The supermarket cereal aisle. I love this aisle. There are hundreds of boxes of cereal lining the shelves. Sugary confections that will rot your teeth, pump you full of vitamins, or liquify your colon.

But when I am in the cereal aisle, I don’t think about roughage. I think of somebody I once knew.

Her name was Ellie Mae. She was a black-and-tan bloodhound. Lanky. Long-eared. Her face had a perpetually ancient look. It was as though she’d been alive long before the invention of the chew toy.

She ate meals with me, showered with me, watched professional sports alongside me. She slept in my bed, head resting upon my chest until my arm went numb. We were fishing buddies.

Whenever I went into town, she rode shotgun. And in the supermarket parking lot, I would leave her in the parked car, windows rolled down, so she could sniff the breeze and greet anyone fortunate enough to fall into her houndish gaze.

One day—I will never forget it—I was browsing in the grocery

cereal aisle, and I saw something traipse past me. Something furry and familiar. I turned to see a 90-pound black hound prancing through the sterile white linoleum supermarket aisles.

The dog was wholly oblivious to the cashiers, the bag boys, and the manager who chased her.

Then I realized that this was my dog. She had leapt from my truck’s open windows and come into the store after me. I felt like an irresponsible pet owner and a horrible person. Ellie Mae could have been hit in the parking lot, or wandered off. What a young fool I was.

But I was overtaken by the beauty of the scene. It was almost an ethereal experience, watching Ellie in that store. She was looking for me. And I can’t explain why, but I’ve never felt more loved by a dog than I did in that cereal aisle.



My dad is in the process of dying. He has mild dementia and he’s bitter right now, and is lashing out at all of us around him, and I don’t know how to keep it together, honestly.

I just need you to make me laugh or something. I am so totally stressed with caregiving and I don’t even know why I’m here all the time, helping him because my dad was never there for me and my mom growing up, but left us when I was four years old.



There once was an old man who lived on a big hill. He was a bitter man, and his vision was bad. His weak eyes could see vague blurry shapes and colors, but only enough to get around.

He didn’t like people. He didn’t want to be bothered. We’re talking about a major-league jerk here. The blurry-eyed man lived for years on his lonesome hill, in his little backwoods shack by himself.

Every morning he would hike to the nearby river

to fetch drinking water for the day. This was the hardest part of his entire existence. Because this was a very, VERY steep hill.

Thus, at sunrise he would carry a huge bucket uphill from the river, climbing a treacherous dirt path home. Always the same. Downhill. Uphill. Back and forth. Year after year. It was exhausting work.

If the man would have lived in town proper all he would have had to do was turn on a faucet. But embittered people make things hard for themselves.

One morning, he was on his way to the stream when he sensed a stranger nearby. He heard the voice of a little girl and saw the blurriness of her shape.

“Who are you?” he grumbled. “And what’re you doing on my river?”

The girl told him that she had wandered away from home and was…

“Quit thinking about baseball,” whispered the Voice of Reason while I was sleeping.

I hate this voice in my head. But I’ve been trying to listen to it.

I awake early. Around sixish. I make coffee. And I promise the Voice I won’t think about the big Braves game tonight. I actually say these words aloud.

“I will not think about the big Braves game tonight.”

I don’t have time to get stressed about whether Atlanta Braves make it to the World Series. I have a life. I have things to do. True, America’s Team is only innings away from Ultimate Glory. But you can’t let this sort of thing make you a nervous wreck.

You have to move on with life. You have to keep living. Keep feeding yourself. Keep bathing once per week.

The coffee perks and my dogs, Thelma and Otis, are begging for a pig ear. They love pig ears. They get one each morning. They are very forceful about their morning pig ears.

They herd me into the laundry room

where we keep them. One dog pushes me, the other pulls. This is all they care about. All they think about. If one morning, God forbid, I were found dead in my bed, my dogs would find a way to drag my limp corpse to the laundry room so they could have a pig ear.

So I give them a pig ear, pour the coffee, then I crawl into my truck to visit the gas station.

True to my word, I’m not thinking about baseball. Neither am I thinking about how some members of Atlanta’s pitching staff choke harder under pressure than a kid trying to swallow a brick. I’m not thinking about any of it.

I push open the filling station door. A bell dings. The girl behind the counter calls me “sweetie” even though she’s 15 years my junior. I’ve known her for…

The year was 1992. It was Game Seven of the National Championship Series. Atlanta was playing Pittsburgh. Sid Bream slid into home like a Pontiac Trans Am piloted by Burt Reynolds.

Bream outran the throw from Barry Bonds, hit the dirt, and scored. The whole world exploded into confetti.

I was a chubby kid, watching the game at my aunt’s house. After the win, my cousin and I started dancing like James Brown, knocking furniture over, spilling my uncle’s beer on the sofa.

We cheered along with the broadcast voice of Skip Caray, who was shouting:


“Braves win, Braves win...!” we cried, while the coffee table tumbled.

Then my aunt beheaded us with a dull spatula.

Fernando remembers that game, too. He’s 44 years old and a certified baseball lunatic.

This week, while Atlanta fights for a chance at the World Series, Fernando has been watching games from a hospital bed with his leg in a sling. He broke his femur recently from a bad fall.

His wife emailed

me. She told me that Fernando has been rooting so loudly in his room that hospital nurses have threatened to gag him with his own sock and sedate him with veterinary-grade tranquilizers.

And there’s Madison, a beautiful 15-year-old girl in Tennessee. Madison is Deaf. Baseball is one of the main things she shares with her father. She also plays third base.

Madison’s messaged me after the Braves victory. She is too young to remember Sid Bream, but we speak the same language.

“Braves win, Braves win, Braves win!” she wrote.

I’ve been getting a lot of emails like this recently. They are sent mostly from fellow enthusiasts who suffer from seasonal psychosis like I do. And now that America’s Team stands on the precipice of the 2020 World Series, people like us are extremely stressed out.

My friend Todd is the biggest Braves…

I’m a decent Scrabble player. I don’t want to toot my own trombone, but I’m not easy to beat. Scrabble is the only game I’m any good at. And I mean the only game.

I stink at all other forms of play. When I play chess, my opponent has to constantly remind me not to use the bishop piece to clean my teeth. I have never won at Monopoly. Playing Twister is how I ended up married.

When I was a kid, I liked playing Operation. But my gameboard never had batteries, so we played using the honor system. This led to many fights among boys. So my mother threw it away.

No, Scrabble is my game. And make no mistake, I am a fearsome opponent.

A common myth among the uninitiated is that Scrabble is for people who have big vocabularies. Not at all. The path to victory is knowing a little-known list of bizarre two-letter words that you would swear are fake words, but are actually in the official

Scrabble Dictionary. Words like: “ao,” “ko,” “xu,” “ua,” and my all-time favorite, “za.”

You throw “za” onto the board at just the right moment and you’re looking at a possible 2,457 point lead. Maybe more. I have won a handful of matches with this one word.

My mother taught me how to play Scrabble. I was a child and not that interested in the game at first. My mother is a passionate Scrabble player.

I remember that first game. The pieces came in a nondescript 1950s burgundy box. It looked nothing like the entertainment sold in today’s world. There were no flashy graphics, no bright colors. Only little wooden tiles and a beige gameboard that looked about as interesting as an air-conditioner service manual.

To kids many kids of my era, Scrabble was considered lame. In some circles, it was called “el lame-oh.” On the International Fun Scale, it…

Today, I watched “The Andy Griffith Show” all day long. I had the day off, so I visited Mayberry.

I started with the very first episode, when Andy welcomes Aunt Bea to Mayberry. I watched a handful of others until it was time for bed. The last episode I watched was the one where Barney joins the choir. A classic.

Over the last twelve hours, I’ve seen it all. I watched the Mayberry Bank almost get robbed—twice. I’ve seen Barney muff things up with Thelma Lou. I tasted Aunt Bea’s god-awful pickles.

And just when I thought it couldn’t get any better, Andy taught Opie to stand up to a bully.

During my childhood, the Andy Griffith Show came on the local station every weekday at five o’clock. Our TV only got three channels, and two of the stations came in fuzzy.

So I watched Andy Griffith each afternoon until I’d practically memorized the dialogue, the closing credits, and even the commercials between segments.

Commercials like the one with Coach Bear Bryant advertising for South

Central Bell. “Have you called your mama today?” Bear would say. “I sure wish I could call mine.”

And the advertisements which all featured some unfortunate kid named Mikey, eating Life cereal at gunpoint.

And of course, there was the commercial with “Mean” Joe Greene, blatantly tossing his sweaty football jersey into the face an innocent child who was just trying to offer him a Coca-Cola.

My childhood was not an easy one. After my father took his own life, I was a lonely boy who watched a lot of TV. I think I was trying to escape my own world by living inside a console television set. I enjoyed all the classic reruns.

“Bonanza,” “Gunsmoke,” “Twilight Zone,” “I Love Lucy,” “Gilligan’s Island,” “Batman,” and I pledged my eternal love to Barbara Eden. “The Beverly Hillbillies” were okay in a pinch. “Green Acres” was okay.…

Dear Nick Saban,

I heard you have COVID. It was all my family talked about at supper tonight. You were our main topic.

I know that to heathens and various non-believers you are just another football coach. But in this house we prayed for you before our meal. The prayer was followed by a couple amens, a few hallelujahs, and six Roll Tides.

I also understand that the local beer joint said a few words for you tonight. They turned off the jukebox and had a moment of silence in your honor.

Grown men with double names quit shooting pool and ceased talking bull. Young men held hats over hearts. A guy in a camouflage shirt led a long prayer.

“Oh God, help Brother Nick,” he said.

That’s what they call you.

My friend, Willis, was there. He said some guy bought a round of beer for all 23 barroom patrons. Then the radio played “Gimme Shelter” by the Rolling Stones because this is one of your all-time favorite songs. Someone said you listen

to it after every road game you win.

After this tune they played more classic Stones. “Start Me Up” was invoked. So was “Brown Sugar” and “Jumpin’ Jack Flash.”

My friend Joel is an even bigger fan. When he heard how sick you were he was an emotional wreck. Joel wants you to know that he would be happy to carry you to any hospital in the nation if you needed his services. He has a mostly dependable car, and he’s not busy.

Look, I know you don’t know me. I am nothing on your radar screen. I am infinitesimal vermin in the shadow of your radiant coaching career. I feel foolish even writing this stupid letter.

But you’re probably going to be on your back for a few days, going through the congestion of coronavirus, so I thought I’d tell you how much you mean…

He is sitting on the curb outside the supermarket at sunrise. His surgical mask hangs below his chin. This is the calm before his daily route. Today is going to be a busy day of driving. He has grocery deliveries to make.

He is smoking, playing on his phone. His Cincinnati Reds cap is pushed back on his head to reveal whitish hair.

He’s a retired food service guy. But I’ve heard different. I’ve heard he’s an angel. The jury is still out on this.

He’s been doing his grocery deliveries since the pandemic began. He does them for free. He rides a busted-up Honda along dirt roads, delivering to mostly shut-ins.

His accent is Ohio, but he’s lived in Alabama a long time. So he talks more Alabama than Akron.

I keep asking how the delivery thing started, but he genuinely doesn’t have an answer. In fact, he doesn’t want to talk about himself at all. He doesn’t like being interviewed. It’s too much attention. He’s not that kind of guy.

Which I find refreshing in today’s

world of compulsive selfies. He is a rarity.

Why is it when modern people do a good deed a film crew always happens to be standing nearby? It’s ridiculous. You’d never catch someone like, for example, an angel doing that.

“It’s not a big deal,” he says, laughing, smoke wafting from his nostrils. “I just deliver stuff, no magic.” He nods to the parking lot. “I do it all in that ugly Honda.”

No magic? Well, how about this? At the height of the pandemic he was making almost 90 deliveries per week. Sometimes he would be in the Honda for entire days, living on fast food, doing endless errands and drop-offs. And like I said, he does it for free.

He delivered to the elderly, the sick, the shut-ins, and out-of-luck families who had no cars. He got pretty good at…

Years ago I interviewed elderly people who survived the Great Depression. They were old and frail. Their skin was lined like Rand McNally road maps. And most of them, I believe, were wearing diapers.

I showed up for the interview with a yellow legal pad and automatic pencil, like a Grade A dweeb from the Daily Planet.

My first question was clarifying when the Great Depression officially ended for these people. Yeah, I know history books say it ended in ‘39, but something about this seems too cut-and-dried. I mean, it’s not like there was a ceremony.

I’ll never forget how they looked at each other and laughed at my question.

One lady said, “Ended? Is is over?”

Another man said, “We were poor for a long time afterward.”

The rest of them said the same thing, more or less. Until I started to get a sense that the Hard Times never did truly end. Not for these people.

Furthermore, the Great Depression wasn’t just a financial thing. It was collective mental crisis, too.

It made people do some pretty bizarre things just to cope.

Things like chain letters. Do you remember those? Chain letters were the rage during the Depression. The idea was easy. Get a list of names and addresses, then send letters out for good luck.

Everyone was in dire need of luck. Maybe with enough good fortune they could afford to feed their kids something besides ketchup soup.

Then there were then all-night dance marathons. These were inhumane endurance contests that lasted for a few days, sometimes longer. They occurred in every state, each major city, and in backwater towns.

Doctors and nurses were on hand while scores of kids passed out from exertion and sleep deprivation. The guy or gal who danced the longest would win prize money. It was a big deal.

But these were not happy-go-lucky parties like they they sound. These were…

I come from people who believe food is otherworldly. Miraculous, even. We are simple people who have built our religions partly around food.

Take Baptists. When you are ill, before anyone at church even says a prayer you get a casserole. When you have a baby, the first things you receive are baked goods. At your funeral, nobody will come unless Cousin Bentley makes deviled eggs.

So you can imagine how wonderful it was to wake up to the smell of food this morning. All kinds of food.

I rolled over in bed to check the clock. It was 6:03 a.m. and I could smell things baking. I stumbled out of the bedroom into a kitchen that was lit up like the Las Vegas Strip.

There was the hum of an electric oven, the sizzle of a skillet, the smell of vanilla, the overwhelming taste of melted butter, and the whir of a KitchenAid mixer.

My wife was preparing about 10,398 dishes at once. She is what you’d call a bipolar cook.

She cooks by frantic inspiration, sometimes standing near a stove for forty days without sleep.

When these bouts of inspiration hit, it is like watching a tropical storm in slow motion. Or a monster truck rally.

Mixing bowls sat on every shelf, each table, and on the top the fridge, loaded with cake batter.

I love cake batter. But I know from experience that I am not allowed to taste her cake batter with my finger. If at any time, my greasy digit desecrates her batter she will alter my anatomy with a pair of tongs.

“Mmmm,” I said. “Cake batter.”

And she answered me with a wild-eyed look often seen in “B” horror movies just before an unimportant supporting actor gets decapitated. She indicated she was about to reach for the tongs.

So I left the kitchen and watched from afar. My wife was cooking up a…