Other articles by John C. Sherwood

Dave Barry:
Our brief encounter

From June 1996 -- first published as one of John's columns on the opinion page of the Battle Creek (MI) Enquirer.

After wrapping up the weekend's editorials and pages June 9 at the Battle Creek Enquirer, I jumped in the car, picked up my son and drove for 2 1/2 hours to Midland.

The long haul was worth it. We got to spend time with Dave Barry. Roughly 81.3 seconds, in fact.

Barry writes a sophomoric (his word) and shockingly popular humor column as part of his duties at the Miami Herald.

That and his books have made him fairly (that is, stinking) rich, and lured some California types to base a TV show, Dave's World, loosely on his life (his word).

I became a Barry fan long before many others had heard of him, when I read "How to Make a Board" in a 1983 issue of Reader's Digest. For years, I insisted -- correctly -- that it was the funniest thing ever written by a human.

When Barry's syndicated column was offered to the Enquirer, I was one of those who pleaded that we sign up. I was overjoyed when it was decided that we would print the column on the Opinion Page.

For a couple of years, I edited Barry each week, laughing all the while and being paid to do it. Sheer bliss. But, eventually, it was decided that Saturday's Lifestyle section was a more appropriate place for a column that made regular use of the term "boogers."

This is a man who's been awarded a Pulitzer Prize for commentary. That's a big reason why I'd still like to keep him on the Opinion Page. But it's kind of difficult to refute the booger argument.

Anyway. Nathan and I arrived at Midland's art center to find it crammed with some 1,500 people. We settled into our back-row seats just as the lights lowered and Barry walked out on stage.

I'd seen Barry on TV speaking to the National Press Club, and knew he's just as funny speaking as he is writing. He proved it again. He talked. He read from one of his books. He took questions. Perhaps most exciting for those awed by celebrity (certainly not me), he occupied physical space in close proximity to our own personal selves. And he left us wanting more.

Some of us hadn't had enough, so we went to a reception room where Dave signed copies of his books for hundreds of the Barry-crazed. Loons that we are, my son and I got in line and became snails until eventually it came our turn to approach The Man.

I talked quickly. Lots of weird people were behind me, gnashing.

In a couple of breaths, I told him about the 1983 Reader's Digest and that he owed me big time because I'd helped to get him into the newspaper in Battle Creek, home of Pop-Tarts, which he likes to set on fire in toasters and get sued for writing about, and about my not editing him any more because he doesn't belong on the Opinion Page because he doesn't have any opinions.

At this, Barry threw back his head of beaver-chewed hair and laughed. ("I just made Dave Barry laugh!" I thought. "THE Dave Barry! What's happening here?")

"I really belong on the comic page," he said.

As he signed my copy of Dave Barry Turns 40, we talked a little more about the global Pop-Tart situation. Then I backed off to make room for my son.

Nathan's mom is Marcia Groat, who writes reviews for the Enquirer. A few months ago, she got a package from Alaska -- a copy of Barry's latest big seller, Dave Barry's Complete Book of Guys (most of Barry's books have his name in the title, like Bram Stoker's Dracula). It was sent by a friend, Katherine Engels, who had met Barry in Alaska and had asked him to sign the book for Marcia.

I introduced Nathan to Barry, who -- unprompted -- complimented us on our coordinated look-alike leather jackets. Then Nathan handed him the book from Alaska.

"Would you sign this again?" Nathan asked. I said the book had been shipped cross-country just to be in the same room with him again.

Barry stared at the pre-signed title page and may have thought, Why do I do these frigging speaking tours? or something equally jovial.

But he was cool.

"This is really unusual," he said. By "unusual," I imagine he might have meant "pointless" or "redundant." He grinned, asked Nathan's name, signed, shook our hands and thanked us for coming. So cordial. No overt sign of mental disorder. Or even writer's cramp.

I walked away, not particularly looking forward to driving another 2 1/2 hours back home to Marshall. Then, finally, I glanced at what he'd written in my own book.

"To John," he'd written, "my fan since 1983 and my personal journalism idol."

I hadn't even told him to write that last part. What a guy!

And I am not making this up.

[Addendum: Shortly after this column was published, I sent a clipping to Barry, who replied with a handwritten postcard to thank me. He included a correction, which I'll quote: "My hair is not chewed by beavers. It is chewed by weasels." Thanks to the Internet, I now have the opportunity to set the record straight.]

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