I watched a politician lie the other night. I know. Big surprise. But I was only watching to see his technique. Maybe pick up some pointers. He had the body language down right. Very relaxed. No unmanageable ticks. Or involuntary furtiveness. Nope. Clearly at ease with himself. And his duplicity.
He was up there a long time too. Long press conference. Playing the “obviously if I had anything to hide I wouldn’t be all hanging out and jawing with you for this long” ploy. Know it well. I also know if you’re not on your A-game that day, it can back-fire. That’s why defense lawyers always want to keep that shit to a min.
My mom always saw through it. As a teenager I would always stop by her bedroom after a night of partying. For a little chat. To show her how high I wasn’t. One night she flat-out told me, “I think you come in here and talk to me for a long time so I wouldn’t think you were stoned.”
Oh God. She just busted me. A clown squirted chocolate milk out of his eyes. A laughing tulip licked up some of the drops. I remembered looking at a Puerto Rican girl’s bra strap on the subway when I was six. Then I pictured playing ping pong with Pasty Cline. Heard somebody whisper something about Presbyterians. The top of my head felt like a lava lamp. I wondered what ever happened to Checkers and Pogo. I saw a pyramid. A vulture. A lemon.
A soup ladle made out of purple velvet.
“Really? Well that sounds strange to me. And not because I’m stoned kind of strange. Which I’m not. At all. Just weird because…of the… weirdness…of…it. And I can’t believe it! What you said. Back then. And I’m really tired with these allergies in my eyes so I better go to the bed. Bed. Not the bed. Just bed. I better go to bed is what I meant to say. ”
Anyway, I was watching this guy lie his balls off. And I had to admit, he was pretty good. Lots of apologizing for things. Just not the things he was being accused of. But that doesn’t matter, because with lazy listeners it all blends together. Sprinkle enough apologies around and they think “Hey, he apologized. What more do you want?” It’s a way of taking the rap, but while maintaining your innocence. A tricky dance to pull off.
“I take full responsibility for what happened. For leading on your sister, to the point where she would feel compelled to write fantasy scenarios in her diary about me and her having sex in a bowling alley parking lot on the Friday night you went up to Santa Barbara. You are right. I should not have done that. That was wrong. Leading her on like that. I should have known that once she realized she could never have me, her vivid imagination would erupt in a rebellious tantrum. There’s simply no excuse for not noticing the level of her sexual attraction towards me. I should have known that my innocent and innocuous flirtation would unleash a demon of desire. But I was a fool. A blind fool. I should’ve never been nice to her.
But you shouldn’t have read her diary. With all her fictitious private stuff in it.
So I guess we’re even.”
That one didn’t work. Well, it worked getting me hit repeatedly by a screaming woman. Worked like a charm.
Apparently, she wasn’t a porch swinger when it came to listening. She listened real hard. I don’t know if she would’ve hit me any less hard if I just told her the truth. But I know I wouldn’t have felt as scumbaggy, while I stood there, lungs vibrating from the blows. Sure, I still would’ve felt like scum. Just not as baggy.
I hate to lie. Not out of any rigorous ethical principals, but because I hate doing anything I’m not good at. And I don’t think I’m a good liar. I get too nervous. Give away a lot of poker tells. And add way too many details. Things that trip me up later.
“You said you had to go to visit somebody at ‘the brain unit’ at a hospital in Pasadena. Which hospital exactly was that?”
“Uh, let’s see…I have to think exactly what the…”
“Because my father is a doctor at Huntington Memorial. Was it at that one?”
“No, definitely not that one.”
“Memorial has the best neuroscience department in Pasadena. I thought he might have gotten his cat scan done there.”
“No, I’m drawing a blank on the name. I mean I know it. Maybe when I give up trying. You know how sometimes after that it will just pop up. I remember it was fairly close to the Rose Bowl. And I remember I got robbed by the Snicker machine at the cafeteria. Took 85 cents. I remember that. And that they had a so-so brain unit.”
“Is he going to be okay?”
“Oh God, I hope so.”
“Well, we missed you at Easter brunch. The kids really enjoyed the egg hunt. ”
“Oh man, I wish I could’ve been there. But you know…”
Yeah, they know. And you know they know. And it’s a cringe-fest.
Early on in my sobriety, I used to go over to this old guy’s house to hang out. He had almost twenty years sober by then. We’d sit in his living room and chain smoke while he taught me some coping skills–ways to navigate the treacherous seas without a tankard of grog. He was generous with his time, and was very helpful in securing the sails of my sanity.
One day, the subject of honesty came up. He said my big problem was with “white” lies. He said that’s where I should focus. That was the crux.
He’s crazy, I thought. Who gives a flying frankfurter about white lies? That’s just being polite.
I’ve got bigger honesty issues to wrestle with. All those years as a drunk, lying became second nature. It became a survival mechanism. Now I was having trouble disengaging from it. I was having a real hard time being honest. Those little white lies I told were just social niceties. As problems went, they seemed like a low priority target.
We’re standing in a dining room ankle-deep in raw sewage and he wants to put the salad fork on the correct side of the plate.
But he insisted. I only thought they were harmless. I had convinced myself that I was lying not to hurt someone’s feelings. Keep things nice-nice. But at a deeper level, I was really worried about their disapproval. I was afraid they wouldn’t like me.
“They’re corrosive. Every time you tell a white lie, you’re telling yourself it’s not okay to be you. You’re lying about who you are. ”
It wasn’t a burning bush or flash of light variety of insight, but I did hear a distant gong.
Lying about who I am? Holy shit. That doesn’t sound good. It sounds creepy and insane. And not in the way I enjoy.
“Instead of making up all kinds of reasons why you can’t do something, just say you’d rather not. And then leave it at that.”
“Are you serious?”
“Yeah, just say ‘I’d rather not.’ ”
“And leave it at that?”
“Leave it at that.”
This was absolutely nuts. I remember giggling with glee. Simple honesty. What a revolutionary approach to life. I couldn’t wait to try it out.
I didn’t have to wait long. I’m not lying. The next day, one of my personal training clients asked me to come out to Disneyland with her and her family. Oh boy. A wholesome activity that I despise, but don’t want to admit to hating, because people will then think/know just how degenerate and jaded I am.
Now was my chance to say “Hey, I hate craft fairs, Renaissance faires, parades, dinner theater, magic shows, puppet shows, circuses, sack races, hot air balloon launches, and any kind of music that’s played from a bandstand. But I really hate Disneyland. So I’d rather not.” And then leave it at that.
I stood there. Do it. Just say it’s something you’d rather not. Then drop it. Drop it like a hammer. Strike a blow for being yourself.
“Oh wow! Would I ever love to! But you said Saturday? Yeah. Ah. I can’t. I promised a buddy I would go with him to get a cat scan at Huntington Memorial Hospital in Pasadena. They’ve got a great neuroscience department there. He has epilepsy and they specialize in brain mapping. And even though epilepsy is not life-threatening per se, he gets nervous about any medical procedure, and since he’s a recovering alcoholic he’s going to need somebody to be there…because none of his friends or family are talking to him yet, you know, him being early in recovery and all,” I said.
And then left it at that.
I went back to my friend and told him about my failure. He said it was okay. A lifetime of behavior doesn’t change overnight. The important thing was that I was becoming aware of my dishonesty. That, in itself, was an important step. In the process. The process of recovery.
Turns out he was crazy. And right. The white lies were the crux of my problem. Not being okay with who I was–was. That was the hydra head to a multi-tentacled monster. But little by little, the more okay I became with who I was, the easier it was to be honest. And the more honest I was, the more okay I became with who I was. It was almost like it was some kind of process or something.
So yeah, I’ve come a long way with honesty. How long? Well, let’s just say long enough to know I have a long way to go.
I’ll leave it at that.