Like a successful joke, it takes two to birth a successful lie—the liar and the lied-to. Each player must be well cast; each participant has a role to play.
If you are going to tell a good lie, it is important that the lie, however outrageous, be hauntingly plausible. Even if the lie is planted at the very edge of credulity, and all it takes is the gentlest wind of clearheadedness to catapult the liar into the unrecoverable shame of disbelief, a good lie will deactivate the psychological and emotional defense system of the lied-to so that the lie withstands scrutiny, and, regardless, cannot be uprooted.
An elegant lie is also a challenge—a black-tie dare, a glove in the face—made by the liar to the lied-to: “Are you absolutely certain I’m lying?” A good lie doesn't require the “benefit of the doubt”; a good lie relies on the cowardice of the lied-to to put all of their chips on the story.
Good lying is an art; great lying is a gift. Mr. N. had the gift.
For five years, Mr. N. was our floor waxer at our loft residence as well as the first little Moss store. He was a brilliant floor waxer: like a butler polishing the silver, Mr. N. polished our floors, with butcher’s wax applied on hands and knees. We used to slide and fall constantly, he was that good.
But as good a waxer as he was, Mr. N. was an even better liar. And I was an excellent lied-to partner. And every month, for years, we had hours to play out the roles we were born into.
It first began with, “I’ve started a lemonade franchise, and it’s going national.”
“How about that,” I said to my partner Franklin. “Isn't that just wonderful . . . inspiring?!”
It didn’t ring true, but my entire value system was based on the plausibility of “anyone can become president.” I was the benefactor, big time, of my grandparents’ trust in America’s gold-lined streets. I had cousins whom I’d never met, living (I was told) impoverished in Romania. I was, let’s just say, in quite different circumstances.
In my world, Cinderella was a real person.
So you can understand, I hope, how invested I was in the plausibility of Mr. N.’s lemonade franchise.
A year or so passed, then came: “I’ve been hired by American Vogue as a columnist.” This played out over two years. “When’s your first story being published?” I said. “Blah blah blah . . .” Mr. N. would reply, time and again. Franklin kept silent.
Many dressy lies followed: dinners with Anna . . . a TV series under discussion . . . You get my drift.
Finally, in our fifth year: “I was very good friends with Jackie Onassis. Did you know she wore a men’s size 12 shoe?”
I remember sharing this with Franklin, and the earth-shattering, coldhearted, there-is-no-Santa-Claus SCREAM in reply: “He’s a LIAR. Murray, do you hear me? He’s a LIAR.”
Our lives are touched in many different ways. There are many different ways we each might respond.
Franklin and I installed wall-to-wall.
The “impossible” became plausible.
Murray Moss is a former fashion entrepreneur and proprietor of Moss Bureau in New York.
Images: Maurizio Cattelan, Daddy Daddy 2008, photograph by Zeno Zotti © The Solomon R. Guggenheim Foundation, New York.