I’m on the phone. I’ve been on hold all morning since my blog’s website quit working. I called customer service. Ever since then, I’ve been listening to hold music, “The Piña Colada Song” by Rupert Holmes. I do not like this song.

I am desperately waiting for the sound of a human voice so I can finally...

—MUSIC STOPS—

RECORDED VOICE: Thank you. Your call is important to us, please continue to hold while you wait for a representative. Your approximate wait time is: Six hundred minutes.

—“THE PIÑA COLADA SONG,” RUPERT HOLMES—

TECH SUPPORT: Hi, thanks for calling your web service provider, this is Bill, what seems to be the problem?

ME: My website is not working.

TECH: Who am I speaking with, please?

ME: My name is Sean. My website is broken.

TECH: Okay, thanks, Wayne. And what seems to be the problem today?

ME: My website went down, I can’t access it, it’s a blank page.

TECH: Excellent. First I’m gonna need to verify your Social Security number, your zip-code, and I’ll need a quick blood sample, please. And who am I speaking

with, please?

ME: I just told you.

TECH: Fantastic. And why don’t you tell me what your reason for calling is.

ME: I told you three times.

TECH: Super. My professional advice is, if you wanna take care of this issue, you ought to buy the Silver Package. That’ll clear this whole mess up.

ME: Fine, let’s do it.

TECH: Hold please.

—“HOW DEEP IS YOUR LOVE,” BEE GEES—

TECH: Hi, sorry about the wait, Phillip, I had to use the little boys room. Now, what seems to be the problem today?

ME: My name’s not Phillip, it’s Sean. I already told you the problem.

TECH: Hold please.

—“LOVE WILL KEEP US TOGETHER,” CAPTAIN AND TENNILLE—

TECH: Okay, thank you for your continued patience, Sigmund, we’re hard at…

Today is John’s first day of school. His mother, Tanya, is saying goodbye to him. She kisses him. She straightens his collar and fixes his hair. She sends him off to join his kindergarten classmates.

Soon, several five-year-olds are walking into the building, all wearing large backpacks. Tanya waves again.

“I love you!” she shouts from the parking lot.

“Love you, mom!” he yells.

“So much!”

“I know, Mom!”

John’s book bag looks heavier than he is. His mother waves again and again. More I-love-yous, more blowing kisses.

Tanya says, “Lord, I never knew it would be this hard.”

She admits that she doesn’t don’t know exactly how to feel right now. Of course she feels proud, but also a little sick to her stomach.

“For five years,” she says, “I taught him to talk, eat, how to say yes ma’am, everything. It’s always been him and me. But now…” She wipes the corner of her eye. “Now he’s in there, and I’m out here.”

There are lots of parents out

here. Each parent watches his or her child join the herd of lost puppies who do not understand the concept of a single-file line.

On the sidewalk, kids await their teacher who will take them to a classroom.

Tanya’s friend, Kimberly is also saying goodbye to her son, Townes.

Kimberly says, “This is a happy day, don’t get me wrong, but it’s bittersweet, you know?”

John and Townes are with their peers. Laughing. Horsing around. Today is the first day of the rest of their lives.

Their two mothers couldn’t be prouder if this were a Lee Greenwood hit song.

As it happens, I remember my first day of kindergarten. In fact, I remember it with startling clarity. Which is bizarre because I don’t have a good memory.

My memory has gotten worse with age. There…

This is only my second time in Kentucky. And in the last few days we have driven through the entire state.

AUBURN, KY—We are staying at the Federal Grove Bed and Breakfast in Central Kentucky. It’s an all-brick colonial house with tall columns.

It looks like the sort of estate that might have a fancy historic name like Funicello, or Vermicelli, or something like that.

The trees are fat. The hills are gentle. The rolling farmland goes on forever. This land used to belong to Jonathan Clark, older brother of William Clark—as in Lewis and Clark.

At breakfast this morning, I kept expecting to run into Abraham Lincoln, or George Washington, or at the very least, Wynona Judd.

This is only my second time in Kentucky. And in the last few days we have driven through the entire state.

Yesterday was an important day, sightseeing-wise. My wife and I are students of early American history. So we made a special point to visit an important landmark which played a pivotal role in our nation’s freedom; the first Kentucky Fried Chicken.

In downtown Corbin, the unassuming eatery still has a sign reading: “Sander’s Cafe.”

The tiny KFC museum is attached to a fully operational fast-food restaurant. A statue of Colonel Sanders sits in the lobby. I had my picture made with the Colonel.

In the dining room, I met an elderly couple who lives nearby. The old woman wore a tank top and used a walking stick. Her husband wore plaid.

“I met the Colonel once,” said the woman. “Lotta people in Corbin met him. He was the most famous Kentuck’n there was.”

“He made good chicken,” said her husband.

“He made REALLY good chicken,” the old woman said.

“That’s what I just said, Dora.”

“I know, but I was saying it again, for the article guy.”

“The article guy don’t need to hear it twice.”

Later that day, Article Guy and his wife visited Richmond, a college town. The enormous courthouse has columns as…

I don’t often give speeches at Baptist churches. I speak at lots of other churches, but not usually Baptist ones.

KENTUCKY—Right now, I am in the fellowship hall of First Baptist Church in Richmond. I’m about to tell stories to a room of Baptists.

The entree tonight is barbecued pork. The beverages are sweet tea and extra-sweet tea. These are beautiful people.

I don’t often give speeches at Baptist churches. I speak at lots of other churches, but not usually Baptist ones.

This is probably because I tell a lot of Baptist jokes. I do this because I come from fundamentalist Baptists who will forever be in my blood. They were people who wore lots of Brylcreem and ate too many congealed salads.

But I can’t help it. My people are too easy to make jokes about. The punchlines practically write themselves.

Here’s one a preacher told me:

One day a Catholic priest, a Methodist, a Presbyterian, and a Baptist minister were fishing. They were arguing over which denomination Jesus would be.

The Catholic priest said, “He’d be part of the Roman Catholic Church, no doubt.”

The Methodist said, “No

way. I think after all John Wesley did for the Christian faith, he would certainly be a Methodist.”

“I think he’d be Presbyterian,” said the Presbyterian. “I have no doubt he’d join the Reformed Tradition.”

The Baptist minister shook his head and said, “I’m sorry fellas, that boy’s going to Hell unless he cuts his hair.”

It is hard to make a Baptist laugh. Chances are, if you’re Baptist, you didn’t laugh at that. In fact, you might have even read it and remarked aloud, “Bah humbug,” then went into the other room and horsewhipped your firstborn child.

Again. I’m kidding.

See? That’s exactly what I’m talking about. The people I came from didn’t laugh. In fact, we laughed less than all other denominations combined.

For instance, I once attended an Episcopal church in Mobile that had cocktail hour…

But not me, thank God. I wasn’t ever called “chubby.” I was called “chunky.”

DEAR SEAN:

Your writing is becoming redundant, can you write about something else besides the same things over and over again? If you need help with ideas then get out of your comfort zone to stretch yourself and see more of this world.

...And don’t take offense when I tell you this, but I think you should shave and get a haircut since in your pictures you can sometimes look homeless. Don’t be afraid to let the world see the smiling face that’s behind all that hair, people will love it!

Thanks,
NITPICKY

DEAR NITPICKY:

Thank you for writing me. Of course you didn’t offend me, don’t be silly. I love it when people tell me I look “homeless.” It makes my day.

Only someone with deep emotional insecurities could feel hurt by such words. Someone who, for instance, might have been made fun of in middle school for being chubby. But not me, thank God. I wasn’t ever called “chubby.”

I was called “chunky.”

Chubby and chunky are not the same things. Chubby people

can wear bathing suits to Lydia Mandeville’s thirteenth birthday party and feel no shame.

Chunky people would rather die in a tragic diving-board accident than remove their shirt in public.

Then again, the only thing that would have been worse than taking off my shirt in front of thirteen-year-olds would have been NOT ATTENDING the biggest party of the century.

My friend, Billy (also chunky), insisted on going to the party because he was in love with Lydia Mandeville.

Billy begged me to go. He said, “I need you there! For support! PLEASE!”

“I’m sorry, Billy. I’m not going.”

“There’s gonna be barbecue.”

“Barbecue?”

“Did I stutter?”

So I decided to go to Lydia’s party because there was going to be barbecue.

Billy’s mother dropped us off at the public pool. Billy and I arrived…

But once we hit the rural parts, the world becomes more relaxed again. There is a feel to this part of Alabama that can’t be described, it’s like exhaling.

The Highway 127 Yard Sale is a six-hundred-mile junk extravaganza stretching from Alabama to Michigan.

Every August, hordes of people come from all over the U.S. to ride the rural route. It starts in the South, shoots through the Midwest, and finally ends in the Great Lake State.

My wife and I leave Birmingham early, heading for Gadsden, where the route begins. We haven’t done the Highway 127 Yard Sale since we were first married, back in the winter of 1912.

The traffic in Birmingham is nightmarish. People drive like they’ve just escaped from a psychiatric unit. Motorists in the left lane drive upward of a hundred miles per hour and honk at you if you travel slower than the sound barrier.

I do not drive fast enough for Birmingham. I know this because while I am driving, a man in a Land Rover rolls his window down and shows me the Universal Finger Gesture.

He actually takes the time to roll his window down, thereby interrupting

his important text-message conversation.

But once we hit the rural parts, the world becomes more relaxed again. There is a feel to this part of Alabama that can’t be described. It’s like exhaling.

There is an epidemic of kudzu, and an exciting buzz in the air because of all the yard-salers. It’s the same kind of excitement that accompanies all major life-events such as weddings, baptisms, and the Winston Cup Series.

Soon, we see white canopy tents lining the highway. Miles of tents. Miles and miles. And I hear choirs of angels singing in the distance because I know that beneath each of these tents is:

Junk.

I am a connoisseur of junk. A collector, if you will. Inside my garage are mountains of boxes containing rare antiques that—according to many well-respected experts—are worthless.

For instance, I have a collection of Englebert Humperdink records…

I hear rustling in the other room. I hear four pairs of paws. They are scratching on their plastic kennel liners.

6:23 A.M.—I wake up. I hobble out of bed. It takes longer to wake up than it used to. In these morning moments, many thoughts go through my head.

Thoughts like: Why does my back hurt? Did I sleep on a billiard ball last night? What is my name? What is this new pain in my ankle? I don’t remember hurting my ankle. My ankle really hurts. Why does my ankle hurt? Is this even my ankle? I need coffee.

I shuffle to the kitchen. There it is. The coffee pot. I see it. On the stove. Glory be.

But the imaginary voice of my wife speaks to me, even though my actual wife is still asleep.

Imaginary Wife says, “Take your vitamins BEFORE you make coffee, or else you’ll forget.”

But I hate vitamins. My wife buys liquid vitamins that need to be mixed with water. They taste like industrial strength Lysol.

I fill a water glass and mix in liquid vitamins. I toss it back. I gag. I lean over the sink and start to moan. What in God's name is that pain in my ankle?

I hear rustling in the other room. I hear four pairs of paws. They are scratching on the plastic kennel liners.

The heathens are awake. I hear tails wagging. It sounds like:

THWAT! THWAT! THWAT!

The closer I get to the kennels, the faster the thwats become.

THWATTHWATTHWATTHWAT!

I operate with extreme care. These dogs have been cooped up all night and are ready to to reenact the final scene from the “Great Escape.”

The other morning, I opened the kennel doors and the dogs nearly knocked me over and broke my neck.

“Calm down,” I tell them.

The kennel doors open. Two large-breed dogs leap from their crates like Steve McQueen and Charles Bronson bound for freedom. I fall…

This is your life, Chad. College is Act One.

Call your mama. You asked for my advice about starting college, Chad, so that’s my advice. When you leave for your first semester at Auburn University, don’t forget to call her.

I don’t call my mother enough. I don’t know anybody who does. Which is why you should do it.

Also, don’t take yourself too seriously. Don’t take anything too seriously. I’m not saying to quit brushing your teeth. I’m only saying that lots of students take school way too seriously.

This is your life, Chad. College is Act One.

A few years ago, a study found that seventy-three percent of college graduates don’t even use their degrees. I am one of these graduates. In fact, I don’t even know exactly what my job is.

Which brings me to my next point:

You know nothing. And that’s a good thing. The less you understand about life, the happier you will be. The smarter you try to act, the more you will look like a complete jackass.

Ask any elderly man, he’ll tell you

that life was more fun when he was a dumb kid.

So a good motto for your life might be, “Hi, I’m Chad, and I don’t know diddly squat.”

The reason I tell you this is because the only way to actually LEARN diddly squat, is to not know diddly squat beforehand. So keep plenty of cobwebs in your head, don’t be afraid of not having the answers.

Also, put your phone away. Eat more bacon. Don’t bet against an underdog. Help with the dishes. Go bowling. Adopt a pet. Do not ever—this is very important—put pineapple on your pizza.

Ignore trends. The world is full of trends and fads. Fad-movies, fad-music, trendy decor, shiplap, keto, skinny jeans, edamame, etc.

Even religion has become trendy. There was a time when most churches did not approve of music with drums…

Every soul at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. Doctors, nurses, janitors, cooks, staff, and patients.

I was a little boy. I was in a bad mood. My mother sent me to my room before supper.

“You march upstairs, mister,” she told me. “You go count your blessings.”

“But MAMA!” I said.

“Count’em one by one, young man, make a long list, or you don’t get any meatloaf.”

I’m thirty-some-odd years too late, but my wife is making meatloaf tonight.

So:

My wife—because she loved me first.

And boiled peanuts. Just because.

And dogs. Every dog.

And people who stop four lanes of traffic to save dogs. And people who adopt dogs. And people who like dogs. And people who spend so much time with dogs that they start to think like dogs.

And saturated fat. Pork. Smoked bacon, cured hams, and runny yolks in my fried eggs.

And cotton clothes that just came off a summer clothesline.

And the sound wind makes when it makes its way through the trees. And the smells of fall. And rain. Garlic.

Old radio shows. As a

boy, a local station used to play reruns of Superman, the Lone Ranger, Little Orphan Annie, the Jack Benny Show, Abbott and Costello, and the Grand Ole Opry. I lived for these shows.

And the girl I met in Birmingham—she’s lived in fourteen different foster homes.

The child in Nashville—whose feet are too big for her sneakers. She can’t afford new ones.

Every soul at Children’s Hospital, Birmingham. Doctors, nurses, janitors, cooks, staff, and patients.

Every child who will be fortunate enough to see tomorrow morning. Every child who won’t.

And tomatoes. Tomatoes remind me of things deeper than just tomatoes themselves. They remind me of women who garden. Women like my mother, who suffered to raise two children after her husband met an untimely end.

Mama. The woman who made me. The woman whose voice I…

This is getting bizarre, I’m thinking. I don’t think I’ve locked eyes with a single person today.

The kids in the breakfast joint are twenty-somethings, nice looking, and fit. The kind of people that belong in a running-shoe commercial. Or a beer commercial. Or a fragrance advertisement that takes place on a sailboat.

But something is off. They are taking pictures of their food. Each kid holds a phone above his or her plate.

CLICK! CLICK!

And something else. They aren’t talking to each other. They aren’t even making eye contact.

They stare at their devices, eating with one hand, holding a phone in the other.

After breakfast, my wife and I head across town. I have a busy day. I have a small-town radio interview at ten.

We arrive at the station where I sit in the waiting room. Everyone in the room is young. Nobody is conversing. Lots of phones.

“Nice weather today,” I say to one woman.

She taps on her device and says, “Hmm.”

“They’re calling for rain tomorrow,” I go on.

No answer.

“The building’s on fire,” I say. “We’re all gonna die a

horrible death.”

“Hmmm.”

I turn to the guy on my other side. “What’re you in for?”

But he’s listening to music on earphones.

And everyone else is gazing at electronic devices until their faces are slack-jawed and streams of drool fall from the corners of their mouths making puddles on the floor, which the custodian ought to be cleaning up, except he’s playing Fruit Ninja on his phone right now.

I’m invited into the sound-proof booth. We’re on the air. I wear headphones.

The host is not looking at me. Instead, he is looking at a phone. The engineer behind soundproof glass is playing on his phone, too. I could be wearing a taxidermied alligator skull for a hat and nobody would even notice.

This is getting bizarre, I’m thinking. I don’t think I’ve locked eyes with…