When I was very young my parents once went on a trip to San Francisco and after they came home, I was somehow left with the impression that when airplanes took off, giant tongues of flame came down the centre aisle of the plane.
I believed that for a long time. Eventually I realized I must have misunderstood what my father had told me but I was really glad for the experience because I realized that for a while I had totally believed something that was not true. The realization was an epiphany for me; I realized that someone else in such a similar state of being misinformed could passionately lie to me without intending to or even knowing what they were doing so.
In 1968 I was nineteen I was invited to visit my faux aunt, Mary Armson in New York City. Before I left, her brother and mother invited me to dinner to prep me for my stay. I was thrilled to be going to what I called Armson Manor—it as though it had been decorated by Liberace.
Jimmy, Mary’s brother, was a friend of Jane Mansfield. We all knew that. Ms. Mansfield, an actress in every sense of the word, fit perfectly with the Liberace décor. She and her paramours would come to stay at Armson Manor to escape Hollywood. Through Jimmy, we learned the famous blonde owner of two enormous breasts, pink shag carpets and a heart-shaped bed was also a classically trained and accomplished violinist.
At the dinner, Jimmy told a story about Ms. Mansfield that was hilarious. I took in every detail and over the next forty years I told many people. It was a good party joke—the best part being that it was true. I had convincing provenance.
About five years ago, I read the exact same Mansfield joke/story online. There was no “this is a true story” introduction; it was presented simply as a joke. So: Is it true? Did Jimmy tell a joke at dinner pretending it was a true story? Or has a true story become a joke.
Jimmy certainly told a lot of people that story. So did I. And so did, probably, many other people whom Jimmy told. What’s true?
All my life, I have had heroes. I love having them. I have often spoken of them on this blog. And all my life, I have sometimes written to a hero whose address I could find. And nearly always, they have written back.
Ana author whom I really admire is Simon Winchester and I once decided to write to him after reading The Map That Changed the World. In searching for his contact information online, I came across and ad for an apartment he was seeking to rent in Naples so when I finally found a way to reach him, I emailed him or his agent and eventually I heard back from him.
We entered into a brief email conversation and in my last email, parenthetically, I asked him if he had found a place to rent in Naples and this apparently triggered him. For some reason, that comment made him concerned I was a stalker so he wrote to a person at the Vancouver Writers and Readers Festival (VWRF).
It was at a VWRF event that I had heard him speak and it was something he had said at the event that had me write to him. So in a conversation with someone at the Festival office, I am my emails came up. I know this because the VWRF person called me to tell me because we know each other.
The point of all this is that I told a truncated version of this story at a party recently thereby provoking a friend, Karen, to call me a liar in her private conversation with another friend in what she thought was a private conversation. It really irritated me. The experience has led to a chill in my feelings for Karen. And tonight I am to see her again for the first time since telling the story.
There is no truth but there is faith.