The Barry Marx Toupee Story
I met Barry in 1978 when we were both students in the graduate creative writing program at Columbia, but I left after a year due to the stifling conservatism of the place. Barry was one of a handful of friends I retained from that year. We were both in the fiction writing program, but Barry's real aspiration was to write for film or television. He got his wish in 1996 or '97. For a few years prior to that he had been writing scripts for a video game company. It was when he worked as writer/producer of "Smoke and Mirrors," a Penn and Teller game, that he became buddies with Penn Jillette. I believe it was Penn who got him the gig writing for "Sabrina, the Teenage Witch." Penn also delivered the eulogy at Barry's funeral.
Barry went to movies all the time, a lot more than I did, and when I saw him it was often to catch a film. This particular incident happened in the mid-eighties, but I can't remember what film we saw that day. We had gotten to the theater at least ten or fifteen minutes early and were chatting. At one point I told him about a guy I had seen earlier that day who had the most dreadful toupee. It was precariously perched atop his head, and though it was probably meant to be dirty blonde it was so dirty it was practically snot green.
"All toupees are lousy," Barry said. "There's no such thing as a good toupee. They all look phony."
"How can you be sure?" I asked. "A good toupee wouldn't look like a toupee, so you'd never notice it."
"No way," he said. "I'm sure there's no such thing as a good toupee."
We split hairs about toupees a little while longer and then moved on to other topics. Then the lights dimmed and the previews started. I don't think they showed as many previews back then as they do now, and pretty soon the film began. Shortly after the opening credits had run, only a couple of minutes into the film, four people from the row in front of us, two couples, began filing out. We both wondered what was going on. Had they decided so soon that they didn't like the film? Or had they already seen most of it and just wanted to catch the opening credits? We found out what was up soon enough. One of the guys leaned over to Barry, and in an incensed, menacing tone said, "Next time you feel like talking about toupees you're going to have to get yourself a set of false teeth!"
I could tell that Barry was shaken. "I had no idea there was a guy with a toupee in front of us," he said.
"You see," I said, "he had one of the good ones!"