I rear ended a Toyota years ago. I was driving the highway, John Conlee was on the radio singing “Rose Colored Glasses.”

It was the worst day ever. I can close my eyes and recall the whole scene. It had been a bad week. A dark year. And it got dimmer.

A car ahead of me slammed its brakes. The tailpipe came toward me so fast I didn’t have time to say: “Holy Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego!”

The crash was loud. I blacked out.

When I awoke, I was lying in the median. Paramedics were around me. I couldn’t remember my name. I was out of it.

“You’re gonna be okay,” the EMT said. “You’re just in shock. And look on the bright side, kid, at least you didn’t poop your pants.”

Thank God for small blessings.

They rushed me to the ER. No broken bones. Only bruises. A doctor shined a light in my eyes and inspected my neurological reactions.

He was a white-haired man who said, “Say your ABCs backward for me, son.”

I closed my eyes and said,

“‘Your ABCs backward, son.’”

A good laugh was had by all—except the doctor, who charged an extra fourteen hundred bucks for laughter.

That night, I sat on the sofa with bruised ribs. The medication my wife had given me made me loopy, I was starting to see things. Julia Child, for instance, was on television, descaling a fish and I seriously believed she was trying to assault me with Japanese cutlery.

My truck was totaled. My face was beaten up. My collarbone and ribs hurt.

It truly was the worst day ever. And I’d just come off the heels of what had been the worst month ever. Weeks earlier, my longtime dream of becoming a writer had been squashed—I’d been rejected from an academic writing program.

AND: I had been turned down from a job I’d wanted.

AND: I’d…

Morning. I’m drinking my coffee when his photo pops up in my cellphone memories. And I’m thrown three years backward. I remember it all too well.

There I am, watching him. He sits on the steps of the Shell Station. A backpack beside him. His skin is rawhide. His beard is white.

His name is Buck. He’s from North Carolina. He says he completed two tours in Vietnam.

He’s not here begging, he’s resting his feet.

“My old feet hurt more’n they used to,” says Buck. “Hard getting old, buddy.”

There is a half-smoked cigar next to him. He dug this used cigar from an ashtray. It still has life in it, he says.

He’s sipping coffee.

“First cup’a joe I had in a week. Fella gave me a quarter a few minutes ago. Piled my coins together to buy me a cup.”

A quarter.

When Buck went inside to buy it, there were only cold dregs left in the pot. He asked the cashier if it were possible to brew a fresh pot. She told him to get lost.

“But I’m paying for it,” he


She escorted him to the door.

So, he’s drinking dregs for which he paid full price—for which he is grateful.

There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them. Who knows if he’s exaggerating or not. Buck has a flare for the dramatic.

Still, his bloody toes poke through the fronts. His middle toenail is missing.

Buck explains, “God says, ‘Don't worry what you’ll eat, drink, or wear.’ And I believe it. But it's hard sometimes. ‘Specially when you ain’t eaten and you don’t have [cussword] to wear.”

So I walk inside the gas station on a mission. I ask the aforementioned cashier to brew a fresh pot of coffee—I tell her it’s for me. I am very…

I am sitting in the living room with my elderly mother-in-law, Mother Mary. We are watching television. Mother Mary holds the remote.

The television is enormous. I am talking about a TV that’s bigger than a king-size mattress mounted to the wall. The volume is cranked up so loud that bits of ceiling plaster are falling into my beer.

My wife is away tonight, and she has left me alone with Mother Mary. We are watching TV. Mother Mary is flipping channels.

You’d like Mother Mary. She is white-haired, with a voice like Scarlett O’Hara. She sits in her recliner, and we are eating pizza delivery.

She flips past all the major networks. She pauses on HGTV for a little while, but nothing appeals to her. She scrolls past all her favorites: TLC, TBS, USA, TNT, Home Shopping Network, Univision.

She finally lands on the Discovery Channel. The show is entitled “Naked and Afraid.”

On the screen are two forty-somethings. Male and female. They hike through the wilderness trying to survive. And they are both—how do

I put this?—buck naked.

The gist of the show is simple and realistic. Two people with desk jobs suddenly find themselves wandering through the woods, fighting insurmountable odds, harsh weather, sleep deprivation, predators, and multiple commercial breaks. And they do it without wearing any pants.

The important thing to remember here is that these are not actors, and they are actually naked. Their primary body parts are blurred by special camera effects, but their secondary body parts are in clear focus.

For example: There is a man on the screen right now. He is bending over to get a drink from the river. And I see London, I see France.

“Oh my word,” remarks Mother Mary. “I see his little hiney.”

I cover my eyes. “Mother Mary, would you like another piece of pizza?”

“Would you JUST look at that?”

“How about something from…


I am a teacher. I’ve been teaching for almost 25 years. It was my dream job. I’ve always loved it and now I don’t.

Inept administration, difficult students, priority-confused parents, and lack of support with increased expectations have worn me down. Now all I think about is retirement.

Kids are my life. Their smiles, wit, hugs, those “aha moments” they have… Their wonder. It is what I live for. How do I find my spark again?



Boy howdy. I’m the wrong guy to ask. Educators are persons who have answered the highest calling, whereas I am a guy who hasn’t emptied the dishwasher since Labor Day.

Besides, I’m in the same boat you’re in. I too have lost my spark.

Have you ever seen the 1953 Western “Shane” starring Alan Ladd? Remember the iconic closing scene wherein the hero (Shane) rides away while Little Joey is begging him to stay?

To freshen your memory, here’s a replay of that movie ending:

The horse stables. Nighttime. Shane saddles his mare. Little Joey is crying, asking Shane not to

leave. Shane is Joey’s boyhood idol.

Shane, clad in a spectacular buckskin fringe jacket, tells the kid he’s leaving for good.

“Joey… You go home to your mother and your father, and grow up to be strong and straight.”

The boy sniffles. “Shane...”

Music swells for a dramatic goodbye while Shane steps into the stirrups and rides away into the Wyoming Territory.

The boy chases Shane, pleading with the enigmatic gunslinger not to leave. But Shane ignores the boy and rides off.

The final line of the movie comes from the weeping child who screams: “Shane! Shane, come back!”

That’s exactly what my year has been like.

Old Me climbed onto his horse and hightailed it into the Bighorns, while Current Me chased him and shouted, “Sean! Sean! Come back!”

Before COVID, I had a spark…

My mother once told me that the most beautiful things in life are often the things that go unnoticed. And I’ve been thinking a lot about that.

I believe she’s right. After all, I’ve never known Mama to be wrong.

Mama was right when she told me to always wear clean undies. She was right when she told me to never eat yellow snow. I believe she was right about nearly everything.

As it happens, this morning I read about a few beautifully unnoticed things. These items came to me in the form of emails.

I receive a lot of emails. Many of these messages come from people I’ve never met, who live in places I’ve never been. These perfect strangers write to me about small events that took place; microscopic happenstances that go unseen by society.

Like the woman from Michigan who told me about a young single father who lives in her building.

The father needed a ride to work because his car died and he couldn’t afford a cab. His jobsite was located nine miles away. So

he walked.

This became a routine. The man arose each morning and hoofed nine miles. Then he walked home after work.

He was walking 45-plus miles every week. Until last week.

Last week an older woman who drives a truck for a courier service had been noticing this man each morning. She pulled over and offered him a ride.

The man said no he’d be fine, and he kept walking. But the lady insisted, she did everything short of begging him to get in.

He got in. When she dropped him at work she asked, “What time you get off, hon?”

He told her.

She smiled. “I’ll be waiting right here to take you home.”

She’s been giving him rides all week. No charge.

I received another message from an elderly man in northern California who said he was out…

My truck is parked on the bay. I am watching a Florida Panhandle sunset while sharing a gas-station burrito with my dog who has not mastered sharing.

I’ve been out of town for a few days. I was on my way home when I pulled over here.

Home. One of my favorite words. If there’s anything more thrilling than coming home it’s probably frowned upon by Sunday school teachers.

Music plays through my open windows. Classical music. In my truck I only play classical. Usually, I select classic masterpieces from the repertoires of Bob Wills and the Texas Playboys, or Spade Cooley.

Such music goes well with Floridian sunsets.

You’d be surprised how few people are familiar with the finer points of the Panhandle region. A lot of Americans get confused about our area and assume we’re similar to mainstream Florida. These assumptions are wrong.

We’re nothing like Tampa. Nothing like Orlando. My front door is located closer to Houston than Miami. We don’t dress like Jimmy Buffet, and I don’t own mouse ears.

West Florida is

its own thing. Our region was settled long before the rest of our tourist-centric state, and it’s considerably more historic than big cities with theme parks.

In fact, for years this area never had much in the way of tourist amusement unless you counted the Miracle Strip Amusement Park in Bay County, where I once took Anna Lee Wilson on date.

Anna Lee puked all over me while riding the Loop-O-Plane ride. She had eaten nachos that night. I lost interest in nachos after that.

Our county is mostly rural. Here we have rich people and poor folks alike.

In the affluent zones, you have Land Rovers, Teslas, and hopped-up golf carts that cost more than Cadillacs. But on my street, most homes have double axles, high mileage, and foam-deer targets in front yards.

We are not fancy. We are painfully downhome. I…

My wife and I are going out to dinner tonight. I am waiting for her to get ready. She is in the bathroom, standing before a mirror, pinching her tummy. She asks if I think she is fat.

“No,” I say.

She frowns. “You sure?”


“Well, I feel fat.” She pinches a new region. “This doesn’t look fat to you?”

“Still no.”

She readjusts. “What about from this angle?”


“How about when I turn around?”

“Are you kidding?”

“How about when I stand like this and hold my neck like this?”

“You look extremely uncomfortable.”

I can feel her getting ready to say it. And she most certainly does. “But… I feel so fat.”

My whole life has been spent in the company of women. When my father died, he left me in a house of estrogen. I was raised by a village of females. And in my life I have learned one basic thing about the opposite gender.

Many women think they are fat.

And they are always wrong about this, no matter what their size. Because the word

“fat” is a disgraceful term, unless it’s being used to describe a ribeye. When applied to humans, this word is a synonym for “disgusting.” And I refuse to believe any human is disgusting.

Although it is almost impossible not to feel fat in today’s world of airbrushed spokes-models. Every printed advertisement and beer commercial tells us we are fat.

But it wasn’t always like this. Things were different 75 years ago. You never heard anyone saying Marilyn Monroe needed to try keto.

No. People weren’t obsessed with being skinny. Consequently, American families ate more bacon. And according to the wise old timers who came before us: The family that eats bacon together, stays together.

But things have changed. By today’s impossible standards Marilyn Monroe would be considered a Clydesdale. Barbara Eden, a Holstein. Ginger and Mary Ann would…