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.


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.


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.


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?


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.


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.”


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?


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.

  • Your bits today are going to dovetail nicely into the Daily Circuit today. Well done, Bob!

  • jon


    Any story that starts “Back in the day” should also include the fact that people didn’t live well into their 70’s and beyond “Back in the day”

    Back in the day of course summers weren’t generally this hot, as a matter fact we are currently in the hottest 12 months in history. How does that compare with “Back in the day” ?

    Mean while, “back in my day” we didn’t have a basement, nor did we have central air. We did have a window unit that kept the living room cool, and we’d often all sleep in the living room on hot days instead of in the bedrooms (bonus rooms which got well into the 100’s on 90 degree days thanks to the sun pounding on the roof).

    Here is the thing about comparisons, if you don’t compare everything, you are doing so unfairly…

    “Back in the day people complained about the draft, no one does that now.” is a ridiculous statement because there is no draft en-stated now… but clearly now a days we just complain less then they did during the Vietnam Conflict.

  • MikeB

    People should get into the habit of writing their own obits, perhaps when doing their wills and estate planning (though many do not have a will right now).

    If you list your confessions while you are still living maybe that will change how you live.

  • Bob Collins

    I’m going to guess Karen grew up around 1959 in St. Louis. The average annual temperature in 1959 was 56.3. The average annual temperature in 2011 was 58.7.

    The average August temperature that year was just one degree below what it was last year.

    This year will, no doubt, threaten the record but the hottest year in history in St. Louis was actually 23 years ago. The hottest summer was 77 years ago.

    They had complaint-worthy heat waves back in the day.

  • Mitch

    That JPL video is really, really cool. Should be required viewing in all middle school science classrooms.

  • BJ

    Bob your right Pawlenty did a very nice job on that, his defense was good, but not ‘over the top’. 1 full year plus estimates on a second year is 2 years and ‘in the ballpark’ to 10,14, and 30 years of the examples that the CBS team gave.

    If he doesn’t get VP, maybe Press Secretary might be a good post for him.

  • BenCh

    Re weather wimps-

    One thing that got me thinking was when all of this talk of “feels like” temperatures came about. According to Wikipedia, “The heat index was developed in 1978 by George Winterling as the “humiture” and was adopted by the USA’s National Weather Service a year later.”

    And of course on the opposite side, “The first wind chill formulae and tables were developed by Paul Allman Siple and Charles Passel working in the Antarctic before the Second World War, and were made available by the National Weather Service by the 1970s.”

    I think this talk of what temperature we should think is outside is making us more “wimpy”… or giving us more to talk about.

  • Jeff

    If you enjoyed watching TPaw try to defend Romney, you’ll love Jon Stewart’s show from Monday where Romney “retroactively retires” from Bain Capital to distance himself from the outsourcing that Bain did. Romney also explains that even though he was paid over $100,000 one year by Bain that he was actually not doing anything for the company.


    Next Romney explains that he is not responsible for his investments in off-shore tax-havens because it was a blind-trust managing the money. He is also quoted saying, “The blind-trust is an age-old ruse. You can always tell the blind-trust what it can and can not do. You give a blind-trust rules.”


    This is why, Tim, people are asking about Romey’s tax returns. He has made is business experience and finances an issue and a reason to elect him. If he is lying about those experiences or his finances, we, the voting public, ought to find out now, before election time.

  • Bob Collins

    Friends, the method for making a WORKING link is right above you whenever yo comment. Just put the link between the quotation marks and change the word “Link” to whatever words yo uwant to be higlighted, like “look at the link I made in school today!”

  • urban heat island

    I am old enough to remember MN summers of 30 years ago, without A/C. The tired old saying is true: It really is the humidity! There have always been anomalies, but even MPR’s meteorologists confirm, we are seeing higher dew points, more often, nowadays. This makes all the difference to our bodies, and cranks up our storms as well. It’s okay to admit things have changed, as it allows us to begin dealing with it. Personally, with (G-d willing) a few decades on this planet still ahead of me, I’d like us to start tackling climate change, well, yesterday.

    I also suspect Karen does not presently sleep in an urban brownstone without A/C. A lot of people’s bodies are not cooling down enough at night. Maybe some people are being wimpy, but others are genuinely suffering through this.

  • Jeff

    Let’s see if this works…

    Bain Damage

    Blind trust

    //Just put the link between the quotation marks

    There are two sets of quotation marks. I pasted in the first one.

  • Bob Collins

    Look at YOU, Jeff!!!

    FYI, the target=”_blank” instructs the browser to open the link in a new window so you don’t lose your place on NewsCut.

    It doesn’t actually work in the comments section and I’ve never succeeded in getting anyone to find out why.

  • andy

    1) I like the idea of writing ones own obituary. I haven’t started mine yet (as I’m not even 40 years old), but I do have a “funeral” playlist on my ipod in case I should happen to die. Is that morbid?

  • Joe

    I agree with Mitch, that JPL video IS awesome! My kids love to geek out on stuff like that, now if I could just get them to put the work in to get there…

    That Tpaw is quite the spinning/press machine ain’t he…

  • vjacobsen

    The comments made me have a huge flashback. We lived in a once- little town in Central MN in the late 80s. We had an old house in town sans AC. I just remembered that in 1988 we had some days where my parents would buy blocks of ice to put in front of one of our two fans. My sisters and I spent part of that summer sitting in front of that fan in the living room watching over the air tv on our 13″ color TV. And yeah, I think we did sleep downstairs some of those nights.

    We also spent most of our summers at the library, just a short walk away. They didn’t have A/C either, but had the huge ceiling fans going. Dad was a volunteer firefighter then, too. The fire station was right next to our house, and I think sometimes we went there to cool of…but they had a lot of grass fires that year, too, so they were a very busy station.

    Wow. It all just came back. But, yeah, that was a pretty crappy summer, heat-wise.

  • Jeff, yet again

    I’m glad I finally got around to reading the full obit. Here’s the part I wish every kid who is starting to smoke will read. Maybe it will stop someone from starting…

    “My regret is that I felt invincible when young and smoked cigarettes when I knew they were bad for me. Now, to make it worse, I have robbed my beloved Mary Jane of a decade or more of the two of us growing old together and laughing at all the thousands of simple things that we have come to enjoy and fill our lives with such happy words and moments. My pain is enormous, but it pales in comparison to watching my wife feel my pain as she lovingly cares for and comforts me. I feel such the “thief” now – for stealing so much from her – there is no pill I can take to erase that pain. ”

  • Justy

    Re: #1:

    Here is another excellent obit that was published in the Denver Post back in April. Maybe not quite as good as Val’s, but still pretty entertaining.