The mall was crowded. I was maybe 5 years old. And I was lost.

If you’ve ever been lost in the mall as a little boy you know true terror. I had somehow drifted from my mother. I had been distracted by—of all things—a magic show.

I am a middle-aged man now, but I can still remember the magician’s performance with startling clarity. He wore a polyester tux, bright red, with a pink Travolta shirt. One look at that tux and I left my mother’s side.

I stood among others my age in the meager audience watching his magic act. We were all wide eyed, smelling of little-kid sweat, with runny noses.

Then, suddenly the show was over and I was lost in a shopping mall with thousands of strangers moving all around me.

What was I supposed to do NOW? Should I go look for my mother? Should I stay put? Should I ask the guy in polyester tux to saw me in half? A kid’s brain doesn’t think logically.

So I went searching for my mother,

which was the absolute worst thing I could have done because this only made me more lost. I wandered through shoe stores, clothing stores, Sears, and a candle store that smelled like a sickening mixture of pumpkin pie and Chanel No. 5.

Finally, mercifully, a tall man in a blue uniform with an eight-point cap and a golden badge found me. He said, “Are you lost?”

I began to cry.

He was an enormous policeman, nearly 14 feet tall. He squatted to my eye level. He smiled and said, “Where’re your parents?”

I cried even harder.

“Can you tell me your mom’s name?”

I tried to remember my mother’s name. But I was so scared that I couldn’t think of my mother’s Christian name. What WAS her first name? I usually just called her Mama or Ma’am. I upgraded from crying into…

Thank you. That is the​ purpose of this column. I want to say “thanks.” I don't know you, but I believe in the good you do. Especially right now.

In public, I used to see you sometimes and think to myself: "I wish someone would thank them." But I never do this because if I did, you’d think I was a complete whacko.

Maybe I am a whacko. But I’m allowed to be that way. After all, I am a columnist—sort of—and that means my proverbial box is missing a few crayons.

Long ago, I used to deliver newspapers with my mother. We used to deliver to a fella who would answer the door in pajamas. He had messy hair and a bushy white beard. He always gave me a five-dollar tip.

He was generous. If he wasn’t home one day, he would pay me ten bucks the next day. He was a columnist, my mother told me. And that’s why he was such a weirdo in weird pajamas. Even his house smelled weird.

I suppose I ought to thank him while I am thanking everyone.

Also, thanks to the man I once saw in the gas station, years ago, who bought a lottery scratch-off ticket. Who won thirty bucks, then turned around and gave the cash to a woman behind him in line. What a guy.

The woman thanked him in a language that sounded like Russian, but he didn't seem to understand, so he answered: “Alright.”

Thank you, Cindy—the woman who, pre-pandemic, once translated one of my speeches in American Sign Language for the front row​. She told me I talked very fast and now she has problems with her rotator cuff. She also taught me how to cuss in sign language.

Thank you to the seventy-year-old man who went back to school to get his GED. And his forty-six-year-old daughter, who tutored him.

And you. You deserve…

She is 92 years old and she has seen everything. Today she lives in an upscale nursing facility. I called her this morning for a brief phone interview and after a few moments of conversation, I realized this old woman really had seen everything.

She was born the same year the Great Depression began. She experienced hard times, world war, the death of children, abject poverty, prohibition.

I asked how her family got through such difficult years. She laughed and said, “We just kept telling ourselves that good times were around the corner.”

Good times. Ironically, one year ago today I was wondering what would become of America’s good times. Because at exactly this time last year I was standing in a rural Mississippi gas station when first I saw a newspaper bearing the headline “COVID-19.”

I had never seen this term before. I remember feeling a sudden chill sweep over me when I saw the word “EPIDEMIC” printed in huge letters.

When I reached the cashier she was wearing a surgical

mask and gloves. I’d never known anyone to dress this way except for maybe Michael Jackson.

Within the following weeks the whole world shut down, everyone was socially distant, TV news channels were delivering round-the-clock updates on the unfolding toilet paper crisis.

“This pandemic is a lot like the Depression,” says the old woman. “All this uncertainty, all the fear in the air. Brings back a lotta bad memories.”

Of course, she’s not suggesting that the pandemic is on the same scale as the Depression. No way. Our ancestors suffered in ways that we could never understand. We are a fortunate generation, we can order instant takeout via smartphone apps. During the Depression, families were so hungry they resorted to eating shoe leather.

I once heard an elderly man say that his family survived on ketchup and creek-water soup.

I have interviewed dozens of Depression survivors. The stories…


I want to write a book but I’m afraid of starting because, knowing me, I will fail, so I keep wondering whether anyone will care. Should I do it?

Eagerly awaiting your thoughts,


What I can tell you is that writing a book will turn you into a nut job. There is no way around it. All authors are nut jobs. And when you finish your book, you will be a lovable nut job too.

Here’s a day in the life of a writer. You wake up. You brush your teeth. You wander into your office. It’s tiny. It’s messy. There is a rubber chicken hanging from the mouth of a taxidermied alligator head that’s mounted on the wall. You fire up your laptop.

Mostly your writing consists of spinning in your office chair, staring at the ceiling, trying to think deep, author-like thoughts, such as, “Was it me who put the chicken in the alligator’s mouth, or my wife?” Or “What’s the capital of New Hampshire?”

Whatever you might be thinking about, you’re NOT

thinking about your book because you’re stalling. Why? Because you’re stuck. You can’t think of anything to write, so you just—

Concord. That’s the capital of New Hampshire.

Lunch break!

Phew! What a busy morning you’ve had. So you strut out of your office, fix lunch, and hope that saturated fat will fuel some more creativity and insight. When you finish eating, you feel an overwhelming urge to get to work. So you stand, stretch, and lie down for a nap instead.

See what I mean? Total nut job.

And it’s even worse for writers during a pandemic. Right now creativity is hard to come by because the pandemic is killing creativity within every industry.

People are in slumps. Many work remotely, stuck at home, with spouses shouting from adjoining rooms, dogs barking, and screaming kids running around who…

I had a dream about him last night. It has been nearly three decades since he died, but there he was. Alive. We met in some kind of diner. A breakfast joint. Maybe this was heaven?

He was running late, I was already sitting in a booth, sipping coffee. When he arrived, his first words were: “Did you miss me?”

“No,” I said.

He studied my face to see if I was joking. He could tell I wasn’t.

I couldn’t quit staring at him. My God, it really was my father. He looked good, too. Slender, red hair, tucked-in shirt, slacks. I’d gone so long without seeing him that I’d forgotten what he looked like.

But it only takes a moment to bring it all back. I could even smell his trademarked hair oil. The day after he died I confiscated his pillow and it was covered in this same scent. I slept on that pillow for five years.

“You really didn’t miss me?” he said. There was that easy smile of his. He wasn’t offended.


I really didn’t miss you.”

He ordered a Coke. And I suddenly remembered that he always drank Coca-Cola. He never was a coffee drinker. Hated the stuff. Just one of the many things I’d forgotten.

Then I started thinking about the differences between us. There were hundreds of them.

For example: he was always well-dressed, whereas I always looked like I crawled from beneath a Chevy. He was a hard worker; I sleep in on weekdays. Everyone called him “handsome”; nobody has ever ascribed that word to me. He was a planner; there is nothing I love more than cancelled plans.

When he was alive, he expected great things from me, but I failed to deliver. From a young age I knew within my kid brain that I would never accomplish the things he hoped for me.

I’m not saying I disappointed him,…

Last night, amidst the biting Michigan cold, a baby was born at 10:03 P.M. And while none of the major news outlets or camera crews had reason to tell you about this average birth, in an average town, in an average hospital, the baby’s family doesn’t feel it was average.

The baby’s name is Kristen. And this was a happy night for her family. Kristen’s dad, for example, took 3,122,391 cellphone pictures of Kristen within the first five minutes of her life. Which is very different from how things were done when I was born shortly after the Civil War. We had delivery-room sketch artists.

I talked to Kristen’s father this morning. He was emotional on the phone. In fact, he was all-out crying about the birth of his first child. He blew his nose loudly and said, “This is the happiest day of my life.”

It’s too bad the newspeople didn’t tell you about it. Maybe they were busy.

Also, it’s a shame nobody told you about Hilary’s dog, Dingo. Last night in Albuquerque, Hilary’s

dog passed away.

A little about Dingo: He was golden colored. He loved eating corn chips, pizza, carrots, Jergens Ultra-Healing Moisture Lotion, and expensive electronics. He was a very special animal.

Dingo watched Hilary graduate high school when he was a puppy. He saw Hilary into college. He was around when she got married. He was also beside her when her first husband walked out on her. Dingo, the Lab-mix with the big smile, was the one who helped carry Hilary into adulthood. He deserved a headline or two.

Hilary knew on Friday that something wasn’t right with Dingo when he started having multiple accidents indoors. It was bad. Pancreatitis. Hilary made the decision no pet owner wants to make. They put Dingo down.

“I just wanted someone to know about the best dog in the world,” wrote Hilary.

So now you do.


I am digging a hole in my backyard. I’m doing this for many reasons. Namely, because it’s a pandemic and I’m stuck at home. Sometimes people who are stuck at home go batty and start digging holes for no explainable reason.

I’m also digging because this hole is going to be a rose garden. I love roses, and I’ve always wanted to try growing them. My Aunt Eulah often used to say, “I’d rather have roses on my table than gold in my pocket.”

One year ago if you had told me I’d be digging a rose garden I would’ve choked on my chili dog. Because before the pandemic I never had time for roses, I was always busy. I was usually on the road, visiting places, meeting new people, or eating cholesterol in distant airports. It was the life of a writer, and it was my life.

But now I’m at home all the time and the most active thing I do is take my dogs for potty walks. Which is a

frustrating task because one of my dogs refuses to pee on a leash. And it’s very important to make her “go,” otherwise this dog’s bladder will reach red-alert status and there will be a nuclear accident on our kitchen floor.

So my life has become uneventful. Finding material for columns has also gotten harder because most things I write about are things I read about. And most of what I read comes in the form of emails, personal letters, and messages. I get a lot of emails.

Used to, the majority of these messages were happy and encouraging. But as the pandemic raged forward the messages got angrier and more negative. Some of the comments became downright cruel. One guy told me I had a face shaped like a “football covered in hair.”

You almost have to admire that kind of verbal creativity.

Of course I also…

Thirteen-year-old Katy was diagnosed with depression yesterday. The main culprit—big surprise—is the pandemic. Katy is like many U.S. teens right now, she is stuck inside doing online school, getting little socialization, rarely leaving her bedroom.

Katy’s email to me reads:

“I’m tired of feeling this sad... My mom told me to message you to see if you had any suggestions for cheering up depressed people my age.”

Well, Katy, I’m glad you contacted me because it sounds to me like you need some major fun right now. And you’re in luck because in many circles I am known as Mister Fun. How fun am I? As I write this, I am drinking something called “panda dung” tea.

I am serious. This looseleaf tea was sent to me by a reader named Sara, from Little Rock. Along with this tea came a magazine clipping explaining that this tea is imported from Asia where it is wildly expensive, usually selling for $3,500 per 50 grams. Which means I am drinking a $75 cup of tea right now.

I called a local tea shop to ask about this tea since, call me paranoid, I was concerned about drinking anything that had been passed through the gastrointestinal system of an exotic mammal.

The tea-shop lady was nice. She said, “Oh, don’t worry, the tea has no actual dung in it, it’s only called that because the tea plants are grown in big piles of panda excrement.”

Yum! Pass the sugar!

So I’m trying to drink this tea with an open mind. And after finishing one mug I can honestly say that, even though I was skeptical at first, panda dung tea tastes exactly like the name sounds.

But getting back to dealing with depression. Something I’ve found that helps is going for walks. I realize this sounds painfully simple and a little idealistic, and maybe it is. But it actually does help.

When I…

It’s a long story, but it all starts with red hair. Sort of. She was a redhead, and in love. And 17-year-old redheads in love do impulsive things. It was a different era. Johnson was president.

Her parents were against the romance. His parents were against it, too. But redheads make decisions without consulting the rest of the world. When the young couple found out she was pregnant, they married.

Her father and mother were mad; she had never been so excited. They moved to California. He took a job driving a truck. He was gone a lot, making all-night runs across the U.S., but they were happy.

One lonely night she was rattled awake by loud knocking on the front door. She answered it in her bathrobe. Two patrolmen on her porch said that her husband’s eighteen-wheeler flipped, and he was gone.

She went through pregnancy alone. And on the morning she gave birth, she was unsure about what to feel. She held her boy against her chest and wept

over him with the joyful kind of tears that only widows know.

She worked low-paying jobs. A receptionist in a textile factory. An orderly in a rest home. Finally, she decided to go back to school. The night classes were hard, but she stuck with them for many years. During the same week that her son graduated from 7th grade, she graduated with her teaching certificate, and life was looking up.

First she taught elementary, then high school. She was miserable with both jobs. Children can test a woman’s patience and cause her to use very strong cuss words in public sometimes.

She applied for a position at a junior college, it was only a part-time gig, and modest pay. She loved it. The college kids were much more sincere than high-schoolers who spent the majority of their class period grabbing each other’s butts.

There was one student in…

Anna is 49 years old. She is cheerful, beautiful, and her elderly mother believes Anna is a living angel.

Each morning, Anna wakes at 5 A.M. to make the coffee. While the coffee perks, she visits her mother’s bedroom. “Wakey wakey!” she says, breezing into the room.

Next Anna throws open the curtains and smiles. Then she helps her mother out of a hospital bed. Her mother is not able to walk due to hip issues.

Anna lifts her mother, then carries her into the shower using brute strength. She positions her mother in a specialized shower seat, undresses her, bathes her from head to heel, then brushes her teeth.

“Anna is my lifeline,” Anna’s mother tells me. “My daughter is an angel.”

After the bath, Anna lifts her mother into a wheelchair. She then dresses her mother, fixes her hair, administers medication, and kisses her mother’s face. “I love you Mom,” Anna reminds her mother, just in case her mother needs to hear this.

Then, Anna parks her mother near the television and starts breakfast.

Later, Anna doles out more meds, then clips her mother’s toenails, carries her to the bathroom, or pays her mothers bills.

By then, it’s about noon. A friend usually comes to sit with Anna’s mother while Anna goes to work.

Oh, yeah. By the way, Anna works full time.

After her long shift, she comes back to the apartment, and her night has just begun. Before she changes out of work attire, Anna cooks supper, then cleans the house. The night ends when she carries her mother into the bedroom. There, she dresses her mother in a nightgown, gives more meds, and reads to her.

“Sometimes Anna falls asleep beside me,” her mother says. “She’s usually very exhausted after all that lifting.”

The next morning, Anna does it all again.

Carl, in Atlanta, does the same thing with his dad. Carl bathes his father,…