The day I learned to lie:
My parents are divorced. They have been since I was very young, maybe 3 or 4 years old. I lived with my Mom most of the time and was an every other weekend warrior with my Dad. As a consequence of my broken home upbringing, I spent what felt like 50% of my toddler years either in a car or waiting to get in a car. This kind of transient lifestyle affords a youngster like myself plenty of opportunities for deep thought - a real chance to ponder the world’s tough questions and figure stuff out. Or you could fall asleep 5 minutes into every car ride and catch up on some z’s.
Unfortunately, I never was much of a thinker growing up, I was more into experiences:
“What will happen if I leave this pudding pop on the table? It’s only a vanilla one, let’s set it down and see what happens.”
“What will happen if I poop while I’m in the tub? The toilet is filled with water, the tub is filled with water, so this seems like the second best place to do it.”
“Is broken glass sharp? This is followed by the question - why does the juice coming out of my hand not taste like juice?
“Are these Christmas decorations or futuristic space apples? I’m going to bite into one and find out.”
“I wonder what it feels like to sit on my Star Trek bean bag chair naked?”
(It felt perfect, by the way.)
One day, in the car, going to Dad’s house, I had a thought. Really, it may have been my first act of imagination. And it set off a chain reaction of other thoughts: Okay, so if I tell Dad this, then he will be happy, and then I will probably get some cool stuff, including a maybe a dinner at the Seafood Shanty and the opportunity to play “I Spy” followed by picking a toy out of the wishing well in the lobby and probably Dad will be so happy he will let me pick two even though the sign says “only pick one” which I never understood because it was like bottomlessly filled with toys…
And the thoughts just rolled on and on like the boulders coming at me in the third level of my Jungle Hunt video game. Incidentally, this particular day represents Day 1 of my neurosis. Welcome to the show.
As difficult as it was, I broke my deep gaze with myself in the passenger side mirror and decided to share my thoughts with Dad:
“So, I skipped a grade this week.”
This was, and still is, a complete and total fabrication. My first, in fact. I was in first grade at the time. Now, I can’t take credit for birthing that idea on my own - that week someone in my class did skip a grade, it just wasn’t me.
In my mind, it should have been me and I was a bit hurt that it wasn’t. Looking back, I believe it was more of a social promotion - the girl was a giant and her boobies were starting to happen. She was back in like 3 weeks.
“Yup, I’m in second grade now,” I said.
Dad’s eyeballs exploded with joy. And I don’t remember it exactly but I believe we immediately materialized at Toys R Us. The plan was working perfectly.
I was allowed to pick out one thing and as I scoured the aisles I came across what appeared to be the Holy Grail of toys: a hobby model that when put together was actually a transformer - transforming from a jet to a robot. This may sound kind of lame, but in the context of a 6 year old Transformer junkie (you’re a truck, you’re a robot, now you’re a truck again - this is so cool I‘m going to lose my fucking mind!) that enjoyed putting models together it was like getting two toys in one. Actually, since a transformer technically was already two toys in one, this was like three toys in one. In my mind, I was beating the system.
When I say that I enjoyed putting models together, understand that at this stage in life, besides transforming things from a robot into something else, building models was a big part of what me and my Dad did on the weekends. We had model cars, model boats, model planes, and now a model transformer. It was going to be a good weekend.
My other hobbies with Dad included playing backgammon and walks in the woods. Turns out a childhood filled with building models, playing backgammon, and nature walks leads to a very smart but socially inept adult. I would never have predicted that in a million years.
Imagine if I went to an online dating site, posing as a women of course, and listed “building models, playing backgammon, and walks in the woods” as my interests. Think of all the potential serial killers I would attract. I’d be the Jodie Foster of online dating. I should work in law enforcement.
Anyway, the karmic kick in the teeth was that the toy sucked. Maybe we went to the Seafood Shanty, maybe we didn’t - I don’t remember - that’s how disappointing the toy was. But good god, was Dad proud. It was quite the fantasy world I had created - all of a sudden his boy was a prodigy - something he must have suspected all along because he was pretty easily convinced . What father doesn’t want their son to be the next Stephen Hawking minus the physically crippling disease? Well, that was the masterpiece I painted for him, with broad brushstrokes of bullshit all weekend.
But like all things, weekends must come to an end. And like a dumb ass, I had not even begun to consider the repercussions I was about to face as I walked into Mom’s house with Dad. A kid that actually deserved to skip a grade would have seen the snake pit I was about to fall into from a mile away. But I was new to the art of the lie and I was still walking around like a king, head in the clouds, looking for my next castle in the sky.
Then, like a truck load of feces being dumped into the convertible that was my childhood, it all came crashing down around me:
“How about our boy!” Dad said.
There it was. I was half way to my room with my green suitcase when I heard it and instantly it was blood curdlingly obvious that not only did my scheme have a gigantic hole, but that the hole was just ripped open like a stubborn bag of potato chips. Potato chips were every where. How could I be so stupid.
“What about our boy?” Mom said, with a tone that suggested she knew that her suspicions about my moral compass were about to be confirmed.
“Skipping a grade!” Dad replied.
I sat in my room and chewed off my fingers.
“No, he didn’t,” she said
“Are you sure? He said…”
“I think I would have been told by the school if our boy had skipped a grade.”
She had a good point.
Amazingly, I don’t remember much punishment. Mom was probably pleased I pulled one over on Dad and Dad was probably still proud as all heck - no longer proud of my book smarts, but proud of my street smarts. You have to admit - for a first lie, it was a good one.
The day I realized how the toilet works:
Bobo and Nanny lived in Alpha, NJ, and they were my grandparents. Inside their home was a pool table and many family get togethers orbited around that pool table. On this particular day, I will estimate I was between the ages of 4 and 6, there was a sizable gathering of family members at Nanny and Bobo’s house and I was having a great time rolling balls on the pool table. So great is my joy that I am holding in a monster poop as long as possible so that I may continue to roll those balls. It took quite the emergency to pull me away from a solo game of hand billiards and my trip to the bathroom would have to wait.
So I wrap up my game with a sweet come-from-behind victory, reclaiming the world championship from myself, and after many handshakes and congratulatory hugs I head upstairs to drop bombs.
Nan’s bathroom had this countertop with all these different colored boomerang shapes that hypnotized me every time I went in there. I would get lost in all those boomerangs. Just staring deeper and deeper into those magical shapes, wishing that I had hundreds of boomerangs so that I could make the sky look like this countertop, wishing that a boomerang storm would come and rain boomerangs, wishing that I lived in Australia where boomerangs were more common. You know, your typical maddening obsession set off by bathroom décor. I’m not even going to tell you about all the strange faces I saw in my parents down stairs shower curtain.
A knock-knock-knock on the door pulls me out of Boomerangtown and back to reality. It’s my Mom checking on me. Yes, Mom, I’m fine and no I don‘t need any help. Stop staring at the counter top, she says, and come down stairs. I’m working on it, I say.
And work it was. I hop down from the toilet, grab a suitable amount of TP and get to wiping. Satisfied with a reasonably clean backside, I put my shirt back on and bend down to pull up my under-roos and pants. It is at this moment that I realize that we have a problem. Brown town, Hershey highway, call it what you will - bacon strips doesn’t really fit this scenario due to its magnitude. What I have in my underpants is a brown map of the brown capital of a brown state; A topographical map of the Crap Mountains on Planet Poop; Brown rings from the brown trunk of a Brown Oak that is 160 years old. Apparently, somewhere between the second and third overtime period of the hand billiard match, my turtle popped out more than its head, or it has a really long neck.
As difficult as it may be to believe, this was actually a re-occurring problem for me. I knew that if my Mom found another pair of underwear in this kind of condition that I may be back in diapers. These underwear needed to disappear and fast. I took them off and pulled my pants up - my first real experience with the commando style, by the way - while I searched for an answer. The hamper? Under the sink? Under the towel on the towel rack? All of these options seemed only temporary and I needed these undies to be gone for good. And then it hit me - there is only one device that I am aware of that makes things disappear permanently: the Toilet. For all I know, the word ‘toilet’ is French for disappearing machine. So in they went. I pulled the magic lever and watched them swirl around and disappear. Problem solved. Back to the party.
What happened next is a little unclear to me. I’m not sure how much time passed - was it 15 minutes or an hour? But at some point, water began to drip on the pool table and it appeared that some sort of leak had developed upstairs. I did not find this alarming in the least - in fact, I did not even suspect that it could be related to my ordeal. My plan was so fool-proof, I had practically forgotten about it. Then I heard my name. Then I heard my name again. Then my Aunt comes down stairs with a pair of children’s underwear in her hand. How the hell did she get my underwear, I’m thinking. This can’t be good.
Are these your underwear?
Yes, really, those are He-Man and I don’t even like He-Man (a total lie, and I apologized to He-Man a million times in my mind as soon as those words left my mouth).
Well, then whose underwear could it be?
I don’t know.
I was the only child at the party, hence the solo hand billiards, and this fact was quite the smoking gun. Had I known that the toilet was not going to disappear my underwear I would have had time to come up with some sort of logical diversion. I put all my eggs in one basket and the basket was exploding in my face.
Well, then let me see your underwear.
Well, that is a fucked up question to ask a little kid, I thought.
Well, I’m not wearing any today, I said matter of factly.
This response elicited a mixture of shock and laughter from the crowd of adults that had gathered to watch my demise. It was at this point that Mom chimed in, her mental state was a perfect mixture of confusion, rage, and humor (this would become her signature mental state over the next few years). She said:
What do you mean your not wearing any underwear? Who doesn’t wear underwear?
At this point I believe exactly three uncles and one aunt raised their hands. And somehow, I was off the hook. That was the end of it. Apparently any damage done was nothing worth murdering an underpantless child over.
Over the next few years I slowly compiled a list of things that the toilet made disappear and a list of things that the toilet did not make disappear. This was also the first incident of many that has led me to discover a toilet’s true intentions. Modern convenience or not, toilets have an agenda and that agenda is to embarrass me every chance they get. I guess it is only fair, considering all the horrible things I’ve done to them over the years
The day I realized how the mail works:
So I’m in kindergarten and it is the last day of school prior to the Christmas break. Kids have been bringing Christmas cards for our teacher all week and I am so excited because today is the day that the teacher is going to open all the cards and read them to the class. I am also feeling mighty proud of myself because I actually remembered to put a card in my book bag before I left the house that morning. This may have been the first day ever I actually remembered something. I was a very forgetful child: Once I got lost in the mall and when a women asked me my first name I told her it was Webster because I forgot what my real first name was (and because Webster had the coolest house ever with all those secret passages).
So I put my card in the basket on the teacher’s desk, returned to my seat, and tried as hard as I could to keep my shit together. I colored something. Somebody threw up. And finally it was time - everybody over to the reading rug. The teacher is reading cards and I know my card has got to be coming up soon and the excitement is just building up like crazy. I didn’t know if I was gonna sneeze, pee my pants, or smack myself in the head. And then finally, there it was - I could recognize that envelope from a mile away. I lean over to my buddy, maybe he was imaginary, maybe he wasn’t, and I whisper as fast as I could, “thatsmycard!” The teacher looks at the front of the envelope and for a moment, just a moment, she looks confused. In my mind time has stopped and I am screaming to myself, “whydidshemakethatface? whatthefuckiswrongwithmycard?” But then she smiles and says, “It looks like this card is from Justin.” I immediately feel reassured and so proud of myself that I swear for a moment I turned into pure sunshine shining right there on that reading rug.
She opens the envelope, reads the front - “Merry Christmas” (or some holiday nonsense), and shows everyone the picture. She opens the card and continues to read the inside, “and a Happy New Year. (pause) Love Aunt Pat and Uncle Tom.”
The record playing in my head (Kool and the Gang - Celebration”) came to a screeching halt. “Wait, what did she just say? That’s MY card,” I thought to myself. Even my buddy leaned over and asked, “I thought you said that was your card?” And just like a Martin Scorsese film, the events started to play back in slow motion in my mind as Derek and The Dominoes’ “Layla” started to play. I back-tracked through memories I didn’t even know I had until it was all too clear to me - I had brought my teacher a Christmas card that I had received in the mail from my Aunt Pat and Uncle Tom. Kids were bringing cards in all week and I happened to have some cards on my dresser and that morning I said, “why not me,” and I grabbed that card and put it back in it’s envelope and went to school to join in the holiday cheer.
The teacher moved on to next card like nothing had even happened. As the dust settled from the demolition of my self-esteem, I thought to myself, “So that’s how the mail works.” Incidentally, this was also the day I realized that I needed to learn how to read.