On 'auto pilot' with Dave Barry

06-11-2004

One of America's most famous contemporary humorists, the Pulitzer-Prize winning writer Dave Barry, announced last month that after 30 years as a newspaper columnist, he would be taking an indefinite leave of absence. Nonetheless, I have enlisted 'AutoDave' to help write this letter.

I was never a big fan of his work — I can only remember reading his syndicated column on long transatlantic flights after having read nearly everything else in the airline's complimentary issue of the International Herald Tribune.

But I have to respect the fact that in over three decades, Dave Barry never, ever missed a deadline. During that time, he wrote over 1,500 columns and at least a dozen books. He was syndicated in over 500 newspapers.

Little surprise, then, that he'd developed a signature style and a huge fan base. In a recent interview with National Public Radio, Mr Barry noted that, imitation being the sincerest form of flattery, one fan had created an "automated Dave Barry column generator" and joked that he'd been using the "AutoDave" program himself now for years.

I decided to put the program to the test to see what kind of "Letter from Prague" the site could help me write this week. AutoDave prompts you to enter things like "a really stuffy, formal (male) name," "an insult," "four things that always go together" and "a plural noun, the weirder the better."

In total, there were 20 entries to fill; I provided only Czech-specific answers. Here are the admittedly very mixed results, edited down for your listening pleasure, or at least to minimize your annoyance, and my work load.

Here we go:

"Recently in Prague (motto: 'We're all out of beer but there's plenty of Czech wine left.'), residents reported an outbreak of StBaci. Perhaps you think there are no StBaci in Prague; perhaps you are a fool."

"As the French say, au contraire (literally: 'My grandmother plays ice hockey better than you do!')."

"I have here in my hands a copy of an article sent in by alert reader Jiri, whose name can be rearranged to spell 'Jiir,' although that is not my main point. 'Jiri,' by the way, only has the letters 'ii' in common with 'Monica Lewinsky,' so there is no other reason to mention Monica Lewinsky in this column."

"According to a quote which I am not making up, from Prague Mayor Svatopluk, 'the presence of StBaci here ranks as a major crisis just behind shortages of beer, pork and dumplings' (insert your cabbage joke here).

"Speaking of which, 'The Prague StBaci Outbreak' would be a great name for a rock band."

Well.

Thus ends my truncated "automated Dave Barry" column. 'StBaci,' by the way, is a colloquial Czech term for former members of the Czechoslovak secret police.

Admittedly, this AutoDave column was not very funny — something was definitely lost in translation. But misunderstanding and being misunderstood is a daily occurrence for me — as a foreigner living in Prague. Usually, it's humour that helps me through.

06-11-2004