January 3, 2019 by
Photography by Bill Sitzmann

Lots of people have what they call a “bucket list.”

That, of course, is a list of things you want to do before you die. Because, obviously, there are not a lot of things you can do after you die. At least, so far as I know.

Before we go any further, it’s important to note that there are all sorts of buckets. Livestock buckets, ice buckets, mop buckets, ash buckets, sand buckets, etc. None of these buckets are to be confused with milk pails. All pails are buckets, but not all buckets are pails.

And it’s also important to understand that, in my mind, nothing made out of plastic should be considered a bucket. Plastic things with handles are an abomination. It says so in the Bible. Trust me. Just search Leviticus, you’ll see. True buckets must be made from wood or some type of durable metal, preferably galvanized aluminum or steel. Plastic buckets are…well, they are…plastic. There’s too much plastic in the world. We should put all of it in a super large bucket and seal it in a mountain in Nevada. Our grandchildren and the planet would thank us.

But back to “bucket lists.” Where did that phrase come from anyway? I know it’s a reference to “kick the bucket,” like Jimmy Durante did at the beginning of It’s A Mad, Mad, Mad, Mad World. But what does “kicking” a bucket (not a pail) have to do with dying? Some say it’s a reference to knocking the bucket out from under your own feet while you are trying to hang yourself in the barn. That’s a cheery thought. There’s an even less cheery explanation that involves slaughtering pigs…I will spare you that origin story.

There is another, less gruesome claim to the genesis of the saying. Back in the old days, the dearly departed would be laid out for the wake and a bucket of holy water would be placed at their feet. Mourners would then file by and sprinkle the corpse. Now, though no kicking the bucket would be expected at that point, I suppose if a clumsy friend knocked the pail to the floor, he might suddenly blurt out, “It wasn’t me! He did it!” pointing an accusing finger at the motionless honoree.

Wherever the term came from, like I said, lots of people have bucket lists.

I’ve noticed that most of these lists are heavy on travel. Like, “I want to visit the Alhambra at sunset.” Or…“I want to go to Bora Bora with Jennifer Aniston.” Well, leave me out of that. I love being in cool places. But I hate getting there. I’m 6’5” and not fond of security checkpoints, sitting in coach, or deep-vein thrombosis.

I have my own bucket list. So, before I die….

  1. Please let me never be on a Perillo Tour of Italy.
  2. Spare me food poisoning and/or a Caribbean cruise.
  3. I don’t want to ever watch the television news while in the dentist’s chair.
  4. Give me a cellphone with the ringer permanently set on “off.”
  5. Please let me never hear the words, “You might feel some pressure.”
  6. Three weeks alone at the Merritt Reservoir would be nice.
  7. I’d like to have a personal assistant. Might be fun.
  8. I’d like to have a TV that responds to me when I yell at it.
  9. Keep me alive until the Cornhuskers, 76ers, Cubs, and Chiefs win it all in the same year.
  10. I want to attend my grandchild’s retirement party.

Don’t get me wrong. I also want to see the Alhambra at sunset. But until there’s a train to get me there, I’ll just sit here with my steel bucket and dream.


Otis Twelve hosts the radio program Early Morning Classics with Otis Twelve on 90.7 KVNO, weekday mornings from 5-9 a.m. Visit kvno.org for more information.

This column was printed in the January/February 2019 edition of Omaha Magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.