Have you ever seen the movie Catch Me If You Can? It stars Leonardo DiCaprio as Frank Abagnale, a real-life con man who successfully posed as a pilot, a doctor, and an attorney in the 1960s before being captured by the FBI. It’s a great film, and an amazing story. I’d always wondered how somebody could be slick enough to get away with so many elaborate ruses.
Over the weekend, I found out when I stepped into Frank Abagnale’s shoes.
Tara is a social butterfly, and wanted to go to a local meet-up for an opportunity to connect with new people and maybe make a few friends. I’m all about supporting my spouse even if it’s not something I’m personally interested in, so I went along with her.
From the moment we stepped into the room, I felt uncomfortable. For starters, we were all seated at a long table in the private room of a nearby German restaurant. Not a big deal, but everybody in the group around us was at least 70 years old. We were easily the youngest couple there, until another younger couple sat down next to us. And there was no organized topic of conversation; we were simply asked to slap on name tags and talk with the people around us. I found the idea excruciating, but decided if I was going to be stuck there for another hour and a half, I might as well have a little fun.
“Whatever happens,” I whispered to Tara, “Just play along with me.”
When the woman across from me asked what I did for a living, without missing a beat I replied, “I’m an audiologist.”
And with that, I spent the next 90 minutes playing doctor.
Now, I’m not generally the lying type. If anything, I am honest to a fault. Because every time I fib a little, it seems to backfire on me. I just figured I was never going to see these people again, and was in the mood for a little storytelling. I honestly did not plan on pretending to be a doctor until I opened my mouth, and those words came spilling out. Fortunately, I work with audiologists on a daily basis, and develop content for ENT clinics every single day. If there’s one thing I know, it’s hearing. My friends have even come to me for medical advice, so it made perfect sense.
When the lady across from me said, “Perfect! I’m a high school music director and could use your advice,” my stomach sank for a brief moment. I could have come clean right then and there; after all, my little white lie was still hanging in the air, only thirty seconds old. But I decided to soldier on, curious to see whether I could actually bullshit my way through this.
I have to say, I pulled it off pretty admirably. She asked for advice on preserving her hearing, and I suggested custom high-fidelity musician’s earplugs that provide balanced sound reduction without affecting mid and high frequencies. This reduces loud noises while allowing speech to come through clearly. She then wondered if her two-month old baby would benefit from hearing protection if she were to bring her to a high school football game. I told her earplugs were a must for an infant’s sensitive hearing, and suggested she prevent them from falling out of her baby’s ears by wrapping a scarf around her head to ensure they stayed in place. This is a real solution I picked up during research for articles I have written. Suddenly I felt giddy. Here I was, helping somebody by dispensing medical advice! No wonder many doctors infamously have a God complex.
“How did you decide to become an audiologist?” somebody asked.
I got a real pensive look on my face, cocked my head to the side, and replied, “Well, even from a young age I knew I always wanted to help people…”
I got so wrapped up in my fake story, I was even starting to fool myself. When I got a text from Audrey, I wondered out loud if it was my message service paging me with an after-hours emergency.
Tara has a hard time keeping a straight face in situations like these, but did a pretty good job playing along. She has difficulty fibbing herself, so when the woman next to her, whom she was engaged in deep conversation with, asked what I did for a living, she tapped me on the shoulder and said, “What do you do, dear?”
“I’m an audiologist,” I replied, the words flowing smoothly now.
“A what?”she asked, and then laughed.
“Ha-ha,” I said, recognizing immediately the little hard-of-hearing joke. “I’ve never heard that before!”
Cue laughter from the rest of the table.
I have to admit, I had a surprisingly good time once I got wrapped up in my fake life. So much so that I was almost disappointed when the meet-up came to an end. No harm, no foul…right?
Of course, with my luck, we’re liable to be shopping for groceries one of these days and have somebody recognize me. “Excuse me, Dr. Petruska,” they’ll say. “I need to schedule a hearing exam.”
At which point I’ll say, “I’m sorry, but I’m no longer an audiologist. I decided to become a pilot instead.”
Frank Abagnale, you’re a bad influence…