Smith: Lessons from Barry

Barry Smith

I’ve learned an awful lot from Barry Smith.

Just when I think I’m full of gratitude for my life and have moved beyond pettiness and spite, Barry Smith is there to remind me that I have a lot more work to do.

When I think I’m really making good use of my precious time on the planet, Barry Smith points out how willing I am to drop everything and commence with the frittering.

When I feel like I’m focused on what matters, Barry Smith demonstrates how easily distracted I am.

Thanks, Barry Smith — mentor, guru, sensei — for all that you continue to teach me. Some day I hope to get you back.

Sorry — “give back.” Not “get you back.” Some day I hope to be able to give back. That’s totally what I meant to say.

The Barry Smith from whom I’ve learned so much is Barry P. Smith, a man I’ve never met. See, years ago I shelled out way too much money to buy, whereas Barry P. Smith surely paid all of $17 for

My email address:


See the difference? If so, that makes you more observant than about 85 percent of Barry P. Smith’s colleagues. And his wife. And Barry P. Smith himself.

Randomly adding in a “p” between “barry” and “smith” is a lot more unlikely than neglecting to place it there. So I don’t think he’s getting any emails that were meant for me. But I get his.

A lot.

For six years now.

I mentioned this to Barry Smith years ago, via email, when it first started happening. I even suggested that maybe he could make a bit of an effort to remind people about that extra P that separates us. After all, from what I can tell, he’s a successful professional with lots of important correspondences every day, and maybe, just maybe, counting on me to be his personal secretary and forward all his emails isn’t the best course of action.

His reply, essentially: “What P. Ever.”

(Note: This is a true story, but I’ve changed his actual initial despite my initial impulse to draw more attention to it.)

So the past six years I’ve learned a lot about myself while dealing with this. Most of it not good. After the initial snubbing from “P,” I got kind of petty. I drafted a long letter explaining, essentially, how P was too cheap and lazy to tell you his real email address, so now I have to do it. I’d send this, a bit too enthusiastically, to everyone who accidentally sent an email to me meant for him. After a while, I began to reply to these messages, pretending to be P, with things like “This is not what we agreed upon — call me at once!” At one point, his wife sent me an email intended for him. That was probably my favorite reply to write.

It was all in good fun, or so I told myself, but all the while I felt this little itch of discomfort deep down where such things itch. I should take the high road. I should, as Gandhi said, be the change I wish to see in the world. (Granted, he probably never had to deal with the annoyance of daily emails intended for Mahatma P. Gandhi, CPA, but still.) In the past year I’ve attempted to be a better person in re: the P situation.

But last week I was once again put to the test. P has now started to send me emails meant for himself. Yes, you read that correctly. You know those quick email reminders you send to yourself from your phone — “get dog food, more trash bags, etc.” — well, P is now sending them to me!

I’m looking at one right now. It says, “Print MW11 matrix, send to Joe.”

I could send it on to him, which would be the right thing. I could just delete it, which would be perfectly OK. Or I could make a few corrections before sending it on — “make Preparation H cookies, take long walk, short pier,” which would be very, very bad. And fun.

The very fact that I’m considering that last option lets me know just how little progress I’ve made in my attempt to become a good human being.

So thanks, Barry Smith. I look forward to your next lesson.

Barry Not-P Smith’s column appears Mondays.