Surprise in Miami
Sunday, August 10, 2008
When I was touring with my my first novel, "Househusband," years ago I heard from a friend in Miami who'd read in the newspaper that I was going to be giving a reading at a bookstore in Coral Gables. "We'll be there," she said. "I'll bring my husband and daughter with me."
"Great!" I said. "So much to catch up on."
A week later, I spotted her sitting at a table in the cafe at Books & Books. She hadn't changed much at all ... same smile, same black hair. As she got up and started walking toward me, I noticed a little girl scampering along beside her. "This is my daughter, Sophie," she said after we hugged.
As I crouched to shake Sophie's hand Michelle then said, "And this is my husband."
I looked up and my heart skipped a beat. "Michelle," I said. "Your husband is Dave Barry? ... Dave?"
There he was: the infamous humorist-author-columnist. "Michelle," I repeated. "Dave BARRY!? What the hell?"
"I thought you knew."
We sat and had coffee then went to my reading in the other room. About halfway through the reading, Sophie and someone else's child started getting restless and talking and crawling on and off their chairs. Who could blame them, really? I mean, yikes, having to sit through a reading of something without pictures ... even if the author was very witty and wonderful.
Suddenly, Dave politely stood up and raised his hand. He said in a half-whisper, which everyone heard, "I'm going to take the kids over to the children's section and put on a puppet show for them."
He left, and silence returned. I started reading again but stopped after a few sentences. "You know," I interrupted myself. "Dave Barry is putting on an impromptu puppet show in the other room right at this very minute. I don't know about you, but I want to see it. Reading: OVER!" And we all went to watch Dave as he entertained a handful of kids with sock puppets.
Dave has been on my mind because I'm reading something he referred me to years ago. Back when only Miami Herald readers had heard of him, I interviewed Dave when the Fort Myers newspaper started publishing his newly syndicated column. He told me that a source of inspiration for his irreverent style was Peter Benchley, a humorist from the first half of the 20th century. Well, that's exactly what I printed in the article, and the next day a handful of more-literate readers called to inform me that it was the witty Robert Benchley whom he was referring to. Peter Benchley, of course, wrote "Jaws," which, indeed, has failed to make every list of Best Comedies.
So I'm reading "The Best of Robert Benchley" right now and hearing Dave's voice as I read. And I am wondering: Dave, you stinker, did you tell me Peter Benchley to be mean? To test my knowledge of literature? You bad, bad boy.