I crawl out of bed. I walk downstairs to see my mother at our dining table. The tabletop is scattered with paper envelopes and a calculator.

I am in bed. Mama is up late. The kettle on the stove is whistling. The sound wakes me. I look at the clock, it is two in the morning.

I walk downstairs to see my mother at our dining table. The tabletop is scattered with paper, envelopes, and a calculator.

She leans over a mess of bills that might as well be a tablecloth. She punches numbers on the calculator and makes a grimace. I know my mother. I know that look.

“What’s wrong?” I say.

She runs her fingers through her hair. “Oh, I’m just robbing Peter to pay Paul, go back to bed.”

“Who’s Paul?”

“Paul Newman, who else? Now go to bed.” She buries herself in her hands.

“Have you been crying, Mama?”

“I’m not crying, now go to sleep.”

“But, I can’t sleep.”

“Upstairs, now!”


She points at me. “I don’t wanna hear about your ‘but.’ I want you to go to bed.”

“I’m not tired.”

“Well,” she says with a sigh. “Then just pretend

to sleep, I don’t care what you do. Go upstairs and count your blessings.”

This is what all Baptists do. We do not count sheep, or listen to meditative sleep instructional CD’s by Deepak Chopra. That stuff is for Methodists.

“Blessings?” I say to my mother. “WHAT blessings? We’re probably gonna STARVE to death aren’t we?”

I don’t know what has come over me, talking like that. I storm upstairs, slide beneath the covers, I stare at the ceiling.

I can’t sleep because life has dealt my family nothing but lemons. And I’m worried. We have limited means, tall debts, no father, and a car that leaks oil. And now my mother is having to pay this Paul fella.

My mother comes into the bedroom. She sits beside me. She touches my hair and doesn’t…

Over the years, the baby grew considerably bigger. She turned into a girl. She could could run faster, jump farther, yell louder, and arm wrestle better than any cowboy I ever knew.

I was three years old when I officially became a cowboy. I’m not joking. I had a pair of aluminum six-shooters and a horse head on a broomstick to prove it.

I would ride through fields, straddling my horsey-stick, smacking my hindparts and shouting, “Giddyup, Trigger!”

Also, though you might not know this—and I don’t mean to brag—I have saved the world on three separate occasions. And I was also the best man at Tonto’s second wedding.

Sure, I dabbled in other professions like, for instance, the second grade. But no other calling suited me. I was meant to be a modern day drifter. And you can’t change who you are.

Some are born to be doctors and lawyers and such. Others are born Roy Rogers.

When I turned seven, I was at the height of my cowboy career. I’d just done a stint as a lawman in Dodge, with Marshal Matt Dillon and Chester Goode. Then, I was offered a job working with my hero, Roy Rogers.

He’d just fired Dale, his previous sidekick. Roy admitted to me that he was getting tired of Dale always nagging him to take out the recycle bin.

So you see, I had big plans. I was going to ride all over creation with Roy, shoot bad guys, strum songs, and be in charge of Trigger’s gluten-free diet. It was going to be great.

But alas, it wasn’t meant to be.

One day, while I was riding the lonesome trail, Miss Anne called me to the hacienda for cheese sandwiches and apple juice—Miss Anne was my babysitter.

“Come on, Sean!” she called. “Something big has just happened!”

The next thing I knew, I was in a hospital, in a maternity ward, and I was holding an infant. A real live baby girl.

Cowboys, you’ll note, don’t know much about newborns. Not unless…

I met him when I worked on a landscaping crew. He had just turned his life around and moved in with his brother. He was short, built like a refrigerator, and could bench press a Pontiac.


I am writing on behalf of my twelve-year-old son, tell me how I’m supposed to deal with a bully at school, this isn’t easy.



You wrote the wrong guy. I hate to disappoint you, but I am too underqualified. Still, I wish my friend, Paulo, could chime in on this. He would have a good answer.

Years ago, I found some used lumber for sale in the classified section. I drove to South Alabama with Paulo to pick it up.

Paulo moved here from Los Angeles, he comes from a large Mexican family. His sister-in-law made the best homemade chicken mole you’ve ever had, his brother was a preacher.

Paulo grew up in gangs—and I don’t mean the kind that play patty cake after soccer practice.

Paulo had been to prison. He had ornate tattoos on his arms, hands, and one large design on his neck.

I met him when I worked on a landscaping crew. He had just

turned his life around and moved in with his brother. He was short, built like a refrigerator, and could bench press a Pontiac.

The address in the newspaper led us to a farmhouse that had a long driveway, blocked by a livestock gate.

I dialed the number in the ad and told the lady we had arrived. The gate opened automatically, via electronic remote.

“Wow,” said Paulo. “Now that’s what I call a FANTASTIC gate.”

You will note, I am using substitute words. Paulo is from East L.A. He would never use the word “fantastic.”

We drove toward the house. I saw the pile of cheap used lumber calling my name. Paulo and I tossed pieces into my trailer until it was lunchtime.

I explained to the lady that we were breaking for lunch and would be back in a few…

“My grandkids are coming to town this week,” she says. “Wanna make sure they have enough food.”

The woman in the checkout aisle is small, white-haired. Her cart is full, mounding with Gatorade, Cheetos, and ice cream sandwiches.

I love ice cream sandwiches.

She is bent at the waist, her joints are as thin as number-two pencils. She is struggling to push her cart.

I offer to unload her buggy. She thanks me and says, “Aren’t you a sweet little Boy Scout?”

A comedian, this lady.

If I am lucky enough to see old age, I will be a comedian.

She’s out of breath, leaning on her basket. If I didn't know any better, I'd guess her back is killing her.

“My grandkids are coming to town this week,” she says. “Wanna make sure they have enough food.”

This explains the Mountain Dew, the Goldfish, and the ice cream sandwiches.

We talk. Grandma is friendly. No. She is perfect. Dressed to the nines, hair fixed. It is nine in the morning, she is bearing pearls and ruby lipstick.

She is the American grandmother. Nineteen hundred and fifty-nine, frozen in time. The kind of woman whose lifelong occupation is

to keep stomachs full while wearing matching blouse and shoes.

When the cashier finishes scanning, the old woman thanks me. I offer to take her groceries to the car. She tries to pay me.

No ma'am. I’d rather sell my soul to Doctor Phil for thirty pieces of silver than take your money.

I roll her cart toward the parking lot. She holds the buggy’s side.

I suggest she grab my arm. She does, and for a moment, I am ten-foot tall and Kevlar.

She has an economy Ford. The trunk is tiny. I have an idea: I ask her to let me follow her home and unload her groceries.

It’s too much. Too personal, too fast. This embarrasses her.

“No thanks,” she says. “I’ll have my grandkids unload when they get here tomorrow. My grandkids, they’re visiting me…

Dear Thelma Lou,

When I first brought you home, I couldn’t quit saying, “You’re the sweetest puppy I’ve ever known.”

I would do this for hours, speaking in a high-pitched voice like a certifiable lunatic.

But I couldn’t help myself, it was true. You actually are the sweetest puppy I have ever known.

Tonight, we are apart. You’re sleeping in a veterinary clinic instead of with me.

I don’t want you to worry about anything. It’s just a small, harmless tumor on your eyelid, nothing serious, doctors say you’ll be fine.

Tomorrow morning, the surgeon will sedate you, you’ll go to sleep, they’ll snip the tumor. Voila. Before you know it, you’ll be eating cat poop again.

But nighttime is the hard part. You’re in a cage, and I’m not with you. I’m writing you because I want you to know I’m thinking about you.

And you shouldn’t be scared because—and you might not know this, Thel—though we are apart, we are actually together.

Distance might separate us, but distance is

not real. Nothing can separate love. I know it sounds crazy, but hearts do not know the difference between miles and minutes.

I first came to believe this when I was seventeen.

One night, I was on a truck tailgate in a hayfield outside Freeport, Florida. I was eating barbecue, looking at the sky, missing someone I once loved.

And it all sort of hit me at once. I don’t know what hit me, exactly, all I can tell you is that “it” hit me.

I can’t explain it. If I could explain it, then it wouldn’t be the real thing.

But when this moment happened I saw something—and I swear it on Bear Bryant’s grave. It was a shooting star.

Suddenly, I felt warm all over. It was as though I were surrounded by…

I’ll keep this short. That way, you can get back to making coffee, trimming your eyebrows, or scrubbing oil stains off your driveway with a wire brush. So here it is:

Don’t be mean.

This three-word phrase doesn’t come from me. A six-year-old named Lacy offers it to you.

I met Lacy this weekend. When I saw her, she was bald, pale, and she wore pink cowboy boots.

Her father told me that Lacy is in remission. Doctors expect her to make a full recovery, but it’s not smooth sailing yet.

“We’re different people ever since it happened,” her father adds. “We’re treating every day as a gift, you know?”

I lowered myself to Lacy’s eye-level. At the time, she was eating a butterscotch lollipop and reading a magazine upside down. I was hoping to get a few words of wisdom—on the record.

“Lacy,” I said. “Do you have anything you’d like to tell my friends?”

She removed the candy from her mouth and said, “FRIENDS? WHAT FRIENDS? I DON’T SEE THEM!”


they’re not here.”


“No,” her brother explained. “He’s speaking figuratively.”

“COOL, THEN I’LL SPEAK SPANISH! WATCH!” Lacy began talking in Pig Latin and picking her nose with both thumbs.

“I didn’t know you spoke Spanish,” her brother said.

“Sucker!” said Lacy, then she laughed until she was nearly unconscious.

We got off track a little, but I was eventually able to get a few remarks from Lacy once she stopped digging for gold.

“Lacy,” I said. “Let me put it like this: if you could tell people one important thing, after all you’ve gone through, something super important, what would you tell them?”

She thought long and hard.

“Well,” said the wise girl. “I would say I got a SUPER big booger on my finger, do you wanna…

If you can believe it, he isn’t even nervous. And why should he be? He’s driven thousands of miles in his lifetime. What’s a few more?

He’s sixty-two. He’s driving a Ford on the interstate. This is a big deal.

I know what you’re thinking: since when is driving on the interstate a big deal?

When the interstate is Atlanta 285.

Also, he hasn’t been behind the wheel in three years. Not since a botched surgery—which was when his life went downhill.

There were complications, which led to other complications, and recovery has taken time. He has a hard time moving his legs and feet, he uses a walker. It left him with crippling pain.

He became a bona fide shut-in. His only window to the outside world is his adult daughter—who lives all the way in Union City.

His lovely daughter helps him almost every day. And even though she has been pregnant, about to have her own family, she still labors without complaint.

Anyway, earlier this particular evening his daughter called. She had an announcement.

“Dad,” she said. “I had the baby.”

When he heard the news, he was so overcome he couldn’t form words.

“Dad?” came her voice on the phone. “You still there?”

No answer. He was crying.

But they weren’t happy tears, they were

of self disgust. He despised himself. He hated being lame, and he hated burdening his family.

This wasn’t how it was supposed to be. Fathers weren’t supposed to load their daughters with caregiving responsibilities.

“Dad?” she said. “You there?”

His lips quivered, he breathed heavy. “I thought you weren’t due for two weeks,” he said.

“I wasn’t, but… Surprise.”

He choked back more tears.

“I’m sending Danny,” his daughter went on. “He’s coming to pick you up in a few minutes.”

“No!” he shouted. “Don’t bother!”

“What?” she said. “What’s that supposed to mean?”

“I said don’t bother!” he spat at her, “I don’t wanna come!” Then he slammed the phone.

He couldn’t explain why he was so angry.

The man sidled his walker toward his recliner…