Do you know what I’ve discovered? I’m a terrible liar. My face is a mirror to my soul, and whatever I’m thinking gets displayed through my eyes like a baby’s first glimpse of Sofia Vergara’s ta-tas when it’s time for
lunch. Everything I’m thinking plays out through my eyes, and because of that, I will always be undone when it comes to lying, which is probably beneficial to the final outcome of my soul.
Image from nicknotnikki.com
Ever since I can remember I’ve been hyper-sensitive to the concept of lying or being lied to because it seemed to go hand-in-hand with the craziness factor in my family tree. If the first sin of Adam and Eve was lying to God about having had a play date with the “snake,” then the first sin against me was my mother’s lie about my emergence upon the Earth:
ME: (said with a British accent) “Mummy, why don’t I have a fawtha, and where was I born?”
THE LIE: “Why baby-girl, you have the father to beat all fathers. And you were the first Colored baby to be born in the all-white St. Luke’s Hospital in Cleveland years before any Coloreds were allowed to cross over its threshold. When you came into this world, your white doctor and nurses were so enthralled by you that the doctor named you after his own wife, as well as President Roosevelt’s First Lady, because the hospital staff could just tell by your demeanor that you were going to be a real credit to your race.”
THE TRUTH: “I, Eleanor Tomczyk, do solemnly swear that I was born in a toilet because my mother was bat-shit crazy, and she lied to everyone that she was not pregnant but had a massive tumor in her belly. One day Mommy Dearest passed gas while she was doing her business on the toilet and out I popped—doing an ignominious slip-and-slide into the toilet bowl world of my future. Said father had run off long before I made my dramatic entrance. The doctor, who came to the house a month later to issue a birth certificate by order of the State Human Services Agency, named me “Eleanor”—probably because his wife’s name was the first female name that came to mind since my mother was too catatonic to put a name on the birth certificate for a tumor that had entered the world as a fart and was quickly trying to establish residence on the Earth by kicking and screaming and demanding to be fed.”
“Seemingly grossed out just at the thought of life”||Image courtesy of bellyitchblog.com
But as much as I detest lies, I know that I lie—we all lie—even though I try my hardest not to do so. But some lying (“white lies”) is the lubricant that keeps our society, our workplace, and our relationships together, or we’d really end up wiping each other off the face of the Earth. When we tell a child about Santa Claus, the Easter Bunny, or the Tooth Fairy, it is a lie that feeds their imagination and wonder, but we run the risk of them flushing the concept of God down the toilet, along with the images of Claus, Bunny, and Fairy when growing up reveals the truth about their childhood idols.
If we exaggerate a story to make ourselves look good in the eyes of another person, that is a lie, but we’ll always be haunted by the terror of possibly being exposed. And no marriage would ever make the long haul if, when a wife asked her husband, “Honey, does my ass look ginormous in these jeans?” and he answered honestly, “Hell yeah, Babe—you could stop a Mac truck with that lady hump—back that thing on up into a tunic before you embarrass yourself!” Instead, if the dude ever wants to have sex again in this lifetime, he’ll have to say, “. . . Honey, your ass looks as delectable as the day we met—go on with yo’ bad self!” (And yet . . . and yet, maybe that ass needs to be wearing something more conducive to its shape—I’m just sayin’!)
Ginormous Ass||Image from hyphenationdiariesblogspot.com
I’m a bit gun-shy about “white lies” because sometimes the things you don’t know could make you look like a fool. Many years ago before I met my husband, when I thought I was going to set the world on fire as the next Ruby Dee or Leontyne Price (whichever came first), I was a starving actress working summer stock in a small country town and having the time of my life. Clocking in at a cool 200 pounds and counting (I didn’t become skinny and WW’s “hot black wife” until a decade later), I was the physical image of Mabel King, the actress and singer best known for her role as Evilene in “The Wiz.”
Mabel King (Evilene), the Wicked Witch of the West from “The Wiz”||Image from Wikipedia
I had a friend who was gay in the wardrobe department of that small town theater, and he wanted to be a fashion designer when we all went off to NYC to fulfill our dreams of becoming rich and famous. In the meantime, my friend (“Lamar”) thought he was fabulous and so did I, which is why I acquiesced to let him make me a winter ensemble for my journey to New York City where I planned to take the town by storm. Lamar decided my coat and hat must be unique to get me noticed: a faux fur coat of many colors with a matching WWII, crocheted, bomber hat with its own monkey face and hair on my little fat, brown face! Forty years later, I frequently ask myself, how is it that I knew the only gay fashion designer in the entire world who had absolutely no fashion sense? And how is it that I lost my mind and let Lamar convince me that my 5-foot, 200 pound frame would look “fabulous darling” in his “bees’ knees” cutting edge fashion statement?
Now, in 2012, I know how cartoonish I must have looked as I crisscrossed Manhattan from voice lessons to chorus rehearsals for some long defunct opera company. But back then, being a poor black child from The Cleve, I thought I was the height of New York fashion. (Girl, I just knew I was hot shit, as I waddled across West 57th Street to the 12th floor of Carnegie Hall, for my weekly voice lessons with Madame Lila!) When people stopped, turned, and stared in wide-eyed, open-mouthed astonishment at me, I swear I could hear them acclaiming in one accord as they genuflected in homage to my cutting-edge fashion sense: “Damn, that girl’s got it goin’ on—where can I get me one of those sophisticated faux fur coats with that sassy WWII bomber hat?” As I winked and nodded while passing them by, I gleefully gave them the answer to the question no one ever, ever asked: “Oh, this vision of fashion loveliness was brought to you by my dear friend, the up-and-coming designer, Lamar Quincy Johnson, III.” I wore that coat for a full fall season, winter season, and part of a spring season until it started to molt and some quasi New York stranger finally lost all self-control and hysterically spit out the truth that was obvious to a blind man: “THAT COULD EASILY BE THE UGLIEST COAT AND HAT I’VE EVER SEEN IN MY LIFE!” Sometimes white lies will keep one in a state of perpetual ignorance for years and only the pinprick of brutal truth can set the captive free.
Crocheted aviator bomber hat so similar to Lamar’s creation that it’s scary||image from ebay.com
And so in my old age, I know what my moral boundaries are: I will not lie to hurt someone, or lead them astray, I will not lie to get my own way, or defame another’s character or reputation. But as I grow older and more grandmotherly (more compassionate?), I find myself lying every once and a while to preserve the feelings of those more vulnerable than I—especially children. These lies are more “sins of omission” for me (“if you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all”) than bald-faced tall tales.
Too bad Mitt Romney didn’t know my secret about choosing the “sin of omission lie” (keeping one’s mouth shut and smiling graciously when one is in the “home” of another). I know he thinks he’s all that and a bag of chips, but sometimes when a person is asked, “do you like the way my shit is put together?” while standing in their backyard, the only answer is a gracious lie: “Looks great!—I applaud your ingenuity during these hard economic times, and I’m looking forward to watching my wife’s horse dance in your fair land!” But no! Mitt just had to play the ugly American, and now he has the scorn of the Brits raining down on his head:
“Mitt the Twit” screamed the headline in The Sun.
“Who invited party-pooper Romney?” asked the Daily Mail
“Nowhere Man” declared the Times of London
“Psst. . . yo Mitt: When ‘telling the truth’ by trying to show off as a fellow Anglo-Saxon to other Anglo-Saxons offends your host country, then you look like you’re not ready for primetime, my brother. Dude, you hurt the Brits’ feelings, and now they don’t want to play with you anymore!” whispered Eleanor Tomczyk of How the Hell Did I End Up Here?
I am discovering that every culture has its version of a “white lie.” It is called protocol or manners or just plain shuckin’ and jivin’. It gives people a softer side in a multi-cultural environment and a global village that helps us avoid embarrassment and awkwardness. I’ve also discovered that the Journal of Applied Psychology says (and I paraphrase), “The more detached people are from the person (s) they are communicating with or about, the easier it is to lie.” It is not easy to lie to someone’s face (unless you’re a sociopath).
Lying is one of the most common wrongful acts we do as humans and when we do it via phone, email, online dating sites, tweeting, or texting our moral principles all go to Hell. Being “detached” from our fellow man for whatever reasons (ideological, political, or religious) makes it easier to “bear false witness against our neighbors” or participate in a collective lie that can cause grievous injury to others.
In my mind, there is no hole deep enough in Hell for the Michele Bachmanns of the world who bore false witness against her Muslim colleagues and “neighbors” (Huma Abedin and Keith Ellison) for political and monetary gain, and no hole in Hell deep enough for the cast of characters who lied to cover the despicable acts of Coach Sandusky at Penn State. Liars, liars, your freakin’ pants are on fire!
Sylvester the Cat “Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire”||Looney Tunes|Image from icoulduseadeal.com
“We tell lies when we are afraid… afraid of what we don’t know, afraid of what others will think, afraid of what will be found out about us. But every time we tell a lie, the thing that we fear grows stronger.” –Tad Williams
“A degree of lying – you know, white lies – seems to be inherent in all languages and all forms of communication.”—Matthew Lesko
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