It’s hard to fathom that Dave Barry is 70. After all, it seems like just the other day the “zany” (his word, not ours) humorist published “Davie Barry Turns 40,” then “Dave Barry Turns 50,” with many “weird” (ditto) books before and after.
Among his titles are “Dave Barry’s Money Secrets,” “Dave Barry’s Guide to Life” and “Dave Barry’s Guide to Marriage and/or Sex.”
They remind us that, in his unique way, he has chronicled his generation for 35 years, cutting to the truth with his power tool of insightful humor. But now that Dave has gray in his Beatles haircut (ditto), he’s added a surprising element of seriousness to his comedic mania.
That would be “Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog” (Simon & Schuster, $26, 240 pages). Lucy is the Barry family’s dog, adopted from a rescue agency 10 years ago when she was 6 months old.
“She has become the soul of our house,” he writes. Above all, Barry notes, Lucy is happy. “She knows something I don’t,” he writes. “How to be happy. As a guy getting up in years, I thought maybe I could learn something useful about happiness from my aging but consistently joyful dog.”
Parts of “Lucy” are touching and sentimental, but there’s still a laugh on every page. He takes on AARP (American Association of Retired Persons Standing in Line Ahead of You Demanding a Discount on Every Freaking Thing), Comcast customer service, the TV show “Lassie,” hurricane preparedness in South Florida, America’s beauty-obsessed culture, husband-wife dialogue and much more.
He recalls witnessing a team-building event for Burger King employees in Miami in 2001, which culminated in a “confidence-building” exercise of 100 of them walking over hot coals. His riff on that is hilarious. So is his recollection of waking up in a hotel room after a night at the bar, convinced for a split second that his spleen had been removed by organ-harvesting pirates (he’s not making that up).
When Lucy was a pup, Barry had her DNA analyzed and learned she’s a boxer, dalmatian, chow chow, golden retriever mix. He then sent his own DNA for analysis. He writes, “They sent me a report whose main finding – this came as quite a surprise – is that my biological father is Warren Buffett.”
But let’s not get too crazy. Barry enumerates Lucy’s seven lessons, explains their importance in life and devotes each chapter to uproarious anecdotal context.
The lessons: 1. Make New Friends (And Keep the Ones You Have). 2. Don’t Stop Having Fun (And if You Have Stopped, Start Having Fun Again). 3. Pay Attention to the People You Love (Not Later. Right Now). 4. Let Go of Your Anger, Unless It’s About Something Really Important, Which It Never Is. 5. Try Not to Judge Other People by Their Looks, and Don’t Obsess Over Your Own. 6. Don’t Let Your Happiness Depend on Things. They Don’t Make You Truly Happy, and You’ll Never Have Enough Anyway. 7. Don’t Lie Unless You Have a Really Good Reason, Which You Probably Don’t.
What’s not funny is the near-tragedy that happened in the Barry family shortly after the book was set to go to press. It’s recounted in the add-on chapter “One Last Lesson.” At the end of it, Barry writes: “Be grateful for what you have. It’s probably more than you think.”
It’s easy to lose track of how prolific Barry has been in his career. He’s written 32 nonfiction books, five novels and 11 young-adult novels. He and writer Ridley Pearson collaborated on the five-title YA “Starcatcher” series, a reimagining of “Peter Pan.” Their first title, “Peter and the Starcatcher,” became a nationally touring play that won five Tony awards on Broadway.
Barry wrote a Pulitzer Prize-winning column for the Miami Herald from 1983 till 2004. “Dave’s World,” a CBS sitcom based on two of his books, ran from 1993 to 1997, starring Harry Anderson. His first novel, “Big Trouble,” became a 2002 movie starring Tim Allen and Rene Russo. Barry writes two nationally syndicated columns each year, a holiday gift guide and a year-in-review roundup. Both have appeared in The Sacramento Bee.
He and his wife, Michelle, live with their daughter in Coral Gables, a suburb of Miami. Visit him at www.davebarry.com.
Q: How is Lucy doing?
A: She’s great, completely oblivious to anything that might disturb a human. Day after day, she continues doing exactly the same things and enjoying them.
Q: Have dog-lovers besieged you?
A: Yeah, it’s been kind of sweet but I wasn’t ready for that. There’s a big community of dog-lovers out there. They all want to tell me about their dogs, and everybody’s dog is the best dog ever. I walk Lucy in our neighborhood every day, and if you want to meet people, get a dog.
Q: What about cat lovers?
A: Nobody can walk a cat, and a cat wouldn’t be caught dead near its owner, anyway. When you go to a dog park, everybody’s chatting about their dogs. I imagine there’s a cat park somewhere, and if you went there you’d just see people standing around, looking lonely, because their cats would be up in the trees.
Q: How did “Lucy” come about?
A: The idea of writing about dogs was originally my editor’s. I’ve written about my dogs all my life, and when we were talking about the project I envisioned a Dave Barry humor book about dogs. But then I had a bit of introspection, because I’m getting old and I was genuinely concerned about some things in my life. One of them was that I really didn’t know where all my friends were. If you had asked me to list my closest friends, I could, but wouldn’t necessarily know if they were alive or dead. That got me thinking about how dogs don’t forget who they love, and they’re supernaturally focused on that. Then it became, “OK, what else about dogs?” But I didn’t want to drift over into some weird territory where I’m actually pretending dogs are intelligent. I think they’re perfect, but not necessarily smart. Then it became a book largely about me, but that happened pretty organically from the original idea.
Q: “Lucy” isn’t a self-help book per se, but the lessons you learned from your dog are certainly important reminders to everyone.
A: The format for the self-help books I’ve read are usually the same – “Here are some amazing tricks that will make your life better.” That’s clearly not what I’m saying. There’s nothing in this book that people didn’t already know, including me before I started writing it. The problem is, we don’t do these things. They’re simple things dogs do —like paying attention to the people they love. We know we’re supposed to, and when we go to a funeral we’re reminded that we should, but then we forget and go back to looking at our phones.
Q: Beyond that, it’s a memoir that’s more personally revealing than anything you’ve written before.
A: By far. It still feels weird because that’s not ordinarily what I do. I just try to make you laugh. If I tell you anything about me, it’s meant to be funny. “Lucy” is really different in the sense that I’m not always trying to be funny and I’m generally trying to be honest about the changes I’ve made in myself.
Q: Please don’t tell us you’ve become an adult.
A: There’s no real risk of that, but I am certainly getting old, does that count?
Q: Has writing the book changed your outlook?
A: It has. I can’t say I’m a different person, I don’t want to be that. I am doing better on things I needed do better on, but I’m not doing as well as I probably should. Do I still get angry in traffic and lose my composure over stupid things? Yeah, but I’ve gotten better at saying to myself, “Oh, look what you just got upset about, you idiot.” I’m better at keeping in touch with my friends, and better at saying, “Yeah, let’s go out and do that,” instead of saying, “Nah, I just want to sit in front of my computer.”
Q: In the add-on chapter, which was wrenching to read, we see you in real anguish.
A: After a thing like that, you can never say things are back to normal, and you can never get it out of your mind altogether. When I was going through it, I was bitter, angry, upset and scared. And yet what came out of it was gratitude, and I wake up grateful every morning. Appreciating what I have is a new element in my life.
Q: Are you working on anything now?
A: I’m supposed to come up with an idea, but I’ve done a terrible job of it. So if anybody has an idea, let me know.
Q: You ran for president in 2000 and 2004. How is 2020 shaping up?
A: I no longer see myself as a joke candidate. If you look down the list of the 817 people who have declared for the presidency, I’m probably on there.