I would like to suspend my usual lighthearted tone for a moment and talk seriously about a public issue that’s on everyone’s minds right now. I am of course talking about this year’s Cadbury Bunny Tryouts.

There are only a few days remaining in the Cadbury Bunny contest, which features cute pets from all over the country competing to win $5000 in prize money, and to become the next spokes-pet for Cadbury Creme Eggs.

This is not just any old contest. This is an opportunity for We the People to accomplish something good in this tired world by helping a hamster or a small pig win $5,000. You can do this by using your smartphone to cast a vote while you wait in the supermarket checkout line surrounded by millions of Americans who are buying shiploads of toilet paper.

For anyone who has been living beneath a rock, the Cadbury Bunny is an international mascot that’s been around since 1982, when the UK-based confectionery company began airing

TV commercials starring a Flemish Giant rabbit that clucked like a chicken. This bunny had the unique ability to lift its magical tail and drop chocolaty spherical objects which brought joy to America.

As it happens, I once had a pet bunny named Bill who did the same thing. Bill often slept in my room and was always dropping chocolaty objects on my rug, but these did not bring joy to my mother.

Today, Cadbury Creme Eggs in the US are produced by the Hershey Company, and I know I speak for every human being alive when I say that they are the best invention of the twentieth century, with a close second being penicillin.

Cadbury has a history of clever advertising campaigns. Their classic “Bunny Tryouts” TV commercial has aired a bazillion times since its debut, and still airs today. This ad features a pig, a lion, and a cat, all wearing…

I am sitting in a church pew. This chapel is empty. It’s lunchtime, and I’m supposed to be meeting an old friend here since I am passing through town for a book tour. Gene is the father of a guy I grew up with, and he has always been good to me.

The church secretary told me to wait in the sanctuary. The lights are off. Sunlight comes through the stained glass windows.

The whole world has shut down because of the coronavirus. Schools are closed. Restaurants have closed. Major League Baseball is cancelled. This morning, I saw a mile-long line of people outside a Birmingham grocery store. I don’t know what they were buying, but they looked afraid.

Gene works at this tiny church. He is the maintenance man here. It’s a part-time gig since he is almost seventy-eight.

This church gets smaller every year. Some of the younger parishioners are trying to grow the congregation by promoting the church. But the elderly folks in the congregation aren’t interested in this. “I’m not running ads,” the elderly preacher

said at a recent meeting. “You don’t have to advertise a fire.”

I hear the door open. Gene’s sleeves are rolled up, he has dirt smudges on his forehead. He’s holding a wrench. His white hair is a mess.

“Sorry,” he says. “I gotta cancel lunch, we’re fixing the water heater.”

I follow him to the back room where three old men are crammed against a water heater. These are deacons. They are ticked off and fussing:

“Hold the flashlight steady! I’m blind over here!”

“I’m trying, but your feet keep getting in the way.”

“GIMME THE WRENCH!”

There is a special way old men gripe when they’re fixing things and becoming frustrated. It’s pure wrath. It spews out of them like poison. It happens to us all. You can take a soft spoken man who walks on water; who never…

HUNTSVILLE—My wife and I are at a local bar. It’s midnight. The music is loud. All I want is a burger because I haven’t eaten since lunchtime. I did a show in town tonight and I ran a little long because I am a big mouth who can’t shut up.

We are very tired. Low on sleep. And the whole world feels frightening because you can’t go anywhere without hearing something new about the coronavirus.

But this is exactly why the immortal James Brown, “Godfather of Soul,” once wrote a poignant song to uplift the tired and huddled masses by stating so eloquently: “HEEEEY!!!” Then he danced the camel walk like a man with his underpants on fire.

I wouldn’t mind hearing some James Brown right about now. He is sort of an old friend to me. When I was a young man I used to listen to “I Feel Good” when I’d get off work. This song always helped me feel… Well... Better. I used to listen to it over and over and play

drum solos on my steering wheel.

This bar is the only place open at this hour. It’s crowded with young folks who travel in large packs. These are modern young people, dressed nicely, who are out on the town for a wild night that consists primarily of (a) going to bars, and (b) looking at their phones.

There are twenty-three televisions lining the walls, all playing continuous music videos. The music is loud enough to alter the migration patterns of Canada geese. I am trying to focus on the menu, but the TVs are distracting.

I’ll admit upfront, I don’t care for music videos. I suppose I’ve always wondered, “What’s the point?” I mean, when I watch “Love Boat,” it’s because there’s an actual plot, and I like Issac. When I watch “Little House on the Prairie,” it’s because Michael Landon had killer hair.

But…

I’m in a hotel room. We are on the fourteenth day of a book tour and I’m starting to forget which city I am in. Is this Birmingham? Or am I in Huntsville?

I’m past the point of trying to figure it out. Last night I awoke in the middle of the night to use the bathroom and I walked straight into a cinder block wall because I forgot I was in a hotel.

Right now I am watching “The Andy Griffith Show” on TV. This episode is one of my favorites. Barney joins the choir, but his singing voice is godawful. Thelma Lou, Barney’s girl, visits Andy when she learns that Barney is in the choir:

THELMA LOU: Barney's gonna be in the choir?! My Barney?!
ANDY: That's right.
THELMA: But Barney can't sing.
ANDY: I know.
THELMA: He's the man I want to marry, the man I want to be the father of my children...
ANDY: But he can't sing.
THELMA: Not a lick!

Pure gold. This scene is a knee slapper, no matter who you are. But if you’re a shameless Andy Griffith fanatic like me, this is the scene you want re-enacted at your funeral service. And you just hope the funeral congregation all says, “Not a lick!” in perfect unison.

I’ve seen this episode a hundred thousand times. Maybe more. I can quote the dialogue by heart, right along with the TV. Which drives my wife bat-dookie crazy.

She always says, “Why do you watch that show if you know every word?”

I usually wave her off and continue helping Andy remember his lines.

A few years ago, I had an exclusive one-on-one interview with Betty Lynn, the actress who played Thelma Lou. She’s in her mid-nineties now. I rented a car and drove eleven hours north to Mount Airy, North Carolina. I booked the cheapest hotel I could…

PAXTON—I am driving through the north end of Walton County on the way to Birmingham. The sun is setting. The rural parts are covered in tall grass, old trees, and mobile homes.

I live in this county, just south of here. When I was a young man, I once got a part-time job helping an elderly man who was from Paxton. He needed help around his house. He paid twenty bucks for three hours of labor every weekend.

It was decent money until he asked me to clean his garage. His garage was a giant abyss of ancient junk. I told him that I would need some help before I would agree to clean it. So he told me to pray for some.

Paxton is the highest town in Florida. It sits 318 feet above sea level, right on the Alabama line. The highest point in Florida is a couple minutes away. The place is a perfect example of Northwestern Floridian culture. You have Baptists coming out your ears,

and Methodists, and Tongue-Talkers. You see cardboard signs on highway shoulders advertising “free puppies.” A middle-aged man on his porch counting cars.

There are 797 residents in Paxton, unless Sister So-And-So has her baby tonight, then it will be 798.

And do you know what I like about Paxton best? The little country school. They just don’t make them like Paxton School anymore. The school has been here since 1939. In its entire 81-year history a little over 2,000 students have graduated from it. Total. That’s how small we’re talking.

It’s a thirteen-year school. Kids start in kindergarten and attend until they’re seniors. And they are unbeatable, too. The agricultural program churns out prize-winning hogs. The boys and girls basketball program doesn’t just win games, they win seasons, and have players who make it to the WNBA. And don’t even get Paxton started on its baseball.

God, these guys are great.…

DEAR SEAN:

I was appalled to read in one of your articles that you recommended hugging people in spite of the coronavirus scare...

Your words are usually positive, but those words endangered lives, and I’m disappointed in you. Do you really think you’re smarter than all the doctors out there? People could get sick and die because of something flippant you wrote even if you were just trying to be cute. You need to think about what you pen from now on.

Regards,
NERVOUS-NELLIE-OLESON

DEAR NELLIE:

Before I say anything, I think it’s important to slow down and breathe. The last thing we need is for you to hyperventilate. That would not be cute.

While you’re breathing, I’ll tell you about my visit to the nursing home the other day.

When I arrived at the assisted living facility, I half expected residents to be gathered around a television, like a lot of frightened people are doing. It seems like wherever you go the news channels are blaring in airports, restaurants, taverns, gas-pumps, funeral homes, Jesuit

monasteries, etc.

But these old people were not watching TV. They were playing cards. There was light music playing in the background, I think it was Jimmy Dorsey. The song was gentle. People in the living room were chilled out, and I was a little jealous.

Granted, most of these folks are on powerful medication. Some are taking so many blood thinners that one nick from an electric razor would kill them in only seconds. But that’s not my point. What I’m getting at is that these people are not freaking out about the coronavirus. Meanwhile, everyone in the outside world is.

I asked a nurse why things were so mellow here. She said, “Well, you’ve probably noticed that we’ve unplugged all our televisions. They can watch TV in their rooms if they want, but not in the main rooms.”

This was a unanimous…

MONROEVILLE—We’ve just left town and it’s getting late. My wife and I are on a desolate Alabama highway between Monroe County and the rest of the world. We haven’t passed a single car. We are on the umteenth day of the book tour. Everyone in their right mind is already in bed.

Except us.

We are traveling late because it’s easier to travel at night sometimes. My wife is driving, listening to an audiobook on headphones. I am in the passenger seat, drifting in and out of sleep.

I just finished making a speech in Monroeville, telling stories. I’ve been making a lot of speeches over the last few weeks. Right now, I am sick of hearing my own voice.

Occasionally, I feel like a fool with all this storytelling business. After all, no child grows up saying “I want to be a storyteller.” Because it’s not even a real job. How did this happen? Frankly, I’m not sure.

I’m getting hungry. So my wife pulls over for me to fix something to eat from

the cooler. I open the back door and shove the hanging clothes out of the way. The cooler is filled with multiple tubs of pimento cheese.

Earlier tonight, I received three tubs of pimento cheese as gifts from different kindhearted people in Monroeville. One tub came from Miss Lisa, one tub came from Miss Barbara, and one special recipe came from Miss Beth. If gifts like that don't humble you, nothing will.

So I’m standing on an empty highway shoulder, slathering pimento cheese on bread, listening for cars. Whenever I stand outside our vehicle I always listen carefully for passing cars because nighttime drivers are crazy. They don’t watch where they’re going and achieve speeds upwards of 94 miles per hour. They don’t mind amputating your side mirror.

But tonight there is no sound. No vehicle noise. No lights. No nothing. Just silence. There is…