Wrong

By Dave Carnie

I was in Las Vegas recently with Tania and another couple. We were all staying at the Mandalay and we had rented a poolside cabana. At some point shortly after lunch we grabbed our complimentary inner tubes and headed to the lazy river. I was the last to enter the water, but before I could I was stopped by a man with a goatee.

“Can I have that back?” the goatee asked me. He was pale and white and looked like every other pale white person at the pool except for the stupid goatee.

“Can you have what back?” I replied confused.

“The inner tube,” he said, “that’s my inner tube.”

I explained that it wasn’t his inner tube, but my inner tube, and continued on my way into the pool. I thought that would be the end of it.

“Nuh-uh,” The Goatee said. “That’s mine. I set it down right here on the pool deck, and I saw you pick it up.”

That’s when it started to get weird. He said he saw me pick up his inner tube, but I did not pick up his inner tube. “I’m sorry,” I said again, “but I’ve had my arm around this inner tube since I left our cabana two seconds ago.”

The Goatee shook his head, no, and again insisted that I stole his inner tube. I could have easily squashed the whole argument by just giving him my inner tube and walking back to our cabana and getting another one, but The Goatee had ruffled my feathers. He was being obstinate about a fucking inner tube, and, more grievously, he was calling me a thief. On top of all that, he was completely wrong. I’m already on edge with this “alternative facts” bullshit and how half the country is in complete denial in regards to reality and science, so this inner tube nonsense got me heated. I wasn’t about to reward someone for being stupid.

So me and The Goatee went back and forth like the seagulls at Disneyland—“MINE!” “MINE!” MINE!”—before The Goatee finally grew tired and mumbled something about me being a thief, “Whatever,” and have a good day (“you dick”). I hopped in the water, joined my friends, and floated around the lazy river in my inner tube.

That was not the end of it, though, because the experience had left me all shook up and I was filled with rage. There is nothing that makes me more mad than being falsely accused of anything. I can’t stand injustice or hypocrisy in any form, but when it involves me personally I become enraged. “Red! I’m seeing red!” as the Minor Threat song goes.

So when the Mandalay’s lazy river returned us to the area where the argument occurred, The Goatee had a friend with him who I clearly heard say, “Is this the guy?” So I pulled up along the coping and stopped to confront the friend.

“Look,” I said, “this is my inner tube. I have no idea what happened to your inner tube.”

“Nope,” his buddy said with complete confidence, “you stole it, pal. I saw you.”

Pal? No surer sign of a douche pickle. That’s when I realized that both of them bore a slight resemblance to any 80s teen movie villain, but especially the guy who called me “pal.” The Goatee was kind of smarmy and a little pudgy with his stupid hair pipe, but it wasn’t hard to imagine his douchey friend playing the role of Johnny Lawrence in The Karate Kid. “Sweep the leg.”

“Oh my god, you guys are fucking idiots,” I said shaking my head in disbelief. This was insane and I was astounded by how dumb these two guys were. “Have you considered, even for a moment, that you guys might be wrong? That you might be accusing an innocent person of stealing your stupid inner tube?”

“It’s a fucking inner tube,” Tania interjected. “Do you want us to rent you a new one? Because we can buy you all the pool toys you want.”

The Goatee’s friend ignored Tania and got down on his knee and said menacingly, “Nope, because I saw you take it, buddy. Everyone here saw you take it.” He motioned to a large group of people behind him in deck chairs. I’m not sure how many there were, but I like to imagine there were 12 of them: a jury. They all nodded in agreement: yep, we all saw you steal the inner tube. “Your Honor, we find the accused guilty on all counts of inner tube theft!”

Beyond my personal feelings regarding this incident, I found the whole phenomena fascinating. The Goatee and his group of friends and nearby acquaintances were all 100% certain that I had stolen his inner tube when, in fact, I had done no such thing. This event never occurred, yet to them they considered it fact. Is this what happens, I wondered, when large groups of people all claim to have seen a UFO or the Virgin Mary? I’m not placing myself above this phenomenon because if there’s anyone who’s easily fooled and has a horrible memory, it’s me.

When I got home I did a little research and discovered that failures of memory are more common than I had previously thought. In fact, I came away from my reading with the view that our memories are more often incorrect than correct. Scientists don’t completely understand how memory retrieval works, but they’re very familiar with its effects. It was interesting to read the ways in which the mind mistakenly processes information in light of the inner tube incident:

It’s easy to understand, for instance, how The Goatee could have been suffering from confabulation (a disturbance in recall that produces a distorted memory without the conscious intention to deceive) in regards to what really happened and then made an unconscious transference (mistaken identifications are the result of an inability to distinguish between the perpetrator and another person present at the crime scene) between the identity of the culprit and myself because it was a busy Las Vegas pool deck where there was a lot of interference (too much external stimuli may affect what was witnessed during a crime, and therefore obstruct memory). Then, when he reconstructed his confabulated story for his friends, he was guilty of co-witness contamination (when witnesses confer about an event they often end up agreeing on an incorrect narrative—research has found that 71% of eyewitnesses changed their accounts to include false components that their co-witnesses remembered), and thus The Goatee, and all his friends, thought I stole his pool toy.

In short, our memory sucks and is easily manipulated. Interesting. Yet, this explanation doesn’t make me any less angry about the event—in fact it makes me even more angry because it absolves The Goatee of any wrongdoing even though he done did wrong.

I would be amiss if I didn’t mention Black Lives Matter here. I’m not black so I have no idea what it must be like to have to endure these kinds of false accusations on a daily basis, whether it’s due to racism or faulty memory retrieval. All I was accused of was stealing some white dude’s fucking pool toy, it’s not like I was mistaken for murdering someone—or worse, mistaken for someone who is probably going to murder someone.

In David Sedaris’s new book Theft By Finding, he tells a story in which he is falsely accused of shoplifting. He laments the fact that he emptied his pockets for “the security goons” to prove his innocence. He, like me, is livid at the injustice of the experience. And also like me he arrives at the same racial conclusion:

“Of course this is nothing,” Sedaris writes. “If I were black, I’d get this several times a day. And I’d be really angry all the time.”

Sedaris reads the ending slowly, like this: “All. The. Time.” I can’t even imagine going through that inner tube experience every day. I’d completely lose my shit. How can anyone be expected to take that sort of thing sitting down? I haven’t been in a fight in years, but I wanted to fight those idiots. But, as we’ve seen time and time again, if you stand up for your basic human rights, there’s a good chance you’ll end up in prison, or dead.

Fortunately the poolside tiff with The Goatee and his “pal” did not end in violence. We all told each other to fuck off a few times before I floated off with the current and we never saw each other again. Which sucked because I began actively searching for them. I looked for those dipshits every day for the rest of our stay so I could deliver all the posthumous zingers I had concocted. The most important of which was: “You know who else saw what happened to your fucking inner tube? The security cameras.”

I wanted to find those crybabies and offer that we all visit hotel security so we could watch the footage from the pool cameras together. I wanted vindication, but mostly I wanted to see the look on their faces when they learned that they were wrong.

“What does it feel like to be so wrong, you fucking idiots?”

That would have been worth the amount of vacation time I wasted stewing on the incident. Sadly, I have a feeling that even if they were presented with a video of what really happened they wouldn’t apologize or admit they were in the wrong. Video evidence of reality doesn’t seem to have much bearing on what people want to believe these days. And that’s what’s really wrong.

Is there any way we can bring an end to “wrong?” I realize that education is out of fashion these days and that being stupid is all the rage (big fan, myself), but I wonder if it wouldn’t be possible to reverse this trend by rebranding knowledge as “The War On Wrong.” America loves war. Why not cast Wrong as our new enemy? It even has a catchy acronym: W.O.W..

Fight For Right! Join W.O.W. now!