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July 16, 2013

BEAM: Welcome to the freak show

Reality television today has nothing on the old-time circus side show. Back then, fascinating oddities enticed the town folk to fork out some dough to watch the Greatest Show on Earth.

It’s where bearded women drew the eye of the young farmer, oftentimes to body parts other than just her hairy chin. Turbaned men would sprawl across a bed made of nails and sword swallowers gently guided long pieces of metal down their throats, all of course in the name of entertainment.

Even now, the side show mentality still is embedded in our culture. Just look at the centerpiece of almost every convention or conference. To urge participation, the speaker’s podium always has a captivating draw, having replaced the center ring. Behold and wonder at the magical keynote address that will guarantee to stun and leave you breathless.

Meetings of writers aren’t much different than other trades. A few weeks back, I attended my first National Society of Newspaper Columnists conference in Hartford, Conn. No bearded ladies were spotted thanks to modern depilatory techniques, but attendees bantered with wits as sharp as any sword.

Building throughout the three days, a camaraderie sprouted among the attendees. Heloise, whose “hints” have reached millions of readers in syndication, rubbed elbows with small-town humorists. Pulitzer Prize-winning reporters listened to informative workshops beside the casual blogger. You could find everywhere that little star-studded dazzle that made you want to come back for more.

And then there was Dave Barry.

From the get go, Barry was touted as the crème de la crème of all the speakers. On Saturday night, he was to receive the Ernie Pyle Lifetime Achievement Award at the dinner and give a keynote speech. Everywhere you journeyed, columnists with some pretty impressive credentials themselves anticipated Barry’s arrival, a glow brighter than a fire breather’s flames coming to their raised cheeks.

I’d smile and look excited too, but inside I was quivering like a mermaid out of water. You see, even though I’m an aspiring columnist like the best of them, I’d never heard of Dave Barry.

Like all good Americans, I have a great excuse that has nothing to do with the matter at hand. Just let me defend my ignorance. Between staying at home with the kids, work and keeping the house clean enough as to not be rendered hazardous to one’s health, I don’t have time to read.

There. I said it. I write but I don’t read, to some a cardinal sin. There’s a special place in hell for people like me — right beside the pilots that don’t fly as passengers on airplanes and chefs who won’t sample other cooks’ cuisine.

As you can imagine, when others would speak about the wonders of Barry, I couldn’t respond because I just didn’t know. Once in a while I’d throw out something about liking his column on dogs or mothers. The guy has been writing for newspapers since 1971. Chances are he’s covered one of the two.

After the first night of the conference, I slinked away to my room and Googled Dave Berry. Yep. “Berry,” like the sweet little fruit that you pick off a vine. Not a good comparison to the actual real life human when you meet him, by the way. There is no end to my ignorance.

Despite the misspelling, Barry’s bio appeared. When you have a Wikipedia page, you know you’ve made it in the world. He even had a photo and a personal life section. Life is good if you’re Dave Barry.

To be honest, I’m not sure how I’ve never heard of the man. A lot of people regard him as the preeminent humorist of our time. A ton of his books have been published, a TV show in the 1990s sported his name, and he has even thrown it down with some other fantastic authors like Stephen King and Amy Tan in a band called the Rock Bottom Remainders. Rumor has it that actor Steve Carell will be starring in an upcoming movie based off of Dave and another amazing writer, Alan Zweibel’s newest book, called “Lunatics.”

At his acceptance speech for the award, Barry was brilliant. Indiana was mentioned, despite the fact that he made fun of our nickname in one of his earlier columns. And no, Mr. Barry, Hoosier is not a Native American word that is used to describe “caribou having sex with other caribou.” Although, in all honesty, it might have something to do with cows and drunken farmers.

All and all, the conference was a hit. Lots of learning — and fun — were had. Since I haven’t read any of the material I received, you probably won’t notice a difference in my writing. Sorry to disappoint, but much like with other side shows, there will be no refunds.

However, some soft peach fuzz has been spotted sprouting up on my chin. Maybe one day I can be a part of the center ring and get a Wikipedia page. A girl can always dream of running away to the writing circus, can’t she?

— Amanda Beam is a Floyd County resident and Jeffersonville native. Contact her by email at hoosiermandyblog@gmail.com

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