Sunday, March 1, 2009

A Letter To Readers About the Joy of "Fishy Stories."

Back in elementary school, my parents sent me to a Catholic summer day camp run by an order of priests and brothers. It was pretty well run. Each group of boys was given the name of a major league baseball team and shepherded by their junior and senior counselor through a succession of activities. I was a wild kid and hard to control. I couldn't stand baseball. I wouldn't follow rules. I was a familiar face in the camp director's office.

One summer, I had two buddies I always went out and made trouble with. We would escape from our teams and prowl the grounds, evading capture and annoying all in our path. One day, we were walking together in a prowling pack past Father F, the camp director. I still remember him calling out to us. "Klein*, Kohn*, and Sternberg"*!! Whenever I see you kids together I know you're up to no good!"

It didn't even occur to me at the time but all three of us in a Catholic summer camp had Jewish sounding last names. None of us were Jewish. We had Jewish fathers and never talked about it.

My friend Dan Klein was a professional delinquent. He would pull fire alarms, play in abandoned buildings and smash bottles as naturally as some kids build model planes and play baseball. One day when we were both eight years old he came up with the brilliant idea of taking a ten mile subway ride into the city. We went to a fast food place, ate hamburgers and saw these huge apartment buildings. We were accustomed to single family homes. He immediately saw the potential in long columns of doorbells. We spent the afternoon playing ding dong ditch in a succession of apartment vestibules. I only found out later that Dan had stolen the money for the trip from his parents.

Despite his talent for miscreant pursuits, all the mothers thought Dan was a saint. His friends knew better and kept his secret hidden.

Some people tell lies to get ahead. Some tell lies to get out of trouble. Even when he had no reason, Dan lied to keep in practice. He used to tell me amazing stories . The beefy looking man at the junk yard chopped up bodies and threw them in the Charles River. He found a safe with eighty thousand dollars in it. Jimmy Pfeffer's mom got mad at him and made him sleep in the basement with rats in it. After a while it occurred to me that Dan had a problem telling the truth. But I always played along. I didn't want the stories to end.

To this day, I enjoy the pleasure of a dubious story. I am a sucker for a story like "Space Aliens Run Fast Food Joint in Downtown L.A. or "Letter Arrives After 137 Years With Post Dated Check For $50,000.00 Just in Time to Stop Foreclosure !

Whenever I find a story like this, I like to suspend disbelief long enough to enjoy life in an alternate state of reality. I ran a story Friday, which in retrospect looked highly dubious about a lost cell phone recovered from the belly of a fish. Some readers called me on it. I have decided after much reflection to admit readers at regular intervals to the factually challenged corner of my little universe. I am going to run occasional stories that I myself do not honestly believe. In the interest of journalistic integrity, I will be running such stories with "Fact Check Optional" in the title. Any story that would be defamatory or cause distress will not qualify. My stories will be harmless. I invite my readers at such times to join me in my world of suspended disbelief.

*names changed for privacy

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