There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.

He sits on the steps of the Shell Station. A backpack beside him. His skin is rawhide. His beard is white.

His name is Buck. He’s from North Carolina. He fought in Korea, and completed two tours in Vietnam.

He’s not here begging, he’s resting his feet.

“My old feet hurt more’n they used to,” says Buck. “It’s hard getting old, buddy.”

There is a half-smoked cigar next to him. He dug it from an ashtray. It still has life in it, he says.

He’s sipping coffee.

“First cup’a Joe I had in a week,” he tells me. “Fella gave me a quarter, few minutes ago. Piled my coins together to buy me a cup.”

A quarter.

When Buck went inside to buy it, there were only cold dregs left. He asked the cashier if it were possible to brew a fresh pot. She told him to get lost.

So, he’s drinking dregs—for which he is grateful.

There are holes in his shoes. He found these sneakers in a sporting-good-store dumpster. Buck estimates he’s put nearly eight hundred miles on them.

His bloody toes poke through the fronts.

His middle toenail is missing.

Buck explains, “God says, ‘Don't worry what you’ll eat drink or wear.’ That's hard sometimes. Specially when you ain’t eaten.”

I walk inside the gas station on a mission. I ask the aforementioned cashier to brew a fresh pot of coffee—for me. I am very nice about it.

She smiles and says, “Sure, sweetie.”

Ain't she sweet.

I buy a hot cup, an armful of snacks, and a pack of Swisher Unsweetened Mini-Cigars. I give them to Buck, and I tuck a bill into his hand. I wish I had something bigger, but I don't.

Buck starts crying.

And the truth is, I’m embarrassed to even be telling you this. Because this story isn’t about me—it’s about Buck.

“Did you know that I see God in…

He bows his head. Twelve men bow, too. I bow. And he says nothing. Not even a word. The music in the restaurant is still playing overhead. Don Williams is singing about Amanda. People are eating. Clinking plates.

The men’s breakfast. I am here with twelve unsupervised elderly men. Baptist men who all tuck their shirts into pressed slacks.

Baptist men always wear tucked-in shirts with pressed slacks. Even when they go swimming.

I give Baptists a hard time because I descend from them. But they are magnificent people, with kind hearts, tender spirits, and they know all the words to the fourth verse of “Amazing Grace.”

I’m here today because Larry invited me.

“This is Sean,” Larry announces to the group.

Many of these men are hard of hearing. One man calls me “Shane” when he shakes my hand—which is a common mistake. Another man calls me “John”—also a common mistake. And one man with two hearing aids pumps my hand and says, “Thanks for coming today, Dominick.”

A waitress takes our orders. One man orders fruit and oatmeal. Another orders pancakes. The man next to me, Ron, orders a double meat breakfast with extra bacon and cheese grits.

“My wife has me on a diet,” Ron

explains.

I order eggs over medium, toast, and coffee.

When food arrives, no man touches his plate. Larry, rises to his feet and asks for prayer requests.

One man asks for prayer regarding kidney stones.

Men offer their condolences.

Another man asks, “Would y’all remember my son, today? He’s gonna be starting a new job, he deserves to be happy. We love him so much.”

And one old man removes his ball cap. The man has a gentle smile. He glances at his lap and says, “Please pray for my dog, he’s finally old enough for us to tell him he’s adopted.”

A mushroom cloud of laughs.

You have to love Baptists.

Another man speaks up: “I don’t have anything to pray for. I’m just filled to the brim with thanks.”

“Me too.”

“Here,…

I’m thinking about things. I’m thinking about life itself. How precious it is. How brief. Unpredictable. How good.

Walmart. The cereal aisle. I’m browsing a wall of colorful boxes.

I’m interrupted by the voice of a child. A kid is riding on the front of a buggy like Captain Ahab. His mother is driving. His father is following.

The kid is making airplane noises.

The child is small. His joints are bony. His skin is pale. He is bald. There is a half-moon-shaped scar on his scalp. Another scar travels down the back of his neck.

He jumps off the cart. His tennis shoes hit the floor hard.

“Can I buy EVERY kinda cereal?" he asks.

“You’re not going to feel like cereal after surgery,” his father says.

“Let’s wait until surgery’s over,” adds his mother. “Once you’re better, then you can have as many boxes as you want.”

The boy is younger than young. Barely out of toddlerhood. He looks sick. He stares at them and says:

“What if I’m dead after surgery?”

His remark is as sincere as April rain. And it brings hot water to my eyes.

His mother and father scoop him into their arms. I have to leave the aisle.

All of a sudden, I

am in the produce section. I see a Mexican family. They are standing in a huddle, speaking rapid-fire.

The youngest girl—ten years old maybe—is teaching two adult women to speak English.

The girl holds an onion toward them.

“UN-yun,” she says.

They adults say, “OWN-YOAN.”

“UNNN-yunnnn.”

“OWN-EEE-OWN.”

The girl laughs. The women laugh and say, “Que difícil es inglés.”

I'm still thinking about the kid.

The checkout line is long. There are only two cashiers open.

As it happens, I am a few shopping buggies behind the boy with the scar.

And the people of Walmart become invisible. So do the boy’s parents, the cashier, and the folks in line. I can’t see any.

I only see him.

The boy and I make eye-contact for a brief moment.…

Once, in a beer joint outside Mobile, Alabama, I was watching the 2013 Iron Bowl. The Tigers whooped the Righteous Tide during the remaining thirty-two seconds of the game.

Fairhope, Alabama—I am with a thousand Episcopalians in the woods at Camp Beckwith. For the entire weekend, I have been wishing someone would eventually say to me:

“The Lord be with you.”

Then, I would answer with a quick: “And also with you.”

Because I’ve always wanted to say this. This is what Piskies say to each other, before they give each other a secret handshake and discuss world domination.

But alas, nobody has said this to me since I’ve been here. And don’t it turn my brown eyes blue.

Anyway, this morning is warm. Beckwith sits on Weeks Bay, surrounded by longleaf pines, magnolias, and mosquitoes who commit immoral acts upon your skin. It’s perfect.

I am here for a weekend of festivities. I am staying in a cabin next door to a bishop.

I had to call my mother to tell her this.

“Oh my word!” said Mama. “A REAL bishop?!”

I come from deepwater Baptists. The only bishops we have ever seen are the sort on chess boards.

At last year’s camp excursion, for instance, I slept in this same cabin, next to this same bishop. I told a friend back home about it. Word spread around town.

After church one Sunday, an elderly man shook my hand and said, “So, tell me what it was like sleeping next to the Pope.”

“He’s not the Pope,” I said.

“Did he have a bulletproof limousine?”

“No, he was a bishop, and he’s just a regular guy.”

“How about a pointy hat? Did he have one of those?”

Maybe.

Anyway, daybreak is approaching. The sun peeks above the tree line. And all at once, the camp is alive.

Laughter. That’s the main event here. At least that’s what one woman tells me. She’s from Magnolia Springs. She is walking to the mess hall for breakfast with…

Right now, I’m writing from a hotel room. I’ve had a busy day. I’ve driven far. I've talked with people.

Colatta is her name. She and I are in the elevator together. She is pushing a large cart of cleaning supplies and mini shampoos.

Colatta is short, cheery. She’s wearing scrubs. She is pure Alabama. She has an accent that won’t quit, and wears a War Eagle headband.

“Went to Auburn,” she says. “Wanted to be a vet, but didn’t even come close to finishing ‘cause I had my son.

"Man, I thought my life was over, it was just beginning.”

Her boyfriend didn’t stick around during pregnancy. She was forced to work. Her job was in a hotel laundromat. She was promoted to a maid last year.

“Have a good day,” she says to me, rolling her cart down a corridor.

“You, too,” I say.

“Me?” She laughs. “Already HAVING me a good day. I’m so blessed it ain’t funny.”

Colatta. I love that name.

Later that day, I drive two hours east. I stop at a cafe inside a gas station. It’s a hole-in-the-wall.

After eating, I pay at the register. The cashier is older, very skinny. She places a handheld vibrating box to

her throat to speak. Her voice is robotic.

She hands me a receipt. Then, she presses the device to her neck again and says: “Have a good day. Enjoy this nice weather.”

There is a gnarled scar beneath her jaw.

And she's wishing ME a nice day.

7:09 P.M.—I’ve driven all day. I’m eating in a locals-only beer joint. People in this room are looking at me funny. I’m an out-of-towner and they smell it.

There’s an old man with a service dog—a brown Lab named Hershey.

The man wears a ball cap with a battleship on it. He shows me a tattoo on his forearm which reads: “Albert, Daniel, Adam.”

“My three brothers,” he says. “Killed in Europe. I was too young for the Big War, they sent me to Korea.”

That’s all…

This is Mosley High School. I have friends who graduated from Mosley. I am wearing a sport coat. My hair is combed. I have a breath mint in my mouth.

Lynn Haven, Florida—I’m about as close to home as I can get. Right now, I’m about to walk onto a stage and tell stories to a small auditorium.

This is Mosley High School. I have friends who graduated from Mosley. I am wearing a sport coat. My hair is combed. I have a breath mint in my mouth.

The reason I am here tonight is because…

Well, I don’t truly know why. I guess I’m here because there’s no place like home.

This town is practically in my backyard. Long ago, we used to come to Panama City to do grocery shopping, or for summer jobs. And, when I was a young man, any buck who was worth his salt would take his date to Panama City for dinner and a movie.

I live in the adjacent county, Walton County. And—it’s important that you know this—I live in a trailer. Just like my mother does. Just like a lot of people in our part of the world do.

The reason I tell you that is because I owe it to you to tell you that we are simple people who sometimes eat pimento cheese sandwiches for supper. And we are happy in our simple worlds—where front lawns don’t get mowed regularly.

This is home. I still fish the nearby Choctawhatchee Bay of my youth. My fishing hole in Hogtown Bayou, where the ashes of two good dogs are scattered.

A man backstage is tapping his watch and telling me it’s almost time to go on stage. I am nervous because I know many people in the audience.

The bluegrass band is playing before I go on. I peek through the curtains and see friends, family, and even an old boss who once fired me.

Earlier tonight, I met an old friend. I knew her long ago. We weren’t close, but we…

I could tell love stories all day.

I got a note from my friend in the mail. He just got married. It was a private ceremony, he didn’t invite anyone.

He enclosed a handwritten poem:

“Thought I’d be single until I rot,
But someone thought I was hot,
Look at me, I just tied the knot.”

Cute.

My friend is a bona fide poet. He went to school for such things. He was an eccentric free spirit who lived alone in a poet’s ratty apartment—which smelled like a wet bird dog.

He stayed up too late, writing poet’s poems. He ate ice cream for breakfast. Cereal for supper.

He had big plans for his life.

Then she happened. He met her at his nephew’s soccer game. She had three kids.

Our middle-aged, fun-loving, bird-dog smelling bachelor became a family man with three kids, a minivan, and a backyard that won’t mow itself.

Yes. I like love.

I know another woman who found love. Her husband divorced her at age seventy-three. She was a wreck. She didn’t think she would survive.

She stayed indoors for a few years, and hardly ever saw

the sun.

Then, something happened. She began to make friends. She went to the beach some. She stayed up late, she went on dates.

Then, he happened. She met a retired boat captain—he steered barges on American river routes.

She married him. He asked what she wanted for a wedding gift. She wanted to see the world. He booked a one-year trip to Europe the very next month.

I could tell love stories all day.

Like the one about Stephanie and her husband—now there’s a story. They were told they couldn’t have kids. It devastated them.

A few years later, her best friends passed away unexpectedly. Her friends were in their thirties, with a two-year-old son.

Stephanie adopted the orphan and welcomed the child into a pink-walled nursery she’d already given up on.

Then,…

Memorize jokes. Lots of them. Jokes for children. For church people. And keep plenty of jokes in your back pocket for old men. You come from a long line of joke tellers.

DEAR SON I NEVER HAD:

You’re going to think this is dumb, but my advice to you is:

Eat sunflower seeds.

You come from a long line of sunflower-seed spitters. And this is an ancient rural skill you must learn early in life, or you will be hopeless.

Crack open the tiny husks using your teeth, work out the seeds using your tongue, then spit the empty shells. It sounds easy, but it takes years of practice. Get started early.

Learn this one skill, and your whole life will work itself out on its own.

Also: I pray you grow up to be ordinary. I can’t think of any better gift than being ordinary.

A lot of people are scared of being average, but don’t be afraid. Average things are great. Take your old man, for instance. I had a 2.3 grade point average—which is actually BELOW average.

Listen, I’m not saying I don’t want you to be unique. Certainly. You ARE unique—but so is everyone else. And since EVERYONE is unique, this makes “uniqueness” pretty ordinary.

Ordinariness makes you human.

It means that you are fully one of us. Meaning: soon, you will give half of everything you own to the IRS.

Eat fiber. Seriously. Society would be better off if we all ate more fiber. If you look at television celebrities, news anchors, politicians, and daytime talk-show hosts, the message is clear. They need Metamucil.

Don’t worry about money. Not ever. Not even when you are broke. To help prepare you for adulthood, I’ve devised a financial training method for coping with how fast money can disappear once you’re an adult. Thus, on your eighteenth birthday follow these steps:

1. Place all your dollars into a shoebox.

2. Close the shoebox.

3. Pour gasoline on the shoebox and light it on fire.

See? No more money. Welcome to adulthood, kid.

The thing is, when you’re an adult, you’ll…

The band played. She swayed to the music and sang aloud. Eyes closed. It made me smile to see a woman her age so in love with music.

The first time I met Miss Joanne was in Panama City, Florida. I can’t remember how long ago it was. But I had younger skin back then, I remember that much.

She was dancing, I also remember that.

She was an old woman. Big grin on her face. Her dance was a cross between the Mashed Potato and a U.S. Army infantry march. It was precious.

About me: I have been playing music for money since I was a teenager. I wasn’t particularly good. But I was a local, and those were all the qualifications a boy needed. I played restaurants, pool halls, beer joints, churches, and on one occasion, a car dealership.

In my daytime hours, I would work labor jobs—laying tile, hanging sheetrock, installing bathrooms. But during evenings, I would travel wherever music called.

And one night, somewhere in my twenties, I was playing in Panama City. It was late. Elderly Miss Joanne was there. She approached the stage. She handed me a cocktail napkin

with handwriting on it:

It read: “Will you play ‘You Are My Sunshine?’”

The band played. She swayed to the music and sang aloud. Eyes closed. It made me smile to see a woman her age so in love with music.

On our break, she hugged my neck. She bought me a beer and sat beside me. We talked. Then, she asked me if I wanted to dance.

“Me?” I said.

“Yes, you,” she said. “I may be old, but I can dance like a teenager.”

We never danced, because I don’t dance. But I wish I would have now.

Throughout the years, I saw her a lot. She wore a sparkling clothes she’d decorated herself—adorned in sequins. She had a shock of white hair and wrinkled skin. And she always carried one cigarette in a miniature sleeve, hanging by a string around…

Butt-smelling is a simple ritual, full of nuance, and intrigue. Imagine: fifty-eight dogs gathering around one tail. Which sets off a chain reaction of sniffing within the pack.

Taking your dogs to a dog park can be fun if your dogs are clinically deranged like mine.

We have a nice dog park near our house. And after a day spent in this nicely maintained park, my dogs are kinder, happier citizens, and less likely to destroy my baseball cap.

The exact moment we enter the park, the party begins. My dogs transform into wild creatures who are so excited they forget about normal things like: behaving, using good manners, and not peeing in communal water bowls.

The park is a beautiful spot surrounded by a big wood fence and pine trees. It is the official “hangout” for local dog people. But my favorite thing about this place is watching the dog world in action.

There are natural laws in the dog kingdom that dogs somehow know to follow.

For example: when I open the gate and present my dogs to the the other dogs, they smell each other.

Biology tells us

that this is an ancient custom dating back to the primal civilizations of miniature lap dogs who once coexisted peacefully with Early Man and always chewed on Early Man’s baseball caps.

Among dogs, butt-smelling is a simple ritual, full of nuance, and intrigue. Imagine: fifty-eight dogs gathering around one tail. Which sets off a chain reaction of sniffing within the pack.

Dogs begin shoving their noses into the private regions of everything located within a ten-foot radius—including oak trees, certain species of ferns, and old men on park benches.

Once this is finished, new arrivals are then issued W9’s and expected to become tax-paying members of dog society.

My two dogs have a unique set of skills which they offer the rest of the dog world.

Thelma Lou (bloodhound) specializes in smells. She is highly skilled when it comes to aromas. She takes every single smell with…