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?"
Lisa: Plastic is destroying the earth!
Johannes: Are you losing weight?
L: The creepy guy who hangs out on Lexington Avenue followed me into Dunkin' Donuts to announce that I remind him of a young Kim Jong-il!
J: Are you losing weight?
L: I've put on three pounds since breakfast!
J: Are you losing weight?
What can I say? He's lying, I know he's lying and yet it works for us. I am also a firm believer in lying to chatty cabdrivers ("Sir, I have the kind of menstrual cramps that could turn a lesser woman homicidal, so you need to trust me when I tell you that it's beyond crucial for us to travel in complete silence"), my dental hygienist ("Of course I floss. Flossing is my life"), and my 5-year-old ("Bambi's mother is alive and well. She has merely relocated to a breathtaking piece of beachfront property off the coast of Hawaii with her hunky new boyfriend, Raoul, who is both incredibly wealthy and deeply sensitive to her every need"). To this day, Julia believes that Toys "R" Us is only open when my parents visit Manhattan; the shelves are stocked as Grandma and Grandpa's plane touches down and the doors to the store lock as soon as they head back to Detroit.
Here is the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth: My name is Lisa, and I am a liar, though a good marketing consultant could probably finesse the word into something a bit more palatable: "Reality Stylist" might be good, or "Pinocchiotologist" could work. My mother insists that, at the end of the day, what I am is a storyteller—and she might have a point. Joan Didion says that "we tell ourselves stories in order to live." I think that's right. Forget what I tell cabdrivers for sport or dental hygienists for spin control or Bambi readers for peace of mind. It's the lies we tell ourselves that determine the particular arc of our stories. I tell myself that it's never too late to master Italian and piecrust, that one day I'll appreciate Clay Aiken and understand calculus. I tell myself that I'll be able to guarantee my daughter a life of joy and confidence and financial security in a universe that's just and safe and green. To be honest, I have my doubts. Perhaps I was born predisposed to pessimism or maybe I've witnessed too much pain, but my mind is forever taking me to the dark side and I am afraid of the dark. So I sugarcoat and I gloss over, and I rationalize and, yes, I sometimes fictionalize my little story. I tell rose-colored lies because Wellbutrin only takes a girl so far, because I want with all my heart to believe in something just a bit sweeter than what I see on the 6 o'clock news. And because, to tell you the truth, I've always been a sucker for a happy ending—even if it means my pants catch fire.
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