When I was a kid, I used to spend the month of August at a Girl Scout sleep-away camp. Come the end of July the counselors had had a month of camp songs and there was always one that they were thoroughly sick of. So it would be officially banned by the time I got there.
Well, that’s how I feel about a particular four letter word – the one referred to as the f-bomb. That baby’s been dropped so many times, I find it merely annoying, especially when people use it three or four times in one sentence. I’d be willing to start a movement for its retirement on the grounds that it’s become a cliché.
Let’s test that out.
From the Merriam-Webster online Dictionary:
Definition of CLICHÉ
1: a trite phrase or expression; also : the idea expressed by it
2: a hackneyed theme, characterization, or situation
3: something (as a menu item) that has become overly familiar or commonplace
Yep! It passes.
But it wasn’t always so. When I was growing up in the fifties, hearing it on the school playground, (the Catholic school playground)was extremely rare. And if it was heard, it would bring forth a chorus of
Ooh, I’m going to tell Sister what you said.
And at home, our parents mostly used thinly disguised phonetically-altered hybrids like Gosh, Darn, Heck, and Shucks. You could go to a slew of movies and never hear more than Hell or maybe Damn.
Then came the 60’s, which as anyone who lived through them knows, didn’t really happen until the 70’s. But somewhere between The Summer of Love , the Democratic Convention in Chicago, and the Student Uprisings, we found, (yes you and I fellow Baby-boomers) we needed something a bit stronger than Shucks. But when we dropped f-bombs we did it with conviction, and as a verb. It wasn’t a mere place holder in our sentences.
No, for that we had like, you know, and man.
Like you know what I’m saying man? Like we were just standing there rapping, like you know, like it went on for hours. And then before I knew it, it was like, you know, time to go home.
In the 70’s people had started using it as an adjective. The first time this was pointed out to me was at the Jersey Shore where I used to go in on a time share house. It was early in the summer when the Atlantic retains its chill, and there we were, a bevy of bikini clad beauties standing at the water’s edge when a couple of Jersey Boys decided to show off their prowess by running and diving headlong into the surf.
I was standing next to Marty, who despite her name, was a fragile looking classical beauty with long blond hair and a sensitive nature that served her well as an art teacher. When the tough guys came slinking out, complaining about how cold the F-ing ocean was, Marty turned to me and, in all sincerity asked “What did the ocean ever do to him?”
I hope Marty,wherever she is, is wearing earplugs these days.
I’ve been thinking about this need for a new four letter word for a while now, but I didn’t really take up the cause until St Patrick’s Day. No, no, it was the day before St Patrick’s Day when I displayed lack of judgment by going into Manhattan. I’d already made the commitment before learning the St Patrick’s Day parade was being moved up a day because the 17th fell on a Sunday. Now if you’ve been following my blog you might remember that, for me, the St Patrick’s Day parade ranks up there with a quadruple root canal.
I soothed myself with the thought. How bad can it be? It wasn’t like I’d be taking the last train home, the one that, on St Patrick’s Day, is called The Vomit Comet (need I say more?) No, I planned on taking the 5:10 when all the revelers would still be reveling for hours.
Well, I was wrong. The 5:10 was worse.
It resembled a high school field trip exploring the effects of alcohol. I walked through seven cars trying to find a quiet one with a slightly older crowd, like over 18. Then I turned around and walked back. I considered taking the next train, but feared it would be worse. Finally I found a middle aged man trying to hide in a book and settled in next to him, hoping no one would upchuck on the hour long ride until I could escape at Peekskill.
It was the longest hour I’ve ever experienced. I’d picked a winner of a train car and a bonus seat – in front of three rowdy girls who were cheerleaders for discord as in dissing (as the young folks say) every boy who was within shouting range.
Man, like you know, those f-bombs’s were flying like all the way home, you know
It was then, probably to preserve my sanity, that I started trying to come up with a substitute. It hasn’t been easy. For a while I thought about spam. Not the canned meat – the computer junk mail. Everybody hates wading through it .
Like you know, man delete, delete, delete. It just like drives me crazy.
I tried using it in context “This is really spammed up!” “What a spamming pain in the A…
Then I realized it would never catch on with the young. They don’t email. They text.
Then yesterday –Eureka – I came up with it. The four letter word that the younger generation discovers at an early age and uses ad nauseum. Come on, parents and teachers you know what it is. B O R E as in “I’m bored!” “This is boring!”
Whaddya think? Let’s try it out in re-describing that train ride home.
“I got to boring Grand Central and I had to walk through seven boring cars filled with boring teenagers to find a boring seat. Now how bored up was that, I ended up in front of a pack of boring loud girls and……”
Yep, that works for me!
The Spirit of St Patricks Past
St Patrick’s Day was never one of my favorite days. It started in high school. Back in the 60’s if you attended a Catholic girl’s high school in Manhattan chances are you marched in the St. Patrick’s Day Parade.
Some schools were competitive, requiring their students to spend time after school or on Saturdays drilling march steps and turns so each line would fan out onto sunny Fifth Avenue from their staging area on a side street with kaleidoscopic precision while the Irish-flag waving crowd cheered them on. Left, Right. Left Right. Eyes right at St Patrick’s Cathedral to be honored by a wave or nod from Cardinal Spellman, all in hope of winning the Cardinal’s medal or trophy or whatever it was they coveted.
The reason I don’t know what it was is because my school was not one of those.We just had to show up; no practicing – unless you counted that one P.E. class devoted to marching back and forth in the gym to blaring John Phillipe Sousa music. And since we didn’t start off early with the contenders we could sleep late. The down side of that was by the time we assembled on 46th St, the sun’s rays no longer reached down between the tall grey office buildings. But the wind stayed for us. Have you ever been in midtown Manhattan in late afternoon in March? No? How about a windswept canyon? Been there? Well then you know what I mean when I say that by the time it was our turn to move toward Fifth avenue, we’d frozen off our as-pirations of school spirit.
At about 4:00 we spilled out, amoeba-like onto Fifth Avenue. The crowds were long-gone but the green stripe remained, and we had other decorations that our friends in those competitive schools had not; random piles of horse plop, soon to be scooped up by the marching contingent to our rear – the Department of Sanitation with their brooms and shovels. It would be untrue to say we had no spectators. We did, captive ones : Nannies and toddlers on the Central Park side of the Avenue, waiting for a break in the action so they could dash across Fifth Avenue with their carriages after a day in Central Park. There were also the dog walkers – ditto for them. On the building side of Fifth, there were the doormen ducking out of their lobbies for a smoke. and when we reached the reviewing stand at St Pats? Empty unless you counted the orange white and green bunting fluttering in the wind or the abandoned folding chairs.
We would have a crowd though, up at 86th Street, it would swallow us up as we approached the official Parade finish line at Park Avenue – a crowd of drunks, no , excuse me, revelers: office workers of all ranks, sprung loose from their nine-to-five’s and intent on partying to the max, tourists, college kids from near and far. The drinking age back then was eighteen which made it easier for my high school friends with their doctored birth certificates to try to pass for legal
As for me, it was all too much. I won’t say the atmosphere charged with enough beer fumes to give a contact high frightened me, it just made me uneasy. And so I’d leave my friends to celebrate for me, and make my way to the bus stop to wait for the 86th Street Crosstown to whisk me through park and over to the sanity of the West Side.
Maybe it’s the contrarian in me, but I bristle at being required to do something, even party. That’s why Years Eve is #1 on my hated days list, followed by Valentine’s Day, impose romance doesn’t appeal to me either. So is St Patrick’s Day #3 on the list? No, I don’t hate St Patrick’s Day, it’s just that ‘I’ve never felt it was mine to celebrate. I may have had an Irish American grandfather but I also had a German American grandmother and a grandmother and grandfather who’d emigrated from the West Indies so somewhere along the way any bag pipes or Danny Boys in my gene pool got drowned out. I know they say everyone’s Irish on St Paddy’s Day but that was just talk to me.
But flash forward… never mind how many years later but 48 miles to the north where this St Patrick’s Day found Marcos Dog and I following our Saturday routine We enjoy our tranquil morning walks all week but we’re city people so we need our fix of sidewalking! And downtown Peekskill is but six miles from our house.
Peekskill is an old river city, its multi-cultural population a mix of aging old time residents, young professional families restoring the city’s abundant crop of beautiful old Victorians, and Latino laborers and their families sharing Victorians that have been divided into apartments. Accordingly, the downtown area is a mix of upscale restaurants, art galleries, artists ‘lofts, antiques stores, as well as bodegas and bars.
Ubiquitous posters advertise Spanish bands and groups playing each weekend at the bars and clubs catering to the young, single, and probably lonely young men. The first one I come upon this week displayed in a bodega. The usual buxom dark-haired beauty in the forefront shares the poster with the handsome guitar-laden musicians. But it is the words that have me smiling and shaking my head. St Patrick’s Day. Cerveza Verde. Shots de tequila. Margaritas. Botellos. Ah well, I think You don’t have to be yada… yada
African-American Spirit #1
I smile and continue on. Next we come upon a cluster of people, clutching take-out coffee cups and smoking cigarettes in front of one of the downtown churches. It must be ten o’clock, The doors will soon be opening to admit them to the AA meeting. I pass two older women, one black, one white. The black woman proclaims, “My man is gonna cook corned beef and cabbage . I’m gonna be eating good tonight!” Yes, you don’t have to be I____
Finally Marcos decides the walks over, time to head back to the truck. As we pass a stately apartment ,a preppy-looking bi-racial teenager laden with a lacrosse net cuts across the grass. “Happy St Patrick’s Day” he calls. His smile is so infectious I fond myself returning it along with his wish. Ah well, like me, he could be part .You don’t have to be IR___
African-American Spirit #2
But the universe is not through with me yet. That afternoon one of my errands takes me to the beer and soda distributor in town. I walk over to the bottle return area and the young African-American young man in charge is wearing his usual broad smile.. as well as a string of green beads interspersed with glittery shamrocks. I see you’re ready to celebrate.” I say. You don’t have to be IRI__
But we’re not finished yet.
Post script #1. I turn on the 11 0,clock news.
Alright, Already. You don’t gave to be IRIS__
Post script #2 The next day I visit the cemetery to do some early planting. I look up at my brother’s grave while digging and while I can’t say I’m noticing it for the first time, but the engraving adorning it pops out at me. A Celtic cross!
I give up. You don’t have to be IRISH to celebrate St Patrick’s Day. Just don’t make me march!