What you see de­pends on how you look

Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette - - VOICES - PHILIP MARTIN

We were at the Adol­phine Fletcher Terry Li­brary Mon­day; Audi had a ther­apy dog gig as part of the li­brary’s fam­ily night.

Kids were in­vited to come in, pet and read to her, be­cause she’s not judg­men­tal when you have to sound it out. I was there as the spouse of Audi’s han­dler, so I had no real re­spon­si­bil­i­ties. Once I re­al­ized I was a dis­trac­tion I wan­dered out of the chil­dren’s book area and into the li­brary proper where the Wi-Fi sig­nal was a lit­tle stronger.

Af­ter check­ing my email I still had about 40 min­utes to kill which, see­ing how I was in a li­brary, didn’t look to present a prob­lem. I se­lected a ran­dom book from a shelf in front of me.

It was a copy of Thank You for Com­ing to Hat­ties­burg: One Co­me­dian’s Tour of Not-Quite-the-Big­gest Cities in the World by Todd Barry. You prob­a­bly don’t know Barry’s name but you might know his face if you’ve watched Louie or Mas­ter of None. He turns up on the late-night chat shows. He played the su­per­mar­ket man­ager who was mean to Mickey Rourke in The Wrestler.

Barry’s name was fa­mil­iar but I didn’t quite know why. So I looked at the first chap­ter. Which was about a Tues­day night show he played at Juanita’s Cantina in Jan­uary 2015. It was Barry’s sec­ond time play­ing Juanita’s, and he noted the club had moved from its lo­ca­tion on Main Street (I al­most wrote “South Main” but the copy desk cir­cu­lated a memo last week re­mind­ing us that Main Street does not have a northsouth di­vide) to the River Mar­ket.

Barry’s gig im­me­di­ately be­fore the Juanita’s show was at Madi­son Square Gar­den in Man­hat­tan. He opened for Louis C.K. There were 14,000 peo­ple in that au­di­ence. There were 58 peo­ple at the Juanita’s show. (Tick­ets were $15.) There had been 90 peo­ple in at­ten­dance when Barry played the club in 2008.

Barry was a lit­tle dis­ap­pointed by that be­cause, he writes, the sec­ond time you play a city you ought to draw more peo­ple. But, he went on, the show wasn’t well pub­li­cized (it got a men­tion in this news­pa­per’s weekly calendar but there was no pre­view story).

Other than that, Barry seemed to have a good time in Lit­tle Rock. He got in the day be­fore the show and spent the next morn­ing in my neigh­bor­hood; he took an Uber (a nice cou­ple, he re­ports) to Hill­crest and hung around Mylo Cof­fee Com­pany, then did a lit­tle brows­ing at the Shoppes on Wood­lawn (which has re­cently been con­verted into the of­fices of Dr. Al­lan McKen­zie, whose Yorkie, Belle, went through ther­apy dog train­ing with our Audi).

Barry doesn’t write much about the show, but we can de­duce that it went pretty well. Barry mildly re­bukes a woman who went on his Facebook page to sug­gest he’d be fac­ing a “tough crowd” for his “clever wit.”

“It wasn’t a ‘tough crowd’ (and you mean-spir­ited read­ers out there are say­ing it wasn’t a crowd at all),” he writes. “I’ve had this hap­pen when I pro­mote shows that aren’t in big mar­kets. I re­mem­ber post­ing a list of my up­com­ing tour dates on Instagram (yes, you can do that) that in­cluded two dates in North Dakota and one in South Dakota. A woman com­mented, Liv­ing the Dream. I guess she was be­ing sar­cas­tic. I doubt she would’ve said this if the dates were in Chicago, San Francisco and New York. I didn’t re­spond to the com­ment but I would’ve like to yell at her, ‘What dream are you liv­ing?!’”

I didn’t get much be­yond the first chap­ter, but I think one of the points he wants to make with the book is that peo­ple who live in sec­ondary or ter­tiary mar­kets aren’t much dif­fer­ent than peo­ple who live in ma­jor coastal cul­tural cen­ters. You don’t have to con­de­scend to them or dumb any­thing down. Maybe this is some­thing you learn if you tour the coun­try try­ing to make peo­ple laugh. Maybe you learn they laugh at pretty much the same things in the var­i­ous Jack­sonvilles and Spring­fields as they do in Brook­lyn. Maybe ev­ery­where has a hip­ster cof­fee bar where you can get a rose­wa­ter cap­puc­cino.

Maybe later in his book Barry makes vi­cious fun of peo­ple in Mis­sis­sippi or Oklahoma, but I’d be sur­prised. He en­joys play­ing th­ese mar­kets. (As long as he can get a ho­tel room that doesn’t open to the out­side world.) And I like him for that. I’ll pay more at­ten­tion to his ca­reer in the fu­ture.

I looked Barry up on Facebook. It turns out we have eight mu­tual friends. One of them works on a show Barry some­times guests on. An­other is a New York-based ac­tor. A cou­ple are co­me­di­ans, a cou­ple more are mu­si­cians. All of us, be­cause of the na­ture of our work, main­tain fairly ex­ten­sive so­cial me­dia ma­tri­ces.

In 1929, the Hun­gar­ian writer Fri­gyes Karinthy hy­poth­e­sized in a short story that any two in­di­vid­u­als could be con­nected through at most five ac­quain­tances. That was the ori­gin of the “six de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion” idea.

The world’s got­ten smaller since 1929; in 1973, com­puter mod­els sug­gested a re­al­is­tic three de­grees of sep­a­ra­tion ex­isted across the U.S. pop­u­la­tion. Now, who knows? With all our vir­tual con­nec­tions, we’re closer than we ever have been.

Out of all the books in the Terry Li­brary, what are the odds I’d hap­pen to pull out one that starts off with a story about my town and my neigh­bor­hood? Were I were a dif­fer­ent sort of writer, maybe I’d im­ply there was some mys­te­ri­ous force—some ghost whis­perer—that im­pelled me to pull out this par­tic­u­lar book.

But had I pulled out an­other book, I might have hap­pened upon an­other set of seem­ingly un­likely con­nec­tions that might have proved just as rich. Our minds are de­signed to see pat­terns, to ar­range ran­dom events into sto­ries. Be­cause more than any­thing else, we need to feel like it all means some­thing, even if it’s just a weird thing that hap­pened. What you see de­pends on how you look.

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