Two weekends in a row, I’ve seen a friend perform at ImprovBoston. Two weeks ago, it was David Mogolov doing his exceptional monologue, “There Is No Good News.” Last weekend, it was Meghan O’Keefe, transiting down from NYC to do some standup in Boston. I waited around after both shows to catch my friend and tell them how much I liked their show. I searched for specific, clear words to tell them what I liked. “You were phenomenal,” I told David. “Your delivery was excellent,” I told Meghan.
“Thank you,” both of them said, seven days apart and having had no contact with each other. “You’re the kind of person who wouldn’t bullshit me, so that means a lot.”
I’m glad I have that rep. It’s not a rep I’ve tried to cultivate. At least not deliberately. All of us try to cultivate a rep to some extent – a mask that we put on when dealing with friends, or an aspect of ourselves that we play up. It’s what Chuck Palahniuk calls the emotional scam: our way of presenting that gets us attention and affection, sparing us the burden of opening up and making genuine connections with people. I’m the smart one; I’m always going to say smart things. I’m the goofy one; I’m going to act out, whether it’s appropriate or not. I’m the needy one; I’m going to make sure everyone knows how much support I need. And so forth.
Whichever reputations I’ve tried to deliberately cultivate, “not bullshitting” has not been on that list. Sometimes I would like to be a better bullshitter. I’d like to be better at lying. I’m a terrible liar: the blood rushes to my face, my eyes dart to opposite corners, I bite my lip and stammer. I avoid situations that require me to lie. When my friends do a mediocre show – which happens when you have friends in the theater – I find an excuse to leave without waiting for them. I won’t lie to you; I’ll say nothing. Maybe that’s a sign.
I explained this notion of deliberately cultivating a rep to Rachel at her barbecue this past Labor Day. Her roommate Josh hovered over the grill all afternoon, producing savory meats in regular sequence. When I arrived, he’d just dished up a plate of what sounded like “urban garlic chicken.” That can’t be right, I thought. He must have said bourbon garlic chicken. So I squeezed a piece onto a bulkie roll and ate it. No bourbon, and nothing inner-city about it. Plenty of herbs, though, and garlic. I told Josh what I had misheard later. We all agreed that my idea sounded delicious. Now it just falls to someone else to make it. And to invite me.