Thursday, February 25, 2010

Does My Nose Look Longer Now?

I’m apparently a better fibber, or at least a more subtle one, than I thought. Eight days ago, I accepted a challenge posed by blogger-author Patti Abbott to see if I really qualified for the Bald-Faced Liar (aka “Creative Writer”) Award. The task was to “Tell up to six outrageous lies about yourself, and at least one outrageous truth - or - switch it around and tell six outrageous truths and one outrageous lie.”

I decided to feature half a dozen of what I thought were fairly remarkable truths about myself, and add a single incredible falsehood to that mix. Then I turned the whole thing into a contest, asking Rap Sheet readers to see if they could finger the phony “fact.” Finally, I promised to send two lucky people who answered correctly free hardcover copies of Kelli Stanley’s terrific new historical crime novel, City of Dragons, supplied by her publisher, Minotaur Books.

Just to recap, here are the seven “facts” I presented:

1. I once dined with Buckminster Fuller.

2. My father’s boyhood pal grew up to be George Bush’s spy chief.

3. One night, many years ago, when my apartment building caught on fire, I escaped through the flames clutching the manuscript I was working on at the time--but forgot to put on shoes.

4. I once helped to send a friend to prison.

5. I once sat beside Amy Adams on a cross-country flight.

6. I once fell asleep right in the middle of interviewing a famous English economist.

7. A cabbie in Tijuana offered to sell me his sister. Cheap.

Interestingly, the statement that the majority of folks entering this contest thought was false turned out to be No. 7. “Cabbies’ sisters are never that cheap,” one guesser maintained. I must differ. Actually, that statement is true. A cab driver did in fact offer to sell me his sister--or somebody he claimed to be his sister--during the only trip I’ve ever taken to the Mexican border town of Tijuana, back in the late 1970s. My recollection is that he was asking $40, but maybe he really just wanted to “rent” the woman for a little lascivious folly. I don’t know; I didn’t take him up on the offer.

So let’s go through those other six assertions I made about myself and my often entertaining past.

Nobody was willing to declare me a liar when I said I’d once shared a meal with architect, author, and futurist Buckminster Fuller--which is good, because that’s true. I took part in a speaker selection committee in college, and Fuller was somebody we invited to address the student body as part of an annual lecture series. I joined him and several other students and faculty members for dinner following his speech. All I remember is that I talked with him about the architecture of geodesic domes.

The statement I made about my father’s boyhood buddy eventually going to work for George Herbert Walker Bush was also true. My dad grew up in Webster Groves, Missouri, just a stone’s thrown away from the home of William H. Webster. They were both born in March 1924 (16 days apart), and my late father was proud to describe “Billy” Webster as “my lifetime friend.” Webster was a U.S. Court of Appeals judge when, in 1978, President Jimmy Carter tapped him to become the sixth FBI director. From 1987 to 1991 Webster served as the director of the Central Intelligence Agency under both Ronald Reagan and the first George Bush. My dad used to love telling the story of how he was invited to attend some formal dinner for Webster in Portland, Oregon, to which mostly high-ranking politicians had been invited. He chuckled about the fact that, while the city’s mayor and other officeholders he’d tussled with on governance issues in the past were relegated to tables far distant from the podium, he--an architect with no obvious political connections--was seated right beside his old pal from the St. Louis suburbs.

Not one person picked No. 3 as a lie. It’s true: I did flee from a fire in my apartment building without remembering to put on any sort of footwear, but was careful to pack along the story I had most recently been composing. Hey, what do you expect from a writer?

However, several entrants were absolutely convinced that statement No. 4 has to be a prevarication--that I couldn’t possibly have “once helped to send a friend to prison.” As one wrote: “Come on, you’re on a crime fiction blog, surely you’re not a stool pigeon?!!” Well, I have to confess that No. 4 is true, and I wasn’t actually a stool pigeon. Somebody I considered a good friend, a fellow newspaper employee back in the early ’80s, stole my checkbook--along with the checkbooks of other people he knew--and used them to buy a number of things before he was caught. I had no idea what was going on, until my bank called me one day and asked whether I’d written a check for some commodity or other; I had no idea what the guy was talking about, and was thus alerted to the fraud. Later, I was subpoenaed to testify against my friend in court, and he was convicted and imprisoned--I do not recall for how long.

Curiously, the only person who called me out on No. 6 was the aforementioned Patti Abbott. “As dull as economists are,” she wrote in the Comments section of my original post, “I don't think you would have nodded off.” Thank you for the character endorsement, Patti, but you’re wrong; No. 6 is true. The economist in question was Kenneth E. Boulding, who was also a British educator, peace activist, and “interdisciplinary philosopher.” My memory is that he, too, spoke at my college years ago, though subsequent to my graduation, and I was invited to interview him during his visit. After digesting (if not fully comprehending) a couple of Boulding’s books, I sat down to question him. But that day was particularly warm, I was tired from a few long workdays, Boulding’s answers to my queries were extensive ... and at some point during our conversation, I suddenly realized that I had no idea what he was talking about. Furthermore, I could tell that my eyes had just snapped open after what might have been a few seconds, or even a couple of minutes. Embarrassed, I looked at Boulding to determine whether he was insulted by my slumbering, only to realize that he hadn’t stopped talking the whole time! Whether he even noticed my lack of attention, I couldn’t say, but he didn’t mention it, and I finally managed to complete the interview.

That leaves us with statement No. 5, which is of course false.

Only four people out of the more than two dozen who entered this book-giveaway contest figured that out. As one of them wrote, “These would all make great lies, but I’m guessing the one about plane tripping with Amy Adams is more fantasy than truth. But if it’s true, I can only say, ‘You lucky dog, you.’” I would have been a lucky dog, indeed, to have spent a few quiet hours sitting in the company of the comely and effervescent young star of Junebug, Julie & Julia, and Miss Pettigrew Lives for a Day. Unfortunately, it didn’t happen. I have never found myself perched beside Amy Adams (shown at left). Or at least I haven’t yet. (Why give up hope?) To show you what a sneaky deceiver I am, I’d originally intended my false statement to read, “I once sat beside Halle Berry on a cross-country flight” (speaking of wish fulfillment!), but ultimately decided that nobody would believe me. So I went for a lesser-known actress, instead.

Now, what about those free books I had promised? A completely random drawing among the names of the four people who guessed correctly brings up two winners: Louis Burklow of Los Angeles, California, and Alison Scarrow of Parry Sound, Ontario. My congratulations to both of you. I’ve passed your names and street addresses along to the fine folks at Minotaur Books, and they should send you each a copy of Stanley’s City of Dragons without delay.

My thanks to everyone who participated in this little guessing game. Sorry if you didn’t win, but rest assured that there will be more giveaway opportunities in the near future.

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