Thanksgiving always brings back memories of my step-grandfather Ralph, a pathological liar who I’m fairly certain was in the witness protection program. (He looked the part, and his surname was Martinis). Ralph was fat and hairy, a dead ringer for the “Time to Make the Doughnuts” guy. My paternal grandfather, after eyeing a shirtless Ralph, likened him to a “burnt bale of cotton.”
When Ralph said he had lunch with Colin Powell, we indulged him, as we always did. Like the time he claimed the cable company forced him to subscribe to the Playboy Channel: “I told them I want that filth off my TV, but they said it comes with the basic package.” “Oh really, Ralph. That’s a shame.”
(One Thanksgiving, when I was probably 15, 16, Ralph insisted I watch one of his favorite movies, “Zapped,” an 80s teen sex romp starring Scott Baio. He also introduced me to Buddy Hackett.)
Ralph had a string of jobs, usually at small-market TV stations. He tried to go into business for himself, selling those pre-Direct TV giant satellite dishes. He kept one for himself, dwarfing the small ranch house he shared with my grandmother. We were to believe the dish exposed Ralph to information unavailable to the cable-reliant masses.
Soon after Rock Hudson died of AIDS, Ralph told us veteran character actor Roddy McDowall announced he, too, had contracted the disease. Somehow the broadcast and cable news networks missed out on that one.
“I saw it on the satellite,” Ralph insisted, as if it was the final word. “The satellite” also reported that Michael Jackson had third degree burns from head to toe after that infamous Pepsi commercial gone awry.
“They don’t think he’s going to live,” Ralph informed us, solemnly.
No fabrication was too minor. While staying at a hotel in Florida, Ralph insisted there were seven other Ralph Martinis’ staying there: “It was total chaos.”
His bio was full of spectacular events. He claimed to have raced speedboats on the Chesapeake Bay; “I was the prince of Bal-tee-more,” said Ralph, who had little tolerance for non-Yankees. For instance, when he discovered there were no Mobil gas stations near my parents’ house, he blamed it on “stupid Southerners.”
His lies persisted to the grave, and beyond. According to his obituary, Ralph was a veteran of the Korean conflict.
One problem: Ralph would’ve been 13 when the war commenced, 16 at its conclusion. I think we would’ve heard about that adventure.