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Truth, Lies, and Honesty Shopping

I’m from the Midwest and we do not lie.

I’m from the Midwest and we do not lie.

Well, okay, that's a lie, but in truth,

we Midwesterners tend to be straight shooters and find dishonesty morally reprehensible. Sure, we may tell a little fib to avoid hurting one’s feelings, but lying lying? Not so much.

Growing up, I assumed everyone lived by this creed. Then I moved to New York.

I quickly gleaned that New Yorkers had a much more fluid interpretation of the truth.

My Bronx boyfriend wore shoes that that "fell off a truck." My roommate smuggled steaks home from her deli day job.

My landlord routinely ripped up his jury summons, crowing “Da Judge must wanna throw me a party, he keeps sendin' me confetti!”

One of my first jobs was waiting tables at a dying seafood restaurant owned by a national corporation. One of the corporate loops I had to jump through prior to being hired was to take an Ethics Test.

I checked No to questions like “Would you tell management if a coworker took a pencil from the break room?” and Yes to “Would you tell management if a coworker took $100,000 from the cash register?” This was not exactly MENSA material, so I was surprised when the exam proctor (who could've been an extra from The Sopranos) told me I didn’t pass.

"That's crazy! Why?"

“Youse got too many right - they figure you're lyin'.”

“But – I’m from Ohio.”

“Oh. Okay, that's a different story.”

I got the job.

A few years later, in Los Angeles, I attended Detective School (yes, there is such a thing. I am a proud graduate of the Nick Harris Detective Academy. Seriously. Google it.)

I learned that, in the investigative field, lying isn't "lying." It's "pre-texting" and, despite my forthright Midwestern roots, I proved to be very good at it. After graduation (at which I hoped, instead of caps and gowns we'd be given trench coats and fedoras, but, alas, there was no formal ceremony), the first gig I landed was, ironically, as an “Honesty Shopper.”

Basically, I had to go sub rosa (“under cover” for you civilians) to stores and restaurants, spy on the staff, then report back to Headquarters what went DOWN.

Usually, nothing much went DOWN.

Sometimes I was asked to detail a specific issue; like did the clerk promote the Rolex as they were supposed to? (That was fun, my trying to pass as one who could conceivably afford a Rolex. I went with "I dress poor but I'm really a rich, spoiled co-ed and Daddy's buying me this for graduation." Ah - if only.) Sometimes I was to simply evaluate customer service and/or quality of fare (I was assigned Il Fornaio in Beverly Hills so many times, I could recite their menu blindfolded), but most of the time, I was sent to bars.

My mission was to catch thieving, conniving bartenders and I was taught various tricks to make it easier for them to thieve and connive. Like throwing cash down upon ordering so they could pocket it without ringing in the drink order, or buying them a shot to drink while on the clock (bad!) or flirting for free drinks. I did the cash thing (no one ever pocketed it) but not the buying shots/flirting stuff as it felt too underhanded.

Though I wasn't supposed to actually drink the cocktails I ordered (always martinis or G & Ts as clear drinks are easy to surreptitiously dump into a water glass), anyone with me could - for free.

Free booze?!

As an underemployed actor with a ton of unemployed actor friends, I was the hottest ticket in town. The only hitch: I was paid per report, so to make it worth my while, I had to hit five or six bars a night. My friends, however, after the third bar and fifth martini, would want to stay put and it became harder and harder for me to coerce them off their bar stools.

So I'd relent and, instead, I became really creative with my reports. I'd expand one quick stop into four separate visits, serving up accounts based in truth but wholly fictionalized. I'd praise the excellent customer service, the sparkling clean surroundings, the convivial, lively atmosphere - these embellished reports were unfailingly positive. Only once did I rat out a bartender (her transgressions occurring on my actual visit, not my fictional ones) because she was blatantly drinking on the job and, more to the point, a total bitch.

In the end, I found the best way to make money as an Honesty Shopper was to lie.

When the promise of free alcohol could no longer entice even my most deadbeat friends to accompany me, I quit the bar job and worked as a real detective for various investigative agencies, like the one that did Insurance Fraud (malingerers beware!), or one that specialized in missing persons (finding them, not disappearing them), or the guy that mostly located hidden Big Rigs for repossession (incredibly tedious work, that. Try as I might, I could never share his enthusiasm for a "Hot lead on a Peterbilt!!") I will, however, save those tales for another entry; another day. No lie.

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