I dated an awesomely horrible woman in college. She was local Boston, Irish Catholic as fuck, and totally devoted to herself. To wit: for the first months we hung out, she was adamant that she was a virgin. Other girls—‘dirty Jews’—were sexually active, but not her. Literally, that was her dichotomy. I pointed out that a. lots of Jewish women were not raunchy sluts, and, b. lots of Catholics, Protestants, etc were sexually active, and, c. sex is sex; calling other women sluts for what she chose not to do was poor sport and shitty. But no. She was pure & they were whores.
She had a serious boyfriend at another school, her high school boyfriend, presumed husband to be. I was her platonic friend, and we spent time studying and hanging out, met her parents, etc. It was funny how free our range was, specifically because I was not a sexual threat at all—utterly desexualized, like her gay best friend, except w/o sass or wardrobe hints (and, given her cro-magnon father’s racist, sexist, homophobic diatribes, an actual gay best friend would not be). I was manly enough to drink beer and watch the Celtics with him.
Funny thing was, she fully embodied the ‘It’s not sex if there’s no cock involved,’ and I spent hours and hours getting her off with non-conceptional limbs. I was sworn to secrecy, at penalty of banishment from her bed, and maintained the façade. I didn’t mention much to my buddies, who assumed I was dopey and pussy-whipped (without the actual skin to make it final/fatal; yearning trumps having it, I guess, in the control of a dude’s mind/body/heart).
She was smart, funny, and horrible. A profound hypocrite who seemed to believe her own lies. I’d challenge her assertions of purity and sanctimony, and she would shrug and say she KNEW she was righteous. I went to church w/ her a few times, and told her I wasn’t reassured that we weren’t struck down by lightning. To me, proof of non-god; to her, proof she was holy. I’d argue w/ her about the hypocrisy of us grinding the hours away while her boyfriend was ostensibly pining for her up north. ‘What would he say if he found out?
She laughed it off, humorlessly. ‘Who would he believe, you—a dorky stalker—or me, his faithful girlfriend? Lie until you die—remember that. I will lie until I die. I’d never admit anything.’
Jesus taught me that, too.
I went to London to study and she hooked up with one of my close friends. Word got back to me that, a. she wouldn’t fuck him, either (except he was an actual devout Irish Catholic, with oodles of guilt and repressed desire, so dry humping was probably bliss enough), and b. she went with the narrative that we were just friends and I was a pathetic crushee.
I came back and we reunited, in a stealthy sort of way. She was also not-fucking several much larger football players, resulting in me having to jump out a window to escape a pounding several times. Ultimately, she confessed she was, in fact, sexually active. Quite sexually active. With many of her other dudes and her high school hero. So the lies were for her parents, her sense of cultural identity, and some inflated sense of self. And she really believed it. We started fucking, too. Whatever, it’s kids knocking in the dark.
I understand people deceiving themselves, telling mild fibs to remain within social boundaries. What we do in the dark is our own deal. Except when there’s an overarching, relentless, aggressive assertion of something wildly contrary to the truth. Then, my sympathies or understanding burns to ash. She was a lie, a liar, a roiling hypocrite, a bully. She was too ‘blessed’ to pity. Until the end, she propped up her ego-driven games with that mantra, ‘Lie until you die.’
Which brings me, obviously, to Lance Armstrong.
I knew nothing of bike racing when Armstrong won his first title. I’d wandered into a mountain bike race in Colorado years ago, been utterly overwhelmed and finished DFL. A couple other firefighters were cycling fans, and I started watching the Tour with them. The story was compelling, of course. Even so, I could tell there was a fair amount of excess and bullshit attached to it. ‘Superhuman stamina’; ‘biggest heart in the peleton (literally & figuratively)’; ‘tough like Texas’; ‘he’s faced death, so no amount of suffering on the bike is too much.’
Years passed, more victories—until we tuned in lazily, with typical American short-attention superficial interest & knowledge. ‘Lance won this thing yet?’ ‘So, he’s like the fastest guy ever, right?’ ‘Those other suckers can’t ride like our boy—fucking Eurotrash pussies.’
‘The Lance Effect’ was cited in the growing attention Americans paid to cycling, to the growing number of bikes purchased, to the growing number of us doughy middle-aged men squeezing ourselves into lycra shorts. The two Brits, Paul Sherwin and Phil Liggett, were the voice of the Tour for most Americans, and they bandied about a growing litany of hoary clichés about Lance and his band of brothers. A cottage industry grew: Livestrong, Nike, yellow wristbands, Lance the brand—all of it fed by, enriched by, predicated on the mythic heart and legs of the stoic Texan.
Rumors of doping were widespread. The peleton was rife with dopers. Again and again, riders were popped. The 200(6?—Rasmussen & Landis, I think) Tour was ridiculous, rider after rider getting nailed after superhuman efforts. So the publicity machine rebooted, ‘Reclaim OUR race!’ ‘It’s new, better, cleaner.’ Etc etc. Those busted were ostracized as pathetic, lazy, greedy cheats. Ignoble sneaks. Accusations (and, frankly, logic & common sense) tagged Armstrong. When every man he beat in the top five for seven years was connected or convicted or admitted to doping, and it was clear that doping provided nearly unconquerable advantages, HOW were we able to suspend our collective disbelief? HOW could we accept that the onliest motherfucker to ride clean managed to beat an army of doped-to-the-gills killers up the most horrific mountain roads, out-rode them over the most grueling three-week endurance death march? Because he was Lance, and he’s got it like that, Jack.
Lie until you die.
Bill Clinton categorically did NOT have sex with that woman.
I never doped.
I have no idea how that gun/girl/drug got in my car.
I never doped.
These stocks will be just fine. Trust me.
I never doped. I never failed a test.*
I am a virgin because I say I am.
Cognitive dissonance seems to waft thickly on the currents of American (human?) air. We breathe it in, inhale deeply, hold it, ingest it with the oxygen and carbon dioxide.
Running parallel to Armstrong’s success story was the equally manufactured, shaky, and desperately believed (clung to) narrative of American righteousness after 9/11. We were attacked by hateful, ungrateful, scared/scary, jealous Others. They feared our freedoms, we were told. No need to consider the larger issues, nor the history lessons, nor our role in the world’s maelstrom. Nope: we are the free and the brave; they attacked us for no reason, and we will fight back. In a different country than the one that spawned the attackers, but no matter…
To point out flaws in Bush and his compatriots’ arguments was to be labeled treasonous, un-American, terrorism-loving, weak. The news vessels totally fucked up, ran & hid, swallowed the press briefings wholesale. Several years later, there was much shallow reflection and soul-searching—the embarrassed murmuring of the callow and chicken-shit. Those who stood their ground did so at great expense, socially and politically.
There were no WMDs. It was not Al-Qaida/Iraq. No yellowcake uranium. No imminent threat to US soil. But, never mind that, let’s get that Patriot Act running hard. Guantanamo Bay detentions. Tribunals. Domestic wiretap. No-bid contracts to cronies and shareholders. All in the name of Freedom, the Defense thereof. Don’t mention our actual politicians’ actual edict against French fucking Fries. Freedom Fries—they fill your heart with glory and grease in a truly American death march.
People wanted to believe something. Needed a direction, leadership, clarity. Instead we got jerked, lied to, clumsily manipulated, fucked & fed beans. But the blind, desperate fervor with which people clung to Armstrong’s myth—many, many people are, even now, still tearing themselves free of the foggy dissonance: ‘Wait, so, does this mean—are you saying—are you sure?—did he really dope?’
Duuuuuuuuh. Even to the bitter end (Weds., 10 October, 2012), when the USADA released their mountain of testimony providing the bitter-strong coffee many of us need to wake the fuck up & pull our heads from our Nike-sponsored (yet consumer-purchased) Livestrong denial shelters, multitudes of people who should have known better, or to have put two and two together eventually, continued to believe the most-dubious explanation conceivable: ‘I am a virgin. I did not dope.’
A great many Americans don’t want to do the critical legwork about the legacy of 9/11—even though it’s actually quite easy to do—and the effort of their denials and refusals to acknowledge what’s stinking on their living room floors makes the act of admitting their error all the more psychologically difficult. Bodies and billions have been wasted, with far-reaching consequences, yet many persist in refusing to look at what makes sense and what’s patently ridiculous (to someone not bound & determined to see only one outcome).
Many brave and honest riders and writers have suffered before the Armstrong machine. That is unforgivable. My horrible ex could lie to herself all she wanted, but her active smearing of others’ virtue & reputations had consequences—and it was both mean and predicated on utter bullshit. Small example. Armstrong is small potatoes compared to invading another country and costing thousands of actual lives, yet the number of people who’ve profited obscenely from his chicanery and the lives, careers, and reputations of those who’ve suffered to perpetuate his machinery are significant.
It matters. What you say matters. What you swear is true, matters. Lie until you die is a shitty doctrine.