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…

It’s hard putting yourself out there. In fact, this is the hardest part.


How do you go about writing one of your stories? What is your process like?



There are many people who can tell you more about the writing process than I can. But I’ll tell you how I do it.

The first thing to know is that writing requires brain power. And studies tell us that the human body gets its strongest surge at 5 A.M. This surge typically lasts until 5:03 A.M. Unfortunately, I am asleep during the surge and I am wholly unaware of it.

So I generally wake up exhausted at about 7:30 A.M. Then, I complain about how badly I slept the night before. When you get older, you don’t sleep as good as you used to.

My mother used to warn me about this. I would laugh at her and say “Ha ha! No way, I’ll sleep great forever! And I will always be able to eat acidic foods after six o’clock, too!”


You quit

sleeping well around your thirties. And food? Once upon a time, I could eat an extra-large five-alarm beef burrito and finish the day like a caffeinated squirrel. Nowadays, if I eat one French fry I have to take a four-hour nap.

So anyway, after morning coffee, I wait for my mood to improve. I am not a morning person and never have been. My happy mood in the morning is always fake.

This is because when I was a boy I used to wake up with a bad attitude. My father took me aside once and said, “You'd better learn how to fake a good mood, or your mother’s not gonna make pancakes anymore.”

I’ve been faking good moods ever since.

When my caffeine takes effect, I go to my office. In my office, I have just about everything a writer needs to have around…