punkwalrus (punkwalrus) wrote,

The moral of the story is the facts are immaterial

I saw "Big Fish" today.

Sometimes, people have lives which seem larger than life. I know, I have met many of them. In some cases, I have pulled a "shenanigans" on them, only to look like a fool later when it turns out their claim is true. I haven't met many pathological liars in my experience, and half I thought were PL at first were just people who had interesting lives. I know I have an issue with lying and liars, and part of that comes from the fear of embarrassment that I'll look like a total fool in believing them. That has a root childhood cause that came from an old friend, Ben Standford.

Ben was a great guy. I don't regret being friends with him. I was a friend of his for about 3 years in grammar school, and we stopped being friends when he moved away (it happens... especially around here). Ben told me he was a karate master. He told me all kinds of stuff about karate, the moves he knew, and I was impressed. I was honored that a karate master was my friend.

Along comes Page. Page was one of those Irish Catholic kids with rough and ready parents who had lived through a war, and come out the other side thinking iron discipline was the only key to success as well as basic survival. Page's brother's name was Ike, named after President Eisenhower, who before was a famous general in WWII. I was never in their home, but I can imagine it was decorated with model ships and planes, American flags, and Japanese souvenirs; I'd seen a few homes in McLean decorated in this manner. Page was... insecure. A LOT of the Irish Catholics in our area were like Page; bullies, cowards, angry, repressed, and heavy drinkers at an early age. Future frat party material. Page was also a bit fat, something that was rather uncommon in McLean, as I knew all too well when I was fat from age 12-14.

Page decided one day that he hated me because I was "gay." In the 1970s, the word "gay" replaced the word "sissy," and as far as I know, didn't actually mean homosexuality in the hardcore, anal-sex way. It just meant generally unmanly in an extreme derogatory sense. Profanity was only used in the rarest of situations, and often was so shocking, it could quiet a whole schoolyard. The word "gay" was as close as a kid could come to "shit-eating fuckface" without getting sent home early with a note and several scheduled meetings with the principal for the next month.

One day, Page threatened me to a fight. I never learned to fight. I knew I would lose, pure and simple. I often avoided fights fairly well, because I bowed my head and gave the submissive posture with skill and tact honed by my own dealing with my father. Of course, it didn't always work. Sometimes a bully was just angry. Maybe puberty was confusing him, or he had rejection issues at home. While most bullies postured and fluffed their feathers in typical playground dominance display, Page wanted a fight. He didn't want to win for dominance sake, he wanted to hurt me. Badly.

Page said he knew karate, but I felt he was more show than substance. I knew back then you could always tell who wasn't a real karate student in the playground because of two very distinct things. First, they used really stupid moves they saw on some karate show on TV... there was this one where you hand looks like a cobra and you snap at your victim with your fingers like a striking snake. Maybe this is related to a real deep kung fu discipline I am not aware of, but it's doubtful a 10-year old would master such a move. Second, and this was very crucial, real karate students never actually fought. They certainly didn't instigate fights, but even when attacked, they often ran. Why? because they were told to by their teacher. They didn't want the reputation they were teaching kids how to bully.

Page cornered me near the back of the playground, where a wooden wall was placed for the proposes of PE exercises where you'd run, leap, and scale a small 6 foot wall. Page did this for a good reason, we were out of sight of one of the many teachers who guarded the playground.

So I pulled out my wildcard. Ben. I felt safe, and a little overly confident that Page wasn't going to pull any of his crap with another karate guy around, a REAL karate guy. Or so I thought.

This is when Ben suddenly admitted he didn't know karate, and it was "just a joke." My stomach sank to my knees when Ben sheepishly admitted, with his head down to the ground, and his hands in his pockets, that all the talk for the last year about his awards and such were... made up.

So Page beat the crap out of me. I don't recall everything he did, but two of his friends held me against the wall while Page taunted me and then punched me in me in the stomach. Then Page grabbed me, flipped me over his shoulder, where my back smacked into the small wall, and my head hit the gravel below. Then he left me there. Ben had also slinked away.

Page DID get in trouble. When we got to class, the teacher noticed I "looked odd," and when she asked if I was okay, I burst into tears. Not my proudest moment, and I must admit, I did that a lot as a kid. I was, as they said back then, a "crybaby." I was sent to the clinic, cleaned up, and I was allowed to lie on a bed in the dark until I stopped crying and felt better. Page was sent home. Not only that, but apparently he DID take karate classes, and had to apologize to his dojo, who apparently either threw him out or Page stopped taking the classes out of embarrassment. Page was badly shaken by this intervention, and never bothered me again.

Ben and I remained friends, although the moment of "You... you LIED to me?!" still echoes from my youth to my adult self, where I have, to this day, always been nervous around liars. My parents lied, too, constantly, and coupled with this, I swore upon my solemn oath I would never lie when I got out of the hell that was my childhood, based on the mistaken belief that "adults don't lie."


So I see this film, and understand the frustration of this protagonist. He's so angry that his father makes up these stories, and that he gets all this attention. You, the viewer, and lead to believe that most of these stories did happen, at least to some degree. I won't give away the ending to those who have not seen it, but I think most people can guess that this really isn't a film about a pathological liar.

Sometimes I have been "called" on my life. I forget sometimes that not everyone assumes we're all on the same level. I don't consider anything I have ever done or said that makes me any better than another human. But a few times, here and there, someone else thinks I am this way. They think I make up stuff about my life because, in some way, it glorifies me. Some of the stuff that has happened to me is pretty fantastic, which is why sometimes I have to explain things in greater detail, to make people connect and realize that my experiences are no more special than anyone else's.

For example, I met my wife at a science fiction convention. She was working for a witch who sold dragons that fit around your neck, and I was there because I was being set up with a date for another girl who was the main desk receptionist at the AT&T building in NYC. Sounds vaguely odd, doesn't it? So I often try and tone it down for non fandom:

Christine and I met in Baltimore. She was working in traveling sales, and I was meeting another girl on a blind date. We met at a media convention, where she was peddling her company's accessories, and I was waiting to meet my blind date, who was late coming in from out of town.

Of course, if they ask for more details, I do tell them the truth, but I have to over-explain things:

Well, it was at a science fiction convention in Baltimore. Companies that sell science fiction movies, books, and comics have these things all over the US several times a year. Christine was working for a woman who sold crafts out of her home, and had a booth at this convention that sold stuffed toy dragons that went around your neck. Some people like to dress up, you know? Like Halloween. Anyway, I had been set up on a blind date with some friends of friends of mine with a girl from New York City named Marylin. Marylin had this really stressful job where she ran the main lobby desk at the AT&T building in New York and wanted a weekend off, as far from New York City as possible. Trouble was, she was running late. Christine's boss was an old friend of mine, and I was trying to see her as well, because when I last saw her, she had offered me a job, and I declined, and though she might have had some bad feelings about it. She didn't, and introduced me to this pretty young lady from her home town named Christine.

A few years ago, I had an epiphany when some group of people not only accused me of making my whole life up, but denied any proof I had to the contrary. I went nuts, busting my balls to prove I had a wife, a son, written and published a book, as well as did a lot of work at sci-fi cons. Hell, I even took photos while I was on stage, as well as showed them pictures people had taken of me. The reply? "Funny what you can do with Photoshop these days..." Asshats. But it taught me that some people will never believe, even when proof is right in front of them. My dad should have been proof enough of that.

Over time, I have learned that everyone has their story. Sometimes it may not be the factual one if a video tape was replayed of the event. Timing might have been off, some text may have been edited out, or even whole scenes reshot. I have been humbled when I have seen my own past writings that have contradicted what I was saying now (which is one good reason to have this blog, to keep the facts straight, and to curtail memory drift). I have stopped getting angry at other people, who may have seen the same thing I did, start to tell a different story. The mind can soften the edges, and sometimes the only reason one tells of an experience is they are trying to share a lesson. It may not matter who fell off the pier first, the lesson is to watch how far you lean back on a pier. It probably doesn't matter who was or against the decision to hit the hornet's nest with a bat, the lesson was what happens afterwards.

Literal thinkers like me want the straight facts. But truth is so relative, and when a moment in time passes, it fades until it is almost invisible, and only the lesson remains.

This entry was originally posted at http://www.punkwalrus.com/blog/archives/00000542.html
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