Of all of my children, you were always my favorite. Just don't tell the others.
That's what my grandfather told my mother on his deathbed. Years later, she and her four siblings came to the realization he had said the very same thing to each one of them. For years, each of them was upheld by the happy, misbegotten secret of their father's fondest affection. He was just trying to put everyone in good cheer, that's all. What an awfully nice man.
Like my grandfather, I lie my butt off in the name of generosity. Which is why, a few days before Christmas, I drove up a hillside to a neighbor I had never met before, knocked on the door and announced I was having "an oil funnel emergency."
This wildly untrue phrase "oil funnel emergency" slipped through my lips as easy as an involuntarily exhale. If I had been truthful in this instance, no one would have benefited because I would have said:
"Hello. Sorry to disturb you during breakfast. I live down the way a bit, and I've been led to believe that several months ago you correctly pegged a friend of mine as being the owner of an oil funnel. You saw his garage. You saw all his stuff, and it came about that you borrowed his funnel. It was nice of him to lend it to you. We can agree to that. But here's the thing: You never returned it, and now he's miffed and swears he'll never ever come to the aid of a stranger again.
"I'm not accusing anyone of theft. I'm merely here to inquire whether you might consider allowing me to transport the funnel down this hillside so I may return it to its owner and bring closure to this affair."
As you can imagine, truth, as a course of action, would have been confusing in this instance. Maybe even confrontational. Maybe even cause for a 911 call. So instead, I said: "I know this is a weird question, but I'm having a bit of an oil funnel emergency. Do you happen to have an oil funnel I can borrow?"
I was met with a pause. One of those "pregnant" pauses you read about. A pause so pregnant I feared octuplets. I cannot say what sort of data processing I had set into motion in his mind. Whether a memory was jogged. Or a jig was up. Or he had no idea he had a funnel that belonged to someone else. And anyway I wasn't there to judge. I was there to collect a funnel, and it was an emergency.
Thankfully, in its simplicity, the term "oil funnel emergency" requires — no, it insists upon — no explanation. When you say "oil funnel emergency," what you can expect are results.
My neighbor strapped footwear to stockinged feet, wrestled on a winter coat and set about foraging for a funnel while I stood by the breakfast table with a family I didn't know who probably were wondering what sort of a person gets himself caught in an oil funnel emergency.
But wouldn't you know it: Moments later I had an oil funnel in my hands.
"Here you go," he said. "Keep it"
"Great meeting you," he said. "Good luck with your funnel emergency. I hope everything is okay. Let me know if I can help. And merry Christmas."
I then went home, sheathed the funnel in bubble wrap, gift-wrapped it and had my friend's wife place it under their Christmas tree. Santa couldn't have done any better. I had declared a state of oil funnel emergency. It could have gone wrong. There could have been panic. Instead, I brought peace to my fair village. And no one got hurt. Doggone it, the world needs its George Baileys.
Funny, though. As word has spread in our circle of friends about my act of heroism, questions have been raised. Uncomfortable questions. Like "Wait a minute. It's a cheap, plastic, dirty-old $4.99 oil funnel. What possessed you?" And "Who comes up with a phrase like 'oil funnel emergency?'" And "If you lied about oil funnel emergencies, what else do you lie about? Did you really read Ulysses from beginning to end?"
I've gone through it all in my head, and still I come to the same conclusion. My friend got his funnel back, and he understands now that people take these matters seriously. And I've made a new friend: A neighbor who believes he's done a good deed — given a funnel to a guy afflicted by an oil funnel emergency. What an awfully nice man.
Gifted liars like me, and like my grandfather, give society's circulatory systems a fighting chance to flow hassle-free. I should be teaching a college course on this. Thank me later.