I Went a Whole Week Without Lying!
Plus! Fake 19th-century AI art!! Eric Adams Watch!!!
Welcome to Issue #94 of CAFÉ ANNE!
Just a few news items this week. First, I had fun recording a session of the “What'd You Do This Weekend?” podcast hosted by New Yorker cartoonist Hilary Fitzgerald Campbell and her sidekick, writer Derek Boeckelmann. Just like it sounds, it’s a chat about how we spent our respective Friday-to-Sundays. Spoiler: no coke, no hookers. Sorry!
Next, a heads up: I will be away on a retreat next week, conferring with the emptiness of all phenomena, so no newsletter next Monday. The CAFÉ will reopen November 13.
Finally, huge New York-style cheesecake shoutouts to new paid subscribers Sophie V., Harry C., Marthe D., Janet R., Sarah S. and Jonathan W. That’s enough $$$ for SIX cheesecakes from Junior’s! (Hint: my favorite is the Original Cheesecake followed by the Devil’s Food Cheesecake followed by the Strawberry Shortcake Cheesecake.)
I’m very excited for this week’s issue, of course. We’ve got a new edition of Eric Adams Watch, plus an account of my (extremely failed) effort to go a whole week without lying. Please enjoy.
ERIC ADAMS WATCH
On Robots, the Axis of Filth and Sally Long Dog
I continue to enjoy the exploits of Eric Adams, whom my friend Aharon refers to as “New York City’s first AI-generated Mayor.” As a profile in Politico put it, “In a city of weird people and weird mayors, Adams is maybe the most idiosyncratic figure to ever hold the office.”
Here, round-up #20 of the mayor’s doings:
September 19: In his ongoing war on rats, the Mayor announces that all businesses must set out their garbage in containers rather than bags, and coins a new term for two of the city’s most common sights: “I know, like any New Yorker who walks the streets at night knows, that the bags of trash and the rats represent a united axis of filth that conspires to challenge our city's success.”
September 22: Mayor Adams announces the city has hired a robot, “K5,” to patrol the Times Square subway station for $9 an hour— “Below minimum wage, no meal breaks!” During the press conference, the NY Times reports, the mayor poses for a picture with K5, holding up his hand to make a half-heart sign against the robot—which could not complete the heart because it doesn’t have any arms.
October 3: Intrepid city reporter Katie Honan spots and photographs the newest accessory at City Hall executive meetings: custom water glasses boldly inscribed with the mayor’s name!
October 19: The Mayor introduces the city’s first official “dog mayor,” Sally Long Dog, a Basset Hound with her own Instagram page. Her duties: raise pet adoption awareness, advocate for dog runs and, of course, “support small business.” Soon after, an editorial, penned by an angry pack of canine citizens, appears in the independent news site Hell Gate. “This is a ‘dog mayor’ without popular mandate, without democratic legitimacy, a puppet propped up by the human regime,” the dogs complain. “We have not sniffed her butt. We do not recognize her authority.”
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DEPARTMENT OF PERSONAL EXPERIMENTATION
I Went a Whole Week Without Lying!
I’ve conducted many experiments on myself over the years in hopes of finding a better way to do everything. Some practices, like wearing the same thing every day, proved so helpful I adopted them permanently. Others, not so much! Thirty days of eating nothing but meat, for example, left me feeling run down and sick. I thought it'd be fun to share these experiments with you. Below, my effort to go an entire week without telling a single lie.
First, let me be honest. The headline on this story is a lie. As I discovered, I could not go an entire week without uttering a false statement. But I sure did try!
It started when I got an email from a reader, Paul in Ditmas Park:
“I thought of a good one-week project/experiment: Try not to lie for a week — not even little white lies. Radical honesty! When the waitress asks, "Is everything OK?," you say, "Actually, the burger was overcooked." No shortcuts to make the story take less time to tell, no fibs to spare people's feelings, no hyperbole, no expediency — just honesty.
I'm pretty sure it's harder than it sounds!!”
I had no delusions about this being easy. Like everyone on the planet, I consider myself an honest person. But I am also prone to exaggeration to make a story more fun. I nod and smile at utter nonsense just to seem agreeable. I pretend to recognize people who stop to say hello on the street when I haven’t a clue who they are. I agree to “let’s get lunch!” when, clearly, no one really wants to get lunch.
The prospect of no lying strikes terror in my heart. But it's just one week. What could go wrong?
The first challenge is my morning scroll through Facebook. I typically “like” nearly everything my friends have posted, simply because I want them to feel good. When I choose the "like" option, I'm really just saying, "I acknowledge and affirm your existence." Why don't they have a button for that?
But this morning, I let it rip. I can honestly “like” a cute post from my sister about my nephew’s trip to the dentist. But when I see a friend posting that he just got a covid booster shot and hopes all his Facebook pals do the same, I tag it with the little orange angry-face icon. I'm not against booster shots, but I hate being told what to do. Choosing the angry face makes me laugh.
Then I see a second post from my sister, quoting a poem. I hate poetry! I zap it with another angry face. This makes me laugh even harder. So fun!
Later later day, I tell my first lie. I'm out on Montague Street on crutches, late getting home for a Zoom call and trying to photograph the delivery worker I just interviewed for a story when Sue, my pedicure lady, comes flying out her nail salon to chat. She's Korean and doesn't speak much English, but I gradually understand that she's leaving the salon for good. Oh no!
"Annie, you come for last pedicure Saturday, 11 am!" she says.
I've already got plans for Saturday morning, but the delivery guy is waiting, and the Zoom people are waiting, and it would take forever to explain this to Sue and arrange a better time. "Okay!" I say.
I'll fix it later.
That night, I get a text from the friend who posted on Facebook about his covid booster shot. "Just now noticed that you gave the ‘Angry’ reaction to my FB post about getting vaccinated.” he writes. “What’s that about?"
"LOL" I reply. "I was wondering if you'd notice!"
But he is not LOL. "I suspect that texting is not the ideal medium for this conversation,” he replies. “Would you like to talk?"
When I give him a ring, he tells me he's on drugs for a condition that leaves him immunocompromised. "Covid can kill me," he says. "That's why it’s not just about me being vaccinated. I hope others do too."
Whoops! I had no idea.
He goes on to inform me that he lives in reality and believes in science and public health. "If that doesn't comport with the world you live in, I respect you and respect your world, but there's a compatibility issue there,” he says.
Zoiks! Is my friend breaking up with me? I assure him that while I don't take sides on the issue, I'm fully vaccinated myself. He sounds relieved, and apologizes for making assumptions. We end on friendly terms.
But I feel a little shaken. Relationships can be so fragile!
I text an out-of-town friend I'm planning to visit: "I pulled a calf muscle playing pickle-ball a few weeks ago and have been on crutches," I write. "It’s a lot better now, but I may need a lift getting up and down that hill."
Her reply: "Oh dear! Why don’t we do a call instead? We can meet in person next month!"
Normally I’d thank her for her consideration. But it's No Lying Week, so she gets my immediate, unfiltered reaction: "NO. I wish you could just trust I know what I’m doing and not second guess me, please."
"On the other hand," she replies, "you could choose to see that offer as kindness and flexibility to accommodate your injury."
Oh lord, she's right. I'm being a jerk. "You're right," I respond. "I'm sorry."
But that's not the end of it.
She later sends a follow-up message: "Hi Anne. When I read your text, I was at work. I did my best to respond, but then I had to go into the bathroom and cry and shake for a while before I could return."
She's been going through a rough time, she continues, and has been feeling sensitive. She suggests several ways I could have expressed myself in a gentler fashion. "Just please try to be softer with me when you can," she concludes.
I'm dizzy. Twice in two days, my “honesty” hurt someone I cared about and threatened a friendship. Clearly, I'm doing it wrong!
Upon reflection, I realize that while there’s definitely a part of me that gets annoyed with others, there's no reason to think this is the authentic, “real” me that needs to be expressed. Maybe the “real” me is the self that delights in just about everything everyone does all the time. And if I'm so hell-bent on being honest, couldn't I just as easily be more outspoken about that?
Meeting a friend for Chinese dinner, I try another tactic. The last time we met, he did maybe 90% of the talking, which got me super annoyed. As we plow through a platter of crispy orange chicken, the monologue continues and I consider calling out my pal on his conversation hogging.
Instead, I just plunge in and start talking about Anne things: "Blah blah blah ANNE blah blah ANNE blah blah!" And then he talks. And then I talk. A dialogue!
At the evening's end, he says he had a great time and even invites me to Thanksgiving dinner with his family. Let the Anne-o-logue continue! I'm so glad I didn't criticize my friend.
Another issue I'm struggling with—work email. As you may have noticed, there’s been a crazy hyperinflation in the use of positive expression when it comes to business correspondance.
If I suggest an interview at 3 pm, for example, the typical response is "perfect!" If I say the article will run next week, I'm met with "fantastic!" or "amazing!" I always feel compelled to respond with similar enthusiasm, just to avoid sounding curt.
But now it’s No Lying Week!
In an email with a PR person, for example, I initially write, “A phone call would be great for an interview with the investor!"
I look up “great” in the dictionary: “Considerably above the normal or average.”
That’s stretching it. I downgrade the adjective and drop the exclamation point to say, "I'll only need a short phone call with the investor."
I’m so uncomfortable hitting send! The note is more accurate, but feels so flat.
This is exhausting.
I'm eating lunch at the diner with a pal, and we're discussing roommate experiences. "When I went to NYU," I tell him, "I shared a three-bedroom dorm with five other girls. By the end of the year, none of us were talking to each other!"
This is not true. I did share a place with five girls, and there were some squabbles, but nobody gave anyone the silent treatment. Not even close.
Why did I lie? I have no idea! It just came tumbling out.
Later, having polished off a platter of pancakes, scrambled eggs and bacon, I push the plate aside and exclaim, "I feel sick!"
"Really?" says my friend.
"No," I admit.
I ALWAYS feel great after pancakes. Another inexplicable lie!
I attend a friend's birthday dinner that evening. She has us write haikus. Everyone writes a tribute poem to the birthday lady, praising her warmth, spirit and generosity.
The odes are on point, but I'm especially pleased with mine:
Cathy and her phone
Like peanut butter and jam
Everybody laughs, including the birthday lady.
"It's the truth!" says another dinner guest.
But later that night, I find myself in another lie. My end of the table is discussing the phenomenon that is Taylor Swift. "Does she write her own music?" I wonder aloud.
I know darn well that Ms. Swift writes her own tunes, but I nod appreciatively when everyone assures me that she does. What is wrong with me?
I meet a friend for coffee and tell him about my experiment, including the three lies I told the day before. He suggests my brain is manufacturing random filler to avoid awkward lapses in the conversation. "Maybe there's some kind of challenge in letting the silence come in," he says.
This sounds exactly right. Aren’t most minor lies, in fact, merely an effort to ward off discomfort?
When silence descends, I let it rein, despite the urge to spew random nonsense. No one dies.
There's a Substack newsletter—with a large circulation—that "officially" recommends CAFÉ ANNE. I long ago made this newsletter one of my own official recommendations—not to return the favor, but because I loved it and thought the sort of person who likes CAFÉ ANNE would probably enjoy this newsletter as well.
But for the past few months, it’s focused almost exclusively on a topic I care little about. I should take it off my recommendations list. What's stopping me? I’m worried the author will retaliate by taking my newsletter off his own list—and I’ll lose out on hundreds of new subscribers.
That's not cool. First, there’s no reason to assume the author is that petty. Second, even if he was, am I really willing to lie for more subscribers?
I grit my teeth and delete the recommendation. Phew—what a relief! I hadn’t realized how much the digital fib was bothering me.
That evening, I teach a meditation class that includes a talk on inner peace. Some students stay after to chat, and one asks a super basic question. "What is peace?"
I pause and realize I don't have a technical definition as it relates to Buddhism. My response: "I don't know!"
My admission leads to a fun discussion, with everyone sharing ideas. And while maybe they are holding back, no one tells me I'm the world's worst meditation teacher. (Although come to think of it, wouldn’t the title “World’s Worst Meditation Teacher” be sort of awesome?)
A WEEK LATER
I’m so glad I did this experiment! For years, I've felt uncomfortable hiding my occasional annoyance with others—I worried I wasn't being “authentic.” Now I can see this restraint for what it is: an exercise in letting my best self shine. Deep down, I know that whenever I’m annoyed, it’s really my problem, not theirs.
I also realized that, at least in my case, feeling in a hurry or afraid of silence can easily lead to fibbing. Something to work on!
And ofcourse I learned, more than ever, that as long as I'm not attacking others, telling the truth always feels good and leads to good results.
Finally, another admission: beyond the lying headline, this account contains several small fibs to protect the innocent and smooth out the storytelling. Can you spot them? Leave a note in the comments!
CAFÉ ANNE is a free weekly newsletter created by Brooklyn journalist Anne Kadet. Subscribe to get the latest issue every Monday!