As Dave Barry, a Pulitzer Prize winning syndicated columnist, enters the twilight years of his life alongside his elderly dog Lucy, Barry contemplates how he can make his life happier through lessons he has learned from Lucy in his new book, “Lessons From Lucy: The Simple Joys of an Old, Happy Dog.”

Lesson One: Make new friends. (And keep the ones you have). Lesson Two: Don’t stop having fun. (And if you have stopped, start having fun again). Lesson Three: Pay attention to the people you love. (Not later. Right now). Lesson Four: Let go of your anger, unless it’s about something really important, which it almost never is. Lesson Five: Try not to judge people by their looks, and don’t obsess over your own. Lesson Six: Don’t let your happiness depend on things; They don’t make you truly happy, and you’ll never have enough anyway. Lesson Seven: Don’t lie unless you have a really good reason, which you probably don’t.

Sometimes when Barry walks Lucy they encounter a dog Barry calls Brutus. “Brutus is ugly. He looks like a cross between a dog and a toad. He’s short and squat, with a very flat face such as a breed might develop after many generations of repeatedly running face-first at high speed into sliding glass doors. Brutus’s eyes are far apart and bulbous; they protrude so far that you fear they’re going to pop out and roll off down the sidewalk. To complete his look, Brutus has a pronounced underbite, with teeth jutting randomly from the bottom of his drooling mouth.”

Brutus loves Lucy. “As for Lucy: she is interested. She wags her tail; She takes deep appreciative whiffs of Brutus as he orbits her. This is as far as things ever get, because after a minute or two we owners separate the dogs so we can continue our walks. But for a little while there, magic is happening. Love is in the air. Where I see a genetic mistake, Lucy sees a beautiful thing.”

From Lucy, Barry is learning that “most of the time looks don’t tell a person’s story. Life has taught me that there are plenty of beautiful people who are shallow and boring, and there are plenty of nonbeautiful people who are deep and fascinating and fun. Which of course means they’re the truly beautiful ones. The trick to finding them is to be looking with more than just your eyes.”

According to Barry: “Over the decades, on book tours and at book events, I’ve encountered many self-help authors, and a remarkably high percentage of them did not strike me as competent, good or even necessarily sane human beings. Years ago, on a local-TV morning show in a midmarket city, I saw a self-help author go in front of the camera and tell the viewers, in a calm, confident, authoritative tone, exactly how they needed to change their lives to become happier, better people. Minutes later, in the greenroom, this author flew into a nasty, screaming, eyes-bulging, water bottle throwing rage at his publicist — you would have thought she murdered his entire family and ate his cat — because one of his local radio interviews had been canceled.”

However, “Lessons From Lucy” is one self-help book worth reading (Wood Library has it). Its author conveys some important messages about dogs, ourselves, and life in general, often in a
humorous manner.

To illustrate how we senior citizens are struggling with modern technology, Barry cites the case of a 61-year-old woman who is suing the Webster Parish, Louisiana Convention and Visitors Bureau because she was fired from her job as tourism director. She was in Baton Rouge on business when she decided to livestream video of herself nude to her husband via Instagram. She used an iPhone 7 issued to her for work. She pressed the wrong button. Barry writes, “The result was that she broadcast thirty minutes of her unencumbered self on the official, and public, Instagram account of the Webster Parish Convention and Visitors Bureau. I like to think that this broadcast could actually have boosted convention and visitor business, that the concept developed by this woman could be used as part of a new tourism-promotion campaign.”

Barry — I agree with him — believes the woman should be reinstated to her job, because “as a senior citizen, I can easily imagine messing up an Instagram livestream video. Like millions of people my age, I don’t really know what Instagram is. Every time I ask my daughter if she’s on it, she looks up from her phone, rolls her eyes several linear feet and says, as if explaining something to an unusually stupid plant, ‘This is Snapchat.’ Which is another thing I do not understand.”

“Lessons from Lucy” was ready for publication when Barry’s daughter Sophie developed an autoimmune disorder called Transverse Myelitis that could have permanently kept her in a wheelchair. After a lengthy hospitalization, Sophie recovered and was able to walk again. From all this, Barry learned another lesson. Be grateful for what you have (It’s probably more than you think).

Barry concluded: “Anyway, that’s my last lesson. I didn’t learn it directly from Lucy, though the more I think about it, the more I realize that I could have. Lucy, like most dogs, overflows with gratitude. She knows what’s most important in her life — the people she loves — and she never takes us for granted, which is why each time we return to our house, no matter how brief our absence has been, she greets us with quivering, unbounded joy. During those bleak nights when I drove home alone from the hospital, the happiness Lucy radiated when I opened the door
always lifted my sagging spirits.

“That’s all dogs want, really: to be with us. It’s why they’re here, and why we love them. Somehow, over thousands of years, our two species developed this special, wonderful relationship, which once was based on utility, but now, for most people, is about love. It’s a beautiful thing. One more thing to be grateful for.”

Joel Freedman of Canandaigua is a frequent Messenger Post contributor.