I was going to write about dogs today because I love to write about dogs. I was doing it for an elderly woman named Mona who passed away a few years ago from pneumonia.

She was a cool lady. And a dog fanatic. She always used to say, “One day, when we all get to Heaven, we’re gonna be surprised at how many dogs are running around.”

When Mona’s kids inherited her house, they started leaving the back porch light on. It glowed all hours of the day. I asked why.

They said, “Mom always kept the light on in case any stray dogs needed a place to sleep at night.”

So when I sat down this morning to start writing this, I was going to tell you about a man in Northern California who rescued a stray dog during the coronavirus pandemic. All he did was put food on the porch and a dog showed up.

And you know how dogs are. Word spread on the canine Western Union telegraph. The next

day he had three more strays. A few days later he had six more. Today, 12 strays all live on his farm. Somehow he feeds them all and has not filed for chapter 11 bankruptcy.

Mona would have liked that story. But I never really got around writing about that guy because I got sidetracked doing research. Which happens a lot to us mediocre writers. We don’t have the skill nor the experience to avoid being sidetracked.

Don’t get me wrong, being mediocre isn’t all bad. In fact, it’s a lot of fun once you get into the spirit of it. One of the great things about not being a “great” is that you’re allowed to stink sometimes. And it’s totally okay because, hey, you’ve already set the bar pretty low.

It’s sort of like when a 4-year-old paints your portrait. You don’t expect perfection from him.…

RICHFIELD, Ohio—Yesterday was overcast, chilly, 44 degrees, with light gusts from an approaching front. If a meteorologist would have been reporting the weather, he might have used the fancy term “BRRRRRR.”

Elderly Bud Wisnieski sat in a chair in his driveway, observing the weather. Weather-watching is in his blood. He was draped in warm blankets, wearing a jacket.

He heard something in the distance. Honking horns. Whoops and hollers. Shouting. Cheering. It was getting louder. The motorcade started on the horizon, then it rolled right past his house.

There were fire trucks, squad cars, and antique vehicles, spit-shined to a glow. The parade was led by a police escort. Vehicles were decked out in red-white-and-blue banners. People all shouted the same thing:

“Happy 100th birthday, Bud!”

Bud has been quarantining due to the coronavirus pandemic, but it didn’t dampen his spirits. He waved until his arm was sore. Between waves, he kept tabs on the weather. Old habits die hard.

He served in the Army Air Corps during World War II as part

of a unique outfit. A weather reconnaissance squadron.

You don’t hear much about the old weather squadrons from the Army Air Corps days. They weren’t the glittery crews who got all the attention, but they altered history. In fact, some believe these airmen helped win the war.

Take, for example, the 3rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. That name might not mean much to you. But if you live on the Gulf Coast, it will.

The squadron later became the 53rd Weather Reconnaissance Squadron. Most people call them the “Hurricane Hunters.” And that’s exactly what they are.

The 53rd Squadron began on a dare. It was a warm July day in 1944 when an easy going Georgia boy named Joe Duckworth was dared to pilot a plane through a hurricane.

Duckworth was just gutsy enough to do it. He flew his AT-6 Texan training aircraft directly into the eye…

Ask anyone and they’ll tell you, I’m a Publix man. I don’t shop at other grocery stores very often.

The main reason for this is because I’ve spent the majority of my life living within a mile or two from a Publix. I have a long history of visiting this local supermarket, even when I don’t need groceries. I just like the store.

It’s pleasant. People are cheerful. I like to walk around the aisles singing along with the overhead music, getting free samples from the lady at the free-sample kiosk who always smiles at me, warmly, and says in a motherly voice, “This is your last sample, sir, or I’m calling security.”

I have friends who work at Publix. Usually, I see my pal, Shawn, stocking shelves. He’s worked there for years. Shawn always waves. I always wave back. This is such a little, almost insignificant gesture, but you don’t get this kind of thing at big-box stores.

When I was a younger man, I played music with local bands. I was sort of

a utility musician for hire. I drove long distances to play loud music in beer joints, taverns, roadhouses, saloons, frat parties, Methodist quilting clubs, etc.

So I was always clocking off work late at night. And I was always starving. Musicians spend their lives on the brink of starvation. There’s an old saying among musicians: “A musician without a wife or a girlfriend probably lives under a bridge.”

But getting back to Publix. Every night after work—and I mean EVERY night—I would stop by the store for a deli sandwich. Always the same thing. Roast beef on white. Extra mustard and mayo. Add pickles.

It was always the same lady behind the deli counter, waiting for me. She knew I was coming. She would have my sandwich wrapped and waiting. It would still be warm. I don’t know how she did it.

One night, she…

I was out for a walk when I saw one. A Little Free Library, perched beside the road.

It’s a glorified wooden box on a post, shaped like a miniature schoolhouse. I looked inside. It was filled to the brim with food. Ramen noodles, dried pasta, tuna cans, mayonnaise, pepperoni, you name it.

There was a note: “Take all you need. Eat all you take. It’s free.”

I can’t think of a happier word than “free.” Just saying the word makes me feel good. If we as a nation wanted to boost the happiness ratio, all we’d have to do is start using the phrase “free puppies.” These words are scientifically proven to ruin your upholstery and cover you in pet dander. But they also make you happy.

I was once in a band that—this is true—wanted to get more gigs, so we temporarily named ourselves “Free Beer.” When the local bar put our band’s name on the outdoor marquee, it read: “Free Beer Tonite!”

We had a whole room full of people who were very angry

with us. But the point is, it actually worked because everyone likes free stuff.

The woman who owned the library saw me in her front yard and came outside. She was wearing a facemask.

“It gets more action that you’d think,” she said, keeping her distance. “We’ve had people stopping by, sometimes several times per day, every little bit helps someone in need.”

Her Little Free Library is normally filled with books, she said. But since the quarantine, she decided to fill it with food and toiletries for the needy. She’s not the only one doing this. People all over the U.S. have been doing this with their Little Free Libraries.

“Last week,” she went on, “We had a family of three wipe us out. Their dad told me he’d lost his job, this little library has kept his kids eating.”

Suddenly, I…

I am trapped in the bathroom with two 90-pound dogs and my wife. A tornado was spotted near our house, so we are crammed into this tiny room, taking shelter. There are a few trees down near our house. The wind is howling. My dog has bad gas.

It has been 40 days of self-isolation. And now a tornado. I truly think I’m losing my mind. Do you know what I did this morning to keep from going slap crazy? I wrote a letter to a goat. That’s right. I am not making this up. It’s a handwritten letter.

Now, I know what you’re thinking: “Why did you write to a goat when could have just written to an ostrich?”

I can’t answer that. All I know is that an animal rescue farm in Seven Valleys, Pennsylavnia, has started a pen-pal service during this quarantine wherein anyone can write to barnyard animals and—here’s the best part—the animals actually write letters back.

This is not a joke. You can send handwritten letters to real animals who

will read them, ponder them, eat them, and eventually turn them into an environmentally safe all-purpose fertilizer.

It’s not just goats who are available for correspondence. But also pigs, chickens, cows, and congresspersons.

This all started when Amanda and Steve Clark founded the Here With Us Farm Sanctuary in York County, Pennsylvania. They rescue abused and neglected animals and give them a great place to live. They have been doing this for a few years and they have animals crawling out of their ears.

This year was supposed to be the farm’s first year doing fun events like camping trips and educational tours. But then the pandemic hit. Life came to a crashing halt. The farm had no visitors.

So that’s where the idea for the pen-pal thing came from. Since visitors couldn’t pet animals in person, Amanda thought maybe they could write letters instead.

DURHAM, N.C.—A brisk day in North Carolina. A little overcast. Chilly outside. But you don’t know much about the weather because you are a 10-year-old boy, stuck on the fifth floor of Duke Hospital. You have myeloid leukemia.

You’re name is Reese Loggins. You are a fourth-grader. Bald. You have a few whisps of hair left after treatments. A perpetual smile. Some freckles, but not too many.

A nurse brings lunch on a tray.

“Reese,” your mother says. “What do you say to the nurse?”

So you tell the nurse, “Thank you.”

Parents are always doing this. They always remind you to say stuff like “yes sir,” “no ma’am,” “yes please,” and “thank you.”

And you say these words a lot because Duke Hospital, which is your home right now, is a madhouse. Everyone is working overtime. Over-overtime, actually. Nurses, doctors, techs, custodial staff, cafeteria workers. Everyone is slaving themselves to the bone because this is a “pandemic.”

The last place anyone wants to be during a worldwide healthcare crisis is a hospital. Medical professionals

have it hard right now. Because the whole world always expects them to “do” something. And if they can’t do it, well, find someone who can.

And it’s not just Duke. North Carolina is no day at the beach right now. Experts projected that North Carolina’s coronavirus crisis will peak at the end of April. Estimates say the state will be 862 hospital beds, 625 ICU beds, and 954 ventilators short of what they’ll need to treat patients.

So the place is flat nuts. Doctors are working themselves silly. Medical workers are following strict, almost unimaginable protocols when it comes to cross-contamination. Throughout the hospital, medical staffers are constantly stripping off gowns, replacing gloves, goggles, visors, facemasks, and powered purifying respirators.

It’s like a scene from a science fiction movie. As a matter of fact, that’s exactly what Duke feels like right now. A very…

Lately I’ve been receiving my share of emails from people who don’t have many nice things to say. Today I received more of these messages than usual. I don’t know why. Maybe it’s just one of those days.

I suppose since lots of people have been quarantining for well over 40 days now, folks are feeling kind of—and I’m sorry, but don’t know how else to put this—crotchety.

This is what my mother used to say when I would wake up in a bad moods. Crotchety. I was notorious for waking up in bad moods. I am what you’d call a Slow Waker Upper. I have NEVER crawled out of bed feeling like a million bucks.

In the mornings before school, my mother would always remind me, “Don’t be crotchety.” And she would say this in the same low-pitched tone that lions use when they eat the hindquarters of various antelopes.

The latest crotchety email was from a man in West Virginia, who wrote: “I don’t get why you're so obsessed with telling us about

your dogs.”

Then there was the sunny message from a guy in Tampa: “How disappointing, Sean. I thought you wrote about more relevant matters, who gives a [bleep] about baseball at a time like this? Really?”

But my favorite message was the one that came to me in all caps this morning. It went like this: “WHY DON’T YOU EVER WRITE ABOUT MICHIGAN!? YOU’VE WRITTEN ABOUT EVERYWHERE ELSE... WHAT DO YOU HAVE AGAINST US?”

Let me state, for the record, I have nothing against Michiganites (Michigonians? Michigaintiles? Michigan Terriers?)

Actually, I like Michigan. The first time I visited Detroit, my Michigan friends were warning me that traffic was very dangerous. At first, I was inclined to believe them because—this is true—10 minutes after I exited the airport, my taxi got into a car accident. But the cab driver assured me that auto accidents were very…

Day 36 of our quarantine. Many folks are still saying this is the End of the World. And Major League Baseball announced a few days ago that they will be pushing back Opening Day even further than originally thought. Some are saying we might not even have baseball this year.

That hurt.

You might think baseball is kind of a waste of time. And hey, you’re probably right. After all, when the word is falling apart, the last thing anyone needs to be losing sleep over is the importance of solid relief pitching.

Then again, a ball game is hard to describe to non-baseball people. It’s difficult to give adequate detail to the symphony of little things happening in a ball park. Like the smells. Or the sounds. Or the excitement you feel when you struggle for six hours just to find an illegal parking spot.

I remember when my old man took me to my first ball game. I must have been five. Maybe six. We were

walking through the long parking lot, he was holding my hand. He wore a Phillips 66 ball cap. I don’t know how I remember that.

It was a big stadium. There were huge ramps leading upward to the general admission (crummy) seats, which was all my old man was willing to pay for. He was so tight he had to use WD-40 just to get his wallet out of his pocket.

We sat in the upper decks with the riff raff of society, just like ourselves. The players were so far away that they looked like little fruitflies crawling on ripe pear. I had never felt quite as giddy as I did that day.

You see, you never forget your first glimpse of a ball field. The tight-cut grass, green in the setting sunlight. The geometric chalk lines, red dirt, the sounds of thirty thousand having a conversation at once. Everyone is…

I don’t know what made me think of this. But I when I was a kid, I remember when our preacher would often shout the following words from the pulpit:

“When I die, folks! Don’t weep for me! For I shall be in a place where the fried chicken never endeth!”

This was a sort of joke, you understand. And it always got a good laugh from the congregation because our preacher was a very round man who definitely knew his way around a fried chicken.

The reason I bring this up is probably because last night my wife made fried chicken. She’s been cooking up a storm since this COVID-19 quarantine started.

She used a hot skillet filled with peanut oil. Then she made cornbread to go with the chicken, and turnip greens. It was pure decadence.

And while I was digesting, I got to thinking about how the best and worst periods of my life can be measured in food.

Seriously. I can look back on the most sacred memories of childhood

and one of the first things that comes back to me is the food. The smells, textures, stains on my shirt. Likewise, I can relive my saddest moments and food is often part of those memories, too.

Twenty-four hours after my father’s death, our porch was loaded with casseroles and various wax-paper-lined shoeboxes of fried chicken. Someone even brought a brown paper sack full of biscuits. There were enough hand-thrown biscuits to last until the Second Coming of Elvis.

Among my people, the period surrounding a funeral features a lot of food. Which is ironic because you don’t feel like eating after your loved one dies, but somehow, you do.

But anyway, I can retell my entire life story with food:

Infanthood; pureed fried chicken. Adolescence; whole fried chicken. Teenage-hood; two whole fried chickens. Adulthood; cholesterol free synthetic alfalfa hay, Metamucil, and Lipitor.

Throughout my life…

To whom it may concern:

I wanted to say this in person, but this whole social distancing thing makes that impossible. So I decided to write you a letter. I won’t take up too much of your time.

I just wanted to say that I’ve been so moved by the work you’re doing lately. During this whole coronavirus thing you’ve really gone the extra mile. I wish I could write each one of you. Sadly, there are bajillions of you, and only one of me. So this will have to do.

Anyway, you don’t know me. I’m one of the faceless Americans you’ve been helping when you wake up every morning and do what you do.

Yesterday, for instance, I saw you through the burger-joint window, manning the grill. You wore a surgical mask and latex gloves. You had a line of to-go orders a mile long. Cars were lined up in the drive-thru lane stretching back to Bangladesh. You just did your job.

This letter is for you, and your fellow cooks,

cashiers, and even your grumpy manager, Kate, who made you work last Fourth of July because she is about as much fun as getting slapped with a spatula.

Also, to the woman who wrote to me yesterday whose daughter is a nurse, treating people with COVID-19 in New York. Even though her daughter is young and healthy, she puts herself on the front lines every day.

This is written to hospital custodial workers who clean every inch of every surface. Even the ceilings. To the cafeteria workers. The greeters. The security guards. Maintenance men. Triage. ICU. X-ray techs.

To the guy who drives our local UPS delivery truck. That guy is my hero. Every day he’s making deliveries around town. It makes me wonder how many hundreds of millions of gazillions of people are working every day, packaging boxes, loading trucks, driving forklifts, fulfilling online orders, and…