The retiree's semi run-in with columnist Dave Barry is recounted.
It's been 50 years since pop icon Andy Warhol famously predicted that each of us would receive our “15 minutes of fame.” This he asserted 14 minutes before the end of his career as a “pop icon,” whatever that is.
Here is the story of one local man’s brush with fame.
Dr. John Paul — the veterinarian, not the Pope — crossed swords with Pulitzer Prize-winning writer Dave Barry in the early 1990s. John is a longtime Canandaigua resident and Bloomfield native who became a successful horse veterinarian. Barry, known for his irreverent writing style (i.e. booger jokes) wrote a column for the Miami Herald newspaper in February 1993. His subject: a cow-product ad that appeared in a recent issue of Beef Today magazine.
The ad in question was for a product called Safeguard, which is used to deworm cows. The heading of the ad stated, “It Pays to Question Your Dewormer.”
The ad must have left quite an impact because his non-farm readers inundated Barry with copies of the Beef Today issue, prompting him to admit he had “foolishly thrown his out.”
Barry described the advertisement thusly:
“There’s a large color photo of two men, clad in overalls and tractor caps, standing behind the rear end of the cow. The men appear to be normal and sane — except for one thing. One of the men has much of his arm up the rear of the cow. He does not seem to be concerned about this. He is not even looking at the cow.
“His head is turned casually toward the other man, perhaps saying, “I’m afraid I can’t go bowling tonight, Ted, there’s a cow on my arm!” or “Hey, I found my dentures!”
Apparently, this was the type of humor that could win you a Pulitzer back in 1993. The board of directors of Safeguard, however, wasn’t laughing.
This is where John Paul comes in. As a noted veterinarian and consultant, he sometimes worked for the corporation that marketed Safeguard. The board members called him in and ordered him to fire off a strongly worded letter explaining the copy to Mr. Fancy-Pants-City-Boy Columnist.
But reaching Barry proved difficult for John, who had no idea who this “nutball” was. He tried fruitlessly to call him on the phone.
John recalls that Barry had a message machine that said, “If you want to Press One, Press One now. If you want to Press Two, Press Two now,” and “If you want to Press Three, then, by all means, PRESS THREE NOW” etc., etc., etc.
“It never gave you a chance to leave a message!” sputtered an exasperated John Paul.
So John wrote a letter to the columnist explaining that the man in the picture was palpitating the cow to find out whether she was pregnant, which is a “perfectly legitimate veterinary procedure.”
That just made it worse. In a subsequent column, Barry continued to “poke” fun at the ad and at John’s letter.
“SHERIFF: What seems to be the trouble, boys?”
MOB LEADER: “We caught this varmint palpitatin’ out at Jess Hooper's place.”
VOICES FROM MOB: “Yeah, he’s a palpitator!”
SHERIFF: “But that’s a perfectly legitimate veterinary procedure.”
MOB LEADER: “He was palpitating’ a BULL!”
SHERIFF: “String him up!
VOICES FROM MOB: “Let’s palpitate him first!”
The board members were none too happy with Barry’s follow-up; however, John told them not to worry, because, as far as he knew, nobody had ever heard of this clown anyway. (Despite the fact that his column had been syndicated to about a kajillion newspapers by then.)
This is where John’s 15 minutes of fame came into play. Much to his surprise, John later received letters and copies of the column from dozens of friends in far-flung places, from Oklahoma to Washington, D.C. He even got a fax from a place called “The Beef Carcass Research Center” at West Texas A&M University. These messages displayed the sense of humor that his former bosses lacked.
They had comments like, “A slow news day in Amarillo, eh John?” and “Some people will do anything to get their names in the paper!”
Wrote one former mentor: “I now know how someone gains notoriety, and it gives me palpitations!”
— Mark Syverud is a former humor columnist for Gulfstream Newspapers in Fort Lauderdale and Messenger Post Media in Canandaigua. Dave Barry is currently promoting his 185th book, “Best. State. Ever. A Florida Man Defends His Homeland.” This shameless plug is designed to divert his attention from the fact that this article is basically a total ripoff of Barry’s material. John Paul has since retired and is the founder of the Parkinson Support Group of the Finger Lakes, which meets monthly at the Wood Library, to discuss important aspects of the disease and trade drooling jokes.