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In 1988, Barry won the Pulitzer Prize for commentary.
In 1989, ''Dave Barry Slept Here,'' a lunatic-revisionist history of the United States (the Wright brothers first flight was canceled because of equipment problems at O'Hare) achieved legitimacy with 11 weeks on the Times best-seller list.
But in 20 years the signals will be different, and the column won't strike people as funny.
Tom Wolfe said that aesthetic achievements mired in their time are all fashion. People like to think they're invoking timeless truths. We're all dilettantes.'' He paused, a little embarrassed to have been so strident, and immediately reached for his humor reflex.
''If you're going to be really, truly funny, you have to use the language of sophomore year.'' Barry's former editor at The Herald, Gene Weingarten, says, ''He has total recall of the experience of being 12 - it's locked in his head.'' Weingarten's dog Clementine makes regular appearances in the column. Barry, was devoting his life to the poor, the civil-rights movement and the founding of alcohol-abuse progams in New York State prisons - all of which provide some insight into the genesis of Barry's semicomic take on the weighty issues.
''Clementine once ate aquarium gravel,'' Barry has written, ''without even heating it up.'' When Barry was enjoying his real adolescence, the nation was at the height of its revolutionary convulsions, and his father, the Rev. He was old enough to enjoy the delirium of the national upheaval, and too young to let the more serious dogma get in the way of the fun - hence his penchant for leading Dada-esque sit-down strikes at his suburban high school, protesting such injustices as the existence of fruit.
Millions of American households now have the opportunity to feast on a regular diet of hyperbole (a bureaucrat has ''the I. of a bowl of soup''; Americans have ''thighs the size of research submarines''), one-liners (''Is that [Michael Milken's] real hair? They're finding it - if Barry's sales figures are any indication - in a direct disciple of Robert Benchley, by way of Russell Baker, with pinches of Calvin Trillin, Fran Lebowitz and P. And he has spurned job offers in Washington and Los Angeles. In a memorable spoof of a New York Times Magazine cover story on Miami, he wrote, ''New York has more commissioners than Des Moines, Iowa, has residents, including . ''Well, most of the funniest things in life happened in sophomore year, didn't they?
'' says Jeff Mac Nelly, the three-time Pulitzer-prize-winning cartoonist for The Chicago Tribune who illustrates Barry's column each week for about 95 papers.
This is not surprising; nasal passages have been good to him. His father and brother were both alcoholics, though, and Barry will admit to concern over his excess consumption of beer, a theme that runs faithfully through many of his columns.The humor community of the kinder and gentler 90's is being swept by waves of touchy-feely caution and cloying cuteness. I have been to both WASP and non-WASP weddings, and your WASP couple can get married, go on their honeymoon, come home, pursue careers, have children and get divorced in less time than it takes for a non-WASP couple to get to the part of their reception where everyone drinks champagne from the maid of honor's brassiere.'' By now, it should be eminently clear that the Barry sword of equal-opportunity insult is wielded with a clear absence of malice, in the spirit of unadulterated - and distinctly un-adult - buffoonery. Bob Martinez of Florida ''exudes the warm personal charm of a millipede,'' the air-fare wars have produced a new generation of ''Frequent fliers with bare feet and live carry-on chickens,'' and Manuel Noriega is assured a fair trial only if the courts can summon ''12 unbiased jurors with the mental alertness of moist towelettes.'' In Dave Barry's column, we learn that Senator John Glenn ''couldn't electrify a fish tank if he threw a toaster in it,'' that Canada's motto is ''Technically a Nation'' and that the average big-league baseball team consists mostly of ''two dozen guys named Julio from friendly spider-infested nations to the south.'' Happily, some of Barry's sharpest thrusts are reserved for his own ethnicity: ''Wealthy WASP's have less fun in their entire lifetimes,'' he wrote a few months ago, ''than members of other ethnic groups have at a single wedding reception.''I'm no one's spokesman,'' he insisted, as he raked a fish sandwich, a departure from his usual cheeseburger, through a film of ketchup and tartar sauce. I like it when people tell me I'm funny, but I'm extremely uncomfortable when people go beyond that and attach social significance to it.''In no sense do I think of myself as any kind of philosopher. ''I'm making people laugh because I'm receiving the same signals they are about the times we're living in, and rebroadcasting them at a slightly different frequency.From Seattle to Miami, and all stops in between, the nation is eagerly devouring a verbal gumbo that encompasses the burlesque vulgarity of Samurai John Belushi, the indiscriminate insults of Monty Python and the literate lunacy of the original National Lampoon, all tinged by unmistakeable traces of 60's activism. Language Person: I am with the Defense Department, and I'd like to know whether it's correct to say 'Four million dollars apiece IS not that much for the B-79 Hellfire Amphibious Assault Salad Bar,' or 'Four million dollars ARE not, etc.' ''A: Does that price include the optional SS-863 Shrieking Eagle Tactical Sneeze Shield? ''A: I didn't think so.'' Equal parts incisive observer and eighth-grade class clown, Barry may be our best antidote to the ugly sound-bite sensibilities of Eddie Murphy, Sam Kinison and Andrew Dice Clay. investing your money in the stock market is nearly twice as secure, over the long term, as feeding it to otters'') or critiquing ''The Hubble Orbiting Space Paperweight . His column overflows with locutions like ''rat saliva,'' ''nasal discharge,'' ''bat-emission products,'' ''saliva-drenched gobs of tobacco,'' ''pig doots'' and ''toad secretions.'' It should not be forgotten, after all, that in a contest in Tropic, the Sunday magazine of Barry's employer, The Miami Herald, the winning parody of his work consisted of a single word: ''boogers.'' ''There are certain themes that will forever run through my writing, like the sophomoricism,'' Barry admitted recently over lunch in a mall in South Miami, a ferny suburban refuge of margarine-colored homes and barking Dobermans.