While idol is a strong word to apply to anybody but your parents or, for eleven-year-olds, inexplicably, the Jonas Brothers, I’m comfortable using it to describe Dave Barry, the Pulitzer Prize-winning humor writer who came to town recently to give a lecture, and who demonstrated to the assembled crowd that once you’ve won a Pulitzer, you can make hand farts into the microphone and people will still call what you’re doing “lecturing.”
My wife Kara accompanied me to the event even though her interest in humor writers doesn’t really extend past the one she married, and sometimes not even that far, especially when he’s thumbs-deep into his fifth consecutive hour of Grand Theft Auto IV on the PlayStation 3 and complaining about the unfair onset of carpel tunnels syndrome.
As we sat in the auditorium waiting for the lecture to begin, we saw several of our fellow audience members clutching Dave Barry books, which must be the literary equivalent of wearing your team’s jersey to the game. Authors don’t really lend themselves to wearable merchandising opportunities; you never hear anybody say, “Dude, check out my Steven King sweatshirt. It’s dyed with real pig’s blood.”
I nodded towards the front of the room and said, “Maybe that guy is getting ready to introduce Dave Barry now.”
“Baby, that’s a woman,” Kara replied, looking around to see if anyone had heard me.
It turned out that we were talking about different people, but still, I was offended. I can almost always correctly identify someone’s gender persuasion just by looking at them. I call it my gen-dar.
When Dave finally stepped up to the podium, I felt like a little leaguer watching Babe Ruth step up to the plate, except Dave was wearing a sport coat instead of spilling out of a Yankees uniform. In fact, he looked exactly the same as he did on the covers of books he’d written twenty years ago. The man is ageless, like Bilbo Baggins or Heather Locklear, despite his jokes about turning sixty-one and being tracked for years by something called AARP, which, he imagined, is the last sound you make before you die.
“AARP!” he yelped, clutching his chest and staggering backwards.
Writers often have the oratorical skills of sedated tree sloths or outgoing presidents, but Dave was indistinguishable from a stand-up comedian. At one point, he mentioned his author friend who has two girls named Page and Story, then he paused for a moment and gagged himself with his finger. Naming your kids based on your own interests does invite some level of ridicule. An architect would never name her kids Blueprint and Protractor, although Incinerator and Airbrake would be pretty awesome names for a garbage collector’s kids.
As Dave recounted some of his most popular columns and stories from over the years to an enthralled audience, it occurred to me that we were watching a performance from an increasingly rare phenomenon: the newspaper celebrity. As the medium finds its place in an electronic world, I, for one, hope newspapers will attract readers and survive for a long, long time, not least of all because, without them, it would be much more difficult to prove to awakening coma patients and time travelers what the date is.
It so happened that, after Dave concluded and the crowd started filing out, our seats dumped out through the same exit door that Dave had just used, and another fan held him up just long enough for me to reach him before he could get to his escape pod.
Kara waited two steps away with the camera as I pushed out the words, “Dave, I’ve been writing a humor column for four years. Can I get a picture with you?”
And his response, if I can squeeze it in here without going too far over my word count, was, “Yes.” It was like catching a home run ball.
You can call your shot to Mike Todd at firstname.lastname@example.org.