Dave Barry

There has been a disturbance in the Force.
The inky galaxy of newsprint’s reading inhabitants stagger in bewilderment. Dave Barry, the Beige Overlord of Comic Columnists has retired, swept into the black hole of— there’s no gentle way to say this— fatherhood.
Mr. Barry’s departure leaves my Saturday Op-Ed page bereft of purpose; leaves it a stony slate of piety, pillory and humorless poop. So that Dave can change diapers. So that Dave can play with his daughter and make her laugh and utterly neglect the rest of us.
Okay, Dave’s daughter is now 6, she’s old enough to be out of diapers, but he’s— 59!— old enough to know better, even accounting for the delayed puberty of professional humorists. Siring cuddly protein lumps at his age is unconscionable and stupid and if you need proof, picture Dave rolling around his carpet at home, tickling Sophie and getting drool on his rayon print short-sleeved shirt or whatever they wear down in Florida, while undead hordes of laffless readers mill about outside in his flowerbed. His pal Steven King could make a movie of the week about it and I wish he would if it guaranteed they’d both quit their rock careers.
The world is divided between those that think there’s enough to go around and those that don’t and if you ask enough of what, it’s obviously laughter in his particular case. Dave had an over-abundance and shared it, and now he’s just hoarding it. His excuse is 30 years of unbroken weekly columns, 30 lousy years in the timeless wilderness of guffawlessness into which we’re again cast.
You bet I’m bitter. I come to bury Barry, not to honor him. Father to unlimited grins, hiccupping yuks and galloping giggles, he’s spurned us, his adoring print progeny, in shameless deference to this upstart issue.
He says he’s taking an indefinite leave. “Ha,” sez I, for now his funny furnace exclusively runs on parental observations, which is as seriously unfunny as hydrogen fuel, while helium’s a guaranteed thing if inhaled. That’s the Dave we’ll miss, but he’s gone now, gone to the recklessly unfunny circle of hell that Dolly and Billy and Jeffy are drawn in. The oval-headed universe of glandless blandness.
How do we reconcile political sleaze, insufferable stupidity and carnal excess without his cunning callowness; how do we puncture the dense drone of daily drudgery, how can I end this sentence with more alliteration? Dave never troubled himself tripping over words, they tumbled out like goofy clown-car adolescents grinning at you since you were about to be blindsided in his next phrase with a metaphorical meringue, a hyperbolic inanity, a paroxysm of glee. But Dave’s grown up now. Now Dave’s car trips involve strollers, animal crackers, coloring books, string cheese, wetnaps and fistfuls of ibuprofren; he has put away childish things, only to pick them up again from where his darling dumpling’s happily hurled them. Again, and again and again. “Again,” says Sophie and daddy obliges with the same expression or bedtime story or pratfall he’s repeated eleventy-seben times. It’s actually hysterically funny— brace yourself— when she puts daddy’s shoes on— the wrong feet!! Gag me.
He knows this of course. He knows but doesn’t care. Paternity is a delusional wellspring of hope, promise and joy right alongside night terrors that your 6-year-old’s gotten a Harley tattoo and joined the panel of the Beltway Gang. Father’s former funny fodder of potty gags and adolescent pranks redound darkly; repentant, he writes anonymous chiding letters to himself, care of his editor. Gone is the endless summer of 14-year-old merriment.
Daddy’s home.

Cyber Suzy

King Kong Telecomm handles my phones and internet, a megalithic communication company dedicated to preventing human contact. Their corporate hugeness is too vast and unknowable for the gabbling masses. So many lonely humans out there calling in, complaining— their bursitis, their ungrateful children, ill-fitting dentures— God knows what they’ll say or when they’ll get around to any pertinent company interests. The last time a human answered a company phone, they went ringy-dingy and you got Ernestine. Go to lilytomlin.com, I’m not available to answer impertinences from the recently born.
Cyber Suzie answers their helpline in her sultry voice. Does Suzie also have a 900 number? There’s something about her. She offers me a few choices, very reasonable choices, but I sense the innuendo behind her professional façade. I play her little game, eschewing the option to speak my account number and tap in the numbers with a saucy hint of calypso. Is that a tremolo she betrays for a moment? Then some guy with a basso Spanish voice breaks in. “Para Español,” yada yada. Suzie’s sharp, trying to game me with this Latin heartthrob. I ignore him, he leaves. Or maybe not, I don’t care.
“I’ll bet he’s short,” I say.
“I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you,” says Suzie. Sure.
“So long as Raymundo does,” I say. Then, “you two are wrong for each other, office romances never work out.”
I know she’s covering for him as he leaves in a huff; she repeats her little mantra, “I’m sorry, I didn’t understand you.” Uh-huh. Awkward pause. She recovers. “Please say or press your billing address zip code.”
I comply without inflection. I know she’s mulling it over. Then Suzie does something unexpected. Suzie goes “Hmmm.”
“Hmmm, let’s see if I’ve got this right,” she says, then repeats my digital input. She had my number at “Hmmm,” ends her interlocution with …“right?”
“Right,” I parrot back, stunned.” Suzie hmmmed me.
When she asks the nature of my inquiry, I tell her— I’m not even sure how, since my head’s still humming. Next thing I know, I’m in the hold queue for a live person.
The nature of my inquiry is trouble paying my bill online. Their website was refusing to process my payment. It’d been a while since my last chat with Suzie— maybe she had a hand in it, crossed a few wires to inveigle me back. Raymundo being her rebound, she reached out. I just rubbed salt in the wound, poor kid, no wonder she patched me through so peremptorily. My reverie’s broken by a carbon entity. She’s got none of Suzie’s allure. I explain the problem. Unsurprisingly, I need to speak to someone else for my problem. Another hold queue, this one lasts through the stone, iron and industrial ages.
The problem turns out to be with my Godzilla browser. It’s apparently got some conflict with their King Kong website. I suggest that they might simply say that on their website rather than dead-ending well-intentioned customers with encrypted check routing numbers in their hot little hands. I suggest that just saying so would save the time of their customers and themselves. My suggestion is drowned out by the din of clashing titans hurling hapless programmers into high voltage towers. Doomed, non-binary puny human logic.
Switching browsers remedies the problem. I’ve spent an hour more than I would have scribbling a check, tearing a stub, stamping and mailing the payment. Still, I had some moments with Suzie. Suzie hmmmed me.
My phone rings. A breather, hot and heavy. Instead of hanging up, something familiar keeps me on the line.