It was a sad reunion. We had lost one of our oldest friends. The last time I had seen any of my school friends was at Art’s Memorial Day weekend party several years ago. Art’s kids were in grade school then. Now one of them is graduating from college. Lee is a grandfather. It had been longer since I’d seen Steve — more than twenty years, when I left Atlanta for D.C.

For me, it had been too long. The only time I get to Atlanta is for funerals anymore.

After Mike’s visitation, I caught up with Art and Lee and their wives over dinner. We spoke of their children, our parents, and old friends. It was an all-too-brief encounter before we went our separate ways again.

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My Friend Mike

When I was seventeen, my friends and I went to see The Empire Strikes Back at the Phipps Plaza Mall in Atlanta. That night after the movie, I rode back to Lilburn with my friend Mike Garrett. As he drove down I-85, Mike excitedly recounted the best parts of the movie and speculated about how Luke and Leia would rescue Han Solo in the next episode. It couldn’t come out too soon.

Passing into the late-night darkness of Gwinnett County, Mike glanced over from the driver’s seat. “Use the force,” he said — and closed his eyes. He scared the crap out of me.

Mike loved Star Wars. Luke Skywalker always reminds me of Mike. Mike had a kind heart and innocent soul. Always saw the good. Always gave his best.

I hate writing in the past tense.

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The woman in the waiting room is anxious. She leans on her cane and looks across at the friend who drove her to the doctor’s office today. She is around sixty and heavyset, with swollen ankles. She has the kind of coppery hair with gray at the temples that betrays repeated hair coloring that is beginning to fade.

“Your ex-husband had this same operation on his back, didn’t he?” she asks her friend. She speaks with an accent, not Spanish, but possibly Greek, Italian, or Portuguese. Her friend nods but her brow tightens. The reminder seems to be a sore subject with her.

“Was he able to lift things afterward?” the woman asks her friend. “I’m afraid I won’t be able to lift things.”

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Corporate Culture Isn’t Culture

Lately, journalists and business pundits have blamed culture failures for every corporate scandal, whether it’s Uber, Volkswagen, or Wells Fargo. Corporate leaders talk of culture as if it is simply a matter of values, principles, and rules.

The way they talk about corporate culture demeans culture.

It’s as if the president or prime minister of a nation picked a few values, slapped them on everyone’s mouse pads and drink cups, and called it a culture.

Culture is not that simple.

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Middle America

Television has never quite gotten middle America. Aside from The Andy Griffith Show and The Middle, TV producers have tended to portray the people living in the small cities and rural towns of the U.S. heartland and the South as backward rubes and zealots. At best, colorful and quirky.

The news media underestimates them. Politicians look down on them. Reality TV lampoons their worst side.

Which brings me to Fixer Upper. The ubiquitous home renovation show opens a window on red state America like nothing else on television. In place of the usual stereotypes, Fixer Upper highlights a small town America populated by people who are much like people living anywhere else in the U.S. They love their families, friends, houses, and hometowns. They work hard, but they have their fun. Aside from Joanna Gaines’ obsession with wood-paneled walls and ceilings, the people on the show seem perfectly normal.

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Charlottesville and the Heritage of Shame

It’s history, they say of the monuments. You can’t erase history.

It’s heritage, not hate, they say of the Confederate flag.

After Charlottesville, after the neo-Nazis, Klansmen, and white supremacists, and the murder of a young woman who stood up to them, how can they stand for anything but hate?

I was born in the South, in Georgia. I grew up there in the 1960s and 1970s. In school we learned about history. When we studied the Civil War, we would learn about the events and people leading up to the war: the Missouri Compromise, Dred Scott, the abolitionists, and the election of Abraham Lincoln. And year after year, when class was over, our friends, some of our elders, would take us aside to educate us about the “real” reasons for the fight.

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