I remember vividly the first time I cursed as an adult.
I say this because cursing as a teenager doesn’t really count. We all go through that trial time when we’re sitting with a group of friends and decide that we’re going to try this profanity thing because it sounds really tough and cool; even good Catholic girls. . . especially good Catholic girls.
You’ve probably at some point sat at an adjoining booth and witnessed this little coming-of-age ritual, where every adjective in the conversation is replaced by the mother of all cusses: the “f” word. The wise among us recognize it for what it is and let it waft out into the ether, but some feel obligated to be offended and make a fuss, which is usually the desired effect.
The first time I cursed as an adult I was driving with my mother over the Ben Franklin Bridge in Philadelphia, going home to New Jersey. We were heading home and had just hit the apex of the bridge under the “Two Lanes to New Jersey” sign (which will totally be the title of my autobiography one day). It was dusk and we were in the left or “fast” lane. Just over the hump of the bridge in the right lane, right up against the edge, was a car pulled over with a flat tire. The driver had not yet had the chance to put out a hazard signal to warn oncoming traffic and I commented more to myself than to my mother, “That’s a hell of a place to have a flat tire.”
What followed from my mother was tirade of maternal guilt that topped the tirade I received when she found the cigarette lighter in the zipper section of my purse. Obviously I spent my time spewing profanity to the world at large while all this time she thought I was presenting myself as a well-brought-up young lady. Is this how I talked at school? At work? How much more of my foul mouth must she endure?
The most I could do to save face was say, “But it was a hell of a place to have a flat tire.” So, in rush hour traffic during the most visually dangerous time of day, my mother – who never hit – smacks me on the back of the head because I said “hell.”
Needless to say, I didn’t grow up hearing a whole lot of cussing. My father used to say using profanity indicated a poor vocabulary. His was amazing, but later in life a series of strokes took all that away and all he was left with were curse words. By then my mother had passed away otherwise he would have spent his last ten years with a headache.
I recognize the need for cursing. It must be very cathartic. There are some phrases that just aren’t the same without something strong. Could it be anything but “Frankly, my dear, I don’t give a damn?”
But I can’t cuss. I can write it, but I can’t say it. My efforts to curse are, as my sons will attest, laughable. I try to be glib and sophisticated but start stammering and stuttering
“Yeah, Mom,” Heir 1 laughs. “You’re a rebel.”
Fear not. What abilities I lack in profane oration is more than made up for by Dirtman. Dirtman never curses at anyone. He just curses at things or situations – or pocket lint. Dirtman’s ravings are like white noise going on in the background of our daily lives. He’s not angry or anything, just enthusiastic. We sometimes forget this out in public when something will set him off in a store – like maybe they’ve got tripe for sale and he thinks that’s really funny – and people look at the Heirs and me like we should be doing something, like shutting him up or at least looking shocked or embarrassed.
I am waiting for the time when Dirtman will overnight become outraged at the degradation of the English language by the use of profanity. This seems to happen to a lot of people when they get older and they go into denial about their past. My Aunt Angelina, who had a vocabulary that would rival any rapper, informed me during a hospital stay that she was offended by the language of some of the nurses. As one walked out after having taken my aunt’s vitals, she actually said this: “That one has a mouth like a damned whore.” (Upon relating this to Heir 1, he pointed out that, since Angelina is part of the Judeo-Christian tradition, the phrase was actually a redundancy. Heir 1 is very meticulous about his profanity. We’re encouraging him to go into law.)
So, I suppose for everyone but me there is a time and a place for cursing. But I still say that was a hell of a place for a flat ti…OW. Sorry. Reflex.