I love this time of year. Holidays, food, and college football. The Iron Bowl is upon us. I’m going to a friend’s place for the game. I will be the only University of Alabama fan amidst twenty-nine Auburn University sympathizers in “War Eagle” T-shirts.
I have time to kill. I stop at a small bookstore. The kind with narrow aisles, and off-the-wall books.
I am a book guy. I am crazy about bookstores. I even like the way they smell. I have always wanted to be a maker of books. It was my earliest ambition until I discovered cheese. Then I wanted to dedicate my life to cheese.
When I was a boy, I read the newspaper with my father. He would point to the text and teach me to pronounce the words of columnists.
“What’s a columnist?” I once asked.
“Someone who writes for a paper,” he said.
“Oh, everything and nothing.”
Everything and nothing. Some phrases you don’t forget. This is one such phrase.
The Christmas before he died, my father gave me a gift. It was a hardback book of American newspapermen like Mark Twain, O. Henry, Ambrose Bierce, and Will Rogers. When I asked him what it was about, he said, “Stories about everything and nothing.”
They were glorified columns, and I read the book so often the pages went limp.
A few years after his passing, I wrote my first attempt at a column. I was a teenager. It was ridiculous copy, written longhand on yellow legal paper. It was about nothing, really. It was meant to be a humorous commentary about Thanksgiving spent with unstable family members.
I sent it to a small newspaper via snail mail. Every morning thereafter, I ran to the end of the driveway to be the first to search the pages. The paper actually ran it.
There it was. The second page. It was jammed between a story about the winner of the greased hog chase, and Miss Eleanor’s gossip column.
My five hundred words. And there were misspellings everywhere.
One of the opening sentences read: “Oh, how I kove this time of year…”
Even so, I was in heaven. Since then, I have always koved small-town newspapers.
Anyway, the bookstore. The books on the “humor” shelf are arranged alphabetically. There are all kinds. I am reading from a joke encyclopedia when one book catches my eye. It is written by a familiar name.
I glance both directions for a hidden camera. This has to be a joke. It’s my book, and I don’t know how it got here.
I thumb through it and read a few stories to myself. I read one about my father, one about my uncle offering beer to a cow. I read about my late canine friend, Ellie Mae. And one about my wife.
This has never happened to me. I decide that I must have this book. I take the book to the counter to checkout. I’ve been writing for a while, but I’ve never actually purchased my own hooey before.
The cashier is playing on her phone. She smiles when she sees me. She asks if I have a frequent reader’s card.
“No,” I say.
“Do you wanna donate ten dollars to the Animal Shelter Fund?”
“Do you wanna donate to the Children’s Literacy Project? It’s only four dollars, plus the cost of a book.”
“Do you wanna apply for a Reader’s Club credit card and get ten percent off today’s purchase with no annual fees?”
“Do you wanna fill out this survey for a one-dollar-off coupon for any drink in our coffee shop and three free cubes of sugar?”
“How about signing up for our email list and receiving enough daily junk mail to short-circuit U.S. Congress?”
“No, thank you.”
Next, she rings me up. She rifles through the book while I dig money from my pocket.
She says, “I haven’t seen this book before. I wonder what it’s about?”
Well, maybe I should tell her it’s about a boy who hasn’t done much with his life. An average kid who managed to survive this long and write some things down.
Or I could tell her it is about a boy, trapped in an adult body, who tries too hard sometimes. A kid who is occasionally his own worst enemy. A kid who always wanted to make his father proud, but never got the chance. Who hopes his father knows he turned out okay.
But all I can think to say is: “Oh, it’s a book about everything and nothing.”
“Cool,” she says.
Before I leave, she points to my University of Alabama cap and says, “War Eagle.”
“Roll Tide,” I say.
Then we high-five.
No matter how old I get, I will always kove this time of year.