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"Just the Facts"
By Rayne Wolfe
I AM GOING TO DO something really important for 1998. I'm going to write my own obituary.
No, I'm not sick. In fact, life couldn't be grander. I just thought -- instead of the usual New Year's resolution to lose 10 pounds, exercise, or sign up for a photography class at the Art Institute -- I'd work up my obituary. I think I'll sleep better at night with it all typed up and sealed in a clearly marked envelope placed square in my desk drawer where anybody can find it when Rayne buys the farm.
Not long ago, I had to write my father's obituary. While it was an honor and a privilege, a funny thought kept skittering across my pulsating frontal lobes as I typed: Gee, I hope I don't have to prove any of this....
Kids tend to buy family myths lock, stock, and barroom brawl.
Was my father a teenage stevedore on the docks, or did he just like to say so?
Did he really win a cha-cha contest at Bimbo's 365 Club?
Can I prove that he married the most beautiful girl in San Francisco?
Well, I wrote it like I saw it and faxed it over to the Chron/Ex. All day, I expected a call from the obituary editor's Fact Checker. I anticipated something like, "Mizz Wolfe, I know this must be a difficult time for you, but I must tell you that several people this week have already claimed to have lost the World's Best Dad. Do you have any certification, documentation, or photos to prove your claim?"
But guess what? There ain't no Fact Checker down at the obituary office. My dad's obit was printed as submitted, at $4.95 a line. At that price, everyone can rewrite history.
This knowledge has inspired me to write my own obituary. First I thought of all the fences that could be mended with a simple She thought the world of so-and-so, although I actually thought so-and-so was cheap for sending me a Hickory Farms package at Christmas. I also plan to erase a ghastly first marriage. Let 'em prove it, I say.
While I'm at it, I'll record my weight -- 110 pounds -- the same weight I've weighed since high school. And I'll be sure to mention that fiction piece I had published in the New Yorker -- you know, the one I've made all my cousins read, the piece the New Yorker editors never broke into my apartment to steal. That one.
So, friends, if I don't return your calls right away, forgive me. I'm busy writing my obituary. I'm crafting the story of my life -- as it should be -- for publication.
Until they get wise and hire a Fact Checker down at the paper, you might want to think about doing the same.
Noe Valley Voice staffer Rayne Wolfe will teach a one-day course on writing for newspapers on Saturday, Jan. 10, at Book Passage in Corte Madera. To attend, call 927-0960. Rayne's San Francisco Examiner column "What Works" appears monthly in the Sunday Career Search section.