Write your own obit (5×8 – 7/18/12)

Getting the last word, the land of the weather wimps, the simpler times weren’t that simple, why they call it the Big 10, and next month’s seven minutes of terror on Mars.


1) GETTING THE LAST WORD

Other than the ones I’ve noted here (and more on Twitter) in recent months, obits are boring because the people who are left behind to write them, aren’t sure just how ‘real’ to get and, hence, they get boring.

Obituaries are the “annual Christmas letter of death.”

Which is why Val Patterson of the Salt Lake City area is this week’s most famous dead person. He smoked cigarettes when he knew they were bad for him, and last week they finally killed him, but not before he wrote his own obituary, which has become a national hit:


Now that I have gone to my reward, I have confessions and things I should now say. As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June, 1971. I could have left that unsaid, but I wanted to get it off my chest. Also, I really am NOT a PhD. What happened was that the day I went to pay off my college student loan at the U of U, the girl working there put my receipt into the wrong stack, and two weeks later, a PhD diploma came in the mail. I didn’t even graduate, I only had about 3 years of college credit. In fact, I never did even learn what the letters “PhD” even stood for. For all of the Electronic Engineers I have worked with, I’m sorry, but you have to admit my designs always worked very well, and were well engineered, and I always made you laugh at work. Now to that really mean Park Ranger; after all, it was me that rolled those rocks into your geyser and ruined it. I did notice a few years later that you did get Old Faithful working again. To Disneyland – you can now throw away that “Banned for Life” file you have on me, I’m not a problem anymore – and SeaWorld San Diego, too, if you read this.

To the gang: We grew up in the very best time to grow up in the history of America. The best music, muscle cars, cheap gas, fun kegs, buying a car for “a buck a year” – before Salt Lake got ruined by over population and Lake Powell was brand new. TV was boring back then, so we went outside and actually had lives. We always tried to have as much fun as possible without doing harm to anybody – we did a good job at that.

His wife says he probably wouldn’t have liked all the attention his obituary is getting; they are private people, she said.

But she filled in the details of the safe story…


It really wasn’t a secret. The full story, according to his wife, is that Patterson and his brothers thought the antique safe would look great in their bedroom. Patterson, already a respected mechanic, happened to be working on the county sheriff’s motorcycle at the time. They hitched the motorcycle trailer to Patterson’s ’55 orange convertible Cadillac and used it to haul off the safe.

“The sheriff, of course, found out Val did that,” she said. “His only question was, ‘When is my motorcycle going to be fixed?’ ”

Everyone knew Patterson was a good kid — playful — but good. The judge gave him an ultimatum: college or jail.

“So guess what? Val went to college,” Mary Jane Patterson said. And “he never did anything like that again. He learned his lesson.”

All he wanted to do with his obit, she said, was set a new standard in obits.

But it’s this part of the story that’s the best…


Patterson had symptoms of throat cancer — a persistent sore throat and a nagging earache — for nearly two years before he was diagnosed. When they finally got the word, after seeing a long line of doctors, there was only one response.

“We looked at each other and started busting up laughing,” Mary Jane Patterson said. “It just cracked us up.”

He also made a goodbye video, but at last check, the people at the Stark’s Funeral Parlor aren’t so good at the Internet, and Patterson apparently passed away without experiencing the joy that is YouTube.

2) THE LAND OF WEATHER WIMPS

Nothing stings a Minnesotan — native or otherwise — like the questioning of our weather toughness. MPR alum Karen Boros, now with MinnPost, calls us wimps for complaining about the hot weather.

Back in the day, nobody complained about the weather. Nobody.


Our town did not have a swimming pool. There were no lakes. But just about every house had a garden hose. What more do you need? Somebody’s mother would stick her head outside and say the magic words: “Go home and put on your swim suits.” We didn’t need a pool.

We were wet, and the grass got watered.

We rode our bikes. We played softball in the street. We spread old blankets on the grass and played board games in the shade. And when we decided it was too hot we moved into the basements.

My friend Eddie had a play area in his basement back behind the furnace. There was a table, some chairs and a pile of board games. We spent hours there. I cannot look at a Monopoly game without remembering Eddie and his basement.

“We should get outside and get on with life,” she says.

But you know what the adults were doing while you were in the basement with Eddie, Karen? They were upstairs complaining about how hot it was.

I blame Willis.

Related: Remember a few winters ago when Scottsdale, Arizona bought billboards in the Twin Cities with electronic displays showing the current — warm — temperature in their city? You should do that this summer, Duluth. Yesterday’s high was 71.

More hot news: They told us the temperatures would be hotter on the planet right around now…. in the 1950s.

3) THEY REALLY WEREN’T SIMPLER TIMES…

Sixty-three years ago today, Jackie Robinson went to Washington to testify before the House Un-American Activities Committee…

More (sort of) sports: Is it time for the Twins to trade off what little talent the team has?

4) THAT’S WHY THEY CALL IT THE BIG 10

When the University of Minnesota renovated Coffman Union, it let the students determine what sort of food choices they wanted there. Aside from being a metaphor, perhaps it wasn’t a smart idea, it turns out.

“Right now, we can make so many different choices for what kind of deep-fried chicken we want, but there’s not really an option for a good salad,” Eric Sannerud tells the Daily. He’s a member of U Students Like Good Food advocating for better food on campus.

“I also believe that we need to continue to offer some of the products that wouldn’t be perceived as healthy or as healthy as other products so that our customers — and it’s not just students — have choice,” a university official says.

One out of three University of Minnesota students is overweight or obese.

5) SEVEN MINUTES OF TERROR

Even though we’re not much into human space flight these days, space is still about the most fascinating thing out there. Even more fascinating: That every kid in America doesn’t want to grow up to go to work to figure out how to do this stuff.

Bonus I: The old political playbook of railing against the media only works if the guy you’re trying to smoke isn’t Charlie Rose. Watch how Pawlenty struggled this morning to get back on talking points when Rose got him off his game (link).

By the way, you’ll also note Pawlenty’s masterful use of framing the sound bite for later use. Listen for when he says “look” and then pauses… and when he says, “but the larger point is this,” and then pauses. That’s a guy who knows how to manipulate the media.

Bonus II: The coming spending cuts “crisis” can be summed up with an old slogan: “You broke it. You own it.”

TODAY’S QUESTION

The Boy Scouts have reaffirmed their policy of excluding gays from their organization, both among scouts and their leaders. Today’s Question: What do you think of the Boy Scouts’ decision to continue excluding gays?

WHAT WE’RE DOING

Daily Circuit (9-12 p.m.) – First hour: The science of political campaign strategy.

Second hour: The drought and its relationship to climate change.

Third hour: Why creative people are eccentric.

MPR News Presents (12-1 pm): Aspen Ideas Festival: Anne-Marie Slaughter, author of the controversial Atlantic magazine cover story “Why Women Can’t Have it All.” She was interviewed by Katie Couric.

Talk of the Nation (1-2 p.m.) – The Political Junkie.

All Things Considered (3-6:30 p.m.) - City governments add bus and bike lanes, raise parking rates, and use cameras to enforce traffic laws. Some drivers see that as a war on cars. The debate has echoes from a century ago, when cars first entered the scene, and pedestrians felt that a war was being waged on them. NPR’s Cities Project tackles cars in cities.