My Turn

Two humorists, pair of presidents are ties that bind

Whenever my parents needed a humorous lift, they gravitated to one of Art Buchwald’s columns, which were regularly published in a certain Detroit daily during the 1960s, ‘70s, and ‘80s.

While in college and during the Watergate years, I also became a fan of the syndicated columnist, whose works were reportedly published in some 500 newspapers at the height of his popularity.

A Pulitzer Prize winner in 1982 for Outstanding Commentary, Buchwald said his column ideas came from the strikingly simple task of “reading the newspaper each day,” where political absurdity is played out on the pages of dailies across the nation.

Buchwald, a New York City native, also was a best-selling author before dying in 2007 at age 81. Perhaps his finest book was his last, a fond farewell titled, “Too Soon to Say Goodbye,” a reflective look at his twilight years when he battled kidney disease and spent months in hospice care awaiting his final day.

It was a day that seemingly didn’t want to come, as Buchwald became “The Man Who Wouldn’t Die,” cheating death for months beyond his predicted demise.

The delay offered him time to plan his funeral – with a priest, a rabbi, and Billy Graham scheduled to preside in an effort to cover all of his bases.

When his time finally arrived on January 17, 2007, Buchwald fittingly went out with a bang in his hometown paper, The New York Times, where only the world’s finest are memorialized in obituary form. The following day, the website of The Times posted a video obit of the humorist in which he said: “Hi. I’m Art Buchwald, and I just died.”

Such a graceful exit sounds like something Dave Barry might pull off. Barry, who has made a career out of harpooning stuffy political and business types, is a former columnist for The Miami Herald. It was there that he won the 1988 Pulitzer Prize for commentary, “pending a recount,” he said with his trademark wit.

More than a decade ago, I saw Barry at his best during a presentation to the Economic Club of Washtenaw County. Those in attendance that day must have felt like they were reading one of his classic columns when scanning the bio in the luncheon program.

According to good authority, “Dave Barry was born in Armonk, New York, in 1947, and has been steadily growing older ever since without ever actually reaching maturity. He attended public schools, where he distinguished himself by not getting in nearly as much trouble as he would have if the authorities had been aware of everything.”

Barry later attended Haverford College, “where he was an English major and wrote lengthy scholarly papers filled with sentences that even he did not understand. He graduated in 1969 and eventually got a job with a newspaper named – this is the real name – The Daily Local News, in West Chester, Pennsylvania, where he covered a series of incredibly dull municipal meetings, some of which are still going on.”

A few years later, Barry joined “a consulting firm that teaches effective writing to business people. He spent nearly eight years trying to get his students to stop writing things like ‘Enclosed please find the enclosed enclosures,’ but he eventually realized that it was hopeless.”

He then “got smart,” he said, and joined The Miami Herald in 1983. His column appeared in several hundred newspapers, “yet another indication of the worsening drug crisis,” he acknowledged.

Now, more than 35 years later, Barry now must truly feel like he is rubbing elbows with Art Buchwald in the afterlife. While Buchwald had Richard Nixon to poke fun at during his time in the Oval Office, Barry can go one better, wondering in amazement at the astonishment of satirical riches he uncovers each time another disgraced president opens his mouth.