Friday, June 8, 2012

Pants on Fire!

I have come to the conclusion that I am a disgusting, dishonorable person. There I said it. But it doesn’t make me feel any better, because I know that the older I get, I will become more disgusting and dishonorable with each passing year. From this day forward, I should not be allowed near children, puppies, or clergy, lest I taint them with the stain of my disgustingness and dishonorableness.  

Why the self-flagellation? I’m almost ashamed to tell you but the lightning speed of my fingers across this keyboard, which far outweighs my will to stop and hide my shame, compel me to do so. It is as if Mother Conscience Herself is forcing a confession from me under the glaring million watt dangling light bulb of Her virtue. And rest assured; her light bulb is not one of those squiggly, new congressionally-mandated light bulbs which were designed to resemble the light provided in the dingy, freezing, prison cell of a Russian gulag hellhole. Nay, gentle reader; Hers is the light of truth and morality, of penance and punishment, of guilt and self-abhorrence. Hers is the power of conscience, which right now gnaws away at my immoral soul like a thirty-two pound New York City subway rat chomping down on the remains of a dirty water hot dog which has been discarded on the tracks by some faceless, corpulent Wall Street heathen. 

What is my crime you ask? Murder? Robbery? Stealing extra Splenda packets from the convenience store coffee station? No, my action against humanity and morality is much more heinous than those insalubrious deeds. Mine was the sort of infraction for which Sister Jane Aloysius, my sixth grade nun from St. John the Baptist School in Fairview, New Jersey would have beaten the skin off my knuckles with her crucifix-studded ruler and then locked me in the boiler room until I had repented.

I lied....about my age... by three years. Oh dear God, Jesus, sweet Jesus and baby Jesus...all the Jesus’s rolled up into one big Jesus...I didn’t mean to do it, I have no idea why I did it, and yet I did do it.

And it felt goooooood.

I should have prefaced this piece by saying that I am a recovering liar. As a child, I often had to lie to my psychotic mother to keep her from physically beating me senseless. It didn’t work all of the time, but I attribute that to the learning curve in trying to become an expert liar.

“Ma, the reason I didn’t scrub the bathroom floor today was because I was playing Johnny on the Pony over on the grassy knoll in Dallas and the Secret Service questioned me all day.”

As you can surmise, living in Jersey and being eleven years old, it was difficult to convince my mother that Mr. Zapruder was, a) the father of my friend Billy Zapruder, and b) Billy’s father had his own private jet and that’s how I got home in time for dinner. That one was good for an intimate conversation with the metal vacuum pipe.

But I got better at lying over time. By twelve, I could lie convincingly enough to skip most of the 7th grade by convincing Sister Agnes that I had whooping cough. This allowed me to stay home and watch hour after hour of sitcom reruns such the Dick Van Dyke Show, and of course my beloved Andy Griffith Show. I became such an adept liar, that I eventually convinced myself that Andy was my father, and that he couldn’t live with me because he was a big TV star and had to live in Hollywood. Of course I never said it aloud for fear of derision by my friends, and so I stuck to the story that I used whenever I had to decline the father and child communion breakfasts; my father was a truck driver who was at that very moment hauling meat across the mid-west toward New York. As time wore on the story grew until eventually, my friends nearly believed that dear ole Dad was the only conduit between fresh hamburger on the table and night after miserable night of Mrs. Paul’s fish sticks.  

Like any drug, lying is addictive. In my high school years I lied about a myriad of things, smoking in the bathroom, cheating on a test, throwing the cherry bomb in the toilet, etc. In adulthood, I naturally gravitated to sales jobs, which allowed me to lie with abandon! And while it felt good at the time to close the deal on the best danged little photocopier in the industry (a true piece of shit by the way), I always felt remorse afterward.

When my children came along later in life, I vowed that I would, if possible, quit lying altogether. What kind of example would I be setting for them if I couldn’t tell them the truth? And while I will admit that it was difficult at first to tell a five year old that their drawing absolutely lacked any life or character (it was a hand-turkey), I felt that I was doing the right thing and that eventually, my tactful side would develop enough over time to minimize the psychological damage to them. I was dreadfully wrong on that one, by the way.

But this latest lie bothered me, mostly because it didn’t really bother me. I did it when someone requested my age for a PR promo, and it just sort of fell out onto the paper. I think more than anything, the fact that it was so easy to do and get away with opened up a can of worms in my head. Right away I began to wonder if this was the start of a pattern and perhaps it was time to call Nicole, my supersonic therapist, who could help me ward off the stampede of hyperbolic falsehoods I was sure were waiting in the wings.

As it turns out, a recent article in the Saturday Wall Street Journal by Dan Ariele (Why we Lie, May 26, 2012) showed me the light! Professor Dan (of Duke University, no less) says that EVERYONE LIES AND CHEATS at some point in their lives! EVERYONE!!!!

Wow. It does my heart good to know that I am not the only one who struggles with this. I will sleep better tonight knowing that there are lying bastards all over the place! Politicians (no surprise), religious leaders, doctors, teachers, drug dealers, spouses (both ex and present) and an unlimited list of others all lie through their teeth once in a while.  According to Professor Dan, we do it for many reasons; some include protecting ourselves, to profit, and to justify conflicts of interest.

So you have wonder then, what keeps us all from robbing each other blind and becoming a nation of Madoffs? Well according to Professor Dan’s studies it seems that things like honor pledges, moral reminders such as the Ten Commandments, and even signature placement on forms are enough to keep most of us in check.

Now you would think that the big, fat, liars in this country, the ones who walk away with billions as a result of their fallacies are the ones that are doing the most harm, wouldn’t you? But Professor Dan points out that it’s the cumulative effect of the little lies-cheating on taxes, lying on insurance claims, etc, that really add up to the big bucks. But how do you know how much cumulative harm say, lying about one’s age, does to society?

As an isolated instance, the little white lie probably doesn’t cause a lot of fibers to unravel from the national fabric of character. But like monetary bilking, the cumulative effect can be catastrophic, especially in hard times like these. And while I hate to sound like a droning harpy, the most damage being done is being done by politicians who for the sake of their own re-elections, will lie repeatedly. What they fail to realize is that year after year of lies and unmeant and un-kept promises causes a breakdown in trust in the system, in each other and in the ideal of America.

There’s a lot of hate in the country these days, most of which is the result of lies in the press and in Washington. And I’d like to suggest that it might be oh so refreshing for all to be unbiased, fair and balanced, and filled with the sense that working for the greater good enhances all of us. Imagine if a politician actually told the truth for a change? Wouldn’t you find it a lot easier to have faith in your government?

All of this starts at home, of course. So I vow that in the future, I will swallow my pride and declare my true age whenever asked. And in that same sense, I think that I probably won’t have to meet with Nicole, the supersonic therapist because I don’t see this one breach of trust as being the beginning of a life of crime.

The final hurdle in our quest for honest is of course, just who do we believe? How do we know who is lying to us?

The short answer is you don’t. The hard solution is how and who do we trust now that we’re armed with the knowledge that there is larceny in everyone? Well, all I can say
to that is that trust is built upon the actions we observe in people and the interactions we have with them. Once in a while, everyone will disappoint us, including ourselves. So I might suggest that since we are all imperfect people, learning to forgive the occasional lie and putting it out of our hearts might be a best practice for us. This way, the next time your best friend, spouse, co-worker or child betrays your trust, all you have to do is look in the mirror, smile and say, “Who am I to judge? I’m a lying bastard too!” Forgive yourself, and understand that you are not disgusting or're just normal.


That’s it. I’m done bitching. Everybody hug, everybody eat! Abbondanza!  


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