Randy Fitzgerald's column from the April-May issue.
I see online that on the fourth of April (and I have no explanation for it) we’ll all be celebrating Tell-a-Lie Day.
If that means it’s Tell-A-White-Lie Day, I can probably get up for it, though in my case it’s hard to call in sick when you’re already retired. If it’s Don’t-Tell-the-Truth Day, that’s OK, too, since it will stop me from informing you that those popular flowery purses are triple ugly. If it’s Tell-a-Tall-Tale Day, that has a nice literary ring and you can count me in.
GARFUNKEL, THE QUEEN AND THAT DURN PEPSI TRUCK
Over the 26 years I’ve been writing columns locally, I’ve often been asked, “Do all those things you write about really happen to you? Have you really spoken with the queen of England? Have you actually sung ‘Row, Row, Row Your Boat’ with Art Garfunkel? Did you once meet Willie Nelson in a parking lot? Did you truly lose a Pepsi-Cola truck you were driving on a summer job? Did you once sit across the table from a man who murdered four people? Is the world’s largest leech breeder a personal friend of yours? Do you have a stand of bamboo in your side yard that would fatten Ling Ling to the size of a parade blimp?”
Yes, all of those stories are true, though the potential size for Ling Ling is an educated guess, and honestly, I don’t think the queen and I actually spoke. I promise that she did at least nod to me. It was Princess Anne with whom I had a pretty long conversation when she approached me during the royal family’s walkabout in the fall of 1972. I just happened to be standing in the right place on a London sidewalk that day. And, yes, that night BBC news did actually run their credits over my face, which gave me a strong and true ending for that column.
But by the time I got back to Virginia from England, my father had embellished the story at the Charlottesville Elks Club until it now included that I had met the queen and visited the palace. Dad knew how to spin a yarn.
‘REMEMBERING CLEARLY THINGS THAT NEVER HAPPENED’
One of my favorite columnists, the late Lewis Grizzard, once said that the secret to sustaining a column “is to remember very clearly a lot of things that never happened.” And another favorite writer, Dave Barry, said, “Readers are sometimes critical of me because just about everything I write is an irresponsible lie.” He then said, “But now I’m going to write a column in which everything is true. See how you like it.”
Not much, I would guess. Changing a story from a ho-hum account into an event is always a question of emphasis — where you put the emphasis, and how much emphasis you give it.
When I wrote years ago about a Sunday morning brunch Barb and I had at a Fan restaurant, we actually did encounter the hostile waitress I wrote about — the one who stood in the middle of the floor and said to all us diners, “If you people would go home and cook your own lunch, maybe people like me could go to church, too.” Now obviously there’s the germ of a column — you knew it the minute she said it — and especially when she followed up by saying to my wife, who dared to inquire about the grits she had ordered and didn’t get, “You’ve already got toast and home fries on your plate there, lady? How many starches do you require?”
That much of the story is totally true … but endings are always hard and that’s where the exact truth may become elusive. I ended that particular column by saying that Barb left a spoonful of grits atop her dollar tip. I’ve told the story that way so many times that that sounds like the truth … but it’s possible I wrote that ending on Tell-a-Lie Day back in 1991.
Randy Fitzgerald was a longtime public relations director at the University of Richmond and columnist for The Richmond News Leader and later the Richmond Times-Dispatch. He then taught modern American literature at Virginia Union University until retiring in 2012. Contact him at Randy@TheBoomerMagazine.com.