Tall Tales

I've always had a naughty side. No, not like naughty bits (well, yeah, but I'm trying to keep this a family page), but puckish, or mischievous. For all that, there've only been three lies I've told my wife:

  1. About a year after we were married, SWMBO and I were on a trip and I happened to catch sight of an orange, silver, and white trailer up ahead. I don't know what came over me, but I started telling her about this famous rich guy, Ulysses Hall. I went on and on about his wealth, his philanthropy, his life in general, and as we closed in on the traffic ahead, I mentioned that he had made his money by inventing the concept of renting trailers. About that time she spied the U-Haul and put two and two together. Get it? Ulysses Hall? U. Hall? U-Haul. We had quite a chuckle over that.

  2. Some time later, I got another inspiration and started to tell her about this famous actor, Martin Landau (from Mission Impossible, which was popular at the time) who had invented the Landau roof (which was a popular design feature on cars at the time). He had actually trained as a designer, I told her, and when he was able to patent the roof design, he sold it to the automotive companies and became wealthy. He took up acting as a hobby. Well, she didn't quite buy that, but apparently she did hold it against me.

  3. On another trip, I started talking about the famous Mein family in Germany (now I know that all the German speakers are going to insist that it's pronounced mine. But in A-muhr-i-kuh we pronounce it main and the story doesn't work if we don't). They were wealthy industrialists, and the Rhine-Mein airport (in Frankfurt?) is named after the family. They got their money from developing municipal water transport systems...water meins, which we've anglicized to water mains. They were doing just fine with plumbing and aviation when they decided to get into the Chinese food business*. That was too much for her. She vowed never to believe another word I said.

Well, the challenge then became finding outlandish sounding true things to tell her, so she would completely dismiss my story until I would wave proof under her nose and ask, “why don't you believe me?” To which she would reply, “Ulysses Hall, Landau roof…” It was never necessary to invoke the Mein family.

The absolute best (and one of the earliest) was when I told her about the flounder. I mentioned that when a flounder is first hatched it swims upright like any normal fish and has its eyes on either side of its head. When it matures, it begins swimming on its side, and, are you ready for this? one of its eyes migrates over to the other side if its head. Were you convinced? She wasn't either, until I showed it to her in a fish book. You can look it up.

The part that makes this a family story is the trip we made to Florida, probably in 1974. As we got onto the Florida Turnpike, I asked her if she knew how turnpikes got their name. Of course she didn't. I said to her, “back in the old days…&rdquo and went on to tell about farmers doing modest improvements on roads through their property such as grading and laying down logs to make a hardier surface. To recoup their expenses, they were permitted to collect tolls, and they gated the roadway with a long log or pike hinged to a post on the side of the road and extending over it to block passage. When a toll was collected, the pike was turned, hence turnpike.

As you may suspect, she didn't buy it; the well still poisoned from the Hall, Landau, Mein trilogy. So, when we arrived in Hollywood, I asked my father to tell her how a turnpike got its name and he said, “back in the old days…&rdquo and proceeded to relate a virtually identical version of what I had told her. She protested that we must have colluded in this story and that she didn't trust us as we were both cut from the same bolt.

She would ask my mother, whom she did trust, when she got home. My mother arrived about 20 minutes later, and after all the greetings had been completed, SWMBO asked her, “Mom, where did a turnpike get its name?”

Furrowing her brow and massaging her chin, my mother (a high school librarian, incidentally, and no lightweight historian in her own right) gathered her recollections and began, “well, back in the old days…”

“Mom!” SWMBO cried. She felt betrayed, but despite her suspicions about my father and me, she knew that my mother was giving straight dope and that was the devil of it. It must be true, after all. Oh, by the way, you can look it up.

28 years later I still can't get past “Ulysses Hall, Landau roof…” whenever I tell a story, even though there have now been dozens, perhaps hundreds, which I have proved were true. I guess it just goes to show you—never lie to your wife.

*Chow Mein. Did I have to spell it out?

Last updated: 27 January 2009

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