“Yeah,” he says. “It’s just like when they did away with full-service gas stations, remember those?”

I’m standing in a Walmart self-checkout line behind four elderly men. They are wearing polo shirts, tucked into khakis. If I had to guess, I’d say they’re on vacation.

They are pushing a cart full of food, toiletries, and beer. The checkout line is long.

One man says, “I don’t know why they have these god-forsaken self-checkout lanes. I don’t wanna check my ownself out.”

One of my favorite old-man words happens to be “ownself.” It’s even better in its plural form, “ownselfs.”

“Yeah,” adds another man. “It’s just like when they did away with full-service gas stations, remember those?”

“Back when you could get your windshield cleaned, tank filled, a Ko-Kola, and didn’t even have to get outta your car.”

“You know, I reckon if someone tried to wash a fella’s windshield today, the driver would be so shocked he’d think he was getting mugged.”

“Hey, I got mugged once. In Chicago. I thought it was a joke at first.”

“Did he beat you up?”

“Wasn’t a he. It was a woman.”

“A woman mugged you? Did she want your wallet?”

“She certainly didn’t want my body.”

“I’ve never been mugged.”

“Me neither. Ain’t never even been to Chicago.”

“Heard they have a bad smell downtown.”

“Ain’t that bad. Just watch out for the lady muggers.”

“How does this self-checkout thingy work? Are we supposed to just scan things our ownselfs?”

“Here, let me do it, Don, I self-checkout stuff all the time back home.”

“I don’t understand, why we can’t just have a cashier, what was wrong with cashiers?”

“The world’s changing.”

“It sure is. Just yesterday, my grandson asked me to watch a movie on his iPad, he kept pausing it every two seconds to answer texts. He can’t focus for more than a minute.”

“I don’t text.”

“Me either.”

“Yeah, I…

While I write this, Thel is running on the beach toward a magnificent sunset. Occasionally, she walks to the edge of the surf, but she’s too afraid to get in.

I’m watching my dog run on the beach. She’s running alongside the waves. She stops every few moments to stare.

She’s not too sure about waves.

Last week, it was Father’s Day, and I’m a father—well, almost. I have a bloodhound named Thelma Lou. That’s almost like being a father. The only difference, of course, is that human babies don’t chew your wallet then poop inside your boot.

You read that right. My dog didn’t poop ON my boot—as in the exterior. She did her business INSIDE my boot. The basic physics behind this acrobatic marvel are astounding. I only wish I could’ve captured it on video, it would’ve been worth millions.

So poop in a boot, that makes me a father. At least this is what I’m going with.

People without kids, like me, still have the same amount of love parents have. That love has to go somewhere. That’s where dogs come in.

My first dog was a border collie. My father bought it. We named

it Pooch. Pooch was bred to herd sheep, but since there were no sheep around, he herded redheads.

When my mother yelled my name, Pooch would dart off the porch like a bullet. He’d circle me, yelping, nipping. When he died, I thought a piece of me died.

My next dog was Goldie. A retriever. Long, pretty hair, happy face. I raised her from a pup.

Goldie was Hell on Wheels. She lived beside me. She slept while I did homework, she chased baseballs. In the woods, when I was busy with little-boy things, like catching frogs, or swinging on limbs, she watched over me.

Cody was next. She was my father’s dog. She was a chocolate Lab who loved my father. I can close my eyes and see him strolling from the barn to the shed, Cody trailing two feet behind him.…

“We’re so excited for you,” she said, holding a copy of my book.

WASHINGTON, D.C.—I am in town for the American Library Association’s annual conference. Imagine: fifty gazillion librarians, mostly women, wearing tennis shoes, pearls, and smiles.

Did I say fifty gazillion? Let’s make it five hundred gazillion.

I met an old woman from Kansas. She is a librarian in a small town of two hundred. I met a librarian from Martha’s Vineyard, one from Key West, a few from Salt Lake City, Sacramento, Lexington, Las Vegas, Sheboygan.

I met a guy from Morgantown, West Virginia, the hometown of Don Knotts. I met a woman from Andy Griffith’s hometown, in Mount Airy, North Carolina.

It was a busy day. I shook hands, hugged necks, and in a few cases, kissed librarians from every state in the U.S., including Alaska, and Hawaii.

Also, some from Shanghai, Puerto Rico, Iran, Montpellier, Moscow, Greenland, Sydney, South Africa, and one from Auburn University.

I have history with librarians. I was a seventh-grader when I dropped out of school, after my father’s suicide. My family’s life went down the

toilet.

At some point during my youth, I started visiting the library. And I visited a lot.

The library was a dilapidated building. It smelled like mildew and old paper. It had floor heaters, mouse traps in the corners, and a bathroom not quite big enough to hold a representative of the Lollipop Guild.

The librarian was a slight, elderly woman who wore tennis shoes and pearls. She would often find me wandering the aisles and ask what book I was looking for.

She knew who I was. And she knew about my educational failures.

“I don’t know which book I want,” I would often reply.

One day, she handed me the book Lonesome Dove.

“Do you like cowboys?” she asked.

I shrugged.

“You’ll like this,” she went on. “I’d bet money on it.”

I took…

I’m watching my wife cook. She’s frying okra in an iron skillet. A dog lies in my lap. The television is playing. My life ain’t bad.

Except.

Three’s Company is on. I don’t care for Three’s Company.

“Turn it up,” my wife says.

She likes this show. I don’t know what she sees in it. I’ve never cared for the trials and tribulations of Jack Tripper. I’m an Andy-Griffith man, myself.

John Ritter is no Andy Taylor.

Anyway, cooking. This is what my wife does. It’s how she’s put together. If you’ve never met her, there are only two things you should know about her:

1. She talks with a loud voice.

2. Don’t ever touch her plate.

On our honeymoon, we went to a greasy burger joint in Charleston, South Carolina. It was the kind of place with a jukebox, and burgers so thick they cause cardiologists to recite the Twenty-Third Psalm.

I made a serious attempt to steal an onion ring from my wife’s basket. It was the first and only

time I ever attempted such an act. And even though it happened long ago, I never regained mobility in my left hand.

Food, you see, is important to her. It’s what she does.

I’m not saying she’s a hobbyist. I’m saying that when we first met, she’d already completed culinary school with flying colors and worked in a kitchen. She doled out orders, stocked inventory, and balanced budgets.

A “chef de cuisine” is what they’re called. She knew all there was to know about beurre blancs, chèvre cheese, semi-rigid emulsions, and beef bourguignon.

When we were dating, she cooked supper a lot. On one such occasion, she asked what I wanted for supper.

I really wanted to impress her with worldly culinary wisdom. I felt it important to appear to be a man of sophistication when…

The Half Naked Plastic Bodies are on every magazine rack, clothing store ad, every newsfeed, inbox, junk mail, and even on beer commercials.

I am waiting for my wife to get ready. We are going out to dinner. She is in the bathroom. I see her in front of a mirror, pinching her belly. She asks if I think she is fat.

“No,” I say.

“Are you sure?”

“Yes.”

“Well, I feel fat.”

“You aren’t.”

“How about now?”

“Still no.”

“What about from this angle?”

“Negative.”

“From this side?”

“Nope.”

“What about when I turn around?”

“No.”

“How about when I hike up one leg, spin in circles, and recite the Pledge of Allegiance?”

“No.”

“Do you REALLY mean it?”

“If you were any skinnier you’d have to stand up five times just to make a shadow. Now can we please go to dinner?”

“But I feel fat.”

My whole life has been spent in the company of women. When my father died, he left me in a house of estrogen. There, I learned something about the opposite gender.

Namely, women often think they are fat. And they are always wrong about this, no matter what their size.

It isn’t their

fault. Every printed advertisement and commercial tells them to feel this way. But it wasn’t always like this.

Things were different seventy-five years ago. Back then, nobody went around saying Marilyn Monroe looked like a North Atlantic whale, or told Doris Day she needed to go paleo.

People weren’t this obsessed with being skinny. Consequently, American families ate more bacon, and butter. And you know what they say: “The family that eats bacon and butter together, stays together.”

But things have changed. Famous women from bygone eras would be called “large” or “fluffy” in today’s world.

Marilyn Monroe, for instance, would be considered a Clydesdale. Barbara Eden, a Holstein. Ginger and Mary Ann wouldn’t have a chance with their muffin-tops. Daisy Duke would be playing the part of Boss Hogg.

Last…

Air travel is not my favorite thing. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not my most hated thing. My most hated thing is slow internet. But air travel is up there.

I am not afraid to fly, it’s waiting in lines I don’t like. And that’s what air travel is, waiting in lines.

The airline even recommends that you arrive two hours in advance so you can already be in line when they delay your flight due to “maintenance issues.”

Also, I’m not crazy about passengers who snore. I just finished a flight where the man next to me admitted beforehand that he snored.

“I’m just gonna give you fair warning,” he said. “I snore really, loud.”

What was I supposed to say to that? Mazel tov? Should I have thanked him?

Then again, I have no room to judge those who snore. My wife says I snore badly. Last year for my birthday, she bought me an anti-snoring device. I believe they call it a taser.

The man beside me snored hard. So I wore headphones to listen to music. But there was a problem. Apparently, my cell phone had only one song stored on it, which was Hank Snow’s “I’m Movin’ On.”

I like Hank Snow as much as the next guy, but after four replays of this country hit, I realized that my life was falling apart.

Thus, I had two options: I could either turn off Hank Snow and listen to the hyperventilating grizzly bear beside me. Or, I could listen to Hank Snow until I cracked and did something that would cause the air marshall to subdue me.

So I replayed Hank.

When we reached Atlanta, I had to go to the bathroom. I only had fifteen minutes to catch my connecting flight, and there was a long line for the restroom.

“Why’re we waiting…

But I was reared on homegrown tomatoes. And there will be tomatoes at my funeral. I’m serious. Funeral guests will be encouraged to place tomato products into my casket.

I found a brown paper bag full of tomatoes on my doorstep, along with homemade tomato chutney. I don’t know where the stuff came from, but the tomatoes were homegrown.

If there is a pleasure more marvelous than homegrown tomatoes, it’s probably illegal. And I don’t want to know about it since I come from Baptists who don’t do illegal things because it could lead to secular music.

But I was reared on homegrown tomatoes. And there will be tomatoes at my funeral. I’m serious. Funeral guests will be encouraged to place tomato products into my casket.

Any tomato product will do, as long as it’s not tomato aspic. I would rather have a colonoscopy in a third-world country than eat tomato aspic.

When I was a kid, there was a woman in our church named Lida Ann who always made tomato aspic. She peppered her aspic with mature green olives, capers, and little gray canned shrimp. She placed her dish on the buffet table and it looked like a giant, R-rated donut.

My mother would force me to eat it because, “Lida Ann is a sweet old woman, and she went to all that trouble.”

“I don’t care if she’s Twenty-Mule-Team Borax,” I would say, “I don’t wanna eat it.”

Then my mother would pinch me until I cried. So I would shuffle toward the potluck line, use a butter knife, and smear the tomato-flavored hell onto a cracker.

Miss Lida Ann would kiss my cheek and say, “Why don’t you take the rest home, since you’re the only one eating it.”

Miss Lida Ann would wrap it in aluminum foil and send it with me. And for the rest of the week, my mother would leave it on the counter. The stuff was so bad that all the flies pitched in to get the screen door fixed.

My mother was…

The house was in a nice part of town. The rumors floating around the room were all about the famous interior designer who had decorated the home...

A cocktail party. A nice house. There were a lot of young people in fancy clothes, drinking fancy drinks, using fancy words like “sazerac.”

My wife was buying a drink when she whispered to me, “Look honey, they have sazeracs.”

“How about that?” I said. “My mother had those once, but she had surgery to remove them.”

My buddy, Phillip, and his wife were with us. Phillip’s wife let me have a sip of her sazerac and I almost gagged because it tasted like Windex.

“You know what?” said my wife. “I wish we woulda gone to Red Lobster, I feel old around these people.”

“Me too,” said Phil’s wife, Miranda.

“Let’s leave,” Phil suggested. “Besides, it looks like all these people do for fun is count carbs.”

“We can’t just leave,” said Miranda. “They’ve already seen us, they KNOW we’re here.”

So we were stuck.

The house was in a nice part of town. The rumors going around the room were all about the famous interior designer who had decorated

the home—whose name I can’t use. The designer is from L.A., and flew in just to “stage” this house for the party.

Each room had impressive furniture, and impressive photographs on the walls. The photographs featured the young couple, posing before exotic scenery, wearing skimpy bathing suits.

“Looks like they’ve been to Rome,” I said.

“And the Bahamas,” said Miranda.

“And this girl definitely ain’t a Freewill Baptist,” said Phillip, who was raised as a Freewill Baptist against his will.

My wife sipped her glass and made a sour face. “I think there’s something wrong with my sazerac. It tastes like Pledge furniture polish.”

“At least yours tastes like Pledge,” said Miranda. “Mine tastes like Four-Oh-Nine Degreaser.”

But Phillip and I were not interested in sazeracs, we found a place in the courtyard where we held Michelob Ultras…

MEMPHIS—About a year ago, we went to visit Elvis. My wife and I showed up on Elvis’ property around lunchtime and bought passes for the Graceland Mansion Tour. And I’ll admit, we were both excited to see the Hall of the Great King.

Elvis, you see, was a household name in my childhood home.

My father was an Elvis fan, my mother was a fan, and I had a cat named “King.” We had decorative Elvis ceramic plates hanging in our kitchen. My father knew all the words to “The American Trilogy” from the “Aloha from Hawaii Via Satellite” album.

I myself once dressed up like the King for Halloween.

Though, my costume left something to be desired. My mother believed in saving money and making costumes from household items.

Thus, I wore my mother’s satin bathrobe with sequins sewn on it, and she had rubbed black shoe polish in my hair. Her original idea had been to send me trick-or-treating with a guitar, but we

had no guitar. So my father gave me a garden rake instead.

When I knocked on my first door, I played a C chord on my rake, then twirled the belt of my mother’s robe.

Our neighbor, Mister Jimmy, almost swallowed his tobacco.

So for the Graceland tour, we joined a clot of people who were buzzing with our same enthusiasm. We were all poised and ready for the touching, profound, and purely American, once-in-a-lifetime experience—a self-guided iPad tour narrated by former Full House supporting actor, John Stamos.

We toured the first floor of the ten thousand square foot home of Elvis Aaron Presley, listening to our headphones. And this house had it all.

The Trophy Building—a room filled with gold records.

The Racquetball Building—a full bar with a racquetball court attached.

The Pool Room—a full bar with a pool table attached.…

It is always good to chase a healthy salad with something like cheesecake.

A meat-and-three restaurant. I am sitting in a booth, eating fried catfish. George Strait is on the radio overhead, singing about Amarillo.

There is a man pushing a wheelchair into the restaurant. There is a boy in the chair. Thirteen, maybe fourteen.

The kid does not quit moving his body. He rocks back and forth.

The man parks the boy’s chair at a table. He opens a menu for the boy. The child grins so big he almost cracks a tooth.

“I WANT SALAD, DAD!” the boy says.

“Salad?” his father answers. “Don’t you want chicken, or steak?”

“SALAD, SALAD, SALAD!”

“You’ll get it all over yourself.”

“SALAD, SALAD!”

The waitress arrives and the man tells her he will have one fried catfish platter, and one Cobb salad.

“SALAD!” the boy says again.

Father and son have a conversation. The father speaks with an indoor voice, but the boy speaks loud enough to blow out the windows.

“I’M GETTING SALAD, DAD!”

“I know.”

“SALAD!”

His father shushes

him, then asks, “How was therapy today?”

“IT WAS GREAT, DAD! I’M GETTING SALAD!”

“What kinda things did you work on today?”

“WE WORKED ON MUSCULAR FLEXIBILITY!”

“That’s great, how did you do?”

“I GOT THE GOLD STAR, DAD!”

“Another gold star? Let me see it.”

The boy works very hard to show the star to his father, but he has a difficult time moving his hands. Finally, the boy manages to touch his collar and display the bright sticker.

“SEE?” says the boy. “PRETTY GREAT, HUH?”

“It sure is,” says his father.

Their food arrives, and all of a sudden I realize I have been too busy watching to even eat my catfish. And I love catfish.

The boy is barely able to eat, it is exhausting to watch him struggle. But this…