The Nation's Pulse

Telling Stories

When the lies should stop.

By 4.4.08

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When I was a teenager, my mother belonged to a ladies' auxiliary for the Tyrone Guthrie Theater in Minneapolis. She hosted these august ladies at a coffee one afternoon, and I helped out.

Mom had put out all her finery, including a heavy silver coffeepot with a long spout. The first time I took a turn trying to pour from it, there wasn't much coffee in it. I tipped and tipped and finally some coffee dribbled out -- right into a woman's lap.

Well, one mistake, no problem. Next time around, the coffeepot was full. I tipped just a bit, and a long stream of coffee poured out, overshooting the target cup, and hitting a woman's lap once again.

I was dismissed from service.

I TOLD THIS story for years. Thing is, it was not true, not in any part, not in any detail. (My mother had no such coffeepot, a long-spouted pot does not behave in such a way, etc.)

For much of my life, I had an entire repertory of stories about myself, all of them false. Certain cues would prompt me to pull out one of my stories and tell it again. It used to be a burden to keep them all straight and to remember when and where I had said what.

The coffee klatch tale, trivial as it is, is the only one of these stories I can now remember. I lost them shortly after the summer of 1983, when I got sober, and when I accepted, in a number of ways, that the jig was up.

I thought I would always remember my repertoire. I willingly gave up telling those stories, but I expected (I guess) that I would always recall them in some rue and embarrassment.

But no. They went away, vanished, blanked out. I vaguely recall that some had to do with artistic exploits or sexual adventures, but, beyond that, I couldn't tell you what they were.

MY WHOPPERS came to mind in the past weeks, of course, because of Hillary Clinton's corkscrewing into Tuzla under sniper fire.

Someone in the commentariat, while raking Hillary over the coals, recalled Bill Richardson's reminiscence about being drafted by a major league baseball team in his youth -- also a falsehood. Yet another pundit brought up Bill Clinton's "remembering" fires in black churches in his boyhood.

Come right down to it, Barack Obama seems to have invented an entire adolescence, adopting second-hand the angst and anger of people like Malcolm X and Franz Fanon. Edward Said made up his oppressed childhood. Rigoberta Minchu likewise.

WE HUMAN BEINGS have an appetite for fable. Children tell tall tales. Nigerian princes peddle stories of long-lost fortunes and scam money from the unsuspecting on the Internet. I couldn't begin to fathom why.

But at some point, most of us grow out of the need to tell stories. Some people apparently never do.

What am I trying to say here? Mrs. Clinton, I understand. I know how it feels. But isn't it a whole lot better to drop your stories on your own, before somebody else exposes you and makes you look so foolish?

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About the Author

Lawrence Henry writes every week from North Andover, Massachusetts.