Mitch Albom is an excellent writer. A sportswriter by profession, he shot to instant fame with the memorable book, “Tuesdays with Morrie,” a bittersweet tale of Albom’s relationship with a favored college professor dying of cancer.

Following the enormous success of “Morrie,” Albom next penned “The Five People You Meet in Heaven,” which proved to be yet another runaway hit. With the July 4th holiday weekend upon us and a couple of months of summer staring us squarely in the face, it made me think of the many cookouts I’ve been to over the years. It never mattered whether I hosted or was invited, the same five people were always there, trolling around the grille, “delighting” the guests as they imparted their own brand of wisdom.

Number One: THE EXPERT. This is usually the guy who hangs at the grill the entire time while the host is cooking, giving tips, “expertise,” and warnings. “You didn’t already salt it, did you?” he begins. “It’ll probably dry out now. What kind of charcoal is that? That can seep into the food and cause cancer, but hey, it’s just once a year, right?” Cute, huh?

Number Two: MEADOW or KYLE. The newly minted vegetarian who proffered when invited to this orgy, “Oh please, don’t go out of your way for me. I’m used to not being able to eat anything.” So as a good host you buy a package of veggie burgers or make a bean salad or grill some vegetables, only to hear, “Oh, you’re grilling the vegetables on the same grill as the burgers? That’s okay, I’ll pass. Do the burgers contain GMOs? I don’t usually eat beans, but I know you made them just for me, so I’ll have a forkful or two. If I really was hungry, I would have brought something that wouldn’t hurt animals or destroy the environment.”

Guest Number Three: THE DETAILER. This is the person who picks everything apart because he or she wants you to know they know, and they’re always right. “Ha, ha, when you invited us, you said it was a ‘barbecue.’ This isn’t a barbecue at all, it’s grilling. If it were a barbecue you would have had meat slow-cooking for hours over a spit or in a smoker. And if it were southern barbecue we would have had more of a pulled pork with a spice and vinegar sauce; if it were Texas barbecue, the meat would be slathered with dry rub, unless it was south Texas where they use a thick molasses sauce; Kansas City style is slow-cooked with a tomato-based sauce, either spicy, sweet, or tangy; and in Memphis ... whoo boy, in Memphis, they only barbecue pork shoulders or ribs. But I see this is just hot dogs and hamburgers on a grill, so you really should have called it a ‘grilling.’ It’s really not a barbecue, if you don’t mind me saying.”

Invitee Number Four: THE SWITCHER. “I know you told me to bring cole slaw, but I figured it would get too soggy in the heat and laying around all afternoon, so I brought these giant bags of chips. Oh yeah, I see you have a lot of chips — plain, ridges, sour cream and onion, BBQ flavor, but I’ll bet you don’t have jalapeno and dill pickle flavor, and that’s what you got right here. The store had a special on them, so I brought two 32-oz. bags — bet you never saw that size!”

And lastly, there’s THE HELPER. “Here, let me help you clean up,” she says, dangling her bracelet in the bowl of potato salad as she reaches over the table, knocking over a glass of cranberry juice. “What do you mean, you don’t need help? Of course you do. We’ll throw all the paper plates and plasticware in that big can over there ... oh, was that only for recyclables? No matter, let the trash people separate it. They’re used to it. I see someone left most of the six pack they brought. I can take that off your hands and bring it home, along with those extra mustards, ketchups, and unopened rolls.”

Well then. I hope you enjoyed your Fourth, the rest of this weekend, and the balance of the summer. Just remember when you make out your guest list for your next cookout, no matter who you invite, they’ll all be there ... all five of them.

Rona Mann has been a freelance writer for The Sun for 17 years, including her “In Their Shoes” features. She can be reached at or 401-539-7762.

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