It was 10:06 a.m. The birds were singing. It was sunny. Almost unbearably hot. My wife and I were out for a morning stroll.

We were keeping to the side of the road, chatting, laughing, working up a moderate sweat. My wife walks a lot faster than me. She was telling a story. She was talking with her hands. My wife always talks with her hands.

I was cackling. We were having a great time. There’s nothing like a morning walk.


A blue Ford SUV came flying up the road. We could see it in the distance. I could hear the 1.0-liter 3-cylinder engine howling like a bat out of You Know Where. The vehicle was heading toward us.

I was thinking, “Surely this car will slow down. Surely the driver sees us.”

I guided my wife to the shoulder. Only, the car wasn’t merely passing. It was coming straight at us like a dive bomber. We might as well have had bullseyes drawn on our chests.

“Get out of the way!” I shouted to my

wife. It was all I could think to do.

My wife froze before jolting into action and trying to get out of the way. She was nearly too late.

The Ford slammed its brakes and squealed. The grille of the SUV stopped only inches from my wife.

The birds were still singing.

The Ford sat idling. I could see the lady driver behind the windshield. The woman still didn’t realize anything was wrong. She was too busy reading a text message.

The driver was a young, professional-looking woman, mid-thirties, blonde hair, nice earrings. She didn’t even make eye contact with us, she never even put the phone down. She gunned her engine and sped away kicking up a rooster tail of grit behind her.

I immediately became sick. I doubled over and almost vomited. My wife was white as milk toast.

The worst…

Dan was dying. His family knew he was dying. Everyone knew. But hardly anyone visited him in his home because of COVID-19.

Except of course for Wanda, his hospice nurse.

“That’s the hardest part about COVID,” said Wanda. “People dying really need loved ones to tell them it’s okay to go. But this stupid virus...”

Since the pandemic began, Wanda has been Dan’s main friend. She’s been hanging out beside him during his last days, entertaining him.

When I called Dan, Wanda was busy telling knock-knock jokes.

“Knock, knock,” said Wanda.

“Who’s there?” said Dan’s graveled voice.

“Little old lady.”

“Little old lady who?”

“Mister Dan, I had no idea you could yodel!”

Wanda says this isn’t her best comedic material, but it works in a pinch. After all, she has to remain upbeat. Other people might be able to show up for work in bad moods, but not hospice workers.

During a pandemic, hospice nurses are a lifeline to the dying. It’s hard work. Not only do they have normal duties—wound cleaning, administering meds, documenting vitals, telling knock-knock jokes—many have been going

above and beyond their job descriptions.

Take Lydia, for example, in Houston. She sometimes types emails for her patients who dictate them to her. Often these are goodbye letters.

“It’s the least I can do,” said Lydia.

An international quarantine may have paused the world, but it didn’t slow anything down for hospice professionals. It couldn’t. Helping people die is part of their job.

A hospice nurse does their work with the same pride a steelworker applies a bead of weld; or a teacher explains the Battle of Gettysburg; or a feeble redheaded writer tries to turn a weak idea into a column.

Every year about 1.6 million people enter hospice care, and all you have to do is imagine how many nurses they need. There are only 3.8 million registered nurses in the U.S. today. You…

I am riding my bike at sunset. I’m doing this because I am a writer and I can’t find anything to write about. So I went pedaling.

Not knowing what to write about can be frustrating for a writer. Sometimes you stare at a screen for hours trying to think of something, but nothing happens. Finally you end up resting your head on the keyboard and falling asleep. When you wake up, it’s suppertime and your screen is full of text like:

7428374wefw24t19SKEFsefH Wjflsdkjfs3289

My wife suggested riding my bike. So far I’m having a wonderful time riding through nearby neighborhoods, waving at people, dodging speeding SUVs driven by teenagers who are typing important text messages. It’s great.

You can see a lot of life happening in a neighborhood at dusk on a summer night. For instance, I saw a man in his front lawn who was practicing fly fishing.

He was wearing a floppy hat and a pocket vest. He tossed a long rod back and forth and I almost wrecked watching him. I’ve always wanted to learn

how to fly fish.

I waved and asked, “How’s it coming?”

“Fly fishing is hard,” he said. “But I’ve always wanted to learn how.”

Me too. I grew up fishing the more traditional way—with lures, jigs, and non-lite beer. But I have a longtime dream of learning to fly fish, standing in some distant river, nestled within the Purple Mountains Majesty.

“Good luck!” I say, whizzing past his front yard, dinging my bicycle bell like a dork.

I pass another house with a wide porch. I see an elderly woman and a small girl. Granny is teaching the girl to sew. I hear them talking. Granny’s voice has the tone of a teacher. The girl is watching Granny with serious eyes.

I’m glad grannies still teach little girls to sew.

This granny, however, is not your typical old woman. She wears…

Dear Malcolm,

I received your handwritten letter in the mail yesterday. It was written so incredibly well. And I wanted to take a moment to write you back. One writer to another.

I wish I had your penmanship. For a fourteen-year-old, you impress me. My writing looks like something that came from the backend of a chicken.

I was excited to hear about your new adopted parents, and how much you love your home with your new adopted siblings. I hope you are happy there. It sounds like you’ve had many good foster parents along the way. I know you miss them.

You mentioned that you recently got a typewriter. I hope you get years of use out of it. I have always been a typewriter man. In fact, the rough draft for this letter is being written on an old Lettera 32. I thought it was only fitting.

So let’s get down to writing business. You asked how to write a story. And even though I don’t have any real advice (since

I have no idea what the heck I’m doing) I can tell you a story of my own.

When I was in community college I took a night course with a bunch of military guys. The classes were held on a military base in a double-wide trailer. We were all adults, and I was the only non-military person in the room.

One night our teacher told us to write a five-hundred-word essay about something we found interesting, then we would read it aloud in class.

And I had a private meltdown. Something interesting? I couldn’t think of ANYTHING interesting. My life was not interesting. And to make matters worse, this was a classroom full of military personnel. Some had traveled to Europe, Japan, Hawaii, out west, back east, up north, around the globe. One man had been to Antarctica.

The farthest I had been was Texarkana.


A gas station. It is 102 degrees outside. I came here to pump gas and—God willing—buy some Chili Cheese Fritos. I’m wearing a surgical mask and rubber gloves.

That last sentence is something I wouldn’t have written four months ago.

In fact, if you were to tell me four months ago that everyone in the whole world would be wearing face masks and latex products, I would have laughed you off your barstool, then told you to buy me another beer.

But here we are. Everyone in the store is wearing a mask. Young, middle-aged, and elderly. Women wear masks that match their outfits. Children wear masks that look like they were manufactured in Candyland.

This world is a very different place. What a difference four months can make.

There are several of us waiting to checkout, but we’re not moving because an old man is holding up the line.

He is drenched in sweat, trembling, and confused. He counts his change on the counter. He is buying a Coke, but he’s having a hard time communicating with the cashier.


can’t blame him. Surgical masks have changed basic person-to-person communication. Conversations are nearly impossible. And people do not shake hands anymore.

I saw an old friend yesterday and we both resisted the urge to pump hands. It was weird. This is the first time I’ve lived in a world where grown men touch elbows instead of using hearty handshakes.

You definitely wouldn’t have touched elbows four months ago.

The old man is still having problems. Bless his heart. He is every old man you’ve ever known. He is slightly unshaven, wearing rumpled khakis, and a ball cap with a battleship embroidered on front.

Finally, the cashier says, “Sir, don’t worry about the money. You can have the Coke. It’s on me.”

The man stares at her. “Huh?”

“I said it’s free.”

The cashier further demonstrates her point by physically…

I am going to hell. When I tell you what I’ve done you will nod and say, “Yep, he’s definitely getting a top-of-the-line condo on the Lake of Fire.”

Truthfully, I’m not sure how it happened. All I know is that a devilish impulse can strike out of nowhere, and it can ruin a man’s soul forever.

I learned this from one of my grade school teachers, Mrs. Michaels. She was a committed Pentecostal woman with a beehive hairdo who smelled like bath powder.

She told us that it was easy to end up in hell. All you had to do was listen to Lynyrd Skynyrd or play Dungeons and Dragons board games. And before you knew it, (snap!) it was everlasting pitchforks.

My downward spiral into depravity happened this afternoon when I was driving past my neighbor's house. I saw something in his vegetable garden. Something gleaming in the midsummer sun. Bright red fruit, hanging from sacred vines.


I pulled into my neighbor’s vacant driveway. I glanced both directions. The residential street was

empty. There were no witnesses.

The first thoughts of sin entered my mind. And an eerie calm settled onto the world, like the stillness before a tornado. I went in for a closer look.

Throughout my life I have met a lot of people who hate tomatoes. I’ve never understood this. My friend Ryan, for instance, wouldn’t touch tomatoes. He was the kind of kid who would only eat spaghetti topped with melted American cheese, which just shows you what kind of guy we were dealing with.

For years we couldn’t convince Ryan to so much as sniff a tomato. Until one day, I still don’t know how we did it, we finally got him to eat some canned tomatoes.

Moments after eating them, we discovered Ryan was deathly allergic to canned tomatoes. His lips began to swell. An ambulance was called. Sirens blaring. The…

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.