“Damsky belongs on the shelves of readers who are looking for variety and simplicity in all the little moments that add up to a life.”
“Like so many cups of coffee with an old friend, Barry Damsky’s columns combine the tone and intimacy of friendly conversation with the near disbelief of having “been there and done that.” In his collection, The Peas Were Cold, Damsky’s tone is disarmingly self-deprecating when it needs to be and deeply revealing when least expected.
Damsky’s professional life followed a unique path from New York to Los Angeles, where he rubbed elbows with top talent and was always just a few steps from greatness. The Peas Were Cold represents a sampling of the column Damsky wrote for the Boonville Herald in New York state between 2002 and 2012. The book feels a bit like reading the diary of a dear friend who was somewhere in the shadows while Johnny Carson was at work, was acquainted with Danny Thomas, took acting classes with Mia Farrow’s sister, and even had some small part to play in the lives of Sonny and Cher, Dustin Hoffman, and Clint Eastwood. For all of the enviable name-dropping, Damsky isn’t bragging. He writes as though he has been the stalwart sidekick to his own optimistic dreams of success and thereby manages to be the hero and the comic relief simultaneously.
Damsky’s stories are not all about big names and big times in big cities. Some columns are quieter and more reflective, tending toward sentimentality on his own simple terms. When writing about his son leaving for Air National Guard basic training, Damsky’s tone takes on an inward conversation with himself. Keeping his chin up, he writes, as though talking himself through this tough moment in parenting, “knowing that, what you tried teaching him since he was born—to be independent and to, in fact, forge his own way with an emphasis on the noble way—worked. Hallelujah! Right? Still…”
Not every column is a success. There are a few that come close to nonsense as Damsky follows a stream of consciousness. While most of them flow with an addictive rhythm of conversation, there are some that seem a little more coerced into being or perhaps too aggressively edited to fit the space he had in his column.
But there is no denying the footloose Americana and the near parabolic nature of some vignettes, which seem to invite each reader to be all the more present in his/her own life. Damsky belongs in the Saturday Evening Post with paintings by Norman Rockwell depicting situations like the one Damsky recalls as “The Great Mouse Removal” of 2006—“no less pride in my heart than he with his trophy, with my successful dispatch of ‘Little Louie’, or perhaps ‘Lil Louise.’ Upon re-entering the house, I shouted for my wife to hear ‘The conquering hero has returned!’ waiting for a thunderous response.”
Most of all, Damsky belongs on the shelves of readers who are looking for variety and simplicity in all of the little moments that add up to a life.”
Reviewed by Sara Budzik
October 14, 2014
“An often uplifting collection about life’s joys, wonders and quirks, shared by a writer who experienced them all.”
“A new anthology of the previously published musings of an upstate New York newspaper columnist.
Damsky may not have achieved his goal of becoming a famous actor or a popular singer, but he has worked in show business, advertising, radio and journalism during his full life. The latter vocation inspired this collection of past columns that he wrote mostly for the Boonville (New York) Herald. It consists of slice-of-life stories, often drawn from Damsky’s personal experiences from his childhood to the present day, with a tone similar to those of the late Andy Rooney or Charles Kuralt. Usually, a column begins with a present-day situation that triggers a flashback: a date with Linda Eastman before she became Mrs. Paul McCartney; a phone conversation with Clint Eastwood about an actor Damsky represented; or a foul ball that the author snagged as a child during batting practice at Yankee Stadium. There are many lighthearted moments along the way, such as when a 14-year-old Damsky accidentally drove the family car through closed garage doors. Other recollections are more poignant and serious, including his trip to the Holocaust Museum in Israel; his observations during a visit to communist Cuba in 1957; and his son’s return home after a tour of duty in Iraq (“seeing him come through the entranceway of that giant hangar, I have a newer and clearer understanding of what pride means”). Each column usually imparts a moral lesson or words of wisdom, as in a 2005 column about the recently deceased Rosa Parks: “It’s really quite incredible, for all she did to alter history, was utter only one rather tiny word—‘No.’ ” If there is a running theme, it’s perseverance, as in the story of his attempts to release his own gospel album. The book’s prose style is simple and lively, presented in a conversational tone. Some may not find the G-rated, folksy tone of the stories to their fancy, as there’s nothing cynical or snarky about them. Yet they don’t come across as overly sentimental, either. If anything, they reveal the personality and character of a columnist who always seemed engaged with the world around him.
An often uplifting collection about life’s joys, wonders and quirks, shared by a writer who experienced them all.”
Oct. 9th, 2014
“The Peas Were Cold’ is appropriate for all ages“
“As a high school student, Barry Damsky and a few friends decided to spend a summer waiting tables at a hotel in the Adirondacks. They figured it would be a good way to meet girls, he said, and a fun way to pass a few months. Years later, what happened when they met their supervisor would inspire the title of his recently released book, “The Peas Were Cold.”
“You have to read to see where that came from,” Damsky said.
The story of the Adirondacks hotel is just one of the stories that Damsky includes in his memoir, compiled of the best pieces he wrote as a columnist with the Boonville Herald over the course of a dozen years or so. Other stories cover his childhood in Utica; his time at theatrical agencies in New York City and in Los Angeles; his experience as a singer and songwriter in Nashville; and reflections on Syracuse University’s national basketball title in 2003. Organized more or less chronologically, Damsky said, each column is a quick read at about 500 words.
While “The Peas Were Cold” is appropriate for all ages, Damsky, who currently lives in Boonville, said some of the celebrity names he references might make it particularly appealing for an older audience. At one point he worked with “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson,” for example. Released in June, the book is available through online retailers and Damsky’s website in print or e-book formats.”
Reviewed by Niki Gorni
January 16, 2015