It’s a few days until Christmas, and I was going to write something else. I was going to write a story about my dog, or something about winter. But I’ve changed my mind.

That’s a writer’s prerogative. A writer changes his mind all the time.

Sometimes, for instance, he changes his mind at a restaurant, mid-salad.

But today, I wanted to tell you something important. And I’m not changing my mind about this.

I hope you have a merry Christmas.

That’s it. That’s the purpose of this column. In fact, that will probably be my final sentence when it’s all over. So, you can stop reading here if you’re pressed for time.

Still, because I have a few hundred words left, I am going stretch this out. After all, if writers didn’t expound on topics, all suspense novels would only have two pages, and go like this:

“There was a guy who turned up dead. Blah, blah, blah. It was Colonel Mustard in the parlor. The end.”

And who wants to read books like that?

So let me tell you about a kid I

once knew:

There was once a kid who wanted to write. Sometimes, it seemed like he was no good at it. But that’s where you came in. You told him he could do it.

You took different forms, but you’re more or less the same person. You’re kindness. Charity. Goodness. You are every nice person that kid ever met.

You are the man in Piggly Wiggly who returned the kid’s wallet. You didn’t have to do that, but you did.

And you’re the man in Montgomery, who bought the kid and his wife a tank of gas when their credit card was declined at the pump.

You were the person who befriended the kid. You didn’t try to “help” the kid. You just let him talk.

And, you were the college professor who actually took the…

There’s a perfectly reasonable explanation for why I attended a yoga class, five days before Christmas. I’m married. When you are a married man, you find yourself doing all kinds of things you never thought you would do. Taking showers is only one example.

As a married man, you are expected to fold laundry, take out the trash, clip your toenails every February, eat your vegetables, air up the tires, and sometimes attend coed wedding showers held in living rooms containing a lot of estrogen.

This is the marriage deal. You do things that no sober man would ever do.

So before my wife dragged me to yoga class she said I should wear a pair of “flexible athletic” pants. The only problem was, I don’t own a pair of flexible athletic pants. I don’t see why anyone would own a pair of flexible athletic pants when they could own a stiff pair of real pants. So I wore old sweatpants.

Right when I walked through the door, people could tell that this was my first

yoga class. The yoga instructor just smiled when I came in and she said, “First time, huh?”

“How’d you know?” I said.

“You don’t have a yoga mat.”

The first thing anyone should know before they take a yoga class is that they’re going to need to buy a qualified yoga mat that has been approved by an actual yoga instructor, physical therapist, or Whole Foods Market employee. I don’t have any yoga mats for the same reason I don’t have any flexible athletic pants.

So the instructor gave me a complimentary mat that was pink with lotus flowers on it and a printed phrase which read:

“Good vibes only.”

This was our instructor’s favorite go-to phrase. She’d say this whenever she became frustrated with a studio full of ten pear-shaped middle-aged students who were no more capable of touching our toes than we…

My wife and I arrived in Charleston on a chilly December afternoon to celebrate our honeymoon, years ago. The city was decorated for Christmas. Garland hung from each balcony, lamppost, stray dog, and politician. We rolled into town listening to “Danny’s Song” on my truck radio.

The song goes:

“Even though we ain’t got money,
“I’m so in love with you honey…”

Nobody can hear this song and not sing along. Not even hardened war criminals can restrain themselves from humming with Kenny Loggins when he breaks into the chorus.

Anyway, Charleston is an immaculate place. And charming. To small-town folks, the city can almost seem intimidating. This is especially true if you are like me and the most cultured city you’re familiar with is, for instance, Dothan.

People kept telling us that Charleston is the second most historic city in the world (Rome, Italy, is the first). They said this wherever we went. Even at the Waffle House where our waitress was a tired woman with the personality of a boiled ham.

She said, “Did

you know we’re the second most historic city in the world?”

“No, I didn’t know that.”

“You will when you see how much things cost.”

So you can imagine how exhilarating it was to learn all the history that has happened within the city. We were constantly pointing and shouting, “Hey! George Washington slept in THAT building!”

Or, “Hey! Garth Brooks walked his Shih Tzu on THAT grassy lawn!”

Or, “Hey! Thomas Jefferson used to buy his lottery tickets and cigarettes at THAT convenience store!”

The city has a very uppity feel. Average residents of Charleston dress to the nines, even when they check the mail. Wherever we were, it seemed like everyone was wearing pearls, chenille, and high heels. And that was just the men.

Downtown we saw the Gullah women weaving sweetgrass baskets. Most of these women were sitting beside large…

I almost didn’t write this because I swore I’d never tell anyone what I’m about to tell you. But I have to.

A few weeks ago I received a letter postmarked from Nunavut, Canada. An invitation said that I had been selected along with a few other writers for an exclusive, one-on-one interview with a very important person who wears a red suit and owns a lot of reindeer and is not Oprah Winfrey.

The next day, I was on a plane from Hartsfield-Jackson Airport, flying to Milwaukee Mitchell International Airport. Our plane landed in a bunch of Midwestern gray snow. And I mean a bunch of snow.

Milwaukee was as cold as a witch’s underwire. I don’t know why anyone would choose to live in Milwaukee in the winter. Which brings up a joke my mother’s friend Judy, from Milwaukee always tells:

“What do you call a good looking man on the streets of Milwaukee?” “Frozen to death.”

So the layover wasn’t too bad. Neither were my other connecting flights to Tacoma,

British Columbia, and Fairbanks International Airport.

When I reached Alaska, things were touch-and-go. I caught a commuter flight to Deadhorse Airport, near Prudhoe Bay—which is basically the edge of the world where the temperature drops to forty below zero sometimes.

The next commuter plane was piloted by a Norwegian guy named Arvid who, while we were flying through a heavy blizzard, remarked, “I have never flown in an actual blizzard before.”

So things were going great. When we finally touched down, Arvid made the Sign of the Cross, and I changed my trousers.

We were on the remote Fosheim Peninsula at a research facility on Ellesmere Island. This facility has been continuously manned since 1947 and was covered in about ten feet of snowdrift. But the men who run the place are very friendly. Which is remarkable considering they are isolated from modern civilization and most of…

I was maybe ten or eleven. I was invited to try out for the Christmas community choir. A lady visited our church to conduct the auditions.

I had been practicing for three weeks, learning the lyrics to “O Little Town of Bethlehem.”

My father, the welder, took me to the audition after work. Before it was my turn to sing, he gave me a pep talk.

“Knock it outta the park,” he said. “Like Mickey Mantle, you hear?”

I sang for the lady in the wire-rimmed glasses who held the clipboard. She was less than impressed with me.

“Stop singing!” she shouted, interrupting my song. “We’re looking for something else, I’m sorry. Next please?”

My father stormed forward from the back of the church. He looked like he was on his way to pick a fight with an umpire.

“Now wait a minute, Lady,” he said. “I demand you let my boy finish his song. He’s been working on it for weeks. What kind of heartless woman doesn’t let a kid finish his song?”

The woman’s mouth dropped open.

She looked at my father like he’d lost his mind.

She sat down and asked me to sing it again. I cleared my throat. I sang. I did much better than before. It wasn’t a home run, per se, but more like line drive to centerfield.

I got the part.

I was fifteen feet tall. Until that day I’d never done anything special with my life—unless you counted the noises I could make with my armpits. I was a chubby kid with awkward features, I was neither handsome, nor athletic.

But now I was a soloist.

It took months of preparation to get it right. Each day after school, I would rehearse for my mother in the kitchen while she made supper.

On the night of the performance, my father arrived home an hour late. He wheeled into our driveway, kicking…

I am on our porch, which is lit up with little Christmas lights. My two dogs are asleep on my feet, creating smells powerful enough to bring a tear to a glass eye.

Across the road there is a family who is gathered on their porch too. They have even more lights than we do. Someone on their porch plays a guitar using the musical finesse of a tablesaw. And there is singing.

It’s hard not to sing along because they’re playing Christmas music.

This is Florida, and it never truly feels like Christmas in this mild weather. We live in the woods. One mile from the bay. Two miles from the Gulf of Mexico. I am sandwiched between two large bodies of humidity.

Where my house sits was once a swamp. We have longleaf pines, lots of hanging moss, mosquitoes the size of Chevy Impalas, scorpions, spiders, gators, water moccasins, coral snakes, rattlesnakes, pythons, vipers, and real estate developers.

Our scenery is not exactly fit for a Christmas postcard. But the music coming from the porch makes

it almost feel like it.

I eavesdrop on my neighbors.

A young boy says, “Granddaddy, can we play that one song about Grandma getting killed by reindeer?”

Granddaddy launches into “Grandma Got Run Over by a Reindeer.” A real classic.

I hear a teenage girl say, “I love that song.”

An old woman’s voice says, “Well your grandmother doesn’t.”

Granddaddy takes a break. He sets the guitar down and he starts talking to the kids. He’s not saying anything important, just jawing the way that old men do.

He has a gentle tenor voice that’s perfect for telling stories about life before technology. Back when people still listened to the radio. When Tommy Dorsey, Guy Lombardo, and the immortal Louis Armstrong still played real music.

Sometimes I wonder what happened to music like that.

I hear the teenage girl say, “Can you…

It was a crazy idea. But then again it was the Christmas season. And whoever came up with the American idea of Christmas itself had to be a little crazy to begin with.

Think about it. A man climbs a two-story ladder and staples six thousand little lights to his gutter then takes them down in three weeks, that’s not exactly normal.

So we decided we would go caroling one year. I was a young man. We came up with this idea during an employee Christmas party at a Mexican restaurant one evening when they were serving half-price margaritas.

We left the restaurant and chose neighborhoods at random. We sang carols on front lawns until many kindhearted homeowners opened their doors and became so moved by our holiday spirit that they called the police.

It didn’t take long to realize that we didn’t know more than two carols. So eventually we quit singing carols and started singing tunes like “Go Your Own Way” by Fleetwood Mac, and “Muskrat Love” by Captain and

Tenille. My old coworker Ellen, who is still a close friend, led the singing with a stunning voice that was reminiscent of the late Yosemite Sam.

We had so much fun that we decided to do it again the following year. Our employee manager, Ken, held a few preliminary rehearsals at his house. And by “rehearsals” I mean that we played Texas Hold’em in Ken’s basement.

As it happened, that night Ken’s wife had also invited twenty-four additional vocalists to join our choral group. Ken was not happy about this because these were not just any old singers, these were people who sang in the Southern Baptist choir with Ken’s wife.

I want to stress here that Southern Baptists are wonderful people, don’t get me wrong, I was raised Baptist. I know every word to “Just As I Am.” But many Baptists do not even allow Listerine in…

I am an honorary Alabamian, even though Florida is my home state. It’s kind of a long story, but I promise, if you bear with me, this will be a complete waste of your time.

It started in a hotel lobby full of Alabama officials. It was sort of like spring break check-in at some fancy resort. Only these weren’t teenagers with suntans. These were white-haired people with sport coats and extremely low centers of gravity.

I went to the front desk and checked into my hotel room.

A guy behind me in line said, “So, you’re the keynote speaker for the Alabama Governor’s Conference?”


“Where in Alabama are you from?”

“I’m from Florida.”

“What? And YOU’RE our keynote speaker?”

“That’s right.”

To which he replied, “Huh!”

The enormous auditorium started to fill up. And I’m talking about a room the size of a rural school district. I kept having this feeling that I didn’t belong here. What was I doing? I’m not an Alabamian. I was starting to feel pretty dumb.

Another man shook my hand and said, “So, what part of Alabama are you


“I’m not,” I said. “I’m from the Panhandle.”

He gave a confused look, then he said “Why on earth did they hire you?”

So things were off to a great start.

I took the stage. I tapped the microphone. I said, “Hello, is this thing on?” But it turned out that the sound system was screwed up. What everyone heard was:


And that’s how the next forty minutes went.

When I finished, nobody was aware that I had concluded my speech because my voice was still reverberating in the airplane-hangar-like room. For all I know my voice is still echoing in that auditorium to this day.

The thing is, I truly love Alabama. That’s probably why I was asked to speak. I write more columns about Alabama than I do about…

The little girl talked too much. That’s what teachers said about her. On the first day of class, they moved her to the front of the room because of this.

It wasn’t that she wouldn’t stop talking. It was that she couldn’t. It was involuntary. A reflex. A superpower.

Her smile is another of her gifts. It’s a quirky smile passed down from her mother. Her mother had a lazy eye and saw double. Whenever her mother smiled for cameras, she tilted her head to correct her vision.

The little girl picked up this habit. Today, she can’t smile without leaning left.

She joined the workforce at age twelve, waiting tables. By her teenage years, she worked at a nursing home.

In high school, she met this fella. He was wild, he liked to party. His major hobbies included Budweiser and ice cream. And she loved him.

They would marry. And they would make a life for themselves. The young man would work labor jobs until he became a steelworker. She too, would put in long hours

to pay bills.

In her early twenties, she was fed up with small paychecks. She wanted to go to school. It was an outlandish idea, but she enrolled anyway.

She passed her classes with flying colors. And when she finished her degree, she decided she wasn’t finished.

“I wanna go into the medical field,” she told her husband.

“Do what?” he said.

She took classes, but they were hard, and demanding, and expensive. The science courses were torture. So, she used her superpower. She talked. She made conversation with the smart students and the teachers. They helped her through. In a few years, she was a therapist. Bona fide.

Her husband was on the front row of her graduation, clapping hard.

By thirty, she tried to get pregnant. But no luck. After several failed attempts and miscarriages, doctors told her it would be…

Bossy women get a bad rap in modern society. Take Kelly. She has always been a take-charge kind of gal, but she’s often misunderstood. For example, just because she's bossy doesn’t mean she can’t be shy.

Kelly was extremely shy around Kurt. They worked at the same hardware store. She manned the cash register, he did everything else.

Her chance encounters with Kurt were the highlights of her days. Even though she usually ended up mumbling unintelligible syllables whenever she saw him.

“I just knew he was special,” she says. “I liked the way he treated people. He was just so nice, just a good guy.”

He always spoke to customers in the store as though they were the only people that mattered. He bent over backward to help those who needed assistance deciding on the right galvanized hex bolts. And, going by what Kelly says, he was also a strong candidate for the next pope installation.

“I wanted him to notice me,” she says. “But I never got much more than ‘Hi,’ out of him.”

So she let it go. Because in modern society, girls don’t ask boys out. We’ve put a man on the moon, developed breakthrough cures, and we’ve split the atom. But if a girl asks a boy on a date, she is considered bossy.

And according to Kelly, “You don’t want a guy to think you’re bossy.”

This is especially true if you happen to actually be bossy. Which Kelly is. Big time. She knows this. And she’s okay with it.

Kelly has always been naturally bossy. Even in grade school. She has always had a talent for calling the shots. And if she didn’t love her current job so much, she firmly believes that a girl like her could easily get a good gig in the mafia.

In her little church choir, for example, even though Kelly doesn’t know the first thing about music,…