Traffic is heavy. There is a blind dog in the passenger seat of my vehicle, emitting strange and exotic smells.

The dog’s name is Marigold. We call her “Marigold the Magnificent.” Or “Marigold the Marvelous.” Or, if she’s chewing another pair of my reading glasses: “Marigold the Maniac.”

We have traveled a few hundred miles. I have to make a speech at a private get-together tonight. The audience will include a very famous politician. I am more than a little nervous.

Also, I haven’t told anyone I’m bringing a canine with me. This gig was booked long before I rashly adopted a blind animal who needs me 24/7.

I’m hoping they allow coondogs at the venue.

I arrive at my hotel. It’s a nice joint. Art Deco interior. The woman clerk looks at me funny when I waltz to the front desk with a purebred hound.

The clerk is aghast.

“Excuse me, sir?” she says. “Is that a dog?”

“Is this a trick question?” I say.

“We don’t allow pets.”

“She’s not a pet.”

“What is she?”


No response.

“Look,” I say, “they told me

I could bring my dog when I called ahead and booked a pet-friendly room.”

She crosses her arms. “I’m sorry, sir, but nobody told me about this.”

“It hurts being left out, doesn’t it?”

It takes some doing, but we finally get things straightened out. The manager is called. He says it’s no big deal. Then I pay a pet deposit. Bada bing, bada boom. He’s glad to have our business.

Although, honestly, Marigold still holds a grudge against the clerk. She decides to let the disgruntled woman know exactly how she feels by making some Art Deco on the hotel grass.

Our room is fancy. It comes with all the trimmings. Huge beds. Fat pillows. Soft towels. Robes so thick and plush you can hardly get your suitcase closed.

I work on my…

The first day of fall arrived in Birmingham. It came frighteningly quick. Yesterday it was summer, hotter than the hinges of hades. This morning it was cold as gumballs.

But that’s Birmingham weather for you. At least that’s what everyone has been telling me since we moved here.

“Birmingham has all four seasons!” they all say while cheerfully bailing floodwater from their basements.

Well, it has been my experience that Birmingham undergoes more than four basic seasons. It’s more like eight or nine seasons. You probably think I’m exaggerating, but that’s only because you live somewhere else.

The first week we moved to town, Birmingham underwent every major meteorological event known to Wikipedia, with the exception of subtropical waterspouts.

That first day, it snowed and the streets were covered in rock salt and emergency crews. Then there was a hailstorm that lasted for the 24 hours. After which, Birmingham experienced “glaze frost,” wherein all vegetation was covered by a homogeneous coating of ice. And all this was just on the Fourth of July.

Then, only

one day after the freak snow, came a snap of hot weather. Suddenly, people were wearing flip flops, doing yardwork. All was well. Two days later, it rained so hard it flooded downtown and a man trying to get into his car drowned on 24th Street.

The VERY next afternoon, shortly after lunchtime, ominous, black clouds gathered above the city while I was cutting the grass. Then tornado sirens started howling. People were hurrying indoors. Neighborhood kids ditched their bicycles and sprinted home. The world began to rumble.

Perky TV reporters told us to hide in the basement and wear protective articles of clothing. Within minutes, my wife and I were huddled in a closet wearing bicycle helmets and baseball catcher’s facemasks.

That was my first month in Birmingham.

And if Birmingham weather doesn’t get you, the sinkholes will. Yes, sinkholes.

They happen all the…

Waffle House. Midnight. I was on the road. I pulled in for supper because everything else was closed and the coonhound in my passenger seat was hungry.

I was somewhere near central Alabama. A place where there are more log trucks per capita than anywhere else. Although that’s not saying much. In these parts, there aren’t many capita.

The joint was quiet. My dog waited in the truck while I got takeout.

There was a lone businessman sitting at the bar. He was scanning Waffle House’s updated, concise menu,

“This menu used to be bigger,” the man said irritably.

“Sorry,” said the waitress. “That’s our newer menu.”

“But, why is it so small?”

“You’ll have to ask management.”

The Waffle House menu has gotten considerably smaller, you might have noticed. Used to, the menu offered everything from tomato juice to khaki trousers. Now they just serve up their greatest hits.

Which is good with me. I love this institution. We ate Waffle House takeout at my wedding.

The man at the counter, however, is not so easily pleased. He is dressed in slacks

and a necktie. His shoes look like they cost more than a Steinway concert grand. He is driving a Benz.

I was getting the impression that if his food didn’t come out dead letter perfect, he was going to paint the walls with it.

The waitress brought his plate. The man ate while playing on his phone. She kept his coffee level. His water glass never got below the rim.

But he still wasn’t happy. He asked for ranch dressing. She told him they don’t have ranch. They only have mayonnaise ever since the menu got smaller. The man was chapped when she delivered a handful of mayo packets as consolation.

“Gross,” he spat. “I’m not putting mayo on hashbrowns.”

“Sorry, sir. This is all we got.”

“You need to expand your menu.”

“I apologize, sir.”


Montgomery. It’s evening. Riverwalk Stadium is thumping. Tonight is a big night for the Montgomery Biscuits minor league team. Half the town is here.

The Biscuits are squaring off against the Pensacola Blue Wahoos in the Southern League playoffs. No hand is beerless.

I approach the stadium gates with a blind dog. Marigold the blind coonhound stands beside me, on a leash. Her nose is lightly pressed against my calf as we walk, so she can follow me. I am her Seeing Eye human.

Marigold has been accompanying me everywhere I go lately. She’s still sort of a puppy, and she needs a lot of help.

Her left eye is missing because her last owner took a blunt object to her face. Marigold was garbage to him.

Well, it’s too bad her abuser can’t see her tonight. Because tonight, Marigold is Queen of Montgomery.

Riverwalk Park has made special allowance for Marigold to be here. They’ve pulled out all the stops for her arrival. They rolled out the proverbial red carpet for her. A county judge is

waiting by the gate to welcome her. Jay, the Biscuits’ front office guy is there, too.

“I feel like I know this dog already,” says Jay. “She’s famous.”

So management is making a big fuss over Marigold. People snap her photo. Staff employees treat her like a member of the Royal family. All that’s missing is her tiara.

Park employees are letting Marigold smell them. They speak sweetly to her. Ashley, who oversees retail operations doles out affection by the metric ton. “Who’s a sweet baby?” says Ashley.

It isn’t long before employees are trying to locate official Biscuits paraphernalia for Marigold to wear. In a way, it feels as though Marigold is the unofficial team mascot of the evening.

So we’re having a large night. Riverwalk Park is a loud place. Lots of sounds. Lots of smells. The crowd is screaming. There…

I met an old friend for lunch today at a neighborhood deli. The portions were generous. The food was good. Our sandwich and burger came with complimentary pickles the size of commercial pontoons.

We found a table in the corner. We ate. We laughed. We talked about olden days. About our age.

He is graying, there are lines on his face, and his hair is so thin he now resembles the late great Fred Mertz. It’s too bad everyone can’t avoid aging like me.

And as I sat there, eating my monster-pickle, I thought about how lucky I am to have friends.

When I was a kid, I remember a framed piece of embroidery hanging above the toilet in my aunt Eulah’s guest bathroom. The embroidery read: FRIENDS ARE OUR CHOSEN FAMILY.

I remember being fascinated with this item when I was 10 years old. I remember sitting and looking at it for long moments of powerful reflection. And as I flushed the toilet and zipped up my Husky jeans, I pondered this phrase.

Friends are our chosen family.

What did it mean? Why would my aunt go to the trouble of embroidering and framing these words?

Then again, my aunt always was a strange bird. Her house was littered in porcelain clown figurines, and her couch was covered in plastic. Her guest bathroom smelled like Shalimar bath powder.

Moreover, the whole bathroom was adorned in pink frilly stuff. Pink this. Pink that. Pink bathmat, pink shower curtain, pink decorative soaps shaped like little pieces of fruit. Pink hand towels.

Even the toilet seat had a fluffy pink carpet-cover perched atop the lid. Carpet toilet-seat covers are never a good idea. Especially if your bathroom is visited by 10-year-old boys with bad aim.

Friends are our chosen family.

This phrase mystified me. What is a friend? Why do we have them? Why are they important? Who were my friends? My…

I am in the sticks. Rural west Alabama. A land of hayfields, cattle pastures, automotive graveyards, and shotgun houses with porch sofas.

You haven’t lived until you’ve taken a nap on a porch sofa.

My vehicle rolls along an uneven two-lane, bucking and jumping over each bump. A blind dog named Marigold is in the passenger seat beside me.

I wave at people napping on their porch sofas. Sometimes people wave back. Other times they just watch me go by and scratch themselves in a deeply personal region.

I arrive in the town of Jefferson. Although calling this a “town” is a stretch. It’s just a wide spot on Highway 28.

Jefferson, Alabama, is the epitome of small. The population here isn’t big enough to form a decent baseball team. There is a volunteer fire department. Two churches—one Baptist and the other kind. And the Jefferson Country Store.

The mercantile is slammed today. There are muddy trucks, bicycles and ATVs parked around the clapboard store like cattle at a feed trough.

I open the creaky

door and walk inside. George and Tammy are singing overhead about golden rings. The whole place smells like hickory- and pecan-smoked meat. Marigold is going crazy.

Tony and his wife Betsy, the owners, are slinging food in an open kitchen. It’s lunch rush. It’s a weekend. The place is elbow to elbow.

The Jefferson Country Store has been open since 1957. It used to be the only depot around for fifty thousand miles. It was also the only United States Post Office. Everyone in Jefferson used to visit this place to get their bank statements and Sears, Roebuck & Co. catalogs.

“People still mail letters here,” says Tony. “But we don’t do money orders no more.”

The innards of the store are a throwback to another era. The walls are adorned with antique tin signs. Red Man Chew. Ford Motor Co. Buy Coca-Cola Here. Nothing…

To the dog abuser in rural Mississippi. The hound you left chained behind the tire shop is with us now. Her name is Marigold.

You beat Marigold so hard she went totally blind. She’s not even two years old. And you blinded her.

I can’t imagine what she did to make you so mad. She is a gentle dog. Painfully gentle. Plus, she can’t weigh more than twenty-five pounds.

I can only assume that you were not in your right mind.

The doctor said she suffered blunt trauma to the face and skull. I don’t know how you managed that. But you nearly destroyed her. You must be so proud.

She had one eye removed, one eyelid stitched shut. The other eyeball is just for show. It doesn’t work, the iris is bloodred and vacant. But it’s a beautiful eye.

Because, you see, she is a beautiful girl. She is sweeter than Domino sugar. Happier than Christmas morning. And sunnier than summer in Honolulu.

Currently, she’s relearning how to get around. She bumps into furniture, she walks headfirst into

walls. She uses her nose to lead her. She is sort of figuring out how to be a dog again.

Being blind is brand new for her. And it’s a full-time job. She is constantly working, constantly trying to map out her new world.

Constantly deciphering new smells. Constantly trying to determine whether a nearby sound is friendly or otherwise.

She walks with a careful gait. Often, she high-steps, like she’s walking through quicksand. Other times she tests every step, like she’s on a tightrope.

She is still relearning how to use stairs. She trips over curbs. She falls over thresholds. She needs help finding her food bowl sometimes. She loves toilet water.

I don’t want you feeling sorry for her. I don’t know if you are capable of such feelings. I just want you to know what you did to…