I’m playing cards with my wife outside on our porch. We never do this. In fact, I can hardly believe this is happening. It’s almost like a dream.

The sun is setting. It’s a pleasant spring evening. The North Florida mosquitoes are the size of Volkswagen Jettas. My wife and I are sipping beers, playing five-card draw. It’s been years since we’ve done this.

You know, in some ways this coronavirus quarantine thing isn’t all bad. Yes, I know the newscasters are constantly reminding us to stay inside our living rooms, and to keep our televisions cranked up loud so we don’t miss urgent commercials about reverse mortgage offers. But I need a break from TV.

I’m sort of getting into the spirit of this quarantine. Right now I feel the same as I did when I was a kid and school got cancelled. Whenever school closed it was like getting set free from Alcatraz. That’s how today feels.

Anyway, I love playing cards. There was a time in childhood when I

was always coaxing my friends to play Crazy Eights, War, or gin rummy. Sometimes, we would sneak into the Baptist church shed, where no fundamentalist mothers could find us, and we would play poker. We played high-stakes tournaments. The game was Omaha hi-low split-eight or better, no limit. If you can just imagine.

We once played a three-hour game with Brother Gary, the church maintenance man. Brother Gary must have smoked three packs of cigarettes that afternoon. Wherever he is today, Gary still owes my cousin, Ed Lee, roughly $800,000.

As a young man, we used to play cards during lunch breaks on construction jobsites. We would toss dollar bills and quarters onto the lunch table. One day, I lost sixteen bucks and I was sick about it. It’s funny how a man changes with age. If I lost sixteen bucks today, it wouldn’t matter. But back then…

DEAR SEAN:

Do you think we are going to get through this thing? My dad keeps telling me not to worry, but I can’t help it, I’m honestly scared about this coronavirus thing and of what’s happening to everybody. I wish you and I could hang out, ‘cause I bet you could calm me down.

Thanks,
EIGHTEEN-IN-ATLANTA

DEAR EIGHTEEN:

Listen, I’m flattered. But I don’t think I could make you feel calm. Not because I don’t want to, but because if we did hang out, you’d hear me speak out loud and say to yourself, “Hey, wait a minute, this guy’s a hick!” And I would lose all credibility in your eyes.

This is why all your trustworthy TV experts are Harvard graduates, Yale lawyers, or certified nuclear proctologists. They are smart, well-spoken, and they wear enough hair product to deflect small-caliber bullets. But they are never hicks.

Me? I can’t seem to tame my hair. And believe me, my mother has squandered years of her life trying to get it to stay put.

The reason I

tell you this is because if you and I actually met in person, you’d most certainly figure out that I have no idea what I’m talking about. In which case you would start worrying again.

But as it happens, I do know a little about worry. I had a crummy childhood, just like a lot of people. I dealt with stomach ulcers, anxiety, night terrors, and other things that go along with fear.

The fear was because my family went through a lot of trauma surrounding my father’s death. After he died, we all slept in the same bedroom together for a while. That’s how scared we were. Sometimes before turning out the lights, we would use pieces of furniture to barricade the bedroom door because that’s what irrational fear does to people. It makes them a little crazy.

One time when…

MEQUON, Wis.—It’s cold in Wisconsin. Try 29 degrees on for size. This is definitely not the time of year you want to run out of toilet paper because of a coronavirus epidemic.

But I suppose Wisconsin people are used to the cold. I talked to one Wisconsin lady who said, “This is nothing, last year it was so cold that if our thermometer woulda been an inch longer, we woulda froze to death.”

The Mequon Pizza Company is making the weather and the virus pandemic a little more bearable with regular pizza deliveries. Their deep-dish pies are the best in town. Their hand-rolled mozzarella sticks are to die for. And if you order today, your large pizza comes with a free side of Cottonelle 2-ply toilet paper.

That’s right. Toilet paper is on the menu at Mequon Pizza Company. They are delivering rolls of toilet paper all over the area.

An official company spokesperson announced online a few days ago: “Did you run out of toilet paper? If so, the Mequon Pizza Company

has your back! ...We will give you a free roll of Cottonelle 2-ply toilet paper if you need it! Just ask!”

There is a limit to six rolls per customer. One dollar for each additional roll. But the main thing to remember here is: The Mequon Pizza Company has your backside.

I wish they delivered to Florida.

PORTLAND, Ore.—Wanda is reading bedtime stories to her grandchildren via video phone calls. She has been doing this every night.

“You have no idea how alone I feel,” said Wanda. “To be a lonely senior citizen, sometimes going to the grocery store or the post office was the only socialization I got.”

She reads to her grandchildren from the same book each evening. Her grandchildren end every phone call by kissing the camera and saying, “We love you, Grandma.”

“It’s all I have to look forward to right now,” says…

WESTMINSTER, Mass.—These kids have been busy. Madilyn 10, Olivia 9, Cameron 7, Jack 4, are siblings who have been making greeting cards for elderly people in nursing homes that are restricting visitors due to the coronavirus outbreak.

The kids are crafting handwritten letters with lots of artwork and sending them all over Massachusetts.

One of Madilyn’s letters reads: “...To cheer you up I have decided to write this to make you happy. Another thing that could make you happy is reading. I hope this makes your day.”

If that doesn’t melt your heart you’re living in a GE refrigerator.

And these children are just getting started. Their mother says, “As long as we have more paper, we’ll keep doing them.”

ROCK ISLAND, Ill.—Saint Anthony’s Nursing and Rehabilitation Center is asking for kids to send them cute letters, too. They simply don’t see why elderly folks in Massachusetts should get all the dang luck.

Please send your cards to them ℅ Saint Anthony’s, 767 30th Street, Rock Island, IL 61201.

Thank you.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn.— This week, Lydia’s

family has started taking road trips. Not big ones. Little ones. This is how they are dealing with being quarantined.

“I don’t think being inside too long is healthy,” says Lydia. “I don’t want my kids being afraid of the world. Getting outside to look around, seeing stuff, you know, it helps.”

So Lydia and her husband, Rob, have been cramming their kids into the minivan. Rob drives, Lydia sits in the passenger seat, using her phone to look up roadside attractions like parks, historic landmarks, you name it.

“It’s fun,” says Lydia. “We spent four hours in the car yesterday. It was like a vacation, and it didn’t cost a thing. I think my husband really enjoyed it, too.”

Yesterday, Rob took them all southward to Lynchburg, Tennessee. They stopped at a cemetery to visit the gravesite of Jack Daniels, the American whiskey…

FORT MITCHELL, Ky.—The Oriental Wok restaurant is your quintessential family owned Chinese restaurant. They’ve been around for 42 years, and business has been good. But business is about to go down the toilet due to the shutdowns on Monday.

Restaurant after restaurant is closing. One out of every five people in the U.S. have either lost their jobs, or had their hours taken away due to the coronavirus pandemic.

If you’ve ever worked in food service, you know how this closure hurts. A server lives on tips. Five bucks here, eight bucks there. Servers are constantly carrying platters, collecting dirty dishes, forcing smiles, yes-sirring, no-ma’aming, and apologizing because the kitchen made the General Tso’s chicken spicy enough to disable a musk ox.

After a typical shift, many servers go home, balance their checkbooks, and discover they will be eating Kraft Mac and Cheese for the next six months because of mounting bills, and their oldest kid needs dental braces.

Just before the Oriental Wok closed its doors, a few final customers walked in. They were regulars.

They ate, they paid, they left.

There was a note written on their receipt, which read: “Your family has always taken such good care of us through the years, we know it’s going to be a tough few months.”

They left a $1,000 tip.

LAKE WACCAMAW, N.C.—Carly Boyd got engaged last week. She’s a young woman, pretty, a nursing student at Southwestern Community College.

Between classes, Carly apparently does her grandfather’s laundry then drops it off at the Premier Living and Rehab Center where he lives. To call her “dedicated” would be like calling Clifford the Big Red Dog a “Chihuahua.”

When Carly dropped laundry off Monday, a staff person noticed a new ring on her finger. “You’re engaged!” said the staff person.

Sadly, the nursing home is restricting all visitors, so there was no way for Carly to show the ring to her…

CLEAR SPRING, Md.—Tom Grosh was doing his civic duty during the coronavirus outbreak by standing on the side of the highway, offering free toilet paper to motorists.

His wife, his neice, and two teenage friends joined him, holding cardboard signs which read, “FREE T.P.!” Tom himself climbed onto his truck tailgate, waving rolls of 2-ply toilet paper at traffic.

Tom explained, “I was sitting in the office doing some work at the end of the day, God said to me, ‘You gotta help your fellow man.’ I knew exactly where to go to get the toilet paper and went and bought it.”

Tom bought 960 rolls, loaded them into his pickup, and gave them to anyone who had fallen victim to the Great Toilet Paper Shortage. People tried to pay Tom for the paper, but he wouldn’t accept money.

“We’re just trying to be a blessing and make somebody’s life a little better,” said Tom.

I will refrain from making any toilet paper jokes here, even though it would be very easy. Frankly, I’m just

too wiped out.

HARTLEY, Iowa—Friday morning. The last day of school, before the world closed down. Elderly Bonnie Linder was on her porch. Bonnie always stands on her porch in the mornings so she can wave to the schoolbus. This is a highlight of her day.

It was a chilly sunrise. Bonnie heard the diesel engine. She started waving. But the yellow bus surprised her when it hissed to a stop before her house. Every window opened. A million rosy faces popped out and shouted, “HAPPY BIRTHDAY!”

All Bonnie could do was laugh. Emotions will do that to a person.

Happy 93rd birthday, Miss Bonnie.

PORTLAND, Maine—Nathan Nichols told his tenants they could skip paying rent for April. His renters are blue-collar workers, Nathan knows work will be slow in the coming months. So he wanted to help.

Which is sort of miraculous, considering that…

ROLESVILLE, N.C.—Schools have shut down because of the coronavirus. Many students are excited about the time off, others have taken this opportunity to catch up on some much needed texting.

But it’s not all fun and games in Wake County. A lot of local students depend on the daily meals from the school cafeteria.

Tracie Sanchez, principal of Harris Creek Elementary School, said, “For many of us we don’t have to worry about [meals], but we do have students, and those ARE their meals. We need to make sure that they eat.”

So that’s exactly what her people have been doing. School district workers helped in a community food drive yesterday. They collected 10 truckloads full of food in just a few ticks of a clock. That’s enough food for nearly 150 local families.

If you would like to donate, great. Or, if you want to bring the volunteers some hot donuts, that would be fine too. Glazed. Lots of them.

ANAHEIM, Calif.—Disney shut down its theme parks, and I know you were probably wondering

the same thing I’m wondering: “What the heck happens to all those delicious corn dogs you buy inside the Disneyland park?”

Well, this is kind of cool. All Disney’s excess food is getting donated to Second Harvest Food Bank of Orange County, an organization that feeds roughly 250,000 people each month. That’s 3 million mouths per year. That’s almost as many people who stand in line for the “It’s a Small World” ride.

Disney also announced that during the shutdown, they will continue to pay cast members such as Goofy, Mickey, Cinderella, the Little Mermaid, and Mick Jagger.

HOUSTON, Texas—John is 8 years old, and has taken to singing over the phone. He is dialing the numbers on his mother’s cellphone contact list in hopes of cheering them up.

After all, John explained, everyone is stuck indoors, and that’s boring. He should know, John has…

I know there are many important world events happening right now, with new alarming headlines being written every few minutes, but I think you deserve a five-minute rest from televised anxiety. Which is why I want to talk seriously about Ohio for a second.

Not only is Ohio the birthplace of seven U.S. presidents, the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, and Thomas Edison, but it is also home to the world’s largest pair of drumsticks. The sticks are carved from poplar logs and have a combined weight of 1800 pounds.

Said one Ohio man, “Dang, they’re big.”

I’ve always wanted to visit the Buckeye State, but every time I tell my Ohio friends this, they usually answer with: “Ha ha! Wait, you’re serious?”

I do understand why some Ohioans feel sort of blah about their state. But then, everyone feels like this about their home sometimes.

Take me, for instance. I am a Floridian who lives three miles from the Gulf of Mexico. People are always wanting to crash at my place during, say, spring

break. And I’m usually thinking to myself, “Why?”

These friends often unveil their travel plans during nonchalant conversations by saying, “So, how’s that old guest room looking, buddy?”

And even though I don’t particularly enjoy having company in our house, I was raised to be hospitable. So I answer, “Our guest room is always open to you, as long as you aren’t allergic to black mold or rats the size of Fiats.”

The truth is, Florida people are just like Ohio people. Sometimes we can’t see how great our state is. This is exactly why during my teenage years we boys used to LEAVE Florida for spring vacation in search of any U.S. state where we knew someone with a sleeper-sofa.

The farther away the better, just as long as we weren’t in Florida. That’s how it goes when you grow up on the…

I would like to suspend my usual lighthearted tone for a moment and talk seriously about a public issue that’s on everyone’s minds right now. I am of course talking about this year’s Cadbury Bunny Tryouts.

There are only a few days remaining in the Cadbury Bunny contest, which features cute pets from all over the country competing to win $5000 in prize money, and to become the next spokes-pet for Cadbury Creme Eggs.

This is not just any old contest. This is an opportunity for We the People to accomplish something good in this tired world by helping a hamster or a small pig win $5,000. You can do this by using your smartphone to cast a vote while you wait in the supermarket checkout line surrounded by millions of Americans who are buying shiploads of toilet paper.

For anyone who has been living beneath a rock, the Cadbury Bunny is an international mascot that’s been around since 1982, when the UK-based confectionery company began airing

TV commercials starring a Flemish Giant rabbit that clucked like a chicken. This bunny had the unique ability to lift its magical tail and drop chocolaty spherical objects which brought joy to America.

As it happens, I once had a pet bunny named Bill who did the same thing. Bill often slept in my room and was always dropping chocolaty objects on my rug, but these did not bring joy to my mother.

Today, Cadbury Creme Eggs in the US are produced by the Hershey Company, and I know I speak for every human being alive when I say that they are the best invention of the twentieth century, with a close second being penicillin.

Cadbury has a history of clever advertising campaigns. Their classic “Bunny Tryouts” TV commercial has aired a bazillion times since its debut, and still airs today. This ad features a pig, a lion, and a cat, all wearing…

I am sitting in a church pew. This chapel is empty. It’s lunchtime, and I’m supposed to be meeting an old friend here since I am passing through town for a book tour. Gene is the father of a guy I grew up with, and he has always been good to me.

The church secretary told me to wait in the sanctuary. The lights are off. Sunlight comes through the stained glass windows.

The whole world has shut down because of the coronavirus. Schools are closed. Restaurants have closed. Major League Baseball is cancelled. This morning, I saw a mile-long line of people outside a Birmingham grocery store. I don’t know what they were buying, but they looked afraid.

Gene works at this tiny church. He is the maintenance man here. It’s a part-time gig since he is almost seventy-eight.

This church gets smaller every year. Some of the younger parishioners are trying to grow the congregation by promoting the church. But the elderly folks in the congregation aren’t interested in this. “I’m not running ads,” the elderly preacher

said at a recent meeting. “You don’t have to advertise a fire.”

I hear the door open. Gene’s sleeves are rolled up, he has dirt smudges on his forehead. He’s holding a wrench. His white hair is a mess.

“Sorry,” he says. “I gotta cancel lunch, we’re fixing the water heater.”

I follow him to the back room where three old men are crammed against a water heater. These are deacons. They are ticked off and fussing:

“Hold the flashlight steady! I’m blind over here!”

“I’m trying, but your feet keep getting in the way.”

“GIMME THE WRENCH!”

There is a special way old men gripe when they’re fixing things and becoming frustrated. It’s pure wrath. It spews out of them like poison. It happens to us all. You can take a soft spoken man who walks on water; who never…