Hàoyú was playing violin on the F train. He was playing Paganini. His fingers danced across the fingerboard wildly, playing “Caprice No. 24.”

Nobody was paying attention to the virtuoso. Nobody even looked up from their phones. Except for one idiot tourist with red hair and a prominent overbite.

A few of us applauded him. He took a bow.

The violinist was Chinese. He was originally from Chongqing. He was easy to talk to. He was dressed in a fast-food employee uniform. He was quiet.

“I study violin since I was three,” he explained. “I was to be a concert violinist someday, but this plan did not work out.”

Namely, because the classical world is tough. Many classical musicians are about as much fun as a routine colonoscopy. Still, he tried. He studied with the right maestros. He played concerts. He kept his pinky up when he drank tea.

At age 20, his mother died in a car accident. Six months later, his father died of a broken heart. The young man has no

brothers and sisters. He was alone.

“So I quit school and I decide to try something crazy. I come to New York.”

He got a job working in a New York restaurant by day. He rode his bike to and from work.

“Everyone shows you their middle finger when you ride a bike in New York.”

Then, one day, while riding his bike, he was struck by a car. The tendons in his left forearm were damaged. He broke three ribs. He broke his leg. The paramedics said he was lucky he wasn’t playing the harp.

“I could not play the violin anymore, I thought life was over. I went through a very bad place.”

Because of his injuries, he lost his job; he couldn’t hold a teacup without using both hands. Funds ran thin, he was kicked out of his apartment.

Soon, he was living…

Young Catherine stood on the ship's bow as it sailed into Ellis Island. She was a teenager. Her hair was tied behind her head. She had a slender neck. Young face.

The passengers on the boat were excited. All 1,139 of them. They were speaking in strange tongues. Irish, Italians, Greeks, Hungarians, Scandinavians, Norwegians, Swedish, Jewish, Polish, French.

The shoreline came into view. Catherine had never seen so many buildings. There weren’t buildings like this in Deutschland.

She leaned onto the stanchions. Her fiancé, Jakob, the carpenter, stood beside her and kissed her cheek.

“Ist es das?” said Catherine.

Jakob nodded. “Das ist Amerika.”

“Wow,” said the teenage girl.


The journey had taken seven days. They had been canned oysters within the hull of the ship. After seven days, everyone smelled like body odor and puke.

Catherine’s parents had been upset at their decision to leave the old country. Leave Deutshcland? Why? Get married in a foreign nation? Huh? They were just teenagers. Had they lost their minds? Were they completely verrückt?

Nevertheless, youth is a potent

hallucinogenic. And this was a New World.

It was a trip of many firsts for her. For starters: Catherine had never been on a boat. Tickets on this ship cost five years’ carpenter’s wages.

Also, Catherine had never gone to the bathroom overboard before. Which was fun. Men went over the portside. Women went starboard.

The ship eased into Ellis Island, all misery instantly vanished. This was a fresh start. A new life. A new culture.

Everything happened so quickly. Catherine and her beaux went to the registration room, along with a few thousand other hopefuls. They waited for nine hours.

A doctor gave her a complete physical exam as she waited in line. They were all herded into cattle chutes. She and her fiancé were asked a series of quasi-trick questions by clerks.

In the lobby, she watched families reunite. She…

She was young, I’d guess mid-twenties. She had a sleeve of multi-colored tattoos on both arms. She was pretty. She was nice.

She stood behind the New York City deli counter, slicing salami, making sandwiches. She had a line 16 miles long, snaking outward into the frenetic streets of The City So Nice They Named it Twice.

Some of her patrons were very “particular” about their orders. Although where I come from, we would not call these people “particular.” We would call these people “fussy.” But hey. When in Rome.

The girl took it on the chin. She replied to each “particular” customer by smiling and batting her eyes.

I detected a slight drawl in her voice. I wouldn’t have noticed this in any other city. But in New York, you notice drawls.

It was my turn. I ordered the cheapest sandwich available, an item which cost about as much as an average Harvard doctoral semester.

She began making my sandwich. “Where are you from?” she asked.


A look of wistfulness came over her face. “Birmingham,” she

said. “I’m from Birmingham. I was born there.”

“Small world.”

“And it just got smaller.”

The man behind me in line was not happy about this casual conversation between myself and our delicatessen professional. He began clearing his throat loudly.

New Yorkers, I have read, do not like idle chit-chat. I read this in an official guidebook. The guidebook stated: “New Yorkers do not like superficial conversation, eye contact, small animals, children, old people, or anyone who talks slow.”

The man in line behind me cleared his throat loudly again. He was sending a clear message.

“Can we speed this up?” the man actually said aloud. Then he made a “let’s get the ball rolling” getsure.

I was horrified. In Birmingham, this man would have already been in the backseat of a Jefferson County Crown Victoria.

The young woman merely smiled. She…

Ah, New York City. There is a slight chill. The city is full of Midwesterners, all wearing white Reeboks, all staring straight upward.

My wife and I have just stepped out of our cab, after leaving LaGuardia Third World International Airport. Our cab driver was a nice man who drove upwards of 75 mph with only one finger on the wheel, and that was just on the sidewalks.

Right now, my wife and I are walking to our hotel. Because that’s all you do in New York City, really. You walk. You walk for miles, until the blisters on your feet become the size of U.S. Congresspersons.

Right now, we are stuck walking in a massive clot of people moving like a herd of bison. We are trekking onward, hauling our luggage, dodging cabs.

Even so, my wife is thrilled to be in this town. It is her first time visiting. So she is taking cellphone pictures by the gazillions.

My wife finds important photographic moments wherever she glances. So far, she has taken pictures of our cab’s interior, my half-eaten airport bagel, the

plane’s lavatory, and a middle-aged woman walking down the street dressed like a giant marital aid.

I also have this feeling the locals can tell we’re out-of-towners. We have that look about us. I met a cashier in a coffee shop, for example, when I was trying to order a large iced tea.

My tea arrived. “There’s something wrong with my iced tea, ma’am,” I said.

“What‘s wrong?”

“It’s not sweet.”

“So add some sugar.”

“I can’t add granulated sugar to cold tea.”

“Why not?”

“Because I love the Lord.”

Then the cashier asked if I was from Alabama. I was so impressed this lady guessed where we were from.

“That’s amazing,” I said. “How on earth could you tell where we’re from?”

“Honestly?” she said, leaning in to whisper. “It’s your teeth.”

I’ve never been…

We’re driving. Through hayfields and cotton. Because daddy liked to drive. Because that’s what families used to do before smartphones. Because there was little else to do except to watch lead paint dry.

So we took drives.

Blue collar Americans like my family drove all the time. We drove on Christmas morning, after opening presents. Daddy fired up the family heap on the Fourth of July, before the fireworks. On my birthday, we all hopped in the fifth-hand station wagon and drove until the earth ran out.

We drove whenever slight boredom overtook my father. We drove especially on overcast days, when the sky looked like polished steel, when the air was chilly, when the smell of woodsmoke was in the air.

I’m not sure what driving accomplished. But gas was cheap. And the world was so big.

We were big automobile-singers, too. Daddy and I sang duets as he drove. He would start by singing: “Well, I looked over Jordan and what did I see?”

My part was to answer: “Coming for to carry me home!”


he’d sing: “I see a band of angels, coming after me…!”

“Coming for to carry me home!”

I sang harmony. Which was no small chore when singing with my father. If you were going to sing with my old man, you had to give it all you had.

Because Daddy was deaf in his left ear. So he sang like a 180-decibel rocket launch. As a result, one thing I have never struggled with is quietness.

We’d sing until we reached some far flung filling station, way out in the sticks. We’d stop. We’d walk inside and see a man about a dog.

Daddy would ask the man at the counter about this and that. They’d laugh together. Shoot the bull.

People always liked my father. He always asked how their mothers were doing. Daddy always knew how to draw people out…

“Dear Sean, how can we save this country?” came the email.

The writer of this letter lives in West Virginia. His name is Roger. I have no idea why Roger thinks a hayseed like me is qualified to answer this loaded question. I’m not a smart guy. I’m so dense, blondes tell jokes about me.

Still, if I were forced to answer this question, I’d say, for starters, Roger, the way to save this country, first and foremost, is to put the Wurlitzer organ back in baseball.

I don’t know if you’re aware, but Major League Baseball has undergone many changes since you and I were kids. Many, many changes. Bad ones. Even the game’s rules have changed.

Baseball is our sacred pastime. Baseball was played during the Civil War. Baseball is America. Some scholars believe stickball was played during the Pilgrim days. And the Wurlitzer organist was the Pilgrim’s most valuable team player.

Today, the organ has been nixed. I went to a game recently, and all I heard was Keith Urban.


is an affront.

On April 26, 1941, organist Ray Nelson debuted at Wrigley Field, playing an organ. It was the first organ music to be heard in baseball. Nelson played before a crowd of 18,678 Chicago Cubs fans. He played such standards as, “When the Midnight Choo-Choo Leaves for T-U-L-S-A.”

At one time in America, all ballparks had organists. Today, only 7 parks feature organs. Most stadiums now use canned music, including pop-country.

Let me go on record to say, I’d rather eat a jockstrap than listen to Luke Bryan singing “Knockin’ Boots” between batters.

Another way to save this country is to bring back piano lessons. At one time in this nation, 79 percent of Americans took piano lessons during childhood. Do you know what the percentage is now? Eight percent. That’s not enough Americans to form a chess club.

I took piano lessons as…

She was trash. At least that’s how she was treated. She was found wandering a rural Mississippi highway. Beneath the stars.

It was a wonder the girl hadn’t been hit. This was a busy highway. The kind with transfer trucks.

The dog was walking in the center of the road. On the yellow line. Clearly there was something wrong with her. Animals don’t walk open highways. But the black-and-tan dog was moving by feel. Because she is blind.

All she knew was that she liked open highway because the surface was smooth, and there were no obstructions. And when you’re blind, no obstructions is a good thing.

She was a skeleton. Every rib visible. Every spinal disc showed. There were scars all over her, as though she’d been involved in a host of dog fights.

A scar on her face. A scar on her chest. One behind her ear. On her side. Another on her right forelimb.

Probably, she had been caged with other hunting dogs. The dogs were probably mistreated and hungry. Hunger makes dogs


Nobody knows how the blindness happened. But it didn’t take a rocket engineer to figure it out.

“Someone hit this animal with a blunt object,” the veterinarian later said, choking back tears. “Someone beat this poor dog. Maybe with the butt of a rifle. Maybe with rebar.”

People say that dogs use smell above all other senses. That’s a lie. A dog doesn’t use her sense of smell to avoid walking headfirst into walls. A dog doesn’t use smell to detect body language in other animals or humans.

A car stopped on that lonesome highway. A Samaritan picked up the dog. The dog was apprehensive to get into the car, but then, she was so hungry.

The Samaritan placed her into the backseat. The Samaritan took photos of the animal and posted them to Facebook. Nobody claimed the animal. Nobody even commented. Nobody…