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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Friday, September 07, 2007

Who are you?

I am sure we have all wanted to be someone else, or something else. I think it's natural. The whole other-side-of-the-fence thing, you know?

This story is a little weird though. It's both messed up and sad. If you're not inclined to click the link, the story is about an 83-year-old Florida man who died recently. His obituary listed the guy as having been a Major League Baseball player in his younger days. For more than two decades he told that story to his third wife, his friends and neighbors, his in-laws. And everyone believed him, 'cause when he was younger there had been a pro baseballer that shared this guy's first and last name. Their ages were different. But whenever anyone brought that up he always explained it away by saying he'd lied about his age when he was younger. So this guy died last .. and the real ball player, who is alive and well in Texas, was contacted about his supposed death. And the lie was exposed.

So my question is how do you get so caught up in your fantasy that you actually start telling people you really did live it? I feel for this guy's family. They believed the hype. In a twisted way I feel for him, but....

I don't know. When I was seven or eight, I wanted to be a teenager. But it never occurred to me to go around telling people I was already a teen. When I was a teen I wanted to be 20-something. I also wanted to be a Lothario. OK, I did lie about that sometimes back in the day. At one point in high school I wanted to be a pilot, a federal agent, and an attorney, in that order. Later in college the federal agent thing came up again. But as a general rule it never occurred to me to just start telling folks that I was any one of those things. I say as a general rule, because between the ages of 16 and 20 I'm pretty sure I regularly lied to girls and young women about who/what I was. Seriously, I considered each lie an investment that might possibly "earn" me a laundry list of good things, ranging from a peek, to a squeeze, to a kiss, to something more. So, at various points in that five year window I was an underwear model, a Kung Fu master, a trust fund baby (whose nicer car was in the shop), a dark-skinned Native American (don't ask why; it was a "trendy" thing to lie/brag about in the early '90s), a graduate assistant instructor, and a foreign exchange student (from the West Indies).

Anyway, I got sidetracked. My point is I really seriously want to know if there has ever been anything you wanted to be badly enough that you were willing to incorporate it into your biography?

Again, if I'm the only person who lied to get romance as a younger person, so be it. But that stuff ended when my common sense finally started to gel in my early 20s.

Would you BS your family, friends, co-workers neighbors about your background? Hopefully you wouldn't. But if your answer is yes, I gotta know why.

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  • I don't have the brain power to create and then remember all sorts of complicated details about a ficitional life...I can't imagine how you keep that up all your life.

    By Anonymous ruby, at 11:26 PM  

  • That poor man had a bad case of Walter Mitty-itis. I think that one lie led to another, and he simply painted himself into a corner from which he could not extricate himself without undoing a story that had become his identity.

    When I was in my teens, I lived in Miami and often told people that I was Tahitian. I had a great tan and even a fairly decent French accent until I met a Frenchman whose fluency in his native language clearly surpassed my high school French II skills.

    Why did I do this? Through art, literature, and anthropology, I had devoured everything available on the South Pacific. I felt that I was not special enough and desperately wanted to be exotic.

    After that, I was a Native American for awhile. I don't do any of this anymore as I have quite enough trouble just being me.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 2:56 AM  

  • LOL! Where I live now - grew up here too - it's way too small an area to tell tales about myself cause everyone here generally knows most everyone else and all their business as well. So, it would very quickly be exposed as a big old fat lie. Although, every now and again, some fool around here will try to embellish his/her life a tad but it generally is received for what it is, a stretch of a vivid imagination for the most part.

    By Blogger Jeni, at 10:17 AM  

  • I feel it's likely that it didn't start out as a lie. It started out as "Hey, that guy has the same name as me!" Lots of jokes with friends and family about "being the great ballplayer," but they all know it's in fun; "Hey, Bill; I got my kid "your" card today!"
    Then his family dies (I don't know details about that; all at once or over time, it's still tragic).
    He moves to a new neighborhood. Someone finds the old baseball cards collected as a joke, and he tells is girlfriend, "yah, that's from my ball playin' days." It's become a rote response in a long-standing family joke. Only she doesn't know it's a joke, and by the time he realizes that she doesn't know it's only a joke, the joke's on him; she's told her friends and neighbors she's landed a ballplayer. New neighbors treat him with the respect we save for our heroes, local kids look at him in awe, and suddenly he realizes that he can't reveal that a mistake has been made without his new life collapsing. So now the joke becomes a lie, and the lies pile up.
    I kinda feel sorry for the guy; always wondering when someone who knew the REAL ballplayer would show up, or the real guy would make the news.

    By Blogger C.L. Jahn, at 11:27 AM  

  • No B. S. from me - there's so much I DON'T know about my background, that I'm mysterious and cool enough to impress my friends by being me.

    By Blogger Tiggerlane, at 4:08 PM  

  • OK, so a pilot, a federal agent, and an attorney walk into a bar ...

    No, wait! An underwear model, a Kung Fu master, and a trust fund baby stroll into a New York deli ...

    Seriously, I lied to my friends about having lost my virginity, when in fact I hadn't, for the usual "guy" reasons. Other than that I've found that HITBP. (That is, if honesty is indeed a "policy.")

    By Blogger The Sarcasticynic, at 4:37 PM  

  • Well. I dont have an answer for you from my own experience. I have told little lies that really in the long run have had no benefit, other than sounding cool at the time.

    But I meet and know people all the time who live in some sort of fantasy world on a regular basis. The woman who does my hair, for example, is a pathological liar. Her whole life is made up. She is one of those people that if you have a disease, then she has it but worse. If you have been somewhere, she has been there more. She just has to be the bigger, better, whatever. I can't explain it, I just know that anything she tells me I take with a grain of salt - a REALLY BIG grain of salt!

    I don't think I need to tell a lie quite that enormous to feel good about myself. I have the weirdest and best job in the world and I have saved lives. Why lie? My life is so bizarre (in a really good way) who'd believe it anyway?

    By Blogger Aislínge, at 5:08 PM  

  • I am an only child and when I was younger I told the other kids at school that I had brothers and sisters. I was soon found out though. I've never been at good telling lies.

    By Blogger GrizzBabe, at 5:47 PM  

  • Growing up in a super small town there was NO way I could lie about myself, because, unfortunately, all my business was everyone else's common knowledge.

    I have lied to strangers though - particularly drunk in bars (during my early 20's). I told some guy, who was hitting on me, that I was from Canada and my plane was leaving in the morning. I hope I never saw him again. (I'd be too embarrassed to have been caught in that lie)

    By Anonymous Karmyn R, at 12:37 PM  

  • does my weight count - on my drivers license?

    By Blogger Pamela, at 3:21 AM  

  • I have to say, I have to agree with Tyler Durdin.
    "You're not your job. You're not how much money you have in the bank. You're not the car you drive. You're not the contents of your wallet. You're not your fucking khakis. You're the all-singing, all-dancing crap of the world."

    We need to be less who our posessions say we are. No, not in a communist/socialist worldview, but in a way that lets us connect as person to person. So I can know James Burnette as an erudite, decent man, and not as anything society would paint him as.

    By Anonymous og, at 12:16 PM  

  • ...a dark-skinned Native American (don't ask why; it was a "trendy" thing to lie/brag about in the early '90s)

    This was one I did. I played up my minimal Native American connection. To be fair, my maternal grandmother was full-blooded NA but didn't grow up on a reservation, had no meaningful knowledge of her ancestors and was an avowed Republican who owned a business.

    ...and I don't know why I tried to play that up either. I guess being plain ol' white just seemed so tame. Or something.

    By Blogger Queen of Dysfunction, at 11:13 PM  

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