MY FRIEND J. LIVES in Reston. My friend J. is a political reporter and for years, before I met him, I believed what he wrote. No more. If you ask him or anyone else who lives in Reston how long it takes them to commute to the city, they will say 35 minutes. If you ask someone who doesn't live in Reston the same question, the answer will be at least 45 minutes, maybe an hour. The reason it takes Reston residents less time is not because they drive faster or they know the shortcuts. It is because they lie.
This is what I call the Reston Rule and while it is named for Reston it could apply to anywhere and any place where people try to have it both ways -- Columbia, Md., would do as well. What it comes down to is preferring to live in the suburbs while pretending to be close to the city -- having, in short, the best of both worlds.
This is far different from the other kind of lie, which is to exaggerate how far you commute in an effort to show what you will do for your children. This is always done by people who live on farms, but commute to the city. Any farm worth the name is at least 2 1/2 hours away. In fact, this is how long it takes to get to Reston in the rush hour.
These kinds of lies are different from the traditional check-is-in-the-mail variety. Those lies -- the lies of politicians and of deadbeats and of men about to put the make on women -- are meant to deceive. But the lies of the Reston variety are meant to do something else. They are intended to make you look like you have managed to beat the system, to have your cake and eat it, too.
For instance, ask the next person you meet who is wearing new clothes if what they have on is, in fact, new. They will deny it. It does not matter if the pins are still on the shirt or the store tag is hanging from the sleeve. If it is a man, he will jump back as if accused of a sexual perversion and insist that he would rather be caught dead than in a new shirt. I have been asking this question for months and not a single man I know has admitted to wearing new clothing. I am no exception to this. In my case, I define new as anything in the store. Once, I put it on, it's old.
What this is, of course, is an attempt to be both well-dressed and frugal. In one sense, it is an effort to meet the Puritan Ethic half way, yet another way of seeming to be not vain since vanity, as we all know, is a sin.
It is for similar reasons that we pretend not to be asleep when we are awakened by the telephone. This is done not only to spare the caller the embarrassment of realizing that he woke you up. It is done because you want both your sleep and also to appear awake. And it is done also because people feel guilty about sleeping when others are awake. This is particularly true of naps and I, for one, have had intimate conversations with bill collectors, thinking in my sleepy fog that they were friends.
The latest lie making the rounds has to do with the gas crisis. It is the mileage lie. People will tell you the most outrageous things in an attempt to appear frugal about gas. I am no exception. I have noticed, for instance, that the car I bought in 1972 that used to get 18 miles per gallon, still gets that on the road, but 28 in conversation. What I want is a big car that's economical. What I have is a big car.
The urge to spend money yet appear frugal is so strong that people think it's perfectly normal to spend half their time during an expensive European vacation looking for a bargain. When they get home, they will trot out some $14 plate they managed to buy for only $5 and present it as if it vindicates the entire trip. These are the same people who will tell you that they know just where to buy something you just bought -- for less than you paid for it. People like this should have their citizenship revoked.
Anyway, it would be wonderful to know what somebody like Sigmund Freud would make of all this.He would find a society that is open about sex, but reticent about new clothes, that wants it all to hang out, but won't admit to being asleep when the phone rings, is truthful about important matters but lies about such things as commuting time. One thing is certain. If he practiced in Reston, he would start each psychoanalytic session with the same question:
"Why are you always late? We are only 35 minutes from Washington."