The Sad Tale Of G. Allen Barber IVPosted: February 25, 2013
A few nights ago, I decided to go have a beer while I watched a college basketball game on television. There was one spot that looked open at the crowded bar. When I got close, I realized someone’s coat was on the stool. The man on the next stool looked over and said, “sorry, I should have hung that up” He picked up the coat. “Have a seat” he said, as he walked over and to hang his garment up. I thanked him for the gesture.
A group of us sat, watching and discussing the game. The man who’d moved his coat had introduced himself as Al, but I couldn’t help but notice that the bartender kept calling him G. When Al headed off to the men’s room during a commercial, I asked the bartender why she called him G. “Oh no, I’m not getting him started. I’m working for tips.”
Late in the third quarter, the inquisitive part of me took over. I had to ask. “Al, why does she call you G when everyone else here calls you Al?” He grinned and said “ah, she got it off my credit card when I paid my tab a few months ago. G. Allen Barber, that’s who Am Ex sends the bill to.” He handed me a business card with his photo on it – G. Allen Barber IV, Realtor.
I was going to leave it at that. The game was getting close. Close games usually shut the inquisitive part of me down. It seemed he wanted to go on about it. You see, G. Allen was a few beers ahead of the rest of the bar and his reserved manner was starting to slip. “They could have let the name die out, things would have been so much better.”
“Al Barber is a fine name, man. There’s nothing wrong with tradition” I said. “I’m sure it meant a lot to your dad that you’ve carried on his name well.”
Al fixed me with a sorrowful gaze. “Some things don’t carry on well.” The bartender rolled her eyes, “here we go again” she said. She set two more beers up for Al and I and headed to the other end of the bar.
“The G is a curse. He could have stopped it, but you know, about this name thing, he was every bit the ass they made him out to be.” I couldn’t imagine saying that about my dad, but one word caught my ear – “they”.
“Who made your dad out to be an ass? I mean, I guess that’d be hard on you and him.” I looked down the bar and saw the bartender mouth the words as Al said them, “Highlights magazine. Hi, my name is Goofus Allen Barber IV”.
There was a long pause while I took in the meaning of what he said. “I’m not trying to be dense, but your dad was Goofus of “Goofus and Gallant” in Highlights magazine? Is that what you’re telling me, Al?”
He nodded. “Yeah. The name is an old family name. No one is sure of the origin. They needed a name that could serve as the opposite of Gallant. Gary and Gallant didn’t work, neither did Garrett. Someone saw my dad and my grandma at the store one day; Dad wasn’t having a good day. He was just being a tired little kid, but the wrong person saw and his name became the opposite of Gallant.”
I felt awful. When my mom took me to the doctor when I was little, I always grabbed the Highlights magazine in the waiting room. I’d go right to Goofus and Gallant. It was so clear. Gallant was good, I should be like him. I would be like him. The truth was that, like Goofus Allen Barber III, Goofus Allen Barber IV, and every other little kid on the planet, I had good days and bad ones too. Looking back on it, I don’t think Gallant could have existed. No child is as flawless as they portrayed that guy.
Al told me about how tough it was to go through his school years with the other kids believing he was the Goofus they’d all read of in the magazine. The teachers were wary of him too. It seemed the poor guy had a rough childhood because of a name that he admitted “was no prize before the magazine thing”. He smiled when I asked him about having his name legally changed. “No way. It would break the old man’s heart. He always told me that the name made the men in our family sharper and tougher, that we had to stay on our toes. I suppose he was right, but damn, I wish I’d learned to be sharp and tough without having that cartoon character as an albatross around my neck.”
The game was about to end. We started watching it closer.
The bartender sensed the story had pretty much blown over and headed back down toward us. Al ordered one last round for us. I thought to point out it was a gallant gesture, then I thought better of it. I asked him what we were drinking to, he shrugged. I raised my glass and said “to your dad”. Al smiled and responded “and to yours; gentlemen, both”.
When my glass was empty, I paid my tab and excused myself to walk home. I wanted to call my son to get his take on the big game. “You’re a dad too” said Al. “Yeah” I said, “one boy, hell of good a kid. A junior at State.”
Al grinned. “Me too. Three daughters. Married off the last one last month.”
Problems solve themselves sometimes.