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Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Boy Who Cried, "Bet Me!"

This is a work of fiction. Names, characters, businesses, places, events and incidents are either the products of the author’s imagination or used in a fictitious manner. Any resemblance to actual persons, living or dead, or actual events is purely coincidental.

There's this kid I once knew; he became a man, and I realize now that I never really knew him at all. Mick G. Dilatory has some kind of mental disorder. Pathological liar? Anyway, he lies all the time. The worst part of it all though, is that whether he's telling you the truth or a lie he sounds just the same. You can't tell whether he's lying by looking for telltale clues. He's already studied all that stuff. He knows all the tricks and has schooled himself ruthlessly to never, ever, give himself away. To give you an illustration of how infuriating this is, I remember one time Mick called me about nine o'clock in the morning to tell me that a plane had just crashed into the World Trade Center. I knew he was full of shit as usual and told him so, and then he said, "Holy crap another plane just hit the other tower!" At that point the story had passed far beyond the bounds of possibility and had grown absurd. So I said, "Now I know you're full of shit!" And he said "Bet me!"

"Bet me!" has always been Mick's bluff. No matter how ridiculous his story, when challenged he will always cry, "Bet me!" If he's telling the truth he will offer some figure between twenty to perhaps as much as a hundred bucks for the wager. And he will do the exact same thing if he's lying. In all the years I've known him he's lied constantly and he's never paid off a single bet, ever! Mick would often say that the bet didn't count because we never shook on the bet or even more often he'll turn the bet completely around and claim the exact opposite of his lie was actually what he was betting on and that it is I who in fact owes him the money.

In the boy who cries "wolf" stories, the distrust everyone has for the liar always backfires on the liar when he finds himself in real trouble and really does need help. The moral of the story is always: once you've lost the trust of those who know and care about you, you can probably never get it back. So don't lie! Mick didn't care. In his own mind he's partitioned truth and reality and just like in the book 1984 by George Orwell, Mick has mastered the ability to Doublethink.
The power of holding two contradictory beliefs in one's mind simultaneously, and accepting both of them... To tell deliberate lies while genuinely believing in them, to forget any fact that has become inconvenient, and then, when it becomes necessary again, to draw it back from oblivion for just as long as it is needed, to deny the existence of objective reality and all the while to take account of the reality which one denies – all this is indispensably necessary. Even in using the word doublethink it is necessary to exercise doublethink. For by using the word one admits that one is tampering with reality; by a fresh act of doublethink one erases this knowledge; and so on indefinitely, with the lie always one leap ahead of the truth
It all happened one year ago, today. Mick had placed a couple of folded sheets of paper on my desk. On the back it said: "Jack, Please read and suggest improvements, thanks, Mick." On the first page at the top, he'd typed the words: "A short, short story by Mick G. Dilatory." The story was about this ex-Marine who was shot in Afghanistan and paralyzed from the waist down. It was powerfully written, gritty and fascinating. It was also tragic enough to bring tears to my eyes. I realized at once that Mickey boy hadn't written this story. As usual, for no reason at all, little Mickey had decided to spin out another lie. So, I decided that this time I was really going to get him good! This time he would finally learn his lesson!

If only I could take it all back now. I'm sorry. I have to take a break for a minute. I can't see the screen.





Okay, what happened was that the short story Mick told me he had written, was actually written by an ex-Marine named Michael, and Michael really was paralyzed from the waist down. It had been a true story, a heartbreaking tragic and true story. It was a story not just about Michael, but also about the men he served with and their reactions to Michael's horrible injury as he was medevac'd out.

I found all this out by Googling a few sample phrases. What do you know, right there on Reddit was the almost word for word text of the story, along with a video made by the author attesting to its veracity with pictures and even the bullet. Mick the dirty rotten liar wasn't just a liar, he had stolen the valor and the true words of a genuine Purple Heart wearing United States Marine, and trivialized them by claiming he'd written a short story. What a scumbag! I thought. So I contacted Michael through Reddit and together Michael and I conspired to bring the wolf to Mick's door.

Now, the rest of this story isn't so much about Mick, although he's the victim in the end, it's more about dropping a snowball from the top of a mountain and expecting anything but real tragedy to happen. This snowball was tossed by calling Michael. Well, let's just stay it snowballed.

Ex-Marine Michael was a member of a wounded warrior association, so he contacted them through their proprietary message board. He soon got a phone call. Sgt. Thomas Vincent offered to put a real scare into our little liar-liar-pants-on-fire. "Tommy," as he styles himself, caught a C-130 Hercules jumpseat out of Quantico, and arrived in Memphis Tennessee just a day later. I met him at the airport and together we plotted little Mickey's big lesson in humility.

The day before Tommy's arrival, Mick had called me to ask if I'd read his story. I told him I'd been swamped and hadn't had a chance yet. As I dropped Tommy off at a local steakhouse I phoned Mick to let him know that I'd read his story and I invited him out to lunch to talk about it. I could tell right away that Mick was really thrown off by my behavior. The script wasn't going as he'd no doubt rehearsed. I was supposed to have read it right away; instead, I had ignored it for a full day. I was supposed to have immediately Googled it to quickly discover that someone else had written it. Then I was supposed to have immediately called him to accuse him of his low-down dirty-rotten lying ways. Then Mick would have said, "Bet Me!" However, instead of accusing him of plagiarism I had offered to buy him lunch. Let's just say his hinky-meter was in the red.

I was waiting inside when Mick arrived. Tommy was in an adjacent booth dressed in civilian clothing, sitting within listening distance. After the waitress took Mick's order and mine, I started round-about trying to get Mick to start talking about his story, but he was being cagey. "What story?" he asked. I didn't bother addressing that asinine question and instead engaged him in shop talk and trivia. After we got our steaks and began eating, I casually offered an aside about his short story. In the original version of the story, ex-Marine Michael had either mistakenly—or perhaps intentionally—misspelled the word carotid by referring to his "corroded artery." in Mick's plagiarized version he had corrected that, so I said, "You misspelled carotid. You wrote corroded when you meant to write carotid."

"I don't know what you're talking about," says Mick. He can't help it; lying is as natural to him as breathing.

"Then why are we here?" I asked.

"You said you were going to buy me lunch. I'm here for lunch. Why are you here?" replied Mick suavely and insouciantly with an infuriating little smirk on his face. So I gave him back some of his own medicine. "No, you said you were going to buy me lunch!" I told him. It really gives Mick a thrill when somebody lies back at him. A genuine grin appeared on Mick's face as he shot back at me, "well, since you offered to buy I didn't bring any money." And I said: "But since it was actually you who offered to pay for lunch I didn't bring any money, either."

It was at this point when Sgt. Vincent intruded. He stood up and stepped over to our table and then sat down next to Mick, kind of pushing him over in the seat. "Who's this?" Mick asked me?

"This is Sgt. Vincent. He's a good friend of a wounded vet, name of Michael."

"Nice to meet you. Now get out of my seat Sgt. Vincent," ordered Mick in a snide and disdainful voice.

It was at this point that Tommy let Mickey have it, but good! In full Marine drill-sergeant style, he dressed Mickey up and dressed him down. The entire time this 50 decibel rant was going on, Mick kept his smug supercilious grin plastered on his face. Once Sgt. Vincent finally wound down, that old liar Mickey had succeeded in convincing himself—using Doublethink—that it was in fact he who'd been wronged. Here I'd offered to buy lunch for him, and instead of paying for his steak, I'd ambushed him with some lunatic straight out of Full Metal Jacket. The fury at this grievous injustice enveloped Mickey's face and he roared back, "I don't know what you're talking about!"

At this point, Mick pulled the lapel of his jacket aside and displayed his heretofore concealed semi-automatic pistol. "I don't know who you are, but if you want trouble you're sitting next to it. NOW GET OUT OF MY SEAT!" He roared.

Have you ever heard that old conundrum about the irresistible force meeting the immovable object? Well it was exactly like that. Sgt. Vincent got up from the seat, threw a twenty on his own table and turned back to Mick. "I'll be seeing you again, real soon, but you, well ... let's just say that you'll never see me again."

Mickey has a special van that brings him to the office now. He can still work from his desk but he doesn't need his executive bathroom key anymore. As for Sgt. Thomas Vincent? Well it turns out he's got an iron clad alibi. At the moment of the shooting, he was with his wife eating dinner at the Globe and Laurel restaurant about a mile from MCB Quantico.

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