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Two Lunches, by Paul Theroux – Harper’s Magazine

You’re seldom suspicious when you’re happy, and so I didn’t realize that the whole awful business was about to start w…….

You’re seldom suspicious when you’re happy, and so I didn’t realize that the whole awful business was about to start when Vita said, “It’s been ages since you had lunch with Frank. Why don’t you two grab a bite?”

Whenever Frank was asked a question he didn’t want to answer he’d say, “Look in the mirror and ask yourself that.” I was tempted that day, but instead I smiled at my lovely wife while I contemplated my hateful brother.

As the kind of lawyer he was, Frank had a whopper license, and it helped, because he told awfully long, rather dubious stories. It was sometimes the same story, or nearly so. Now and then it was one I had told him that he later told back to me, inserting himself, with embellishments, not remembering it was mine. Talkers who repeat themselves pay no attention to their listeners—they’re at an imaginary podium, waving their arms, broadcasting to a crowd—and are usually themselves bad listeners, if not completely deaf. Many people found Frank’s stories amusing; others called him a bore and said, “How do you stand him?”

Yet I was often fascinated by Frank’s stories. You don’t have to like someone to listen. When I was in the mood, I heard him repeat them, noting how he changed them in the telling, what he left in, what he omitted, the exaggerations, the irrelevancies, the new details.

The nun who caught him smoking: in one version, she told him to confess it as a mortal sin and lingered outside the confession box to hear him bare his soul to the priest. In another, she forced him to kneel on a broomstick a whole day as punishment. In the one I liked best, the nun handed him his half-pack of unsmoked cigarettes and made him eat them. But I knew that because of wheezy lungs Frank had never smoked.

The one about his being brutally murdered in Florida by a drug gang: his bullet-riddled body discovered in a Miami mansion, his face mangled beyond recognition. Our parents got the call, on a weekend when Frank was on vacation, and they were devastated. Turned out, the man had Frank’s stolen passport on him. A great story, but untrue.

Another: his saving the life of my high school friend Melvin Yurick, whom he’d found bleeding at a campsite in the local woods, Yurick having gashed his hand with a hunting knife. In Frank’s telling, by rescuing Yurick he’d altered the course of history, because Yurick later became a billionaire pioneer in digital media. The story was mine—it was I, hiking …….


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