Barry was a bit of an oxymoron. He was an incredibly sweet man who could be a royal PITA. He was a genuine, honest person—one of the most honest I’ve ever met, often to the point of bluntness (see PITA comment above)—who was also a caricature of himself. He was thoughtful and hilarious and serious and didn’t take life too seriously.
You get the point. Basically, he was unabashedly human.
And despite being a curmudgeon, he was vibrant. I miss that. I miss how when I was around him, I felt freer—like I could be as honest and carefree and blunt as he was. We yelled at each other as frequently as we had long philosophical discussions about desire and Brecht. We argued like an old married couple and sometimes it was a bit much but mostly I reveled in it. He said “you know I adore you” and it felt unconditional, so I didn’t worry about saying the wrong thing or looking stupid or offending him (like I usually do with people, especially new people). It was like we were family—immediately.
Looking through my archives, I found this, from almost exactly 4 years ago, when we first met. This is a classic Barry story, which he never let me forget (and will haunt me about, no doubt). It was also my first real-life encounter with Team Neeley, so this will never not be a pivotal memory.
October 26, 2013
I was to pick up Barry from the airport in Boston on my way to the theater in Cambridge. I gave Frank my number to give to Barry, and said, “And you can tell Barry my car’s an old navy blue Subaru wagon. He’ll be ridin’ in style!”
His response, via Frank, included: “I’ll probably be in a wheelchair, with fireworks and brass band. An old navy blue Subaru is my favorite kind of car.”
I drove up to the airport in rush hour traffic the night before Game 1 of the World Series (which the Sox played at the Sox stadium). (Because I “live under the rock” as the media says, I didn’t even know about the World Series until later that night.) So, naturally, I was late.
When I pulled up, I peered into the window and saw him sitting there on one of those soulless multi-seat benches. He was a hunched-over old man, wearing sneakers, jeans, a black hoodie, and a black winter cap, but it was him all right. I put on my hazards and went in. He looked up, I said “Barry!” His face lit up. “Hi! Vanessa! You’re here!” He got up and gave me a big hug. “So great to meet you! Thank you so much for picking me up!”
I got him settled into my car and we took off.
We got lost pretty quickly, partly because we were talking, partly because I was a little nervous, partly because I don’t know Boston well and that part not at all, and partly because he was a bad navigator.
It was OK for a while, trying to find my way back, then I got REALLY lost. And then REALLY REALLY lost. I was telling him how I usually have a good sense of direction, but Boston is like a black hole of direction, like if we had a compass it would just be spinning around. He said, yeah, you could churn butter with that compass needle.
By now, it was getting dark and spitting rain. We asked a few folks along the way, and they were all great and pointed us in the right direction, but Cambridge/Harvard Square is a NIGHTMARE and we kept ALMOST getting there but then getting veered off onto some bridge or tunnel or one-way street or construction site. It started to get a little tense. We got a little snippy with each other.
But it was fine. I mean we were fine. We eventually got there, a mere 45 minutes late. We were saying that it was one of those experiences that would either make us loathe each other or bond us for life. I’m pleased to say that I’m almost positive it was the latter.
RIP Barry Dennen 1938–2017 ❤️❤️❤️
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