Lies, all Lies

A friend of mine--nobody you know--told me about a swinger party he attended in--of all places--Chandler. The attendees, he reported, were by and large middle aged, middle class, and seedy. My friend is none of these, and while I can't imagine he wanted to blend (in any sense of the word) with this crowd, he did associate with them for a few hours and I wanted to know how he managed.

"I stayed away from the hot tub, for one thing," he said.

This could have been as much a function of public health as propriety, and as such, while a good idea, wasn't terribly helpful.

"What did people talk about?" I pressed.
"There was this one creepy guy who kept pointing at women and saying, 'I'd like to get her in the hot tub.'"
"What did you talk about?"
"Oh, I told people I was working on a doctorate in psychology at ASU."

This is not what my friend is doing, not that he couldn't or wouldn't, he just isn't and likely never will. So where did he get the wherewithal not only to imagine the like, but to make it stick?

"Oh, you just go with things," he said.

Cool. I know people lie to me all the time. So I listen to everything I'm told and believe it all like I believe principles of physics or religion in that there's nothing I can do to prove them or change them so I stand by awaiting further enlightenment. Sometimes the teller will own up to a lie, though I can never decide if it's because they feel guilty about fibbing to such a naif, or if they realize that is the only way I'll ever catch on; but I don't suppose it matters. After all, is my life changed one way or another if another variety of quark is determined to exist or if the number of angels who can dance on the head of a pin is fixed at say, one hundred and five? Is it changed if a party goer tells me he is a doctoral candidate when he really works at ____?

(I know you're wondering if I'm ever getting back to the swinger party, and the answer is, alas, no. But if you want to do some further reading on the topic, I would suggest John Updike's Rabbit is Rich, 1981, Faucett Columbine, pp. 367-382, $12.95 US (higher in Canada).)

Lies are necessary and good. If you ever doubt the veracity of this fact, imagine a life lived with complete candor for a minute. Do you have any idea how often I've told callers "No you can't speak to Janet [not you, Janet, the other Janet] because she doesn't like you and refuses to deal with you right now" in just those sixty seconds? How often I've let fly obscenities in response to the question, "How are you?" (or more especially, "How are we?") instead of a demure, "Fine, thank you"? I've lied about fifty times so far in this newsletter, and thank heaven because those are the only interesting parts in it. I mean, really--swinger parties! In Chandler! Haha! Who could believe such rubbish? Except those parts were true. Sort of.

My hero in this lying business is an old friend of my Mom's: entrepreneur, philanthropist, art collector, gubernatorial candidate, and all around good guy Eddie Basha. Believe me? A lot of people wouldn't, like this girl I went to high school with who worked in one of his stores. She tried to convince her circle that she had special inside knowledge about her boss by reforming the way they pronounced his name. "It''s Buh-shaw," she said, "Buh-shaw." She succeeded.

I had heard stories about Mr. Bash-a for a long time, starting with Mom in her capacity as primary President asking if he would donate refreshments for some epochal Primary activity. I don't remember how many children were in the Primary at that time, but I think it was many thousands. He told her she had called at a fortunate time as he happened to have several crates of cookies which were smashed into pieces just the right size for children's mouths, and had recently gotten a bargain on some radioactive oranges. I believe it was with the word "radioactive" that Mom began to smell a rat, so she asked,

"Are you pulling my leg, Eddie?"
To which he responded, "Why, Kay? Are my hands cold?"

Zing! Gotcha, Mom. The day after I returned from Canada, Mom and I visited with Eddie at the Basha compound in Chandler (hmmm...). I was treated to my first tour of his expansive collection of Southwestern art and baskets, which is housed in his business offices. I won't go into details about the collection here, but paintings are a sort of socially sanctioned form of lying, and as such nicely set the mood for lunch in the Basha Compound Cafeteria. There I got to see the maestro in action. Without too much coaxing, he shared stories of how he had inspired marital consternation by pretending to be a hotel clerk trying to return abandoned lingerie, confessed to phantom homosexual urges while rubbing a male employee's neck, and (my favorite) told his mother that he had killed a man and hidden the body in the trunk of his car.

Why had I never thought to tell my mother I killed a man and hidden the body in the trunk of my car? Well, for one because she would have had the police on the phone faster than I could say, "Just kidding Mom, jeez." Also because whenever I do think of a nifty lie like that to tell I look so astounded if anybody seems to believe it I instantly give myself away. Mom is no better in the lying game, which was helpful when Eddie started spinning tales extemporaneously. For instance, when I asked whatever happened to the cousin at the FBI Academy to whom Eddie sent letters with the return address "Ocatillo Communist Party," he became very solemn and softly related that the young agent was taken prisoner by the Soviet Union and held for ten years when...I looked at Mom. Her lips were pursed, her face red, and her eyes squeezed shut. Whatever is the opposite of a poker face, that's what Mom has.

A lie is not the opposite of the truth, it is just a kink in the truth continuum. Okay, so strictly speaking, it wasn't true that Eddie was pushing radioactive fruit on innocent children (in fact, he provided a wonderful spread for the mob), and his cousin wasn't captured by the Evil Empire, but by the municipality of Chandler (hmmm...) where he served as a teacher and later a policeman. Still, truth was revealed in the telling of these untruths--for instance, that Eddie has great ingenuity and wit--and in subsequent behavior--the victims of his pranks are lavishly rewarded for enduring them, prankster and prankstee have bonded over a shared experience. Also, an amusing anecdote has been unleashed into the world.

A lie illuminates as much as it obfuscates. It doesn't hide the truth so much as break it up into lots of shiny pieces which when reassembled form a more beguiling, revelatory view of the situation than candor usually allows. I can't honestly say that I have the skill to put all the pieces together or even to see them where they lay (though I can't honestly say I wouldn't tell you if I could). But sometimes I can, especially if it's the wreckage of my own lie that I'm reconstructing. What sorts of lies? Pfft--as if I'd disclose them in a rag like The Cobra's Nose. If you haven't noticed anything, well, that's the goal isn't it? So either my lie is working, or I'm lying about having lied in the first place (which is more likely to tell you the truth).

Ask me anything.

Where do you work? I am the editor of a small but important magazine focused on life in the Southwest.
How much do you make? Oodles.
Are you seeing anybody? Absolutely--that graduate student over there, standing near to, but not I repeat not in the hot tub.

(Written by Sharon C. McGovern)

From Vol. 9
Back to Excursions