My awareness of this started a few weeks back when I wrote a column about my recent family vacation. We went to Banff in the Canadian Rockies. (That part was true.) Then I related how, before our return flight, I sent my digital camera through the security scanner. (Totally factual.) And how it was stolen when I left it behind in the tray. (Correct, again.)
I wanted to write about this incident and had the best intentions of simply telling a story about how careless I am with my things. Basically, what a loser I am. But when I got back from the trip I ran into my friend George, who lives down the block.
"How was your vacation, Dick?" he asked.
"Oh, it was fantastic! Except my camera was stolen."
"What a shame. And with all your photos, huh?"
"It's okay-the thief e-mailed me the pictures."
I don't know where that crazy idea came from. It just slid out of my mouth. It wasn't just an exaggeration, it was a boldfaced fabrication. (Although, I thought it was a pretty good ad-lib.) With that, George got hysterical. He couldn't stop laughing. And I'm so addicted to hearing the sound of people laughing at stuff I say and do, I left it at that.
George then sent out an email to friends and posted it on Facebook. People started messaging me, saying what a bizarre story that was. Others on the block approached me and said they thought it would be a perfect idea for a newspaper column. As I retold the incident, I embellished it. Then I told it at church.
When I sat down that night to write my weekly column, I actually started to believe the whole thing myself. If you repeat something enough times, you start thinking it's the truth. Just ask any politician.
In my column, I even included the bogus e-mail from the thief who supposedly stole my camera. I had already entered the dark side-why not get a few additional laughs in the process?
Dear Mr. Wolfsie:
Thanks for leaving your camera unattended at the Montreal airport. I've always wanted one like that. But when I started looking through those pictures, my heart went out to you. You have such a sweet-looking family, so I am e-mailing you all your photos. Your wife is lovely, but she'd look much better with shorter hair. At least in the photos where you didn't cut off her head.
After the column was published, I received dozens of e-mails.
Your story was hysterical. You took a real-life negative experience and let us laugh at your expense.
Very funny column. This could only happen to you. Sorry about your camera.
Witty as always. We love the honesty in your writing.
The guilt is killing me. I just hope the person who stole my camera reads this column and has the decency to actually e-mail me my pictures. I don't care about the stupid photos; I just want to be an honest man again.
Dick Wolfsie has written 12 books and has been a television personality for 30 years. His humor column appears weekly in The Times.