It was a crowded airport. I was between layovers. I sat at the airport bar.

The man beside me was nursing a cold beverage. I ordered a beverage, too, but I realized I had forgotten my wallet. It was in my checked bag. I had been fiscally castrated. I was penniless.

The waitress brought me ice water.

The man beside me was wearing a suit, staring into his beer glass. The conversation went like this:

“What do you do for a living?” he asked.

Ah, yes. The quintessential guy question. It’s never “Where are you from?” or “What’s your sign?” It’s always “What do you do?”

“I am a writer,” I said.

He looked at my ice water and nodded as though this explained everything.

“I’m executive marketing director,” he said.


“Yep. And you wanna hear something?”


“Well,” said the man, thumping his chest. “I’m a dad today.”

“You are?”

He smiled. “Yeah. My wife had a baby girl. I was in Oregon this morning, on a sales conference, when she had our kid. Want to see a picture?”

The man removed his phone and showed

me a picture as I sipped my tepid bathwater. It was a baby all right.

“What’s her name?” I asked.


“Shut up,” said I.

He grinned. “No, I’m serious. My wife loves music. Loves Shania Twain. It was either that or Janice Joplin.”

“Good call.”

On cue, a gaggle of business guys sat at the end of the bar. People-watching never fails to hypnotize me. Watching business people is a particular favorite pastime.

Many businesspersons move through this world like they are very important. They simply exude confidence. In an airport, they move through each terminal wearing the expression of people who have the world by the groin.

Whereas I move through terminals wearing the expression of a guy who has just stepped in a pile of something.

The man wore…

Foley, Alabama. It’s an overcast day at the beach. Lambert’s Cafe is already busy this morning, and they aren’t even open yet.

There is a small line forming outside the front doors. Lambert’s opens at 11 a.m., but We the People are ready at 10:48. We stand outside among a small group of tourists, ready to eat ourselves into type II diabetes.

For the unbaptized, Lambert’s is home of the throwed roll.

The restaurant’s gimmick is simple. Throughout your dining experience, a guy frequently comes out of the kitchen, carrying a cart of hot yeast rolls, and he pitches these rolls to customers.

The guy throws these rolls across the crowded restaurant. And you try to catch the roll. I have never caught a roll. Not in my entire life. But then, in my defense, I have never been a coordinated individual.

So here’s how it happens:

The guy or gal with the rolls roams the room, until he or she makes eye contact with you.

When he or she has established through visual confirmation that you

indeed desire to be the recipient of a projectile individual miniature loaf of bread, he or she throws a roll at you.

Notice I did not say “throws a roll TO you.” They throw it AT you. They aim for your cranial region.

When someone throws something at your face, your natural instinct is to protect yourself. The roll sails across the restaurant like a surface-to-air military offensive, and all you can do is defend your most precious asset.

I have been to Lambert’s hundreds of times because it is my favorite restaurant on planet earth. But I’ve never caught a single roll.

Even so, this restaurant has always been a special place for me. I don’t know why.

I used to come here for my birthdays. Every single one. We would drive all the way to Foley, stand in an impossible line…

I took my dogs for a walk. It was sunny. High 80s. The blossoming trees made Crestwood smell like heaven.

The first person I met was an old man, sitting in his yard. He was beneath a massive oak. He ate from a hospital tray, sipped tea from a straw. He wore a Gilligan hat. His nurse was seated with him.

I was walking past his house and he spoke to me because everyone talks to you when you have dogs. It is a universal truth, unrefuted by science.

At the time I had three dogs on a leash. A blind coonhound (55 pounds), an alleged Labrador (110 pounds), and a bloodhound (60,000 metric tons). My ligaments were being torn asunder.

I waved hello. The old man waved back. His nurse waved. I asked how he was feeling today.

“Don’t ever make the mistake of being 88,” he said.

Then he laughed. “Actually, it’s not so bad,” he added. “If you don’t mind having a titanium hip, bolts in your knees, or being violated

with catheters the size of commercial garden hoses.”

I walked onward.

Next, I met three young men who were playing catch in their front yard. And by “young men” I mean these men were still in diapers. They were maybe 2 years old.

Their mothers were outside with them. The boys were tossing a Wiffle ball back and forth. Although, technically, it wasn’t a proper game of “catch” inasmuch as nobody ever caught the ball.

I waved at them. They all waved back.

“Pet da puppy?!” one boy shouted to me.

I let the kids run their hands along the smooth coat of my blind coonhound. They enjoyed this. But not half as much as me.

After that, I met two older guys, loading a canoe atop their Honda. They had tackle boxes strewn in their driveway. Clearly a fishing trip was on the horizon.


As a boy, my father used to listen to the Grand Ole Opry and drink beer in his garage.

We were Southern Baptists, and Baptists do not drink beer inside, only in the garage. Occasionally they smoke out there, too. But only when your mother is out of town visiting her aunt Cynthia.

Out in that garage I listened to 650 AM, Nashville. I heard Loretta Lynn, George Jones, Sarah Cannon, and all the greats.

If my mother happened to be home, and if she came into the garage unexpectedly, my father would quickly pass me his beer and cigarette and say to my mother, “Look what I caught your son doing.”

Foremostly, I was a kid with musical proclivity. I wouldn’t go so far as to call it “musical talent.” I was, however, allowed to sing and play piano in church.

Namely, because it was only a 27-member church, and the only other in our congregation who was called upon to sing offertory hymns was Mrs. Wannamaker, who my father

said had a voice like a Buick with a bad starter.

When I was 11 my father died, whereupon I began listening to the Opry faithfully. Every Saturday. I suppose I was trying to keep him alive, somehow.

Eventually, I grew up. Eventually, I parted ways with modern country music because I preferred a style of music that didn’t involve thong underwear and three-thousand-dollar boots. I preferred my father’s style of music. Blue collar music. Tunes sung by folks who knew what it meant to work for a living. Just like my old man.

After a long, rocky childhood, and a string of persistent failures, I fell into novel writing when I was in my 30s. I enjoyed it. I was soon raking in hundreds of dollars per year.

Even so, I have been fortunate enough to produce a handful of novels, and I feel grateful for this.


The four of us were at the Chinese restaurant to celebrate the 10th year I’ve been writing a column.

It was a small dinner party. My cousin and his wife. Me and mine.

Our waiter was a cheerful guy who spoke with a heavy foreign accent. He said he was originally from—and this is why I love Asian restaurants—Mexico.

We knew this because he could not pronounce the Chinese dishes, such as zhá jiàng miàn, and zìchuān huǒguō.

He had an even harder time understanding English words. For example, I ordered a sweet tea, but he brought me a Pabst Blue Ribbon.

“This is an affront,” I said to my wife.

“I’m sorry, señor,” said my waiter, “I will take your beer back.”

“No, wait,” I said. “Let’s not react in haste.”

We ate ourselves silly. We celebrated with spring rolls. We ate Krab® rangoon. Egg drop soup. And when it came to the calamari, we were enjoying our appetizer when my cousin informed the table that this might not be actual calamari.

“What do you mean?” we said.

My cousin went on to

tell a story. He knew a guy who used to inspect meat processing plants for a state agency. One day, the man was at a farm and he saw several boxes stacked and labeled “artificial calamari.”

“What is artificial calamari?” he asked the plant manager.

“Hog rectums,” the manager replied.

We all stopped eating mid-bite.

“The industry term is ‘pork bungs,’” my cousin went on.

I ordered another “sweet tea.”

Everyone at the table stared at the plate of puckered calamari on our table. Whereupon my wife brought out her phone and started Googling the validity of the claims about alleged “seafood.”

Come to find out, there is such a thing as my cousin’s unsavory theory. However, it would be illegal in the U.S. to serve pork parts and call them “calamari.” Moreover, the USDA reports…

The following is a true story. It happened in rural Georgia. Last week. The names shall remain anonymous, to protect the guilty.

A little boy walked into the little church, unannounced.

It was a weekday. A country church. Clapboards. Tin roof. Way out in the sticks. The kind of church that—until a few years ago—only had window-unit A/C.

The boy greeted the church secretary. He asked if he could meet with the minister. The secretary was taken aback. It’s not every day a little boy walks into the church office alone.

She asked where the boy’s parents were.

“My mom’s waiting in the car,” he said. “I really need to see the preacher.”

When the young man entered the preacher’s office, the minister was at his desk, working on his sermon.

The preacher is old. He’s been preaching since the Vietnam War was only a rumor. He has seen a lot of things in his day. Including the death of a spouse. And the death of his child. But he’s never seen anything like this boy.

“What can I help you with, son?” said

the old pulpiteer.

“I need your help, preacher.”

“What kind of help?”

“My dog, Macy, she just died. And I want you to do the funeral.”

The old man looked at the boy. The child had clearly been crying. His eyes were pink and red. The old man’s heart went out to the boy.

“When did your dog die, son?”

“Last night. She was a good dog. She was my best friend.”

The preacher didn’t know what to say. So he didn’t.

“I got her from a shelter when I was a baby. And she was always so good to me. She stuck with me when my dad walked out on us. And she always ate whatever I ate, because even though I wasn’t supposed to, I fed her from the table every night.”

The preacher…

I am in the car with Bobby and Andy. Bobby is driving. We’re on our way to Blount County tonight. Three on a String has a gig, and I’m riding shotgun.

We’re crammed in a ‘95 Crown Vic, doing 75 mph on Highway 160 toward Hayden. The car is almost 30 years old, but it still rides like a cloud.

Bobby pats the dashboard.

“They just don’t make’em like this anymore,” he says.

“They sure don’t,” Andy agrees.

You’d like these guys. Bobby and Andy both have white hair, cheerful dispositions, and a lifelong proclivity toward music. They are my father’s age. I’ve always gravitated toward men who remind me of my late father.

Likewise, I’ve always gravitated toward musicians. Because, sadly, I am one.

The life of a musician is hard. The money sucks. The hours suck. And often the audiences are so inebriated you could blindfold them with strips of dental floss.

But if you’re born as a musicman, there is only one vice that will nourish your soul.

Bobby and Andy are band members of Three on

a String, which was recently inducted into the Alabama Music Hall of Fame. These guys’ names are forever engraved alongside the likes of Jimmie Rodgers, Emmylou Harris, Nat Cole, Percy Sledge, and Lionel Richie.

The band has been together for 52 years. And they’re still going strong.

“I think we’ve been together since Nixon was in office,” says Bobby.

The band is in their 70s and 80s. And they have seen everything. Played everywhere. Done it all. They’ve been to every playhouse, operahouse, doghouse, henhouse, and outhouse in the U.S.

But fame has not changed them. They still drive their own beat-up vans. They still erect their own sound system. They still set up their own CD tables.

And when the gigs are finished, when the long nights are over, when the manager pays them, one of the band guys…