"Do you kiss your mama with that mouth?"
I had been stymied -yet again- by some random inanimate object that had decided to hate me and in my frustration muttered "Sonofabitch!" to myself. The gentleman who overheard me was looking very stern and sad to be so young. I tried to make the situation better.
"I'm sorry. I shouldn't have said that. You know? When it comes to people I have all the patience in the world, but get me around the simplest mechanical thing and I go bugfuh- never mind."
Never mind indeed. This is actually sadly ironic because I was as much a late bloomer to swearing as I have been to everything else in my life. My first exposure to the F-word didn't happen until I was in the fourth grade and then it didn't take. A classmate had been beaten pretty soundly by one of the deaf students. (There was a mini-school for the deaf situated right next to the grade 4 classrooms.) The principal went around to every class and lectured us about teasing the deaf kids. She ended her talk by telling us to never make the following sign to them and made a circle with her right thumb and index finger and then pushed the left finger in and out of the circle rapidly.
"What does that mean?" someone asked.
"Uh. It means...chase me. So don't do it!" The principal was ushered out by my teacher, who gave her a few comforting pats on the arm before closing the door.
"'Chase me!' will get you beaten up?" I asked.
Someone threw a paper airplane at me and told me to shut up, so I spent the rest of the school year and part of the next thinking that particular hand gesture meant "Chase me!" I was finally disabused of this misunderstanding by my mother after I got cocky during a church league softball game and used the gesture while taking a leisurely lope between second and third base.
I had finally gotten the hang of stand-alone obscenity when I was thrown yet another curveball at the tender age of thirteen. We, meaning my family, had taken a road trip through West Texas. For some reason the odd town names amused my dad and he loved being able to say he'd been to Happy, Muleshoe, Whiteface and so on. We were taking a break in Earth, Texas. I walked down the street to get a picure of the "Shop Scenic Earth!" sign and noticed a handpainted placard taped to the front window of an old variety-type store. It said:
Come on in!
We're the friendliest store in Earth!
Underneath that someone had taken a marker and written:
What? His ass is the friendliest store in Earth, Texas? He has a friendly ass? His ass is friendlier than their ass? For the life of me I couldn't parse it out and was a little afraid of asking my parents what it meant. I finally figured that one out a month later when I asked my new best friend, Terri, who had three older brothers, chewed tobacco and swore like an Aggie cadet.
Later that year my father allowed me to watch Monty Python's Flying Circus. So you'd think... No.
My sheer cussed ignorance of the linguistic red light district came into play again when I was in high school band. Our director was an officious man who did his own version of parade dress and inspection before every football game. He had a son who was studying music education at Middle Tennessee State and he allowed him to "practice" on certain less loved sections of the band. One particularly bad night after the guys in percussion had spent the afternoon being roundly spanked by the director, he decided to send Little Officious over to inspect us. A mere breath after Little Officious demanded that we stand at attention, someone, probably one of the bass drum guys, called him a dildo.
Now, I thought I'd heard this word before but I wan't sure. There was much snickering as Little Officious turned beet red and walked away very quickly. The whole thing had me confused. Why would someone get so upset over being called a Hobbit? Maybe it was time to check out Tolkien.
Dr. Officious stalked over to the drum line. He was so mad he was trembling.
"Does someone want to tell me what happened here?"
Everyone looked straight ahead, not breathing, hoping to become invisible. Everyone, that is, except for me. I had no clue what had happened. I wasn't getting what the big deal was.
"Jas!" Dr. Officious barked, "What happened here?"
"Well," I said, trying to play by the rules when I wasn't sure of the game, "Little Officious was doing parade inspection."
"And..." I looked straight at Dr. Officious and said, "Someone called him a dildo."
There was a collective gasp from the rest of the drum line. I had no idea, none, what I had just said.
"A what?" Dr Officious said, nearly choking.
"A dildo, sir. Someone called Little Officious a dildo."
Dr. Officious squinted at me, pulled at his face, walked a few paces a away, came back and squinted at me some more while I looked back at him, gormless and confused. He sighed deeply, started to walk away again and whirled around, pointed to my section mates and snarled, "DON'T!" before stalking off to make the color guard cry.
Some time during my sophomore year of college, a classmate had a catalogue in her smut collection and I made the connection. So there you go. Some people go to college to complete their training and preparation for professional life. Me? I rounded out my vocabulary of inappropriate words and have been happily swearing ever since.
copyright 2008 Jas Faulkner