I am sitting in the living room with my elderly mother-in-law, Mother Mary. We are watching television. Mother Mary holds the remote.

The television is enormous. I am talking about a TV that’s bigger than a king-size mattress mounted to the wall. The volume is cranked up so loud that bits of ceiling plaster are falling into my beer.

My wife is away tonight, and she has left me alone with Mother Mary. We are watching TV. Mother Mary is flipping channels.

You’d like Mother Mary. She is white-haired, with a voice like Scarlett O’Hara. She sits in her recliner, and we are eating pizza delivery.

She flips past all the major networks. She pauses on HGTV for a little while, but nothing appeals to her. She scrolls past all her favorites: TLC, TBS, USA, TNT, Home Shopping Network, Univision.

She finally lands on the Discovery Channel. The show is entitled “Naked and Afraid.”

On the screen are two forty-somethings. Male and female. They hike

through the wilderness trying to survive. And they are both—how do I put this?—buck naked.

The gist of the show is simple and realistic. Two people with desk jobs suddenly find themselves wandering through the woods, fighting insurmountable odds, harsh weather, sleep deprivation, predators, and multiple commercial breaks. And they do it without wearing any pants.

The important thing to remember here is that these are not actors, and they are actually naked. Their primary body parts are blurred by special camera effects, but their secondary body parts are in clear focus.

For example: There is a man on the screen right now. He is bending over to get a drink from the river. And I see London, I see France.

“Oh my word,” remarks Mother Mary. “I see his little hiney.”

I cover my eyes. “Mother Mary, would you like another piece of pizza?”

I don’t want a funeral. At least not a traditional one.

I just went to a funeral. It was a beautiful service. Your typical religious affair. A crowd gathered in a chapel to bid farewell to a good man. They cried. They sniffed. They read eulogies. Men wore neckties.

The pastor preached a sermon. He kept saying that the deceased was “finally free.”

This phrase gets under my skin a little. Everyone says it at funerals. There’s no originality to it. I’m not sure I even know what they’re talking about.

I mean, if the dead are so happy-go-lucky and free, then how come everyone is so afraid of dying?

I left the chapel and drove to a beach on the shores of the Choctawhatchee Bay. I loosened my necktie and shoved it into my pocket. Because I hate neckties. Always have.

I don’t want a funeral. At least not a traditional one.

The last thing I want is a bunch of people in neckties taking turns giving speeches about how I’m “finally free.”

I don’t want a church,

organ music, caskets, or any of that pallbearer business.

I’m not saying I don’t like church services. I do. I like hugging necks and singing “Rock of Ages” as much as the next guy. But when it comes to my funeral, I don’t want that.

I want to be outside. And I want my friends to have a big time. I want barbecued ribs and overstocked coolers. I want my wife to announce Willie Nelson as he takes the stage.

If not Willie himself, I’ll settle for the impersonator I saw in Branson. He was pretty good. Except that he was bald, from Norway, and when he talked he sounded like the Swedish Chef from the “Muppet Show.”

I want music. A bonfire. And food. It will be a covered dish supper. There will be potato salad, butter beans, and more casseroles than you…

I have a soft spot for “Murder She Wrote.” When I was a kid, it came on our local channel every night at five.

I almost didn’t write this. But it’s very important. Because as an American, you deserve to know that today in the supermarket, I ran into an elderly woman who looked just like Angela Lansbury.

She was a dead ringer.

Of course she claimed she wasn’t Angela Lansbury. She even went so far as to say her name was Jeanne, from Michigan.

But I didn’t believe her. I watched her ring up groceries. She kept looking at me from the corner of her eye as though she were thinking about reaching for pepper spray.

Then she left.

I watched “Jeanne”—if that’s truly her name—exit the double doors and wander into the parking lot.

I asked the teenage cashier, “Did you SEE that lady?”

“Yeah,” the cashier said.

“Did you notice anything about her?”

“No.”

“SHE LOOKED JUST LIKE ANGELA LANSBURY!”

“WHO?”

“‘MURDER SHE WROTE!’”

“WAIT! WHY ARE WE SPEAKING IN ALL CAPS?”

I’m going to level with you. I cried. Yes, dang it, I cried. Right in the supermarket. Not a big cry, mind

you. Just a little one.

Until then, I hadn’t cried for a long time. The last time was a few weeks ago when my wife kicked me during sleep.

My wife loses control during REM sleep. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if she would have kicked me in the shin—she has kicked my shins plenty of times. But she did not kick me there. I will let you figure out where she kicked me.

Take your time.

Let’s just say that on the following Sunday at church, the choir director had me sing first soprano.

But getting back to my celebrity sighting. When I saw this woman in the checkout line, my entire childhood came flooding back to me.

I have a soft spot for “Murder She Wrote.” When I was a kid,…

So I don’t know much, but there is something I DO know. The “best” doesn’t exist. Neither does “perfection.”

I went to the piano recital of a friend’s daughter. There was a crowd of proud parents wearing dressy clothes. Most were shooting videos with cell phones.

I’ve never witnessed so much piano music in my life. One child performed a piece by Chopin that seemed to last longer than an entire episode of “General Hospital.”

At one point during the recital, there was a sixteen-year-old girl who played something by Franz Liszt. While she played, something happened. She messed up.

One mistake led to another. And another. Then, she quit playing and ran off the stage.

After the performance, I saw her in the lobby. She was crying. She kept saying to her parents, “I wanted it to be perfect.”

Before I left, I shook her hand and told her how wonderful I thought she did. I wanted to say more, but couldn't. It didn’t seem like any of my business.

But what I wanted to tell her was this:

Maybe her performance wasn’t

perfect, but big whoop. Some of us like imperfect things. Some of us like mistakes.

Yes. I know, I know. People are supposed to strive to be the greatest, strongest, longest lasting, fastest, leanest, shiniest, and the best. But I would like to point out: Why?

Besides, who decides what the “best” actually is? And what makes these decisions correct?

I once knew two older men who had a longstanding feud over who had the best college football team. University of Georgia or Auburn University. These two men would get into big arguments, shouting about statistics and wishbone offenses, until they would almost get into a fistfight.

I’ll never forget being an onlooker for one of these legendary arguments. At the time, I was standing beside a young woman who was originally from Minnesota. She was on scholarship at Auburn, studying animal husbandry—or maybe it was poultry…

Then comes the mother-groom dance. The song is “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys.” There isn’t a dry eye in the house.

I am at a wedding. A classy one. If I had to guess, the entire affair cost about as much as a second-floor beach condo with Gulf views. There are so many people attending the event that it has port-a-johns, valet service, and a team of photographers.

The bride is lovely. Her dress is long and full. During the ceremony, the lady seated next to me whispers to her friend, “I heard she went to Orlando to get that dress.”

“Orlando?” says the other. “It’s lovely.”

“For that much money, it oughta be insured.”

“Orlando?

“What a dress.”

“It’s all about the dress.”

This is a very different concept from the weddings my people often threw. For one thing, our weddings were not about dresses unless you counted the kind purchased from TJ Maxx. Our weddings were about the receptions. Often, these events were held in somebody’s backyard and usually involved an above-ground pool or a deer stand.

They were the kinds of get-togethers where beforehand,

every man’s wife would grip his elbow firmly and say, “Do NOT embarrass me.”

But this wedding isn’t like that. This is a swanky deal. The people in the congregation are dressed nicely. One woman appears to be wearing a pheasant on her head.

Two rows ahead of me is a man wearing his sunglasses—I’ve never seen this before—on the back of his head. I keep noticing the glasses throughout the service, staring at me. It’s like making eye contact with a very hairy creature in protective eyewear.

After the ceremony, everyone drives to a seafood restaurant across town for the reception. There is a DJ, dancefloor, and a cash bar. People are loosening their neckties, letting their hair down. And now we get to see first hand what kinds of things happen when Methodists drink.

Someone asks me to dance. A girl named…

I found a litter. A few days later, I drove to Molino, Florida. I arrived at a farm in the sticks. A team of black-and-tan bloodhounds ran through the grass to greet me. They tripped over their ears and oversized paws.

DEAR SEAN:

My name is well... That’s not important.

I lost my dachshund last night. She was fifteen years old overweight, had seizures, and was incontinent, but she owned my heart.

My wife doesn't want another pet, but what do I do with this love?

This is just a short note to you ‘cause I knew you’d understand.

MISSING-MY-DACHSHUND

DEAR MISSING:

It’s National Dog Day, which I’m sure you know. At least we know this at my house. This morning, in honor of the holiday my dogs ate pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Of course they were my pancakes and bacon, my dogs stole them from my breakfast plate. But you win some and you lose some.

I remember the day my former bloodhound died, I was away in Birmingham for work. Ellie Mae was thirteen, she’d been sick the morning before I left town.

We‘d taken her to the ER. They gave her meds, stabilized her, and it looked like she would make a full recovery.

The next morning, I kissed

Ellie’s long face and left for Birmingham to tell stories and jokes to a roomful of a few hundred folks.

It was a nice day. I remember it well. I drove along the highway, humming with the radio. The sun was shining. By the time I reached Camden, I got a call from my wife.

“Ellie’s not right,” she said. “Something’s wrong.”

I almost turned the truck around, and maybe I should’ve. But I didn’t.

By the time I reached Selma, the vet was on the phone delivering bad news. When I reached Maplesville, my wife and I were already discussing sending her to Heaven, and my gut churned.

“I don’t want her to suffer,” said my wife.

“I don’t either,” I said.

“You think we should… I can’t bring myself to say it.”

The sun went down. The colors on the Gulf of Mexico were nothing short of dramatic. Orange, purple, gold, electric red. All three women were watching the sun from the shore’s edge. But I was watching them.

My mother-in-law arrived at the beach rental cottage just in time for sunset. She was riding shotgun in a conversion van that was outfitted with a hydraulic wheelchair lift. Her friend, Robbie, was driving.

My mother-in-law (Mother Mary) leaned her head out the window and shouted, “We’re here! And I have cake!”

Cake? Did someone say Cake? I have sensitive ears trained for hearing important words. I can hear this particular word from across the state. Just like I can hear the words “five-dollar beer pitcher” from outer space.

Anyway, there was a lot of luggage to unload. A beach vacation is a major ordeal in my wife’s family. It requires coolers, boxes, bags, suitcases, industrial Tupperware containers, major appliances, heavy artillery, livestock equipment, etc.

My mother-in-law handed me a cake covered in a plastic dome. It was beautiful. She bought it from Dean’s Cake House in Andalusia. Mother Mary knows how I feel about Dean’s cakes.

Long ago, there was only one place in our town that sold Dean’s fare. It was across the county

line at a service station called “The Happy Store.” I was one of their best customers. I would buy a caramel seven-layer cake for every wedding, baby dedication, baptism, bachelor’s party, bar mitzvah, 10-minute oil change, birthday, potluck, and Methodist funeral.

I have never met a man who didn’t like a Dean’s cake.

I thanked Mother Mary for bringing the cake.

“Remember,” she said. “You have to share that.”

Mother Mary sat in a special beach wheelchair made for sand. It looks like a regular wheelchair, only the tires appear to have been manufactured by NASA. My wife and Robbie pushed Mother Mary across the wide beach toward the water’s edge. I offered to help them push, but my wife said, “Girls only.”

Which is code for, “Go inside and fold the laundry.”

So I stayed behind and watched them from the patio of…