1. Archive

It's got to be true; everybody says so

In my hometown, a sad little burg in North Carolina, we had Communists.

I know this is true because everybody said so.

When I was a baby they were finding Communists across the country, and so we found them in Burlington, too.

When I was a little kid we were crazy about space exploration. People all over the country started seeing UFOs, and you know what? We saw them in Burlington, too.

I know I did. It was sort of a triangle-shaped thing.

You know that lady who put the poodle in the oven to dry and accidentally cooked it? She was from Burlington.

So was the kid who ate a ton of that fizz candy, drank a cola and exploded.

That girl who put on wet blue jeans that dried, shrunk and squeezed her to death was from Burlington.

And I remember, growing up during the Cold War, that we knew Burlington would be one of the first places to go in a nuclear war.

"Yep," folks from Burlington would say, "them Russians got a bomb with our name on it."

Everybody said so.

So even though I have not been there in years, I am dead-solid certain that last week in Burlington, as panic swept the nation, somebody found something inside a can of Diet Pepsi.

Maybe they didn't tell the cops, but they sure told a neighbor. I'm sure it's all over town by now. In fact, I'll bet you that the whole thing actually started there, and Tacoma, Wash., stole the thunder.

Bad Pepsi. Right there in Burlington. Heck, that's nothing new, judging from the people there who used to find false teeth and toothbrushes inside cola bottles all the time. Everybody said so.

This week you may hear experts and psychologists and such folk discuss why in the world people across the country would make up lies about finding things in soft drink cans.

They will talk about the media, and the pressures of our modern society. But I do not think it is a modern story. I think it is an old story. I'll bet you that many of the people who got caught up in Pepsi-mania were otherwise decent folks who just lost their heads and wanted to be part of it all.

"I thought I was losing everything," said a California woman who's been going through tough times. "I was just basically wanting attention."

And right here in Pinellas County, a man named John Sedwick gave in to the same temptation. "I've been real depressed lately," he said after he was caught. "I just wasn't thinking."

For a little while, though, they were part of something special. A national craze. They were the ones who saw the UFO. They found a Communist under the bed. And, however briefly, we made them the center of attention.

It was something they could say had happened, if not to them alone, then to them as one of a special handful among 240-million people.

As usual when somebody does something strange to get in the news, many of the rest of us sort of shake our heads and say, "That's stupid. I'd never do anything like that."

But I don't think any of us are too much different from our neighbor John Sedwick.

See, I grew up and left Burlington, and found in every other place I lived that people were pretty much the same, and had the same insecurities.

It turns out that every place had discovered Communists. Every place had UFOs. Every place was pretty sure there was a big old warhead pointed at it.

Every place, everybody wanted to be part of it all.

The Great Pepsi-Cola Tampering Caper was easy to believe but easy to discover. Sometimes things are not as easy to discover.

There are times when a lot of us, even all of us, know something is true. Our friends and neighbors stand up and give us first-hand testimony. How could it not be true?

And that is exactly the time to make allowance for the possibility that what a lot of us, even all of us, believe to be true is not true at all.

This does not mean we are liars and dupes. It means we are human.