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The Best Policy


Alan Dittrich

Several nights ago my wife substituted for my regular toothpaste a similar-looking tube of truthpaste.

I sensed something different right away. It was so fast acting. Even while I was rinsing I started admitting unpleasant truths to myself: I’ll never make department head; my 30-year-old stepson, who lives in the basement and rarely pays rent, is never going to become the next Jerry Seinfeld; I am afraid of the dark; I’m never really going to use the treadmill we bought.

But Amelia was loaded for a different kind of bear. Though disturbed, I tried to settle into bed when, without preamble, she turned on me and asked, “Are you in love with Gigi Malone?” Normally I’d just roll my eyes at a question like that and say, “Oh, please,” and ignore her, but a strange force compelled me to answer her this time.

“No, I am not in love with Gigi Malone.” That was true. Nor did I want to discuss Gigi Malone at all.

She came at me a second time. “Do you lust for Gigi Malone? Do you find her attractive?

“Yes, I do. Everyone finds her attractive. She’s gorgeous.” I couldn’t stop myself. “And yes, as you put it, I do lust after her.” This is not the sort of thing you should admit to your wife, not after 20 years of marriage. Not when Gigi is young enough to be your daughter.

“And …” she said, with a long significant pause.

This urge to spill the beans overwhelmed me. It was uncontrollable. I was like a rambling drunk. “And … I have hit on her once. Actually, twice. Actually, propositioned her is more like it.” It was the powerful truthpaste obliging me to admit all this. I knew it was exactly the wrong thing to be saying, but I was in thrall of the drug. I wonder if the American Dental Association also recognizes it as an effective decay preventive dentifrice when used in a conscientiously applied program of oral hygiene and regular professional care. It has fluoride. My whole mouth felt clean.

Amelia could not have cared less about the American Dental Association. She was vindicated and smirking. “So you propositioned her … and what happened?” She must have guessed at my humiliation.

And in fact, the truth was more painful to my ego than to our marriage. I had to reveal it. The truthpaste made me do it. “She said no. She said no very emphatically: No. No, no, no, no, no. Not now. No. Not ever. She made it quite clear that I am not her type. And besides, I’m way too old for her, she said. She thinks of me like an uncle.” That hurt.

My wife laughed a little. Then a lot. Then she rolled over in a tidal wave of hilarity. Almost hysterically, building enormous risible momentum. I guess the thought of me, 54, paunchy, spindly unequal legs, liver-spotted scalp hardly hidden by a few sad strands of gray, the thought of me even daring to wish for the most desirable young thing in all of Michaelson, Mickelson, Melton and Myers made my wife mirthful. She gasped for air. She was imagining my embarrassment when, finally having screwed up my courage, I revealed my desires to Gigi only to have her sweetly and sternly say, “No. No, no, no, no, no. Not now. Not ever.” Amelia actually enjoyed her big chortle. Schadenfreude, indeed.

When she could get her breath again, between peals of laughter, she asked, “How come she hasn’t reported you and gotten you fired for sexual harassment?”

I knew the answer to that. And under the truthpaste’s power I revealed it, one of the two most important secrets I had.

“She didn’t report me because if she had, there is someone else who would have reported her for sexual harassment and maybe gotten her fired.”

“Her? What do you mean? Gigi Malone harassed someone?” Amelia asked.

And, again, unable to check the torrent of truth, I said, “Yes. She is completely infatuated with Ewen Gunderson. And she even tried to seduce him, right there in Conference Room B. While they were clearing up after the last design review meeting. She got right in front of him and backed him up against a wall and pushed his hand inside her blouse and reached her own hand into his pants.”

“Let me get this straight. She tried to seduce Ewen Gunderson; he’s that little pipsqueaky guy with the enormous nose, right? and he turned her down, the girl everyone wants?”

“That is correct.” This was a confidence I had from Ewen. I’d sworn on my mother’s grave never to betray it. My mother wasn’t dead, but I hadn’t told Ewen that.

“Well, how come? If she’s everyone’s dream lay and she’s behaving like a slut, why not do it?”

“He has his heart set on someone else,” I said. “That means that Ewen couldn’t blow the whistle on Gigi because then they might blow the whistle on him.”

“Who might?”

“The person that Ewen lusts for. The person he’s been secretly pining for, the person he propositioned one day.”

“My god, all you people do is think about screwing. How do you get any buildings built? Well, go on. Who did Ewen go after, and why didn’t she turn him in? It’s like a daisy chain.” Amelia was getting better information than she’d ever hoped for.

“Well, it’s not as simple as that.” Beads of sweat were popping out on my forehead, my veins were pulsing, but I don’t think my wife noticed. I was fighting hard, but the truthpaste was potent.

“It’s not a she,” I said. “Ewen Gunderson propositioned a guy, a man, in the men’s room.”

Amelia let out a long whistle. “I should have known he’d be gay,” she said. “Who’s the lucky guy?”

This was just as embarrassing as my failure with Gigi. I had to reply, though; the truthpaste could not be denied. “It’s me,” I said. “Apparently he’s had a crush on me for three years. I had to say No to him. He’s not my type. He’s not even the gender of my type.”

There. I’d revealed it all. Amelia just sat there openmouthed, with some kind of tape holding her bangs in place, like a glutinous Buddha in her enormous nightgown.

“So, I couldn’t turn in Ewen because he knew about me and Gigi; he couldn’t report Gigi because she knew about his hots for me, and Gigi had to let my proposition slide because I could report that she’d molested Ewen. So we quietly agreed to say nothing.”

Thankfully, Amelia was stunned enough to let it rest at that and we eventually went to sleep. I dreamt about all the excuses I’d made in my life for all my squandered opportunities. The truthpaste worked on far into the night: truth isn’t always pretty and even your subconscious can’t always varnish it.

* * * *

The next morning Amelia asked me, “Does this outfit make me look fat?” It was a test to see if the truthpaste had worn off. But even if I’d just brushed (and I hadn’t, figuring I’d buy regular toothpaste on the way to work), I could honestly say, “No, that outfit does not make you look fat.” Because, of course, she just is fat and the outfit had no discernable effect on that. It couldn’t hide it; it couldn’t exaggerate it. At 305 pounds you’re pretty much fat regardless of what you wear.

All day at the office I thought about how I could get my hands on some truthpaste. I didn’t know whether Amelia had left it in the medicine cabinet or reversed the swap. There were some people I’d love to get the truth from. Not, of course, that I’m often around when they brush their teeth, but I was willing to bet that the stuff could prove very useful if, say, I slipped truthpaste into the executive washroom and then lay in wait for the vice presidents and the chairman, who all practice excellent dental hygiene, after lunch.

Or if I were feeling prurient, and when was I not! I could somehow get Gigi to brush with it and then ask her lots of questions about her sex life, which I imagined to be quite torrid and arousing.

* * * *

At the office I spent some time on the Internet seeing if I could locate truthpaste. Surprisingly, no luck. In fact, there was no mention of it anywhere. On the Internet, where everything has a life and where every real and imagined product exists – nothing. Mysteriously, truthpaste produced not a single hit in any search engine. I’d have to get Amelia somehow to reveal the source. Maybe I could get her to brush with it herself. Then I realized that there was absolutely nothing I wanted to know from her – probably not a stirring tribute to our marriage – except how to get some truthpaste. An interesting conundrum.

She was still at work when I got home that evening. I tried to discern if whatever was in the bathroom was truthpaste or the original innocent toothpaste: I dabbed a tiny bit on my tongue and waited to see if I felt a fit of truth coming on. Nothing. So, she planned to keep it under her control and use it at her discretion. I wondered if the effect was cumulative. After a month would I become habitually honest?

I rummaged high and low in the bathroom and in every other room of the house looking for the truthpaste. If you think about it, there are a million places to hide something small like that. I couldn’t get to all of them without wrecking the place. But I also knew that Amelia couldn’t get to a lot of them because she’d kill herself trying. Our stepladder wouldn’t support her so the hiding place wouldn’t be high up. It couldn’t require fitting in a tight space, like behind the water heater.

Even with these advantages I found nothing. Maybe she kept it with her in her handbag, among the Ring Dings.

Herschel came home and it occurred to me that he might be an accomplice. He could get anywhere she couldn’t. Herschel is cranky but he’s not dangerous. I could easily intimidate him, despite the fact that he towers over me. His father was nearly 7 feet tall, and skinny, and Herschel inherited that gene. “How was work today?” I asked him pleasantly. He works a mommy shift from 10 to 2 as the drive-up teller at a local bank and spends the rest of his time writing jokes. Every evening he will go to any comedy club within 250 miles that has an open mike. His gas expense eats up most of his wages. They always let him on because he’s a 6’ 11” beanpole and that alone could have been hilarious. But he never once has made a joke about being tall. I’ll give him that. He didn’t go for the easy laughs. He challenged the audience. His best joke is about the plutocrat and the sugar cookie. He just isn’t a funny guy.

“Ah, ok,” he said.

“Herschel, do you know anything about truthpaste?” I asked him. I couldn’t beat around the bush on this kind of subject.

“No,” he answered. Nothing further. He wasn’t surprised I asked; he offered no elaboration. He looked at me as if expecting another question, but I had nothing more to say. I nodded. He nodded. He headed to his room in the basement to “work on his material.”

My wife’s job is in the customer service call center for the IRS. I’m surprised she hasn’t been outsourced to Bangalore, but I guess the Feds have rules against that. She’d be home soon and I had run out of possible hiding places to check. I decided to enlist help, so I got on the phone and called Gigi; when she answered I asked her to wait on hold while I called Ewen. Then I conferenced the three of us together: “Listen, I think Amelia is going to blow the whistle on all three of us. I need to know if you know where to get truthpaste. Looks like regular toothpaste, same tube and everything, but it has something in it that makes you always tell the truth, even when lying would work better.”

“Never heard of it,” said Gigi. “Did you Google it?”

“Yeah, nothing.”

“Sounds like something the government developed secretly,” Ewen speculated. He was devoted to conspiracy theories.

“Well, do you know anyone in the FBI or the CIA or the NSA?” I asked.

“No,” he said.

“I don’t, either,” she said.

“I need to find some way to get to her secret thoughts and find something to blackmail her with or we may all be toast,” I said. Despite its faults, Michaelson, Mickelson, Melton and Myers was actually a great place to work.

“Great marriage you’ve got going there, sport,” said Gigi, with a touch of sarcasm.

“Why don’t you just dump her?” asked Ewen. He clearly had an ulterior motive – me – but Gigi wasn’t about to let that happen. “Oh, Ewen I could make you a whole lot happier than he could, any day of the week,” she said. We were getting way off task here.

I heard the car pull into our garage. “Look, I’ve got to go. You two both have an assignment. Find me some truthpaste and pronto.” We all hung up.

Dinner was a silent affair. Amelia was always talked out from being on the phone with befuddled taxpayers all day. Herschel tried out one new joke on us – it was about a Quaker, a Baha’i, and a Baptist preacher who are stranded on a desert island with Miss October – but even his mother didn’t laugh, so he sulked. After dinner Herschel put on his enormously long skinny tuxedo and drove off to The Laff Riot in Concord, New Hampshire. Amelia sank into her end of the sofa and we watched the Animal Planet for two hours and then went to bed. I brushed my teeth with the toothpaste I had hidden inside the toilet paper roll when I first came home.

As I got into bed she asked me, “Has Ewen Gunderson had disgusting gay sex with anyone at your company?” All of her questions seemed to be pelvic in nature. Was she secretly training to become a nun?

I did not know the answer. But she was expecting the truth and must have swapped in the truthpaste that I didn’t use. So I told her, “Yes, with at least three men that I know of … Tom, the guy who runs the copy center, Charles Maitland in marketing, and Art Levine.” Art Levine is married to Amelia’s cousin Letty and, as far as I know, he has never once strayed from virtue. Nor even a tiny bit. But this opportunity was not to be missed. Amelia’s eyes were wide in her moon face. “When did this happen? How often?”

“Oh, just for a few months,” I said, pretending not to want to say anything, but also pretending to be forced to talk by a power greater than myself. I twisted my face in pain. “At least twice a week from April to August of last year, while Letty was having chemotherapy. But once she started recovering Art cut it off. That’s when Ewen finally felt he could come after me.”

I was pleased with myself for remembering the approximate duration of Letty’s treatments. This riff was spontaneous and I was feeling good. I parked my head on the pillow, turned off my reading light and slept the sleep of the just.

In the morning I woke up refreshed and carefully brushed with my secret stash of Crest, listened to Herschel complain through breakfast about the dull audience at The Laff Riot, and watched as my wife pondered and pondered how she should break the news to Letty.

That day, Ewen, Gigi and I accomplished none of the work for which we were paid. We put in a lot of time trying to track down truthpaste. I took Art Levine to lunch and explained to him, in all seriousness, that I believed Amelia was having a breakdown. She was hallucinating and fantasizing; it was probably the stress of pinning all her worldly hopes on Herschel who was going down the same boulevard of broken dreams that had killed his father. “Please treat her kindly,” I asked him. “I am trying to get her into treatment, but she’s resisting.”

He nodded gravely. He understood. I was a good and loyal husband.

At about four Gigi and Ewen and I gathered in my office. She was looking stunning in a form-fitting blouse, short skirt and blazer. She didn’t seem to notice my attempts to look into her shirt; she only had eyes for Ewen and he was gonzo for me. But we did accomplish one goal. After thinking and thinking and looking through her little black Palm Pilot, Gigi remembered that among her tons of beaux, she had once dated a guy who was a salesman for the company that manufactured toothpaste tube blanks. They also made all the tubes for zinc oxide ointment, anti-fungal cream, and every other kind of cream, ointment and emollient that you can buy in a drugstore.

“What’s it worth to you?” he had asked her when she phoned him out of the blue to find out if they made look-alike tubes for the truthpaste company.

She hesitated only a minute and then promised him the three best blowjobs of his life.

“Ok,” he said He must have been imagining ecstasy. I know I was when she told me how she’d negotiated to seal the deal. “But,” he said, “you must never ever reveal this or I’ll lose my job. It’ll be my ass. It’s our most secret client. National security is involved.”

Strangely, Ewen was almost correct. The active ingredient in truthpaste had been developed by chemical psychologists at the University of Alabama under contract to the Secretary of Defense, Office of Detentions. Accurate dosing was difficult; you didn’t want to let prisoners know you were drugging them. If you put it in food, you ran the risk of people who were dieting, hunger striking, or gorging themselves. But research showed that most people used about the same amount of toothpaste … a dollop the length of the brush. So if you gave prisoners a little toothbrush, they got a little. If you gave them a big toothbrush, they got a lot.

In the end, they knew that they’d revealed truths they wanted to keep secret, but they rarely suspected the toothpaste (or truthpaste). Rather, they thought about the food, the psychological torture, or the guards’ threats. And kept brushing and kept revealing.

“How can I get some of that?” Gigi had asked the old flame.

“Can’t be done,” he said.

Again she had a ready tease. “All the threesomes you’ve ever wanted.”

Weakened, the salesman spilled just a little bit of info. “They make small batches with very strict controls, just four people, in a small secret lab at NIH in Bethesda. I had to go there to set up the filling equipment. Crest doesn’t know we’ve copied their product. They would be really pissed if it got out.”

“Well, how could an ordinary citizen get hold of some of this?” she asked.

“Couldn’t,” he said. “There is amazing security and every single tube is audited and accounted for.”

Somehow, though, Amelia had gotten her hands on it.

The next day Amelia called Letty and told her that Art had had a homosexual affair at work while she was being treated for cancer.

And the day after that she called my boss and told him I was fooling around with Gigi Malone. He said, “Gigi hasn’t made any complaint to me.” To which she explained the whole convoluted triangle.

The boss called me into the office. I denied everything. He called in Gigi. She denied everything. He called in Ewen. He denied everything. “You might want to speak to my cousin-in-law Art,” I told the boss. He did. Art explained that Amelia was subject to hallucinations and was mentally ill. She had even accused him of having a homosexual affair while his dear wife was in the hospital, which was quite unthinkable. The boss was convinced my wife was nuts and let the whole thing go.

That night Amelia asked me, “Did anything interesting happen at work today?” I was about to answer when Herschel interrupted with a new joke about the ethical culturist who walks into a juice bar with an alligator on a leash. It was a bad joke. “Not really,” I answered. She became a little edgy. “Nothing?”

“Well, we were told that the company’s contribution to the 401(k) is going to be 3% this year, but that’s been the same forever, so it’s not that interesting.”

In bed later that night she returned to the day’s events. “You didn’t see your boss?”

“Oh, yes, I did see him,” I answered. A sort of severe smile began to form on her lips. Her huge teeth showed.

“And …”

“And he wanted to thank me for mentoring Gigi Malone on the Nicholson project all this year. He thinks we work together pretty well and he’s switching her to my team.”

To Amelia’s mind this was true, because the truthpaste was proven effective. The thought of my spending endless hours with the adorable Gigi even after she had exposed our little corrupt triad must have driven her crazy. A darkness descended on her like night on Jupiter; she rolled ponderously onto her side and went to sleep.

Just as she was dropping off, I said, “Oh, yes, there was one interesting thing. Ewen Gunderson was promoted to team leader and is now Art Levine’s boss.” Not a word of it was true. But at least I sent her off into the arms of Morpheus believing that all her plans had been thwarted despite her revelations to the boss.

In the night, I slipped into the bathroom and re-swapped the truthpaste. Now it was in the toilet paper roller and the regular Crest was on the sink. She’d do another swap before I got up, exchanging one harmless toothpaste for another.

“This is it,” I said excitedly my co-conspirators that day, showing them the innocent-looking tube. “I don’t think you have to give any blowjobs to your old friend since we solved the thing ourselves,” I told Gigi.

“Oh, I was never planning on doing that,” she said with an air. “I was going to introduce him to Ewen; he’s really his type and I’m sure they would have hit it off.”

Ewen said nothing.

For the next three weeks I pretended to give in to the irresistible power of the truthpaste, and I spun yarn after yarn, which she ate up.

Later that month I turned the tables on Amelia. About the only thing I could ask her, the only thing that piqued my interest, was, “Where did you get truthpaste?”

She struggled mightily but fruitlessly against the secret product, and told me. I guess 35 years at the IRS did give her some connections. I can’t say too much beyond saying that she was able to do a couple of “favors” for some guys from the NSA who had certain tax problems that she was able to resolve. Any more and I’d have to kill you, and myself, since this is a national security matter.

Thanks to the many inventions I had fed her, Amelia was able to report as Gospel that my boss was fornicating with both his secretaries, that the Chalmers family next door to us were growing pot in their garage, that the mailman stole every 20th piece of mail, that Herschel was hugely successful and pretended to be penniless in order to take advantage of us, and that Gigi had finally relented and we’d made love in each cubicle on the 19th floor, one after the other, one evening after all the others went home.

Amelia informed the Board of my company, the police, the postal inspectors, her IRS buddies and Gigi’s parents. A week later she was taken away and now occupies a comfortably padded room in McLean Hospital.

I’m guarding the truthpaste. I will use it, but sparingly. Truth is dangerous and tricky to handle and can easily become toxic. And of course, Gigi and Ewen carry their own toothpaste everywhere since they are skeptical of my intentions.

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