To the couple I saw getting married on the beach:

Congratulations. And thank you for allowing me, a total stranger, to throw rice at you as you left the public beach.

I was out for a sunset walk, barefoot, when an older woman in a fancy dress grabbed me and several beachgoers and asked if we wanted to throw Kraft Minute White Rice at you. What a treat.

We tossed rice by the handful while the wedding guitarist played the song “All You Need is Love.”

And I thought it was the perfect song for your big day.

The thing is, some people will tell you that you need more than love. They’ll tell you that you need money, a few cars, a three-bedroom-two-bath, a good job, great insurance, a dependable beer refrigerator, IRAs, etc.

Which scares a lot of young people away from getting married. But I’m glad it didn’t scare you two. Because marriage is the most fun you’ll ever have. Even more fun that throwing rice at strangers.

Once you’re hitched, you will learn big

things. You’ll learn how to argue in the middle of Piggly Wiggly. You will understand that being “right” doesn’t mean jack squat. You’ll learn how quickly money vanishes. And you’ll finally understand what your mother meant about sharing.

Actually, that’s the best part about marriage. The sharing. It actually enhances day-to-day life, like a super-powered magnifying glass. I don’t know how it works, but it does.

I’ll explain what I mean:

I once visited the Grand Canyon by myself. I stopped by the Big Ditch. I snapped a few pictures, and hung out awhile. To be perfectly honest, it was uneventful. Don’t get me wrong, the view was incredible, but I had nobody to share it with.

A few years later, I took my wife to the Grand Canyon. This time the grandeur was amplified by 4,750,000 times. Same view; different experience.

A Birmingham art museum. I was younger. I had driven four hours to get here. I was wearing my nice clothes. And I was very excited. This was one of the high points of my life.

I had money in my pocket and a ticket stub for the exhibit.

I’ve never been what you’d call an “art-exhibit guy.” People in big cities probably go to exhibits all the time. But the only art I ever knew were the drawings on the boys restroom wall drawn by Bobby Carmichael. And those weren’t exactly pictures of the apostles.

I was giddy in that museum lobby. The whole day took on a dreamlike quality.

“Pinch me,” I said to the elderly woman ahead of me in line.

The woman laughed. She was leaning on a walker. She was from Massachusetts.

“When he died,” she said. “They made his studio into a museum. It’s not far from my house. Toured it once. If you ever go to Massachusetts, you should see it.”

“Maybe one day,” I said.

This was the first and

only art exhibition I had ever attended. And to me, it wasn’t just an exhibit. This was seeing an old friend.

Throughout my lifetime I had spent a lot of time admiring his paintings, which once graced the covers of the “Saturday Evening Post.”

And as silly as it sounds, this artist got me through some hard times.

“My husband met him once,” the old woman went on. “Said he was a real nice man.”

Our single-file line was hedged with velvet ropes. I was wearing my fancy jeans. My hair had just been cut by a classy barber in Mountainbrook who charged me thirty bucks. It was highway robbery.

But it’s not every day you go to an art exhibit. I was really putting on the dog.

A museum employee unlatched the velvet rope. People emptied into the gallery. Each wall…

You are amazing. Yes, I’m sure you know this, but it’s hard to imagine just what a miracle you truly are.

Your daily life is pretty normal. You make your bed, go to work, and eat lots of potato chips. But you’re totally unaware that you are a rare occurrence in nature.

If we were to diagram how you came to exist, it would boil down to a bunch of statistics and things often found written on the pages of school textbooks, like: “hypotenuse,” “halocarbon-14,” “periosteum membrane,” and “Mister Weinstein’s science class is so boring that I am literally going to die.”

So it’s probably good not to spend too much time thinking about what a miracle you are. Because if you thought about it too often you’d get cocky.

You’re alive. That’s what matters. What’s the point in talking about it? What’s the big deal?

Well, the big deal is this: You are here. Right now. You actually get to exist in the cosmos for a brief blip upon the timeline of the universe. And this is very—I repeat—very rare.

The exact circumstances that formed you predate your mother and father. They predate your ancient ancestors. They reach back to your prehistoric great-great-granddaddies and great-great-grannies who managed to stay alive long enough to make babies.

But I’m out of my league here. I’ll be the first to admit, I know nothing about science or math. Still, for the sake of argument, let’s pretend I didn’t fail Mister Weinstein’s science class. (I did.)

Let’s take a look at the simple probability of your life. We’ll start with your dad meeting your mom. That seems easy enough, right?

Nope. It wasn’t easy. Do you realize how statistically uncommon it is for two people to meet? You’re looking at odds of one in 20,000.

Basically, imagine your mom going to a baseball stadium and introducing herself every male in the seats to…

Lately people have been sending me what I would call “rants.” These are often writings found on social media. They are usually written by angry folks who are upset about random hot-button topics, which I won’t mention here because I don’t want anyone throwing a brick through my window.

The writers of internet rants always end things by stating something corny like: “Just my two cents.” But when you consider that they’ve just written at least six pages of text, it comes to more like $12.50.

The thing is, people read these things. Then, they get mad enough to sit down and write their own social-media rants. Once these rants have traveled to the outer reaches of cyber universe, my aunt Eulah sends them to me.

I don’t know why I read these things, but I do. Ever since the coronavirus epidemic started, I have been sucked into well-written tirades penned by people who probably mean well, but who are too mad to do well.

I just finished reading one rant that was about surgical masks.

The author was furious about the issue. The thing must have been one hundred paragraphs long. And the scary thing is: I actually took the time to read it.

So I’ve decided to write one, too.

Hey, why not? Everyone deserves to express their own disgust. Besides, complaining has become fashionable. Some people are so incredibly good at griping that they have become famous for it.

So the first thing I would like to complain about is children.

That’s right. I’m not holding back. It’s every man for himself. I’m complaining that childhood doesn’t last long enough. And this really frosts my shorts.

Do you remember being a kid? It was great. The world was ten times bigger, flowers were more fragrant, and time seemed to last infinitely longer.

Here’s a fact: A single year in Kid World actually lasts for about two decades.…

DEAR SEAN:

Will you write about your dogs or some kind of animal for my daughter? My daughter loves animals and she’s going through a really hard time, not just with all the coronavirus stuff, but recently her dad (we’re divorced) moved away and remarried someone who has three little girls. It’s been really hard on my daughter. Her little heart is broken.

Thanks,
HEARTBROKEN-IN-ST.-LOUIS

DEAR ST. LOUIS:

Meet Lula Bell. To the rest of the world, she’s just a feral cat. But she and I are deeply in love.

My wife and I named her. And to be honest, we probably shouldn’t be allowed to name cats because we like double names too much.

My friend from New Jersey recently informed me that double names are considered “country.”

I take offense to this. People in my family have a long history of double names. I have uncles and cousins named Ray Ray, Tommy Lee, Amy Jo, Willy Sue, and of course José Jesús Luís Ramirez who married into the family.

My mother was even going to name

me John John since my father’s name was John. I am glad this never happened.

But getting back to Lula Bell. Not only was she was feral, she also had a broken leg. It was bad, too. It looked like it had been mangled in a dogfight or a car accident. It was covered in scars.

The vet looked at the chewed up limb and said Lula would be messed up for life. There was nothing we could do. She might even die.

That’s probably why the poor girl was skittish. Pain will do that to a creature. Lula Bell wouldn’t let anyone come within fifty feet of her. Not even if you were offering her fresh trout. I actually tried this once.

Lula simply wanted you to set the food down, then back the heck off, punk.

Often I would…

A little breakfast joint. The waitress is wearing a mask. I wear a mask. The few customers are wearing masks. All God’s children got masks.

Waylon Jennings is singing on an unseen radio. The whole place smells like bacon and lemon-scented Lysol.

A construction worker beside me is sipping from a mug. He is not wearing his mask per se, it sits atop his head while he drinks coffee. It looks almost like he is wearing a little sunbonnet.

“More coffee?” says the waitress. Her own mask impedes her speech, so it sounds like she’s saying, “Mmm kpfff?”

The waitress is wearing rubber gloves. After she touches his cup for the refill she removes her gloves, throws them into the garbage, and gets a fresh pair.

“Thanks,” he says.

“You’re welcome, darlin’.” she says.

A little boy sits at the counter a few seats from me. His mask has licensed cartoon characters on it. He lifts the mask before each bite, then pulls it back over his face to chew.

“Take your mask off to eat, honey,” says his

mother.

“But,” says the little kid, “I like wearing it.”

This is a very different world than I’m used to.

The bell on the door dings. Three workmen come walking into the joint. They are not wearing masks. They are wearing work clothes, ball caps, and they are covered in sweat.

“Masks,” the waitress says to them. At least, I think she’s the one doing the talking. I can’t see her mouth moving.

The men dig surgical masks out of their pockets, wrap them over their faces, and apologize. They all sit in a booth with Sunbonnet Guy, who is apparently their pal. They browse the menus.

After a few minutes, one of the men starts talking about his daughter. It’s a brief conversation, but from what I gather, his daughter has just been released from the hospital. She’s had some…

I was a kid when I saw Charlie Daniels play. At least I think it was him. I could be mistaken. I remember sitting in the cheap seats of the dim Nashville auditorium to see the Grand Ole Opry.

My father was whistling, two-fingered. That’s the funny thing about the Opry. Even though it was a place for seeing a show, it wasn’t a place where people were quiet.

No sir. An Opry man didn’t merely applaud the Statler Brothers, Grandpa Jones, or the immortal Sarah Cannon. This was a place where a man put both fingers into his own mouth and whistled like he was calling horses.

That night my father was eating something. Peanuts I think. But he still managed to whistle between every song, and after every joke. Fingers in the mouth.

The irony is that he was a bad whistler. Some whistlers could shatter glass, but my father sounded like an asthmatic jug player.

That night, I was so enamored with the guy playing a fiddle onstage that I

tried a two-finger whistle, just to show my support. I managed to spray spit all over the lady in front of me.

She gave me a dirty look and I apologized, but she was not buying it.

The guy with the violin was large. Big brown beard. Sunglasses. He looked like a Pentecostal deacon wearing a silverbelly cattleman’s hat, and a belt buckle bigger than a hub from a Studebaker.

Looking back, I hope it was Charlie Daniels because Charlie played a tune that became an American fixture in those days. It was a song that everyone’s daddy listened to while changing the oil or fixing the bathroom sink.

I am of course talking about a song that involves the Devil going down to Georgia, looking for a soul to steal.

It was a country song that my Bible-slapping mother hated so much that she would have…

The thing about adventures is that you don’t know when you’re having them. They happen quickly. And if you’re not paying attention, you’ll miss them.

I’m not talking about huge adventures. Obviously, if you’re zip-lining across the rainforests of Belize, you’re having quite a day. No, I’m talking about the little life-events that we somehow didn’t notice until quarantines, social distancing, and face masks came along.

Like the adventure of:

Trying New Restaurants. What a great adventure, walking into a hole-in-the-wall joint and wondering: “Will this food have tentacles, or will it be delicious?” That is an adventure.

Specifically, I am thinking about the time my wife and I stopped at a barbecue joint in middle Texas and the waitress said that “turkey fries” was the special. I was thinking, “Why not?” I love fried food.

I cleaned my plate. People in the cafe were elbowing their neighbors and pointing at the redheaded Floridian. A few truckers made the Sign of the Cross.

That was a great day. Remember adventures like that? Oh, we used to have tons of

them. We never even knew they were happening.

There was the adventure of meeting friends for supper. The adventure of your cousin’s godawful piano recital. The adventure of the DMV. You never knew if you were going to get Cheerful DMV Lady, or DMV Lady From Hell.

There were the adventures found in little storefronts. Places where you’d buy something small, like a book, a knick-knack, or surgically sharp Japanese cutlery.

Or the olive store. Yes. That’s right. Last year, I found a store that specialized in hard-to-find olives. I didn’t even know such things existed. A Greek lady let me sample hundreds of olives until my mouth was stinging.

I was buying olives like a stockbroker hyped up on Mountain Dew. “I’ll have fifty pounds of Manzanillas and Seveillianas,” I’d say. “And gimme a pound of Arbequinas.”

My bill was…

9:02 pm—My wife and I parked beside the bay, facing the water, to watch the fireworks. I hear the distant sound of children laughing in the night. The popping of far-off bottle rockets.

It’s July Fourth and it’s been a weird day. I can’t pinpoint why. Maybe it’s because it’s been overcast. Maybe because we’ve been quarantining for a 42,382 days. Maybe because this year’s holiday has about as eventful as watching the Lawrence Welk Orchestra play “Beer Barrel Polka.”

Which is exactly what I did this afternoon. A cable channel was playing “Lawrence Welk Show” reruns. I watched about four male singers in sparkly ascots sing “Red Sails in the Sunset” while Myron Floren showed the world how the accordion should be handled.

And now I am here to watch the fireworks before going home to remove my teeth and go to bed.

There are a few other cars here tonight. Maybe four. In the vehicle beside ours are young kids. Their car windows are down, they eat red-white-and-blue popsicles.

They say little-kid things like, “COOL!” And: “COOLCOOLCOOL!”

I

believe this is the only word they know.

“Hey! Look!” one kid shouts to the other, pointing at any object ranging from a booger to a live water buffalo.

The other kid will say, “COOL!”

Their mother is young. Wiry. She sits upon the hood of her car—a mid-90s Nissan. When she arrived earlier, her vehicle made a loud noise. CLACK! CLACK! CLACK!

Her Nissan needs a new CV axle. I know this because I once had a ‘98 Altima with the same problem. You could hear me coming from a mile away.

The woman looks tired. She’s kept the same cigarette going for the last thirty minutes while playing on her phone.

“MOM! Can we have another popsicle?”

“As long as you share!” says Mom.

“COOL!”

I get the feeling that this woman is so tired that she wouldn’t…

It’s for the kids, really. Carol does it all for the kids. The American-flag decorations, the cookouts, the fireworks, and the patriotic bunting in the backyard. It’s all for them.

It’s going to be an interesting holiday. Normally, Carol’s family throws a shindig for the Fourth. But not this year.

Carol comes from a German family. Her great-grandparents came to the U.S. by boat. So all the ancient ways go unremembered. Carol’s grandkids, for instance, actually eat ketchup on their hotdogs.

My grandfather would roll in his grave.

The Fourth has always been the holiday when Carol’s family would visit. A big reunion. They would tell their children about the old days, and about baling hay on a Georgia farmstead. Kids love these stories.

But today there will be only three people at Carol’s house. One husband. An adult daughter. One grandchild.

There are summer disappointments like this happening all over the nation. Coronavirus is spreading faster than pee in a public pool, and everyone’s Fourth is affected.

In Ohio, Upper Arlington’s parade is marching a longer route so people can space themselves

several miles apart. Let us pray for the tuba players.

In Texas, Willie Nelson will throw his annual picnic concert—sort of. It will be a digitized virtual concert.

In Albuquerque, fireworks will be launched from four spots throughout the city so people can watch from the safety of porches.

And Carol’s family of four will eat hotdogs and potato salad in their backyard.

“The fireworks,” says Carol. “That’s all my grandkids are worried about. This virus doesn’t scare them, these kids want fireworks.”

Who doesn’t?

There will be a display downtown that people can watch from their cars. Carol will take the grandkids. They will eat ice cream in the front seat and watch the sky light up like… Well. The Fourth of July.

It’s a strange time to be alive. From Maine to California beaches are…