Free Fake Facts

Aquifer Borehole —

Why I Don’t Know Who the Governor Is

Back in the mid-1980s, I spent several days as a guest in the rather sumptuous house of a family I’d known nearly all my life. The Pratts were a delightful couple who enjoyed sharing their expensive good taste — they loved having out-of-town company, putting together little impromptu parties, and otherwise entertaining in casual elegance. Even when, technically, no invitations had been issued, there seemed to be a sort of low-level party hum going on most of the time.

…Sparkling and sanitary…

Accordingly, their STUFF was important to them and their vigilance perfectly sensible. Indoors and out, attic to cellar, powder room to master suite, everything was top-of-the-line, meticulously organized and maintained, sparkling, and sanitary — a miracle in itself when you consider Jannelle’s penchant for remodeling. Each project came hard on the heels of one just finished or still in progress. Jannelle knew it was time to move when, for months at a time, contractors’ trucks regularly clogged the parking area and spilled out onto the street.

This particular visit was my first to the new house on Farnam Drive, where the Pratts had moved a few months before. I spent much of my time on the deck, reading or writing or enjoying the bird’s-eye view of the surrounding neighborhood, placid in the new day’s fresh sunlight, looking like a picture-book medieval village. Jannelle usually joined me as I was savoring my second cup of coffee. Early one morning we’d been chatting comfortably when her aspect darkened suddenly and she frowned, having been reminded by nothing in particular that she’d recently attended a committee meeting at her former home on Pinetree Lane — and was surprised and a little vexed by the extensive redecorating already done. She had exquisite taste and a good eye for design, so she took quite personally the new owners’ rush to mark their territory.

In matters of décor, Jannelle’s preferences and mine could hardly be less alike. Income disparities aside, I like the busy-ness of multicolored florals, stripes, and plaids… smallish cozy rooms, for privacy… little islands of clutter… eclectic assortments of antique furniture, accessories, housewares, and odds and ends. Over the years I’d acquired a lot of old oak and some girly overstuffed chairs — each slipcovered in soft, sturdy, floral cotton, French Provincial style, no two patterns the same.

French Provincial upholstery fabric

God forbid she ever wake up in such a room. “I died during the night,” she’d think, “and this is hell.”  Jannelle wants to always surround and wrap and drench herself in white, off-white, eggshell, pale beige. It’s like being submerged in a mound of snow without your eyeglasses.

My daughter and I still refer to the Farnam Drive house as the Ice Palace (though it felt more like swimming in warm skim milk). The color scheme on Pinetree Lane we call “Nurse Attire.” But the onetime basement had evidently been planned while Jannelle was under general anesthesia — either that, or the workers had bound and gagged her and stuffed her in a closet.

The walls, carpets, and furnishings were suffused with Chinese red and royal blue. The bathroom was entirely red, all the way down to the Kleenex box, and if vague images of cattle-slaughtering occasionally crept in through your mind’s eye, such glimpses, you were told, were perfectly normal.

Well, there was Jannelle across the deck table, lapsed into another cycle of brooding. She was entitled to her fretting, but I simply had to know whether the new owners on Pinetree had laid waste to the basement suite. As casually as I could, I asked if they had “done-over” the basement.

“Sure,” replied Jannelle with surprising equanimity, “they really had to. Those colors are ‘out.'”

I could barely hide my chagrin. Not only had I been unaware that Chinese red and royal blue were passé when it came to interior design, I hadn’t even known that such trends came and went like beanbag chairs. In my world, furnishings were supposed to look old. As was the case with Levi’s, an oriental rug that looked new needed to be taken outside, left in the sun and rain, and caused to fray via enticing a herd of elk to tromp about on it.

I was reminded in that moment of Jannelle’s involuntary (and quickly suppressed) moué of distaste when she first cast her eyes upon some new kitchen-cabinet hardware I had installed at home. Either the brass knobs had been dulled when they should have been polished, or else not. I don’t recall… only that whichever type I had was outmoded.

Later, pondering my inadequacy vis-à-vis Jannelle’s mastery in home decorating, it struck me that, if I couldn’t stay abreast of issues as straightforward as kitchen drawer-pulls, I had no business voting in state and federal elections.

If you ask the makers and sellers of various types of kitchen hardware about its features, they will answer. They’ll even offer to mail you a catalog. If you ask what brand of hinge the store carries, the manager doesn’t get cagy and try to tease out of you the brand you prefer.

Well, if I couldn’t stay informed about dull-versus-polished brass and which was chic and which was Last Year’s Finish, how could I in conscience participate in decisions about public policy and international diplomacy?

Yes, information about the government and its concerns is plentiful. No, you’ll never see a brass-drawer-pull salesperson launching a full-scale canvass of your neighborhood and thrusting leaflets at you on the chance that you might be in the market for kitchen hardware. But the hardware data compensates for its relative scarcity by being reasonably accurate. Government-related news emerges out of Washington in irregular clumps, each less forthright than the previous one.

It might actually be easier to become a news junkie if nothing the media reported were ever factual. Sometimes a Real Fact pops out, however, and so there you are with piles of Fake Facts mixed up with the odd Real Fact, unable to tell them apart or to find someone who can. You can take your brass or chrome hardware back to the store if it seems suspicious, but when it comes to politicians and public policy, suspicious is their natural state.

If you’ve followed along, then you should be able to trace my train of thought:

  1. My friend Jannelle and her family have entirely too much money.
  2. They spend most of it on housing.
  3. They have the time and the inclination to care about and follow trends in kitchen hardware. Though the relevant information doesn’t blare from their electronic communication devices or show up on their porch steps, they know where to find such information and, further, they can trust it.
  4. When it comes to Fake Facts, it’s no more beneficial to have millions of them than to have 4 or 5. In fact, being a well-informed U.S. citizen is impossible for the reasons described above. It might make a little more sense (but not enough to be worthwhile) to choose a specialty — rabbit-spleen futures, e.g.

If this can be called a “problem,” then the “solution,” it seems to me, is to assume that every “news item” consists of Fake Facts, which, if you believed and acted upon them, could place you and your fellows in immediate peril. Not Knowing What’s Going On in the World isn’t a copout, it’s a service to humanity.

Having extracted Humanity from immediate peril, you have more than earned your five-week vacation in New Zealand. Go ye, with our gratitude.

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