Sunday, March 27, 2016

I was only telling a lie

My dad was a liar. 

Some of his lies were taken as truth, because, at the time, there was no easy way to fact-check every detail of the stories he told. He told his co-workers that my mother was a school teacher (she wasn't). He told his family that he gave up smoking (he didn't). After my mother died and the opportunity of a new leaf waiting to be turned presented itself, he told a woman he was dating that he was part owner of a supermarket and he was in debt due to the expense of my art school tuition (he wasn't  and he wasn't). He lied, it seemed, as a hobby — the way some people collect stamps or bowl.

One story my father loved to tell was about a no-hitter he saw when he was a kid. He told this story to my brother and me often when we were young. According to my dad, he skipped school to go to a Phillies game. The game turned out to be a rare no-hitter. Afterwards, the city was buzzing with talk about the no-hitter, but my father (who, of course, was a kid at the time) couldn't tell anyone that he was at the game because he would get in big trouble for ditching school. My brother and I were amused by the story. Perhaps there was even a bit of underlying caution in the story — "Don't cut school!" Turns out the only "underlying" about the tale was just plain old "lying." 

See, when this story was told to us (and the many, many times it was repeated), there was no such thing as the internet. It was difficult to quickly check on baseball statistics. One had to own volumes of books chronicling the vast amounts of records from years past. Even then, locating the information would be a task unto itself. But one day, after my father had passed away, I decided to research his claim. Now that I had a computer in my house, this would be a cinch. 

My dad was born in 1926. The closest no-hitter achieved by the Phillies, to that date, was thrown by one Johnny Lush, but that was in 1906, twenty years before my father was born. Plus ol' Johnny tossed that 6-0 gem in Washington Park in Brooklyn, not Philadelphia, against a stunned Trolley Dodgers team. Red Donahue threw a 5-0 no-no against the Boston Beaneaters in Philadelphia, but that was in 1898, before my dad's parents were born. The next Phillies no-hitter was Jim Bunning's perfect game on Father's Day 1964, but by that time, my dad was the father of a seven-year-old (my brother) and a three-year-old (me). His "skipping school" days were long behind him. And that game took place in New York. What I'm trying to say is: My dad made the whole thing up. The whole story! Everything! He probably never even cut school.

As I got older, my mother let me in on the hundreds and hundreds of lies my father told throughout our lives. I developed a keen sensitivity for bullshit and, needless to say, I can spot a liar a mile away.

I had a recent co-worker who, within a week or so of his being hired, told a story during his first "I'm the New Guy" get-to-know-me session with a small contingency of his new colleagues. The informal "get acquainted" conversation bounced around from "where do you live?" to "where are the good lunch spots?" to similarly benign, but superficially friendly, chit-chat topics. Soon, the subject of concerts was introduced. We were a bunch of guys with a twenty-year span separating our ages, but all sharing a love of music. Some of the younger guys related their experiences with Coldplay and Phish. I, of course, told of the many Grateful Dead shows I attended (albeit begrudgingly). Being the oldest of the group, I continued listing the various highlights of nearly forty years of concerts ranging from Alice Cooper and Elton John to Tony Bennett, The Clash, The Dead Milkmen and even Donny and Marie. The new guy chimed in, hoping to bond and offer a bit of camaraderie. Explaining that he grew up in the Philadelphia area and was happy to return after living elsewhere for many years, he waxed with sentimentality about his concert-going days as a rambunctious college student. He expounded on one particular performance at the Mann Center for the Arts, a pastoral, open-air venue situated within the gently sloping lawns of sprawling Fairmount Park. He claimed he attended a show by the venerable soft-rock troubadour James Taylor, he of mellow, Southern California, acoustic-driven tunes sung with a sweet, airy tenor. This guy told us about a typical James Taylor concert featuring a cavalcade of his easy-going hits like "Sweet Baby James," "Fire and Rain" and "Handy Man." Singable, hum-able, non-offense — everything his fans came to hear. 

"Then," our co-worker continued, "he announced that he and the band were taking a short break. And when he came back for a second set, they broke into 'Led Zeppelin's Physical Graffiti' and played the whole fucking album!" 

Our little group stood in silence, our eyes darting back and forth to one another, looking for confirmation that we all heard the same thing.

"Yeah, man, it was awesome!," he elaborated, "James Taylor and his band were fuckin' rockin' out and the crowd was getting pissed off. A lot of people started leaving, but he didn't care, man!" Now the new guy was morphing into Peter Fonda from Easy Rider, punctuating each statement with a drawn-out "man!

"My buddies and me were diggin' it, but most of the audience was really bummed. James and his band were wailin', man! Just banging out that Zeppelin!"

The "bullshit meter" in my head was about to explode! The lies were coming at me too fast and furious for me to keep up. Fortunately, our little session broke up and we began our workday. The first thing I did was scour Google for any possible pairing of the search terms "James Taylor" and "Led Zeppelin." My first search yielded nothing, as I had expected. I tried every combination of "James," "Taylor," "Led," "Zeppelin," "Physical," "Graffiti," "concert," "Mann," "Philadelphia." Nothing. Only single mentions of the individual words were returned in the search results. I put my searches aside and got some work done. Later in the day, however, I brought the conversation up to my co-workers once the "new guy" wasn't around. I posed the scenario again, pointing out the various tell-tale faults and inconsistencies in the story.

Would James Taylor, an established singer, risk alienating his fans with such a brazen, uncharacteristic performance? Why would he choose a Led Zeppelin album —  one that clocks in at nearly 90 minutes — to perform, in song sequence? Just supposing, for a second, that this actually did happen — would James Taylor have continued to perform an entire set of music by a band that is out of his genre, while his audience vacates the premises in droves? How come there is nothing about this unusual incident anywhere on any website? Hang on. I'll answer for you. It's because this didn't fucking happen!

I could not grasp the reasoning behind such an outlandish story. Was the "new guy" trying to impress us? Did he really think this was the proper route to take? Did it even occur to him that the facts of his anecdote could easily be debunked with a quick and effortless visit to the internet?

Once we got to know the "new guy," all of these questions were answered. It seemed that this lie was just a preview of what was to come. Two and a half years later, he was escorted off the premises.

Whether he realized it or not, my dad prepared me well.

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