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Tim Sandlin


Truth, Lies and Styrofoam

Posted: 12/02/2013 1:50 pm

Fiction writers write a series of lies that add up to Truth. Capital T. Nonfiction writers write a series of facts that add up to a point of view, if you are kind, and a lie, if you are tacky. I write novels, which means my lies are Truth. Bill O'Reilly's lies are lies. Your sanity depends on your ability to tell the difference.

And, besides being a professional daydreamer and storyteller, I live in a tourist trap, which makes me a double liar. The whole world over, locals lie to tourists. Remember the Fountain of Youth. That was a lie locals told tourists in something like 1526. It's been a tradition ever since, culminating in the official Wyoming state animal -- the jackalope.

At times, my tall tales get me in the soup. I like to think my stories are so tall, nobody would be gullible enough to buy them. But, there are those who are beyond gullible. Especially in Oklahoma. Consider the following Letter to the Editor that was actually published in the Jackson Hole News. My neighbours blamed me, of course.

To the Editor,

My family and I visited your beautiful valley this past summer and we had a wonderful time, but I must register a complaint. While my husband and I were waiting in the line to dump the Mini Winnie's tanks in the RV sewage disposal at Signal Mountain campground, a nice young man walked over and we got up a conversation.

He said he lived year-round in the Teton area and I said he was lucky and he said, "Yes, ma'am," polite as could be. Then I asked him what was the white stuff on the mountains. We'd been arguing about it all week -- Bert and me. Bert said he thought it was snow, but this was August and I was born and reared in Oklahoma. I never heard of snow in August.

The nice young man told us the white stuff was Styrofoam so the mountain climbers wouldn't get hurt when they fell off the cliffs. Made sense to me, and who would dream a native person would spread misinformation, so I said, "Told you," to Bert and he grumbled some and that was that.

Back here in Oklahoma, last month, I told my beautician Wanda Jo Henderson that the park people spread Styrofoam all through the mountains so climbers won't get hurt when they fall. She said I was nuts and one thing led to another until I bet her twelve dollars (which is the price of a wash and set) that I was right. I mean a local native told me.

You know the rest. I'm out twelve dollars, my hair looked like a Brillo pad for a week because Wanda Jo was laughing so hard that she botched the job, and now all the girls, and Bert, are telling the whole state what a fool I am.

So I think that young man owes me twelve dollars and an apology. If anyone there knows who I'm talking about, I'd appreciate you slapping his face and getting my money. The young man was taller than me and had a beard. You're bound to recognize him because he had on sunglasses with a silly strap around the back of his head. He wore jeans and a T-shirt that said Skipped Parts. He had on sandals. Get him for me.

Kathy McLish
Norman, Oklahoma


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  • Juliet’s Balcony, Verona, Italy

    Throngs of romance-minded tourists flock to this tourist trap each year, believing that Casa di Giulietta was home to Juliet, the fictional star-crossed lover featured in Shakespeare’s famous play, <em>Romeo & Juliet.</em> The truth is that there is little historical proof to link the house to Shakespeare's tragic love tale. Truth be damned. Tourists wanted the balcony and in1936,<a href="http://www.theiloveyoublog.com/2012/01/juliets-house.html" target="_hplink"> it was built so the love-struck could stick notes on the wall </a>and earn bragging rights for having been there and done that, according to <em>Frommer's Guide to Italy</em>.

  • Al Capone In The Tunnels of Moose Jaw

    Why let facts ruin a spicy story? It is often repeated that Al Capone used a network of underground tunnels to transport illegal hooch during Prohibition. There’s never been any physical evidence placing the gangster in Moose Jaw during the 1920s, but <a href="http://www.tunnelsofmoosejaw.com/plan-your-visit/faq/" target="_hplink">anecdotal evidence</a>, from someone’s fifth cousin’s mechanic, or some such thing, keeps popping up. Tales handed down decade after decade from family to family say Capone was in the hood and generations are sticking to those stories despite any independent corroboration.

  • Masai Villages, Masai Mara, Kenya

    They make great photo ops. Masai families, beautifully adorned in colourful cloth and accessorized with beaded jewellery, pose in front of mud huts. There are dozens of these villages dotted across the Masai Mara, a popular tourist hangout for safaris. But they may not be the real deal. Instead, what tourists are probably looking at are "enkangs" -- villages of 10 to 20 huts that have been commercialized over the years. Those who work at "enkangs" do dress up in traditional Masai clothing but are also likely to push souvenirs as you make your way out. As <em>Frommer's Guide to Kenya and Tanzania </em>puts it, <a href="http://www.frommers.com/destinations/themasaimara/4277010029.html" target="_hplink">"the experience is unpleasant, at best."</a> Travellers fortunate enough to visit legitimate Masai Villages or a manyatta, the location where Masai warriors train as part of a rite of adulthood, will probably need a Masai camp guide and translator at the very least.

  • Globe Theatre, London, UK

    In the 1989 movie "Field of Dreams", a voice in the cornfield told Kevin Costner: “If you build it, he will come.” It was in reference to a baseball field, but it applies elsewhere too. The Globe Theatre was where Shakespeare’s plays entertained the masses<a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/28/nyregion/john-orrell-68-historian-on-new-globe-theater-dies.html" target="_hplink"> until 1644 when the Puritans</a> (notorious haters of good times) <a href="http://www.nytimes.com/2003/09/28/nyregion/john-orrell-68-historian-on-new-globe-theater-dies.html" target="_hplink">tore it down</a>. Fast forward to 1997. A modern reconstruction was built, kind of like the old one, even though the original dimensions remained unknown, on a site 750 metres away from where the theatre stood -- close enough for modern-day crowds flock to the theatre once again.

  • Fake Dinosaurs At A Museum Near You

    Many museums around the world have dinosaur exhibits, featuring life-size skeletons of these prehistoric beasts. They’re impressive, no doubt. But many are fake, not made of bone at all, but of plaster to satisfy the need for public education. The real thing is tough to find. The bones are super heavy and very fragile. Often there are bits missing so new parts are cast. Steel magnate Andrew Carnegie found a complete, real fossil for his Museum of Natural History in Pittsburgh. He was so proud of it that<a href="http://books.google.ca/books?id=gsPyr7N3nBwC&pg=PA199&dq=Andrew+Carnegie+dinosaur+plaster&hl=en&sa=X&ei=P7fdUdKAK9Op4AOHlYGoDw&ved=0CDYQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q=Andrew%20Carnegie%20dinosaur%20plaster&f=false" target="_hplink"> he made several copies and sent them off for public viewing in cities such as Paris, London, Berlin, and St. Petersburg.</a>

  • China’s Terracotta Warriors<

    They are like the Justin Beiber of the museum world. Everyone wants to see the famed 2,000-year-old terracotta warriors from Xian, China; but demand outstrips the supply. Too few warriors, too many anxious museums ready to showcase them. The solution? Make lots and lots of copies and send those to unsuspecting museums. But someone<a href="http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/2007/dec/12/china.germany" target="_hplink"> at the Museum of Ethnology in Hamburg, Germany</a>, did the math and realized what they were loaned from China were fakes. Visitors to the museum were offered refunds to compensate for being duped.

  • The Stanley Cup

    When sports fans watched a guy like Jonathan Toews of the Chicago Blackhawks hoist the Stanley Cup over his head in victory, they probably didn’t realize that it was a copy.<a href="http://www.canada.com/ottawacitizen/news/sports/story.html?id=34d66bfd-d845-4812-aba5-ce11a26b517a&k=61761&p=1" target="_hplink"> There are three versions of the cup.</a> The original 1892 Dominion Hockey Challenge Cup is kept in the vault room at the Hockey Hall of Fame in Toronto. It was awarded to champs up until 1970. A presentation cup of the original was made in secret in 1963. These days, it’s the one winning team receives. There’s another one – a replica cup – made in 1993. It serves as a stand-in at the Hockey Hall of Fame when the 1963 version on the road. Which are you looking at? Check the listing for 1984’s Edmonton Oilers. The name Basil Pocklington does not appear at all on the replica.

  • Green Gables Farm, Cavendish, P.E.I

    Truth is an inconvenient for those who come to worship Canada’s most famous ginger, Anne of Green Gables. Green Gables is the 19th century farmhouse that was home to cousins of author Lucy Maud Montgomery. Though it features “Anne’s Room,” Anne never lived there. She didn’t live anywhere in fact. <a href="http://www.tourismpei.com/green-gables-cavendish" target="_hplink">Anne of Green Gables is a fictional character</a>, but tourists don’t seem to care. They see Anne’s footsteps everywhere.

  • Hollywood Walk Of Fame

    If you’ve made it in Hollywood, chances are you’ve got a star on the Walk of Fame – bought and paid for. The process of being immortalized on a sidewalk is hardly unilateral.<a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/entertainment/2013/01/how-do-stars-get-on-the-hollywood-walk-of-fame/" target="_hplink"> You or your management team can nominate yourself if you have a minimum of five years experience in the category you’re nominated in (film, TV, radio, music, or theatre) and pay a $30,000 fee.</a> A committee meets on June 20 to choose who gets a star. Some aren’t willing to play the game. That’s why folks like Julia Roberts, Clint Eastwood and George Clooney don’t have stars. You’ve got to pay to play.

  • Faux Tiger Sighting, Shaanxi, China

    To boost tourism in the poor province of Shaaniz, sightings of a rare tiger was seen as a godsend. A local farmer produced digital photos of the beast surrounded by a thick curtain of trees. Word spread, sparking the interest of tourists curious to come see the elusive tiger for themselves. Turns out, it was all a ruse. The farmer received the equivalent of about $145,000 (a huge fortune in rural China) for his photos, <a href="http://www.chinadaily.com.cn/china/2008-06/29/content_6803353.htm" target="_hplink">which had been doctored</a>. He set up a glossy poster of a tiger in the woods and snapped the pictures. When they hit the Internet, questions popped up and local officials had to admit to the fakery.