Two Truths and a Lie

Here is an addition to the category of “Odd but True, Anatomy Division.”  It is a third human nipple, a vestige of our evolution from large litters to the current format of single gestations followed by prolonged parenting.  About five percent of humans will have a third nipple, located somewhere along the ancestral “milk line” extending from the armpit to the groin.  This extra body part is not a perky or responsive thing, really just an odd little nubbin that is often mistaken for a mole.  However, it is enough to fire the imagination.  In the Salem witch trials, a third nipple was considered evidence that a woman had suckled the devil.  In the movie “The Man with the Golden Gun,” James Bond identified the villain Scaramanga on the basis of his third nipple.  The Triple Nipple Club includes such celebrities as Zac Efron, Mark Wahlberg, Tilda Swinton and the character Chandler Bing from the TV show Friends.     It was just these fun facts that made me think that a third nipple would be the perfect lie for the party game, “Two Truths and a Lie.”

 Every Thanksgiving, Nick and I host a multigenerational group of family and friends at our house – usually from thirty to forty people with ages ranging from toddler to eighty-five.  I always concoct a game or gimmick so that people don’t start the afternoon by auto-segregating into football for the men, videos for the kids and food prep for women.  One year everyone had to write a haiku poem on cloth prayer flags that we then strung around the room.  Another year I set up a photo booth complete with different costumes.  This year it was “Two Truths and a Lie.”  The idea is to come up with two quirky truths about yourself and one believable lie.  Much discussion and frivolity ensues as the group tries to identify the lie.

Nick and daughter Frances absolutely nixed the third nipple, firmly stating that anything to do with nipples would be inappropriate for a woman.  “But it’s a lie,” I said, “It’s not like I would be called upon for a demo.”  They countered with the argument that it was just too weird to encourage family members to contemplate what was going on under my shirt.  Okay, I could see their point, but I didn’t think such restrictions would apply to a man’s nipples.  In the Friends episode, the cast members were utterly titillated by the thought that Chandler Bing was triply endowed, and I wanted to create the same excitement for our Thanksgiving group.  I urged Nick to adopt my lie, but he demurred, opting instead for a physical oddity that had no sexual overtones.  He wrote down that his toes were webbed.  I yawned.

I pondered alternative lies that would create some excitement as I began to set up the house – bringing in folding chairs from the garage and basement and setting two tables in the kitchen and two in the dining room.  We were expecting thirty-eight, but I wanted to set a few extra places for last minute additions.  Family members often show up with friends or neighbors stranded by a cancelled flight or a broken-down car.  I tried to conjure up other fictitious oddities, such as a pattern of moles on my back in the shape of the Liberty Bell (including the crack), or the ability to burp the entire Lord’s prayer, but none seemed to have the same panache as a third nipple.

As I squeezed and grated the rind of ten limes for a mascarpone pie, I recalled one of the last times that I had played the game.  It was a company team-building event and one of the first times that I had met my colleague Doris Mueller.  In my capacity as a medical consultant for a health plan, I had talked with Doris, a nurse, on almost a weekly basis as she sought my advice on whether or not requests for insurance coverage were legitimate or were just smoke screen for cosmetic procedures.

“Hello, Dr. Brown.  This is Doris M o-o-o-o-ler,” she said, stretching out her name with a downward slide, sounding like the melancholy of an unmilked cow.  “How are you?”

This was in the era before caller ID, so it was difficult to dodge her calls.  I would wince as she launched into the minutiae of a case – a man who wanted his health insurance to pay for growth hormone so that he could be taller than his father (yes Doris that is cosmetic), or a request for Botox for headache that sounded suspiciously like a ploy for wrinkle removal (maybe Doris, but ask for doctor’s office notes to confirm the headaches).  Heavy gloom dripped from each of her sentences.

Every time she called I tried to invent some new chipper response, all to no avail.  “Oh, Doris, I know that it’s raining, but drops on my window are trembling and shimmering.  It’s so beautiful.  Oh Doris, you wouldn’t believe the fabulous pen I found today. It’s the kind that never smears or streaks and I was so lucky to spot it on the sidewalk.  Oh Doris, aren’t you glad that it’s Tuesday instead of Monday?”

“Oh, yes, Dr. Brown, that sounds nice” she would say, followed by a heaving sigh.

After a year of a purely telephone relationship I finally I met her in person at an all team meeting.  Doris Mueller was as gloomy in person as she sounded on the phone.  She was pasty and overweight in the soft and lumpy way of people who rarely exercise.  Her hair was the washed out blond color that women use as they transition to grey, but the finely etched part across her thinning scalp revealed a strip of dark roots.  These features could describe many women who have spent too many years in a windowless cubicle, but the most striking aspect of her appearance was her lifeless eyes.  I saw no joy, no imagination, and no verve.

“Doris,” I shrieked in feigned delight.  “I am so happy to meet you after the hours that we have spent on the phone.  How are you?”

“Hi, Dr. Brown, it’s Doris Mueller.  “Nice to meet you.”  Her tone was flat and her flabby hand hung limply in mine.

Our group immediately segued into “Two Truths and a Lie.”  Similar to my Thanksgiving role, I was part of the management team at this event and felt some responsibility to set the tone, so I decided to create a conversation-starter with my lie.  I wrote, “I once played spin the bottle with Prince Charles when I was an exchange student at Cambridge.”  I didn’t think it was totally out of the realm of possibility – we were about the same age after all, but my lie provoked little interest and no lively “brush with greatness” conversation. My attempt at levity with Prince Charles seemed tame, paltry and a bit snobby.  It just didn’t work.

We then moved to Doris’s trio of entries, one of which was “I attended Woodstock.”  I thought this must be her lie – how could this down-in-the-dumps woman ever have been a free spirit who attended Woodstock?  But even as a lie, it was so wonderfully creative, ideally fulfilling the purpose of the game by prompting discussion of the 1960s in general, favorite bands and other tales of misspent youths.

“I saw a documentary on Woodstock and the reporter actually found the couple with the soggy sleeping bags who were on the album cover.  Now they are mostly worried about health benefits.”

“Do you remember Alan Fey – on the Woodstock album they announced his name and say, ‘Alan Fey, come to the tent please, it’s a bummer man.’  I’ve always wanted to know more about Alan Fey and his bummer.”

“That reminds me of all that great 1960s jargon.  When was the last time you said, ‘righteous babe’ or ‘cheese it the fuzz?’”

On and on it went, and then the big reveal.  “It’s true, I was at Woodstock,“ Doris said as she shrugged her shoulders.

In the time it took to say the four words “I was at Woodstock,” my whole perception of Doris changed.  I swept away the dowdiness and imagined a mud-streaked Doris, reveling in the music and dancing the dance of joy.  I was jealous.  This was just the type of free-spirited adventure that I wished I could lay claim to, though I know that it has never been in my nature to be so impulsive on a grand scale – not at age 17 when Woodstock kicked off, and not now 45 years later.

I snapped out of my daydream as I stacked the pies into the overstuffed refrigerator.  Nick was now at the counter massaging a huge wad of stuffing, more than enough for the twenty pound turkey headed for the oven and the second bird destined for the barbecue grill by the back door.

“I was just thinking,” I said.  “Could someone change people’s perception  with just one truth or a lie?  Maybe use this game as a way to shake things up or test out a new identity?”

“What do you mean?” he said.  “So you think that “Two Truths and a Lie” would be an appropriate venue to announce an engagement, a pregnancy, or some other life event?”  I could tell that he was getting enthused by the idea as he vigorously added celery to the stuffing.  Bread croutons were now spilling over the sides and falling on the floor.  The dogs had caught on and hovered at our feet.

“Okay, I was obviously thinking of something subtler.”  I then told him the story of Doris Mueller and how her Woodstock truth had totally changed my perception of her.  Unfortunately, I never did find out what happened to Doris – I left the company shortly after her big reveal and we went our separate ways, but I was consoled by the thought that whatever bummer befell Doris, she would always have her one defining moment.

“So what kind of perception about yourself would you possibly want to change?” he asked.  “Your Doris might have needed some moment of excitement that she could cling to as her life turned sour.  What makes you think that you need a defining moment?”  He went outside to check the garden to see if there were any Brussel sprouts that he could harvest for the stuffing.

The rich smell of turkey was now permeating the house; it was time to work on the seating arrangements.  I made a list of pairs of things, like Bert and Ernie or peanut butter and jelly.  I put each half of the pair in a hat.  Each person would draw from the hat and find their dinner partner by searching for their matching half.  One year people had to find the matching pair of an oxymoron.  Jumbo sat with shrimp, pretty sat with ugly, and butt and head were dinner partners.

Family members were starting to arrive bearing creamy clam dip and thick chips, cranberry chutney that absolutely glistened in its bowl on the counter, loaves of the pumpkin tea bread that have become a tradition, and a medley of other casseroles and salads.  Grand nieces and nephews were racing around trying to grab the dog’s tail, others were playing catch with the bean-bag animals I had spread around the living room.  People congregated around the card table set up with pencils and Post-It Notes to write their truths and lies and stick them on the kitchen wall.  There was much chatter and discussion, and I realized that many had put quite a bit of thought into the exercise.  The wall slowly filled with the truths and lies, some in the tentative handwriting of the youngest and others in the equally tentative handwriting of the oldest.

Nick arrived with the turkey from outside.  “Have you figured out your truths and lies yet?” he asked.  “I don’t want you to overthink this.  You do realize that this is just a parlor game that is supposed provide some laughs.”

I slowly began to carve the turkey, taking a little corner of the crispy skin and toasted stuffing for myself.  I hoped that Doris Mueller was not spending her Thanksgiving alone in a Country Buffet, picking at hours-old stringy turkey and daydreaming about her moment of glory at Woodstock.   I thought about my good fortune when someone tapped me on the shoulder and asked for a whisk to get lumps out of the gravy. This was just a small moment, one of many that coalesced into the maelstrom of Thanksgiving that now defined me.  I quickly scribbled down some Truths and Lie in the spirit of the game.  Nothing special, nothing deep – that I used Botox for wrinkles, that I had experienced an earthquake in a waterbed, and I have never eaten an olive.  When my Post-It note was read, the group easily identified my Botox lie based on my unadorned face.  But then there was much discussion and laughter about my aversion to olives and my iconic California experience in a sloshing waterbed atop a trembling earth.  Mission accomplished.

The next Post-It note should not have been that surprising, given that we were a group of over thirty and the incidence is one in twenty.  It’s just that people are rarely given such an opportunity for a public display.  “Look at this,” someone said. “Drew says he has a third nipple!”  A frisson of excitement shot through the room and I passed a knowing look of smugness to Nick and Frances.  In a scene reminiscent of Friends, people crowded around my brother-in-law and asked for a demo.  The last piece of my Thanksgiving tableau fell into place as Drew lifted up the corner of his shirt.

The missing words in the following poem are anagrams (i.e. share the same letters like spot, post, stop) and the number of asterisks indicates the number of letters.  Your job is to solve the missing words based on the above rules and the context of the poem.  Scroll down for answers.

What a blessing if your identity is not one thing but a forest of *****

Each branch coalescing into a panoramic frieze.

But you can always ***** your identify with a game of truths and lies,

With a major life announcement that will come as a surprise.

Or use the game to ***** conversation to a tittering ripple

Go ahead,  just lift up your shirt and display a third nipple.







Answers: trees, reset, steer

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