I wish I had a few million bucks. You know what I’d do with it? I’d buy a piece of land, way out in the middle of the country and build bunkhouses for kids who are having rough childhoods. Kids without parents, or kids who are neglected, or orphaned. I would call it Camp Okie Dokie.

Camp Okie Dokie would also be a shelter to many, many stray dogs and rescue animals. We would have the largest collection of cats, dogs, horses, pigs, zebras, and giraffes this side of the Mississippi River.

So you’d have a bunch of kids and dogs and livestock living together in one enormous summer camp. Therefore you would also need lots of Glade plug-ins.

Oh, and the library. Our library would be ridiculously big. Monumentally big. Existentially big. The building itself would be about the size of a medium Midwestern city.

Children would have access to a lot more than just books at this library. With their library cards they would be allowed to rent baseball

gloves, Louisville sluggers, bicycles, guitars, water guns, camping gear, and fishing rods.

Fishing will be a big deal at Camp Okie Dokie. There will always be a full-time fishing guide employed by the camp, perpetually on standby, who will take kids fishing whenever the heck they feel like going. Day or night.

There will be 42 ponds on Camp Okie Dokie’s property, which will all be stocked with so much bream, bass and crappie that all you have to do is sneeze, and fish will start jumping into your boat. Kids will be encouraged to catch as many as they can since there will be a fish fry every Friday evening with hushpuppies and four metric tons of cheese grits.

At the fish fry, live music will be provided by musicians who don’t suck.

Nightly, there will be an old movie played on the massive theater screen erected on…

Watford City, North Dakota. Population 6,027. Unless somebody died last night. You’re looking at a whole lot of rocks and dirt out here.

The town of Watford City is a fleck-on-the-map hamlet located within the Badlands of the Roughrider State. It’s your quintessential Western town. You’ve got everything here you’d need to be happy. You have a hardware store, a pharmacy, a beer joint, American Legion Post 29, and a phonebook with at least six pages.

And, of course, there is the giant eight-ton bust of Theodore Roosevelt standing outside the local motel, which attracts dozens of tourists each year.

Senior prom was last week, which is a big deal in a town like Watford City. And, thanks to the Internet Age, prom is an even bigger deal these days because of something called a “promposal.”

For those who have been living on planet Jupiter, today’s teens rarely just ask someone to prom. They “prompose.” This is like a marriage proposal for high-schoolers wherein a teen pulls an elaborate stunt to ask his

date to prom. This is usually videoed or photographed for social media.

Promposals are meant to be cute, but sometimes they can get downright freaky. Some teens go all out for their promposals.

Some young men have organized streetwide flash mobs to propose to their dates.

One kid from Pennsylvania tandem-skydived for his promposal, wearing only his underpants, carrying a banner that read “I just ‘dropped in’ to ask you to prom.”

She said no.

One poor kid in Nevada videoed his promposal by bringing donuts to a girl’s house. In the video, a girl answers the door wearing a huge smile. She is clearly overwhelmed by the gesture when she excitedly says, “Oh my gosh!”

At this point, the 16-year-old nuclear physicist holding the donuts looks shocked. There is a long moment of awkwardness before the boy finally says something like: “Wait, this is the wrong…

Monroeville, Alabama, is quiet today. The town square looks perfect at dusk. The birds are chirping. The shops are lined in tight rows. The Victory roses are in bloom. Mel’s Dairy Dream is doing steady business.

An occasional muddy Chevy truck cruises down Main Street, windows rolled down, with godawful modern pop-country music blasting, just to remind everyone that, yes, although this sophisticated town is the “Literary Capital of Alabama,” birthplace of “To Kill a Mockingbird” and Truman Capote, local teenagers here, like anywhere else, still play music loud enough to fracture Pittsburgh steel.

Today is the Monroe County Public Library’s 95th anniversary. I am in town to storytell in honor of the occasion. Why they chose me for this gig, I don’t know. I come from people who used books only for fly swatters. I am a dropout with no pedigree. But here I am.

I am standing in this small-town library to honor the American institution of books, and all people who hedge their lives around the power of


You can keep your politicians and your social influencers. Librarians are my heroes.

“I wanted our library to be fun,” says the head librarian. “I wanted kids to feel at home. I remember when I was a kid and librarians were always telling us kids to hush. That’s why we never shush children here.”

The library in this rural county has been in operation since Babe Ruth was hitting homers, movies were silent and the Model A was hot.

Meantime, in 1927, a bunch of do-gooders in Monroe County, Alabama, were deciding to offer literature to all. It was a unique time in America, an era when nearly 5 million U.S. citizens didn’t know how to read their own names. This library was a haven.

Today, this humble library owns the largest collection of books in the county. It’s also a famous place. Nelle Harper Lee and Truman…

“And that’s how it happened” said the elderly woman in the nursing home, finishing her story.

This concluded our six-hour interview.

After an interview that long, my brain’s gray matter was leaking out of my ears.

I was a younger man. I was only at this nursing home for a quick local newspaper story about the new Walmart being built. That was it. A few soundbytes. A few quotes. Everyone goes home.

The elderly woman, however, misunderstood the purpose of my visit and thought we were doing a story about her entire life. Her presentation included a long, detailed illustration of her ancestral genealogy dating back to the Phonecians.

When our interview finished, the nurse wheeled her away. I collapsed on the rec room sofa and tried to uncross my eyes.

And that’s when I met him.

He was sitting in a wheelchair parked beside the TV, wearing a large Stetson, attached to oxygen, drinking an O’Doul’s. He was watching “Law and Order.”

The man wasn’t just old. He was old-old. He looked ancient enough to have the Social Security number 4.


glared at me, took a sip from his longneck, and announced that he had to visit the little boys’ room.

I looked around for a nurse. There were none.

So he made stronger eye contact with me. “I said I have to take a leak. It’s kinda urgent.”

I blinked. “Are you talking to me?”

“No, your guardian angel. Yes, you. Take me to the john or run and fetch a mop.”

I wheeled him out into the hallway and looked around for a young person in scrubs to save me. But there were no medical staffers.

When we arrived at the bathroom the man upturned his wheelchair footplates and looked at me. “Don’t just stand there. Help me.”

“Uh,” I said, “I’m not sure I’m supposed to be doing this…”

“So you’re just gonna let me…


I just lost my mom, and now I have some hard decisions to make. I feel so lost and broken, I have been trying my best, but I feel like I failed. I was wondering if you had any advice on dealing with the loss of my mom.



The imaginary scenario I’m about to describe is going to sound far-fetched and weird. So just humor me.

But first, I want you to breathe. Seriously. Before you read another word.

In. Out. Big. Soft. Long. Deep. Breaths. Relax your jaw. Loosen your shoulders. Turn into a big blob of Jello pudding.

Seeeeeee the pudding. Beeeee the pudding.


What I want you to do is visualize a large white world. Not white like cotton sheets or snow. But white like sunlight. Like staring at the noon sun with eyes wide open.

White light is everywhere within this new world. In fact, you aren’t even sure how big this new space is because it’s too bright to see anything. It could be the

size of a closet, or it could be bigger than Asia. No way to know.

At first the light hurts your eyes. It gives you a headache. And it doesn’t let up. It just gets stronger until it singes your hair and burns your skin.

Eventually, the brightness works its way into you. Past your adipose tissue, vascular system, kidneys, and spleen. It bores into muscle and bone and finally gets down into the Real You.

The Real You is an interesting thing. I don’t want to get all hooky spooky here, but think about it. A person’s soul is literally inside their body, but no surgeon can find it. No one can point to your ribcage and say, “Ah, yes, your soul’s right there. Just to the left of your colon.”

So for the purposes of this imaginary scene, right now,…

Today is National Columnists’ Day. Someone just told me. It’s a holiday for honoring those depraved, half-crazed individuals who crank out 500 to 800 words each day beneath rigorous deadlines and still manage to remain, technically, married.

I remember when I unofficially became a columnist. Sort of.

I was a boy. I was in my room, pouting.

My room looked like any little boy’s room. It was messy. It smelled funky. There were underpants scattered on my floor. There were Hardy Boys books, aquariums featuring dead goldfish, and half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches that predated the Carter administration.

I was having a particularly bad day. Namely, because my friends were playing outside and they had not invited me to join them. I could see my pals from by bedroom window. They were having fun, but they didn’t want me around.

When a kid’s father dies in the shameful way mine did, that child is not exactly the hippest kid in the county. I was forgotten. And it hurt.

There was a knock on my door.

It was my mother.

“What’re you doing in here all alone?” she said.


She glanced out the window. “You’re pouting.”

“No I’m not.”

“Then go outside and play with your friends.”

“They’re not my friends anymore.”

My mother was carrying something behind her. She placed a gift-wrapped box onto my bed. It was the size of a small suitcase, and heavier than a sack of Quickrete, wrapped in Christmas paper, although it was July.

“What’s this?” I said.

“Open it,” she said.

“I don’t feel like presents.”

Her face tightened. “Well, maybe when you’re done wallowing in self pity, you will.”

Then she left.

Mama always had a way of putting things.

I tore open the packaging. Inside was a vinyl case containing a manual typewriter. Sea-foam green. The spacebar was a little crooked, the S and D keys were faded, the ribbon was new.

Easter Sunday. An Episcopal church in Birmingham. Vaulted ceilings. Ornate masonry. A pipe organ. A choir dressed in lacework cottas. Individual stained-glass windows that cost more than tactical government helicopters. The whole works.

My wife and I arrived late. The place was loaded with parishioners in pastel colors. There were no available seats in the back.

“We have room on the front row,” said the usher.

“The front row?” I said. “Isn’t there anywhere else? Somewhere less… Frontal?”

He shook his head. “Full house today, sir.”

I am not a front pew guy. I come from mild, soft-spoken fundamentalist people who hug each other sideways; we prefer to fill up the sanctuary from the back to the front.

He guided us to the front pew so that we were practically sitting in the priest’s lap. The whole church was looking at us.

Service began. The organ bellowed. People stood.

Before we sang the first song, a kid in the pew behind me started making flatulent sounds with his mouth. I could not concentrate.

As a former little

boy, I am qualified to tell you that these were not just your run-of-the-mill mouth-based sound effects. These were long, juicy, squirty sounds that, if I hadn’t known better, sounded like minor digestive issues.

And he never quit. During the communal singing, the kid made this noise. During the call to worship: The Noise. During the Lord’s Prayer: nuclear blasts.

Spittle was flying onto the back of my neck as the boy’s sustained raspberry sounds reverberated off the stone walls. I was certain someone would tell the boy to knock it off, but it never happened.

So I turned around to give the child a stern look.

He might have been 3 years old. The kid was blond, plump, dressed festively in a seersucker jumpsuit adorned with lace.

His mother smiled. I grinned back, hoping she’d get my drift and put an end…