Wednesday, May 26, 2010


When I was a kid, I never even said damn it. That's not a surprise. There was almost no cussing in my house. It certainly wasn't on television (not that we had free access to that), and of course there was no YouTube or other cyber source to provide us with models.

Note that I switched from I to we. That happens when I think about my childhood. I imagine that when I was a kid, I felt more connected to others, more a part of a group – my four siblings and two parents – so that my experience always felt like a shared experience, even when it wasn't. I've also noticed that I easily say we "used to" do things. We used to play Capture the Flag at Chasteks in the dusk. We used to play Hide and Seek with the whole neighborhood. We used to go swimming at Silver Lake.

Well, I know we did those things, but I'm not convinced, now, that we did them often. I remember the games as having been played only when we were pretty small, and that they were played with big kids who, in reality, probably didn't let us play with them much at all.

Still, my sister and I used to have to share a pair of skates. I think we were brilliant (or was it Mom?) because instead of one girl skating with two skates half the time, we each had one skate all the time. We'd push and coast, push and coast, like a kid on a scooter, but not.

But back to swearing. Yes. That's what this blog is about. What did you think it was?

About once a year, my dad, who was a hothead, would roar, "Jesus Christ Almighty!" He sounded like the very God Whose name he was taking in vain. That evoked silence all round. Once he said, "Poop!" and we little kids giggled ourselves silly. Mom said damn several times a year, which is not bad for a working mother with five kids, I'd say.

Well, and the kudos don't really go to her. It was the times, I fear, and perhaps place. I never even read The F-Word until I was in my twenties, reading Vonnegut. I certainly hadn't heard it from anyone's mouth.

But the more I type, the more I think my family might have been freakish. Perhaps we were cleaner than others (or more repressed?), but the era certainly had something to do with it.

I've got a Friend on Facebook (hence the properly nouned "friend") whom I know to be a sweet, gentle young woman. She belongs to a group on Facebook named Pull Up Your F**king Pants You Look Like An Idiot. I was appalled when I saw that. I imagined her saying those words, which she would never do.

But of course, she merely joined the group; she didn't name it. A child named it, else there'd be some punctuation between Pants and You.

This morning, I read another Facebook entry that disturbed me. It's from a fourteen-year-old I know personally (unlike some Facebook Friends, I'm amazed to report), who's a well-behaved kid. He's handsome and bright and plays the French horn, for god's sake. (The actual instrument has been changed to protect his identity but not his innocence.) Here's what he wrote around midnight: "2 more goddam mother f**king days".

Well, even though it's incomplete, I'd like to have had a period at the end of the sentence. The number should have been spelled out: Two. If I thought "goddam" was truncated for the purpose of a slight bit of reverence or at least misdirection, that would be cool, but I think it was done out of ignorance. The really upsetting part, of course, is – how can he not know that "mother f**king" is one word?

In the end, I think we should legalize swear words. It seems that the UK has done it. Even chubby gray-haired ladies (ahem) holding cloth bags full of cabbages, standing under black umbrellas, say fooken. Ah, maybe that's what we should do. Let's curse with accents! I have long been a fan of shite.

I have a Colombian friend who liberally sprinkles his conversation with, er, fooken and motherfooken. I assume that on some level, he knows those are bad swear words, but I should think it's easy to swear in another language. It's like you're not quite guilty, since it's really not your language. I have a Polish friend who would never say pizza because it sounded too much like, um, female genitalia in Polish. Well now.

If there were no swearing – since it would all be acceptable – that would be one less thing to watch out for. We wouldn't have to think about who's hearing us (like our uncle's stupid friend who's always nosing around on Facebook!). No one would ever have to hear that ridiculous argument that people who swear a lot are simply showing off their lack of vocabulary. No. They're displaying the miracle of muscle memory, if you ask me, the amazing strength of habit.

I say let's swear with accents or in languages other than English, and get on with our lives. Che cazzo, y'know?

Friday, May 14, 2010


Okay. I'm painting a car, but I'm also waiting for yet another air-conditioning man to show up and give yet another estimate, and I'd rather paint straight through than be interrupted, and I just tried to update my address with Office Depot which resulted in many curse words, so – I know! I'll write a blog!

There must be a god! Look! I just made a dash! This is seriously exciting, and I've been yanked out of my discontent like a, a ... oh, let's let a Southern Writer finish the simile. In any case, those who know me from working with me know what a complete thrill this is. NUM LOC on. Hold down ALT. Zero one five zero. Whoo hoo!

I remember changing my name on everything from my Social Security Card to my library card when I got married ... and then again when I got unmarried. It was difficult, but I was young (twenty-three) and technology hadn't even given us a vertical line in typesetting yet, so it wasn't so bad. These days, though, trying to change my address at not quite sixty, while blasting myself for procrastinating on painting that car, and suffering heartily and loudly at a lack of air conditioning, it's a lot harder.

This last episode – the Office Depot one – was made extra annoying because there was a slight delay on their phone, so while the beleaguered Customer Service Rep was waiting for me to tell her how I was today, and while I was debating whether to channel my mother and simply say, "Fine, thank you," or channel my own damned self and say, "What difference does it make?" she thought I hadn't heard, and so repeated the offensive question.

Seriously. Can't we just cut to the chase? Can't we just conduct business? I'd like to hear, "How can I help you?" I can't even bear it when s/he says, "How may I assist you?" so imagine my burst-into-flamesedness when s/he says, "How may I make your day even better and more productive with our fine Office Depot products?" By cutting your tongue out, sweetie.

And have you noticed that Have a nice day in the stores is being replaced with Have a nice rest of the day? Ah. I guess they didn't catch me early enough to have a whole nice day, so I'll just have to settle for the rest of the day. I've even heard Have a nice rest of the week. What? Why? Jesus.

Ms. Home Depot also used my name for each and every question and comment. Okay. I know when I'm in love, there's nothing sweeter than his name, and I over-use it at every chance. But please. I'm just trying to change my address. Hearing my name twelve times in a two-minute conversation is just too much, no matter how much she and, by extension, Office Depot love me.

"Okay, Barbara, I just need you to verify your original address, okay, Barbara?"

Well, it's not okay. See, I actually can't verify my address. She has to verify my address. I can confirm it if she'll first announce it. I want her to say, "I'll need to verify your address. What is it?" I think this has to do with transitive and intransitive verbs, but I don't know for sure. Perhaps it only has to do with personality disorders.

In any case, when she ended our oddly successful call with the waitress-like question, "Is that all for you today, Barbara, or is there something else I can assist you with, Barbara?" I paused – to let that delay in the phone take place – and said, "Yes. No." We both hung up.

And that's another thing. With cell phones and even cordless phones, you can't slam a phone anymore. How frustrating! Hanging up on someone is no louder or rage-filled than someone gently touching the OFF button after murmuring sweet nothings to his/her girl/boyfriend. This is no way to live! I can't even slam a door anymore. Dave installed a storm door which eases shut and neatly ticks into the closed position.

Before you make Facebookesque comments about how you haven't even turned on your air-conditioning yet (and you know who you are), let me refer you to the accompanying photograph. See the ceiling fan whirling its little heart out? See the open window and the swing outside? See the other open window on the west? No. You don't. But it is open, creating a nice cross-breeze. And it's a windy day with an overcast sky, so the heat really isn't bugging me. It's kind of like you really don't have to use the bathroom until you're on the highway.

Let's go back to that remark about Southern Writers. I know Liz, Gale, and Rhett have just perked up their eyes. What I don't get is why there is a genre called Southern. Joyce Carol Oates often writes about Western and Central New York, but I don't think there's a genre called Western New York Writing, or even Rural Writing or Midwest Writing or Northern Writing. So why the Southern?

I can't quite believe it has to do with slavery, only because I've read Southern Novels that aren't about slavery. Can it possibly have to do with racism? Is that it – even though there's surely racism in all fifty states and our territories? James Baldwin is with me on this.

I sort of thought it might have to do with colorful similes, which is why I called for help in that area. I generally think catfish and hound dogs have to be involved. That dash yanked me out of my discontent like a catfish snatching a June bug out the air! But maybe I'm thinking of Mountain Folk?

In Pat Conroy's latest book, a really bad book which I couldn't even finish, he had sentences like, "Being a good Southern boy, I wore a tie to church." Boys in Chicago don't wear ties to church?

Don't make me Google this!