“This is the hottest I’ve ever seen Alabama,” said the TV meteorologist, who was sweating so badly his white shirt looked like a Ziplock bag. “I’ve never seen temperatures this high.”

If you haven’t heard, a dangerous Alabama heatwave is currently affecting the Southeast. The National Weather Service just reported that the heat index is likely to reach 117 degrees before the end of this column. Maybe even higher. It’s so hot, the Jehovah’s Witnesses in my neighborhood have started telemarketing.

“By the Fourth of July,” the National Weather Service reported, “the ‘feels-like’ temperature is going to reach, approximately, Satan.”

I am originally from the Florida Panhandle. Growing up, we had summers that were so hot that whenever dogs chased cats, they both walked. But this is a new level of heat. This is existential heat.

A few days ago—this is true—I was walking into Publix to buy groceries. As I was staggering through the parking lot, I noticed a Nissan Altima with cookies baking on the hood. Chocolate chip.

I saw the

owner stepping into her car, wrestling with her seatbelt, which was so scaldingly hot it qualified as a branding iron.

“Are those really cookies baking on your hood?” I asked.

“They're gluten free,” she said. “My 9-year-old daughter is allergic to gluten.”

I met another woman in the supermarket who is originally from Cullman, Alabama. “This is nothing,” she said. “One time, my neighbors put up a privacy fence made out of PVC, the thing melted. Now it looks like he has a privacy wall of Play-Doh.”

The heat is no joking matter. Today, the temperature gauge on my dashboard read 116 degrees.

“You kind of get used to the heat,” said longtime Alabama resident Randy Marks. “I’ve been living in Birmingham since I was a baby. I remember one time my mom bought a dozen eggs, and when she got home, there were 12 baby chicks…

They took the old lady to a Red Sox game. She was able to walk on her own, mostly, but only with support. They got her through the gates. Through the metal detectors. She was sickly, but they made it work.

They placed her into the seat. They were seated in the nosebleeds because that’s where her mother wanted to be. That’s sort of where she grew up.

The old woman remembered seeing games from long ago, seated in this very section. At the iconic American field, on Jersey Street, located near Kenmore Square. Here, she saw Ted Williams hit. She saw Johnny Pesky, Earl Johnson, Billy Goodman, Tom Sturdivant, Pumpsie Green. All the greats.

Fenway is America’s oldest Major League stadium. Since 1912, this ballpark has been the home of the Olde Towne Team.

The old woman remembers coming here when she was a girl. With her father. Back then, the place smelled heavily of parched peanuts and cigar smoke.

Fenway Park. With all its quirks. There’s the

Big Green Monster. A 37-foot green wall, originally erected in 1914 to keep cheapskates from watching the game.

There is the solitary red seat (Section 42, Row 37, Seat 21), where Ted Williams once hit a 502-foot home run on June 9, 1946. Still the longest home run in Fenway Park history.

There is the Fisk Foul Pole, named after Carlton Fisk. In Game 6 of the 1975 World Series, Fisk hit a game-winning home run that stayed fair and ricocheted off the pole. Sox lost the series to Cincinnati.

There’s Duffy’s Cliff. Named for left fielder Duffy Lewis. The “cliff” was a 10-foot inclined slope in located in left field until 1933. Duffy Lewis would run up the hill and catch fly balls like he was in his own backyard.

Fenway Park is also—according to ardent Red Sox fans—the birthplace of the wave. It all started in the early 1900s,…

“Dear Sean,” the letter began, “I am worried about your soul because the Bible is clear that if you don’t answer the call of salvation, you won’t be in heaven with the rest of us…”

Hoo boy, here we go.

“...I don’t care how nice of a guy you might pretend to be on social media, Satan is after you, and if you don’t know Jesus Christ, you will suffer in a place where flame never dies…

“Love, Mary Townsend,”
Topeka, Kansas.

Hi Mary. If you have a minute, I’ll tell you a story.

I am going to call her Peggy, but that’s not her name. Peggy was raped when she was 14. She got pregnant by her attacker. Nine months later, boom, she had a kid.

Funny thing is, nobody in her family believed her when she told them what happened. Her family was very, VERY religious. They blamed Peggy for being a, quote, “loose woman.”

The irony is, Peggy wasn’t loose. Peggy had never cut her hair because of her denominational rules. She’d never

worn anything but long skirts, never kissed a boy, never held hands. Never done anything other than Scripture drills and VBS. And here she was, in ninth grade, with a baby.

Then, her parents kicked her out of the house. And her “fellowship was withdrawn” by her local church.

Whatever that means.

Why? Because she was living in sin, of course. That’s what everyone said. Her mother and father told her, verbatim, that she was going to “burn in hell.”

Peggy was now a homeless mother. She tried to stay with an aunt, but the aunt could not allow “bad morals” into her home. She tried to stay with friends from church, but nobody would have her home.

For Peggy was a harlot.

So Peggy took the money she had in savings ($73.29) and bought a bus ticket. She traveled to a big…

You don’t see many prestigious journalism prizes awarded for in-depth investigations about mayonnaise, but that’s what I got.

Well, sort of. Ever since I wrote a column about mayonnaise, my mailbox has been brimming with product samples from various mayonnaise companies. Which is almost the same thing as a Pulitzer.

Big-mayonnaise has been sending me parcels of congealed egg-yolks by the boxful. The neighbors are starting to think I’m involved in a highly secretive mayonnaise ring.

It all started a week ago when a few of my family members and I conducted a highly officialized mayonnaise taste test, wherein we sampled multiple brands. Then I wrote a column about it.

Initially, I got a lot of feedback from readers regarding our research, primarily from readers who didn’t agree with the low scores we gave to their favorite brands. I inadvertently discovered, through these emails, that Americans are extremely loyal to their mayo.

Letters such as this one from an elderly reader in West Virginia named Emma Royd: “Hey, you lowdown eggsucking son of a butcher, why

don’t you shove that Miracle Whip jar up your earhole?”

And that was one of the friendlier emails.

I was also informed that I upset many people because I didn’t include their cherished mayonnaise brands in my column. Others accused me of rigging the contest. One man from Philadelphia (named Jacques Strap) suggested that I had been accepting indecent favors from the Duke’s corporation in exchange for writing a pro-Duke’s column.

Some people, it turns out, were DEEPLY offended because their favorite mayonnaise wasn’t listed. These people—you can just tell—lead very rich, gratifying lives.

The truth is, I tasted 73 brands of mayonnaise, but I couldn’t list them all in the column unless I were to quit my job and devote all my time to eating jars of cholesterol.

The most labor-intensive part of the whole taste-test ordeal was visiting all the grocery stores…

Today is National Columnists’ Day. Someone just told me. It’s a holiday for honoring those depraved, half-crazed individuals who crank out 500 to 800 words each day beneath rigorous deadlines and still manage to remain, technically, married.

I remember when I unofficially became a columnist. Sort of.

I was a boy. I was in my room, pouting.

My room looked like any little boy’s room. It was messy. It smelled funky. There were underpants scattered on my floor. There were Hardy Boys books, aquariums featuring dead goldfish, and half-eaten peanut butter sandwiches that predated the Carter administration.

I was having a particularly bad day. Namely, because my friends were playing outside and they had not invited me to join them. I could see my pals from by bedroom window. They were having fun, but they didn’t want me around.

When a kid’s father dies in the shameful way mine did, that child is not exactly the hippest kid in the county. I was forgotten. And it hurt.

There was a knock on my door.

It was my mother.

“What’re you doing in here all alone?” she said.


She glanced out the window. “You’re pouting.”

“No I’m not.”

“Then go outside and play with your friends.”

“They’re not my friends anymore.”

My mother was carrying something behind her. She placed a gift-wrapped box onto my bed. It was the size of a small suitcase, and heavier than a sack of Quickrete, wrapped in Christmas paper, although it was July.

“What’s this?” I said.

“Open it,” she said.

“I don’t feel like presents.”

Her face tightened. “Well, maybe when you’re done wallowing in self pity, you will.”

Then she left.

Mama always had a way of putting things.

I tore open the packaging. Inside was a vinyl case containing a manual typewriter. Sea-foam green. The spacebar was a little crooked, the S and D keys were faded, the ribbon was new.

He’s in the hotel lobby. He is old. He is wearing Coke bottle glasses and hearing aids. He wears a University of Georgia ball cap. But hey, nobody’s perfect.

He is eating hotel “scrambled” eggs, which taste like a four-letter word. This particular hotel chain also serves pork sausage. But it is neither pork, nor sausage. The hotel employee tells us these are turkey wieners.

Those poor turkeys.

The old man is easy to talk to. His name is Norman. He is 100 years old. Although you’d never guess his age. His mind is as sharp as a Barlow knife. His eyes move quickly. I notice a tattoo on his forearm. It’s an Army tattoo he says.

“I was in the War,” he says. “World War II,” he adds.

The man was a doughboy. Infantry. One of the tough guys. He endured the worst of the worst. They marched through a soggy European hell. Through miles of mud. Sometimes his feet would get so waterlogged, when he would remove his boots, pieces of his feet would fall


Still, he insists he didn’t have it as bad as some. “We had it easy. There were some guys who didn’t come back. Plus, it wasn’t all misery.”

I ask him to elaborate.

“Well,” Norman says. “It was Europe. We met lots of Italian girls.” He raises his eyebrows in a way that indicates he may be old, but he ain’t dead.

He takes a sip of bathwater coffee and gazes into the distance. Maybe he’s thinking about dead men. Maybe he’s thinking about old friends. He tells me times have changed. Not many people in today’s culture talk—or even think about the War Against Hitler.

“Used to,” he says, “All you had to do was mention the War, and everyone knew exactly what you were talking about. They lived through it. We all lived through it. There’d be a handful of…

The mountains of North Carolina. Mitchell County. I am in a country church. This is a homegoing service. These are mountain people.

It’s a simple chapel, founded the same year Granny was born, back in 1912. Woodrow Wilson was in office. The hit song was “Alexander’s Ragtime Band.”

We are in an all-wooden room. The floors. The pews. The altar. The pulpit. Wood, wood, wood. Even the priest is made of wood.

Wait, no. I’m mistaken. The priest is just being reverent right now. Namely, because this is a funeral.

There is an urn placed on the altar. Some members of the congregation are weeping. My friend Amy is seated in a pew, dabbing her eyes. Her sister, Tammie, is closing hers. My wife, Jamie, is in the rear pew, lightly sobbing.

Heads are bowed. Noses sniffing. My friend Joel is wearing a sport coat, delivering a eulogy at the pulpit. And in a few moments, I will play a funeral song on my banjo.

I am a musician. I am not proud

of this per se, but we are who we are. And when you’re born as a music maker, you will play lots of funerals.

I have played the funerals of my late friends, and my friends’ late parents. The funerals of my grandparents. Aunts and uncles. Old friends. And young ones. I played at my own father’s funeral.

When I was high-school age, I was often asked to sing for funerals. People tried to pay me for this service, but my mother always made me give the money back and tell the grieving family: “It was my privilege to be here.”

And I’ve always believed in my mother’s lessons. Don’t mistake me, I am not a model Baptist boy. I freely admit, I am a backslidden man. I drink cheap beer, I sleep in on Sundays, I like the smell of cigar smoke, and when I mash…