This was my cousin, Marlene.

When I see this picture, I want to tell you about the goofy impressions we did of our parents. We had a lot of practice. This was the best thing about growing up in a big family, with cousins who are really like siblings. 

I want to tell you about the Christmas cards she sent, first with one daughter, and then with two. This Christmas promised an addition, Alex Jr., her first son. Marlene and Alex Sr. and the kids, in matching outfits. We could already see it. We looked forward to those cards.

I want to tell you about the texts from the hospital, how they’d come when you didn’t expect them. She was a doctor, a brilliant one, a busy one. Everyone understood. She made time, anyway. Sometimes, chasing the life you want takes you far from home. Sometimes, it’s good to know that someone else understands. I’m going to miss those texts.

I want to tell you about all these things, though not right now, because right now, it hurts way too much. But I will tell you this.

When the time came to say goodbye, the church was full, so full that people lined the walls and stood shoulder to shoulder. They came from everywhere and they gave, more than anyone could imagine. They are still giving. Through his tears, Alex found the right words, beautiful words, summoning incredible strength when there should have been none. 

This was my cousin, Marlene. In life, she was the perfect union of achievement and grace, a light so powerful that even in death, she brought out the best in us all.

— 30 —

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In New York, a different kind of quiet

HARLEM — It’s not the same quiet that comes from a summer holiday, when so many people flee from this place, leaving everything to be just a bit more hushed.

No, everybody’s still here. They’re still squeezing onto the subway, still blowing their horns at red lights, still asking if you’ll pay five bucks for one of the pirated DVDs in this plastic grocery bag. It’s just that they’re doing it more quietly.

You sense it in the firemen, an entire house of them roaming the block in their dress uniforms, looking for a place to eat together. Today, they’re no different from a family in its Sunday best after a morning at church.

You see them all the time, of course, bounding into the corner coffee shop, gear rattling, smelling like fresh smoke. They’re chattering as they stand in line while waiting for their drinks to be made, forgetting, maybe ignorning, the fact that they’re in public. You don’t get the inside jokes but you hear the words all the same. It gets loud.

Something else I’ve seen more than once: when it’s time to pay they’re told to save their money for next time.

It’s different today. Even with neck ties and blazers on, so many of them look like they couldn’t have been past grade school 13 years ago. As they walk the block, sticking their heads into doorways, hoping for places that will open for lunch, there is no chatter.

The city never forgets.

— 30 —

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Houston, we have a problem


HOUSTON — I’d be pissed if this weren’t so hilarious. Makes me glad I signed up for United’s text messaging service:

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 415pm and arrives 520pm

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 608pm and arrives 714pm

— United gate change:
As of 2:39p Jul. 17,
gate is changed to E21.
Subject to change

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 639pm and arrives 745pm

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 700pm and arrives 806pm

— United gate change:
As of 4:05p Jul. 17,
gate is changed to E9.
Subject to change

— United gate change:
As of 5:39p Jul. 17,
gate is changed to C42.
Subject to change

–United flight delay:
As of 6:02p Jul. 17,
now departs at 6:45p from gate C42
on Jul. 17.
Subject to change

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 715pm and arrives 821pm

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 730pm and arrives 836pm

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 745pm and arrives 851pm

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 815pm and arrives 921pm

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 830pm and arrives 936pm

— Your 325pm flight to San Diego is delayed due to awaiting aircraft. UA259 now departs Houston 845pm and arrives 951pm

That’s 11 delays and three gate changes, if you’re scoring at home.

A woman at the gate just held her phone up and asked “IS ANYBODY HERE HAPPY!” Nobody was happy.

A few guys with guitars have started playing in the waiting area. They just wrapped up a lovely version of The Lion Sleeps Tonight before belting out Country Roads.

A frail old man in a wheelchair just rose to his feet, staggered to the gate agent, and raised his voice in Spanish.

A gate agent just wheeled up a cart of candy and soda. Looks like a peace offering.

It won’t be long now, I’m sure.

— 30 —

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Good call, preppy

tigersATLANTA — Getting room service is one of my favorite perks of the road. It’s a perfect fallback for those days when you just want to stay in and get some work done.

But the only drawback is that moment when the food arrives and you’ve got to let a stranger into you room. I always thought that was somewhat uncomfortable and it seems like I’m not the only one.
It used to be that you’d answer the door and the server would just walk through the door and drop the tray off. But in recent years, I notice that they’re now trained to ask for permission to come in. At least, that’s how it works at Marriotts.

It’s pretty common for there to be some small talk while you’re signing the bill. It’s usually standard stuff: weather (have you been able to enjoy it?), the city (have you ever been here before?, what happens to be on TV (so, you’re a baseball fan?)

But sometimes, that small talk can be plain awkward, like this morning when the server noticed my T-shirt.

Server: “Bayside, is that in California or something?

Me: “Actually, it’s from an old TV show.”

(long pause, eyes frantically scan the room)

Server: “So, you’re golfing?”

And that’s how I met the only person on Earth who hasn’t seen an episode of Saved by the Bell. Also, bonus points for the abrupt subject change.

— 30 —

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Franco Harris, Founding Father (?!?!)


PITTSBURGH — Stupid things already encountered at the airport this morning:

1. Franco Harris, George Washington, you know, just a couple of American heroes standing on equal ground. Also, lack of perspective is fun!

2. A flight is either full or it isn’t full. I want to say this to the gate agent who keeps announcing that this flight is completely full. There is no need to modify “full,” in the same way that there’s no need to modify “crash” or “burn,” since you’re either crashing and burning, or you’re not. One does not crash and burn partially.

3. I’d also like to tell the folks in boarding group 39 to have a seat so the folks in the first 38 boarding groups may board the plane without feeling like they’re making their way to the bar on a Saturday night.

Anyway, on to Atlanta!

— 30 —

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‘This isn’t the fucking PGA Tour’


NEW JERSEY — Things I learned on the golf course today from the very friendly and hilarious older Middle Eastern man that I had the pleasure of playing with this morning:

When a ball ends up in a muddy bunker: “Get that shit out of there. This isn’t the fucking PGA Tour.”

When the guy ahead of you spends too much time fishing a ball out of a lake: “Somebody tell that guy lent is over. Stop fucking fishing!”

When your Brazilian son-in-law picks the name Laila Maria the name of his first born daughter: “At least it’s not Nicole or Madison or some shit like that. The girls I get lapdances from in Memphis are always named Tiffany or Amber. If he named them that shit, I would have killed him!”

When your son-in law tops a ball off the tee for like the eighth time: “You lifted your head, your body, your feet… like Jesus!”

And before you ask, no, I did not play with the Iron Sheik.

— 30 —

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Ten years



Ten years ago tonight, I lost my sister, Carolyn. That’s her, second from the right. I’m pretty sure she organized this wonderfully cheesy Christmas photo, which is now in a frame in my brother’s living room. It sounds like something she’d do, anyway. 

I’d love to write something uplifting about her here. It shouldn’t be very hard, since she was better than me in every conceivable way. I’d like to tell an old story, and bring back an old memory, and hope that somebody who knew her might read this and share one of their own.

I’ve spent much of the day thinking about how I might do this. Now, it’s nearly gone, and the right words haven’t come. I know why, I think. If I’ve learned something over the last decade, it’s that time might help to close a wound, and it might even take the freshness away from the sting.

But time doesn’t heal shit.

So, instead, I’ll pass along something I wrote about her a few years back. Just as I am now, I was on a road trip for work, and I didn’t know quite what to do. It’s from this exact same date, one that I’ll dread for the rest of my life. As it turns out, time doesn’t help with that sort of thing, either.


June 21, 2004

PHOENIX — The last time I heard my little sister’s voice, she was telling be about how she was going to see her favorite band, “No Doubt.” She’d loved them for years. But for the first time, she got the chance to see them live, and she couldn’t wait.

Those who were with her at the concert that night would tell me later that when the band took the stage to play their first song — they opened with “Hella Good” — she was euphoric. Midway through the song they looked back and saw her dancing. When the music stopped they looked again, only this time, she was motionless on the ground.

There’s no way to know for sure, of course. But I’ve always prayed that the last thing she heard in this world was that first song in her first concert with her favorite band. Mostly, I pray that it at least brought her some joy in the moments before she died.

Her name was Carolyn, but we all called her Lyn, and I spent every minute of today thinking about her. She died on June 21, 2004, exactly six years ago today, though to me it still feels like six minutes.

My kid brother, who used to call her “manang” because it means big sister, is the one who broke the news to me that night. He called just past 1 a.m. on the East Coast so I figured it was bad. He sobbed but kept himself together just long enough to say, “it’s manang…” The way he said it, he didn’t have to finish the sentence.

The morning that we buried her, I did the most important thing I’ll ever do in my life. I delivered her eulogy. I closed it with a line from the last song she heard:

You’ve got me feeling hella good
So let’s just keep on dancing

I figured that it was just about what she would’ve told us herself that day if she could. After this terrible thing, she would’ve wanted us to keep living our lives, to keep on dancing. Thankfully, as hard as it was, we did.

One of the people with her that night, her best friend, has since gotten married. Soon, she’ll be a mom. The other person with her that night, our cousin, recently had her first baby, a beautiful daughter, named Wynterlyn. My other little sister is working a job she loves and is on her way to a college degree. My little brother is getting married in October. I’ll be there as his best man.

After tonight, I’m more convinced than ever that Lyn will be there, too.

It was the eighth inning and the Yankees were getting beat badly and it was easy for the mind to wander. I looked at the clock on my laptop and realized that it was about this time of night, exactly six years ago, when my phone rang and it was my brother.

Right then, over the stadium loudspeakers, I heard it playing.

It was “No Doubt.” They were singing “Hella Good.”

– 30 –

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