Sunday, July 17, 2011
I swear like a whore being thrown from an airplane.
It's always come naturally to me. My Dad always cursed around us. I don't remember a time, ever, when language was curtailed to protect our young ears.
With my Dad, many sentences begin with "God damn it..." and end with "...this fucking thing!" For example, "God Damn it, these gardeners with their leaf blowers, I'd like to strangle the people who make these FUCKING things!" This same sentence construction can be altered for the holidays, "God damn fucking Christmas tree lights, always tangled, always have to buy them new, these fucking things." Merry Christmas.
Or, for a younger audience, upon assembling the birthday toy, "These directions are bullshit, honey, I mean it, just bullshit. It's all just CHICKEN SHIT." I'd wander away to play with something already assembled, something slightly less chicken-shitty.
I remember going to sleep away camp when I was eight, where I shared a bunk with a whiny, bossy, know-it-all, tattle-tale named Diane. She was a whistle blower of the worst kind. You'd be passing out equal portions of smuggled contraband, like Trident, or M&M's and she'd rat you out with her mouth still full. So I called her a fucking-idiot-tattle-tale-shithead. Later that night I was so homesick I wet my bed.
I've always found swearing to be delightful and descriptive and vaguely soothing. Maybe because the chances were good, considering there were changing tables to be assembled and curtain rods to be hung, my dad was swearing to me in the womb. I'm sure indelicate language was daily counterpoint to my mother's own life-giving heartbeat as I prepared to beat my path into the light and noise.
I was recently talking to one of my husband's oldest friends. From everything I've witnessed this man is a flawless dad. Vild admits, he's really ruining it for the rest of us because this sweet man cooks and cleans and says nice things to his wife. He's genuine and helpful and what's worse, he clearly enjoys being a father. I've never once seen him run away to hide from his kids or shirk a parental duty. I mention him because he and I were talking abstractly about swearing and he said he never swears in front of his kids, to which I exclaimed, "You're shitting me!" Kids everywhere.
He comforted me by saying, "Yes, but you don't drop the F-bomb." And I stared at my feet and mumbled, "Naaaahh, I don't do that." But of course I do. I have done. I will do. This may seem like splitting a cunt hair, but I would never say it directed at my children. I would never ever say, "Look you little fuckers, clean up your rooms!" But if I stub my ankle bone on that pointed metal bed frame again, I will always scream, "God Fucking DAMN it, mother-fucking fuck fuck!!!" and I don't feel too bad about it. I feel its the least my ankle deserves under the circumstances.
This past year I made a resolution to curb the profanity. I did so only because my kids were rolling their eyes and turning my name into a six beat word. Maaaaahhhhhm! So I decided to make a swear jar. Many have been called. The fee was a quarter for the S-word and fifty cents for the F-bomb. My kids LOVED the idea because I told them they'd get half the money and the other half we'd give to charity. I figured it would take about ten bucks to kick the habit. It started out slowly, I was really considering my words. Something would slip and I'd ashamedly get out my purse. It was good. The system was making me more aware.
Pretty soon there was close to fifteen thousand dollars in the jar. I'd wake up in the morning and if I'd had a bad sleep, or I just felt a bad day looming, I'd throw a fiver in before I'd even had coffee.
My plan backfired.
My kiddos often come to me to ask about the profanity of certain words. "Mom, is crap a bad word?" And to my ear, crap is a really good word. I can think of no better word to describe, for example, the contents of Bed, Bath and Beyond. Also, it sounds kind of mild and all right to me. Crap. Aw crap. That thing that broke right out of the package is craptastic. "Mom, is Jesus a bad word?" My answer: You can't say Jesus, because I don't understand the rules surrounding Jesus.
Here's where it gets really complicated. "Mom, can I say Friggin'?"
Ok, so 'friggin' and frickin' and freakin' are words invented by a team of fakers trying not to get busted for saying 'fucking', am I right? So its a place holder. They say, friggin' terrorists, blah blah blah (because they're church goers and their ass-grabbing priest might object). But we all know what they're not saying, don't we? These kinds of things get all metaphysical on my ass. What IS language? If you substitute cho-chi for vagina, are we not all still imagining your fur wallet? Honestly, If I say friggin' in front of the kindergarten class, is that ok? Nice to freakin' meetchya Mr. President? Am I still good? Can my kids say frickin' in front of other people's kids? Because they really wont be fooling anyone when they proclaim that putting on their friggin' shoes is a total pain in the tushie. So aren't all these rules arbitrary and dynamic?
I don't hold back on language of any kind. I don't dumb down my vocabulary for them. If I mean languid, I don't say pooped. If I want them to be exemplary, I don't ask them to be good doobies. No, they don't always know what I'm talking about. Sometimes I have to break it down. Flaccid, honey, means lacking firmness.
I don't want to hear my kids say fuck. I really don't. And so far they haven't. I think mostly because I've worn the sheen off the poor word. The other reason I don't want them to say it, though, is because I don't feel like they've yet learned the true grace and heft of language. Their vocabulary is still relatively small, their reading skills are yet developing. They don't really get it about how deftly words can be used to hurt, to humble or to exalt. I think when they do, when they can impress me with the use of words not found in the slang dictionary, then I wont really mind if they toss a few thousand fucks my way.
Friday, July 1, 2011
I've been thinking a lot about my old friend, Pat. He's that person, the one I've known the longest on this planet. We were zygotes together. Our mothers stood belly to belly in a gated park on the Upper East Side, while their daughters, my sister, and Patrick's sister, played. I imagine us as two tiny cartoon fetuses waving to each other through transparent belly domes. I liked him even before he was born.
Later, and he doesn't like me to mention this, a fact he'll deny, we took baths together as tiny kids. Sorry buddy.
Let me say this before anything else, Pat is now Patrick. He's maybe 6'3". He's got perfect teeth. He's a handsome, successful Ivy league graduate and owner of his own film company - that and whatever else he is, good and bad. But when I knew him, he was a chubby kid with buck teeth called Pat. Both our Dads worked for magazines. His for People, mine for Time. We were wrought from the same general genetic material. Both our moms were redheads. We had older sisters the same age. We both went to Dalton. We were both largely unsupervised by adults who, when they were around, were in their studies, or off somewhere having "grown-up hour", a euphemism for martinis. Pat and I were together and on the prowl.
Our primary prey, the focus of our plotting and sneak attacks, were our older sisters who, enough of the time, were in the next room. They "babysat" for us, by which I mean they spent the afternoon screeching, "GET OUT OF MY ROOM!!!!" We were uniformly hated by them. As proof of this, I once read my 10 year old sister's secret journal which had a chart of the important people in her life. Gillian was represented by a drawing of a rose, Gus, Pat's sister, was a daisy, and I was a line drawing of a garbage can, out of which green stink waves curled.
Pat and I were undaunted by their loathing. In fact, unrelenting- we taunted them, spied on them, eavesdropped, threw things and sabotaged them until we got bored. Then we set off into the rich unknown of the city for giant salted pretzels, Italian ices, and pizza.
We spent approximately four million hours playing at each others house. We walked the ten blocks or so to school together, carrying violin cases, or clarinet cases or school projects, then back again at the end of the day with heavy book bags. At recess, because the school had no outside space, they put up police barricades at either end of the block to stop traffic and we played between the parked cars. At dismissal time, we stopped at the Sabrett cart that parked outside our school (to get some of that upper east side allowance action - at that time mine was calculated by the cost of a daily pretzel, which was .25 cents or an Italian ice, which was .50).
We shucked and jived to and from school. The sidewalks swelled with our absurd and joyous repertoire of silly walks and slapstick. Pat was a person who would gladly do absolutely anything to make me laugh. He would walk into walls. He tripped over stuff, and let things hang from his face. He stuck things to his forehead. He could hide, sneak, pester and do voices. Not surprisingly, these are now the exact qualities I seek in my adult friendships.
We lived around the corner from one another which made the flow from his house to mine seamless. We had keys and divorced parents. We came and went, often together. We cavorted to Gimbel's department store- their 70's floor plan included a top floor devoted to pet supplies - for hamster bedding. To Azuma for whoopee cushions or posters or Chinese finger traps. We had school-issue public bus passes which enabled transport, free of charge, to movies, farther reaching friend's houses, and deeper city adventures.
Years later, he went to a fancy boarding school of one kind, I went to a fancy boarding school of another. His had blazers and tradition. Mine had moccasins, roach clip earrings and capes. But that distance didn't stop us from together attending his prom, on acid, I in a fringed flapper dress, he in a suit. We had a mind bendingly fun afternoon and evening, again prowling around, this time illicitly, but no less hilariously. We were too enlightened to attend the dinner, so we just walked around campus looking like what we were, old friends, while everyone else, with their imported dates, stood awkwardly holding elbows, dancing like white people.
I like to tell my daughter stories about Pat. She loves the idea of a best-friend boy. Her two best friends are boys, brothers, but they moved away and this has diminished her friend selection to an array of females. There's not a lot of cross-gender pollination in her group and its a bummer for her.
She's got what I had, a desire for loony play based on cockamamerie, so she likes to hear how Patrick would hit all the elevator buttons and pretend he hadn't as we stopped at every floor as if this was just how elevators worked. She likes the stories of how we walked around Manhattan, kicking at each others heels to knock the others feet out from under them. She likes hearing about Halloween, when we'd go to one apartment building, start at the top and hit every apartment on the way down in a helix of sugar-seeking, digging our hands into crystal bowls of pennies for UNICEF. She likes that we were both slightly below in station, compared to the celebrity children and heirs. She likes that we were free to move about in the world, with bus passes and allowance. It's a world she can only fantasize about, as I drive her to her friend's house strapped into our grimy van, the day formulated by adults, schedules, availability and supervision. She asked me recently if she could collect the mail and I had to think hard about the risks of her crossing our road to collect it. What the hell has happened to me?
I'm waiting for her to have that one best bud that fills her night sky with the constellation of possibilities. The one who loves her beyond all others, who will walk into a door to hear the tinkling of her laughter. The one who will squeeze mushed food between their fingers for her, armpit fart the national anthem and coat their teeth in chocolate sauce to better speak of serious matters.
I haven't talked to Pat in a few years now, but I know when I do, it will be because he calls me pretending to be a charity promoting better drinking water for parakeets.