By Vanessa Wong
This may ruin my future endeavors, but here is a confession: I lie to strangers on airplanes. Not just small, innocuous little lies that we tell people every day (like, “Oh yeah, things are totally great at home,” or “Oh yeah, I totally went out on Friday night”), but big, massive lies that you can really only tell to strangers you will never see again.
I started doing it for a good (enough) reason. Once, on a flight from here to San Francisco, I was having a pleasant conversation with a friend of an ex-friend who happened to be seated next to me. We had only met once before that, and she didn’t recognize me. Things had recently turned sour between our mutual friend and I, and if this girl figured out who I was, things would quickly turn sour between she and I — so I lied about my name and gave her some generic life details so she wouldn’t put it together.
It was self-preservation, really: I didn’t want to be stuck in close coach-seating quarters with someone who was going to be a jerk to me. But I also found that I thoroughly enjoyed it. So since that time, I have crafted multiple personalities for myself for each new airplane seat partner. Once, I was a stripper trying to start a new life across the country. Another time, I was an engineer on my way to accept an award for, um, engineer things.
I think what is so fascinating about this little social experiment is that it works: People are so quick to believe what you tell them. I haven’t decided if this says something good or bad about the human race.
But, after my last flight, from Seattle to here, I might have to call it quits because it turns out my lies have begun to collapse in on themselves. I was sitting next to a man slightly older than me who told me he was a musician. He looked the part: He had sleeve tattoos, gauges and that shaggy bass-player hair. He was, he said, coming to Honolulu to meet the rest of the band to do a series of shows.
After we had been chatting for a bit, he placed one of his earbuds into my hand and cued up some of his favorite music and motioned for me to listen. It struck me as oddly intimate and a little gross — who shares earbuds? — but I went along with it because he was a musician and the kind of guy who, in school, you would sit with in the back of the bus and feel just a little bit cooler because he wanted to share his music with you.
I pressed him for details on the band, but he brushed me off, saying his agent told them to keep quiet about being in town since most of their gigs were private. Instead, he regaled me with not-so-humble-brags about their success and stories of the road.
Two days later, I’m at a big house party in Manoa, when I spot him, this same musician, standing with a friend of mine. I try to turn the other way, but my friend calls me over and introduces me. Turns out, this guy is not a musician at all, he’s actually an actual engineer. And he lied about his name.
But then, when my friend introduces me as me, he knows I’ve lied, too. We make brief, mutually accusatory eye contact and I turn away.
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