|Inspired by some of the truth-defying claims that emerged from last year's presidential campaign, I've been thinking about this notion of honesty. Is it as malleable as politicians think, like rhetorical Silly Putty that can be stretched and molded to fit any occasion? Or is there such a thing as black-and-white objectivity and absolute fact? |
Contemplating this, I began to wonder about my own veracity. Am I as honest as I imagine myself to be? Or am I just another poseur who pretends to be truthful but in actuality sees expediency as an excuse to bend reality to my own desires?
There was only one way to find out: a personal fact checker.
His name is Mario (not his real name), and I asked him to follow me and exclaim whenever a mistruth of any kind passed my lips. He was an eager fellow and seemed to me like someone who relished perhaps a little too much the prospect of the job ahead. This, sadly, turned out to be true in the extreme.
In retrospect, I perhaps should have picked another day for my experiment, for on this morning I was running late. Being behind schedule usually obliges one to lie due to the fact that professional people and colleagues tend to frown on truthful excuses, such as "I felt like sleeping in," or "I'm sorry, hotwives.com took forever to load this morning."
We climbed into my car and, looking at the clock on the dash, realized I'd have to miss my dentist appointment. Not wanting to incur the Draconian $25 cancellation fee, I waited until Mario seemed distracted by the radio. Slyly I took my phone and dialed the number for my dentist. "Hi, this is John, I'm supposed to be there now, but I'm driving my pet parakeet to the vet for an emergency procedure," I said. It sounded as if the receptionist was taking the bait. "Would you like to reschedule?" she asked. I was home free.
It was then that Mario reached over and took the cellphone from my hand. "Hello," he said. "I'm John's fact checker. I'm sorry to inform you he does not own a parakeet and that he is missing his appointment because he's running late after spending too long in the bathroom playing Angry Birds and trying to make his comb-over look less like a comb-over."
At least he didn't mention the Internet porn, I thought, just before Mario added, "Oh, and he also spent a half hour drooling on his laptop over some nude Zena lookalike."
Mario handed the phone back just in time for me to hear the receptionist, her voice suddenly icy, ask for my credit card number, "to take care of the cancellation fee."
The day continued in this fashion:
The late report I'd told my boss was still at the printer, according to Mario, was, "Sitting in my briefcase covered primarily with doodles of what a love child produced by me and Katy Perry would look like."
The secretary downstairs I've been dating who asked about my weekend at mom's, was told by Mario that I'd actually enjoyed a marathon bachelor party at Club Spring Break, where the slogan is 'No I.D., no problem'."
Or when the regional V.P. asked me to dinner for the following evening and I declined, citing my Mensa meeting, Mario pulled out his iPhone, poked the screen a few times and reported that my schedule indicated "sock sorting/Housewives of BH." (Why I gave him the password to my online calendar I'll never know.)
The real downfall, however, was my IRS audit (I told you it was a bad day for my little experiment). There, an agent looked askance at my long list of deductions, which contained items such as massages, casino losses, and someone from the Bronx named "Iceman" who I listed as a dependent. As the skeptical agent finished reading off the litany, Mario said, "All bogus." Five minutes later, even my legitimate deductions for mileage and paper supplies were nixed. The upshot is I owe the IRS 16 grand (Mario also led the agent through my tax returns from 2004 through 2010, each year uglier than the last.)
Deciding I'd had enough truth for one day, once outside I tried and shake my new companion and ducked into a bar. But there he was, right on my heels, eventually pulling up the stool next to me. I ignored him as I drank enough rum to stagger a Russian battalion, and later told a doubtful looking brunette I was a photographer for Maxim (Mario didn't even bother correcting this one). At closing time, I staggered out the door.
A cop nabbed me as soon as I hit the sidewalk, grabbing me by my collar and hauling me in for being drunk and disorderly. Suddenly, a moment of honesty overwhelmed me. I told the officer that if I were to be arrested I would miss work the next morning, probably be fired, miss my next payments to Iceman and for child-support, lose my lease, and wind up on the street living in a dumpster.
Surprisingly, the officer, unimpressed by honesty, turned a deaf ear and started to drag me off toward his cruiser. It was then I noticed Mario tugging at the cop's sleeve.
"Officer, I'm not sure what happened to my friend here, he just had two drinks. It must be some sort of medical condition. I know he takes some sort of medication that can be a bit tricky. Anyway, he lives with me right up there," Mario pointed to an apartment across the street. "I'll gladly take him home to our ailing mother and see to it that he gets the proper care he needs to make a full recovery."
Grudgingly, the officer let go of me and I crumpled to the sidewalk.
Amazed, I looked up at my savoir. "Mario, you lied for me," I said.
"My name is Jack," he said, helping me up. "And yes, I lied. One thing I've learned in this business is that sometimes to save one's ass a little lie can go a long way."
I shook his hand and we shared a cab uptown. Then I immediately fired him as my fact checker.
But Mario, or Jack, or whatever his real name is, was right. Lying is a necessary part of life. If you think about it, do we really want President Obama to come out and say, "I've looked at the numbers, listened to the experts and all I can say is we are screwed, deeply and thoroughly screwed"? Or would we have felt better if Paul Ryan stared through our T.V. screens and said, "Our plan will make the rich richer and leave the poor to eat the crumbs we toss them, oh, and by the way, you'll need to kill your elderly parents because we can no longer afford to carry such dead weight"?
No, we like our politics bought and sold by big corporations and gift wrapped for us in the shiny, happy rhetoric that some might see as dishonesty, but that I view as being as American as apple pie.