It was only a matter of time. I woke up with a stuffy nose. I have been sneezing all morning and using mountains of Kleenex. My poor reddened schnoz looks like it belongs on the face of Jimmy Durante.

I keep reminding myself, “Don’t freak out, don’t freak out, it’s just a sniffle [ACHOO!], I’m gonna be fine. I’m gonna be [ACHOO!] dandy.”

I mean, come on, it’s just runny nasal passages, which is harmless, right? I’ve had hundreds of sniffles in my lifetime. No, millions. In fact I pretty much spent ages 1 through 25 with a drippy nose and a full diaper. So what’s the big deal?

The big deal is that for eight months I’ve been reading internet news and watching network headlines about COVID, that’s the big deal. On many of these news channels they display odometer-style counters on the screen which represent death tolls. And you don’t forget things like mortality rates when you get a sniffle, believe me.

The irony here is that I’ve never been remotely concerned about catching a cold before.

After all, the common cold only lasts two weeks, although thanks to modern medications the duration has been cut down to 14 days. This nose issue could be mere allergies for all I know.

But it’s not allergies or common colds that concern me. What I’m worried about is, what if this sniffle isn’t a cold? What if it’s…?

I cannot bear to think about it.


“Be reasonable,” I’m saying to myself while wiping sneeze spray from my keyboard. After all, people in my family have survived COVID. Several of my friends have recovered from it. I even interviewed an 80-year-old lady who survived it.

So I’m trying to relax. But this is a pandemic, you don’t sneeze until your eyeballs dislodge then simply shrug it off.

There is a lot of fear swimming around in the universe right now.…

According to an article I just read, Christmas house parties have disappeared forever. The article also says that a staggering percentage of American millennials have never even attended a house party; most have no interest in them.

And now, thanks to a pandemic, experts believe that house parties are not just fledgling, but already resting in peace. The article named technology as the main killer of the American get-together.

Well, I don’t mean to be Debbie Depression here, but if this article is true, it’s sad news. Because no amount of video calls, text messages, or online hangouts can compete with the holiday celebrations of yesteryear. Yes, I realize that during the past eight months we’ve lost many things, not to mention our mental health, but please, Lord, don’t let us lose Christmas parties forever.

If you’re like me, you remember an era filled with grand Christmas parties. It was also an era without the internet, back when the most advanced technology in your home was the four-ton electric KitchenAid mixer

your mom used for making cookies.

Christmas parties were our fundamental forms of holiday socialization, and almost everyone considered these to be big deals. Adult men dressed in Santa hats and hideous neckties. Ladies wore hosiery and dresses. Elderly women wore tweed skirt suits with holly-berry brooches. Old men pulled their trousers up to their armpits and reeked of Old Spice.

Our mothers would spend weeks decking the halls with ACTUAL boughs of holly. This is not a figure of speech. Our hallways were literally festooned with plastic greenery.

Also poinsettia plants. Everyone’s mom had a minor poinsettia obsession. Our mothers were constantly reminding us kids not to eat these poisonous poinsettias because one bite could kill you. Which was a weird thing to be worried about if you ask me.

It was as though our moms thought poinsettia-eating was a serious temptation among America’s wayward youth. As though…

I got a letter from 8-year-old Anna, in Ann Arbor, Michigan, who asked me what I believe Christmas is all about. This is part of a virtual school assignment. It’s not every day a kid asks ME such philosophical questions, which just shows you how bad off our educational system is right now.

To answer your question, Anna, I can only tell you what I once learned in fourth grade, which I am happy to share:

As a kid, our school had a nativity play enacted solely by children. Back then, every school in the nation had nativity plays enacted by children. There were no such things as a nativity plays with adult casts. In fact, the whole reason these pageants occurred was so that fundamentalist parents could experience the joy of seeing uncoordinated 6- and 7- and 8-year-olds wear fake beards and recite intricate passages of middle-English scripture while holding live screaming babies in swaddling clothes.

All I ever wanted was to play Joseph. I can’t remember wanting a

role more, except during our church’s Fourth of July pageant, entitled “Heroes of American Faith,” in which my mother desperately wanted me to play the role of Oral Roberts.

But Christmas held my heart. More specifically, it was Mary I loved. The role of Mary was played by Christina Moss, the Farrah Fawcett of the fourth grade. Every fourth-grade boy was in love with her. Or, as my cousin Ed Lee often put it: “Christina’s so pretty that I would crawl across a sea of broken glass to hear her belch on the phone.”

He was a very gross child, Anna.

So it was shaping up to be a great year. We had a solid script. Mrs. Everheart wrote the screenplay. She also served as director, assistant director, associate director, producer, diaper-changer for the Christ Child, and she played King Herod during the slaughtering of the innocents scene.

It was…

I just finished an informal rehearsal for our live Christmas show. The bluegrass band will be in top shape. So will the trained elephants, the trapeze act, the fire breather, and the guy juggling Broadman Hymnals. And if things work out, I might even do some clogging on camera.

No, I’m only kidding. There are no elephants. And I can’t clog, not unless I’m at my cousin’s wedding reception and the band starts playing Steppenwolf’s “Magic Carpet Ride” while I’m in line at the open bar.

It’s been a long time since we’ve done our live show. A long, long time. Almost a year now. I can hardly believe it’s been so long. Because at this time last year we were on the road. We’d done 160 shows that year, and my wife and I had crossed almost 40 U.S. states in our little plumber’s utility van. It was just what we did.

Don’t misunderstand me, ours was not a glamorous career. Many times I’d perform before crowds of four or five people who

often wore malfunctioning hearing aids and kept shouting, “What’d he say?!”

Like the time my elderly uncle attended one of my performances in Tennessee, and after what I considered a great show, in the theater lobby, my uncle’s first words to me were, “I forgot my hearing aids.”

So I hugged him and laughed, and I told him “I love you.” Then, in a brief moment of sincerity, which only shows you the affection between us, he answered, “What the hell did he just say, Eulah?”

But anyway, after all that performing in different places I had become exhausted inside and out, right down to my internal organs. Cheap hotel continental breakfast food had become the affliction of my existence. I was sick of riding in vans. There were definitely downsides to life on the road, but altogether it was a blast. And it’s a shame…

It seems like a hundred years ago. But it was only last year. I can’t forget it. There I am, at a restaurant. I am playing Christmas music on an accordion with a band. There is no virus, no social distancing, and everyone is happy. I am out and about in public. What a notion.

I play accordion because my granddaddy played it before me. This instrument is in my lineage. And it’s in our history as a civilized race. Thus, I believe that as long as we have young accordionists, there is still hope for humanity.

A few children approach our stage.

“WHAT KIND OF INSTRUMENT IS THAT?” asks the redhead.

“It’s an accordion,” I say.


“That’s not very nice...”



“Hey kid,” I say. “Santa told me you’re getting nothing but underwear and deodorant this year.”

This kind of accordion shaming is nothing new. I’ve been ridiculed since my childhood. I have heard

all the classic jokes.

Such as: What do you call a successful accordionist? A guy whose wife has two jobs.

Or: What are the first words an accordionist says after he knocks on your door? “Pizza delivery.”

But I don’t care. When I play accordion, I play for my mother’s father—the man who fought in Europe, and won a Purple Heart for his valiance. He was a farmer, a storyteller, a wood carver, a musician who could sing in Italian, German, French, Spanish, and Cajun. And when he played “Lady of Spain,” it was magic.

Of course all this accordion business can be embarrassing to admit at, say, dinner parties. Like a party I was at a few years ago. The attorney sipping gin remarked: “I’m learning guitar, I got one for my birthday this year.”

“Yeah,” added the…

Dear Peyton,

I received your mom’s email while sitting in rush hour traffic today. She wrote that you have COVID. She also told me that you’re terrified of this illness even though the doctor says you’re going to be perfectly okay.

Still, I was determined to do something about your situation, so I called my physician friend for some medical advice.

“He has COVID?” said my friend.

“Yes. What should he do?”

“Hmmmm. Has this child been to a doctor?”

“Yes, the doctor did tests and told his mom he would be fine. He barely even has symptoms.”

“Hmmm, is she monitoring him?”


“Look, if the physician says he’s okay, then your friend really needs to relax because managing anxiety is one of the big problems we’re seeing in COVID patients.”

So I said to my friend, “Don’t tell me to relax, you luxury-sedan driving punk!”

My friend went on to explain that many COVID patients are experiencing crippling fear about their illness because of things they’ve heard in the news. And here’s the thing, Peyton. In some cases this fear is

doing far more harm than the actual sickness. I’m not saying this is what’s happening to you, but according to your mom and your family physician, you need a happy distraction right now.

“Make him smile, get his mind on something else,” said my doctor friend, empathetically, as he tossed his golf clubs into his Lexus.

Well, I’m always one to heed medical advice, so I thought I’d use this opportunity to tell you the story about the only time in my life when I won something. Maybe it will make you feel better, Peyton.

I promise, I’ll try not to make this a long story, and if you believe that, then I also have a suspension bridge in New York I’d like to sell you.

It all began one day at the grocery store when I…

The first day of Advent arrived and I attended church, which was a little weird. I haven’t been to church in ages. An elderly lady greeter in a pink facemask God blessed me when I entered.

I slipped into service to see an old priest offering a homily to five socially distanced people. I was sitting in the back pew as an observer.

Pink Facemask guarded the door and smiled at me with her eyes whenever I looked back at her.

“Hi,” she would say.


I bowed my head at all the proper times, and mumbled when I was supposed to mumble. But I’m not a liturgical guy, so I was basically just reciting the lyrics to “Louie Louie” behind my mask.

The message was short. The gist of the clergyman’s Advent sermon was an old classic: “find the good in the world.”

And I couldn’t help but think that at this exact moment our world is dealing with 1.46 million COVID deaths. Not to mention 266,000 in the U.S. Where’s the good in that?


this humble writer asks himself where the heck is all the good? Heaven knows, if you look for good in newspapers or cable news it won’t be there because journalists sure as Shinola aren’t digging any up. Many news persons wouldn’t know “good” if it jumped up and bit them in the Associated Press.

But I’m not criticizing here. Neither am I throwing rocks at modern journalism. I’m simply saying that for almost an entire year the majority of reports you always see are about pure horror.

Now here it is Advent, and this old priest is pleading with a bunch of weary people to take a few moments to think of something other than how the word is crumbling.

So I did.

The first thing I thought about was an email I got this morning from a guy named Joe. He told…