I am sitting in our empty house. The movers have taken all our belongings and left us with a few chairs and a card table. I am remembering the first time my wife and I sat in this empty den, the day before we moved in.

We were young. Our new house was empty. We had both just gotten off work. She wore her teacher’s clothes. I wore a fast-food uniform. We were sitting cross-legged on the bare floor.

I was eating moo shu pork. She ordered the garlic broccoli, but she was stealing my pork one bite at a time. This was beginning to offend me.

“Can you believe this house is ours?” said my wife, stabbing her chopsticks into my container.

“No,” I said. “I can’t.”

“This is our house. OUR house.”

“It’s a great house.”

Until now we had been living in a 700-square-foot apartment with a window unit AC that only worked during leap years. Our downstairs neighbors’ dogs had given the entire building a flea infestation.

Our new house was remote.

The property wasn’t located on the edge of the world, but you could see it from there.

Thousands of acres of longleafs surrounded us. Cell reception was a myth. Nobody owned GPSs back then. There were no streetlights, no markers on the dirt roads. Even with competent directions, most of our friends got lost looking for our house and ended up sleeping in their cars.

In recent decades, county fugitives have taken their chances in these woods. The escapees never make it against the elements. They always stagger out of the wilderness with copperheads and bobcats attached to their limbs, muttering, “I can’t do this anymore, take me to prison.”

My wife stole five more bites of my moo shu pork when I wasn’t looking.

“You think we’ll grow old in this house?” said my young wife. “You think this will be the place…

There are professional movers in my house. They are carrying my whole life through the front door in the form of furniture and boxes. And the memories are getting so thick you have to swat them like mosquitoes.

“Where’s this go, boss?” one of the movers asks.

He looks about 18 or 19. He is a walking tattoo exhibit. He is rolling a piano across the house. My piano.

You don’t know how special this instrument is to me. My mother bought me this upright when I was a young man. She had no money, she lived in a trailer, and yet she dug deep to buy me a Yamaha U1 because her baby boy wanted to be a pianist.

The first song I played on this piano was “Danny Boy,” in honor of my late father.

Over the years, I have played “Danny Boy” in beer joints, mildewed taverns, inside foggy VFW bars, and at Catholic funerals.

I have been playing piano in earnest since my 9th birthday. I’ve played at

civic meetings, school plays, Rotary Club fundraisers, hotel lobbies, tiki bars, and honky tonks.

Playing piano is also how I met my wife—sorta. I got a job working as a part-time pianist for our Baptist church.

Each Wednesday, this Baptist young woman would sit on the front row near the Mason & Hamlin to watch me accompany choir practice. She asked me to play a tune for her one evening after practice was over. I played “Danny Boy.”

My attention is diverted from the piano when I see another mover carrying a large cardboard box containing office supplies.

Inside this box is my Letera 32 manual typewriter. Sea foam green. The typewriter of my childhood, my adolescence, and my adult years.

Back in the days before computers were mainstream, there were only two things a writer was required to own. A copy of “The Elements of Style” by…

Get a map. Put your finger in the smack-dab center of Alabama. That’s Chilton County. Land of dreams, beauty queens, peaches that will ruin your shirt, and Stokes Chevrolet, Buick, & GMC.

I’m in the county seat today, the town of Clanton. I am giving a speech at an event the governor has attended, and I’m trying my level best not to sound like an idiot.

Everyone knows where Clanton is, of course, because there is a ginormous 500,000-gallon pedesphere water tower off I-65 shaped like an R-rated nectarine. You’ve probably purchased peaches near this tower. Everyone has.

Right now, I’m down the road from the tower, at Jefferson-State Community College, telling stories to educators and literacy advocates, causing my audience to nod off. Which isn’t difficult to do, inasmuch as most educators are sleep deprived. Although I might have set a new indoor speed record.

Meanwhile, the entire time I’m speaking, I am marveling at how I’m actually here in Clanton, of all places. I never thought I’d have a

reason visit this little town again.

The first time I came to Clanton, I was a 16-year-old. I came with my friends to attend the annual Peach Festival, which is a big deal here. People in this town take peaches more seriously than, say, the threat of nuclear war.

My friends, however, were less interested in the festival and more fascinated with the beauty contest.

In this part of the world, Clanton’s pageant is legendary. The pageant dates back to 1947 when the Junior Chamber got together and decided to hold the first Chilton County Peach Queen beauty contest over in Thorsby.

Back then, the pageant was just a rural contest. The rules were simple and loose: Each contestant had to be (1) between ages 15 and 25, (2) unmarried, (3) the daughter of an actual peach farmer, and (4) have most of her original teeth.

The first winner…

In a few days we will be moving 260 miles north to Birmingham, Alabama. So I got my last Florida haircut.

I’m picky about who cuts my hair. There is nothing as traumatic as a bad haircut, and I’ve had some doozies.

As a kid my mother believed in saving money so she cut my hair at home using Briggs & Stratton clippers that predated the Second World War. She had two basic hairstyles in her repertoire. The “Marine,” and the “Uncle Fester.”

My yearbook pictures are unbearable to look at.

When I got older, I let my red hair grow longer since my hair had natural wave. At the time, I believed I looked debonair, but years later I realized that I looked more like Danny Partridge.

And there was the time before college graduation when I wanted to get my shabby hair cleaned up before the ceremony. So I went to a hairstylist that was recommended to me by a friend. The stylist’s name was—I’ll never forget this—Trixie.

Trixie’s one-woman salon was

in the back bedroom of a dilapidated doublewide trailer parked by the interstate cutoff. There was mildew on her ceiling, cigarette butts in old coffee mugs, and Trixie had a deep affection for gin.

When my haircut was finished, she spun me around to face the mirror and I looked like Billy Ray Cyrus after a very long night. The woman had given me a world-class mullet. I was horrified.

The next evening, at graduation, I accepted my college diploma before 900 people while sporting an Achy Breaky Big Mistakey. That year, my graduating classmates voted me most likely to own a Pontiac Firebird.

I bring all this up to say that when you find a good hairstylist/barber/beautician, you must hold onto this person with both claws because they are a precious gem.

My longtime hairstylist used to be a lady named Blanca. Blanca was from…

The two girls knocked on my door. They wore Kelly green berets and green vests. I greeted them.

The two Girl Scouts went through their spiel. “We’re selling cookies, sir,” they began.

“Do you have any identification?” said I.

They exchanged looks. “Wait, what?”

“Well,” I said amiably, “how do I know you’re really Girl Scouts? A little proof would be nice. Dangerous world out there.”

I have a deep appreciation for Girl Scouts, and each year I buy a LOT of Thin Mints, which has made me quasi-famous in local Girl Scout circles. Last year, for example, my salesgirl won a pink Cadillac.

So the tallest girl gave me her name, rank, and serial number. “And this is my new American flag badge,” she added. “We had to iron it on because my mom can’t sew.”

“How about you?” I said to the girl with pigtails. “Got any ID?”

Pigtails had no ID, but she did proudly display her proficiency badges, her Junior Leadership pin, her Junior Aide Award, her Daisy Safety Award pin, and her

Purple Heart.

Then Pigtails described in painstaking detail how she earned her Junior First Aid badge, a process wherein she not only learned how to care for injured persons, but she rode shotgun in an ambulance, toured an emergency room, and extinguished a three-story residential fire single handedly.

I pointed to another badge. “And what’s that badge for?”

“Oh, this one?” she said. “This is the Junior Inside Government badge.”

The Junior Inside Government merit badge requires Girl Scouts to explore the ethics of American government. To do this, girls are given faux countries and charged with the task of making up fun, nonsensical, whacky laws for their countries, sort of like Congress.

I asked what kinds of laws they came up with for their faux countries.

“Um,” said one girl. “Well, my country was called the United States of Amandica. I had…

San Francisco, 1988. The Golden Gate Bridge. It was the middle of the night, a fog swept in from the north and made everything look like a Bogart movie.

Rick was going to jump. He was really going to do it this time. He’d left a note to his wife which read: “...I wish I’d been stronger.”

He stepped toward the ledge and gazed downward. He began to weep. His tears fell several hundred feet into the San Francisco Bay like morbid raindrops.

“If you don’t want me to do this, God,” he shouted to the sky, “then stop me!”

But God, apparently, was taking the Fifth.

The first thing you should know about the Golden Gate Bridge is that it’s not just a bridge. It is an architectural masterstroke.

When the bridge was completed in 1937 it was the longest suspension bridge in the world. There was a weeklong party to christen it. Al Jolson sang a few tunes, the sky was lit with fireworks, and 200,000 walked

across the bridge in one day. The party got so wild that, 85 years later, people still have hangovers.

America went bananas for the Golden Gate. They’re still wild about it. The bridge is the most photographed structure in the world, surpassing the Great Wall of China, the Sphinx, and Dollywood.

Clocking in at 1.7 miles long, 90 feet wide, and 220 feet above the water, with 80,000 miles of wire passing over the vertical towers, the bridge is nothing short of a human monument.

I have walked the Golden Gate. You get vertigo up there. Big time. The first thing you realize when you’re on the bridge is that the thing never quits rocking. Over 100,000 cars cross the Golden Gate each day thereby turning the bridge into a giant vomit-inducing Disneyland ride.

The bridge is also the number one suicide site in the world. There is no way to…

We watched the closing ceremony of the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympic Games on a tiny, portable TV about the size of a postcard. We are currently in the process of moving, so our regular television has already been packaged in bubble wrap.

Thus it was, my wife and I sat in an empty living room, on a pile of cardboard boxes, eating reheated chicken pot pies, squinting at a tiny screen.

There has been a lot of controversy surrounding the Olympics. The Beijing Games have been termed the weirdest, most contentious, most disappointing sporting event of the modern era, with the lowest TV viewership to boot.

Fifteen-year-old Kamila Valieva was suspended for alleged drug usage, Mikaela Shiffrin left without a medal, American athlete Vincent Zhou was quarantined. And there was an empty medal stand where team figure skaters were supposed to be standing until a doping scandal got in the way.

Although frankly, I haven’t had time for the Olympics this year, inasmuch as our entire lives are contained in U-Haul boxes right now.

We are

moving to Birmingham next week, and we have approximately 3,201 carboard crates in our house. Even our silverware and toiletries are contained in unmarked parcel. This morning, for example, I was was in the restroom when I realized we were out of toilet paper.

“We’re out of toilet paper!” I shouted.

“I already packed it!” my wife said.

Then she slid a Scotch-Brite dish sponge beneath the restroom door.

Most of the boxes in our house are marked with my name because stuffwise, I definitely have more junk than my wife.

There are boxes labeled: SEAN’S MISCELLANEOUS, SEAN’S STUFF, SEAN’S CRAPOLA, SEAN’S BAGPIPES, SEAN’S ROTISSERIE, etc. There is even a refrigerator carton in our kitchen merely labeled SEAN. This is the cardboard box my wife will bury me in.

“I married a packrat!” my wife has shouted many times throughout the packing process.