Paden, my 17-year-old son, and I were driving up I-35 on our way to Arkansas. Just the two of us. This doesn’t happen often, Paden and I being solely in charge of one another without anyone else around, and that’s probably a good thing. We don’t communicate well.
Paden doesn’t speak English. He speaks some kind of mumble language I can’t understand, and he does it very quietly, and never toward me. Once his mother was in one end of the house and shouted his name, which he clearly heard from the other end of the house. He didn’t know I was standing behind him, and he answered her in a low, conversational tone, which I barely heard from three feet away. No way his mother heard it, but he could honestly say he had answered her, when she asked.
So I decided to let Paden know what it felt like not to be able to hear what someone else was saying. Without turning my head I started making comments about the traffic, very quietly. I could not, personally, hear these comments, but I figured Paden would hear something and wonder what I was saying. Instead he answered me. Not in English, but still, he answered. So that didn’t work out as planned, and Paden still mumbles at me.
We were on our way to Arkansas to meet my wife and visit our oldest son, Courtland, at Harding University, in Searcy. Plus Paden plans to attend Harding, so the trip would give him a chance to see the campus, and maybe find out if anyone else there speaks his particular dialect, which might be helpful.
Besides all that we had tickets to attend the Reynolds Theater at the University of Central Arkansas at Conway, to hear Dave Barry. Courtland and Paden have been reading my copies of Dave’s books and columns for years, and think he’s the funniest guy in the world. They don’t find me amusing in the least. So I was gratified, when we got to the auditorium, to read in the program that Dave’s kids don’t think he’s funny, either. The program neglected to mention whether Dave’s kids think I’m funny.
Dave spoke for about an hour, a good portion of which involved trying to get us to visit Miami. Dave moved to Miami in some specific year from the United States, and so far has not been shot by a drug dealer, which is probably some kind of record.
According to Dave, Miami’s new tourism slogan is ‘Come back to Miami – we weren’t shooting at YOU.’ Which makes me want to pack up and head south today, only I’m not sure my passport is current.
The most enjoyable parts of Dave’s speech, for me, were the ones where he imparted fact about his personal life, which, it turns out, is very much like my personal life, except for the parts about Dave being rich and famous. And funny. Other than that we’re pretty much alike.
Dave and I both use the Embarrassment Method of parenting, where, if your child won’t do what you want him to do in public, you do something to embarrass him, such as singing. This works very well for me, and I’m happy to learn it has also been productive for Dave. Teenagers can’t stand it when their parents make fools of themselves in public.
We are also alike in that we both try to keep a low profile when we’re around important people. And we both, when forced to speak to important people, say really stupid things.
Dave told us about a time when he was at the 1992 republican national convention, or something, and spent a day following Barbara Bush around. He hung back, but at the end of the day he ended up right beside the (then) first lady, for a picture. He knew he should be quiet, but instead he looked at Mrs. Bush and said, "I shop at the same supermarket as your son, Jeb."
Mrs. Bush, to be nice, said, "We just celebrated Jeb’s birthday."
Dave knew he should shut up while he was behind, so instead he said, "He’s very tall." Which Mrs. Bush probably already knew.
I’ve been doing that sort of thing all my life. I met Chuck Yeager once, and asked him, "When you were on long bomber escort runs, how did you go to the bathroom?" Chuck, unfortunately, had to leave right then, so I never found out.
But Dave’s speech was great, and afterwards we got in line to get him to sign a book, only we didn’t have any of his books. So I went back to the lobby and bought one (that I already had at home), and Dave signed it "For Kendal, my idol – Dave Barry."
Dave is, without question, the friendliest, most personable celebrity I’ve ever met. In other words he’s just like me, only rich and famous. And funny.
But I have to say, at the risk of sounding like I’m tooting my own horn, that I’m at least three inches taller than Dave. Maybe four . . .
Kendal Hemphill is an outdoor humor columnist and public speaker who was happy to give Dave some pointers on writing humor. Write to him at PO Box 1600, Mason, Tx 76856 or firstname.lastname@example.org