Once upon a time, butter, eggs, and bacon were considered health food. Our grandparents’ generation believed them to be the Holy Breakfast Trinity.

Old-timers believed that farm eggs, pork bellies, and hand-churned butter were the keys to longevity and happiness. And I don’t mean this ironically. I mean that these men and women actually believed this. So did their medical professionals.

Long ago, I remember when my grandfather visited his longtime family doctor—a cross between Fred Mertz and Methuselah. The old doc would finish each exam by shining a light into my grandfather’s ear canal and saying, “Hey, I can see daylight on the other side.”

Then they would laugh, fire up a couple Lucky Strikes, and tell dirty jokes.

You had to love these men. They were from another generation. They worked hard, polished their car engines, wore extremely high-waisted pants, used Old Spice, and ate bacon.

As a younger man, my grandfather would visit the butcher on payday and buy a huge pork slab. Bacon was so vital back then that he

would buy it before he spent money on anything else important, such as the mortgage, or beer.

Keep in mind, this was before the days of standardized testing and cellphones. Back when kids were still walking to school, uphill, forty miles, both ways, crossing rivers full of alligators, and doing their homework on the backs of shovel blades with charcoal.

So just to briefly recap what our grandparents believed:

Bacon, butter, and eggs; good. Communism and rock ‘n’ roll; evil. High-waisted men’s pants; sexy.

But somewhere along the way, nutrition experts changed their tune. They started claiming that bacon, butter, egg yolks, and pretty much anything that tasted good would kill you. This was in every magazine, newspaper, and morning talk show.

Soon, food companies were manufacturing bland, fat-free products that weren’t fit for thinning paint.

We had fat-free American cheese slices that tasted like single-ply…

But a man likes to dicker. He will saunter around the item, frown at it, eyeball it, and ask questions...

It was several years ago. I was driving toward Geneva, Alabama, for two reasons. One: A funeral for my friend’s father. Two: I was going to buy a fishing boat.

You might as well kill two birds with one stone, that’s what I always say.

I arrived at the church, dressed in my decent clothes. I don’t have “nice” clothes per se. Everything I own is either halfway decent or reprehensible. The reprehensible stuff can be identified by the wrinkles, the paint blobs on the sleeves, and the coffee stains.

No man purposely stains his shirts with coffee. But when he has facial hair like me, the hair absorbs thirty percent of each coffee swig. Thusly, when the cup is removed from the mouth, the coffee drips onto the man’s chest, making him appear either senile or drunk. Sometimes both.

And ironing? I have not ironed a shirt since Theodore Roosevelt was elected.

So my clothes are not my best feature, which has been a problem in the past. I once got fired from

a church for having a wrinkled shirt. This is totally true, and it’s still hard to talk about.

I was working part-time, playing church piano. One Sunday morning, I was playing “Old Rugged Cross.” I was wearing wrinkled khakis, a moderately crumpled shirt, and sandals.

I loved sandals because at the time I worked in construction. We wore boots all day long and my feet were always cramped. As soon as I would get home, I couldn’t wait to wear sandals and let the old dogs breathe. Sandals are like a Biloxi vacation for feet.

The pastor was horrified. I received my walking papers not long thereafter. Don’t misunderstand me, I do try to dress nice, I’m just saying that I know there’s room for improvement. Also, I try to bathe regularly.

When I arrived at the chapel where the funeral was held, I told my…

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

means.

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.

DEAR SEAN:

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.

NINTH-GRADER

DEAR NINTH-GRADER:

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!”

Today,

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…