Q: What do you call a guy who crossed the ocean twice without taking a bath?
A: A dirty double-crosser.
What three-word phrase might be used to describe the following things: an epithet designed to give any fibber pause; a popular radio and television game show; and a town in New Mexico?
Buuuuuzzzzz! Time's up!
Sound Cue: Glitzy electric-organ glissando.
That's right, we're talking Truth or Consequences here: all of the above, but most especially Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, a sleepy retirement resort town 150 miles south of Albuquerque, home to 6,100 truth-abiding souls. "Everybody say hello to Truth or Consequences out there on Highway 85," Ralph Edwards used to blare across the nation five times a week. "Yes sir, we're proud of our namesake city!"
To celebrate the show's tenth anniversary in 1950, Edwards offered any town in the U.S. the golden opportunity to be the site of the show's April Fool's Day birthday broadcast bash. On one condition. That the town change its name to Truth or Consequences.
The New York Times, Sunday, October 20, 1996: "The controversy [surrounding the proposed name change from North Tarrytown NY to Sleepy Hollow] has also raised wider questions about what it means to live in a particular place, what is evoked esthetically by a place name, and the effect that a name can have on the local economy."
In the end, Hot Springs, New Mexico, one of a handful of locales whose citizens voted in favor of volunteering for the honor, won out. But what implications did this sudden switch in identity have on the town and its inhabitants? Do the good neighbors of Truth or Consequences now live under the shadow of its name? Perhaps the little children of Truth or Consequences grow up trembling at even the thought of telling a lie. Or do they? Does anyone ever think about the meaning of the words?
"Ralph Edwards has done a lot for us," say the people of Truth or Consequences. The publicity breathed new life into the town's tourist trade, and Edwards himself poured a lot of his own cash into the place, giving money to the school system, the hospital, and others. In his seventies now, he is still the town's most loyal fan, and comes back every single year, dragging a few of his old Hollywood cronies with him, to take his place as guest of honor at the annual T or C fiesta commemorating the original event. This, of course, includes a re-creation of the old show. And the town repays the gesture in kind. There is an entire room in the four-room Geronimo Springs Museum devoted to the man and the fiesta.
And every year (he's never missed, not a one), as Edwards glides down Main Street at the head of the parade, nodding and waving to the roaring crowd, he must take comfort in knowing that because of Truth or Consequences, New Mexico, even after he's gone, his creation will never be completely forgotten. Talk about putting yourself on the map.
Stephanie Fleischmann writes fiction, non-fiction and plays.
She lives in Brooklyn.