SLACKJAW by JIM KNIPFEL
August 12, 2007

Lies, Lies, Lies

 

Grinch had offered no warning, no heads-up, no opportunity for me to prepare myself—and believe me, this could’ve used a lot of preparation. Last time I heard from him, in fact, had been just a few days earlier, when we were cracking wise about the bridge collapse. He didn’t mention anything else at the time, no “oh, and by the way,” nothing.

      It was a little after one on Monday afternoon. I was sitting at the computer, working on some crap and listening to Skynrd, when the phone rang. I untangled myself from the computer and headed for the kitchen.

      I didn’t recognize the woman’s voice on the answering machine. She sounded like a telemarketer. But she knew my name, and then she mentioned Grinch. That’s when I decided to pick up, figuring he needed bail money or something.

      “Hello?”

      “Mr. Nipfel?”

      “Close enough.”

      I was reaching for a cigarette when she told me she was calling because Grinch had put me down as a character reference on his application for some job.

      Now, I’ve been writing about Grinch for years. Some people think I made him up. Others can’t believe we’re still friends—or that he’s still alive. But let me just confirm that he’s as real as they come, we’re still good friends, and he’s still very much alive. But why in the fuck would he would put me down as a reference? When we hung out together, we mostly stole things, broke things, vandalized banks and government buildings, set the occasional fire and terrorized innocent civilians for no good reason. These aren’t exactly the kinds of things a potential employer wants to hear—unless of course the employer in question is Cody Jarrett or Little Caesar.

      Still, though, here I was on the phone—what could I do? It wouldn’t look good for him if I shrieked and hung up.

      “I’d like to ask you a few questions about him,” the woman said.

      “Ummm . . . okay?” I replied. I could already feel myself start to sweat. I would not do well on a polygraph test, I’ll tell you that.

      “How long have you known him?”

      That was an easy one. “Oh,” I said, “I guess I met him, oh, back in 1983, ‘84. So it’s over twenty years ago now.”

      “Fine . . . And how would you describe your relationship?”

      I stopped myself from saying “partners in crime,” and instead just said “Ummm . . . ”

      “Was it personal or business or both?”

      “Well—we were in a band together once. One night we got paid twelve bucks. Does that count?”

      “So it’s personal.”

      “Sure.”

      “Okay . . . ” She was clearly someone’s flunky, reading the questions off a sheet. “How would you say people perceive his personality in general.”

      Don’t say “sociopathic” don’t say “sociopathic” don’t say . . .

      “Ummm . . . ahh . . . ”

      Don’t say “evil genius” don’t say “evil genius” don’t say . . .

      “Well, um, he’s without question one of the most frighteningly intelligent people I’ve ever known . . . ”

      Don’t mention methamphetamine don’t mention . . .

      “ . . . And he’s certainly got lots of energy, ummm . . .“

      “Okay, that’s fine.” I was very happy she couldn’t see my eyes darting around the room in cold terror. This was bad.

      “And how would you describe his business sense?”

      That was an easy one. An easy one to duck, anyway, to avoid saying anything about thievery.

      “Well, to be honest ma’am, given that I have absolutely no business sense myself, I find it hard to judge other people’s. But I can say that he’s always seemed to do pretty well for himself . . . and his family.”

      Yeah “family.” That’s good. People like hearing about families. Evil sociopaths don’t have families. That’ll throw her off.

      “Do you know if he’s ever been in litigation or filed for bankruptcy?”

      I had to stop to stop for a second to figure out exactly what she was asking.

      As long as she’s not asking about an arrest record, it’s cool.

      “Bankruptcy? Oh, certainly not, no.”

      Whew.

      “And do you know if he’s ever been arrested for a crime?”

      Dammit!

      “Oh. Ummm . . . .oh . . . Crime?”

      There was no choice here. I couldn’t tell her about the weapons charges, the multiple busts for disorderly conduct, or all of those things we should’ve been arrested for, but weren’t. I had to lie.

      Hell, what’s the big deal? She didn’t make me swear that I was going to tell the truth. There’s no perjury in a personal reference.

      “Ahh, no? No, certainly not. Heavens no, nothing like that. Not him.”

      “Okay good. Does he participate in any dangerous hobbies or activities, such as aviation?”

      Better not mention the random fistfights, the soccer hooliganism, or the old Harley. Man, how we ever survived some of those rides . . .

      “Aviation? No. Apart from, you know, taking commercial flights, I mean.” I forced a weak chuckle.

      “Sure. Okay, just a couple more . . . Has he ever been known to drink to excess or use non-prescription drugs?”

      Oh Jesus Christ. Where to begin? Grinch used to start each day with a snoot full of speed washed back with a half pint of Wild Turkey. There was coke, pot, acid, PCP, Benzedrine, mescaline—the list went on and on. He was tripping during his college graduation ceremony. When we didn’t live in the same city, we’d mail narcotics to each other.

      No matter how much I was sweating and stammering, it was clearly time to put the Big Lie Machine into overdrive.

      “Drinking? Oh . . . no, not to excess,” I said. “I mean, he was in the wine industry for many years, so of course he had to, you know, drink some of it. But you know what those fancy wine people are like—they always spit it out. Once when he was visiting, he took me to a fancy restaurant and even spit the wine out there, if you can believe it. I mean, I’m sure he had to swallow some of it sometime, but never anything, you know, crazy.”          

      “Okay,” she said brightly. “That should do it. I thank you very much for your time.”

      “Sure,” I said.

      I hung up the phone and immediately shot Grinch an email chastising him for not warning me.

      Then, quietly, two hours later, the idea began snaking into my brain that the whole damn thing had been a practical joke. I’ve given references for plenty of people in the past—none of whom, admittedly, required such flagrant, bald-faced lying on my part. Still, never before had I been asked about arrest records, drug use, or “dangerous activities.” That’s just nutty.

      I finally decided that it had to have been a prank call. If I was right about that, it was a very good one. If I was wrong, however, it was a very sad commentary on what today’s business world is like.

 

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