In Defense of Fiction This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine.


   "In sixth grade, Matias robbed the cafeteria.

At lunch, everyone sattogether at long tables with attached seats, eating and waiting for recess. Therewere two types of diners, those who brought their lunch from home, "thebringers," and "the buyers," who (because of lazy parents orpossibly foully unfair karma) were forced to eat the pellet-like Swedishmeatballs and soggy corn dogs of the cafeteria. That said, there was one day eachmonth when the cafeteria served uncharacteristically good Chinese food. On thatday, the weeks of turkey melts were forgotten. It was on that day that Matiasdecided to rob the cafeteria.

Matias, a wily, devious "buyer,"was thoroughly enjoying both his dumplings and gastronomic role reversal when a"bringer," jealous of Matias' day in the sun, reminded him that hewasn't quite so lucky: Matias only got one fortune cookie.

It was a directchallenge. Matias shot out of his chair. To really put the icing on an alreadyspectacular lunch, he would have two cookies yet. His eyes gleamed with mischiefas he slunk along the wall to the cafeteria door, smirking the whole time. Thefood was served in a small room with a counter just outside the lunchroom. Talland athletic, Matias stuck his head around the corner into the room to survey theguards like James Bond in a Soviet missile silo. The fortune cookies wereprotected by the glare of Ms. Wild, an angry woman who released frustration bybarking "Next" at kindergartners in line. Matias smirked at us one lasttime, checked to see he hadn't been spotted, and then charged into the room,grabbed a fistful of cookies and sprinted back to the table and a raucouswelcome. Grinning, he quickly opened the first cookie, crammed it into his mouth,then paused to read his stolen fortune:

You are upstanding and virtuous.

Your convictions will help you achieve your goals.

What you needto know about Matias and his fortune-cookie robbery is this: while he did steal adessert and end up with a fortune praising his virtue, what he basically did waswalk into a room and take a cookie, probably smiling at the aforementioned Ms.Wild on his way out. In its many retellings the story has evolved, the robberybecoming even more daring. I have heard friends claim that Matias's hand wasgrabbed by Ms. Wild, the old hag, who then reached for the fire ax kept above theserving counter before Matias jerked away and hid in the girls' bathroom. Thefortune, too, has become outrageous, developing from its initially mild You arean honest guy to the unequivocal irony above. Simply stated, the story has beenembellished, and I propose that there is nothing wrong with that.

Thosewho know me best are quick to point out the inconsistencies of my stories. AfterI describe my eccentric neighbor as relatively sedate, embellishing half-truthsto form a good plot, people will ask me about a previous stretcher. "Ithought you said he gave commentary on the news every morning? You said he talkedthrough Bob Edwards," they say, looking at me triumphantly as they point outthe flaws. I shrug, cornered, and make a half-witted cover-up. My family, on tomy trick, doesn't believe anything I say.

While I am guilty ofembellishment, it is a crime by no means unique to me. My classmates and Idelight in telling how one of our peers does 80 on Monaco Boulevard, hasspecial-made tires meant for race cars, and has to wipe the char from thewheel-well before returning the car to his father. We all have stretchers aboutwhat we saw in a second-floor bathroom or what our English teacher does on theweekends. The maintenance staff at my school, a portrait of incompetence, watersthe parking lot while ignoring the dying grass. Kentucky Fried Chicken changedits name to KFC because it's using a genetically modified bird that yields sixdrumsticks and doesn't want to be sued for false advertising. These stories areat best halftruths, yet are accepted as fact. They are repeated, embellished, andutterly ludicrous. Yet we accept them, if not believe them.

Two peoplehave given me identical advice. One is Marylyn Youngbird, a Native Americanactivist I once heard speak, and the other is my great Aunt Bella, a brilliant,loony music teacher for New York City Public Schools. The advice was: "Neverlet the truth get in the way of a good story." Embellishing is acceptable.We should not cling blindly to the actual story; this is, first, dull and,second, unnecessary. Why is the real tale more worthy of being told than thestretcher? Because it's the truth? Embellishment makes our lives like fiction,personifying our acquaintances and touching up our drab, daily fussings. Why letthe truth get in the way of a good story?

The truth never stopped MarkTwain. He begins both The Adventures of Tom Sawyer and The Adventures ofHuckleberry Finn by explaining that what you're about to read is the truth, withsome "stretchers" added in, of course. A body gotta liven' up hisbooren ol' schoolyard tales once in a bit. Matias stole that cookie. I reckonstretchin' the rest is just fine.




This work has been published in the Teen Ink monthly print magazine. This piece has been published in Teen Ink’s monthly print magazine.






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