Every so often you have a “What if . . .” moment in your life. What if JFK had survived Dallas? What if reality programming was just a myth that parents told at night at night to terrify their children before bed? What if movies that had the dreaded words “based on a true story” or “inspired by true events” held more than 30 percent truth?
What if Barney, the Friendly T-Rex, while struggling with personal issues, went to see Jurassic Park one lonely afternoon?
I wrote this for the Fayetteville Begin back in 1993, but it has been reprinted since then. For sheer derangement, it’s one of my favorite pieces.
How Barney got his Groove back
It was close to midnight when he left the theater, though he had only come for the afternoon matinee. From the first moment the celluloid images assaulted him, he was lost in a vortex, spiritually transported back to the primordial world of his ancestors.
In the dark of the theater, tears had streamed down his face as the past confronted him; he whispered, “I didn't know! How could I have known?” He had wound up staying through three successive showings, damning himself for the pampered life he was enjoying.
As he made his way out of the theater, he was oblivious to the stares of the crowd, and the young children trying to touch him. He trudged into the parking lot, where his driver slept in the front seat of the specially built vehicle the studio had commissioned for him.
“Not tonight,” he muttered to the driver, who sat up, rubbing his eyes. “I have a lot to think about. I think I'll walk home.”
He tossed a fifty to the driver, who grinned his appreciation. He wished he could remember the driver's name, but they all looked alike to him.
Not that he didn’t love them all.
“Whatever you say, Mister B.” the man said. He climbed back into the vehicle and sped off. The star watched him peel out, and then turned to meet the gaze of a beautiful young woman, who was staring at him speculatively. “I've seen your show,” she said softly in tones that ordinarily would have curled his scales. “I like the way you sing.”
“Yeah, that's right,” he answered curtly. “You and everyone else.” He moved away before giving her a chance to debase her species and ask him out for a drink.
The bright lights of the city beckoned to him, and he trudged in that direction. For the most part, he ignored the honking of the car horns as he walked on the side of the road. Though he usually enjoyed the adulation, tonight it made him aware of just how lonely he really was. What he wouldn't give for the ability to blend in with the crowd, just this once.
Why had he even gone to see this accursed film? Why hadn't he just watched the Dirty Harry (his secret role model) film festival on Channel 8? But the truth was, he'd gotten tired of all the questions: “Have you seen it yet?” “Was your father like that?” But he had never known his father; he had been created by a demure housewife, and stardom was thrust upon him before he had a chance to understand what it all meant. His handlers made sure that all of his needs were met, and that he was comfortable in a world in which he was very much alone, but they could never have foreseen this.
Now, there could be no turning back. He must confront and deal with his heritage. His Inner Egg demanded a reconciliation with his abandoned roots.
And what a glorious past it was! From the moment that Tyrannosaurus Rex came into view, his whole world was changed forever. What a glorious creature, pursuing those mammalian interlopers in his domain. He was sure that, even if the island were bombed, such a magnificent individual would survive.
Yes, seeing Jurassic Park was going to change his entire life.
He flexed his arms; okay, they were a little long for a T Rex, but what the hell, Evolution in Action, right? Had he actually thought that? He savored the sound of the expletive, rolling it around his sharp teeth.
He decided he liked the way it felt. Maybe he'd use it on the show. “I love you, you love me, one hell of a lot . . .”
He caught his reflection in the window of the video store. Maybe purple wasn't the color most people had in mind for the Thunder Lizard, but who even knew what color dinosaurs had been? As he turned away, his eye caught the display to the left of the counter:
Dinosaur Madness!!! Rent one video, get two free
It was too much to resist. As he walked into the store, he tried to act casual, pausing a few moments at the foreign film section, reading the backs of boxes, looking like any other intellectual bachelor on a lonely Saturday night. Clutching a video box (he was too nervous to even notice the title) to his chest, he walked casually toward the counter, glad that his body had no sweat glands.
But, as he neared the display, this tail began to twitch uncontrollably, and he dropped the box, drawn to the sight of rugged dinosaurs, their muscles constricting, smashing the minuscule fleets of foreign navies. Tiny people were pictured screaming, crushed underneath powerful feet.
Making sure that no one was watching, he flexed the muscles in his feet. Yes, it felt good . . .
He walked out of the store carrying a crate of movies. He only stopped once, to buy pizza and a beer. At home, he sat the crate down, popped open a brew, and slid the first video into his VCR. “Oh, my god,” he whispered as the opening credits lunged at him, pinning him to his recliner.
Five movies and three Japanese armies later, he turned off the machine. Lurching to his bed, he spent a troubled night, dreaming of wind-swept oceans and smog monsters.
The next morning, pleading a headache, he called the studio and told them that he would be late, if he even came in at all. The toady at the other end of the line assured him that was just dandy, Mister B. You bet.
He went back to the video store and rented everything that they had in the way of dinosaur movies. Back at home, he fast-forwarded each epic until he reached what were becoming his favorite scenes - cinematic mayhem on a massive scale. By late afternoon, his headache had worsened, though not from any ingestion of alcohol.
What was he doing with his life, singing and dancing with a kiddie chorus line when there was adventure just waiting for him to stretch out and grasp it?
Did Godzilla spend his life doing vaudeville imitations of Mister Rogers? No, he took on life on its own terms and stepped on it. Now there was a role model! Standing before the mirror, he flexed his muscles and opened his mouth in a terrible roar, though years of singing insipid nursery rhymes had taken their toll on his vocal chords.
He tried again, scrunching his purple visage into an image that would be sure to terrify his audiences. “Do you like children, Barney?” he sneered into the glass.
“Sure do,” his dark half answered. “I'm just never sure how to cook 'em.” He fell to the floor, laughing maniacally all the way down.
Hours later, he returned to the theater, watching the film even more closely than he had the night before. The audience's peals of fright when the T-Rex appeared pleased him, and when he left the theater this time, he walked with shoulders straight back, staring ahead majestically.
That night, he dreamed of Saurian empires, and of naked humans glistening in the sun, building pyramids in downtown Burbank. Tomorrow, he thought before sleep ensnared him, tomorrow I'll teach them all a new song to sing . . .
Fayetteville Begin - August 1993