The old man sips his drink and watches the game on the TV over the bar. Whenever LSU scores, he and the bartender head-butt me.

The Alabama-LSU game is on. Half the jerseys in this sports bar are Alabama-crimson. The other half are purple, worn by people who shout “GO TIGERS!”

I am wearing a crimson T-shirt, sitting at the bar, meeting my wife here for dinner tonight. She is running a little late.

There is some trash talk going on between opposing teams. Nothing too off-color. This is a game day tradition between LSU and Alabama fans. These two sets of fans are vicious enemies.

Today, it’s mostly just middle-aged guys doing the tough talking. There are no cuss words being used because most middle-aged guys are dads and have already started speaking fluent Four-Year-Old. Take my friend, John. He often uses the word “potty” in daily conversation. He will use even use this word if he is, for instance, at a monster truck rally.

There is an old man at the bar beside me, an LSU fan. He is old. Reserved. Wearing purple. He drinks gin and tonic. He and the bartender start talking about LSU.

She’s in a purple jersey, too. She is from Louisiana and she even sings a little of the LSU fight song, “Hey Fightin’ Tigers.”

“Hey fightin’ Tigers,
“Fight all the way,
“Hey fightin’ Tigers,
“Win the game today…”

I have known all kinds of fans in my time. LSU fans are a different breed. I once dated a girl from Baton Rouge. She was so passionate about her school that it’s a wonder she’s not in jail on assault charges.

She and her mother and her sisters would often burst into singing the LSU fight song at the most bizarre moments. It didn’t matter if they were cooking spaghetti, or at a Junior League meeting. When the mood hit, they would sing “Hey Fightin’ Tigers” and then headbutt whoever dared oppose them.

Ask me how I know this.

Alabama fans aren’t that way. We…

TALLAHASSEE—he was homeless. Long beard, weathered skin. I was sitting in traffic. He walked between lines of vehicles at the stoplight. He carried a cardboard sign. I rolled down my window and handed him all the cash I had—which wasn’t much.

Maybe fifteen bucks.

He smelled like an open bottle. He stood at my window and said, “I don’t know you, but I love you.”

Those words. I’ve thought about them for days. I thought about them when I drove past an ambulance this morning.

Two cars looked like crushed Budweiser cans. Traffic backed up for a mile. EMTs loaded a stretcher.

One paramedic was hugging a child in the median. The kid squeezed him and cried his eyes out. The EMT squeezed back. I’ll bet they don’t teach that in EMT training.

Here’s another:

After my friend’s wife died, he adopted a cat. It didn’t take long before he’d spoiled the animal rotten. He bought toys, an outdoor pet bed, a food bowl, a collar.

The next morning, he woke to see three feral cats on his porch. So, he

did what any self-respecting man would. He named them.

The following day, two more feral cats.
“I went from being lonely,” he said, “to being Doctor Freaking Doolittle. Cats just trust me.”

Last week, I met an old man who sat at the bar of a rundown beer joint. He was watching the band play. He was deaf. In a loud voice, he asked if he could buy me a beer. I accepted.

He told me he’d totally lost his hearing a few years ago. He woke up one morning and he was fully deaf. His life changed. It forced him to retire early. It’s been hard.

Last year, his nine-year-old granddaughter begged him to attend her school concert. He showed up with a sour attitude.

For the school’s final musical number, one hundred and twenty elementary students…

So you can’t tell me that a guy spends that kind of money on a boat because he’s serious about fishing. No. It’s about more than that.

Give a man a fish and he’ll eat for a day, but teach a man to fish and he will come home late, severely dehydrated and malnourished, because the only thing he had in his cooler was Natural Light beer and a package of expired Oscar Mayer bologna.

I hate Natural Light beer. It tastes like something that has been passed through the system of a diabetic house cat. But long ago this was the beer we young fishermen bought because it was super cheap. We would stock our coolers with Natural Light, and whoever gagged first lost a substantial bet.

Today, I went fishing with my buddy because I haven’t fished with him in years. We didn’t bring any Natural Light. My friend had some medical troubles a few years back and decided to quit drinking.

I have to admit, it was a little weird, fishing with a cooler full of nothing but raspberry-flavored La Croix, but whatever.

Because fishing is not truly about fishing. It never has been. If

a man ever looks you dead in the eye and tells you that fishing is actually about fishing, this man is the kind of man who will lie to his own mother.

Every fisherman knows that fishing is not really about fishing. It is about the outdoors, the sound of an outboard motor, the clicking of a baitcast reel, and most importantly, about raspberry-flavored La Croix.

Case in point: I have a friend who bought a very fancy boat. I’m talking a ridiculous superboat. It came with GPS, depth-finder, two trolling motors, and ten outboards that were powerful enough to blow the water out of the Baltic Sea.

When we asked how much he paid for the boat, he told us a price and I almost choked on my Oscar Mayer bologna.

That next weekend, he took several of us fishing. It was swanky. He had a cooler full…

And I learned right away that when you read audio books you have to do character voices. Which was something I’d never thought about.

It’s morning in Nashville. I am on my way to a recording studio. The traffic is awful. Locals call this the morning rush.

The locals also tell me that this frantic rush will immediately be followed by: mid-morning rush, pre-noon rush, noon rush, afternoon rush, and the halftime show.

And don’t even get the locals started on what traffic is like after everyone gets off work. In Nashville they don’t even call it “rush hour” because that would imply that it only lasts an hour.

There are cars gridlocked on the interstate that have been stuck in the same place ever since Gerald Ford was president.

I am recording my second audio book today. The first time I recorded a book, I had no idea what I was getting into. I learned a lot. Namely, I learned that when you read audio books you have to do character voices. Which was something I’d never thought about.

To give you an idea of what I mean: Let’s say that you’re reading a book about

pirates to kindergarteners. If you don’t say “Arrrgh matey!” in a graveled sailor voice before every sentence, the kids will have no idea you’re reading about pirates and might think you are reading about, say, the rise and fall of the Roman empire. It’s the same way with audio books.

The studio I’m recording in is not far from the famed Music Row, where all the famous studios are. Just down the street are world famous places that once cranked out groundbreaking albums from legendary artists such as Elvis, Dolly Parton, Johnny Cash, George Jones, and of course, the Backstreet Boys.

I remember how nervous I was the first time I visited this place. I was trying not to stammer into the microphone while reading. And when I got to the a dialogue section in the book, the audio engineer spoke over the intercom and said, “Hey,…

She is a waitress here. She has white hair, and a habit of winking when she smiles. Her name is Mary. I know this because it’s on her nametag.

I don’t know Mary—today’s the first time we’ve met—but I want to be her forever-grandson.

I just watched Mary get dog-cussed.

It happened when she swiped a young man’s credit card at the register. It was denied. She was quiet and discreet with him.

He shouted at her, “Run it again, lady!”

This made everyone’s ears perk up. It’s not every day you see some punk yelling at Barbara Bush.

She swiped the card. Denied.

“Do you have another card?” she asked in a soft voice.

The man shouted, “Another card? Don’t treat me like I’m @#$ing stupid, lady!”

Her mouth fell open. So did everyone’s.

The young man didn’t stop. He went on to say things which I can’t repeat—my mother reads these things.

The air in the restaurant went stale, like in old Westerns, just before John Wayne pumps some desperate bandito into the everlasting abyss.

The customers in the restaurant looked around at each other. The man in

the booth beside me stood. So did I. We walked toward the register.

But another man beat us to it.

He was tall, white-haired. He wore a tattered cap. He was older, mid-seventies, with shoulders broader than an intercostal barge.

The old man said, “What seems to be the problem over here?”

The angry kid spat, “My card won’t work.”

The old man let his eyes do his talking. Hard eyes. The same eyes I’ve seen in a hundred Westerns, just before the hero draws a greased Colt Single Action Peacemaker and opens the gates of Armageddon.

The old man was calm. He reached for his wallet. He said to Mary, in a syrupy voice, “I’d like to pay for this gentleman’s meal, ma’am.”

Then, he placed a large hand…

I can’t seem to find anything to write about because I am too distracted.

I love the way the sun hits the earth during this season. It’s hypnotic. I am listening to Johnny Cash and June Carter sing “I’ll Fly Away.” And I can’t seem to find anything to write about because I am too distracted.

I’m looking out my office-trailer window at the sun hitting my ugly dirt lot, and singing along with music about flying away.

This plot of land wasn’t always bare dirt. It used to be forest. But the man who owned it before me cut down all the pine trees because he was as crazy as an outhouse fly.

When I asked the man why he did this, he told me, “I just really hate trees.”

What kind of a depraved human—not counting real estate developers and New York Yankees fans—hates trees?

So mainly I just park all my junk on this ugly lot. Old boats, my truck, and I have a few dilapidated recreational vehicles. An old Airstream trailer (1969). And one Yellowstone camper (1956) which I gutted, renovated, and made into my office.

That’s where I am right now.

This morning I’ve tried to write but I keep losing focus because of the way the sun is shining. And this music. I’m a sucker for old-time hymns.

It’s also brisk outside and I have the doors to my office slung open. Something I rarely do because it’s usually hotter than twelve hells where we live.

This summer we had temperatures upwards of 127 degrees. That is not an exaggeration. I would check the weather on the internet, and the “feels like” temperature would read 127 degrees.

When I was a kid, we didn’t have feels-like temperatures. We only had thermometers and old men who talked about the weather by cracking jokes. I love it when old men cuss the weather.

“It’s so hot,” one man might say, “I saw a funeral procession pull over at Dairy Queen.”

JACKSON—I am at a breakfast joint, sipping lukewarm coffee, eating scrambled eggs. Seated at the counter beside me is an old man. He asks what I do for a living.

“I’m a writer,” I say.

“Oh yeah? What’s your name?”

I tell him.

He frowns. “Never heard of you.” He scoots closer. “But I’ll buy your breakfast if you listen to my story.”

I’m looking for the exit.

“It won’t take long,” he says. “All you gotta do is listen.”

“Fine,” I say. “But you’d better keep your hands to yourself.”

He tells me that Jackson is famous. For starters, Johnny Cash and June Carter sang about it. Though, nobody seems to agree on which Jackson they were singing about. Some think they were singing about Mississippi. Or it could have been Jackson, Maine. But the old man doubts it.

“It was right here,” says the man. “Johnny Cash sang about our town because Carl Perkins lived here, and Carl invented rock and roll.”

“Invented rock and roll?” I say.

“You dang right.”

Carl Perkins is not a name that today’s generation knows about. He

didn’t have his own hashtag, YouTube channel, Twitter account, or any of that “fandangled crap,” as the old man calls it.

“But,” says my new friend, “Carl could sure nuff play a guitar.”

“And he invented rock and roll?” I clarify.

Sort of.

Carl Perkins is the king of rockabilly music, which is rock and roll’s older brother. Or rock and roll’s mother, depending on how far you want to carry this metaphor. Or maybe it was rock and roll’s step cousin.

“It was just country music,” the old man explains. “Country music that you could move your feet to.”

But rockabilly was like nothing anyone had ever heard. It was a mix between blues and country, with a touch of boogie woogie, electric amplifiers, drums, lots of moonshine, and enough Brylcreem to wax the…

BATON ROUGE—I am at the Louisiana Book Festival. The downtown is overrun with tents, vendors, and lots of book-people.

Book-people look just like real people, only they aren’t. They have much bigger vocabularies. Many of them have earned doctorates in fields of study like post-Romantic Russian interior plumbing.

These are the kinds of brilliant people who spend two years writing a four-hundred-page dissertation about precolonial usage of the semicolon.

People who use words like “prosaic” in daily conversation.

Prosaic, I just discovered, means plain. Ordinary. Sort of run-of-the-mill. One book festival volunteer (a grad student) used this word—this is the truth—when he was giving me directions to the bathroom.

“It’s just down that hallway,” he said, “to the right, over by that rather prosaic-looking plant.”

He even used the hyphen.

So believe me, these book-people are all very nice, don’t get me wrong. It’s just that some of these well-dressed folks are the kind who—how do I put this?—have never heard of Rusty Wallace.

But it’s a great festival. Baton Rouge really comes alive. It’s not a stuffy literary gig at all. It’s fun. There

are live bands playing jazz and Cajun music. The smell of jambalaya is in the air. Many vendors are serving boudin, which is basically Cajun sausage on crack.

I am standing on the sidewalk, waiting for a ride to my presentation downtown. A black SUV pulls to the curb. A chauffeur wearing a suit opens the door and asks me to get in.

“No thanks,” I say. “I’m waiting for my ride.”

“I am your ride, sir.”


“That’s right.”

“You mean this stud mobile is for me?”

He makes no facial expression. “Please, sir.”

I have never had a chauffeur before. On the ride over I am cracking all sorts of jokes to lighten the mood, asking where my mimosa is. Come to find out, chauffeurs don’t find mimosa jokes funny.

He drops me…

Finally, I decide that someone has to say something to him.

It’s after midnight. The plane spits us out at Birmingham-Shuttlesworth Airport and we trot across the empty building. We stand before baggage claim with a bunch of weary passengers, staring at the large Roulette Wheel of Luggage with tired looks on our faces.

But the baggage treadmill hasn’t started moving yet. We are gathered around it, waiting, but it’s been thirty minutes.

There is a man next to me who is wearing a business suit that looks like it cost more than a three-bedroom-two-bath in Mountain Brook, and he is clearly ticked off.

“$%*#!” he says.

Over and over again.

He looks like the kind of guy who, whenever he doesn’t get what he wants, always asks to speak to the manager. You know the kind I’m talking about. You can’t take these people anywhere.

“$%*#!” he says again.

I’ll bet this guy was no day at the beach when he was a kid, either. I’ll bet when his childhood friends were busy playing cowboys and Indians, he was dressing up as Ted Turner and firing the butler.

My friend Darren used to be like that. Before he would come over to play, we all had to participate in group meditation just to prepare for him. Because we knew how things would go:

We would all want to play Lone Ranger, but Darren would want to play “accounting firm,” which was a make-believe game wherein we would pretend to be H&R Block professionals doing tax returns in cubicles. Darren would play the role of boss, patrolling the cubicles and shouting, “Come on people! Time is money! Chop! Chop!”

And eventually we’d tie Darren to a tree and scalp him.

So this guy is a lot like Darren. He’s pacing around, getting angrier by the second. He removes his watch and shakes it.

“$%*#!” he says again.

He sits on a chair and starts making loud sighs. People are looking at…

The best thing a guy can do is give his wife a credit card and fake the flu.

It’s a sunny day. The 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 is give his wife a credit card and fake the flu.