I cannot tell a lie. Not a fib, falsehood, untruth, tall tale, or fabrication. Don’t bother to ask me to get someone to their surprise party under false pretenses because I won’t be able to pull it off. I’ve tried – believe me I have. I’m a complete & utter failure when it comes to fibbery (ok, I can’t lie but I can make up words…I wonder if that’s a form of a linguistics lie? Hmmmmm….).
It’s not virtue – it’s the result of thick, white tights.
When I was younger – in 2nd grade, we lived in the village of Shoreham on Long Island (New York). It was a lovely quaint village ‘burb. Where kids played outside, we had block parties; Moms’ had coffee klatches and played Mahjong…very Erma Bombeck. And, because it was a village – it was small. We all knew one another.
As I mentioned, I was in 2nd grade and my brother was in 6th; we went to the same school, Miller Ave Elementary School. Every day when school let out, I had to go over to the 6th grade area and wait for my brother to walk home with me. I liked being around the ‘big’ kids. I fancied myself very mature, even then. Often times, the 6th grade boys would arm-wrestle with me – and let me win. So everyone knew I was James’ little sister.
One cold day, I had to go to school in dress with awful thick white tights. I hated thick white tights. I still hate thick white tights. I will always hate thick white tights.
During lunch recess, I had to go the restroom and I was in the 6th grade area for some reason that I cannot fully remember all these years later. The bathroom was filled with the ‘big’ girls from my brother’s grade. I knew who they were – I had nothing to fear. I thought.
I came out of the stall and washed my hands. I heard some sniggling but didn’t think for a moment it was aimed at me. I walked out of the bathroom into the hallway and a few of the girls followed out after me – they were laughing, chanting, and pointing. Pointing at ME! Chanting at ME! Laughing at ME! Horror of horrors, my skirt was tucked into my thick white tights. I was so embarrassed that I fled the hallway area and ran into the bathrooms in the 2nd grade area. I went into the stall and whipped off those awful tights. I formulated a plan in my mind…I would go to the administrative office and call my mom and have her pick up these god awful thick white tights.
I crept along slowly to the office hoping that the recess bell would not ring. I asked the secretary if I could call my mother because I had ripped my tights and needed new clothes. Lie #1. She looked up and asked if Mr. Schwartz, my teacher, had given me permission to call my mom. “Yes,” I said, “he did.” Lie #2. So far so good. Just a small ball of lead in my belly. No one was the wiser. I called my mom and asked if she could bring me a shirt and pants because I was having trouble with my tights. I waited in the office – Mom came (we lived 2 blocks away) – I changed my clothes. It was alright. Mom left. The lead ball was a little smaller.
I made my way out of the administration office into the main hall – and coming towards me was Mr. Schwartz and most of the kids in my 2nd grade class.
Let me tell you a little about Mr. Schwartz. I idolized him. He was the first male teacher I’d ever experienced and he was everything a teacher should be. He had been to a place called Africa as part of something called the “The Piece Core” – I had no idea what that actually meant…nor that I was ‘seeing’ the wrong words in my mind…but it was exotic. He showed us pictures of exotic animals and exotic people…and they were NAKED from the waist up. YES! NAKED PEOPLE! [Ok, they were riding an elephant, and the woman was pressed up against the man in front so we didn’t actually see anything inappropriate – but we knew they had no tops on.] And he brought us in things like coconuts to try, and he read us stories in a loft in the classroom. Everything that I loved about school was enhanced in Mr. Schwartz’ classroom.
So I am watching Mr. Schwartz and a cadre of kids approaching me. The ball of lead in my belly is growing. Mr. Schwartz looks decidedly unhappy. He looks at me and my new clothes and asks why I’ve changed. I was unable to neither look him in the eye nor speak loudly enough for him to hear me. He knelt down and asked if I’d told the secretary that he had given me permission to call my mother. I had to confess to my lie – I was filled with shame and humiliation. I remember Mr. Schwartz on one knee with his hands on my shoulders asking me if I’d lied and I remember all my friends huddled around me. I started to cry. I couldn’t help myself. I had let Mr. Schwartz down. He squeezed my shoulders reassuringly but I was still humiliated. Then my friend, a neighborhood kid, Mark Maschette, put his arm around me and told me it would ‘be alright’. That scene is forever etched in my brain.
From that moment on – lying has been something that I cannot do. And I cannot abide lying as well.
What’s kind of funny is that the girls’ teasing me, my mom being angry with me, and everyone seeing me cry did not impact me like knowing that Mr. Schwartz was upset with me because I lied.
Thank you Mr. Schwartz.
SCHWARTZ – Jack, of Shoreham, on March 19, 2012, after 62 years of life. Devoted husband to Mary; loving father to Mathew and David and their wives, Rebecca and Emily; beloved son of Harriet Fidel-man; enamored “gramps” to five. Educator, fisherman, artist. Jack, longtime principal of Shoreham-Wading River’s Miller Ave. Elementary School, was a fierce advocate for children.