Sunday, March 8, 2009


I have family members who will walk out of a movie at the first dropping of the dreaded F-Bomb. Yesterday I happened upon a blog- review of a favorite book of mine, and one of the reviewer's only qualms was the "intermittent dependency upon the word kcuf." (Write that last word backwards to discover what he's talking about, but be sure teacher doesn't see--that'll spell detention!) I remember when I was four or five years old, I would run outside, furtively glance about to make sure I was alone, and then spew forth all the four-lettered filth the grownups were allowed to say in anger but would earn me a sore behind. Looking back, that was probably how I first learned of the awesome "power of words" you're always hearing about from poets and philosophers. Whispering those few magical incantations in the solitude of my back yard, I realized that their power was not inherent, but drawn from an audience (of authority, no less). And it seemed to me that corporeal punishment was an unreasonable reaction to the grunting of a syllable. But there was nothing I could do about that, at least not at my size and age. And so, I learned not only the powerlessness of words out of context (mere sounds), but also the power of that context, and the necessity of knowing my boundaries. To every thing there is a season. 

I was raised by tee-totaling Baptists and, despite what some (or most) might immediately assume, I would not trade my upbringing, nor the parents, grand-parents, siblings, cousins, and uncles who managed it, for any other. And while I do love them, I do not share all of the opinions and beliefs of my family. In fact, having just spent a month with them, I imagine that the only things we really agree on are fried catfish, gumbo, and old country music (anything before the 1980's). I'm neither Baptist nor dry. Nor am I an alcoholic atheist. This comes as a major surprise to those indoctrinated in our Coke/Pepsi, Either/Or culture of opinion polls and bumper stickers. 

In the church, I was taught to loathe the lukewarm. It was either fanatical faith or none at all, and this was mistakenly translated into everything in life. You're either for us, or against us. Looking back, it seems odd that a Southern culture that values the all-you-can-eat-buffet would scorn other, intangible forms of eclecticism. Well, I'm over-simplifying. But I think that last statement is pretty funny, so I'll keep it. 

Getting back to our mother-f@#&kn' bidness. If I had unquestioningly followed the shepherd's hook of my southern fried upbringing, I would not have met the love of my life. I was not raised to consort with potty-mouthed binge-drinkers, but it was just such a low-life who introduced me to my love. Let's call him E. Taking cues from Jesus, who consorted with whores and tax-collectors, I befriended E. in Louisiana and later met up with him while we were both doing time in Boston. Much of our free time was spent imbibing the juice of the barley and sneering at the more attractive and successful people laughing and living it up at trendy bars in Harvard Square. Every other word out of his or my mouth began with fffffffff and ended with a belching uuuuccccckkkk. There are people in my life who would have fainted to hear the two of us go on in our usual manner.  But in the context, we were just two dudes talking. Albeit incoherently. Brings to mind the Modest Mouse lyric: "Talked all night but what the hell did we say?" 

And there are people in my life who would have shunned E. for his unholy tongue. But having sworn my share of oaths, I saw no problem in associating with him. Not that all of our pursuits involved alcohol and lowbrow talk. I met up with him one day to visit an art gallery, in fact, and he was accompanied by a classmate from Harvard Extension, a Brazilian immigrant who happened to speak real lady-like and turned her nose at all things booze. I personally was relieved to learn this. Finally, a girl who didn't have to drink to have a good time. Because of my lukewarm approach to drinking, I didn't immediately assume we were incompatible (I have friends who will not associate with non-drinkers, as a rule of thumb). 

[sorry to interrupt the program ladies and gentlemen, but don't you find it odd that "Voodoo Chile" is followed by "Little Miss Strange" on Hendrix's Electric Lady Land? Possibly the most ass-kicking blues-rock songs ever followed by some flaccid Beatlesque pop-pap? Talk about variety, which I think is one of the themes of our little discussion. Back to the program...]

Three years and ... what, four thousand miles? ... later, and here we are. So one of the greatest blessings in my life came, however indirectly, from following a life of sin. Go fig, Adam & Eve. Go fig. 

I was at a get-together once, and for some reason the "c-word" came up. No, not cookies. Believe me, I was wishing for some cookies. We're talking lady bits here. The discussion was actually about whether it's acceptable to use such a word in a poem. My opinion, which I did not voice at the time (remember: boundaries), is that it depends on a number of factors. And it's one thing to call someone by that name, and quite another to (perhaps erotically) refer to the organ with the language of the streets (or gutter, if you'll excuse a tasteless pun). One of the prominent voices in the discussion said something along the lines of this: "I have known some despicable, horrible people in my life, and the worst among them never used that kind of language!" 

Boy, did my face turn red! Because this guy was essentially saying that, by virtue of my cussing ways, I was to some degree worse than the most despicable characters in his life. I hope to God he didn't know any Nazis. Indeed, I began to wonder: what shattering of an idyllic snow globe did this asshole fall out of? Most likely: the 1950's. I don't go around announcing my age, but it's probably obvious by now that hippies trust me (i.e., I ain't over 30). 

Speaking of getting older, I find myself cursing less. Part of it might have to do with lower stress levels (corporate America is a real bitch). But a great deal of it has to do with the wisdom of the ages. You put too much pepper on your eggs and pretty soon the asshole next to you at the diner counter is saying, "Hey, you want some eggs with that pepper?" Mind your own flippin' business. 

While I don't agree with the Baptists in my life, who believe that, at best, God cries a single tear when you utter a curse word and, at worst, it's just another sin you'll collect your wages on in the afterlife if you don't give up your no-good Godless ways, I do agree with the more reasonable objection that vulgar words are, well, vulgar. Using them assumes your audience is among the lowest common denominator, and a preponderance of F-Bombs and C-Words can become insulting to one's intelligence. The very language I have been defending happens to be the lingua franca of the Coke/Pepsi culture of my disdain. Sure, I like my rock n' roll, but that just keeps me on the ground (why do you think they call it a groove? sooner or later it's a rut). If I want to soar, I'll ride with Saint-Saens' Phaeton

Conclusion? F#*@ if I know, dude. Pass me that Coors. Nascar on? 

1 comment:

  1. I had no idea you were blogging too, and from Brazil!!!??! great stuff!! did you know Brazil is on my radar for potential places to teach in the next few years??! kudOS - I'll keep up w/ all your musings, consider it my "preparation" for Brazil!