Thursday, March 3, 2016

Pants on Fire

"Man, I just can't believe it."

The words came from the guy sitting next to me in study hall.  They were punctuated with a heavy theatrical sigh. Let's call the speaker Steve.

I sat there trying to focus on whatever I brought to study hall, but Steve wouldn't let up. He now complimented his heavy sighs with some dramatic head shaking.

I knew Steve would keep this up until I made some sort of comment, so I waded in.

" OK?"

"Yeah...I guess. Sigh. I've got this girlfriend up in New York. Last week she was murdered by some drug dealers. Luckily, my uncle lives up there and he's got a bunch of friends from 'Nam who have all sorts of killer weapons. They know the cops can't do anything, so they're gonna take 'em down. I'm supposed to go up there for the funeral and meet them and blahblahblah..."

I had seen that Charles Bronson movie on TV last night as well, but let Steve keep whispering the plot, spiced in with declarations of his fighting and weapon abilities while I haphazardly went about my work. These stories had been going on for a while, and while I didn't really encourage them, they were fascinating just for their sheer audacity. He was taking a chance that I hadn't seen the movie he was plagiarizing as well as banking on the fact that I wouldn't call him out on any of his fantastical tales.

Which I didn't, so I guess the guy knew his audience.

It's funny - people feel compelled to share their secrets with me all the time. I've had countless conversations that start with "I'm really not supposed to tell anyone this..." or end with "I guess I really shouldn't have told you that."  It still happens, and I'm not really sure why. Maybe because I can be counted on to keep a secret unless it makes a really funny story. Maybe I have a trusting face?

But Steve's tales were something else. I was awed at the sheer audacity of them, if not their originality. They were generally blatant rewrites of whatever action movie had struck his fancy lately, interspersed with digressions on Steve's fighting skills.

I fancied myself an experienced liar, but my lies were utilized to get out of trouble or used as an occasional spice to liven up a story. I have completely grown out of such childish antics and would like to remind readers that all stories I post are run through a battery of fact-checkers, which explains why I'm down to like one story a month now.

But back to Steve. His penchant for stealing storylines was emblematic of a bigger problem. He was also highly susceptible to '80s media. At one point he became obsessed with the hit TV show Miami Vice, like a lot of people at the time. Unlike most people, he took it a bit farther and started dressing like a high school version of Don Johnson.

Of course, a lot of other people probably did that. What they didn't do, however, was go undercover.

Apparently there were a few convenience stores that would sell booze to underage kids. Steve would go into them dressed like a mini Don Johnson, buy some beer, then call the cops. Or maybe he was wearing a wire already, who knows.

I didn't really drink in high school, and honestly thought that the kids hanging out in parking lots getting drunk every weekend lacked imagination, but even I considered this a Benedict Arnold-like strike against the kids.

That was the last I heard of Steve. After we had both successfully completed study hall I didn't see him anymore, which was fine with me. It took a lot of psychic energy to act halfway interested in recycled action movie plots every day.

Occasionally I'd think about the guy, wondering if he had picked a new persona or had finally gotten comfortable enough with himself that he didn't have to do stuff like that anymore. Adolescence is a time to put on different guises and characters, and although most kids didn't take it to the extremes Steve did, we were all in the process of figuring out who our real selves were.

Then I'd forget about the guy, harnessing my mindpower to decipher the lyrics to punk rock songs, where the best skate spots were, or the best way to get my money's worth at the Wendy's buffet.

Years later I was working at a film developing place in the mall and I see Steve saunter up. He was a mall security guard, or possibly had bought a really good replica uniform from the same place he bought his Don Johnson getup from.

He didn't recognize me, and I didn't say anything to him. Actually, I couldn't even if I wanted to, since he was telling my co-worker some story about trying out for the Pittsburgh Pirates, who had spring training in Bradenton. After he left, I told my co-worker, "Hey, uh, I know that guy, and he makes up a lot of stuff."

"Oh, that's just Steve," she said.