Unlike others reminiscing here, Barry and I weren’t close. I wish we had been, but our schedules and his health were probably among the obstacles. Still, over the years, our paths crossed several times in interesting ways….
We first met in the late 1980s. I was writing a book about language and wordplay and I wanted to include examples of puns in other languages. No Google then, but I recalled reading about Barry’s Language Club. I contacted him and obtained an invitation, despite not being a student of a foreign language. The members and the conversation were fascinating and I obtained material that was useful in my research.
When the book was published, I was interviewed by a community newspaper. The reporter said that his editor wanted to include a comment on the subject by “a prominent New Yorker.” Who, I thought, met that criterion better than Barry Farber? He was cooperative, offering this puckish observation, which was quoted: “Wordplay is a way to have fun without sex or drugs.”
When one of our friends came to NYC to visit Barry and Sara at their apartment in the Apthorp, I was invited. I live at Lincoln Center, less than a mile due south. I had walked by that legendary building hundreds of times, but had never been inside. We chatted at length at their kitchen table, then adjourned to a nearby restaurant, spending several hours together in all. Barry had serious medical problems even back then, but he was coherent and sharp. When Barry and Sara told the story of how they had reconnected and married after being out of touch for decades, I thought the tale was so remarkable that, with their permission, I tried to find a reporter to write a story about it, but that mission wasn’t successful. This may be why I became an advertising copywriter instead of a publicist! (Sara is best qualified to tell the story.)
That was the final occasion Barry and I met, but we continued to correspond via email. His messages were always terrifically friendly, gracious, and cheerful, more so than those of anyone else I know. And the subject of our correspondence segues naturally to my final anecdote….
In 2012, the U.S. Postal Service released a commemorative stamp honoring O. Henry. Since childhood, and to this day, I’ve been an admirer of the famed writer’s short stories. So I bought a quantity of the stamps and included one, just for fun, when I routinely sent news clips to friends via postal mail—inside the envelopes, not outside. After Barry received the delivery, he sent me a message: “Don! You were so thoughtful to remember that O. Henry and I are both from Greensboro, N.C.” In fact, I didn’t remember. I had sent the stamp to many people, simply to share my interest in the work of the author. But the expression of appreciation, however undeserved, was entirely typical of Barry’s warmth and enthusiasm.
The Apthorp, at 79th St. and Broadway, NYC where Barry lived from 1964 to 2020