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Jack Knox: The art of the tell-all — and the apology that follows

Jul 29 2012

The good news, upon returning home from a spell up-Island, is that it wasn't hard to find the raw hamburger that I took out of the freezer just before the weather turned hot.

"That's alright, I'll clean it up," she said, though with her voice muffled by the hazmat suit it came out sounding like: "I'm going to feed this to you in your sleep."

Well, no, what she really said, consternation creasing her brow, was that it might have been she who left the meat on the counter.

I could have disabused her of this notion, admitted that the fault was mine, but what actually came out of my mouth was: "I forgive you." Jack Knox is bighearted that way. He also likes talking about himself in the third person. Admitting blame, not so much.

Which came to mind when reading Val Patterson's obituary. The Salt Lake City man, who died of throat cancer July 10, wrote his own death notice, one whose cheerful honesty has caused it to go viral.

The 59-year-old revealed a number of indiscretions, from kicking rocks into Old Faithful to earning bans from Disneyland and SeaWorld. "As it turns out, I AM the guy who stole the safe from the Motor View Drive Inn back in June 1971," he wrote.

Patterson confessed that he only received his PhD through a clerical error at the University of Utah, that he didn't even have an undergraduate degree - not that it held him back.

"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."

His one great regret was that his decision to smoke led to his cancer, robbing his wife of the time they should have had together growing old.

It isn't unheard of for people to wait until death before revealing private bits about themselves. Sally Ride, the first American woman in space, didn't exactly hide being gay, but neither did she make it public prior to naming her partner of 27 years in an obituary she co-wrote before dying of cancer last week.

Can't equate the quiet recognition of a loved one to Patterson's boisterous admissions, though. They seem unique.

More common are deathbed confessions by people who feel the need to unburden themselves while preparing to meet their maker.

Approaching the end in 1993, Britain's Christian Spurling declared that the famous 1934 "surgeon's photo" of the Loch Ness monster - the grainy blackand-white picture of a longnecked creature with a horse-like head - was a hoax in which he had had a hand.

Just before expiring in 1985, musician Julian Altman let his wife know that he had stolen Polish violinist Bronislaw Huberman's Stradivarius from Carnegie Hall 49 years earlier. His wife got insurer Lloyd's of London to pay a $263,000 finder's fee for the return of the pilfered fiddle, which Altman had played in public for decades.

But, as in comedy, timing is everything. In 2005, an elderly British man who thought he was dying confessed to his wife that he had slept with her best friend years earlier. To his surprise, he rallied from his illness - only to be stabbed to death by his wife in 2010 as they quarrelled about his affair.

This is all of little help to those of us who might feel weighed down by guilt while still in relatively good health. I decided to come clean, albeit while framing my confession in a positive way: "The good news is that I didn't sleep with your best friend like that British guy-."

She wasn't as forgiving as one might have hoped, a failing I pointed out while preparing to sleep on the couch.

"At least I didn't wait until I was on my deathbed," I said.

"Don't be so sure of that," she replied.

jknox@timescolonist.com

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