It was late. Her name was Lacy. She jumped out of her car and walked into work, wearing her food-service uniform. Visor on her head. Tired eyes. Slumped posture.

Lacy had been working herself silly to support her two children. This was her second job.

A man approached her. He pretended to ask for directions. He was carrying a knife. A big one. The kind of blade you’d used to clean a boar hog. He backed her against a wall. He told Lacy to get on the ground.

Then, another man appeared. He was wearing a plain T-shirt. Jeans. And he was barefoot. Also, he was roughly nine feet tall. At least that’s how Lacy remembers it from her position, lying on the ground.

The man with the knife took one look at Barefoot Guy and sprinted for parts unknown.

Lacy was going to thank her rescuer, but by the time she got to her feet, he was gone. Nobody nearby recalled seeing a barefoot man.

“I know what I saw,” Lacy says. “I ain’t


A truck driver. The rural parts. He was driving a backroad. It was late. There were no other vehicles in sight. The roads were poorly marked. He was lost.

It gets dark in the country. City mice aren’t ready for the kind of blackness found out in the sticks. He drove through the inky dark, hoping to get a sense of where he was. Hoping to figure out how to get back to civilization. But he only grew more lost.

Then. He saw a figure on the side of the road. Flagging him down.

It was a boy. He was maybe 19. The kid looked like he was hitchhiking. Except he wasn’t. The young guy refused to get in the truck. The young man instead told the trucker he had been sent to deliver a message.

“A message?” the trucker asked.

“The road’s washed…

“I’ve never met a blind dog before,” said the little boy.

He was a foster child, his foster mother was with him. We were all introduced by chance in a public park.

The boy watched my dog, Marigold, walking along, bumping into a nearby fence. We were out for a potty-break. Marigold was trying to find a suitable patch of grass to do what I call, “leaving constructive criticism.”

The boy watched us in rapt wonder. We are a team. Dog and man. Marigold and me.

I am Marigold’s “Seeing Eye” human. My job is to guide her through this world of woe. I have no idea what I’m doing, but I’m trying.

And at this particular moment, I was following Marigold closely with a plastic baggy over my hand, ready to do my duty.

“Why is she blind?” the boy asked.

I chose my words carefully. Because how do you tell an innocent foster child that somebody took a blunt object to this puppy’s head and destroyed her eyes?

How do you tell a child there are humans out there who would use

a length of rebar as a weapon against a soft, floppy-eared puppy?

“Someone hurt her,” I said.


“Not everyone’s a nice person.”

The boy’s eyes grew serious. “Yeah. I know.”

He looked at Marigold prancing along and said nothing. He just observed.

The kid was maybe 6. He wore Levi’s and a striped shirt that showed his little belly. His hair was strawberry. Opie Taylor eat your heart out.

His foster mother said he’s had a rough life. And that is all I’m permitted to tell you about him.

He watched Marigold with great interest. Marigold walks with a cautious gait. Sometimes she high-steps like she’s hiking through tall grass. She does this so she won’t stumble on any sudden obstacles.

We’ve been working on things, every day. When we go for walks, off-leash, I…


I have been asked to write a column for my hometown newspaper. Nobody knows about the paper, but it’s big where I live. I’m scared. Scared I’m not good enough or that people won’t like what I write. Can you give me some advice?

Best wishes,


Writing a column is a lot like passing a kidney stone. It’s uncomfortable, sure. But when you’re finished, you’ll have a neat souvenir to share with your family.

When I first started writing columns, I was on the wrong side of age 30. I had no training. No experience. No pedigree. All I had were buck teeth and a bad back.

I waltzed into a small-town newspaper office and brazenly asked if I could work there. The woman behind the editor’s desk looked at me like I was three peas short of a casserole.

She asked about my qualifications.

I told her I had no qualifications except that I was currently attending a community college. Also, for breakfast I’d had a V8.

To my surprise, she gave

me a job. I was shocked. Shocked.

Then, the editor went on to say there was a $50 signing bonus for new employees. So I reached into my pocket, got out my checkbook and said, “Who do I make the check out to?”

“No, silly,” she said. “The $50 bonus is for you. It’s for expenses.”

Well, I took that money and applied it toward my celebration expenses. I celebrated by filling my truck with gas, and buying a gas-station eggroll that, to this day, remains obstructed in my gastrointestinal tract somewhere.

But my life was forever changed by this simple job of producing columns. I love what I do.

Since then, I’ve written columns for many newspapers, Rotary Club pamphlets, Girl Scout troop newsletters, church bulletins, nursing home mailouts, and Civic League email prayer lists. And in my brief career,…

I am eating a cheeseburger, sipping beer, looking at a restaurant full of families and kids.

There is a band playing. They couldn’t be any worse if they detuned their instruments and started making bodily noises over the microphone.

But the children are loving the music. Some are dancing. Others are screaming, “Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!”

“That’s all my kids know how to say,” says one of my exasperated friends. “‘Daddy, Daddy.’ Like a warped record.”

I love kids. I have always wondered how people with children enjoy their lives. I look around at a table of my middle-aged friends and I am thinking of this very thing.

These young parents seem to have more responsibility than the rest of us civilians. In fact, they’re so responsible that they can’t even focus on a conversation for more than one-point-nine seconds.

They are always too busy looking from the corners of their eyes, waiting for an impending catastrophe caused by a screaming toddler.

My friend Billy, for instance, is trying to tell a story, but his sentences are incoherent because he

keeps diverting his eyes toward his kids. “Hey,” he begins. “You remember when we were fifteen…”

Billy turns his head.

“...And there was that water tower….”

Another head turn.

“...With the Hallelujah Chorus and..”


My friend Nathan tells me about being a dad:

“The thing about kids is, they say ‘Daddy’ about fifteen hundred times per day. It’s enough to make you nuts. You get so sick of hearing that word. ‘Daddy, daddy.’”

“Yeah,” another friend says. “For once, I wish my kids would just let me pee without having nervous breakdowns outside the door.”

Meantime, my friends’ wives sit at the other side of the table, rocking babies, talking.…

We were newlyweds. Our apartment was cozy. Cozy in a nuclear-fallout sort of way.

We’re talking 600 square feet. Our bathroom was barely big enough to shower in without sustaining a subdural hematoma.

The tenants below us had a flea infestation. Which meant the whole building had fleas. Which meant that I was always pausing mid-conversation to scratch my scalp.

Our lives were otherwise pretty good. My wife taught preschool. Which is code for, “wiping tiny butts.” Ironically, when my wife first interviewed with the school, she flatly told the preschool director, “I’ll do anything but wipe butts.”

The director simply laughed. Within 24 hours on the job, my wife had already wiped eight.

Meantime, my job was working with a friend, hanging commercial gutter. I hated it.

I was the kind of guy you’d bring to a nice cocktail party, and whenever someone asked, “So, what do you do?” I’d answer, “My life is in the gutter.” Whereupon cocktail party guests would ask me to refill their drinks.

But we were happy. And that’s the

thing about newlyweds. They’re nonsensically happy. My wife and I were always exhausted, overworked, underpaid, and just generally pooped from trying to make ends meet. We lived on ramen noodles, or if we were feeling especially lavish, Stouffer's lasagna.

But we were happy.

On the night of my wife’s birthday, however, she wanted to go out to eat, and we couldn’t afford it. We had $27.39 in our bank account. It had been a hard month.

Heck, it had been a hard last few years.

At work that day, I was feeling terrible, thinking about how poor we were. I almost asked one of my friends whether I could borrow money for a nice birthday dinner, but I was not raised to ask for money.

The people I come from would rather live in a refrigerator carton than beg.

So that night, I got…

AMY TOOTHAKER—Happy birthday, Jamie. Though Jamie and I became friends later in life, I feel like I’ve known her forever.

I knew we’d be forever bonded when we were up to our elbows, cutting up frozen chickens after Hurricane Michael, Lucy-and-Ethel style. Jamie can laugh like no one else and she brings that joy to everyone around her.

CASHIER AT PIGGLY WIGGLY—You mean the lady who was just in here? It’s her birthday? What do you want me to say about her? Um. Okay. Let’s see. She was a nice person. Gosh, I don’t know. I feel uncomfortable saying things about someone I don’t know.

MANDY MCKENZIE HOKE—Jamie has the heart of an angel, but you better not mess with the people she loves. I’m glad I’m one of those people… And I’m also a little scared of her.

KATIE HUELSBECK—I love talking to Jamie. She’s always ready to listen, even our heavy conversations are filled with laughs. And those biscuits are fire.

LYLE SANDQUIST—It’s not every day you get to meet someone who can do EVERYTHING with such efficiency.

She is

able to schedule, coordinate, stay on top of orders, bills, mailings, dogs, dog sitters, housecleaning, relatives and friends who come through her house like hotel guests, grocery shopping, cooking exquisite menus, providing directions, booking hotels, vet appointments, and still, after all that, she’s able to be kind, sweet, congenial, social, and loving! Happy birthday, Jamie.

THE WASTE MANAGEMENT GUYS—She always separates the recycling stuff just right.

LANIER MOTES—I remember I was helping Jamie cook for a catering event. Sean showed up with an accordion. Only one of us was amused. And that person was me.

LESLIE SCHMIDT—​​I’m so thankful for Jamie and the love for family, flowers and dogs that we share. She is beautiful, genuine and real, and I love that about her. We need more Jamie’s in the world.

BENTLEY MARTIN—She has always been so special,…

Noon. A Mexican taco truck. Birmingham. This parking lot is packed, if there was an empty square-inch of space it’s already filled with a Nissan or a Kia.

Earlier this morning, I was on a radio show. The host drilled me with loaded questions. It was a disaster. I was supposed to be plugging my new book, instead the host was asking slanted questions about hot-button, divisive topics.

The problem is, I don’t know how to answer divisive questions. I’m not a smart guy. I didn’t graduate high school.

Moreover, I wasn’t a particularly bright student to begin with. I was always getting letters and numbers mixed up. In fact, it took me 30 years to figure out that “taters” was spelled with a P.

I’m not qualified to talk about controversial issues. I have a hard enough time just spelling my last name.

The host’s main question of the morning was, “What do you think will save this country?”

Sadly, I had no answer for him. My only salvation was to fake a bladder emergency.

But I’m thinking about his question

right now, standing in this taco truck line.

What will save this country?

Ahead of me in line is a female police officer. She wears a blue uniform, ballistic body armor, and a chest-mounted radio. She is powerfully built. She could twist me into a human pretzel, dip me in garlic sauce and serve me with a Mick Ultra.

“Ma’am,” I begin, “can I ask you a personal question?”


“What do you think will save this country?”

She frowns. “Save this what? Whatchoo mean?”

So I repeat the question.

“You know what I think will save this country?” she finally answers. “People looking out for each other, people being a blessing instead of being selfish.”

I nod and write it down.

I order chilaquiles verdes, which is my all-time favorite Mexican dish. I was first introduced to…

You probably don’t know this, but today is National 87-Year-Old Day. The reason you don’t know about this particular holiday is because I just invented it a few seconds ago.

I created this holiday especially for a woman named Miss Jodi, from Bent Tree, Georgia, who is, in case you haven’t guessed, 87 years old.

Miss Jodi’s children told me she has been under the weather lately. So this is why I wanted her to have a holiday of her own.

Oh, sure, I could have simply said “I’m praying for you to get well, Miss Jodi.” But this phrase is so often misused that sometimes I’m afraid the words have lost their meaning in our culture.

When I was a kid, people used to say they were “praying for you” all the time. But you always knew they probably weren’t.

Good folks would rush up to you after church, shake your hand and hurriedly say, “I’ll be praying for you!”

But somehow you knew, deep inside, they were just hurrying through the motions so they could

beat the Methodists to the Mexican restaurant.

But getting back to my new holiday. As I say, this is a big deal. National 87-Year-Old Day is going to be huge all over the U.S. They’re going to close down schools and businesses, throw monstrous parades, and have two-for-one pitchers at the local Freewill Baptist churches.

And it’s all for you, Miss Jodi.

Admittedly, I’ve never been to Bent Tree, Georgia, but our childhood preacher was from Jasper. He had the personality of coleslaw. He preached two great sermons in his career. The day he joined us, and the day he left.

Even so, I imagine the mayor of Bent Tree will be calling Miss Jodi soon to offer her a key to the city. And if he doesn’t, I think we should all call the locksmith and chip in to have one cut.

Her letter came via snail mail. She’s 16. Her beautiful handwriting makes my own penmanship look like chicken fertilizer.

She’s an exceptional kid. Wants to be a graphic designer one day. Loves horses. Favorite book is “Huckleberry Finn.” Her favorite author is Mark Twain.

We’ll call her Becky.

“Dear Sean,” Becky’s letter began, “why are people so mean on social media…?”

It all started this summer. Becky posted pictures online. They were images her mom took while she was at the lake with friends.

Four teenage girls with arms draped around each other. Smiling. They wore modest bathing suits. They were eating ice cream. Normal kids. Just having fun.

The images received fistfuls of hateful comments from some of Becky’s classmates online. It really hurt.

“We’re not the tiniest girls in school,” she wrote. “I’m overweight and I’m not super pretty, but people were so mean that I literally wanted to die.”

There were over 73 ugly comments on Becky’s post. It started with kids she knew, then the remarks were coming from people she’d never met.

She finally took

the photos down.

“Help me deal with haters,” Becky wrote. “I feel so bad about myself.”

I can relate to what you’re feeling, Becky. I was a child who never seemed to fit the mold. I had a wider waistline than most of my peers. My childhood doctor actually told me, point-blank, that I was overweight.

The exact word he used was the F word.

He laughed endearingly as he pinched my pink tummy and said, “Good heavens, this boy is FAT.”

He told me to be more active, to take better care of myself, to eat better, to consume less sugar, and then he lit another unfiltered Camel and offered the nurse one.

So I disliked myself, growing up. Which made me a prime target for bullies. To make matters worse, I wore godawful jeans my mom purchased from…

I was driving. I was hungry. I had to pull over because I was about to eat my own steering wheel. The Tennessee autumn was in full swing. I had a long way left to go.

I found a meat and three in a strip mall. Lots of trucks in the parking area.

You can trust a place with trucks in the parking lot.

Everyone knows that if you see a throng of Fords and Chevys in a restaurant parking lot, the said establishment has exceptional fried chicken. If you see Cadillacs and Buicks, they will also have excellent congealed salad.

The server behind the sneeze guard asked what I wanted. He was tall, gaunt, wearing a hairnet. His neck and arms were painted in a gridwork of tattoos.

“Chicken of meatloaf?” he said.

“Chicken,” said I.

Fried chicken is a dying art in America. I was raised fundamentalist; fried chicken is my spiritual mascot. Fried chicken is holy food. And it is the only dish I don’t mind eating cold. Next-day chicken, straight from the fridge,

is better than Christmas.

The server selected drumsticks that were roughly the size of a James Patterson paperback.

“You want veggies with it?” he said.

“Does the pope go in the woods?” I said.

The list of side dishes was plentiful: Mac and cheese, fried green tomatoes, squash casserole, turnip greens, butterbeans, pintos, great northerns, zipper peas, cornbread salad, slaw, tater logs.

And don’t even get me started on the sweets. You had peach cobbler, lemon meringue, blueberry dump cake, caramel cake, chess pie, and complimentary syringes of insulin.

When my foam box was loaded to capacity, I filled my cup from the tea dispenser. The man who served me was on break, waiting to fill his tea.

We started talking. After a few minutes of conversation, I learned that he had just got out of prison.

“I was turned down for ten…