Recently, it came to my attention that I was one of the remaining four Americans who had not seen “Barbie.” In case you’re one of the other three, “Barbie” is a wildly popular movie that is making waves in all the headlines.

The New York Times recently said that “Barbie” is “...about becoming your own hero.” CNN stated that “Barbie” is “...Important for normalizing women’s health.” Toisto Magazine called “Barbie” the “most important film of the year.”

“Barbie” has reportedly impressed the Hollywood establishment because it proved that, to produce a hit movie you don’t need computer graphics, elaborate CGI effects, and a huge production budget to create hype. All you need is a huge promotional budget to create hype.

So I decided to see “Barbie” with my friend Dan, a former law-enforcement officer, who asked me to accompany him and his two daughters.

I haven’t been to the theater in a long time. I think the last movie I saw was “Steel Magnolias.” Mostly, because my people weren’t big movie goers. We were sanctified Baptists who

did not believe in going to the movies for fear that it could lead to mixed bathing.

When we got there, the first thing I noticed was that lots of young women were there to see “Barbie.” I could tell this because they were all dressed in neon pink.

“I’ve seen ‘Barbie’ four times,” one 22-year-old woman told me. “It’s just a great movie, with an important message.”

I asked the young woman what this message was, exactly.

“Um,” she went on, “like, it’s about, like… Like. I don’t know. You just have to see it.”

Another group of teenage women stood in line with their boyfriends. The young women had already seen “Barbie” twice. This was their boyfriends’ first time.

“We made our boyfriends come with us this time,” said one the girls. “Because it’s a super good movie.”

“Oh my God,”…

“Sean, when are you going to say something about America and the pitiful state we’re in…? A lot of people are speaking out… Have you heard the song “Rich Men North of Richmond”? It’s about American oppression… But you have remained silent and are thus part of the problem.

“...The longer you turn a blind eye to our national troubles, the more respect I lose for you. When are you going to call out what’s wrong with this country?


Dear Jan, I’d like to tell you about a scene I saw about four years ago.

I was at a Piggly Wiggly in a no-name U.S. Southeastern state. I was traveling on business. I was almost to my hotel when I stopped to buy some Chili Cheese Fritos and, God willing, a six-pack.

As I was wheeling into the store parking lot, I noticed a young woman and her two kids standing on the corner. They were begging.

I have a policy. I give to people who beg. Not because I am a good guy.

I’m not. I am a selfish American who spends more money on streaming video services than I do helping the needy.

But I once had a cousin who was addicted to meth. This cousin commonly resorted to panhandling on street corners.

My cousin once told me the amount of cars that passed by when he begged was staggering. He once said, “You never feel more invisible than you do when you’re on that street corner holding that stupid sign.”

This mother was holding a cardboard sign. She had scabs all over her face and arms. I don’t know much, I know what the scabs are all about.

The sign read, “My kids are hungry.”

The woman’s kids were standing directly beside her. And she was dressed in rags. I parked in the parking lot and I watched her for a while.

Finally, I…

You don’t find places like this anymore. You just don’t.

Brenda’s Kitchen sits off Highway 45 in Chester County, Tennessee. It’s a tiny restaurant, located next to the Tractor Supply. The kind of under-the-radar joint that serves country food. Not “country-style” food. Not “home-style” food. But real-people food.

It’s an average Wednesday. Lunch rush. The parking lot is full of muddy Fords and Chevys. Which is a good sign. You couldn’t fit a bicycle in this parking lot edgewise.

I walk inside. Paneled walls. Vinyl tablecloths. The place is adorned in Chester County High School colors of blue and white. Go Eagles.

Most customers either have white hair or none at all. There are several pairs of Velcro shoes. You see a lot of camouflage. Boots galore. I count six pairs of overalls in this joint.


This room smells like coffee and bacon and chocolate cake. Pie coolers hum. A TV plays the news. Old men in the corner are dog cussing politicians. There is a sign on the wall which reads, “No profanity.”

Miss Brenda

is seated at a table, sipping tea, watching it all. She is lean, with cotton hair and an easy smile. Whenever a customer enters, she greets them only with her eyes.

This is a little town. Everybody knows everybody. The servers know what customers want before they enter. Because that’s the thing about towns like this. In a small town, whenever you don’t know what you’re doing, everyone else does.

Brenda’s Kitchen has been around for 17 years. She started this place after she retired. She had always wanted to have a restaurant.“Guess I just like to feed people,” she says. “Or maybe I’m a glutton for punishment.”

The menu is elegant, but uncomplicated. All the classics are here. Today Brenda is serving pot roast with potatoes. Mashed potatoes. Greens. Black eyed peas. She even has chess pie.

You have to drive a…

My favorite hymn is the one about leaning on everlasting arms. I got to thinking about this song today when I was sitting on the porch with my sister. We were both singing.

“Leaning, leaning,
“Safe and secure, from all alarms…”

My sister is a 33-year-old woman. She is beautiful. Funny. And she’s got a way about her. She’s meek. And you can just tell that she’s been humbled in her life.

I know a thing or two about being humbled. Which is a very different thing than simply “being a humble person.”

Being a humble person, for example, means that you don’t cut in line, take the last biscuit, or sing karaoke.

But being “humbled” (past-tense non-restrictive intransitive verb) is a thing that is done to you. Usually, without your consent. Being humbled is an experience that feels a lot like getting your head shaved.

I have been humbled a lot throughout life. In fact, I will be humbled as soon as I submit this very column when a reader with an English

degree writes to me and says there is no such thing as a “past-tense non-restrictive intransitive verb.”

My sister has been humbled too many times for anyone’s good.

It all started when my father died in a traumatic way, an event I’ve written about enough. When this horrible thing happened to my family, my sister and I both quit going to school.

At the time, I was 11, and had no use for sentence diagrams dealing with worthless concepts, such as, to pick a concept at random, intransitive verbs. My sister, however, was in kindergarten when she quit school.

As a result, my sister didn’t learn how to read until she was 20 years old. She became highly skilled at hiding this. Some people never knew she couldn’t read.

When you get older, it gets harder to learn how to read. And once you miss…


I have tickets to see you at The Ritz Theater in Talladega in September. I was so excited to see you were coming that I secured five tickets. I’ve since broken the news to my husband who is now obligated to attend instead of fishing. I am also bringing my sister, and her boyfriend.

That leaves one ticket.

That fifth ticket is the one I want to ask you about.

The fifth ticket is for my son. Our one and only son is a beautiful, brutally honest, extremely complex, soon-to-be 13-year-old. His name is Owen.

I had Owen when I was 28. Little did we know what the next 13 years held. I first knew something wasn’t right when he had feeding issues in the hospital. His doctors wrote us off as naive first-time parents.

We weren’t. We had no idea, but at some point Owen had a hemorrhagic stroke. His stroke caused left unilateral obstructive hydrocephalus, which is spinal fluid inside the brain. I had to force feed him—holding

his jaw shut so he’d latch onto bottles.

For four weeks I took him to the pediatrician to voice my concerns, only to be brushed off as an anxious mother.

I finally broke down and did what doctors hate, I consulted with Doctor Google. I told the doctors, “It’s hydrocephalus.” The doctors thought I was crazy. Until they measured his head, which had grown two inches in four weeks. His brain was under so much pressure that the CT scan looked like a big black hole.

Owen’s first brain surgery was at 4 weeks old. Suddenly, I was transformed into not just a mom but a mom to a medically complex child.

His second brain surgery was at 5 months. Then came physical, occupational and speech therapies. Owen has right sided hemiplegic cerebral palsy. He can hardly use the right side of his body. He also has central…

I have a friend who was recently asked by his employer to use a different name in his workplace. My friend’s nickname is “Tater Log.” But mostly, we just call him “Tater,” “Tater Bug,” or “Sweet Tater Pie.”

Tater’s employer, however, felt this name was unprofessional to use when dealing with high-level clients. He said it sounded, quote, “hillbilly.” (“Hello, ma’am. Your loan officer today is “Sweet Tater Nugget.”)

Sadly, Tater has had to start using his legal name, which is Marian. So you can see why this is so tragic.

When Marian was a boy, we used to give him a hard time about his legal name. He hated the name Marian. Any time the name was invoked, you had to run because in a few seconds a glass object would be hurled in your general direction.

Well, all this got my dander up because forcing someone to change their name is discriminatory. Moreover, it raises important ethical questions:

Such as (1) why, exactly, is “Tater” less fit for the workplace than

other names such as, for example, Hubert or Archibald? And (2) what precisely does it mean to get one’s “dander up”?

Furthermore, in this part of the world we have a cherished tradition of nicknames. I don’t know how other regions such as, say, Ohio, approach nicknames, but to us a good nickname expresses lovable personality traits and characteristics. Nicknames are often given by family members and friends. They are terms of endearment.

When I was growing up, for example, I had several nicknames. My initials are S.P.D. So my Little League coach called me “Speedy.” Which I did not care for because “Speedy” is what is known as a “reverse nickname.”

A reverse nickname expresses the opposite of the truth about its titleholder. It’s like calling a big person “Tiny,” a bald person “Curly,” or saying a Congressperson “has strong family values.”

If you would have…