|LIFE AS A LOSER #52: "LIAR, LIAR."|
|By Will Leitch|
To start off, a big phat thank you to the 50-some-odd of you who actually made it to the end of my column last week and called me. It was heartwarming to hear from you, though, in the future, try not to start your calls off with extended heavy breathing.
Seriously, thanks. I needed it.
I lied to a reporter last week. It was not a snarky misdirection, not a subtle not-quite-the-whole story, wink, wink. I flat-out, bald-faced (where did the expression “bald-faced” come from, anyway? As a 24-year-old who looks 11, I’m pretty much bald-faced all the time), between clenched teeth, lied. Bore false witness. A falsification, a fib, a pulling of leg.
Now, as a reporter myself, albeit not a particularly good one, I’m aware that if there’s one profession you don’t want to lie to, it’s a reporter. When they’re not piss drunk, those reporters are crafty buggers, and they’ll find you out. It’s a tough game, interviewing people, being interviewed, and to survive it, you need powers of manipulation that I’ll never have.
Mind you, it’s not like we were discussing cancer research or nuclear fission here; my lie didn’t hurt anybody, and it was inconsequential enough that I shouldn’t even be worrying about it. She probably knew I was lying, and she probably didn’t care. Yet still it bothered me. She was nice, had written nice things about Ironminds and about me in the past, and I thanked her by lying to her, even making up details to cover it up, going so far as to set up a fake e-mail account to further deceive her.
My mother loves to tell the story of the first time that she realized her darling boy was, in fact, capable of lying to her. I was about 5, and we were visiting my cousins’ farm about 10 miles out of town. There was this cat, you see, and this cat was bothering me, meowing too loudly, biting too harshly, scratching too fiercely. Sitting next to this cat was, off all things, a bucket of paint thinner, open, with a brush lying tantalizingly just to the side. When you’re 5, you don’t think, oh, jeez, this jar of goo is something I shouldn’t mess with, and you certainly don’t consider the possibility that taking that brush and spreading it all over the cat is the type of matter that might potentially displease someone. The idea must have dawned eventually, though, because when the cat came stumbling out of the garage, smelling of lacquer and more than a little petrified, and the mothers came out accusing their own and each others’ kids ... the one no one’s eyes were trained on was me, because I said I didn’t do it, and Mom knew I could never lie to her, and she told all the other mothers so and that was that and that was all.
Of course, when my mom’s sister-in-law noticed a certain thinning substance dripping off my sneakers and a certain embarrassed downward glance from a totally busted 5-year-old, the jig was up. Mom says she cried for two days afterward, and she never quite looked at me with same trusting innocence again.
I’m proud to say my lying-to-my-mother skills improved considerably as the years went on. (No, Mom, honestly, I was pulled over by violent, drooling scalawags who forced me to put condoms and drug paraphernalia in my glovebox. Seriously!)
One of my least favorite claims people make about themselves is that they’re terrible liars, as in, “I tried to lie, but I’m just awful at it. I couldn’t keep a straight face.” This is supposed to, in their eyes, clue us into the fact that they’re essentially honest people and just couldn’t mask their inherent sincerity. This is, of course, utter crap; the only difference between them and everyone else is that they’re incompetent fibbers, not that they’re reluctant ones. We all lie, often, daily, most likely to the people we care about most and listen to us closest, because we’re human beings and, with the possible exceptions of nuns and anyone who has ever played shortstop for the Cardinals, human beings are amoral, hedonistic, self-serving assholes.
This calls into question even our most dear friendships, because the people who are supposed to know us best, the ones we pour our hearts out to, have probably been lied to by us more than anyone else. They’re probably little lies, harmless ones, I got a 30 rather than a 27 on my ACTs, that sort of thing. No, I didn’t sleep with her until the second date, small stuff. We tell our friends lies because they like us, and we want them to continue to. We try to paint ourselves in the most positive light, because, well, it’s hard to find people who like you, let alone like you the way you actually are. It comes to the point sometimes that I’m more honest with you, the reader, in these columns, than I am with my closest friends. I already know you don’t like me; no need to try to impress you.
Yet one of the most common questions I’m asked about this column is, “Is that shit all true?” Now, ignoring the fact that such a question accuses me of the most base of journalistic ethical breaches - I mean, we’re talking about writing something that is not true - but, well, wouldn’t that take all the fun out of it? I mean, what’s the point of writing a column about my own life if I’m going to make shit up? What kind of depraved, desperate-for-attention human being would fabricate stories about being a dork? How unbelievably pathetic would a person have to be to scream for help in such a primal, degenerate way? (Don’t answer that.) Of course this is true.
But where do I draw the line? In last week’s column, I mentioned that my cat was printing out resumes for me so I’d leave the apartment. Now, that’s obviously not true, since my cat is already in hock to Kinko’s for more than 200 bucks and could therefore not make it past the security guard. They know him by sight there; plus, he keeps photocopying his ass, a practice frowned upon by the strict Kinko’s staff. But you knew I was kidding when I wrote that, right? Do I have to make that clear? Do I lose credibility?
I was thinking about all this after I hung up with the reporter. I just lied to her. If she knows I’m capable of lying on the phone, doesn’t that call everything I’ve written into question? How can she believe anything I say again? Plus, I started feeling awfully guilty. It’s not fun to lie to people; it leaves that nasty ashamed aftertaste, like sleeping with a girlfriend you just broke up with. Like that who-let-the-dogs-out-song, I couldn’t make it leave my brain.
So I called the reporter to make amends. After leaving a message, I at last got a hold of her.
“Yeah, listen, Julia ... you know that thing you asked me about earlier? Listen, I’m sorry, I completely lied about that whole thing. Completely. I was trying to keep our secret going, but I didn’t have to lie to you to do it. I just feel like a jerk. So, outside of this interview, human to human, I’m just really sorry.”
“Oh, but, uh, everything else I said in the interview ... that was all true. Honest.”
Sigh. I haven’t read the story Julia wrote yet, but I hope it makes me look like a real prick. I figure I deserve it.