I was waiting for my wife just outside the dressing room of a big department store when an overweight young woman emerged from one of the stalls wearing a tight dress at least two sizes too small. Posing in front of a mirror, she asked the salesperson, "How does it look?"
"Perfect," the salesperson replied, "it's just right."
I couldn't restrain myself. "Are you kidding?" I said helpfully. "She looks like a three-pound kielbasa stuffed into a hot-dog skin."
The customer burst into tears and retreated to the dressing room. The salesperson eyed me sternly. "Why did you do that? It was just a little white lie. It didn't hurt anybody."
"Oh, but that's where you're wrong," I corrected her, "White lies can be very dangerous." And then I told her the sad story of Andy Smith, the man who told little white lies.
"Just like you," I began, "Andy Smith thought little white lies didn't hurt anybody. One day, for example, he was standing in the street next to a very big dog when a woman asked him, 'Does your dog bite?'
"'No,' he said. But when she tried to pet this dog, it bit down hard on her hand, drawing blood.
"'I thought you said your dog didn't bite!' she screamed.
"'He doesn't,' Andy replied with a big smile, 'but this isn't my dog!'
"Another time Andy was in the theater when the leading man suddenly clutched his heart and fell over. One of the actors came to the front of the stage and pleaded, 'Is there a doctor in the house?'
"Andy stood up and shouted, 'Yes!' then moved to the front of the theater. And when he got to the stage and saw the stricken actor, he smiled and said, 'Unfortunately, I'm not him.'
"Finally, one day Andy was flying to California when there was a commotion in the front of the plane. Emerging from the cockpit, a panicked flight attendant shouted, 'Can anybody fly an extremely complicated 757 jumbo jet?'
"Andy couldn't help himself. He had told so many little white lies that it had become second nature to him. He immediately stood up. 'Yes!' he shouted with his usual smile and started making his way to the front of the plane. And when he got there and looked at the complicated controls...Well, I'm sure you can imagine what happened after that."
The salesperson looked at me with new found appreciation. "I see. So what you're saying is--"
"That's right," I interrupted, "in the wrong hands, a little white lie can be fatal!"
"Thank you for sharing that with me, thank you so much. Now I understand why you did that." Then she walked away. But moments later, from somewhere deep inside the dressing room, I heard her voice as she proudly told an unseen customer, "How do you look in that? Are you kidding? You look like an elephant wearing a bikini."
And I smiled contentedly.