You only lie when you’re afraid

The detective told me I really had him fooled.

When the caper came down I worked on the school newspaper as both photo editor and critic-at-large at a small college in Southwest Minnesota.

Whatever you have heard about Minnesota winters is a lie. They are much worse. Weeks of sub-zero weather are typical. There was only wind between my college and the Arctic Circle. It was always a race to get to my destination before freezing to death.

The college was built subterranean to save heating costs. As an unanticipated side effect of this strategy, a bunker mentality creeps into everyone’s psyche and keeps company with the cabin fever.

If you have never heard the phrase, ‘nothing to do but drink and brood,’ you have never been to Minnesota in winter. Closely following the low temperatures were the six weeks of leaden grey skies. April showers may bring May flowers but March was known as suicide month. It paid to stay busy.

Being a college student, I tended to keep odd and long hours. I was at the editorial office at almost any time. I might come out of the photography dark room and not know if it was a.m. or p.m. in this windowless, subterranean world.

Every few weeks I needed to get out of town. Friday, I would bundle up and hitchhike to Minneapolis. I usually made it in three or four hours.

I got back Sunday night. Monday morning I heard that the French instructor’s purse was stolen from her office down the hall from the newspaper.

I got a call from the police asking what I knew about the robbery. I only knew what I had heard, but offered my assistance. They asked me to come in for an “interview”. I was never part of a police investigation before. This would be interesting.

I was offered a chair and introduced to two officers and a detective. They offered me coffee. They were nice guys. I told them what I knew. Nothing.

I felt the camaraderie evaporate into something more interrogatory. The detective asked my location when the robbery occurred. “I visited friends in Minneapolis over the weekend.”

They watched me in silence. I was just a hippy to them.

“Wait a minute. You think I did it?” The room had cooled. I was perspiring. I asked for an attorney.

Later, the detective told me, “That was when I knew we had you. Why ask for a lawyer if you haven’t done anything wrong?”

The lawyer advised me to submit to a polygraph test. “It’s not admissible in court, but if you pass, they probably won’t charge you.”

I spent the two hour drive to Sioux Falls, South Dakota, for the polygraph test, staring out the window. There was nothing to look at. There was less to say.

The polygraph operator was all business. He attached a series of electrodes to me while I examined the list of questions he provided. He assured me those were the only questions he would ask and the test’s accuracy depended on my answering them as truthfully as possible. Okay.

The list was pretty mundane; name, address, nothing ambiguous, no trick questions. This would be easy.

He asked me each question in turn and would jot a notation after each answer. Then he asked me, “Were you alone during the robbery?” This wasn’t on the list. It was jarring. My adrenaline surged. “Wait, that wasn’t…” Was this all a trick?

The tester apologized for the “mistake”. He returned to the list. A few minutes later he announced, “This man is no more guilty than I am.”

The tester didn’t make a mistake. He threw in the curve ball question to determine if I was gaming the test. My unself-conscious reaction proved the results were genuine. I thanked him.

The detective was casual on the return trip. He said I broke all his expectations. “Everyone lies. They start out with a good story and then, at some point, they need to change it. We catch them in the lie. But you told the truth from the outset. I’ve never seen that before.”

It was ironic that I should have “fooled” them by telling the truth. He said everyone lies. I wasn’t trying to fool him.

The courts are held to a presumption of innocence.  But in practice, everyone’s biases effect which facts are noted. Telling the truth forces them to note all the facts, not just those convenient to their cause.

Or, as that philosopher, John Gotti said, “I never lie because I don’t fear anyone. You only lie when you’re afraid.”

What’s in a name, Jack?

Hello everyone. My name is John. That’s John with a ‘J,’ an ‘O,’ an ‘H’ and ending with a single ‘N.’

Not Jack. Not Jeff. Not Charles, not Chet. Not Jim. Not Ben. Not Alan.

Why the snit about my name?

For most of my life people have had the hardest time with my name. It is a tough name, John.

I will introduce myself at a party, or a business meeting and the most outlandish names come back at me. I don’t have a strange accent, or a speech impediment. It is others who have this odd myopia of the ear when it comes to my name.

I used to not even like the name John. Its association with toilets and the clients of prostitutes made me wish my parents had considered more carefully before labeling me with ‘John.’ Now it is the hill for which I am ever fighting.

My family was not big on nick names. Only my grandmother could get away with calling me ‘Johnny.’ Friends of my parents also had a son named John. I was known to them as ‘Little John.’ I loved that.

My least favorite, of course, was the over familiar ‘Jack.’ There was a Jack in my second grade class who, even at that tender age, was someone not to be taken seriously. A good time Charlie, if you will. I removed myself from that name as far as possible.

Again, there were the dubious associations with the name ‘Jack’ that I wanted no part of: ‘jack of all trades,’ ‘jack around,’ ‘jack off,’ ‘jack shit,’ ‘you don’t know jack,’ ‘jackass,’ and my favorite, ‘all work and no pay makes no jack at all.’

Ever hear of Jack the Ripper?

Then there was that fool with the bean stalk.

The only, lonely counterpoint to all that negativity is the personification of cool, Jack, the spokesman for Jack-in-the-box hamburgers.

Jack Daniels, Jack Skellington, and Jack Sparrow each transcend their ‘jackness.’ No one thinks of any of them as merely ‘Jack.’ Nor should they.

When Jack Kennedy was president, he was also just one of the guys. Really? I didn’t buy it.

I met a guy in (fill in blank). I offered my hand. “Hi, I’m John.”




“Actually, it’s John.”


“My name is John.”

“Good to meet you Jack.” We did not become friends.

Wearying of the struggle, I now offer baristas an alias, rather than say my name and then watch them write almost anything down on the cup meant for me.

I told my wife about this inability of others to ‘hear’ my name correctly. She thought it was an absurd joke (and it is), until she witnessed it happen more than once. You can guess her pet name for me.

At my daughter’s graduation, my ex-wife heard her call me Jack.  She asked, “Why do you call him Jack?” You should have seen the smile light up my ex’s face when my wife told her “because he hates it.”

UPS delivered a package to our door the other day. My mother, the woman who named me, sent me a box of books for no particular reason, ‘just because.’ What a nice surprise! The name to whom it was addressed?


Is That All There Is?

Attempting to ease the pain of my second divorce, I joked that the divorce court is a great place to hang out to meet single women. Oh, you could meet women alright. But consider your timing and purpose in meeting them.

There might be worse places than that to meet single women, like in a women’s studies class. Such classes contain many attractive and accomplished females, but again, consider timing and purpose.

I remember when I was on campus after a mid-term. I had pulled an all-nighter studying.  Sitting outside, alone, I tried to clear the brain fog while recovering from the test. I needed a dose of strong coffee.

Suddenly, I felt a sharp pain as someone smacked me up the back of my head. I turned to see a young woman covering her mouth in shock. She apologized, saying she mistook me for a friend of hers. For his sake, I said I hoped she didn’t find him. A vague recollection of local feminists staging a “Women’s Strike” that day, came to mind.

So that was what the ‘women’s strike’ was about? In grade school, such behavior would be seen as proof the aggressor had a crush on the victim. This didn’t feel like a crush, more like a smack. Once past the clumsy introduction, she was pretty nice. I didn’t ask for her number.

The summer before my senior year in high school I worked on a resort on a lake up north. Late in the season, a family of four rented one of our cabins for a week. The couple had teenagers, a girl and a boy about my age. The girl was bored, and having just graduated, was mortified at being stuck in nowhere, with her parents no less.

Sensitive to her plight, I offered her a diversion besides gin rummy with the folks. The activities available were pretty modest. Our remote location and my work schedule limited us to watching the sunset while sitting on the boat dock and playing pool in the lodge. It rained one day and there was a double rainbow. She wasn’t interested in fishing.

Although we shared a mutual attraction, a romance was not our destiny. She lived in another city. Even with letters, phone calls, and occasional visits, long distance relationships wither on a diet of hope. Life intervenes. We became “just friends.”

Years later, my brother Jeff lent me his pickup truck over Easter break. It was a tough semester and I needed to hit the road. On a whim, I thought I’d surprise my friend at her college in Illinois. I didn’t even know if she would be there.

The trip was dreamlike. Fog blanketed three or four states. Old snow covered dormant corn fields. Towns loomed out of the grey and then were gone. I drove dreary two lane highways on a quest for what? I did not know. I had no expectations but to put miles behind me.

“Killing Me Softly” played constantly on the radio, but the theme of the trip became Peggy Lee’s “Is That all there Is?”

I looked her up and she was happy to see me. We talked over a beer. Our conversation devolved into a silly circular debate, crystallizing around the word “patriarchy”. She asserted that fathers raise their daughters to be submissive to men. I thought that mothers raised the boys who became fathers. It was textbook to her, yin and yang to me. Two people reconnecting became verbal jousting. And so it goes.

Someone put Peggy’s song on the juke box and I could only laugh. Had they heard our conversation? It was time to go.

I expected to sleep in the truck but she and her boyfriend graciously lent me a cot in their attic. She offered me a pillow and apologized for not sleeping with me, because… the boyfriend. Yes, the boyfriend (and that pesky patriarchy).

The cot was sufficient. I slept well. I left the next morning.

Disconnection from reality (not always mine), became the obvious pattern in all my relationships (prior to my current marriage). How does suspending the laws of physics add savor to a steak? I always presumed that observable reality was the base line from which two people moved forward in agreement. What is gained by debating the color of the sky, yet again? Was the egg accountable for producing a chicken?

Things are worth fighting for. But love cannot endure unceasing opposition. People too readily fight for the garnish while losing sight of the entree. Life is too short to always be fighting.

Decades pass. Old arguments and the participants lose importance.

I found the one with whom I can see clearly and share love. What we struggle for, we struggle for as one. What else can one want?