April 22, 2015 Leave a comment
When I was younger, I would try to get my brother to believe outrageous things. I made a game out of seeing what “fact” I could pass off as real. The idea was to tell him something that was plausible enough to sound legit but ridiculous enough that if believed, he would look dumb and I would look hilarious.
I was able to pull this off thanks to my status as the older brother. It wasn’t a matter of adoration or that he thought I was an implicitly trustworthy dude – some worldly knowledge could be assumed simply because I’d been around longer, and I was able to exploit his tentative faith with comical results.
The first thing I remember trying to get him to believe was the existence of a giant map. But it wasn’t just any giant map – I told him a guy in Arizona had a 1:1 scale map of the world. Essentially, some guy out in the desert had a map that if unfolded would be the exact size of the Earth.
I didn’t include many more details than this. Repeatedly insisting one thing was true was more effective than laying out a lot of evidence for it, as the more info you include, the more info you have to account for. Ironically, years later he would get me a book called What Every Body is Saying, a manual of sorts written by a former FBI agent about how to read body language. The discussion of lying talks about how deceivers will employ prolonged eye contact and exaggerated “thinking” gestures to seem more truthful. My intent was pure even if I committed these errors. It may be sociopathic to lie so deliberately at an early age, but I figure the stories I told were different from real deception – it’s not technically dishonest if in service of a joke.
In any case, the lack of details worked in my favor, and my poor little brother went from refusing to listen to me to believing there was in fact a life-size map.
The next thing I got him to believe was that they were building a bridge to Hawaii.
Later I told him that his favorite train company CSX sold out to a bigger company.
Another strategy I employed was not telling him these things very often. A well-placed story every couple of months was easier to pass off as true. Surprise worked in my favor because an outright lie wouldn’t be expected. Over the course of a few years I also told him:
- that you could have a number with two decimal points (like 1.456.6548)
- that our parents were no longer on speaking terms with some of their closest friends
- that the best way to impress his 9th grade English teacher was to swear at her, because that’s what I did when I was in her class and for some reason she appreciated the boldness and rewarded me instead of punishing me. (He didn’t try it.)
The stories would only go on for few minutes before I couldn’t hold it in any more and I’d crack up with pride about how my genius skunked his gullibility. Or he’d get sick of being strung along and ask my parents if there was any truth to what I was saying. They’d laugh and gently tell him I was an idiot.
To be fair, in most circumstances he wasn’t that aloof. He was always at least 10-25% skeptical of my claims. After a few years of bullshit my trustworthiness was nil and he stopped believing anything I said at all, even if it was something basic, like what we were having for dinner or something funny someone said at school. I ended up having to work just as hard to convince him I was serious as I once did to convince him of something implausible. Now I have to swear up and down how honest I’m being, even about things that wouldn’t ever demand that level of scrutiny.
Much to his credit, however, he has been able to exact his revenge.
Once my family and I were all driving somewhere on vacation. We were talking about animals and my brother told us an interesting fact. “Did you know that a group of flamingos is called a ‘plantikon?’” he asked. “A plantikon of flamingos – like ‘a crash of rhinos’ or ‘a murder of crows’?”
He was interested in animals from an early age. He worked at an open-air nature park at the time and was considering going to vet school. We had no reason to doubt him.
“How interesting,” we all agreed, appreciating this bit of trivia.
He closed his eyes, bit his lip, and looked around at all of us to make sure we fully believed him.
“Yes! YES!” he screamed. “I GOT YOU! ALL OF YOU! AT ONCE!! I totally made that up! A plantikon of flamingos? A plantikon of flamingoes? That’s not even a real word!” He didn’t yell maliciously – it was almost with relief. (There was a healthy – and deserved – amount of gloating too.) He was vindicated. He got me back for years of half-baked factoids and he got my parents back for laughing at my roguish mendacities. His joy was infectious and we all laughed at ourselves.
More recently, he got me again.
He was in Omaha, Nebraska for a couple weeks of job training and sent me a picture of a statue he found when he was out exploring. It was a little girl smiling and running and holding a basket of flowers.
He said the city is basically overrun with statues and explained why he sent me a photo of that one in particular: ‘So apparently in Omaha back in the mid-1800s there is a really famous case: a girl was brutally murdered in public, then roasted and eaten by her crazed family.’ He then quoted the plaque: “This statue is a memorial to that horrifying event.”‘
I asked whether the statue was a memorial to the event or the girl, as I thought it odd that the people who built the statue would inscribe it so ambiguously.
“To the girl. My bad, I was paraphrasing.”
Woah, I said. Weird commemoration. You rarely see a statue that so openly discusses an event like that. I told him as much and even started to type “Glad you made it safe!” when he called me.
“HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!!! Got you! GOT YOU! Yorrrrrre DUMB!” (The ‘you’re dumb’ was drawn out and exuberant, like an umpire relishing the chance to call someone out.) “Of course that girl wasn’t eaten by her family! That statue commemorates the bravery of pioneers. I can’t believe you would think they would make a statue for the cannibalization of a little girl! HAAAAAH!” Again, his laughter and celebration was infectious and I laughed at my own gullibility.
I’ll have to dust off my lying abilities and get him back soon. (Everyone else can trust me though!) I expect this will go on for a long time. In fact, once when my mom was going to the dentist she saw two eighty year-old men walking across the parking lot. One abruptly cut in front of the other and made him stumble. They laughed and the stumbler pushed the guy who cut him off. One of their wives was with them and rolled her eyes. “They’re brothers – it never stops!”