I’d like to make my mama proud. That’s one of my main goals in this world. If I’ve made her proud, well, then I’ve really done something.

My mother, you see, is the kind of woman who taught me how to be nice, and how to have manners.

Long ago, she would make me sit with my cousin Myrtle at covered dish socials, so Myrtle wouldn’t be sitting alone. Mama would say things like: “Be polite, and make sure you ask your cousin how her baton twirling is coming along.”

Admittedly, Myrtle was about as interesting as watching ditchwater evaporate. But like I said, I want my mama to be proud.

Maybe I should back up and tell you where all this is coming from.

Earlier this week, I spent some time with people who were—how do I put this— not very nice. Now, they weren’t MEAN people, per se, but you don’t have to be “mean” to be un-nice.

I hope I am never an un-nice person. What would Mama think?

Mama is a woman who says things like: “Don’t talk about yourself too much, it’s like passing gas in an elevator; people will smile, but they don’t mean it.

And: “Be a good listener, your ears will never get you in trouble.”

I don’t aspire to much in this life, but I know that I want to be the kind of man who listens.

Also, I want to be the kind of man who dogs follow for no reason. I want to be the guy who does magic tricks for toddlers.

I want to go around reminding teenagers how important they are. I want to listen to the jokes old men tell when their wives aren’t around.

I want to hear long stories on porches, and I want to be the first to respond: “Well, I Suwannee.”

A good Suwannee…


My dad just left my mom and me… He’s a real *&@#$ and I’m so pissed off, I don’t even know why I’m writing you…

I am so mad and I wish we could make him pay for this in some way if that could be possible…

I just can’t figure out why.

Thanks for reading this,
JACOB, (13 years old)


Before I answer you letter, I want to say one thing, and it’s a little off the subject, so bear with me.

Have you ever watched any old Westerns? I’m talking silver-screen heroes in ten-gallon hats with quickdraws, who call everyone “Pilgrim.”

No, you probably don’t watch movies like that. Only geeks watch those sorts of movies. Geeks like me.

Still, it makes me sad that we don’t have Westerns like that today. There was a time when mankind was fortunate enough to have Roy Rogers, Gene Autry, Glenn Ford, Randolph Scott, and the immortal John Wayne.

Anyway, we don’t know each other, so you probably

don’t want any advice from a middle-aged fuddy-duddy like me.


If you WERE to ask me for some advice, which you didn’t, it is my basic belief that all 13-year-old boys need classic Western movies in their lives.

Look, just because there are no great silver-screen cowboys in today’s age doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy the old vaqueros. The Duke is still alive and well in digital color. Hopalong couldn’t look any better. And don’t forget “Maverick,” “Gunsmoke,” and “Bonanza.”

If you were to ask me which old Western movie to start with, I would have an answer for you.

“Stagecoach.” John Wayne’s first big movie. The Pilgrim himself, saving the day.

Then I’d tell you to watch “True Grit,” and “Red River.” From there you could work your way up to “The Searchers,” and…

Ray requires a lot of work. He’s got energy. Granny believes he is keeping her young. Granny is 72 this year, and she has the job of a 30-year-old. But there is something else.

I met Ray and his grandmother outside Cracker Barrel. Granny had her hands full. Ray was running in circles. Ray is 11 years old.

It was the breakfast rush, the hungry crowd was growing impatient. People stood in clumps, waiting their turns to eat toast, eggs, and God-willing, applewood smoked bacon. Ray ran between the people, hollering.

“Weeeeeeeeeeeee!” Ray said.

Granny called for him, but he was too busy to hear. People looked annoyed.

A hostess paged a table of ten. A group of ten fortunate people followed the hostess into the Promised Land, while the rest of us Children of Israel licked our lips, starving to death beside the licorice whips and horehounds.

The old woman kept calling for Ray. When Ray finally came near, I could see he had Down syndrome.

He was a happy child, and he apparently loved his grandmother very much because he laid himself on her lap.

Granny and I talked. I learned that Granny was a lot more than just

a grandmother. I won’t tell too much because it’s none of my business, but Ray is of no blood relation to her.

This gets confusing, so try to keep up.

Granny’s daughter-in-law brought Ray to her door when he was 2 years old. The girl was married to Granny’s son at the time. Ray came from the woman’s first marriage.

The very next year, the young mother bolted for parts unknown, she left the boy. So Granny adopted him.

“Believe me,” said Granny. “I never thought I’d have a child in my life, it’s not something I expected, and I can’t keep up with him.”

Her husband died several years ago, her son works offshore, and without Ray, all she would have is her cat.

“It’s funny, I had already accepted that I’d be alone in my old age, without anyone to…

Long ago, I thought the way all young men think. Maybe one day I would have a boy with red hair. Maybe he would be a junior. Or maybe we’d have a daughter. Sometimes, my wife and I would even fall asleep talking about it.

I am eating a cheeseburger, sipping beer, looking at a beachside restaurant full of families and kids.

There’s a band playing. They couldn’t be any worse if they detuned their instruments and started making bodily noises over the microphone.

But the children are loving the music. Some are dancing. Others are screaming, “Look, Daddy! Daddy! Look, Daddy! Daddy!”

I love kids.

I have always wondered how people with children enjoy their lives. I look around at a table of my middle-aged friends and I am thinking of this very thing.

These people seem to have more responsibility than the rest of us civilians. I’m fact, they’re so responsible that they can’t even focus on a conversation—at least not fully.

They are too busy looking from the corners of their eyes, waiting for catastrophe, or a screaming toddler.

My friend Billy, for instance, is trying to tell a story, but his sentences are incoherent because he keeps diverting his eyes toward his kids.

“Hey,” he begins. “You remember when we were fifteen…”

Billy turns his head.

“...And there was that water tower….”

Another head turn.

“...With the Hallelujah Chorus and lima beans…”


My friend Nathan tells me:

“The thing about kids is, they say ‘Daddy’ about fifteen hundred times per day. It’s enough to make you nuts.”

“Yeah,” another friend says. “And I wish my kids would just let me go pee in peace.”

My friends’ wives sit at the other side of the table, rocking babies, talking. My wife is with them.

My wife and I exchange a glance. We are the only childless couple here tonight. We smile at each other.

She rolls her…

It was March. I remember because my truck was covered in yellow powder. And if you don’t know the yellow powder I speak of, you might be from Ohio.

A lot of people who move to the South from other places think our biggest problems are humidity, mosquitoes, or evangelical fundamentalists. But those are nothing.

We have dehumidifiers for humidity, citronella for bugs, and fundamentalists won’t bother you if you play dead or talk about beer.

No, one of our biggest pests in these parts is the Satanic-dust that kills innocent woodland creatures and ushers in Armageddon.

Pine pollen.

Long ago, I tried to start a landscaping company. It was a bad idea and a colossal failure. I bought a utility trailer and some equipment. And when pollen season hit, I put a few fliers in mailboxes.

“FIRST LAWN-CUTTING IS FREE!!!!” I advertised, and I used four exclamation points.

One of my first customers was an old man. He hired me to re-sod his entire

front yard during the height of pollen season. I paid my friend Adam to help me.

Adam and I worked like rented mules. We replaced almost half an acre of centipede grass. Our noses were running, our eyes burning.

“This pollen’s killing me,” I said to Adam.

“Who said that?” Adam answered. “My eyes are too swollen to see anything.”

While we worked, an old woman came walking out of the house. She wore a nightgown, her hair was white and messy. She wandered through the yard like she were in a daze, letting the sun hit her face. She smiled. She sneezed.

"Oh, Carl!" she shouted. "There are boys out here!"

She sneezed again.

"Boys!" she said. “Two boys!”

I was afraid this woman was going to boil us in a kettle with toe of a frog and eye of newt.…

Thank you to the seventy-year-old man who went back to school to get his GED. And his forty-six-year-old daughter, who tutored him.

Thank you. That is the​ purpose of this column. I want to say “thanks.” I don't know you, but I believe in the good you do.

In public, I see you sometimes and think to myself: "I wish someone would thank them." But I never do because if I did, you’d think I was a complete nut job.

Maybe I am a nut job. But I’m allowed to be that way. After all, I am a columnist—sort of—and that means I am missing some crayons.

Long ago, I used to deliver newspapers with my mother. We used to deliver to a fella who would answer the door in pajamas. He had messy hair and a bushy white beard. He always gave me a five-dollar tip.

He was generous. If he wasn’t home one day, he would pay me ten bucks the next day. He was a columnist, my mother told me. And that’s why he was such a weirdo in weird pajamas. Even his house smelled weird.

I suppose I ought

to thank him while I am at it.

Also, thanks to the man I saw in the gas station who bought a lottery scratch-off ticket. Who won thirty bucks, then turned around and gave the cash to a woman behind him in line. What a guy.

The woman thanked him in a language that sounded like Russian, but he didn't seem to understand, so he answered: “Alright.”

Thank you, Cindy—the woman who translated one of my speeches in American Sign Language for the front row​. She told me I talked very fast and now she has problems with her rotator cuff.

She also taught me how to cuss in sign language.

Thank you to the seventy-year-old man who went back to school to get his GED. And his forty-six-year-old daughter, who tutored him.

And you. You deserve thanks, but you don't always get it. In…

For one hour, three grown men would teach a twelve-year-old how to play the game. They cheered for him. They taught him how to wear his hat backwards, and how to make noises with his armpits.

Randy was at a Little League game, watching his nephew play. Only, he was not paying attention to his nephew. He was watching the dugout.

A boy warmed the bench. He was all alone.

Maybe it was the way the kid held his head that made Randy feel so bad. You can tell a lot about a person by the way they hold their head. The kid sort of drooped his chin.

The game was in the eighth inning. The boy wore his uniform, it was spotless, no dirt. He sat beside the water cooler. Head down.

Randy made his way to the dugout and introduced himself. Randy asked why he wasn't playing on the field.

“‘Cause,” the boy said. “I ain't no good at baseball.”

“Don’t say ‘ain’t,’” Randy said. “It ain’t proper.”

This was a course of habit. For Randy’s whole life, his mother had corrected him for using the word “ain’t.”

“Aren’t,” Randy suggested. “Say ‘aren’t‘ instead.”

“Aren’t?” the boy said. “I AREN’T no good at baseball?

That ain’t right.”

Randy had to think long and hard. He couldn’t find the right word to say in place of “ain’t.”

The boy looked at Randy like the man’s wheel was spinning but the hamster was dead.

“Well,” said Randy. “It ain’t a real word, so don’t say ‘ain’t.’”

And so it went.

Randy told the kid his life story. It wasn’t a long tale, but it was a sad one. His father walked out on his mother when he was five. He had to grow up on his own, his mother worked two jobs.

The boy had a similar story. He was alone in this world, warming a bench.

But nobody needs to hear a hard luck story when they have one of their own. So Randy offered to help the kid improve at…