I am not necessarily saying that this is a good thing, my life, how it has gone, but it started out with this high-profile university post that I got based on the impressive experience listed on my resume, or curriculum vitae as it is known in the academic world, and on the outstanding letters of recommendation from the provost, dean and department chair at the university that I had supposedly worked at for the last few years. The truth was that I had been in prison for all those years, serving time for fraud.
My parole officer was naturally surprised that I had landed such a good job right out of prison.
“What can I say?” I said. “I interview well.”
“But do you even have the necessary degree?”
I reminded him that through a grueling correspondence course in prison, I had received my Ph.D. in philosophy. My particular emphasis was in applied ethics. That this degree was forged from Harvard University of all places was not something that anybody had ever questioned. I’ve long stopped being surprised by this, or by how people wished to see others as trustworthy and the world as generally good, which, of course, it is not.
The only problem was that I didn’t really know the material. I spent the few weeks before the first week of my courses, therefore, studying it and realizing only then, in fact, that I didn’t really agree with the material. More disappointingly, I didn’t actually like the material. Two hours before the first day of the course, therefore, I thought that I would expose my true self by dropping acid.
At one point during the lecture, I began pontificating about the ethical value of the colors coming out of the empty eyeholes of the dolphins that were jumping, simultaneously, out of shimmering champagne flutes as painted on the fresco of my head. The students were nodding, taking notes, recording me on their various devices, raising their hands for clarification.
During my office hours for those first few weeks, I had been expecting the dean to show up with the campus police to usher me away from the university in the back of a squad car. But he never came by, or he did so, yes, later that year, to congratulate me on my nomination for The Donald P. Howard Award in Applied Ethics for my continued excellence in research and teaching in the field.
I hadn’t expected the made-up nomination for the made-up award to garner so much attention, but these were university people, apparently, looking for validation that theirs was an important field and that their university, furthermore—as evidenced by the outstanding merit of its faculty members—was on the cutting edge. I did not win the award, which garnered me, strangely, more respect from my department and the local press. Although nominations are highly sought after, nobody likes an actual winner.
I took on committee assignments. I gave public lectures. I gained tenure and rose in professional status and public intrigue. There was a huge waiting list for my classes. I wrote books that became national and international bestsellers. I responded to fan mail and messages via my various social networking sites. I had an affair with two of my peers’ wives. I drove a SAAB. I was recognized as a famous person when I went out to collect my dry-cleaning or while standing in line at Starbucks.
From the shelter, I rescued a dog with a gray muzzle and an arthritic limp that I walked around the neighborhood three times a day, waiting for him to pee. This dog was the only truthful thing in my life. Eventually, I grew lonely and married a woman who was as equally as fraudulent as me. She had two small children from her previous marriage that together we raised up to become twice the liars that we ever were, and I loved them for this, even though they were not mine.
After four-and-a-half decades, I was made professor emeritus at the university and, for my eightieth birthday, I was given a surprise birthday party by my former students. These students, first inspired by me, had gone on to become professors themselves, writing papers and books and becoming famous in their own right. At the party, they toasting me by quoting my work at length—some of them, quite pitifully, with tears in their eyes.
And though it has been sweet, all this attention, sometimes I wonder: Shouldn’t I have done what was right? Shouldn’t I have lived as me, or the actual, more truthful version? But immediately, then, I laugh. For I know the answer. If I had lived more truthfully, I would have ended up as some very average guy known for his chronic outbursts of unexpected rage directed most particularly, for whatever reason, at the valets, hostesses and servers at the nice local restaurants that he frequented.
If I have any doubts, I need only think of him, that other guy, wondering yet where things had gone wrong, where he had not been lucky enough, where he had dropped the ball, missed the connection, or otherwise had not been granted access to the right opportunities and resources that had been needed, and et cetera, et cetera, to rewrite his life.