looking around for the peanut butter, opening and closing cupboards until I end up staring into a cabinet filled with vitamins and one Oster six-speed hand mixer. Then, I completely forget what I was looking for and end up on the sofa watching the “Young and the Restless.”

I forget things because we men have short attention spans. I get distracted all the

time. I can be talking about one thing, then suddenly (bam!) did you know that a squirrel’s front teeth never stop growing?

Which is true, by the way.

This attention deficit problem in males is annoying to women. But it’s just part of being a man. We can be very thickheaded.

This is why a man can wander into his own kitchen, open his OWN refrigerator, stare at fourteen different kinds of mustard on the door, including the moldy Grey Poupon that nobody has thrown away since his cousin’s wedding reception last summer, and without the slightest irony ask his wife, “Do we have any mustard?”

At my in-law’s house it was salad dressing instead of mustard. My father-in-law would accumulate salad dressing like nobody’s business. I finally figured out why when I went shopping with him.

He would take three steps into a Piggly Wiggly,…

“What are you writing?” she asks. Only it comes out sounding like “Choo rattin’?”

I have a few hours to kill. I stop at a small place to eat. The place is dead. It is just me and a waitress. She is older. Covered in tattoos.

The place is rundown. My coffee mug has lipstick traces on it. The music overhead is George and Tammy. My table is sticky. I’ve been in a lot of breakfast joints in my day, but this is definitely one of them.

I order eggs and bacon. And I type on a laptop while listening to George sing.

She watches me. At first she isn’t going to say anything, but eventually she does. Her boredom is unbearable.

“What are you writing?” she asks. Only it comes out sounding like “Choo rattin’?”

“It’s just a story,” I say.

“Story ‘bout h-whut?”

“This and that.”

“You a writer?”


“You any good?”

“Not really.”

“I ever heard of you before?”

“I doubt it.”

“What’s your name?”


“Never heard of you.”

The music overhead changes to Randy Travis. I have always liked Randy Travis.

I ask her the quintessential breakfast-joint question. “So, where’re you from?”

“Virginia, originally. Only, I been in Alabama since I’s twenty.”

“Doing what?”

“This and that.”


any good?”

This makes her smile. “I was good at being stupid. So are my daughters. All been stupid just like me. My son’s the only one who did right. He joined up.”

“The military?”

“A Marine.”

“Semper Fi?”

“Do what?”

“I think that’s their motto, the Marines, Semper Fi.”

“Is that Spanish?”

“I think Latin.”

“Don’t know nothin’ bout no Latin, but he’s a good boy, when I get to see him.”

She returns to wiping the counter. It’s just busywork. There’s nothing to wipe. The cook is in the kitchen playing with his phone. He appears to have a runny nose. He wipes it with his palm. And I think I’m going to be sick.

Out of the…

I’m on a two-lane highway.

I am leaving Florida, heading for Birmingham on important business. By which I mean barbecue.

My cousin is having a little get-together in his backyard. He is slow-smoking a large pork butt, serving homemade banana pudding, and his famous fall-off-the-bone ribs. I have been known to travel great distances for good barbecue.

I’m on a two-lane highway. It’s 99 degrees outside. The Florida weather is so hot that the trees are bribing the dogs.

I cross the state line, and I’m in Alabama.

The first town I pass is Florala. It’s tiny. It sits on Lake Jackson. Picture thick oaks with lots of moss, a small mainstreet, and Opie Taylor kicking a can on the sidewalk.

I once dated a girl from Florala. Her father hated me. One day he invited me hog hunting. Just the two of us. This was my cue to get off his porch before I had an unfortunate hunting accident.

You can follow Highway 55 upward for a breathtaking drive. Pass Lockhart, North Creek, miles of farmland, and soon

you’re in Andalusia. Hank Williams got married in Andalusia.

Pass the country club, the Conecuh River, and you’re back on 55 again. Follow this through Red Level, McKenzie, and you really ought to stop in Georgiana, at Kendall’s Barbecue—a little shack beside a gas station. Thank me later.

While you’re in town, visit the childhood home of Hank Senior. Get the dime tour of the museum from a sweet elderly woman named Miss Margaret, who I keep hoping will adopt me.

After that, you will have a few routes you can take to Birmingham.

1. Interstate 65—a congested mega-highway with every SUV in the known universe riding your butt and trying to ram your tailgate if you don’t drive 125 miles per hour even though they have bumper stickers which read “Jesus is my co-pilot.”

2. Highway 31.

Ride the sleepy highway past Chapman, Bolling, and…

And he was a blue collar man. It’s impossible for me to tell you much about him without highlighting that. His uniform was denim.

He was outdoorsy. More outdoorsy than me. Don’t get me wrong. I love the outdoors just as much as the next guy. Sometimes, I spend all day watching movies that were filmed entirely outdoors. But he was different.

He smelled like the outdoors. That’s what I remember most about him. It was a leathery smell. Like soot, and foliage, and dirt.

He smelled like this because he worshipped his lawn. The man could waste entire weeks obsessing about one little brown spot in his yard. And he would work in the flower beds more than most peoples’ grandmothers ever did.

He was a blue collar man. It’s impossible for me to tell you much about him without highlighting that. His uniform was denim. He wore it every single day. Except Sundays. He was an ironworker. A union man. I never saw him sit in anything but a Ford.

On weekends, however, he was a certified nutcase.

Once, he had the bright idea to conduct a controlled burn on our land. Thirteen acres of

tall, dry grass. His friends told him it was a bad idea, but like I said, he was a nut.

On Saturday morning, he drove the truck around the property; his buddy rode on the tailgate, dumping gasoline onto the grass. They spent half the day saturating the land. Then he parked near the house and lit a match. One match.


Thirteen acres exploded. The fire department was called. The police were called. I think he even made the paper.

It took a full day to put the fire out. And when it was all said and done, my father was covered in black soot, head to toe. He said, “Well, that was a bad idea.”

I remember those words exactly.

Another story I remember. He was driving and he saw this man on the highway whose car broke down on the side of the road.…