The story goes that, as a child, George Washington chopped down the backyard cherry tree and then admitted the whole sordid affair to his beloved father:"I cannot tell a lie," he is said to have said. "It was I who chopped down your cherry tree." This leads me to a couple of thoughts: First, What were the Washingtons thinking? Color me cautious, but I've never been a big believer in allowing children direct access to an ax. Ditto hatchets, swords, tomahawks, muskets, and Barbie. Second, I cannot tell a lie; had I been in that very same situation, there's no doubt in my mind that I'd have looked my beloved father straight in the eye and told a lie. And that, my friends, along with the wooden teeth and powdered wig, is what separates me from our first president. I could tell you I believe it is imperative that we be absolutely meticulous with the truth 100 percent of the time, but the truth is—I'd be lying.
You see, I live in New York City, where manhole covers explode and construction cranes crash from the sky and people slip through the space between the subway platform and the train, and you feel almost giddy with relief on those days when you manage to make it home in one piece. The bottom line is this: Life is short, time is precious, and I don't want to spend Saturday night watching my friend, the would-be actress, do a walk-on in Tartuffe. It's not that I don't love my friend, and it's not that I don't love Tartuffe (okay, that's a lie, nobody actually loves Tartuffe). It's just that I reserve Saturday night for slathering my reptile-like feet in Vaseline Intensive Care as my daughter shampoos her Polly Pocket doll in the toilet. But try explaining that to a friend who has just spent $200 on a brocade bustle and is flying her parents in from Wisconsin for her off-off-off-Broadway debut. My choices? Well, I can sit through Tartuffe with a lovely couple from Racine and a running time of two hours and 46 minutes that I'll never get back. I can pray that one of my undermoisturized feet will suddenly fossilize so that I can use it to knock myself unconscious. Or I can say, "Darn the luck, that's the night I have to..." Fill in fiendishly fabricated excuse here. And, yes, I know, this makes me sound kind of awful, but I ask that you refrain from judging me until you've endured an evening of musical theater based on the early years of Joseph Goebbels, courtesy of this same friend.
Honesty is a delightful policy, but I'm here to tell you that without at least a few lies, Thanksgiving with the family would be a thing of the past, first dates would end faster than you can dismiss your biological clock with a jaunty "Que sera, sera...," every political figure who intentionally linked Iraq with Osama bin Laden would be forced to resign in disgrace, and any number of plastic surgeons throughout the greater Los Angeles area would end their lives in the gutter holding large cardboard signs that read WILL BOTOX FOR FOOD.
Ask any man in a healthy relationship, and he will tell you that when his wife comes home with a horrific haircut, it's a mistake for him to start feverishly skimming the Yellow Pages for an attorney while muttering, "I think we've got a lawsuit here. The bastard who did this to you will never trim bangs in this town again!" No, he must greet her with the simple phrase that Johannes (boyfriend extraordinaire, father of the aforementioned shampoo girl) uses to chill me out whenever I despair. He will look up from whatever he's doing, pause, tilt his head, then casually ask: "Are you losing weight?"