One of my childhood playmates was a pathological liar. The things he told me went well beyond fibs and bragging that is so common among boys of about eleven years of age. I mean I once told my girlfriend that if she closed her eyes, I would take her to the far side of the moon.
She didn’t go for it.
When I was in sixth grade, I told the nun that my dog, King, ate my homework. She looked bored and told me that if King didn’t cough it up by the next morning, I was gong to get an “F”.
I talked to King about the situation I was in and he just looked at me with those big dog eyes. They were brown, but so are most eyes on a dog, except a husky, of course. Their eyes are different colors. I tried to tell my girlfriend that huskies have one blue eye and one brown eye.
She slapped me for acting like she was stupid and I got the “F” from the nun.
I learned early on that it didn’t necessarily work out well when you lie.
But, my playmate never picked up on this fact. And, (all joking aside) his compulsive prevarications would get him in trouble with me…and years later, with the law. So, here’s how it all played out:
One summer afternoon in 1958, my friend, Clyde (not his real name, but that doesn’t make me a liar) and I were climbing the apple tree in my back yard. He lived several houses away, on Front Street, in Owego, NY. It was while we sat on the third branch that faced the garage my dad built in about 1954 that he told me the first blatant lie that I can recall. We were all, the whole neighbor, the entire town, all of America was caught in the grip of The Mickey Mouse Club. I think it was aired on Sunday evenings, but I may be wrong…I’m not lying about it! My brother joined the Club and got a real cap with real mouse ears. This was the real thing, not some knock-off, the actual cap with ears. My brother used the money he made mowing lawns to pay the $1.00 dues. I mowed lawns too, but I figured that Harvey’s Grocery needed my money more than Disney Studios. After all, back then five cents would get you a Mars bar or a Snickers. That’s not to say that I didn’t want a mouse-ears cap too. It’s just my mother wouldn’t give me the money.
But I digress.
All of us in the neighbor had our favorite mouseketeers. There was cute little Karen and Cubby (he still plays the drums). There was Jimmy Dodd, the father figure. Roy was the big mooseketeer. There was Cheryl, Tommy, Larry, Sherry, Eileen, Lonnie, Doreen, Jay-Jay and Bobby (who went on to be a professional dancer on the Lawrence Welk Show). There were others. But, (oh, be still my beating heart), there was also the one and only Annette. ALL, repeat ALL the boys were hopelessly in love with Annette. I would guess it was because she was the most developed…talent on the show.
Clyde and I sat talking about the show. It was on that warm afternoon that he told me he had lived in California for several years. He also told me that he walked Doreen home from the studios every day.
I looked at him, wanting to believe him, but even my eleven year old brain told me that it was highly unlikely that one of the famous mouseketeers would be walking home from Disney Studios with a “regular’ guy like Clyde. I did want to believe him.
But, about a half-hour later, he told me that Gabby Hayes gave him a pair of cowboy boots. It was then that I dropped my willing suspension of disbelief.
“I don’t think so.” I said. “Can you show them to me?”
“Umm, we left them in California when we moved here,” he said, after some quick thinking.
After that more amazing tales came forth. Clyde told me his father had won the RCAF Medal of Honor. Clyde, you see, was originally from Canada.
The tales continued and I continued to shelve them in a box called “Outright Fabrications.”
Then Clyde moved back to California and I didn’t hear from him again, until…
Flash forward to high school. It’s the early 1960’s. From out of nowhere, Clyde shows up for a visit in Owego. I think he stayed with a friend of mine. By this time he was a blonde surfer dude. And because he was a blonde surfer dude, he had the girls of OFA all wondering about him and wanting to get to know him.
I was jealous. My main female interests were now taken with this blond guy from the west coast. Things got out of hand when a jealous boyfriend of one the girls wanted to take Clyde outside during a sock hop at the gym. It nearly came down to a fist fight until I broke it up and my friend and I removed Clyde from the scene. He left for California two days later.
Good riddance, I thought, when I heard he had gone home. Now the girls could get back on track to adoring us home boys.
Flash forward to the mid-1970’s. I’m a full-time teacher living and working in the Scranton area. I miss my hometown so I find lame excuses to spend a weekend in Owego at my parents’ house. My mother asks if I remember Clyde. I tell her that I certainly do. Well, she says, he called a few times in the last few days and wants to stop by for a quick visit. I told her that if he called again, I would like to have a talk with him.
A week later, I make the turn into our driveway at Broken Arm Curve and there’s a car I don’t recognize parked on our lawn. I see it has California plates. There’s a blonde guy standing beside the car. It’s Clyde. We chat about old times. I don’t bring up the lies he told me for years…what’s the point? I do notice that he looks nervous and keeps checking the cars on the street. About thirty minutes later, my older brother pulls in the driveway. He teaches in Virginia and is stopping for a brief visit with us before he heads to the Adirondacks where he loves to canoe and camp. But, before he can get out of his car, Clyde says a quick good-bye to me and in a moment, he’s gone.
Strange, I thought, but then I remember how strange Clyde can be.
Flash forward to the late 1970’s. I’m sitting in our dining room eating a speedie from John’s Grocery on North Avenue. I’m drinking a Coors Gold. The phone rings. I answer it and a woman’s voice asks if it’s Pat Egan. I said yes.
“You might not remember me, but my name is Judy Smith Jones (not her real name). I used to play in your backyard when I was a child. I’m Clyde’s young sister. I’m calling from California.”
“Yes, I remember you,” I said, very surprised to hear her after so many years.
“Have you seen Clyde?” she asked without any more comment.
“Not in a few years, Judy. I saw him maybe three or four years ago. He stopped by for a brief visit.”
“Pat, are you sure? Has he tried to call you?
“Not that I know of.”
“Well, it may come as no secret to you, but Clyde has difficulty telling the truth about a lot of things.”
“Yeah, I guessed as much when he told me about Gabby Hayes.”
“Well, he’s told some people some very serious lies…and now he’s missing. The police in at least two states out here are looking for him. We think he may have headed back to see you and be in Owego again.”
“What the hell did he say, Judy?”
“I can’t tell you…now. But if you hear from him in any way, please call me. We’re very worried. He’s in over his head.”
“Of course, I will, Judy.” She gave me her phone number and hung up.
That’s the last I heard about Clyde. I often wonder what happened to him. What could he have done or said to get into so much trouble? Why was he possibly heading in my direction…coming to Owego?
I’ve reflected on this many times since that afternoon. I began to feel pity for this poor soul, who, even as a boy, had to build up a false life, with false friends, to make him look better. Or to feel better about himself. Or to create a world where he was somebody important.
As his childhood friend and playmate, he didn’t need to tell tall tales to do this. I really liked him anyway. He didn’t need to walk a mouseketeer home or take cowboy boots from Gabby Hayes.
I’m sure that, as a young man, his life would have been interesting enough without building a wall of lies around himself. A wall that would end up being his own personal prison.
This is Gabby Hayes. It is not my playmate who told lies.