Not to Curse

Veruca Salt After Daddy Ate all her Halloween Candy

Saturday morning is my one blissful day. It’s the one day I eat what I want and work on what I want and watch what I want. I usually wake up late – about 7 – and wander around in my robe sipping coffee and listening to music or passively watching a string of sitcoms. I sit and stretch out in various lounging poses on all of the soft seats in my house – couch, armchair, cat, and I read. I must resemble ancient Greek art. It’s glorious. It’s the one day a week I am at peace, comforted, and work without a to-do list.

This Saturday, I turned on my computer as I let out a leonine yawn. Something was a little off, and so I pushed some buttons but they didn’t do the thing they usually do. I put down my coffee, my face tightened, my brows furrowed. Most grown human adults who don’t spend their days in an orange jumpsuit would keep calm, breath, come around to the issue, and then fix it without much drama.

Instead of this, I opt for instant fury. As my computer resists my fingers’ charms, I lace together a quilt of profanities that would make a nun convert to satanism.

When I was growing up, my father would occasionally embark upon a home DIY project. This was the 80s, so he’d have to go out and buy a book first. Time Life. DIY at Home. Bob Vila. After the book had been bought, his red toolbox and a radio would appear in the room where the project would take place. To some unrelated visitor this would have seemed an innocuous event. But to the residents of our home, it was a clear territorial warning. Something like a shrunken head on a pike that tells one tribe to stay out of another tribe’s turf. Stay Away. A warning, which, had you ever experienced a DIY project in my house, you did not need. It wasn’t until later in life that I realized how my clever mom was. On DIY days, she brought my sisters and my brother to some mall, movie, or excursion.

Sometime in the afternoon on DIY days, the calm of our home would be shattered by the sounds of verbal and vocal (for some of his utterances lied outside of the boundaries of language) disapproval from my father. I had never heard – nor had anyone – the intricacies and complexities of his vulgarities. It was as though he had attended graduate work on the subject. His curses were multilevel and possessed themes, actors, and plots. As the rants developed, subordinate clauses and ellipses introduced minor characters and subplots. At times, I wanted to know how things went for the people he’d introduced into his vulgar world. To this day, whenever I see a Time Life book, I instinctively wince and wonder whatever happened to those characters I had learned about in hiding. In horror.  

In terms of the gift of vulgarity, I have taken the torch. Like Olympic athletes jogging the final obscene lap to light that torch and kick off some vulgar games. But, the thing is, I really don’t want to anymore.

During the pandemic, I have become a fan of Modern Family. If you have watched the antics of the Dunphy family, you know that Phil Dunphy (Ty Burrell) curses in a very unusual and very G-rated manner. Whenever he stubs his toe, trips on a step or realizes a gaff, where the rest of us would shout out a curse or an epithet, he shouts out a G-rated pulse.

Son of Jor-El!

Sweet potato fries!

Chicken in a basket!

Son of a Sacagawea!

John Philip Sousa!

There are studies out there that suggest curses are the linguistic dough of the very intelligent. I was happy to hear this, as it makes the smartest person in just about any room I’m in sans Richard Pryor. But I’m not that smart. And if I am smart, in no way does shouting interlaced multi-syllabic plot-themed vulgarities at my computer’s lock screen make me feel or appear smart to anyone within sight or earshot.

That’s it, I thought, I am giving up cursing.

Day 1.

The cat has clearly learned of my plan. For she has taken it upon herself to pull down a plant which spilled water on my clothes in the bureau beneath. She then pooped not on the floor next to the litter box, but rather upgraded her performance to poop on the wall. Had I not had a red face of apoplexy, I might have been impressed.  

In the poop-cleaning-filled moments of my otherwise sedate Sunday morning, muscle memory kicked in and I said:


On the bright side, I caught myself before I could introduce more words or storylines. I marked myself down for this infraction and went about my day.

I worked all day planning lessons and editing journal articles. Occasionally, a keyboard mishap led to an almost curse, but I never quite let them free into the wild. So for a few hours I said Fukorama rex and Shitaki balls. At 4 pm, dignity still intact, I worked out and in place of the string of curses which would normally fly out of me, were only tears. I marked this down as a victory.

It was after my shower that trouble hit. I trimmed my beard, which resulted in a splinter of my own facial hair being lodged in my thumb. I learned this by pressing down on my pen and enduring the kind of sharp surprising pain that only comes from a theretofore piece of your face in your thumb. In this moment, I said:


I know, I know. I see it too. But I got through. I got through.

I kept vulgarity at bay even after my father called and we discussed republicans, a subject which usually becomes well-oiled by verbose and juicy phraseology that would end any campaign I had banked on to get into heaven. But no. Not a word. The closest I came was when I called Mitch McConnell a “cockamamee fool.” It should be mentioned that the effort of restraining myself left me lightheaded and I wound up on the floor.

But I made it. I made it.

In the evening, I sat in my armchair and read Agatha Christie. It was all about surrounded myself with things that did not warrant a curse. Agatha Christie. An armchair. My cat sat on my lap and curled up. She brought in a deep, oddly human breath, and dozed. I was comfortable. I would make it a day without a curse.

At some point during the denouement, the neighbor slammed his door. The cat was startled, leapt to attention, and bore her claws, thus becoming a feline lawnmower on my lap.


So, I almost made it. I take it as a victory. And I celebrated all the way to the bathroom for my Neosporin, muttering “shazbot, googly moogly. Carfarmaker!”  

To this day, the very sight of a Time Life Home Improvement book makes me nervous

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