Lame Adventure 438: Faking it

Who are they kidding?

A decent neighborhood burger and brew but only the best if this was your first meal out of captivity.

I had been running errands in my neighborhood, the Upper West Side. As I was walking north on Broadway, past the Northface store at the corner of 73rd Street, a middle-aged woman walking south said in an authoritative tone of voice:

Authoritative Woman: This used to be an Urban Outfitters.

My inner eavesdropper itched to interject:

Me: No, before it became Northface, it used to be the Gap. Urban Outfitters is still where it’s always been: on the corner of 72nd and Broadway.

I’ve lived on the Upper West Side for so long, before that space was Urban Outfitters, it was an HMV music store and before that, it was a Manufacturer’s Hanover Trust bank. But, as my late, great father would advise my inner neighborhood historian:

Dad: Don’t be a buttinsky.

So, I didn’t scratch that itch; I kept my pie hole shut and walked on. The woman’s know-it-all tone probably convinced her companion that she knew what she was talking about, assuming he was listening, because what a banal topic of conversation. What is so special about Urban Outfitters? It’s a store that would seem inclined to do reverse carding: if you’re over 21, you’re not allowed entry. If that couple had just had a meal heavy on carbs, he might have been struggling to maintain consciousness. But if he was lucid as they continued walking south, passing Urban Outfitters, he might have asked his mate:

Authoritative Woman’s Companion: Is this the Urban Outfitters store of your recollections, dear?

And today, she’s filing for divorce.

My first memorable encounter of someone speaking fact about fiction in an authoritative tone occurred thirty-seven years ago in my youth in San Francisco. Somehow, my brother Axel and I were selected to work a test screening of a film written by Neil Simon called The Goodbye Girl. The screening was taking place at the Northpoint, a movie theater on Powell Street. Our job was to hand out questionnaires and to collect them from audience members after they had seen the film. The stars, Richard Dreyfuss (who won the Best Actor Academy Award for this picture) and Marsha Mason, attended. Even Neil Simon was there (he was married to Mason then). This was a Big Deal test screening. We got to see the film and we collected a few bucks each. It was a sweet deal for us.

Axel and I, with about ten other people, met with the test screening organizers in an office at the theater. Axel, coincidentally, worked for a company located in the building next door, a business that gave him hunks of Jarlsburg cheese because someone there was cheese-connected. The test screening organizers were not familiar with the turf of the Northpoint. They were struggling to figure out logistics. My brother interjected in an authoritative tone of voice:

Axel: I work next door. Just walk left and then turn right; you’ll be right there.

That’s the plan they decided to follow. My inner skeptic surfaced.

Me: How do you know this? You don’t work here.

Axel: I know. I made it all up, but if you say something with enough conviction, people will believe you.

That is a valid point. If you sound like you know what you’re talking about, odds are good that people will buy what you’re selling. Confidence is key, or in Axel’s case, conning was key. Axel was fed up with the organizers indecision about how to proceed, so he took it upon himself to be their unsolicited advisor. Fortunately for them, my brother did not volunteer to pilot their plane home. As for the woman speaking in an authoritative tone about the location of Urban Outfitters, she might have been surprised to see that she had misremembered the location of that store when she realized that it is still polluting the Upper West Side.

Somehow the screening worked out. I collected autographs from the stars and Neil Simon as they exited. Axel pounced on Richard Dreyfus to tell him how much he enjoyed his performance in Jaws. That memory still makes me die a little. Overall we had fun that night, but come to think of it thirty-seven years later, we were not asked to work another test screening again. Maybe someone caught onto Axel’s bluff, the directions he gave led straight into a parking lot and word spread to avoid hiring that obnoxious sibling act ever again.

Bonus image: autograph hounds bombarding Steve Carrell outside the New York Film Festival.

Bonus image: autograph hounds bombarding Steve Carrell outside the New York Film Festival.

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49 responses to “Lame Adventure 438: Faking it

  1. If I butted in every time I heard some idle worshiper misinform their children, spouses, or try to impress their girlfriends I would miss every golden opportunity to listen and speak to an individual that will actually buy something.

    Idle Worshiper: “Those are bocce balls.”

    When in fact the objects being claimed adamantly to be something they are not are croquet or duckpin bowling balls. Just a small example of the chatter imposed on me by the mob attempting to feed their starved sense of self importance in my rented space while I’m presenting and selling vintage wares at a show.

    Love Axel’s directions. Occasionally when a “hump” makes me an absurdly unreasonable offer I respond with a sincere tone…

    Me: “Meet me here on Tuesday at the same time and then you can have it for that price.”

    It always takes them a moment to get the jist before they move along to make room for someone who has some money.

    As always great story telling. Love your writing!

    Ever,

    R.

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    • You’re in fine form today, R! I’m the type who would say to you, “Those look a lot like bocce balls to me, but are they?” Then, you’d enlighten me about duckpin bowling balls. It’s my natural assumption that my guess will likely be wrong. I consider myself more of a not-know-it-all.

      Unrelated: only recently did I realize that you commented on the post about my dad buying his rainbow. Thank you for the kind words. Sorry I didn’t respond to you sooner, but every so often I fail to see a comment.

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  2. Perfect to support my belief … it’s not if the answer is right or wrong, it’s the speed and conviction in which it is answered … thanks for additional evidence!!! … and wow .. you interest in films goes way back!

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    • Yes, Frank, Axel in his youth was quite the thinker, probably because his second job was in advertising so he got to know a few “Mad Men” well in his formative years. My interest in film — and New York — goes back to the first movie my parents took me to see at the tender age of three: West Side Story. And yes, I know it originated as a Broadway musical (which I did see when it was revived out here). A lot of seeds were planted that day in 1962 at the El Rey theater.

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      • Well then … it seems I can’t resist this … https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=YhSKk-cvblc … Enjoy!

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        • Great choice of clip, Frank. Anita and Bernardo were my favorite characters and that’s such great Jerome Robbins’ choreography! I have never seen that film again in its entirety. Milton HATES it due to the whitewashed Natalie Wood casting. The Broadway revival was wonderful. When the show started, Milton and I both got goosebumps when the orchestra began playing the overture. Since I’m name dropping all over the place in the comments and in the post, Jack Nicholson was in our audience that night. that was before I started writing LA and neither of us were carrying a camera. It might as well have been the Pleistocene Era.

          Liked by 1 person

  3. “I made it all up, but if you say something with enough conviction, people will believe you.”

    Great line. I’ve seen it used many times over the years. I always avoided it when teaching about something I felt unsure of. My students would catch me eventually. Today, I see it used most often by politicians and a certain ‘news’ network I shall not mention. The idea has been around a long time.

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    • The wisdom of Axel has real staying power, Jim. I’m like you, no way would I shoot off my mouth without being able to back up my claim. I was probably born with a double dose of the fear-of-being-found-out gene: my own dose and my brother’s. But as I wrote this post I was thinking about lying politicians and that certain “news” network, too! Bluffing likely goes back to the dawn of civilization when one cave man first fooled another.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Very cool! I make stuff up all the time and say it with conviction since I’m like that little old lady.

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  5. I was thinking the same thing as Frank. You’ve been interested in film most of your life, it would seem, V! You’d Dad’s advice is spot on, nobody likes a buttinisky, although sometimes, it’s really hard to keep one’s mouth shut.

    I so admire your skill for stitching together a story. Your thread moved seamlessly from the woman on 73rd Street to Axel’s bluff and beyond. Great post!

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    • Awwwwwwwwww, thanks Cathy. My parents were hardcore filmgoers so they instilled that in their three offspring and my sister, Dovima, has passed the baton onto her daughter and my niece, Sweet Pea. But I suspect that I’m the biggest movie maniac having majored in Film at NYU(seless). Recently, at the New York Film Festival, Milton and I attended a screening of All About Eve which opened in 1950, at the time my parents were dating. No one is around to ask anymore, but I strongly felt this was a film they definitely saw. They were both Bette Davis fans.

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  6. Regarding the Urban Outfitter gal–I think I’d want to be told if I were wrong. I love to tell people stuff, and I try to make sure that I’m telling them true stuff (or at least stuff I believe, which is not always the same as “true”). It can be really embarrassing to me to find out I’ve been misinforming people, so while I would probably be a little red-faced if a stranger on the street called me on my unwitting BS (and I might not believe them until I’d checked for myself), but I’d be more glad not to be spreading bad info.

    I’d agree with your brother’s assessment of a well-told falsehood. Along those lines, I was thinking recently of something I used to do when I was younger (through college) to get out of trouble when i’d say something I shouldn’t. It’s hard to explain in writing, but basically, if I said something I shouldn’t and I got called on it, I would keep going with it, but reframe it in a positive light. Here’s an example:
    Me: “Susan showed up with that asshole, John”
    Other person: “John is one of my best friends!”
    Me: “Mine too! I just think it’s funny how X always refers to him as ‘that asshole John’ when he’s such a cool guy.”

    I know how it looks on paper, but I can’t think of an instance when it didn’t work. Haven’t used it in a few years. The last time I used it was when I told my friend the score of a ballgame he hadn’t seen yet, and then had to pretend that I actually hadn’t seen it.

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    • Smak, you are devious! Now, thanks to the advent of the Internet, no important sports score stays secret for long. As for butting in on that woman’s well-told falsehood, she spoke with such an air of authority, she would not have welcomed any interjection from a clod like me. She might have been the self-righteous type who would infer that I didn’t know what I was talking about. Besides, she wasn’t intentionally trying to fool her mate. She simply misremembered that Urban Outfitters is located at the busiest intersection on the West 70s. Sometimes, it truly is to one’s benefit to not be a buttinsky.

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  7. What a sweet gig you guys had. You are so connected with all the celebrities, even then. I think it’s very true that if you have enough conviction you can fool anyone. I learned that when I started to teaching. You need to be the authority even if you’re doubting yourself. It’s all in the presentation. That was a fun memory to share.

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    • Presentation and talking with conviction is indeed key, Amy. As for my trolling amongst the connected and famous, I remember attending a test screening of The Way We Were at the Northpoint when I was 14. I was hoping to see Barbra Streisand or Robert Redford there, but if they attended, they slipped in after the lights dimmed and slipped out before the lights went back up. But, I did happen to see the director, Francis Ford Coppola, standing at the candy counter inhaling a box of Jujyfruit. I walked right up to him and told him how much I enjoyed The Godfather and asked for his autograph. When I was 14, I was very small and looked about 8, so he didn’t know what the hell to think. In 2007 my boss and I were attending a screening at the Paris theater on West 58th Street of a later film he directed, Youth Without Youth. As we were waiting for the film to start, I turned around and saw FFC standing in the aisle. We caught each other’s eye, we smiled at each other and he gave me a little wave. No, I don’t think he recognized me 34 years later, but it was a lovely moment with a revered filmmaker.

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  8. Not to be redundant with my fellow commenters, but damn, you can weave a fine tale. I hate when I find myself at the end of one of your posts wishing it wouldn’t end. Anyhow. Keeping ones mouth shut is a hard task. I do find that I do employ the tone of conviction, often, while working the reference desk. For questions such as where is the bathroom and what time do you close. That’s the extent of my knowledge 🙂

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    • Thanks for the high praise, buddy. When you’re working the reference desk, you merit the tone of conviction because f you didn’t know where the bathroom is and your library’s hours by now, I don’t think you’d the veteran information-ologist that you are, or if you prefer, top dog librarian.

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  9. I was reading the essays in Colson Whitehead’s book “Colossus of New York,” and the start of your post reminded me of a line from the book. He wrote that you are a New Yorker when what was there before is more real than what is there now. Sounds like you’re more the New Yorker than Authoritative Woman. 🙂

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    • Well that’s quite a flattering comparison all over — my opening (what did I write, it was a dark and stormy night?) brought to mind Colson Whitehead and I’m more New Yorker than that blowhard, Authoritative Woman! I’m pumped! … Until tomorrow, when someone asks me directions, my dyslexia kicks in and I tell them to go south when I meant to say north.

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  10. Now I understand your expertise with screenings and star spotting! Growing up in southern Alberta did not afford those opportunities. My fondest memory of the movies was buying fries and sneaking them into the theatre for lunch – pretty much every Saturday!

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    • Terri, Milton is star spotter extraordinaire. He has a nose for the scent of a celebrity and a pretty good iPhone trigger finger (full confession: he took that shot of Steve Carrell). My nose is only good for the smells of food and ghastly perfume in elevators. I would have definitely picked up the scent of your contraband fries!

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Ha! That is so true. I learned about my authoritative voice back in college when I was I. One of those campus clubs … It was my first year and they were organizing a big event. I was put in charge of food for the event. Someone said hey are you sure you can handle this. It’s like 500 people coming. I was like I GOT this! I’ve already contacted vendors and made appointments and I’m laying out the menu next week. I’m pretty busy but if you want to take over, hey go ahead. Duuuuuuude Ms. BusyBody left me alone even though I hadn’t done anything…luckily I pulled myself together by the time the event happened.

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    • This helped me with my kids much later…you know when I tell them 31 Flavors or the indoor playground is closed. Dude all about conviction.

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    • Whoever put you in charge of food at the big campus event, Guat, must have known what they were doing or maybe they had a crystal ball and could look into the future. It does not surprise me at all that you shot off your mouth at Ms. BusyBody, but you were also able to back yourself up.

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  12. If you can’t dazzle them with your brilliance, baffle them with your bulls**t!

    Liked by 1 person

  13. You can see more celebs than I can see birds here, and collects autographs like pine cones. Keep those photos coming, LA!

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    • New York does have plenty of famous faces living here or visiting, Arti, but I’ve never been an autograph hound. For the first time in about thirty years, I did ask for one. Earlier this year, I “worked” overtime at an ushering gig so I got to attend a post-performance talk-back with one of my favorite living playwrights, David Ives. After the talk-back was over, the theater cleared and as I was doing a final sweep of the house, I realized that I was alone with him. So I got to talk to him. It was very special to me and he signed a Playbill. He’s a lovely guy who’s currently collaborating with Stephen Sondheim on his next musical. Wow.

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  14. Ditto R’s and your comment and reply above. I personally lack the confidence to say anything confidently even when I know it’s a fact. So, often, when I state something, I get blown off and end up feeling like a ghost.

    I did like the movie “Goodbye Girl” and Richard Dreyfus’s performance. He makes anything he performs in good even when the story otherwise is not. And, of course, I’m a Neil Simon fan.

    This is so well written, V. Thanks. Enjoyed the story. 🙂

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    • Thanks Samantha! I think my favorite Neil Simon work was The Odd Couple. When I was a kid, I loved The Out of Towners so much, it contributed to why I wanted to move to New York, even though that was the business trip from Hell. Go figure. I am a huge Jack Lemmon fan.

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  15. I might add that when I lived in Los Angeles, we used to play this game called “Guess What Was on This Corner Last Week,” things changed so fast there.

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  16. I have a friend who tells tall tales, constantly exaggerating simply to watch how far she can go before someone calls BS. it is interesting to watch. Sometimes it is fascinating.

    You are so right, confidence is the key. I suspect that is why the call it the Confidence (Con) Game.

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  17. I know many people who are quite good at using an authoritative tone to get people to believe them. And I may have used this once or twice when asked a question when I was teaching. Of course that bit isn’t on my resume 🙂

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  18. Ah, the fine art of speaking like a subject matter expert when you don’t know a tub of oleo from a Frisbee full of monkey dung. I consider this to be one of my specialties as it has kept me gainfully employed in middle management for a good number of years. Instead of being a know-it-all, I’m actually more of a know-it-less who speaks with confidence and authority. Not quite as good as a politician, mind you, but only America’s best dumb-asses make that grade.

    Liked by 1 person

  19. Oh, man, I feel like I relate a little bit too much to Axel. People tend to ask me for directions somewhere when I am out for a run and I am *terrible* at directions. But when I state I don’t know, the conversation goes on and on as they continue to ask questions, so I now typically just give an authoritative answer out of left field and pray they figure out their GPS. Loved reading this post – your stories are so vivid. I, too, never want them to end!

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    • Awww, thanks! I was barely living in NYC a day before someone hit me for directions. Wanting to feel like a native I answered with authority and think I directed them straight into the Hudson River. Oops.

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