I am at my friend’s house, watching the ballgame. Dogs everywhere.
Otis, our new three-month-old Labrador is at my feet. He looks like a Holstein cow, only smaller, with considerably more stink.
The ballgame plays. And I am looking at a pond behind my friend’s house. There are lillies on the water, acres of them. Water lilies. The the sound of insects is louder than screaming baseball fans on television.
The crowd goes wild. I go wild. My friend goes wild. Otis pees. And it’s time for another beer.
My friend’s wife makes soup for supper. And biscuits. Hot, buttery catheads. And we are sitting together, eating, talking, almost like family.
We are talking about everything and nothing. And I’m glad. No, not just glad. I’m glad to be here. Right now.
You might not care about this, but for my whole life, I wanted to be something else. Namely, a musician. I wanted to sing songs in important places. But I wasn’t good enough. A man has to accept when he’s not good enough.
I had a lot of ideas for my own life. The list goes on and on, and it embarrasses me to talk about. Some ambitions were more idiotic than others.
I wanted to work in radio, for instance. My aunt always told me I had a face that was made for radio.
A man at a country music station auditioned me. He liked my voice and he let me read a few ads over the air.
The night before my artistic debut, I memorized the ads I’d been given. The next morning, I announced them over the air, using a radio announcer’s over-excited voice.
Here’s an ad I still remember—the names have been changed to protect the innocent:
“Phillips and Sons used CHEVY and PRE-OWNED FORD DEALERS, the city’s lowest prices for all used Chevys and pre-owned Fords! You’ll save TONS and TONS and TOOOONNNNNNSSSSS!
“Save on any Chevy or pre-owned Ford right here at Phillips and Sons, where you’ll save HUGE on every used Chevy and pre-owned Ford. Come see our selection of used Chevys and pre-owned Fords TODAY! AT Phillips and Sons, home of the used Chevys and pre-owned Fords! PHILLIPS AND SONS!”
They ran that radio ad for a long time. Each time I heard it, I wanted to be killed with a pair of left-handed pliers.
Another advertisement I did:
“Allen’s Rib Shack and BARBECUE is CRAZY FUN for the WHOLE DADGUM FAMILY! WE’RE SO CRAZY WE’RE GIVING AWAY FREE APPETIZERS! That’s right! TUESDAY NIGHT is BUFFALO WING NIGHT!”
(Cue rap music)
“WHO LET THE BUFFALOS OUT?!!! WHO!! WHO!! WHO!!”
You get the point.
The man at the radio station wanted to hire me and pay me twenty dollars per ad. Ultimately, I refused. I felt dirty reading those commercials. I am not a salesman—I couldn’t sell watermelons if you had a state trooper to flag down traffic.
But then, this is how I have always been. I have had a knack for the wrong things. And I wasted a lot of time wanting them. Don’t get me wrong, I don’t regret much, but I’m sorry I missed the small things I should’ve noticed.
Things like hummingbirds, feral cats, the smell of longleaf pines, cypresses, and the way lillies cover a pond. And the euphoric taste of biscuits.
If you ask me, the self-help experts were wrong. Life isn’t something you build for yourself. It sort of happens to you. Every piece of it.
The good, the bad, the ugly. Or maybe it’s like sitting in a boat on beautiful water, like the kind I’m looking at.
A big place, filled with the beautiful things I’ve known; the beautiful moments I once thought were coincidences; the tragedies that should’ve killed me, but didn’t; the angelic dogs who found me when I wasn’t looking; and friends who have become my adopted family.
I’m only sorry I didn’t pay better attention. To life. To ice cold tea. To biscuits. Dogs. And lilies.
But, if you can hear me, Heaven:
I’m paying attention now.
Don’t forget to visit Phillips and Sons for the lowest prices on all used Chevys and pre-owned Fords.