Aug 19th. 2019
By Jeremy Lott
If you want to feel old, just stick around for the next sentence. Dave Barry is now in his 70s.
The Pulitzer Prize-winning humor columnist and author of such classics as “Boogers are My Beat,” “Dave Barry’s Book of Bad Songs” and those year-end review articles that everybody skims is, as he puts it, “definitely getting up there.”
If his life were a football game, Mr. Barry says that he’d be “at the twominute warning, in the fourth quarter.” If it was movie credits it would now be “way down at the bottom, past assistant gerbil wrangler.” If it was a bag of Cheez-Its, it would be mostly consumed, “the stage where you hold the bag up and tilt it into your mouth to get the last crumbs.”
In other, less metaphorical but no less penultimate words, he explains, “The End Is in Sight.”
In sight, but not yet upon him. Mr. Barry resolves to “be as happy as possible” with “whatever time I have left” and he enlists a spirit animal in his quest: The family dog Lucy.
The rationale for this is that, at the time of the book’s writing, Mr. Barry was 70 and Lucy, a black “Boxer, Dalmation, Chow Chow, Golden Retriever cross” — or in plain terms, a mutt — was turning 10, putting her at rough parity with him “in dog years.” He thought that by examining his life through the cataracted lens of an old mutt, he just might learn some new tricks.
The chief of which was, of course, how to be happy. Lucy is an affable, contented dog and good at living in the moment. Mr. Barry is frets about the past and worries about the future. He finds that as he has gotten older, he has also gotten meaner and less social.
In each of seven main chapters, Mr. Barry looks at his life and eventually compares himself to Lucy. He extracts such lessons as “don’t stop having fun”; “pay attention to the people you love”; and “don’t lie unless you have a really good reason, which you probably don’t.”
There is plenty of ranting and storytelling along the way. We learn about how Dave Barry was tied in knots by an audit by the IRS and how Lucy would have handled it differently. (Some agents would have gotten licked.) We either chuckle or groan (I chuckled) as he rants against the AARP’s attempts to make aging cool. (“AARP, as you probably know, is the last sound you make before you die.”) And we nod knowingly
LESSONS FROM LUCY: THE SIMPLE JOYS OF AN OLD, HAPPY DOG
as he describes things that many of us have observed, such as road rage, disposing of things we don’t want to eat without offending the hostess, and the absurdity of high school dating rituals.
In short, most of the book is the kind of writing that fans of Dave Barry’s columns and non-fiction books have come to expect: Funny, punchy, absurd and even a little bit insightful.
And now I have to spoil something big because it slowed me up from finishing this book, which I had been reading to the missus at night. Here is the spoiler: The dog doesn’t die.
I believed that was going to be the case because an afterword begins “This chapter wasn’t supposed to be here” and I shuffled forward a few pages and picked out words like “MRI” and “paralyzed” and put the book away before it gave my dog-loving wife nightmares.
When I picked it up again, I learned that “Lessons From Lucy” was done and scheduled to be published but had to be delayed because Mr. Barry’s still teenage daughter, Sophie, woke up one day and couldn’t move her legs. She had been accepted into Duke and all set to move there and this book had a national publicity tour lined up. Both had to be shelved as the Barrys spent 40 days in the hospital, as doctors struggled, successfully, to rescue Sophie from an aggressive autoimmune disorder called Transverse Myelitis.
Mr. Barry writes movingly about this struggle. “It’s an especially cruel kind of torture, to watch, helpless, as your child suffers. You would do anything to make it better. Every parent knows this: You would gladly, in an instant, trade places with your child. Take me. Paralyze me. But you don’t get that choice,” he says.
That’s yet another thing that Dave Barry is not making up.
Jeremy Lott is creator and writer of the Movie Men comic book.