Brenda’s Barbecue Pit is about the size of a walk-in closet, only smaller. The nano-building stands on Mobile Road near Washington Park in Montgomery. It’s a working class neighborhood. They do take-out only.

No credit cards.

There is a line of customers four miles long today. Some customers look like they came directly from work. There is a man in custodial blues. A woman in medical scrubs. A guy in a suit.

It’s a sunny afternoon. Birds chirping. A souped-up Cadillac passes by, windows tinted in roofing tar, with a booming stereo loud enough to crack dental fillings. And I am drunk on pecan smoke.

There is an old woman in the car parked beside mine, windows down, smoking a cigar. She smiles her few teeth at me.

I ask her if the food here is good.

“Good ain’t the word, baby.”

I ask how long Brenda’s has been here.

“Long time,” she replies, smoke wafting from her nostrils. “Longer than I am old.”

I’ve eaten barbecue in 44 different states; everywhere except North Dakota, Wyoming, Alaska, Hawaii, and New

Hampshire. People tell me Brenda’s is the best of all time.

Bold words. Especially when considering some of the barbecue joints this vast country has to offer. I’ll start with a few unlikely winners.

Cattleack Barbecue in Dallas, located in an ordinary strip mall. The line was out the door. Once inside, a waitress offered me free beer while I waited. I repeat, free beer. The food was spiritual.

Ubon’s barbecue joint. Yazoo City, Mississippi. My booth featured duct tape on the upholstery. The ribs tasted exactly like cherubs singing Handel.

Kaiser’s Barbecue in Salt Lake City. The joint looks like either a former tattoo parlor or a repurposed strip joint. The prime rib was so good my wife slapped me. Twice.

Suzy Q’s, in Buffalo, New York. The staff thought I talked funny. Long ago, you would have termed…

“It’s my birthday,” the email said, “and my dad forgot me…”

The young man writing to me just turned 14 years old. We’re going to call him Mark.

Mark lives outside New Orleans. His parents are divorced. Mark lives with his mom. Mark’s mom had to work late this year for his birthday.

Last night, Mark’s father was supposed to cover for her. His father was supposed to swing by and pick up Mark to hang out. They were going to celebrate the big One-Four together. See a movie. Get some pizza. Do guy stuff.

But Mark’s dad never showed.

It was a Tuesday evening. Mark got dressed up for his birthday. He sat on the porch, waiting dutifully. Mark was wearing his nice clothes. He kept checking the time on his phone. He kept peering down the street, to see if his father’s car was coming. But no cigar.

Finally, at sundown, Mark went back inside and watched some television. Then he wrote to me because—you have to worry about this boy—he likes my writing.

“My dad

doesn’t love me,” his message began.

Well, Mark, before I say anything else, let me wish you a happy birthday, kiddo. Congratulations. Fourteen is a huge birthday. It’s the period of life when you’re not quite a man, not quite a boy.

At age 14, you exist in a phase of life we call “Man-Boy Phase.” It’s a phase where you are keenly aware of things like newly sprouted body hair and armpit odor, but you also still unwind at the end of a long day by using fresh boogers to terrorize your little sister.

You’re still a kid who loves Legos. But on the other hand: You currently spend the same amount of time fixing your hair as it took to complete the Sistine chapel.

Fourteen. A heck of a year.

I remember when I turned 14. What a tough year…

Hi, God,

It’s me again. I know it’s been a while since my last prayer, so I don’t blame you if you choose not to listen to a hopeless sinner like me.

The truth is, I’m just not a very great guy. I wish I had a better excuse than this, but I don’t. And if I offered you a better excuse, you’d know I was lying.

I’m slothful, plain and simple. I have bad habits. Sometimes I don’t do the right thing. And oftentimes, I just plum forget to pray.

The reason for this is because I grew up in a Baptist fundamentalist household. My mother forced me to pray each night at gunpoint. We uttered morbid prayers that struck terror into the hearts of children.

I prayed each night, for instance, that if the Rapture were to occur, and Gabriel blew his trumpet, that I wouldn’t be left behind. I prayed this every night, without exception. I was terrified that if I wasn’t taken in the Rapture, I’d be left here on earth to suffer with

all the Methodists.

And then there was the prayer Granny made me memorize. “Now I Lay Me Down To Sleep.” There has never been a more sadistic prayer than this childhood classic.

“Now I lay me down to sleep,
“I pray the Lord my soul to keep;
“If I should die before I wake,
“It’s because I was a bad little boy and I truly deserved to be asphyxiated in my sleep.”

My wife. Now there’s a true prayer warrior. She keeps a handwritten list. Every night before supper, my wife prays for each person she’s ever met since third grade.

My wife prays for everyone. From the Vietnamese exchange student she met in preschool, to former U.S. president Bill Clinton.

I have a difficult time staying alert during her suppertime prayers. My head sinks lower with each passing…

The old dog was found walking on the highway. She had no name. No home. Nobody.

The guy who found her was a guy we’ll call Peter. I call him this because this is his name.

Peter was 67 years old at the time. He was riding in a cab, leaving a doctor’s appointment.

He had just been diagnosed with a congenital eye disease that was getting worse. Soon he would be blind.

To complicate Peter’s life further, Peter was also Deaf. He spoke sign language. But the blindness was a game changer.

“It was pretty hard to communicate,” said Peter. “And it was about to get harder.”

Peter told the cab driver to stop the car.

“What?” said the driver, who was doing 65 mph.

“I said stop!” Peter shouted.

“Okay, Jeez,” said the driver (Peter could read lips). “You don’t have to shout.”

Peter doesn’t mean to shout. When Peter speaks, he uses a loud, moanful voice, because Peter has never heard his own voice.

The cab driver pulled over. Peter leapt out and trotted to the dog. The old

girl came right to him. She had some cocker spaniel in her. She let Peter pick her up.

He carried her back to the cab. She was covered in grime and funk.

“I don’t allow pets in my cab,” said the driver.

Peter begged.

“Rules are rules, pal.”

Peter offered to pay extra.

The cab driver rolled his eyes and told him to get in.

The first order of business was to bathe the dog. The poor girl had mange. Mange is caused by microscopic mites that live just under the surface of the skin. If dogs don’t bathe, dogs can get mange.

Mange is no joke. Even people can even get mange. My uncle Tommy Lee, for example, once caught red mange. His pals at the Legion hall thought this was hysterical. He got free drinks for…

A crowded plane. I had an aisle seat. The guy beside me was snorting. I say “snorting” because he was actually making swine-like sounds as he slept.

I am a frequent flyer, I’ve heard lots of snoring. But it had been a long time since I heard anyone snort. Not since I was in first grade and our class reenacted the Holy Nativity. Benny Hodges and I played the roles of pigs that were present at Christ’s birth. Our only line was “OINK!”

The poor flight attendants. They were the ones who had to wake this snorting guy and tell him he was disturbing passengers. The attendants also had to deal with the man’s horrible attitude. He nearly bit their heads off.


Only he didn’t say “dangit.” He waved his hands. He insulted them. And the attendants took the abuse like champs.

Meantime, two women behind me were having a conversation in voices so loud that people in First Class were forced to interrupt their deep-tissue massages.

“You remember my friend Anne?” said the first


“Yes,” said the other. “What about her?”

“She has a new dog.”

“Really? What kind?”

“I don’t know, but he keeps peeing inside.”


“Yep. It’s an expensive dog, but he pees.”

“Dogs pee so much.”

“I know, what’s up with all that peeing?”

“Peeing is gross.”

“I hate pee.”

“Me too. I wish we didn’t have to pee.”

“I don’t know, peeing can be kinda relaxing sometimes.”

Shoot me.

Once again, it was the flight attendants who had to tell these women to lower their voices. One of the loud-talking women was not happy about the rebuke. She tore the flight attendant a new one.

And then there was the beverage service.

Beverage service is the part of every flight that’s both exciting and dreadful.

Exciting, because for…

When I was a kid we listened to the “Grand Ole Opry” on a transistor radio every week. We usually listened to the show out in my dad’s lawnmower shed each Saturday night. It was our thing.

My father's shed was a sacred place. Especially for a kid. It was the place where he kept his beer so my mother wouldn’t find it.

My mother was Baptist. Which is why Daddy often drank his beer warm, since there was no refrigerator out in the shed.

“Don’t you hate warm beer?” my father’s friends used to ask him.

“Yes,” my father would say. “But I might as well get used to it, because the beer in hell won’t be very cold.”

The little Philco radio sat atop his shelf, nestled beside the old oil cans, the Chilton automotive repair manuals, the WD-40 canisters, and the boxes of air new filters.

On Saturday evenings the Opry would play, and Daddy would often be sharpening a lawnmower blade, or lubricating his chainsaw, or separating bolts and screws, or whatever.

Warm beer in his hand.

The tweed speaker would vibrate with the sounds of Keith Bilbrey, hosting the show with his velveteen baritone. The musicians would play. Fiddles would whine. Banjos would ring. And I would marvel at the sounds of steel guitars.

I have always loved music. I played piano in our church. I began playing in church at age 9.

I played “Amazing Grace” at my grandfather’s funeral. I sang “Precious Lord Take My Hand” for my aunt’s wedding. I once sang for a supermarket poultry sale at the IGA. I sang:

“That’s how you spell,
“Premium chicken, friends…”

My father also let me sing at the VFW sometimes for his pals. My mother did not like it when my father took me to the VFW.

When I was 5, my father would take me to the VFW, sit…

I’m in Avondale Park. I’m watching random kids play baseball. The kids pepper the field. Gloves on their knees.

“Hey, batta batta batta!” they all chant. They look like third graders. The third-baseman looks like he has to go pee.

They all look like dreamers. Because that’s what all kids are, really. Dreamers. Do you remember what it was like to be a kid? Do you remember what it was like to get lost in a daydream?

The sun is low. The crickets are out. The pitcher is maybe 8 years old. And I’m falling into a daydream myself.

It’s hard to watch baseball without remembering my old man. My father loved baseball. No. He worshiped baseball. To him, baseball was high art.

Look at Norman Rockwell. You never saw Rockwell painting soccer, or pickleball, or water polo, or the luge. Rockwell painted baseball players. There’s just something about baseball.

My dad was a ball player. As an adult, he never missed a chance to play with a guys his age in some municipal field


I used to go with him to games. My father would consult the cooler between every major play, cracking open an ice-cold can of Ovaltine. And whenever he pitched, I heard ladies in the stands say things like, “Oh, that’s John Dietrich. I think he once played triple-A ball.”

But it wasn’t true. Not entirely. My father tried out for a professional ball club, and lasted only a few days. He was a sidearm pitcher. His pitching was too wild, they said. They rejected him.

But then, my father was a man fraught with rejections. His whole life was rejection after rejection.

He came from an abusive home. He grew up poor. He wanted to be a navy pilot, but he was deaf in one ear, so the navy rejected him. Talk about dreams. His lifelong dream was shattered.

He wanted to be a…

FOR A LONG TIME NOW, people have been sending me emails daily about not receiving my columns via email. This happens even though these people have subscribed, confirmed their email subscriptions, fasted for at least three days, and offered up a ritual blood sacrifice.

Other readers will say that sometimes they receive the column, and other times they don’t. It's hit or miss.

If any of this has been happening to you, you’re not alone. Please know, this problem is not you. In fact, the problem isn’t me, either. It’s El Niño.

Actually, the problem is a computer software glitch that nobody can seem to figure out. And believe me, I’ve spent hours of my life on the phone with technical support, being placed on hold, listening to smooth jazz muzak, trying to figure this issue out. Many of my recent gray hairs come from this.

So as a result, we’re trying out a different email platform to send out the daily column now. The email service is called Substack. We’ll see how it

goes. Who knows, the new software might suck—in which case, we’ll just go back to the other sucky software.

But don’t worry, you don’t have to do anything or make any changes to your email. We've transferred your address to the new service. The only thing you might have to do is make sure these posts don’t appear in your spam folder. However, if the column is not coming to your inbox, you might have to visit my site and resubscribe (Click Here). If this is the case, I'm sorry.

Lastly—I want to stress—this column is COMPLETELY FREE. This column will always be free until I kick the oxygen habit. The reason I mention this is because many other writers (better writers than me) use Substack, and many of these high-brow writers charge for their work. I do not charge. I will not charge. And that…

I’ll call her Rebecca. She’s from Washington D.C. Her email started off like this:

“Dear Sean, I don’t know what to do, my mother just died of brain cancer… I am only 18 years old, and she was all I have left…

“She read your Facebook posts, and I am hurting... I know you can’t help me, but I don’t know who else to tell.”

Well, Rebecca, I took the liberty of contacting a few friends who have stories you might be interested in hearing.

First, meet John. He is 36 years young, he works in food service, and he drives a ‘03 Toyota. He has great insurance. He doesn’t have a lot of money, but he’s pretty happy.

He hasn’t always been happy, of course. His dad died when he was 21 years old. John has quite a tale.

His father was a single dad. They grew up together. They were poor. When his dad died, John went into catatonic shock. He quit leaving his apartment. He ate only frozen pizzas only and somehow—the lucky stiff—managed to lose


But John’s life was not over. After a few years, John met Megan. Megan was six years older, and beautiful. But more than that, Megan was a caregiver for her ill mother, so she understood things. Big things.

Sometimes they would talk. She seemed to be the only human who “got” him.

They were soon married. And finally, John was introduced to the joys of being unable to use his own closet.

“I never thought I’d smile again,” John writes, “but I’m happier than I’ve ever been in my life.”

Now meet Charry. She is 49. She and her mother were tight. They were so close that for Charry’s senior prom, long ago, she didn’t have a traditional date, she attended with her mother. Which, if you ask me, is bizarre. (“And now presenting the happy couple!”)

Her mother died…

Today, I celebrated International Women’s Day by buying my wife a valuable lottery ticket, potentially worth $20 million dollars.

I had to drive all the way from Alabama to Georgia to buy this ticket because, of course, Alabama has strict laws against gambling.

We Alabamians oppose the lottery. We consistently vote against it. Because, you see, the lottery is sinful. It is offensive to good morals.

If you are caught gambling in Alabama, for example, state officials appear on your doorstep, yank out your toenails with pliers, and force you to watch Jim Bakker reruns.

But this year for Women’s Day, I wanted to give something to my wife that really said, “I love you.” So I drove to Georgia and bought her $20 mil.

Currently, there are only five states in the Union that outlaw the lottery, most do this for sacred reasons. Those states are Utah, Alabama, Hawaii, Alaska, and Nevada.

That’s right. Nevada outlaws the lottery. The state that is home to Las Vegas. The only state where prostitution is legally

practiced within licensed brothels; where public intoxication is allowed; where public nudity is not only legal but strongly encouraged by local clergymen, has outlawed the lottery. Thank God.

Alabama is not far behind. The lottery has no future in the Twenty-Second State. I recently interviewed an Alabama lawmaker about this hot-button issue, asking whether Alabama would ever have a lottery.

“Probably not,” said the official. “Gambling was outlawed in the 1901 state constitution, and most of the state has a religious opposition to it.”

It’s important to note, these laws haven’t stopped ALL forms of Alabama gambling. You can still place bets in Atmore, Montgomery, and Wetumpka.

“But remember,” the lawmaker adds, “if you gamble in those places, you must be prepared to drown in the Lake of Fire.”

So I drove to Georgia.

I crossed over the state line and I found a place that…