Friday, December 10, 2010

Steve Strong: The Most Interesting Man in the World

The key to telling good lies is to believe them yourself. They say if you can do that, you can pass a lie detector test. But fooling actual humans who are quickly raising red flags of uncertainly, and who are, in fact, starting to question your integrity - well, that takes a different kind of talent altogether.

The key to telling the biggest whoppers – and getting the masses to actually believe them – requires a special gift of detail. The stories must be sold in such a convincing manner that the hearer feels stupid for questioning any part of them. These crazy tales of pure malarkey need to be told with such conviction and in-your-face detail that the listener will decide to back down mentally before challenging the yarn.

How do I know this? Because I have had the fascinating opportunity for over 22 years, of watching up close, the world’s biggest chronic liar: my ex-brother-in-law Brad.

Let me say up front that Brad is a guy whose life story is quite compelling in its own right. Most people would look at how diverse his life has been, and think, “Why would he need to lie?”

Brad stands six foot seven inches tall and every inch of that frame has been filled with diversity of circumstance. He was hit by a car when he was in high school. He nearly severed a finger in shop class. He served a mission for the Mormon Church. He is a meth addict. He’s been married and divorced three times and has four children he has no contact with. He has hepatitis C; he’s been incarcerated twice in the infamous Maricopa County Jail in Phoenix; and his weight shifts from 180 LBS to over 400 LBS depending on his latest drug of choice.

When I first met Brad he had just finished High School. He was riding in my car and he was telling this tale about a little beater of a car he was driving once when the steering wheel came off in his hands and his car hit a tree. When I started to doubt the story, he made me drive to the tree and showed me the scars on it.

When I got married, he was told to take the wedding announcement to the newspaper office so they could publish it. When the notice didn’t appear after many weeks, we questioned him and asked if he really delivered the notice there. He said for sure he had delivered it, and gave this long story about how the receptionist was on the phone when he got there and how she motioned for him to drop it in her In-Basket.

He tried to recall her name, but couldn’t. But he described her as being cute and in her mid-twenties. A year later, after he had moved away from home, we found the notice folded up and shoved in the glove box of his old car.

So, if you’re looking for pointers on how to lie effectively, note how Brad worked in the case of the wedding notice. Great detail here. Even going so far as to admit he couldn’t remember the woman’s name. Very impressive.

When Brad was 19 he was living in Colorado. I was working and going to school in Utah at the time. A friend of Brad’s from Colorado was visiting Utah and looked me up and upon meeting this man for the first time he greeted me with these words, “How does it feel to be the brother-in-law of the youngest winner of the Talladega 400?”

Wow. How do you reply to that? I know for a fact that the closest Brad came to a NASCAR race was watching “The Dukes of Hazzard.”

Once he was working for a water delivery company in Fresno and I met up with one of his fellow employees and was making small talk with the guy when he said, “Do I know Brad? Sure! He’s told me tons of stories about his days playing for the New York Jets. He even showed me a better way of attacking off the line of scrimmage!”

Well, that would be Brad: Lots of added detail to the lies so they sound more convincing. I know Brad once spent some time talking with Mark Gastineau at a gym in Phoenix, so I suppose that gave him his material to cook up the whopper about playing professional football. He didn’t even play high school football himself.

One of my last conversations with him was when I heard him trying to explain to his parents why he had $700 in his wallet even though he was unemployed. He told them he had “found an ESPN camera” and sold it for the cash. His folks smiled and were impressed with his ingenuity.

But after putting up with his lies for so many years, I couldn’t listen to this last one. So, in front of his folks, I asked him what the camera looked like. He described it as being a shoulder mounted unit with a big sticker on the side that said ESPN. I asked him who he sold it to, and he described in great detail how he first offered to return it to ESPN, but when he called them, the ESPN employee on the phone didn’t seem concerned about the thing and told Brad to just keep it. So then Brad supposedly pawned it.

I tried to act all interested like his parents and asked Brad how he got the phone number for ESPN. Did he look them up in the phone book? He said he used the internet. I said, “What computer did you use? You don’t have one at home.”

That’s when he shot me the murderous look and told me to shut up.

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