My earliest memory is of a record player. It sat in my mother’s bedroom. Sometimes, she would play records for me.

In one particular memory, she holds me in her arms and we dance to Herb Alpert and the Tijuana Brass. The tune is “Girl from Ipanema.”

Then, she turns off Herb. She puts on another record. It is a childhood favorite. The album is Walt Disney World’s Country Bear Jamboree. The sound of a fiddle fills the room.

Mother and I have a Disney-style hoedown.

I don’t know how I remember this, but I do. Just like I remember Mary Ann Andrews, who once kidnapped my Teddy bear. The bear she stole was the guitarist for the Country Bears Jamboree band, Big Al.

Mary Ann’s family moved to Texas, and she took Big Al with her. I was heartbroken.

My mother wrote Mary’s family a letter, threatening legal action if Big Al was not returned unharmed. In a few weeks, Big Al arrived in our mailbox and my mother agreed not to press charges.

I still have

that stuffed bear today. In fact, he sits above my desk because I was raised on golden-era Disney classics, and I would not want to live in a world without Big Al.

Anyway, my wife and I went to a concert a few nights ago. It was supposed to be fun, but it left me feeling empty. A few guys onstage attempted to see how loud they could crank their amplifiers while having grand mal seizures.

We were with friends who were younger than us. I don’t know how many concerts you’ve seen lately, but young people don’t actually watch live bands anymore. They point cellphone cameras at the stage and look at their phones instead.

Halfway through the concert, I was ready to leave.

I’d rather suffer gout than listen to music that sounds like major road construction.

Don’t get me…

It was a weekend. A lot of people were there. And by “a lot,” I mean folks were standing two or three deep.

It’s one of the most popular sites in D.C. Maybe the hottest spot in the whole town period. The tourist magazines don’t tell you this, but it’s true.

You can keep your trolley tours. Each year, about 5 million people visit 5 Henry Bacon Drive NW to see the Vietnam Veterans Memorial. Otherwise known as The Wall.

They come in throngs. You see all kinds. Average suburban Midwesterners, Northern tourists and people with Florida tags, all doing vicious battle over precious parking spots.

People crawl out of trucks, SUVs, and rust-covered economy cars. Old men in battleship hats. Harley guys with military patches. School buses full of kids.

The first thing you’ll be greeted with are signs telling you to download the Wall tour mobile app. Which you’ll want to do. Because, chances are, if you’re here, you’re looking for a name on this Wall.

Last time I visited was six months ago. I was

in town for work. I toured in relative silence, reading the names of the fallen.

There, I met a guy who was praying at the wall. He was tall. Skin like mocha. Wearing a white clergyman’s collar. He was crossing himself.

Catholic, I was guessing. Maybe Episcopalian?

He was placing little pink flowers against the wall.

“Lot of people forget about the chaplains in the Vietnam War,” he said. “I come here to honor the chaplains. There are 58,000 engraved names on this wall. Sixteen are chaplains.”

He crossed himself then used his phone to locate the next name.

Meir Engel was the name. A Jewish chaplain who died at age 50.

“He must’ve been like a grandpa over there,” said my new friend, searching for the name. “Fifty years old, dealing with teenage soldiers. They were babies.”

The youngest serviceman to…

There is a Superman statue on my desk. I’ve had it for years. It always sits beside my computer, staring at me intently as I write mediocre columns.

The statue is 14 inches tall and expertly painted. Superman’s abs look like a No. 9 washboard. He has arms bigger than my thighs. Supes is striking a mighty-man pose. Fists clenched. Stern expression on his face. Eyes like narrow slits. “I got this,” Superman is saying.

I’ve had this statue since I was 11 years old. I look at it every single day of my life.

At age 11, my father was freshly dead from suicide. I was a wayward kid.

One afternoon, I went to the mall with my mother to buy school clothes. And I really hated buying clothes because I was a fat kid.

For many years I have called my childhood self “chubby” because this sounds so much better than “fat.” But the doctor actually called me fat when I went in for my physical.

The doc said, “For

heavensake, this boy is fat.” Then he paused, and lit another unfiltered Camel.

So anyway, one day my mother and I were going to the Sears to buy specially designed fat-kid pants for an 11-year-old chub. Sears was the only place you could buy such special jeans.

These uniquely tailored trousers were called “Husky” pants. And these pants are responsible for most male psychological problems in this country.

On the way into Sears that day, my mother told me to wait on a bench while she went to get high on scented Yankee candles. And I spotted a comic book store.

I wandered into the store. And that’s where I found this Superman statue. I stood before the figurine, staring at it, caught in a kind of transfixed wonder.

Superman. He was unbreakable. Unstoppable. Unbendable. And all the other un-words you can think of. Everything I wanted to…

“I started choking,” said Jennifer Yakubesan.

It was a typical evening. The family was eating supper before church, somewhere in the wilds of Macomb County, Michigan. It was spaghetti. The flagship food of functional, happy families everywhere.

“I couldn’t get it up…” says Jennifer. “I looked at my husband and my son, and I started to make this kind of patting on my chest.”

Enter Andrew. Thirteen years old. Tall. Baby face. Looks like a nice kid. A Boy Scout.

Jennifer was about to lose consciousness when she felt her son’s arms wrap around her. He wedged his fist below her sternum. He began squeezing.

The Heimlich maneuver is not simple. It requires strength. Place one clenched fist above navel. Grasp fist with other hand. Pull fist backward and upward, sharply. If this doesn’t work, go for chest compressions. If this doesn’t work, slap victim between shoulder blades.

If this doesn’t work, begin praying the Rosary.

The Heimlich didn’t work. So Andrew slapped his mother’s back. It was a hail Mary pass, but it saved her.

“I think someone was with

me there,” said Andrew. “I don’t know if it was God—or something.”

Andrew was given the National Merit Award by the Boy Scouts.

Meantime, approximately six states away, Boy Scout Troop 1299, of Allen, Texas, was on a bus trip to Wyoming. Going to summer camp.

The boys were doing what all boys on buses do. Laughing. Hanging out. Making powerful smells.

They had a few days to kill in Yellowstone National Park. They had seen most of the park except a portion of the northern loop.

Which is where they were when it happened.

“We were on our way to lunch,” says Brian, an adult volunteer. “We were passing by these falls, and we were like, ‘Let’s just stop real quick and let the adults take some pictures,’”

They parked. Deboarded. Everyone’s dad stretched his respective lumbar region.…

“Who is your favorite author?” the TV host asked me on the air.

I just blinked.

“My favorite author?”

Radio silence.

Sometimes, as a writer you will find yourself as a guest on TV shows and radio shows promoting stuff.

You’ll be on a television set that is an exact duplication of a family room. Except, of course, this family room has nuclear studio lights that cause third-degree sunburns and damage to the human cornea.

Beside you is a perky female morning host whose sole job is to promote your book on the air. These hosts, amazingly, manage to promote hundreds of books just like yours without having ever read a single sentence in their lives.

They do this by asking questions which make it sound as though they’ve read your book. But you know better.

Namely, because when they shake your hand they say in a sincere voice, “Thanks for being our show, Randy,” even though your name is, technically, Sean.

A favorite questions TV hosts often ask writers is: “Who’s your favorite author?”

Which is

a solid TV question because, in most cases, your answer will buy the host a full three minutes, which allows them time to check their phone, scroll Instagram, and think up other insightful and intelligent questions such as, “How old are you?”

Usually, I reply that my favorite author is Gary Larson because I am a perpetual 10-year-old boy, and I think Gary Larson is a genius.

My response often causes television personalities and English majors to furrow their brows, because most literary folks can’t place the name Gary Larson.

Gary Larson is the illustrator and creator of “The Far Side” comic strip, once syndicated in 1,900 newspapers in the U.S. He is not often paired with Steinbeck and Hemingway.

Which is why the talkshow host simply smiles at me, then moves on to the next guest who will talk in-depth about stir-fry…

It’s only college football. It’s not real life. It’s just college-age kids on a field, wearing shoulder pads, trying seriously to give each other concussions. It’s just a game.

At least that’s what I keep telling myself.

Because a few days ago, the University of Alabama, one of the winningest teams in football history, lost to LSU. I was watching the game alongside my uncle, Tater.

Tater is a longtime Alabama fan, a retired marine, and a former paper-mill worker. He has a tattoo of coach Paul “Bear” Bryant on his upper thigh, and he wears houndstooth underpants.

It was the only time I’ve seen him cry.

When LSU intercepted the ball, my uncle began to exhibit signs of a nervous breakdown. His vision started to dim and he had trouble breathing. He almost blacked out. We had to revive him with Busch Light and Camels.

I won’t recount the game here because, honestly, who cares? As I say, it’s just a game.

Then again, this is what all the losers say. “It’s just a game.” And I

know this because for years the previous losers have been saying this same phrase to us Alabama fans.

And all these years we smug Alabama fans have responded by patting our unfortunate friends on the shoulders and giving our best patronizing smiles.

“It’s only a game,” we agree in a pious way, although secretly, deep inside, we are singing “We Are the Champions.”

Shameful. I’m asking for forgiveness for our past arrogance, because now I know the biting pain of loss. Now I know what it feels like to watch your team fall on their own spears.

After the shocking upset, my uncle Tater had to be admitted into urgent care with chest pains. He was babbling in strange tongues, carrying on about past Alabama defeats.

“Punt, Bama, Punt,” he mumbled when they rolled his bed into ICU. “Kick Six,” he babbled…

Eclectic, Alabama. Lake Martin. The sun rose over the distant tree line. The sky changed from pink sorbet to the same blue as my aunt’s ‘62 Eldorado, a car roughly the size of a Waffle House.

I heard a common loon. The birdsong bounced off the smooth water, and I was all smiles.

I haven’t heard a loon since I was a boy. It was such a lovely song that it was almost eerie. A lonesome sound. The sound of the lake. The sound of bygone memories. And most importantly, the sound of expensive lakefront real estate.

I’m getting closer to the age my father was when he died. And this feels weird because, in my heart, I’m still a puppy.

I’m not a boy, of course. Not even close. I don’t remember becoming middle-aged. But it happened. There are slight wisps of white in my beard. And when I wake up most mornings I feel like someone has beaten me with a length of rebar.

But deep inside, my childhood isn’t that far away. I

can still remember wearing clothes with my nametag sewn into the collar. I still remember damming creeks and building forts.

Swinging from rope swings. Jumping from branches. Riding bikes down impossible hills and trying seriously to give myself a subdural hematoma.

I remember each dog who slept at my footboard. I remember how my mother made Spaghetti-Os on a stovetop, long before microwave ovens ruined the world.

I remember Swanson TV dinners in tin trays, cooked in range ovens. The mashed potatoes were always partially frozen, and the apple cobbler was boiling magma.

I remember playing in the woods until sundown, listening to loons on the creek. I remember smelling like dirt and sweat and stale Kool-Aid.

We lived outdoors as children. We stayed in the woods until everyone’s mothers emerged from tiny, distant houses and shouted out their nightly songs.

You’d hear Mrs.…