I’m warning you beforehand, what I’m about to say is going to seem utterly ridiculous.

Here goes:

My mother once told me that I could conquer the world if I ate a decent breakfast. The whole world. All because of breakfast.

See? I tried to warn you.

Anyway, to this very day I’m still not sure how this meal can make conquering the world possible, but my mother never lies.

I remember the day she told me, I was having a devastating morning. I was about to take an entrance exam into the sixth grade. And this was a big deal because earlier that year, I’d failed fifth-grade—which drained my confidence.

But back to breakfast.

Mama made the greasiest meal. Three eggs, cooked in fat from a Maxwell House can, bacon, potatoes, grits, and toast hearty enough to sand the hull of a battleship.

I passed my test. I made it to the next grade. And eventually, my confidence began to improve. Thusly—and I’ve always wanted to use that word—I can only assume that breakfast played an important role.

Since then, I’ve always

believed in the first daily meal. I ate a good breakfast the day I got married. A big one. That day, the waitress kept bringing me plates of pancakes.

“You must be starving, honey,” she said.

I smiled. “Thusly,” said I.

But I was only nervous-eating. Truth told, they weren’t even good pancakes—the blueberries tasted like freeze-dried goat pellets.

I also ate a big breakfast the day I got fired. My boss called me into his office and chewed me a new nose-hole. He said things so hateful I can still remember them. I quietly walked out of his office before he finished speaking.

I went to eat breakfast. I read the paper, I watched the sunrise. I had one of the best mornings I’ve had in years.

So I don’t know why I’m telling you this.…

The letter came via snail mail. It was postmarked Richmond, Virginia. It was penned in a childish hand.

“My teacher reads your stories to our class sometimes and I wanted to know, can you write about me? If it’s not too much trouble for you to do?

“I am 8 years old. I don’t really have anything cool about me. I have red hair. But you can probably come up with something cool. My dad died this year the same way yours did, so my teacher said you are the same as me. It’s okay if you can’t write back.”

To the little boy in Richmond: Red is the most prestigious hair color in the world. That is not an opinion.

Fifty years ago, experts estimated that redheads made up approximately 8 percent of the earth’s population. But the percentage of redheads sharply decreases each year.

This year, the percentage is at an all-time low. About 1 percent of the world’s population have red hair. Ours is the rarest hair color in the solar

system. So welcome to the club, friend.

Our red hair is caused by a gene called the MC1R gene. Genes are microscopic very scientific things in the human body. They float around in your bloodstream, wearing little lab coats and carrying around tiny clipboards and pocket protectors.

A gene is something your parents carry around with them, all the time. Sort of like auto insurance, only more dependable.

So if both your parents had the MC1R gene, this means that you have a 25 percent chance of being born with red hair.

Congratulations, your parents both had the MC1R gene. You’re a ginger. May God have mercy on your soul.

I got my red hair, personally, from my dad. My dad had the MC1R gene. He was a redhead. He came from a long line of redheads. Although when he got older, his hair became more…


How do you go about writing one of your stories? What is your process like?



There are many people who can tell you more about the writing process than I can. But I’ll tell you how I do it.

The first thing to know is that writing requires brain power. And studies tell us that the human body gets its strongest surge at 5 A.M. This surge typically lasts until 5:03 A.M. Unfortunately, I am asleep during the surge and I am wholly unaware of it.

So I generally wake up exhausted at about 7:30 A.M. Then, I complain about how badly I slept the night before. When you get older, you don’t sleep as good as you used to.

My mother used to warn me about this. I would laugh at her and say “Ha ha! No way, I’ll sleep great forever! And I will always be able to eat acidic foods after six o’clock, too!”


You quit sleeping well around your thirties. And food? Once upon a

time, I could eat an extra-large five-alarm beef burrito and finish the day like a caffeinated squirrel. Nowadays, if I eat one French fry I have to take a four-hour nap.

So anyway, after morning coffee, I wait for my mood to improve. I am not a morning person and never have been. My happy mood in the morning is always fake.

This is because when I was a boy I used to wake up with a bad attitude. My father took me aside once and said, “You'd better learn how to fake a good mood, or your mother’s not gonna make pancakes anymore.”

I’ve been faking good moods ever since.

When my caffeine takes effect, I go to my office. In my office, I have just about everything a writer needs to have around him. I have things like toddler toys, Superman…

I saw him across the crowded restaurant with his elderly parents. They didn’t look like they’d aged a bit. But he did. His face was lean, his skin was wrinkled, he was gaunt. And he still had his trademark sense of humor.

I told him I hardly recognized him.

“Yeah,” he said, “it’s this new diet I’m on, it’s called being sick, the weight just falls off.”

This is not his best joke, I’m not sure whether I should laugh.

Then he gave me the real story. It’s a long one, I don’t have room to tell it all. He became very ill with an autoimmune disease. Doctors said he was dying. His parents were braced for the worst. His mother and father became his caregivers.

His parents tell me that for two years, they did a lot of talking to the sky, asking for help.

Doctors still can’t explain how he was cured. Maybe it was the treatment. Maybe it was something else. They aren’t sure. All anyone knows is that one day he woke up better.

No traces of illness are left.

“Now all I have to do is gain weight,” he tells me.

I have another friend I wanted to tell you about. I grew up with him. We once went to Mardi Gras together when we were young men—which is another long story that I don’t have time for. Let’s just say that I almost ended up as a permanent smear on a New Orleans sidewalk.

A few years ago my friend had the worst year of his life. His marriage sort of fell apart. His wife left him and took their son with her. Next he lost his business, then his money. He became suicidal.

One night, while asleep on his brother’s sofa-sleeper he had decided that he was going to end it all on the following day. He had even worked out how he…

It was a classified ad in one of those nickel newspapers. It read:

"Gray Ford. Half-ton. Stick-shift. Some rust. Needs TLC. Sneads, Florida. $800."

My pal called about it. He needed a truck in a bad way. His old one had gone to be with Jesus, his wife was pregnant, and he'd just lost his job.

And in the days before texting, the only way to do business was to use the interstate.

Before we left, he went to the bank. He liquidated his account into a wallet full of eight hundred dollars.

I gave him a ride. We stopped at a gas station outside Cottondale. He filled my tank, then paid inside. He bought two sticks of beef jerky, two scratch-off lottos.


After a two-hour ride we hit a dirt road leading to a farmhouse that sat on several acres of green. Out front: an old man, smoking. He was bony, friendly, tall.

The truck was ugly, painted primer gray to hide rust. The bumpers were missing, the interior smelled like oyster stew.

“Runs good,”

the man said.

“I'll take it,” my buddy answered.

He reached for his wallet. And that's when it happened.

His pocket was empty.

My friend went ape. He retraced his steps. We tore apart my truck interior, dug through seats, and cussed. When he finally gave up, he sat cross-legged on the ground. He cried until his face looked raw. It was a lot of money to lose.

The elderly man sat beside him. He wrapped his arms around him. It had been a long time since a grown man had done that sort of thing to my pal. My friend was a fatherless orphan, like me.

When things calmed down, the old man's eyes were red and puffy. He wiped his face and said, "C'mon, son, nothin's THAT bad. Cheer up."

My pal didn't answer.

The elderly man removed keys from his…

The old timers in my childhood often used a word I never understood. The word was “Providence.” My people could not articulate the meaning of this particular word because it had more than two syllables.

Also, it really is a difficult word to define. Even now, when researching this column I couldn’t find a concrete definition of Providence. One dictionary said one thing, another website called the word “archaic.” Today the term is so outdated that if you’re a younger person reading this I’ve probably already lost you.

So I’ll explain its meaning by telling you how the word was invoked by the rural people of my youth.

Okay. Let’s say there was no rain, the world was crackling and dry, and no farmers were making money from crops. It wasn’t “bad luck.” It was all part of heavenly Providence.

And when the rain finally began to fall; also Providence.

When two people fell in love? Providence.

If someone got cancer and died, people prayed for the family to receive solace in Providence.

Job promotion? Providence.


$20 in your coat pocket? Major Providence.

My people, you see, did not believe in good luck, coincidences, or even flashy miracles. It was all Providence.

To them life was a trapeze act. Mankind was always swinging recklessly from trapezes, back and forth. Sometimes man fell, sometimes he didn’t. Either way, there was a divine reason for everything, good and bad. You weren’t supposed to know the reason. That’s Providence.

Thus we did not believe in accidents, happenstances, mistakes, flub-ups, or oversights. Neither did you merely “bump into a neighbor” at the supermarket. It was all meant to be. Mapped out ahead of time. Heaven was not an indifferent observer, but an active participant in your life. Providence.

The reason I bring this up is because I received a letter from a young woman who I will call Rebecca. She is undergoing surgery…

I was at a wedding last week. There was a small reception with cocktail weenies, cheese plates, and an ice sculpture.

Instead of a DJ, there was a band from a local high school. They had long hair and various chains on their body parts. Their music was a cross between 80s progressive punk, and a nitroglycerine truck colliding against a 747 taxiing on the tarmac.

In the middle of the evening came my favorite portion of any wedding reception: when the tipsy brother-of-the-bride gains control of the microphone.

Others took the stage after him and began sharing memories, offering toasts. One gentleman picked up the mic and delivered a memory about being a college roommate of the groom. Four hours later, he finally got around to his toast.

Next, a young woman took the stage and read a speech that was written on a stack of notes the size of a term paper.

Then, the father of the bride told a story about when the bride was a girl. It

was a sweet memory. He talked especially about a beloved member of the family, a deceased redbone coonhound named “Turkey.”

The man talked about this dog as though it were a blood relative, he covered the highpoints of their lives with the dog.

He talked about all the times that Turkey begged at the table, or when Turkey learned how to “load up” in the truck, leaping into the passenger seat. The times spent walking through the woods with Turkey beside them. And the day Turkey died.

I listened, but I wasn’t thinking about Turkey. I was remembering a black-and-tan bloodhound I once loved.

Her name was Ellie Mae. She had a black face with two tan eyebrows that moved with her every expression. Ellie rode shotgun in my truck each day of her life.

When I went to the store, she went to the store. When I went…