With a Grain of Salt: P.J. O'Rourke and Dave Barry in Conversation
In the first paragraph of the prologue to his new book, The Baby Boom: How It Got That Way... And It Wasn't My Fault... And I'll Never Do It Again, political humor writer P.J. O'Rourke declares in no uncertain terms that he is "full of crap." Similarly, in the introduction to his upcoming book You Can Date Boys When You're Forty, humor columnist Dave Barry explains that his book, despite its subtitle "Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About," is not about parenting.
It's easy to imagine that when these two bestselling authors and longtime pals get together, commiserative silliness ensues. But in this case, no imagination is necessary. We popped in on an email exchange between these two masters of existential trolling. Here's what happened:
Dave Barry: P.J. — I loved The Baby Boom which manages to be both hilarious and insightful. What I want to know is: How did you remember all that stuff? Especially about the '60s. Didn't you take drugs? Of course not! Neither did I! Drugs are bad! But my memories of that era are very purple-hazy, whereas you seem to remember every detail of everything that happened. How did you do that?
P.J. O'Rourke: I made it up. I'm a professional reporter. I'm PAID to make things up. Actually, I do remember a lot about the '60s. Probably because I still know a lot of the same people. And they're still yelling at me about things I did back then. Keeps memories fresh. Sort of like a wife. Just kidding, dear. Sort of like a first wife. And I loved You Can Date Boys When You're Forty. You admit you went to a Justin Bieber concert. Kind of pushing the envelope even for a confessional memoir. You're brave, dude, brave.
DB: I did indeed go to a Justin Bieber concert, because my daughter really really really wanted to go because she LOVED Justin Bieber. It was terrifying. I was in Coral Gables, Florida, in 1992 when Hurricane Andrew passed over and nearly took off the roof of the home in which I was cowering. I understood then why the noise of a hurricane is always compared to a freight train. What it SHOULD be compared to is a Justin Bieber concert. Given the choice, I'd rather sit through Andrew again.
PJO: When I pick my daughters up from school they, for some reason I can't imagine, don't want to listen to Rush Limbaugh, and so they tune the radio to what sounds to me like somebody donated 200 drum sets and an Auto-Tune to a juvenile delinquent corrections facility. But does this mean today's music sucks? Yes.
DB: So true. Our music had feeling, but it also had MEANING. I refer specifically to the song that I view as the Anthem of the '60s; a song I played at countless fraternity parties when I was a student at Haverford College and belonged to a band called the Federal Duck. I refer, of course, to "Land of 1,000 Dances," and the lyrics that spoke to our generation: "I said na, na na na na, na na na na, na na na, na na na na, na na na na." These kids today have NOTHING LIKE THAT.
PJO: Justin Bieber could learn a lot from Cannibal and the Headhunters, if you ask me. For one thing, he could learn to disappear without a trace. Although I understand he has retired. Which makes a 66-year-old person with three kids to put though college feel GREAT. On the other hand, looks like he’ll be spending his golden years in jail instead of a nursing home. Thought you captured the fear-inducing nature of having teen daughters in the house perfectly. I use a subtle technique when boys are around. I shout to my wife, "Hey, Honey, did you pick up the new ten-round magazine for my Glock at the gun store?"
DB: I don't have a Glock, because I live in Miami, where weapons that small are viewed as party favors. I agree, though, that it is very important, with daughters, to teach them about boys, and by "teach them about" I mean "keep them a minimum of three regulation football fields away from." Which brings us to sex. You talk about it in your book, and I talk about it in my book, and I think that anybody reading our books would have to conclude that we have no idea what we're talking about, because we are men. I don't really have a question here. I'm just pointing out that our books contain SEX TALK.
PJO: They sure do!!! LOTS AND LOTS OF SEX TALK. Because that's what sells books. And, speaking of books, I was impressed by the depth of understanding and the sheer intellectual brilliance in your essay about Fifty Shades of Grey. Haven't read it myself, but I gather any sane adult male would tie the young lady protagonist to the bed -- and leave her there and go to a sports bar.
DB: I did indeed courageously and without the aid of pharmaceuticals read Fifty Shades of Grey, and I have to say that, although a lot of people said the writing is terrible, those people were 100 percent correct. The book does, however, explain What Women Want. They don't want a guy who's really handsome and has a great body. No! Women are not that shallow! They want a guy who's really handsome and has a great body and is also a billionaire. (Which explains why I never got anywhere.) But the point is, our books contain SEX TALK and also a technique for losing up to 700 pounds in a week without dieting. My question to you is: Can you think of any reason why anybody would NOT buy our books? Aside from the fact that we are lying?
PJO: No, Dave, I can't. And you're leaving out the psychological self-help that you and I are justly famed for providing in our published work. My book, for instance, helps readers overcome OCD by simply buying 1,000 copies and sending one to each person on their Christmas Letter email list in alphabetical order with the envelopes addressed in tiny precise handwriting. And all our DIY tips too! For example, I learned that self-help technique by reading your "How to Become a Professional Author" chapter. I was especially wowed by your children's book "Merle Moth Does a Big Thing," which I assume you have sold to the movies. Do people who write books for small children spend an hour a year working? Or does it sometimes take them two hours?
DB: It is a fact that The Very Hungry Caterpillar -- which has sold more copies than you and I and Stephen King combined -- was written on a bet in 27 seconds underwater. But the point that I think we are both trying without success to make here is that both your book and my book are for sale in exchange for money, which I for one could use because my daughter no longer loves Justin Bieber, which means I have to buy tickets to a concert by something called "One Direction." In conclusion, I want to thank everybody who took the time to read this frank exchange of views between two veteran authors with a lot on their minds. If you were in any way offended by any of the comments you read here, I want to say, in all sincerity, on behalf of both P.J. and me, that those comments were his.