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The Bullshit Artist

There’s one in every bar. If Pip Flanders knew anything, he knew that much. In every

barroom there is that one guy you’ve never met before, but who nonetheless feels compelled to

start talking at you while you’re having a quiet drink – no, not the bore who tells you his life-

story – not the uxorious chump who sobs into his drink as he wearily admits his wife is cheating

on him – not the blowhard who feels compelled to explain, ad infinitum, the nuances of his

chemical manufacturing business. The one guy Pip Flanders had in mind was the professional –

the sassy-pants who is seemingly paid to contradict you, “… well, actually…” – the boob who

condescendingly chuckles to himself as he corrects a meaningless detail in something you said,

and thoroughly missing the point.

And it was precisely this type of lubber who inspired Pip to embark on what was perhap

the most important mission of his life: to become the ultimate bullshit artist. It became

paramount for Pip excel at this endeavor – he would aspire to one day stroll into any bar,

anywhere in the world, and shovel it as fast as he could make it up. This idea was not the type

that appears like a flash and electrocutes the mind: this was more the type of idea that has been

gestating in one’s craw for decades – festering, like a degenerative disease.

How many painful social events had Pip endured, as the one-time husband of a high-

energy sales rep, for him to have amassed so much material? People talking over, around and

through each other – manically discussing the non extant behind-the-scenes suicides in The

Wizard of Oz, or personally vouching to confirm urban myths… “… Jack’s cousin woke up in

an ice-filled bathtub in Tijuana, only to find one of his kidneys had been removed. Hey, the guy

has the scar to prove it – I’ve seen it…”

But these were not A-list bullshitters to Pip. And there were other levels to be explored.

The compulsive liars, for example: guy who tells you a story that’s almost too good to be true.

He then searches your eyes for a response afterwards – and in a way that screams, “did this

sucker believe me?” Then the other types, who just come right out and ask you if you believe

their idiotic claim – but those were particularly poorly-skilled bullshitters to Pip.

Another species to be closely monitored were suspect academics and loud mouth drive-

time radio personalities. They are seemingly odd bedfellows, though, both are disseminating

false information en masse. And both types punctuate their bullshit with brief pauses – the loud

mouth, for applause or a punch line effect. The academic, with his knowing look and head

nodding, as he waits for you to be stunned by his magnanimous reiteration of another person’s

ideas – and after presenting them as if they were his own. But all types possess the same intrinsic

trait: the inability to say, “I really just don’t know…”

In an attempt to amalgamate these various types, and ultimately develop his own hybrid

and unique bullshit artist persona, Pip retreated to the libraries to begin his research. Initally, Pip

quandared if by the very fact he was doing R&D, he was somehow negating the ‘spontaneous

bullshit aspect’ – by planning a routine – which in this case, was going to be his posing as a Gulf

War veteran. That is how the paradox arose – by doing research, wouldn’t he then ostensibly be

working from a script or notes? But this was to be a new level of excellence – an ultimate

bullshitter. So Pip thought it best not to doubt himself: he pressed on with his background

reading, and did not compare himself to previous bullshitters he had met.

In his Gulf War research, Pip came across a great deal of material – he absorbed it like a

dry sponge. There were the dates, of course. Then there were regiments, ranks, postings, battles

and the likes thereof. Pip commissioned himself a lieutenant. He would be part of a tank
regiment that had seen heavy action. And oh, and how there would be glorious stories of

thunderous air support. Hordes of Saddam’s Elite Republican Guard surrendering. The Purple

Heart. The Bronze Star. And then perhaps, the battlefield buddies who are today wasting away

from the mysterious Gulf War Syndrome – this, to put the final tap and tambour on his drum

march to ultimate bullshit artistry.

Pip chose the perfect locale to try out his new act – the Ye Olde Tymes Café. It was a

shot and a beer joint just around the block from his home. The clientele were mostly working

class guys, a few chippies getting a little long in the tooth, paunched old timers drinking their

pensions, and the occasional biker wannabe. The time of day was mid-afternoon on a work week.

Pip walked in and ordered a draught beer and a shot of bourbon.

The jukebox was playing Aaron Neville’s “Cry Me a River” – the song, smooth and

melancholy. The moment felt fecund for outright lying – the music, a perfect soundtrack to

which a bullshit artist could strut his stuff. Pip slammed the bourbon, and paused before he drank

from his beer – after all, a war hero should not need to chase hard liquor with beer.

Across the bar from Pip was an older black gentleman shuffling along, with a glass of

scotch in his hand, as he sang to the jukebox music. The gentleman shuffled over to Pip and sat

down. He spoke, “you see, you see, when he say, ‘If you cry me a river, I’ll cry you a river too,’

what he means is, if you cry me a river then I’ll cry you a river too.”

This man was clearly Pip’s foil. Pip wondered how he could’ve been so sloppy as to have

had let his guard down. The foil continued explaining to Pip what seemed painfully obvious song

lyrics. Then his foil claimed to be personal friends with Aaron Neville himself.

“You got to get to know the whole family. You see, when you know the whole family, as

a family unit – it is only then, my friend, that you’ve really gotten to know them. As a family.”
Pip was crippled by his embarrassment at being so quickly bullshitted. Shame.

Humiliation. Grief. He never even had the chance to initiate his own bullshit routine – he was

nipped at the bud, so to speak. Pip wondered if perhaps there were something about himself that

other, more accomplished bullshitters could see but that he could not – much in the same way

school children inherently know who the different child is, and quickly descend on him like

predators. Damn it all anyway, Pip thought to himself.

The foil’s routine was beautiful – within ten minutes of meeting Pip, he was talking of a

hit he was going to put out on a another man, who had wronged him in some nebulous business

deal involving hospital supplies and sundries. Pip admired his foil’s technique and saw the

moment as an opportunity to study a true artiste’s style.

His foil spoke, “so what about you, young man?”

“Well after I fought in the Gulf War…”

His foil immediately cut in – he was apparently a veteran of both Korea and Vietnam.

Yes, he had the medals at home to prove it. Wham! Pip never saw it coming. If they had been

sparring, Pip would’ve been given the standing eight count. He wanted to kiss his foil’s hand on

both sides, in admiration of the speed and rhythm of that wonderful bullshit delivery.

But Pip held fast.

Pip shot back, “well since that war, I’ve been kind of a drifter. No steady work. When

they called me up for the Afghanistan, I medicaled-out – bum knee from the first war. Of course

I tried to re-enlist for the Iraq, but….”

“Yeah I know, you medicaled-out. I medicaled-out of the Korea after just under two

years. I got me that million dollar wound. Not enough to kill me, mind you. Just get me

medicaled-out, my friend.”
Pip loved that his foil had jumped all over his spontaneous bullshit term, ‘medicaled-out’.

He decided he had survived the first round, albeit barely. But his apparent ability to pull a

bullshit term out of the air gave him the confidence to persevere with his arch-nemesis of an


One of the chippies behind the bar wandered over, at her own pace, and asked the two

bullshitters if they needed anything.

Pip’s foil spoke, “back this guy up, here.”

Pip nearly swooned at back this guy up. This foil was a real pro, long tenured in the fine

art of bullshittery. Clearly a bullshitter emeritus. But Pip seized hold of himself and the moment

by jumping back into the mix.

“Yeah, so like anyway, since the war I’ve not been fortunate to have had steady work. I

sometimes do a little freelance copywriting – I got a book idea, but it’s unrealized. Sometimes I

teach English as a substitute teacher – fuckin’ kids never respect a sub…”

“I had me a run teachin’. If you gonna teach English, then you gonna have to know the

fifty-two prepositions – starting with, ‘begin, began, begun’…”

Pip was stunned. He drank from his beer as he marveled at his foil’s having conjugated a

verb and then presenting it to him as a series of prepositions. Pip thought back to the first time he

stepped on to the ice to try-out for a semi-pro hockey team, the Regina St. Pats, in Saskatchewan

– it was soon that afternoon that Pip realized he was out of his league with the big boys. And that

was how he then now felt, talking with his foil.

Focus – focus is what this moment required. Pip made a mental note to somehow

embellish a lengthy career playing semi-pro hockey in the Prairie Provinces. The girls. The

fights. The injuries.

Pip’s foil drained the contents of his glass and ordered another scotch – Dewar’s White

Label. His foil rejoinered, as though he was answering a query, with a shockingly smooth segue.

It was as though his foil was verbally pouring a pitcher of water, “well, when you write my


Not if, but when. Pip was transfixed.

“… I’m gonna want it printed up like them palm-sized Bibles you see a man-of-the-cloth

carryin’ around with ‘em. You know? All small like…”

Pip decided his foil was highly-advanced. They way his foil randomly selected from

Pip’s bullshit, and incorporated it into his own routine was stunning. Pip felt his foil had

somehow accepted him – or had he caught on to Pip? Or was he just going with the flow? There

was no way to tell for sure.

Abruptly, a difficult moment arrived. Across the bar from Pip sat a middle-aged man who

looked angry. The angry man barked, “bullshit.”

Pip’s head snapped over to the angry man – an involuntary reaction Pip decided he

needed to learn to control. His foil remained unaffected, and slowly turned to the man across the

bar while raising his glass in the air, “how’s that, my friend?”

“That guy next to you never done fought in no Gulf War. I say he’s full of shit.”

“Well I politely disagree, my friend. I know for a fact this here man did fight in the Gulf


“Look, you say he okay. Then he okay. But I say he full of shit.”

“And it’s entirely your province to think as you wish, my friend.”

Pip’s foil turned to the chippie behind the bar, “Lolita, back that fine gentleman up.”

As Lolita poured the man another drink, the foil turned to Pip and whispered, “this guy is
just out trolling for drinks. I seen his type come and go… mostly just go, if you know what I


The jukebox played the next song, a number by Curtis Mayfield. Pip’s foil spoke

extensively about Mayfield – he knew suspiciously intimate details about the artist’s life, and

opined convoluted diatribes on Mayfield’s musical style, influences and so forth. At one point,

the foil claimed the two were former roommates in Chicago – but that was before Mayfield’s

career had really taken off.

Pip was astounded by his foil, who spoke endlessly about whatever came to mind, and

who dumped glass after glass of scotch down his throat. His foil told stories of surviving on

‘them rats’ while in a Hanoi jail, and too, a jail from which he ultimately escaped. But there was

no public notification of his unselfish escape, where he had led ten other soldiers to freedom,

because the US Army did not want to make matters any worse for those Americans still in the

prisons. Essentially, it was a cover-up.

But the one-way discussion began to fatigue Pip. He couldn’t keep up. His foil seemed to

gain speed and energy as the talk went on and the scotch went down – as though he were

somehow feeding off the life he was draining from Pip. And then Pip slipped up: he let out a

dejected sigh as his foil launched into a story of how he had once beaten a lengthy series of

parking ticket violations.

His foil paused at Pip’s sigh and then spoke, “that’s all you need to say, my friend. That’s

all you need to say. Thank you. I know I can be a little long-winded. And I thank you for politely

reminding me.”

And with that, Pip’s foil graciously excused himself and shuffled over to another part of

the bar, where he sat himself down next to another customer and recommenced talking. Pip was
astonished at his foil’s ease in manner, and seemingly bottomless level energy. He was also

slightly upset at having failed in his first attempt to compete with the heavyweights of the

bullshitting world. The fight was over. The bell had rung. It had been a knock-out.

Pip paid the chit and walked home. Along the way, he pored over the events from the

earlier scene in the barroom – scrutinizing every moment in an attempt to reconstruct the talk

between he and his foil. When Pip arrived home, he meticulously diagramed the whole exchange

on a large dry-erase board affixed to the wall of his apartment. He paced. He brooded. He


Pip’s desired ascension to the top tier of the bullshitting ranks was going to take much

more work than he had expected. As Pip cooked himself an omelet for dinner, he filed away in

his mind the finery of his foil’s moves, gestures and speech conventions. Tomorrow is another

day, Pip told himself as he sat down to eat his dinner. Bullshitting a bullshitter was going to be a

Herculean task.

Cleveland, 2004.