I was thirteen years old, smearing greasepaint on my face before a show one night, when the high school kid seated next to me – his name was Neil – reached into his mouth and pulled out a bright red plasticky god-knows-what glistening with spittle and bristling all around with stiff silver wire.
He set it on the table beside him as if it were the most natural thing in the world and for a long moment I just stared, as any little boy would, unexpectedly within easy reach of something so strange and gross and weirdly mechanical. Then I asked him what it was.
“Oh, I have a condition,” Neil explained. “Sometimes the roof of my mouth collapses, so I wear this to keep it from doing that.”
Cool, I thought, way cool, and I added Neil’s disorder to the long list of things I knew to be true about the world. His seniority made fact checking unnecessary.
Years passed. Decades. And while I don’t remember what we were were talking about, I do remember that I was well into my 30s when something somebody said kicked open a filing cabinet in the back of my head and out popped for the first time since it had been put there what Neil had told me.
“Yeah, I knew a guy once. He had a condition that caused the roof of his mouth to collapse. There was this red plastic appliance that he … “
At which point I stopped short, hearing with adult ears my own mouth speaking words I’d last heard as a child, realizing only then that Neil had done to me what high school students have been doing to elementary school students since Plato’s cave. He’d played me like a cheap violin.
The thing he’d pulled out of his mouth was a dental retainer. Of course. And roof-of-mouth-collapse was something he’d pulled out of his ass.
So I had a good laugh at my own expense and now have an amusing anecdote to share at the cocktail parties I never attend.
Here’s the point, though, and I’ll make it quick:
Relatively few of the truths that I hold to be self-evident today are long-held and many are recent additions. Truths about love and death, God and friendship and money and sex. And cats. Especially cats. And politics most recently. And bread.