Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Pants On Fire

Liar is such a harsh term, yet every last person is a liar to some degree. By omission if nothing else. We Texans have a reputation of being braggarts, blowhards, and bullshitters. I can't say for certain whether we have a higher percentage of people in those categories than other states, or regions of the world, but I can tell you I've met a few world class liars. Some of liked, some I wanted to choke. Why? What's the difference. Why will I sit and listen to one guy's stories even when I know he's yanking on my leg harder than a two hundred ton locomotive, but avoid avoid the other fella like he's a salad shooter?

Let me introduce you to three different liars and show you what I mean.

Larry has ratty looking handlebar moustache and the kind of twang to his voice usually reserved to bad dinner theatre actors trying to portray a Texan. He lies so often and with such boldness that often times he forgets what the truth really is. He doesn't think before he lies and often tall tales himself right into a deep hole. Here is a but one snippet of an actual conversation with Larry (Larry is real as is this dialogue, but his name has been changed.)

Chewing on the corner of his nicotine stained moustache, Larry said, "Hopefully this weekend I can get down to the lake and take my submarine out."

Being a new hire at the post office I hadn't learned the truth about Larry yet so I replied with, "Your what?"

"My sub." "Larry's chest swelled like a dead fish as he said, "I saved this antique collectors life once and he gave me an old submarine as a reward."

"This is when a third guy walked up. One that had worked at the PO longer than myself and said, "You're not still telling that same bullshit story are you?"

Larry never batted an eye. "It's not bullshit. It's moored to the marina at Lake Meridith right now."

"So's my boat," said older guy. "And I go every weekend. How come I've never seen a submarine
moored there?"

Not to be deterred, Larry comes back with, "Kids are always playing on the damn thing so I gotta keep it submerged."

"Oh yeah, then how do you get in and out of it?"

Larry was out of the game right there.

Now to liar #2. We'll call him Moe.

Moe worked at the post office right alongside Larry, and he lied every bit as much. One day Moe told me a story for the better part of a half hour before I realized he'd taken the exact plot of the first Rambo movie and inserted himself as the lead character. He strung me along thanks in part to his black eye and bruised knuckles. I never got the faintest whiff of bullshit until he got the part where he was in jail and the police sent for his old military commander because they took one look at his military records and knew he would be the only who stood a chance to reason with him. Later I learned that Moe had simply got in a bar fight over a woman and got tossed out, but his grandiose, detail-filled tale encompassed half the city and a dozen patrolmen.

Another timer time Moe told a group of us a story about his days serving in Vietnam. a gripping tale full of detail and adventure. The four or five of us listened and enjoyed the tale. Only after it was over and Moe walked away did one guy say, "Wow, those exact same things happened to me. Matter of fact I told Moe my story a few weeks back."

Right about then someone in the group asked, "Why didn't you stop Moe and call him out for stealing your story?"

The answer? "Because Moe tells it a hell of a lot better than I do."

Now to Curly. Curly also works with Larry and Moe at the post office. He also lies. But when Curly tells a story he mixes in the truth. He talks about actual places we've all been. Like Moe he adds in lots of details, making absolutely every last one of them is true and accurate. Curly's lies are more about manipulation. tweaking turning the truth, disguising it the way a magician does with smoke and mirrors. He camouflages the lies with the truth. Wrapped up and tucked inside the truth no one listening to his story ever doubts his version. They weren't there to witness it, but nothing is outlandish or out of Curly's character so they have no reason not to believe.

Jump over to the world of fiction. I once read a novel, set in the seventies that included a scene with a group of farm boys engaged in a sexual act with a calf. I immediately doubted that would happen. Now I'm not naive enough to believe a lonely farm boy never ever has formed a "special bond" with his livestock, but having been a teenage boy I highly doubt they'd gather in a group to do so. Then a few chapters later these same boys were grabbing for each other's privates in the locker room after a football game. Right then I stopped reading in the same fashion as I avoid listening to anymore of Larry's stories. Trust me when I say there is no more homophobic environment in the world than a Texas high school locker room. No guy wants to get got so much as eyeballing another dudes jock, so he sure as heck isn't going to be grabbing for it.

Now this was from a very well known and successful novel. It fooled a lot of the people but just like Larry's submarine story couldn't fool a guy who spent lots of time at that marina, this famous author's novel couldn't foll me, a boy who'd grown up in a very similar environment as his characters I cried bullshit and flung the book against the wall. (Any guesses to the title or author?)

But wait you say. Millions of people bought into a series of books about an orphaned wizard who could walk through a brick wall and catch a train to a giant hidden magical castle full of witches and wizards. They eagerly stood in line at midnight to grab the next installment and read a fanciful game of flying snitches and brooms. Of an entire society of magical people living undetected in modern times.

You are right and the reason why is because like Moe's yarns the stories were highly entertaining. You can flat out lie and have everyone know you are lying, but you dang sure better be entertaining of you do.

Now to Curly. My favorite author is Richard Russo. Take a look at his novels, Nobody's Fool, if you haven't read the book maybe you caught the movie version starring Paul Newman. Or The Risk Pool, which is my favorite Russo novel. Maybe you've read Empire Falls for which the Pulitzer was awarded. Or the HBO miniseries of the same name. Bridge of Sighs is Russo's latest work.

The point is everyone of his novels are filled with characters so real they could be your neighbors. Dates, events, locations and conflicts are written with such accuracy that you forget you are reading fiction. Russo's work is about the psychology of man, the human spirit, and the fragility of our decisions. I never questions what I'm reading I'm simply happy to read and learn about my fellow man.

As a writer, I like to think I fall somewhere between Moe and Curly. Entertaining and maybe a bit outlandish in my telling at times, but true to my characters and the world they in habit. If you happen to learn something about your fellow man in the process than I have succeeded beyond even my own expectations. In the meantime, I'll keeping coming up with lies and writing them down on paper. How about you, told any good yarns lately?

Totally unrelated to this post, but thought I'd let you know Rebecca has a picture of me up at her blog Sanding the Rails today.


Eric said...

Good post. I have to admit, alot of what I write is completely off the cuff. I do my best to make it realistic, but sometimes (depending on the genre) you just have to let fiction be fiction. Oh, and its not just in Texas where guys don't gather in groups in the locker room. I can't seriously see that happening up here in Colorado either. To be honest, I'm not sure where it WOULD happen (other than an unmentionable club we have downtown). Anyway, this is very insightful.

Crystal Phares said...

Travis, you just tell great stories, period. True or not (I may never know!).

Unknown said...

I love the way you used such effective examples.

In reality, I find myself smiling and shaking my head at "Larrys", enjoying the hell out of "Moes", and just being scared to death of the "Curlys" because you're never really sure what's going on and how it's going to come back and bite you in the butt.

In literature, though, it's all fair game.

And you are one heck of a storyteller, my friend : )

Beth said...

I agree totally. I'd rather hear a blatant lie told well than hear anything by someone who is a bad liar.

I work in customer service, so a degree of embelishment and fabrication is sometimes useful in saving your ass.

Personally my favourite lie is the one I tell my colleagues; "I'm such a terrible liar. You'd be able to tell right away if I was lying" and then, to cement that in their minds, I'll drop in the occasional "bad" lie where I make out like I'm pretending not to lie, but I'm pretending that I'm pretending.

Its what happens when you work in an office 40 hours a week - you look for ways to amuse yourself and find them in the strangest places!

Merry Monteleone said...

Umn... I didn't even catch the three stooges theme until I got down to Curly, so apparently your story telling takes me well past the obvious :-)

I've met a few Larries... not very fond of them but they're usually harmless enough.

I actually have Russo's Empire Falls and Nobody's Fool on my 100 list for fill in the gaps (one of moonrat's awesome brainblasts)

Janet said...

I read that book. I hated it. And it's driving me crazy trying to remember which book it was. That first scene you mentioned was one of the reasons I hated it.

Janet said...

Somebody else please guess and get it right. Knowing Travis, he'll not tell me just to watch me go crazy.

Travis Erwin said...

Janet - I'll post the answer in a day or so if no one get sit or shoot me an email now if you are dying to know and I'll respond with the answer.

Lynnette Labelle said...

Nice post. I think I've met Larry, Curly, and Moe. LOL

Lynnette Labelle

Melissa Amateis said...

Wow. I can't believe you work with THREE liars. I don't think there is a Larry, Moe, or Curly in my entire department.

Doesn't that drive you nuts, though, that they all lie like that and get away with it?

Lauren said...

Very good post. What fabulous examples. So true, too.

I hope very much to be like Curly, although as a writer of fantasy, I imagine that to some it's more like Larry!

Janet said...

LOL. I'll wait and find out with everybody else. If I think of it on my own in the meanwhile, it will be so much more gratifying.

ssas said...

My daughter lies with the best of them.

She told her first grade teacher that she spent the summer in Africa on a wildlife preserve feeding baby animals and learning how to ride giraffes. (Illustrated and everything--got the picture put up in the office for special show.)

She had her teacher going until the giraffes.

Anonymous said...

I never tell lies. Is that why I write just memoirs (published 3 so far) and not novels???

sybil law said...

I just take the truth and make it more interesting. But I don't write fiction. :P
There's always the pathological liars like my FIL, though - and there's NOTHING entertaining about him!

Alyssa Goodnight said...

Wow! The post office up there is quite the lively spot. Bet it keeps your job from getting hum-drum.

And I love how you likened the trio to the Three Stooges. :)

Debra She Who Seeks said...

Howdy, Travis (that's my attempt to speak Texan). Nice to meet you. I can tell already I'm going to enjoy reading your blog.

Hit 40 said...

Gosh... I wish I was making up my stuff!!! Supersperm is just bizarre!!!

Shionge said...

Hiya Travis, thank you for visiting my blog and I truly appreciate that.

I must admit I do 'lie' to avoid getting others in a fix but I think the 3 guys at the PO is way too extreme ;)

Jerseygirl89 said...

Great stories are great stories. But lying to manipulate people for some selfish reason puts a whole different spin on it. . .whether it's fiction or what is supposed to be non-fiction.

And I think all writers are liars. Who hasn't changed a real life story to make it funnier, deeper or better?

Beth said...

Good fiction (either written or in the telling of tales) involves the art of embellishing/exaggerating a kernel of truth.
Great post!

Frank Baron said...

Interesting post Travis. I mostly write creative non-fiction - which I like to define as: Writing inspired by, but not limited to, the truth. ;)

Anonymous said...

When I saw the headline, I thought you were getting political, ahem. All three of these guys at the PO? Add in my Uncle Bud, who was a liar and a crook and worked at the PO when he wasn't a crooked cop, and I'm starting to wonder about those nine books that somehow got out of their media mailer and got irretrievably lost on the way from Mayer to Me.

Are you afraid to show up at work?

Only one book comes to mind for your quiz. Could I find it in Archer City?

Travis Erwin said...

Anon - Why yes you could. Care to reveal all for everyone else?

alex keto said...

Hemmingway made much the same basic point you have made about a story having to be believable. It's on my mind because I read Ghost by Robert Harris and in the book he makes the same point also.
There is nothing believable about having a submarine on a Texas lake which probably has a max depth of six feet.

As for Potter and all fantasy stories, the other issue is having a set of made up rules within the novel and adhering to them. Harry can do magic, but only with a wand. He can do certain magic, but he can't just make things appear out of nothing etc etc etc. One of my sore points with the 7th book is that Hermione has learned all sorts of new spells, but, hey, when did she learn them? Who taught her. In the final scenes, she is turning stair ways into slides etc etc etc. I thought it weakened the final book a bit.

Bram Stoker really pioneered this with Dracula. Dracula has super powers but can't appear in daylight. He has to return to his coffin with original dirt and he can't enter a house without being invited. As the story unfolds, the reader pays attention to these rules and wonders how Dracula will accomplish whatever given the limitations.

Melanie Hooyenga said...

Great post. There's a fine line in story telling between suspension of disbelief and flat-out unbelievable.

Robin Lemke said...

Awesome post! I wanna meet Moe!

Leah J. Utas said...

Lies can be entertaining.

Danette Haworth said...

Hi Travis!
I like the last line about Moe! My parents are both great storytellers, compelled to the point of acting out the scenes as they tell the story.

My dad told this one hilarious story, and my aunt loved it so much, she began to think she'd actually been there. She later told the story to my mom, but with herself as the MC.

Mr. Shife said...

I know a lot of Curlys and I think I tend to fall in that category myself with some of my stories. Moe sounds like an interesting fellow as well.

Cloudia said...

Well Said Travis!

Skeeter said...

Yep, there's nothing like a good yarn or a bad liar. Strange about the submarine though. That was quite a story.

Best wishes,


Anonymous said...

Well, Archer City has a lot of book stores, or did last time I went there. Figure it must have at least one copy of THE LAST PICTURE SHOW by L. McMurtry. Sorry I couldn't get WordPress & Blogger to dance yesterday.

Linda McLaughlin said...

Great post, Travis. Like Lawrence Block once said, writing is "telling lies for fun and profit".

Janet said...

The Last Picture Show, eh? Honestly, I don't remember. Maybe it was a different book. Mine involved circus entertainers, if I remember right. Anyway, I didn't enjoy it. Bleak and dusty and nasty. I could have handled the dusty.

GodfatherZ said...

Okay, so "Larry" cant tell a story with even a dab of truth in it? Makes you want to avoid him. Maybe find some crazy subject that makes him turn and run. "Mo" tells such large whoppers, at least he is entertaining. You should set up a camera and tripod and catch some of those on film. "Curly" just scares me, I am easily fooled.