Mary and Bob (audio) – 3/12/13

Same-sex marriage gets its first green light at the Capitol. What really happens inside the Sistine Chapel? North Korea probably won’t launch a nuclear war tonight. Soldiers lose their tuition. And what makes for the perfect obit and eulogy?

Here’s today’s news discussion with Mary Lucia on The Current.

Update After our discussion, Tenessa Gemelke sent along the eulogy she wrote for her father, when he died suddenly three years ago:


Thank you so much for being here with us today. My dad loved to be the center of attention, so believe me, he is enjoying every minute of this.

If you knew my dad well, you know that his sense of humor was unparalleled. We are all grieving a profound and terrible loss, but I hope we all remember to laugh at least as much as we cry today.

That was one of my dad’s gifts. He would find you in the foulest mood, dealing with some crappy situation, and he’d leave you laughing. Sometimes you’d be determined to be sad or mad or hopeless, but he’d drive you crazy with his optimistic pep talks–which always turned into smack talk eventually. Whenever you’d start to get irritated with him, he’d remind you, “I’m an a******, but I’m consistent.”

Although he loved to philosophize and tell jokes, my dad’s real talent was storytelling. He had a story for every occasion. If you played a song for him, it reminded him of a concert he saw. If you served him something spicy, he’d tell you about eating the hottest peppers ever when he lived in Phoenix. If you told him you were flying to the moon to play bingo with your pet monkey, he’d tell you about an astronaut who loved to play blackjack with a parrot on his shoulder. There was no topping my dad when it came to suspicious tales.

He wasn’t really an outright liar, though. Exaggeration is a fine art, and my dad was the master. We used to tease him, saying that all of his numbers were based on “Herby Math.” He seemed to inflate or deflate every fact by at least a third. For example, according to my father:

• Every 4-pound walleye was a 6-pound walleye.

• His tomato plants were 12 feet tall, and the tomatoes weighed 3 pounds each.

• He walked 20 miles every day when he worked as a security guard. (Keep in mind how close that is to a marathon.)

• Two thirds of the women in this room have confessed to having a crush on him at some point in history.

• He has beaten up nearly every man in this room, usually with makeshift weapons and cunning fighting tactics.

We would give him a hard time about these stories, and for most of my life we assumed he was just a grade-A bullshitter. But then one night my husband and I went to a John Lennon tribute concert with him at First Avenue in Minneapolis. All of his old music buddies were there. I forget who it was that came up to our table, but he was just a clean-cut guy in his forties–probably someone else’s dad. And this harmless-looking man started reminiscing with my dad about a particularly gruesome bar fight. We had heard the story before–something involving a mike stand and a coke bottle, I think–but we had never really believed it. Now here was this perfectly reasonable man corroborating every word, even the part about the dozens of people they fought through to escape.

That was the first time I realized that not all Herby Math was fictional. My dad told us these extraordinary things because . . . well, because he truly was extraordinary.

Now that my dad has died, I am finding Herby Math to be essential in calculating all of our losses:

• He must have pulled 70 friends out of snowy ditches.

• He must have brought his grandsons 200 donuts.

• He must have bought my grandma 800 yellow roses.

• He must have invented 2,000 nicknames.

• He must have told 10,000 jokes.

• He must have given 125,000 pieces of advice.

• He must have said he loved me a million times.

I think I finally understand why, in Herby Math, the accuracy of the numbers is beside the point. Sometimes there simply isn’t an exaggeration big enough to describe the intensity of an experience.

I can’t think of any words to describe the tremendous size and shape of the gaping hole this man is leaving in so many of our lives. I do know that he loved us, and he wants to hear us laughing today, and he wants us to think of him every time we eat a 3-pound tomato.

  • Tenessa

    Thanks, Bob. He was one of a kind!