I saw your show in Talladega last week and I really wanted to go up after and say hello to you to get one of those free hugs you were giving out to everyone in line, but I was so scared and nervous because I don’t feel good about myself right now. I am very shy. I have always felt like you get me. I wish I would have hugged you now.
I was really looking forward to doing that show in Talladega. I know that sounds like an odd thing to say. Because Talladega isn’t exactly Disneyland, but it was to some of us growing up.
When I was a boy, I would have MUCH rather gone to Talladega and seen Dale Earnhardt Senior drive his Chevrolet Monte Carlo than take ride in a Magic Kingdom teacup.
Once when I was a kid we camped at the NASCAR Superspeedway, and it was life changing. Consequently, I’ve also shaken hands with Donald Duck. I could take him or leave him.
But never in my wildest dreams would I imagine that someone would actually ASK ME to come to Talladega, of their own volition, to perform. The first thing I did after getting the call was to figure out precisely how to use the word volition in a sentence.
I am not the kind of guy who draws crowds. I am not a confident guy. I am the sort of man who often does his dog-and-pony show in rest homes, gymnasiums, and occasionally in front of eighth-graders who are more interested in grabbing each other’s butts than listening to a skinny redhead talk.
So there I was, backstage in Talladega’s Ritz Theater. The hallways were lined with headshot pictures from famous people. I’m talking: Ronnie Milsap, Ray Charles, Bill Monroe, Etta James, Tanya Tucker, and of course, Engelbert Hunperdink.
And I walked the long hallway looking at all these names and I felt really dumb. I mean, super-duper dumb. What was I doing there? I’m nowhere near Engelbert Humperdink’s level of coolness.
I sat in a chair and looked at my reflection in the dressing room mirror, surrounded by a hundred light bulbs. “What a dork,” I thought, staring at myself.
My hair needed cutting, I was wearing a corduroy blazer with a hole in it from when I slammed it in the car door. My boots are the same boots I used to wear when I laid tile and hung sheetrock. I can’t bring myself to get new ones because they are me.
The guitar I play is a 1950s Piece Of Junk. It’s literally a student-model guitar. Meaning: It’s smaller than normal guitars. Meaning: It was built for fifth-graders. Meaning: most musicians see it and go, “Dude, what’s wrong with your guitar? It shrunk.”
But I do have a trick that helps give me a little courage when I don’t feel good about myself. In my pocket I almost always carry four coins.
There is a giant commemorative coin I bought at the gift shop on top Pikes Peak, my father’s gravesite.
There is also a large coin I bought at the Grand Canyon gift shop on my wife’s fortieth birthday.
There is a quarter I found on the street one day when I was feeling pretty blue, about four years ago. On the back is the engraving of a blue heron. My father always reminded me of a heron with his long skinny legs and lean neck.
The fourth coin is a gold dollar given to me by Mister Danny, a friend of the family. Mister Danny has a prosthetic arm with a hook. He lost his arm while cleaning a gun. He and his wife, Miss Jenny, were staying at the same inn where my wife and I spent our first night as a married couple. And at breakfast the next morning, Mister Danny reached into his pocket, handed me this gold dollar, and winked.
He said, “Congratulations.”
I don’t know why I am telling you this except to say that what you saw on that Talladega stage was a person just like you. A guy who feels so painfully average it would make you cringe. I am a person who needs silly coins to make him feel better. Which doesn’t even make sense.
I guess I carry them because they sort of remind me how fragile life is, and how I don’t want it to end. But of course I know it will.
Life doesn’t last. And I know that when it does end, I will wish that I could go back and do it all over again. Falling in love, laying tile, hanging sheetrock, telling stories and jokes on small-town stages, sitting in dressing rooms, getting gold dollars from Mister Danny.
But it doesn’t work that way. I only get one chance to live. And as it stands now, I’ve wasted too much time feeling like a dork. I’m ready not to feel that way. I’m ready to feel like I matter as much as—that’s right—Engelbert Humperdink.
So I wish you would have come to see me. Because I would have talked to you until you begged me to stop. Because I like you. I know this because beautiful people are those who do not know it. If they did know their own beauty, they would probably just mess it up.
I would have had my picture made with you. We could have talked about your family. Or about mine. And I would have given you a coin that I carry for special people like yourself.
Anyway, you might wonder what in the world you just read here.
This was a hug meant just for you.