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December 8, 2010

How much I lied

The last time I saw Richard was really just a couple weeks ago. We were at my cousin Sue’s house for Thanksgiving. He had come down from Chicago-land with his wife and three sons, all about the same age as my son. My sister’s son was there, too. We had a good time watching the bunch of them playing and cutting up. It was a rare treat: five boys making rude noises and laughing until the tears came.

Whenever we see each other, which isn’t often, Richard asks about my writing. This time I told him about a recent column I had written about honesty. In it, I told him, I wrote about a lie a friend had told me. I balanced this with a bit about Stephen Colbert and the persona he had created for his show, “The Colbert Report.” The distinction was, of course, that we accept dishonesty more easily when it comes in the form of entertainment.

Richard picked up on this immediately. He said, “I get it! So the story you wrote about the friend was a fiction! That’s brilliant!”

And I was, like, “Uh, yeah!” To tell you the truth, I was surprised more people didn’t see through it. I guess that just goes to show what a good maker-upper of fake stuff I am.

In the days that followed, I glowed from my triumph as a tricky trickster, but I started to feel bad about making stuff up and reporting it as the truth. People who have the opportunity to address a huge audience of readers like those who read this paper and such should respect their audience by always telling the truth, but I had betrayed your trust.

I know it should maybe be kind of obvious, but, as an entertainer, I really am not your friend. I am tickled by the fact that David Letterman tells me he is my “TV friend,” but I get the feeling he says that to everybody. If I ever gave you the impression that I am your friend, it was probably not exactly true. I suppose it is possible that you have a friend, but it probably isn’t me. I mean, you could call out my name and hope that I would come running, but it probably wouldn’t work out that way.

While I appreciate you as a reader, and I may have expressed that appreciation at one point or another, if I ever said, “I love you,” it may not have been an outright lie, but it was almost certainly a flawed statement, fatally vague, even. Sure, I appreciate your time and attention, but we can never really know one another. At my best, I choose to recognize that you are a fragile biological organism, that you are caught up in the complexities of modern life, being changed by experiences in ways that you may not fully understand. So, maybe I love you, but I don’t “love” love you.

I’m not even really that nice of a person. One time I told a friend of mine that some girl was “into” him. You know, I was just messing with him. I figured he’d blow it off, or maybe he’d embarrass himself by making a pass at her and she would totally give him the cold shoulder, but then they actually hit it off! They got married, and now they have two kids. One of the happiest couples I know. I don’t talk to them anymore, though; their relationship is based on a lie.

Sometimes I think truth doesn’t exist anymore. Communication has become hopelessly imprecise. Words just can’t be trusted. I have taken to saying, “But, of course, the opposite is also true,” whenever I hear a statement of absolute truth, and I am almost always right. I use it in much the same way that people toss off, “That’s what she said.” Try it. It’s fun!

Meanwhile, it seems the only way to honor the truth is to say nothing. Silence is golden, as they say (I would totally put a winky emoticon here if this was on the Internets), and there is no sin in keeping one’s mouth shut … Of course, the opposite is also true.

This week’s assignment: There’s a great scene in that movie “Jaws” where Quint, Brody and Hooper are showing each other their scars. See if you can find some people to play this game. Scars are fascinating.