But a man likes to dicker. He will saunter around the item, frown at it, eyeball it, and ask questions...

It was several years ago. I was driving toward Geneva, Alabama, for two reasons. One: A funeral for my friend’s father. Two: I was going to buy a fishing boat.

You might as well kill two birds with one stone, that’s what I always say.

I arrived at the church, dressed in my decent clothes. I don’t have “nice” clothes per se. Everything I own is either halfway decent or reprehensible. The reprehensible stuff can be identified by the wrinkles, the paint blobs on the sleeves, and the coffee stains.

No man purposely stains his shirts with coffee. But when he has facial hair like me, the hair absorbs thirty percent of each coffee swig. Thusly, when the cup is removed from the mouth, the coffee drips onto the man’s chest, making him appear either senile or drunk. Sometimes both.

And ironing? I have not ironed a shirt since Theodore Roosevelt was elected.

So my clothes are not my best feature, which has been a problem in the past. I once got fired from

a church for having a wrinkled shirt. This is totally true, and it’s still hard to talk about.

I was working part-time, playing church piano. One Sunday morning, I was playing “Old Rugged Cross.” I was wearing wrinkled khakis, a moderately crumpled shirt, and sandals.

I loved sandals because at the time I worked in construction. We wore boots all day long and my feet were always cramped. As soon as I would get home, I couldn’t wait to wear sandals and let the old dogs breathe. Sandals are like a Biloxi vacation for feet.

The pastor was horrified. I received my walking papers not long thereafter. Don’t misunderstand me, I do try to dress nice, I’m just saying that I know there’s room for improvement. Also, I try to bathe regularly.

When I arrived at the chapel where the funeral was held, I told my…

Another exercise was the “Question Jar.”

Before we got married, my wife and I had to take a mandatory church marriage class. The Baptist church would not marry anyone without it.

The idea was: After eight weeks of rigorous marriage training, couples would receive an official certificate, trimmed in gold, with their names on it. And this certificate would prove to the world, without a doubt, that couples were spiritually prepared to stand at an altar and combine health insurance policies.

Keep in mind, this certificate wasn’t a marriage license. This was a “Baptist pre-marriage class certificate,” from the back of the “official Baptist marriage workbook,” purchased for $24.99.

Within the Baptist tradition, you see, you can’t do anything without first obtaining a certificate and unanimous committee approval. Even Sunday greeters are required to attend a four-week class that teaches them to properly say: “Here’s your bulletin, possible wayward reprobate sinner, sir.”

Thus, my future-wife and I arrived at the fellowship hall each week to participate in courses that prepared us for cohabitation.

These courses featured many important

games which the workbook termed “marital building exercises.” Many of which were developed by professional marriage book authors—some of whom had been married to the same person for as long as three to four years.

One such exercise was the Egg Test.

In this game, the future-bride (Jamie) balances an egg on a spoon clenched between her teeth. She wears a blindfold and walks across a room.

The future-husband (me) stands on the opposite side of the room (over by the piano). He uses ONLY his words to guide his future-wife through an obstacle course made up entirely of folding chairs which represent the confusing Maze of Life.

On the chairs are Post-It notes, labeled with various day-to-day marriage problems like: “car trouble,” “bills,” “career,” “children,” “chapter 11 bankruptcy,” “sharing the covers.”

In this exercise, the woman stumbles over chairs, spoon held in her mouth. She is thus…

I am in Alabama, covering Hank Williams’s 96th birthday in his home state. My first stop is a nursing home. I have an interview with a man named Earl.

Earl is not an authority on Hank’s music or anything. He’s just a fan.

He sits in his wheelchair beside the window, listening to music at such a high volume that the windows are cracking.

He is slouched. A stroke has impaired his speech and his thinking.

“Grandad used to be sharp,” his granddaughter says. “He used to have these great expressions, sometimes I kick myself for not writing them all down before his stroke.

“One thing I do remember he used to say: ‘Life don’t always work out the way you want, but it always works out.’”

Mister Earl listens to music coming from a smart TV. The song is Hank Williams’s “Lovesick Blues.” He bobs his head. You can see the toe of his Velcro shoe moving. The song makes him come alive somehow.

“I-I-I used to p-p-play this song!” he shouts. “Turn it up!”

“Up?” his granddaughter

says. “It can’t go any higher.”

This makes Earl swear like a commercial trucker. He weaves together a quilt-work of cuss words so elaborate that it ought to be on display in the Smithsonian.

I don’t get far with Earl, so we part ways. Soon I’m on my way to the next interview.

Hank Williams is on my truck stereo. The tune is “Dear John.” This music reminds me of my redheaded father. I don’t know why, and I guess it doesn’t matter.

Once you lose someone, off-the-wall things can remind you of them. A bird. A flower. A pocket knife. I remember listening to Hank Williams with my father when I was a boy. In some ways, he and Hank were similar. My father was skinny like him, and a singer. And both men died too young.

My next interview…