I have a soft spot for “Murder She Wrote.” When I was a kid, it came on our local channel every night at five.

I almost didn’t write this. But it’s very important. Because as an American, you deserve to know that today in the supermarket, I ran into an elderly woman who looked just like Angela Lansbury.

She was a dead ringer.

Of course she claimed she wasn’t Angela Lansbury. She even went so far as to say her name was Jeanne, from Michigan.

But I didn’t believe her. I watched her ring up groceries. She kept looking at me from the corner of her eye as though she were thinking about reaching for pepper spray.

Then she left.

I watched “Jeanne”—if that’s truly her name—exit the double doors and wander into the parking lot.

I asked the teenage cashier, “Did you SEE that lady?”

“Yeah,” the cashier said.

“Did you notice anything about her?”

“No.”

“SHE LOOKED JUST LIKE ANGELA LANSBURY!”

“WHO?”

“‘MURDER SHE WROTE!’”

“WAIT! WHY ARE WE SPEAKING IN ALL CAPS?”

I’m going to level with you. I cried. Yes, dang it, I cried. Right in the supermarket. Not a big cry, mind

you. Just a little one.

Until then, I hadn’t cried for a long time. The last time was a few weeks ago when my wife kicked me during sleep.

My wife loses control during REM sleep. Which wouldn’t be a big deal if she would have kicked me in the shin—she has kicked my shins plenty of times. But she did not kick me there. I will let you figure out where she kicked me.

Take your time.

Let’s just say that on the following Sunday at church, the choir director had me sing first soprano.

But getting back to my celebrity sighting. When I saw this woman in the checkout line, my entire childhood came flooding back to me.

I have a soft spot for “Murder She Wrote.” When I was a kid,…

So I don’t know much, but there is something I DO know. The “best” doesn’t exist. Neither does “perfection.”

I went to the piano recital of a friend’s daughter. There was a crowd of proud parents wearing dressy clothes. Most were shooting videos with cell phones.

I’ve never witnessed so much piano music in my life. One child performed a piece by Chopin that seemed to last longer than an entire episode of “General Hospital.”

At one point during the recital, there was a sixteen-year-old girl who played something by Franz Liszt. While she played, something happened. She messed up.

One mistake led to another. And another. Then, she quit playing and ran off the stage.

After the performance, I saw her in the lobby. She was crying. She kept saying to her parents, “I wanted it to be perfect.”

Before I left, I shook her hand and told her how wonderful I thought she did. I wanted to say more, but couldn't. It didn’t seem like any of my business.

But what I wanted to tell her was this:

Maybe her performance wasn’t

perfect, but big whoop. Some of us like imperfect things. Some of us like mistakes.

Yes. I know, I know. People are supposed to strive to be the greatest, strongest, longest lasting, fastest, leanest, shiniest, and the best. But I would like to point out: Why?

Besides, who decides what the “best” actually is? And what makes these decisions correct?

I once knew two older men who had a longstanding feud over who had the best college football team. University of Georgia or Auburn University. These two men would get into big arguments, shouting about statistics and wishbone offenses, until they would almost get into a fistfight.

I’ll never forget being an onlooker for one of these legendary arguments. At the time, I was standing beside a young woman who was originally from Minnesota. She was on scholarship at Auburn, studying animal husbandry—or maybe it was poultry…

Then comes the mother-groom dance. The song is “Mamas Don’t Let Your Babies Grow up to be Cowboys.” There isn’t a dry eye in the house.

I am at a wedding. A classy one. If I had to guess, the entire affair cost about as much as a second-floor beach condo with Gulf views. There are so many people attending the event that it has port-a-johns, valet service, and a team of photographers.

The bride is lovely. Her dress is long and full. During the ceremony, the lady seated next to me whispers to her friend, “I heard she went to Orlando to get that dress.”

“Orlando?” says the other. “It’s lovely.”

“For that much money, it oughta be insured.”

“Orlando?

“What a dress.”

“It’s all about the dress.”

This is a very different concept from the weddings my people often threw. For one thing, our weddings were not about dresses unless you counted the kind purchased from TJ Maxx. Our weddings were about the receptions. Often, these events were held in somebody’s backyard and usually involved an above-ground pool or a deer stand.

They were the kinds of get-togethers where beforehand,

every man’s wife would grip his elbow firmly and say, “Do NOT embarrass me.”

But this wedding isn’t like that. This is a swanky deal. The people in the congregation are dressed nicely. One woman appears to be wearing a pheasant on her head.

Two rows ahead of me is a man wearing his sunglasses—I’ve never seen this before—on the back of his head. I keep noticing the glasses throughout the service, staring at me. It’s like making eye contact with a very hairy creature in protective eyewear.

After the ceremony, everyone drives to a seafood restaurant across town for the reception. There is a DJ, dancefloor, and a cash bar. People are loosening their neckties, letting their hair down. And now we get to see first hand what kinds of things happen when Methodists drink.

Someone asks me to dance. A girl named…

I found a litter. A few days later, I drove to Molino, Florida. I arrived at a farm in the sticks. A team of black-and-tan bloodhounds ran through the grass to greet me. They tripped over their ears and oversized paws.

DEAR SEAN:

My name is well... That’s not important.

I lost my dachshund last night. She was fifteen years old overweight, had seizures, and was incontinent, but she owned my heart.

My wife doesn't want another pet, but what do I do with this love?

This is just a short note to you ‘cause I knew you’d understand.

MISSING-MY-DACHSHUND

DEAR MISSING:

It’s National Dog Day, which I’m sure you know. At least we know this at my house. This morning, in honor of the holiday my dogs ate pancakes and bacon for breakfast. Of course they were my pancakes and bacon, my dogs stole them from my breakfast plate. But you win some and you lose some.

I remember the day my former bloodhound died, I was away in Birmingham for work. Ellie Mae was thirteen, she’d been sick the morning before I left town.

We‘d taken her to the ER. They gave her meds, stabilized her, and it looked like she would make a full recovery.

The next morning, I kissed

Ellie’s long face and left for Birmingham to tell stories and jokes to a roomful of a few hundred folks.

It was a nice day. I remember it well. I drove along the highway, humming with the radio. The sun was shining. By the time I reached Camden, I got a call from my wife.

“Ellie’s not right,” she said. “Something’s wrong.”

I almost turned the truck around, and maybe I should’ve. But I didn’t.

By the time I reached Selma, the vet was on the phone delivering bad news. When I reached Maplesville, my wife and I were already discussing sending her to Heaven, and my gut churned.

“I don’t want her to suffer,” said my wife.

“I don’t either,” I said.

“You think we should… I can’t bring myself to say it.”

The sun went down. The colors on the Gulf of Mexico were nothing short of dramatic. Orange, purple, gold, electric red. All three women were watching the sun from the shore’s edge. But I was watching them.

My mother-in-law arrived at the beach rental cottage just in time for sunset. She was riding shotgun in a conversion van that was outfitted with a hydraulic wheelchair lift. Her friend, Robbie, was driving.

My mother-in-law (Mother Mary) leaned her head out the window and shouted, “We’re here! And I have cake!”

Cake? Did someone say Cake? I have sensitive ears trained for hearing important words. I can hear this particular word from across the state. Just like I can hear the words “five-dollar beer pitcher” from outer space.

Anyway, there was a lot of luggage to unload. A beach vacation is a major ordeal in my wife’s family. It requires coolers, boxes, bags, suitcases, industrial Tupperware containers, major appliances, heavy artillery, livestock equipment, etc.

My mother-in-law handed me a cake covered in a plastic dome. It was beautiful. She bought it from Dean’s Cake House in Andalusia. Mother Mary knows how I feel about Dean’s cakes.

Long ago, there was only one place in our town that sold Dean’s fare. It was across the county

line at a service station called “The Happy Store.” I was one of their best customers. I would buy a caramel seven-layer cake for every wedding, baby dedication, baptism, bachelor’s party, bar mitzvah, 10-minute oil change, birthday, potluck, and Methodist funeral.

I have never met a man who didn’t like a Dean’s cake.

I thanked Mother Mary for bringing the cake.

“Remember,” she said. “You have to share that.”

Mother Mary sat in a special beach wheelchair made for sand. It looks like a regular wheelchair, only the tires appear to have been manufactured by NASA. My wife and Robbie pushed Mother Mary across the wide beach toward the water’s edge. I offered to help them push, but my wife said, “Girls only.”

Which is code for, “Go inside and fold the laundry.”

So I stayed behind and watched them from the patio of…

When I read the email, I realized the person who wrote this letter was not being funny, but was having a dire emergency.

I’ll be the first to admit that I know jack diddly about teenage romance, which is why I am answering an important email on teenage romance.

This morning, I got an email with the subject line:

“URGENT!!!!! NEED ADVICE ABOUT A CUTE BPY IN MY CLASS!”

Almost anyone can relate to the urgency of this six-exclamation-point statement. We’ve all been there, sitting in third-period algebra, filled with teenage angst and confusion, but all we can do is daydream because in our heart of hearts we aren’t exactly sure what a “bpy” is.

When I read the email, I realized the person who wrote this letter was not being funny, but has a dire emergency.

Here’s part of the message:

“There’s a guy in my class [eighth grade] who is cute and I want to talk to him, but he doesn’t even know I’m alive, and my mom told me I should ask you because you’re also a guy. I hoped you might have some advice for me.”

Well, the first thing I want to say is that I am jealous of my parents and grandparents. They had it a lot easier than we do. There have been some major changes in the field of romance within the last sixty years.

The uncharted waters of teenage love were a lot easier to navigate back when Sandra Dee was still playing Gidget and people were still using the word “gosh” before each sentence.

Let’s take, for example, the movie “Beach Blanket Bingo,” which was on cable a few nights ago. Fifteen minutes into this movie and you can see how much society has changed.

For one thing, fashion is different. Men quit wearing skimpy swim trunks, and ladies quit wearing those massive conical brassieres that resembled military defense machinery capable of taking out entire villages. For another thing, nobody uses the word “spiffy” anymore.

We can…

The waiter said, “No sir, I didn’t forget your bill, there is no bill, someone paid for your pizza.”

Recently, I went to the gas station to get a newspaper, coffee, and lottery ticket. My bloodhound, Thelma Lou—poster child for moderate hyperactivity disorder—usually goes with me.

The way our morning routine usually works is simple: I buy a newspaper, maybe some powdered donuts; she steals my donuts, and eats my newspaper.

But on this morning, when I walked into the gas station, something was wrong. Before I even got to the donuts, I could tell the air was tense.

The scene was this:

The cashier behind the counter was frazzled. She obviously did not know how to use the computerized cash register.

A customer at the counter was aggravated with her. There were five customers in line. They were all displaying universal gestures of annoyance.

Clearing throats. Folding arms. Tapping feet. The woman in front of me glanced at her watch. One man sighed hard enough to knock over a circus tent.

“Not-niceness.” That’s what we’re dealing with here. And it’s running rampant in today’s world.

The customers were

growing not-nicer by the minute. Finally, a man slammed his change on the counter. Another man mumbled a cuss word before storming out.

One woman shook her head and said, “Learn how to do your JOB, sweetie.”

When I got to the cashier she was too overwhelmed to say anything. Who can blame her? It’s not every day five customers behave like walking-talking jack mules.

She was a woman who looked older than she was. Her hair was blonde. She had tattoos on her arms, and on her hands.

“People can certainly be mean,” I remarked.

“Yeah,” she said. Then, she sort of broke down. She placed her head in her hands.

“I just CAN’T figure out this computer,” she said. “I ain’t stupid, I know how to do stuff, but this thing’s acting weird.”

So, I made conversation.…

Then I got some literary advice from my late father—I don’t know how he knew to tell me this. He told me to simply run my mouth, and write it down.

The clouds in the distance look like something from a storybook illustration. I am looking at them long and hard. Thinking. I don’t know what I’m thinking about. Everything, I guess.

When I was a kid, I had this idea that I would grow up to be a writer. I was terrible at it. Mostly, because good writers are expected to use similes. But I was as bad at similes as a goat trying to recite Shakespeare.

See? Case in point.

Then I got some literary advice from my late father—I don’t know how he knew to tell me this. He told me to simply run my mouth, then write it down.

Then he added, “Not everything you write has to be perfect, just heartfelt.”

I am a talker. I have always been good at running my mouth. The teachers in school would place me at the front of the classroom so they could keep an eye on me. Because my mouth never stopped.

I could make conversation with almost anything, including paper-mâché, and certain

varieties of soybeans.

And there was always so much to talk about. The weather, for instance. Also, ham! OH MAN! I love ham! And what about tomatoes? Do you know how GREAT tomatoes are!?

I would run my mouth so much that my teacher seriously considered taking up heavy drinking for a new hobby.

Both my parents were talkative, too. My father spoke loud and fast. My mother could talk the paint off a Volkswagen.

I was more talkative than all my friends combined. This bothered some of my pals because when I told stories, I never paused to take a breath. And my stories could go on forever. And ever.

For example: Let’s say that I was telling a story about something that had happened when I was riding my bike past the retired Methodist minister’s house, Brother Tony, who was a good guy,…

This is all a beach vacation is. You carry enough raw materials to the beach to construct a patio, then you lug it all back

CAPE SAN BLAS—It’s nighttime. I am walking the beach. I am lost. Bad lost. All the beachfront bungalows look the same in the dark. I have no idea which one is our vacation rental cottage.

I am tired. Depleted. I’ve been walking for a long, long time. Almost ten minutes now. I will probably die on this beach. They will find me curled up dead, clutching my last will and testament, which will be written on a Piggly Wiggly receipt that was in my pocket.

It’s been a busy day. We spent the whole day on the beach doing family-style beach things like hauling beach equipment to the beach then setting it up. Then, once we finally got our equipment situated, we took a deep breath and spent the rest of the day hauling it back to the house.

This is all a beach vacation is. You carry enough raw materials to the beach to construct a patio, then you lug it all back. If you

finish your vacation without needing spinal fusion surgery, you did it wrong.

That’s life. Vacations come and go, but you can’t put a price on chronic joint pain.

I have a lot of memories here. Long ago, I was a redheaded kid without much going on in the looks department. I met this girl at church. I liked her and she seemed to like me.

She invited me on her annual family vacation to Cape San Blas. I agreed to join them because this girl was very cool.

A few weeks later, I met them here on the Cape—which is a promontory headland that extends into a body of water. In this case, the Gulf of Mexico. I was so nervous I could hardly think straight.

When I pulled into the cottage driveway, the girl came traipsing down the steps to meet me. She was wearing a…