By Ken Bradbury
When my high school students are about to take their ACT tests I give them one sage bit of advice. I get an extremely wise look on my face then say, “When in doubt, write the number six or Thomas Edison. Very often one of those answers is going to be correct.” They stare dumb-founded, unable to believe they’ve been given such a bad piece of advice. The poor kids just don’t realize how long you can live a successful life based on bad information.
When I write a check they often ask for my phone number to write on the “note” line. I always lie and make up a number. My check has never been refused. If they want the truth they can look in the phone book. It’s my job to bring a little creativity into their otherwise dull day behind the checkout counter.
I know that in the Land of Lincoln I should be more obedient to the morality of our state’s favorite son and refrain from telling lies. Instead I often cross the river and borrow the words of Mark Twain: “I am different from Washington. I have a higher, grander standard of principle. Washington could not lie. I can lie, but I won’t.” Actually, I will. Oh, I’m not a dangerous liar. If you stand in front of a burning house and ask me if you should enter it to pick up a few things I’ll advise against it, but on all lesser matters I err in the direction of creativity.
Several years ago I oversaw a car wash held by a group of students on Morton Avenue. One fellow, apparently a newcomer to Jacksonville, was chatting with me as the kids did an extremely sloppy job of smearing muddy suds around the hood of his car. He asked me, “I don’t know Jacksonville. Are there any places to eat?” I said, “No, we don’t have any restaurants.” No matter from which direction the guy had entered town he had been forced to drive by at least three eating-places. I figured that if he hadn’t seen them on the way in then he sure as heck wasn’t going to be able to spot them on the way out.
I’ll admit that I’ve had more experience with the well-honed fib than most people, having grown up in Pike County and now living in Arenzville, two hotbeds of liars. If some British university were to commission a study of American lying they’d be well advised to take a motel room in Dosh, halfway between the two rich fields of fabrication.
The saving grace in all this is to tell a lie so big and ridiculous that it can only be believed by the most foolish of listeners. When a guy sits at the table of the Arenzville coffee shop and tells about cutting down mushrooms with his Black and Decker chainsaw, anyone who rushes out into the woods in search of redwood-sized fungi deserves what he gets . . . poison ivy.
I was spending my summer as an area supervisor for Burrus Seeds, working the Meredosia bottomlands, when a state seed inspector drove up the field road where I’d parked. The irrigation rig was running and the fellow had driven under the sprinklers. By the time he got to me his tires were muddy and his windshield wipers were squishing the rain across the hood of his truck. I asked if I could help him in some way. He said, “Yeah. Is the irrigation system on?” Huh? The guy’s truck was soaked. He’d just driven through the artificial downpour. I said, “No, we’re just having scattered showers.” The fellow thanked me and drove away. Some people deserve every lie you can throw their direction.
Then there’s the category of lie that it’s okay to tell because you know it won’t be believed. Like the time when my mother found me hiding in my bedroom with frosting all over my face and asked me if I’d been into the cake icing. I flashed a pair of beautiful blue eyes at this lady who’d known me since birth and said, “No.” I wasn’t fooling Mom and “Yes” would have been such a terribly obvious and dull answer. If I’d said “Yes” she’d have had to come up with some sort of punishment. My “No” simply earned me a motherly laugh.
Springtime evenings in Arenzville mean that the sidewalks are clogged with joggers, or in my case, shufflers. Recently a man and wife pulled up beside me in their car and asked how they could get to Beardstown. I looked at them stone-faced and said, “It’s impossible.” They stared a moment, gave me a friendly wave, and took off.
You may think that these anecdotes are ridiculous but I assure you, they’re all true . . . trust me.