I got in trouble for the first time when I lied about getting on the Dean’s List. The job, that job, the one I had, almost had at that time and indeed would have in a very short time and for a very short time, seemed so important at the time. And so, during the interview I let something slip out, just a sideways mention of it as an off-off-handed comment, just a non-important tossing of a salad. Eyebrows raised. I blushed like a school secretary with too much cleavage. None of this made the difference as to whether or not I got hired.
Here’s where I get to use the word “fortnight,” because it’s such a beautiful arcane expression remaining in our lexicon that the casual mention of it, sideways, off-off-handedly or in any other way, calls enough attention to itself, itself that to point out its use removes pretense. Some would call this an apology.
A fortnight to the minute after the interview I was back in the HR manager’s office, this time my supervisor, the person who actually hired me, joined us. Wow, thought I. Promotion time already.
“We’ve been looking at your work since you started here,” said HR. “It’s all very, very impressive. Even better than we expected.”
“And that’s saying something,” added my supervisor. She looked as though this was a familiar situation, but still a little uncomfortable.
I’d only been managing editor for two weeks, yes, a fortnight, and couldn’t quite grasp why they’d called this meeting.
“Your background-check, all your references, everything you’d included on your written application, on your resume, all of that checked out,” said HR.
“Duh!” My sarcastic lilt stepped on her last couple of words, the unspoken thought bubble over my head urging HR to get on with whatever was the business.
“You were never on the Dean’s List.” My supervisor did the favor.
“No. I wasn’t.”
“But you said you were.”
“No, I didn’t.” All moisture in my mouth, gone. “Why would I have thed that?”
“People say all kinds of things when they’re desperate for a job,” said HR.
“Tho what? I wathn’t dethperit. I’m not dethperit.”
“But we did a little more checking,” HR explained. “Your by-line has appeared in some… colorful publications. Maybe to your credit. But you’ve been the subject of a few serious journalistic investigations.”
I was a kid on a tricycle. The mention of that part of my life, there, then in that office, just the three of us–was a galactic battleship squeezing out of a random space-time porthole from the booboo on my knee, obliterating all matter of lesser density within a twenty-one point three seven two mile radius. I was crushed. A joyful kid on a tricycle trying to remember how to tie my shoes, then, that knee started looking kind of funny. All that kid’s organic remains got split and re-split again and again, because that is right where that kid happened to be as a carbon-based life-form in the perfect position to infinitely split like no other kid’s flesh and bones had been split before. Yep. It it me hard.
“We found some unedited footage of you French kissing Oprah in the greenroom of the Tonight Show with Jay Leno.” My supervisor paused. “Footage. Do we still call it footage these days?”
“Oh, you’re asking me because I’m the editor?”
“Not anymore,” said HR.
HR pointed to the big flat video screen on the wall. There I was, before the facelift and tummy tuck, chewing on Oprah’s mouth like a dog with a rag. The stuff I used to do to get an interview! Or was she trying to get an interview with me. It was so long ago.
“What do you have to say for yourself?”
“That’s not me.”
“Of course it is.”
“No. I don’t know who that is. I think the other person is Oprah. But you can do all kinds of things with a laptop these days. Heck, some kid could have done that.”
“So you deny it?”
“What’s to deny? It’s stupid!”
The two personnel seemed far more relaxed than the moments leading up to this. And my saliva had returned. I reached in my jacket’s inside pocket and pulled out a flimsy crushed papery box, silver-tipped slices opened like cards in my hand.
“You want some gum?”
“And we found these still photographs, or rather they were sent to us.” A binder full of eight-and-a-half-by-eleven black-and-white glossies, about as thick as a National Geographic, opened for my inspection. “Along with a not-so-garbled audio cassette tape, conveniently transcribed by whomever wanted us to know about…”
“Hey, get real, come on,” I hadn’t been desperate before, but I’m glad I found the gum when I did. “You can’t trust any of this kind of…”
The thing is, I knew they had me. It was me in the photos.
Those were potent, heady occasions. Me and Ron Howard being taken to task by a still-lucid and always energetic Andy Griffith, about how he shoulda been in The White House instead of that Arkansas playboy, even though the economy had done a lot better than anybody thought it would, and we better look into this thing called the Internet because AOL ain’t worth the butt-end of a bent up shotgun. And by the way, did we know that President George Bush had boy who was governor of Texas and another one in Florida? Golly! Gentlemen I think we missed the five-o:clock special on this ‘un. All the while samplin’ dayglo orange “snuff,” some big-haired doll pulled out of her purse. “Lawdy, lawdy, lawdy.”
“No, that’s definitely not me.” I was laughing by then, really feeling like I saw it right then and there for the first time. Did I mention those days were so long ago? The memories dim and irrelevant to any real-world event of the moment, fresh again, like yesterday.
“But that’s not all!” HR fanned out the photos to reveal a life I thought private, between me and God, images I wouldn’t see again until the big replay on judgement day. Nudes of me, a long-haired teenager, rolling naked on the floor with a beautiful blond woman, much older, but desirable even for an inexperienced youth. Oh, that was a turn I never should have taken.
“So, who is she? Zsa Zsa?”
“E-” I let it slip. “Eva.” I let it slip. And then I began laughing, sincerely snorting with the sharp inhale of each burst. ”You’ve got to be kidding! This is all a joke! Why have you gone to all this trouble? Who has done all of this!”
But I knew it was me in the photographs. The only proof they had was what they had before them. Photo after photo were presented for my scrutiny. For my shame. For my admission of, what, guilt? What had I done? Lived a life, is all. Told some lies. The truth no one would ever believe had I told them, had I shared with anyone my, let’s say, highly experimental explorations of youth. Well, stories were all they would have been. No truth in the telling even if truthfully told. And so, why change history? I continued to deny every situation. Even as every forgotten adventure was shown to me, every memory rekindled, every scent, every texture of every surface of every event, each relived as the long dormant chemical pathways in my aging grey matter retreaded, just as real to me as a memory, and so even more treasured than the actual.
“No, that wasn’t me. That isn’t me.”
“And this one. Here.”
“I have no idea. This is starting to get old, don’t you think?”
Truth be told, as never I would, I was enjoying myself. And they could probably sense it. Oh, I wish I could have thanked them. But no. It wasn’t to be.
As for the blond. It wasn’t Zsa Zsa or her twin sister Eva. I almost let it slip as I promised her I would never do. For, in her bottle we lived our secret lives as two in the garden of her name. On the set. After hours. Without the lights. When no one was around. Barbara winked and her wish was my command. That bottle was far more ornate on the inside, the velvet settee of a far deeper red. I had forgotten. And now, again, I dream.