The Breakfast Table

Juggernauts of Mendacity

Well, you’ve brilliantly cut through layer upon layer of deceit and self-deception on my part by divining that I was trying to use you to get to Catherine Zeta-Jones. God, I’m so ashamed. I really had myself believing that I had no ulterior motives, that I was liking you not for your connections but for yourself–the kind of self that has those kinds of connections. Even though the only women men generally like less than those who don’t understand them are those who do, I am herewith going to transcend the limits of my gender and say that, having started out this whole breakfast thing in my pathetic version of guile–all that disingenuous blather about feeling awkward–I want, this morning, to sit down and have breakfast with you. At last. I apologize, and I hope it’s not too late in the week to start over.

It is so interesting to me that you have taken the thread of honesty out of our conversation to this point and untangled it and put it down on the table before us for further conversation. In this very magazine, today, there is a terrific piece by William Saletan about Clinton’s incapacity to (speaking of apologies) apologize honestly and plainly for our bombing the Chinese Embassy in Belgrade a few days back–for seeking refuge from the moral ordnance so rightly aimed at him and us for this accident in equivocation, platitudes, rationalization. (At one point, Mr. Saletan, who evidently also had Mrs. Giles or someone like her for eighth-grade English, astutely points out that Clinton has even ducked into the alley of the passive voice in his efforts to avoid full responsibility: “The Chinese Embassy was inadvertently damaged,” he said.)

Unlike most modern wondits (cross between a wonk and a pundit; what do you get when you cross a penis and a potato? a dictator), I don’t think the inability to own up and fess up is at all new or even worse than it has ever been before. The truth has always been extremely hard to deliver and equally hard to swallow. That’s why there are writers and artists–in various ways and at various levels, creative people administer to us doses of truth, even if they have to disguise it, like your friend with the orange juice and the antidepressant. (You’re right; that’s very bad.)

So, down to the specifics: The keys caper hurt no one, helped everyone, and provided you with some words for this column. What could be bad about that? Should you have told him? Well, you just did. It’s up to him how to respond. At least you didn’t say, “The keys were taken and then were sent back to him.” Stationery: Stationery has occasionally and inadvertently been taken and has been used in the house that is lived in by me. But the glue on the envelopes is no good–it’s hardly as though the material that was carried from here to there was of any real value. That’s what Clinton would have said. I’m saying it this way because, well, you know what they say–I mean, is said–about office e-mail. If I were having a real breakfast with you, I would probably break down into sobs of contrition at this point. I don’t think it’s right.

The thing about lying is that like murders, most lies go undetected. People–not only men but people–do get away with lying all the time. They just don’t care. Even when it’s pointed out to them, they roll forward, juggernauts of mendacity and temerity. This seems to me more and more astonishing with every day that goes by, and I’ve come to think that the past, which is the part of time most often violated by lies, really is in some horribly radical way ultimately truth-proof. I try not to lie myself but occasionally I fail. And do you not even tell the social white lies that most of us traffic in–the risotto is so delicious; your baby is so cute; the lecture was so fascinating?