Saturday, July 6, 2013

Liar, Liar, Pants on Fire

I recently read Ellen Degeneres’ book Seriously… I’m Kidding. In one chapter, she wrote about the lies we all tell. An example she used: you’re on your way out the door to work when you notice a stain on your shirt. You’re too lazy to change, so you tell everyone it happened on the way to the office.

While we all tell white lies, retirees tell more of them. Our lives are a petri dish of little lies. We also lie for different reasons than when we were younger. Young people are prone to one type of lie: the Get Out of Trouble one. It begins with “the dog ate my homework” and progresses to “we ran out of gas.” (Remember what you were doing when you told that one?)

I’ve identified six types of lies that older folks tell. These do not include Get Out of Trouble, though at least one senior lie resembles that youthful one.

The first senior lie is the Embarrassment/Matter of Pride lie. Your daughter phones to check if you took your medicine that morning. “Of course I did,” you reply, indignantly, on your way to fetch the day-of-week dosage container that has not yet been opened today. Although this resembles the youthful Get Out of Trouble, it’s not fear of getting into trouble that’s behind it. It’s the embarrassment of having to admit you once again forgot.

The second type is the Ignorance/Forgetfulness lie. The senior shuttle bus can take you to the local market every Tuesday at 10 am. Your neighbor asks why she didn’t see you on it last week. “I didn’t need to go to the market. I have everything I need,” say you-of-the-empty-cupboard.

This is not the same as simply lying about something you forgot. With the medication example, you lied knowingly when confronted. The second type is done in complete innocence. You didn’t know about the shuttle, or you forgot you ever knew. Rather than admit that, you fabricate a lie to divert the conversation elsewhere.

Type three becomes increasingly common as we age: the Convenience lie.
Normally, I don’t park in restricted areas, but lately I find it harder to resist convenience. The other day, I pulled into a “No Standing” zone in front of the bank so my husband could use the ATM. His knees are creaky and he uses a cane if he’s going a considerable distance, but he’s fine for shorter walks.

As he was leaving the car without his cane, I asked him to take it with him. “That way, if anyone says something to me about parking here, I’ll tell them it’s because my husband is an invalid.” I could hear Ellen Degeneres chastising me: “Liar, Liar, pants on fire!” I guess my husband couldn’t hear her, because he dutifully took his cane and pretended to hobble up the steps to the bank.

The fourth variation is Delaying Tactics. This buys time while you try to figure out (or remember) what’s being asked of you. Women commonly use this by rooting through their purses, mumbling, “Hang on. It’s in here somewhere.” We’re actually buying time while we try to remember where we put whatever is supposedly in our purse.

Type five is Deflected Blame, which is sometimes a companion to Get Out of Trouble or Embarrassment. I’ve blamed my cats for “scratches” and “claw marks” on my limbs and torso when my GP asks how I got them. I might have stabbed myself with a knife or scissors, but blaming the felines keeps him from lecturing me about my carelessness. Besides, it could have been the cats. Who knows?

This reminds me of one of my favorite movie scenes. It’s from “10,” where Dudley Moore is visiting the pastor to get information on the Bo Derek character. The housekeeper noisily passes gas as she bends over to set the serving tray on the coffee table and the dog races out of the room. The pastor explains: “Whenever Mrs. Kissel breaks wind, we beat the dog.”

The sixth and final senior lie is Keep In Practice, which is just what it sounds like. Even with plenty of occasions to employ the other five types, it’s a good idea to have a few of this last one in your hip pocket, just in case. “My doctor said that’s not a good idea.” (Be careful to never specify which doctor.) “I’m trying to de-clutter, so I packed it away in the attic (or donated it to Good Will.)” “Yes, I know you told me that, but I didn’t realize you were serious.”

If you think you’re immune from telling any of these senior lies, feel free to proclaim your innocence. Chances are, no one will believe you anyway.

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