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Childhood’s Charms

 We may be backed in a corner, but we’re heading the right way.

As I walked through an airport terminal last week, I observed a photograph of a celebrity from childhood. As I thought about the photo, I wondered what place childhood held for that celebrity. Was it just a phase to get through, a stage understood as a catalyst, or a magical time revered, treasured, and protected from oblivion through frequent returns?

I then thought about the importance of my own childhood and the place it holds in my present. Is it the equivalent of a tattered tissue in a side pocket of a jacket, carried along without much thought, or is it more like a lucky buckeye in that pocket, intentionally kept for its mythical impact on the present and the future?

Everyone’s childhood has joys and sorrows. Flannery O’Connor stated that anyone who has survived childhood has enough stories to write about for the rest of his life. It’s perhaps the richest mine of experience. And memory is so malleable, I have to understand that what I’m remembering may be one version of the truth. Several years ago my siblings and I produced About As Much Fun as a Child Could Have: A Shell Collection, a book of childhood memories as a gift for our parents. We found that some of us remembered conflicting  details of a single event. We left them in, all different. The truth is in there somewhere!

So I’m saying that I highly value my childhood, I’m grateful for it, the good and the bad, and I find much comfort in recalling those innocent days. The excitement of riding my bike farther than I’d ever been before. The delight of holidays with my cousins and extended family. The contentment of quiet Sunday evening suppers, with each member so relaxed in the setting that we didn’t have to clutter the space with conversation. The security of hearing my parents discussing the day after I was tucked in bed.

I address all females as “girls” with the highest connotation. Perhaps some are offended by being called a girl. I hope I’m always considered a girl; I would much rather be thought of as a girl than a woman or a lady.  My father’s frequent saying, “The past is a great friend but a lousy roommate,” speaks to the importance of keeping things in proportion. But it’s always good for me to spend time with great friends.

What does childhood mean to you?

On Never Giving Up, or Reaching Chicago from the North via Arkansas

We expected a high-school trip across an ocean would introduce our son David to lifestyles far different from his own in southern Arkansas. What we didn’t realize is that one of the biggest lessons and eye-opening experiences occurred before he even boarded the plane.
Japan’s flag

Our middle son, David, has always identified as a Japanophile: as a teenager he studied karate, read manga and anime, and followed the Japanese rock star Gackt https://gackt.com/. During the fall of his junior year in high school, 2005, David was invited to visit Japan with Chicago-based People to People Student Ambassador Group https://www.ptpi.org/, a travel service for young people, the following August. When we told him we’d pay for half the trip, he immediately began washing cars and mowing yards to earn the remainder. He also attended local People to People meetings and researched Japanese history and culture.

We booked a 6:17 Monday a.m. flight out of Little Rock http://www.fly-lit.com/ to O’Hare http://www.airport-ohare.com/ airport, where David would meet his group then continue across the Pacific to Osaka. He was flying to Chicago on a different airline (one not available through Little Rock), and would have to run his suitcase through security again at O’Hare, but it was all part of becoming a responsible traveler. Students were expected to prepare for diverse opportunities. My husband Jeff taught David how to tie a Windsor knot and we reviewed where to find the dessert spoon at a formal dinner. The week before he left, we rolled up khakis, stuffed socks into dress shoes, tucked in Band-Aids, extra batteries, the 5,000 yen we’d ordered for expenses before he exchanged money, a journal. By the time he zipped the bag for the last time, David was tired of packing and especially my non-solicited travel advice

The Sunday night before the trip, Jeff, a private pilot, flew us in our Baron B58, N5476B, to Little Rock.  At the hotel, we confirmed David’s flight: on schedule. We reviewed all he would have to take care of by himself at O’Hare: Go to baggage claim and retrieve your suitcase. Recheck it and clear security again. Go to Terminal 1 to meet your group. Don’t make any jokes. Don’t take candy or gum from anybody. Don’t talk to strangers.

At the airport 5:15 a.m. Monday, the ticket agent informed us that David’s plane had a mechanical problem and they were flying in technicians from Dallas to repair it. The plane would not leave for Chicago before 10:30. As the group plane to Osaka departed Chicago at noon, David would not make it.

The agent helpfully noted, “There’s a flight leaving in twenty minutes for Charlotte SC connecting to Chicago, but you can’t get on it.”

We pleaded, “He’s a minor; he’s got to make that international flight.”

She conferred with her supervisor, and returned with a non-negotiable “no.” She smiled, “If you’d been here fifteen minutes earlier, you could have made the other flight.”

We had arrived when we thought the terminal opened. I wanted to remind her, “If your plane didn’t have a problem, we’d make the flight.” But it wouldn’t help any.

I began calling the Chicago People to People leaders and their national switchboard, located in Washington state. As it was only 5:45 a.m. Central time, the switchboard wouldn’t open for over three more hours. I cruised through about ten Emergency options before finally reaching one of the Chicago leaders, Randy, who informed me he’d be leaving for the airport soon and wouldn’t be taking his cell phone.

Me: “You’re the only person I can contact with the group and you’re not taking your cell phone?”

Randy: “Well, I won’t need it there.”

Thanks a lot. Randy handed me off to Scott, People to People’s “aviation specialist.” Scott rattled off options: “There is another flight for Osaka at 10 pm tonight, as well as the noon flight the next day…Funny,” he mused, “It will land before the 10 pm flight does.”

The idea of our seventeen-year old son sitting in O’Hare by himself, crossing the Pacific by himself, and trusting the People to People representative to find him in a country which didn’t even use our alphabet much less our language, then unite him with the group, neither amused nor appealed to Jeff or me. David needed to make today’s flight. Scott offered to alert the airline in Chicago, but doubted they’d hold the flight for a single passenger.

We reviewed our options. Jeff could fly us south in the twin engine to El Dorado to pick up the flight charts that were mandatory for such a cross country trip, then head straight into O’Hare to reach David’s group. It seemed like a great idea at the time; it was our only hope. We zipped to El Dorado where a loyal employee met us at the hangar with flight books around 6:30 a.m.

A specific example of O’Hare’s legendary traffic: almost 78 million passengers flew through in 2016. Air Traffic Control (ATC) assigns planes a reservation number (slot) good for a 15-minute window for landing. Jeff was concerned that the slot he’d applied for would be too early. Furthermore, we couldn’t locate Illinois airport pages in the books the employee brought. We rushed to a pilot friend’s hangar and commandeered his book, hoping he wouldn’t need to make an emergency flight to O’Hare that day.

We took off from El Dorado a little after 7, our destination the mighty O’Hare International. Before we passed Camden, a town 35 minutes from El Dorado, we learned that O’Hare wasn’t accepting any arrivals from the south. The Air Traffic Controller twice asked, “State your intentions.” Jeff twice replied, “Standby, I’ll let you know.”

Soon the St. Louis Arch loomed on our left. David and I kept repeating, “We’re not going to make it, are we?”

Jeff responded, “We’ll just keep flying north and hope something happens.” He had already requested tracking from Signature, the general aviation FBO (Fixed Base Operation) for private aircraft, where we would land if we were lucky. The tracking would insure that a vehicle would be ready to whisk us to the commercial terminal.

The 12,000-ft altitude reduced my oxygen level. Furthermore my eyeballs stuck to my eyelids from dehydration. I had assumed we’d drop David at LR security for the original 6:17 flight then be home by 8:00. I had planned a yard work day; therefore had taken no pains with my appearance. No makeup, scarcely a brush run through my bangs: I was wearing the same clothes I’d had on the day before.

I sat there like a rag doll. We hadn’t had breakfast and our empty stomachs protested. We finally broke into David’s Pacific-flight snacks. The closest approach to nutrition was a Trix cereal bar. The thought of eating something pink, purple, and lime green nearly made me nauseated. Nevertheless, I ate one and felt better. “Any port in a storm” was the day’s motto. David sat in the back in a fear-induced stupor. He had dreamed of and worked hard to take this trip; how little control we now had.

When Jeff contacted Chicago Approach, stating his intentions, the controller said, “You’ve already tried that this morning, haven’t you, 5476Bravo?  No landings from the south.”

So we were denied a landing slot again. Jeff proposed that we land from the north. Coming from Arkansas!

Wanting to discourage Jeff from landing our twin engine at the busy commercial airport, the controller suggested, “Why don’t you try Midway?”

Jeff shot back, “I have a minor on board who needs to make a connecting international flight. I don’t care how you vector me. I have got to land at O’Hare.”

The controller paused, then spit out, “Turn left, 270.”

Glorious words! We were going to fly west, then north, then east, then south, but we were being routed to land from the north. In the meantime, a storm had popped up west of Chicago. To keep us safely behind it, the controller routed us 45 miles farther west of Chicago, then north. I began to laugh—we were even facing supernatural interference. Maybe David wasn’t supposed to make that flight. I murmured what I hoped sounded more like a prayer than a dare: “GOD, You can surely keep him off this flight. In the meantime, we’re going to do everything we can to get him on it.”

Recounting all the steps we would have after landing gave me the illusion I was doing something to make our quest successful: taxi the plane to Signature, get out, and secure the shuttle. Load David’s baggage, drive to the terminal, locate the right airline. Wait in line for check in, pass through security, dash to the gate. The clock kept moving, tick tock tick. Our chances wouldn’t appeal to a gambler. I planned to throw myself at the nearest ticket agent and only hope that she, too, was a mother.

Consistent with the day’s challenges, the controller assigned Jeff a runway far from the general aviation terminal. A Boeing 737 was barreling up behind us. The controller grumbled, “5476B, can you maintain current air speed?”

Jeff ‘s reply: “If you’ll let me keep descending.” Our air speed indicated the yellow, or caution, zone already.

We finally touched down around 11:15, four hours after takeoff from El Dorado. But many hurdles awaited us. In flight chart books, most airports are represented by a single page detailing their ground map, diagrams for landings and taxiway instructions. In ’05, O’Hare alone had twenty-three pages of taxi diagrams. We were daunted, but we weren’t giving up. Jeff requested “progressive taxi,” or turn-by-turn instructions to navigate the maze of runways and taxiways to reach Signature. The Ground Control tower barked commands:

…Left turn on High speed taxi November 3. Right turn on November to Echo Echo to Bravo to Hotel 3 to Poppa Poppa to Tango Tango to Signature Flight support.  

[Note: these aren’t verbatim directions; they represent what my then-befuddled layperson’s mind absorbed. In fact, all aviation references represent a passenger’s–not a professional’s–understanding of the world of flying.]

Airports list taxiways as single letters, but the alphabet isn’t sufficient for O’Hare, which has doubles: EE, PP, TT, and so on. They move traffic, no amateur dealings. I scribbled as fast as I could, bewildered and unable to find all the letters and numbers on the map. Jeff scoured the field for taxiway signs. We certainly didn’t want to get lost on the runways, especially under the watchful eye of the no-nonsense Control Tower. As we tottered along in front of a jet, I felt like a ladybug. We could easily be squashed beneath that behemoth. To our right, a line of commercial jets sat connected with walkways to the terminal, being emptied and refilled of humans and their trappings. I wondered if one of them were David’s. I also asked myself, if I had known what it would take to get my son delivered, would I have even attempted this trip?

As soon as we arrived at Signature, a gray van appeared right beside our plane: the shuttle to the main terminal, a blessed stroke of luck. We catapulted out, flung in David’s suitcase, and the driver sped us right to the international area.

I began to spill our story to a lady in uniform who led us toward a counter. On the way, a blond, blue-eyed teenager called out in broken English about Frahnk-foort, and she stopped to help him, halting our anemic progress. I thought, okay, kid, we had this lady first. I was terrified that we’d made it this far, against all odds, and some youth from Frankfort was going to spoil our success. He was so tall that the main thing that kept me from decking him and yelling, wait your turn, idiot! was the knowledge that I’d probably only reach his Adam’s Apple. Plus, any violence now would cause David to miss his flight. I could scarcely restrain myself. But the agent answered the youth’s questions and he sauntered off, no hurry, no worries at all.

Flight agents recognized David’s official red People to People polo shirt and uttered the magic words:  “You’ll make it. Your flight has been delayed because of weather.” Thus the storm we had to fly behind had grounded his jet.

As is often the case, our exhaustive instructions about Chicago were irrelevant now. They checked his bag, directed us to security, and suddenly it was time to say goodbye. After so much going wrong that morning, I still wasn’t convinced he’d make it.

The final moments had been extremely critical, and we had survived with scant hope. After practically shoving him toward the checkpoint, I began to sob. I wasn’t crying because my son was flying halfway across the globe (well maybe a little), but from fatigue, hunger, and stress. I tried to hide my anxiety from David, but, still in shock from the morning’s trauma, he was attempting a game face, too. Another Chicago leader telephoned. I assured her David was in the security line on his way. She offered activity suggestions for Jeff and me, supposing we had planned all along to sight-see in Chicago.

We hadn’t thought of anything beyond getting David on board. We still hadn’t had breakfast (it was past noon).  We watched our son clear security then turn to his right. At the last minute he looked our way and waved, slightly pale, before moving out of sight. I felt as if I could have turned into a puddle on the floor.

Back at Signature, our only lunch resources were vending machines. Here we were in this cosmopolitan metropolis, Hog Butcher to the World and Wheat Stacker, having left global menu choices at O’Hare, and all we could get were peanut butter crackers. I nibbled them gratefully enough, still shaking with what we’d been through.

Soon the storm let up, and Jeff filed a flight plan. We walked to our little twin engine. On the tarmac, we studied the flight charts again to determine how to taxi out of the terminal apron and onto the correct runway.

We advanced along the taxiway, assuming our place in line with the jumbo jets for takeoff. I watched a 767 lumbering ahead of us, then it turned.  I waved. Maybe, just maybe, a seventeen-year-old Arkansas boy on board was looking out his window, realizing he was on his way to Japan.

The hard part wasn’t over yet. We had a head wind going home. Again I was oxygen-depleted, dehydrated, and hungry. I’m not sure David or I, as passengers, can appreciate Jeff’s accomplishment in landing a six-seater at the busiest airport in the world, with no previous preparation or planning. Our crazy flight to O’Hare reaffirmed to us all that no matter what’s facing us or who’s telling us what we cannot do, we must keep pushing.

Believe in dreams and keep aiming for the skies-

David shot Kinkakuji (the Golden Pavilion), which he says is really gold, in Kyoto.

 

Pondering Proust

There’s a reason everyone’s heard of Marcel Proust. There’s also a reason so few people have actually read him. Proust’s prose, labyrinthine and obscure, challenges even the stoutest of readers. I’m not saying I could write a dissertation on Pynchon, nor am I asserting that, like Virginia Woolf’s Mr. Ramsay in To The Lighthouse, I can make it to Q (but not R) in her brilliant suggestion of the extent of an individual’s intellectual development as being measured by his progress through the alphabet. But I do like it when my mind is stretched, taken out for a grueling run (sorry if the personification doesn’t work for you), worked over at the hands of a capable literary master, which brings us back to M. Proust. I have compiled a few of his statements. They’re worth pondering, if chiefly for their brevity in contrast with his usual multi-clause marvels.

“A powerful idea communicates some of its strength to him who challenges it.”

“The variety of our defects is no less remarkable than the similarity of our virtues.”

“A photograph acquires something of the dignity which it ordinarily lacks when it ceases to be a reproduction of reality and shews us things that no longer exist.”

“Our most intensive love for a person is always the love, really, of something else as well.”

Proust, Marcel. Remembrance of Things Past. Translated by C.K. Scott Moncrieff. Random House: New York, 1961. Page numbers of actual quotes available upon request.

 What would Proust think of the lines in the Louvre for La Gioconda?

Peace in Bethlehem

I snapped this photo as we came into Bethlehem during our 2012 visit to Israel. While opinions vary on that original warm welcome of the Holy Family, there being no room at the inn and all, I find the appeal compelling and hope you will as well.

May we each do justice, love mercy, and walk humbly before our God so that our own actions will help establish Peace on Earth and Good Will toward Men.

Please share!

When Will We Grow Up?

The Arkansas Democrat-Gazette published this article Oct. 17, 2016:

When I was in the fourth grade, a classmate, Randy, made a remark that showed a slightly different religious viewpoint than my own. As several children playing on the swings at that time shared my outlook, we nine-year-olds got into a heated discussion with Randy about a very minor spiritual topic. He was alone, so we self-righteously huffed and puffed him down, believing him to be a fool for taking such a contrary position. Furthermore, we all gave him the isolationist treatment the rest of the day for his folly. I can remember the pride that I felt for standing up for my beliefs, the smug feeling of being right, even superior… and also a nagging conviction that something was amiss. For goodness’ sake, Randy was a Protestant, just like me, only on a different rung of the high- and low-church ladder.

That’s typical for grade school antics, but I’m surprised to find how little most of us have matured past that fourth-grade mentality of not liking, or not being able to abide, someone because their religious, political, or philosophical views don’t align with our own. The Presidential election and national politics have drawn out the worst in citizens on both sides of the debate, resulting in inability to have regular discussions, deterioration of relationships, and destruction of the unity of our united states.

Considering underlying differences of perspective can help heal some of these breaches. NYU Stern School of Business moral psychologist Jonathan Haidt has extensively studied the underpinnings of moral behavior and decisions and distilled five core values that drive the majority of philosophies and actions. More interesting, Haidt, who describes himself as an unapologetic liberal atheist, has identified that some of those basic tenets appeal to one set of political thinkers, while others seem more important to another set. Realizing that our political opposite shares just as strong convictions about his/her ethical standards as our own should take us away from simply assuming “He’s an idiot,” ”She doesn’t know what she’s talking about,” ”He doesn’t even know what’s good for him,” or any of the other blanket assumptions both sides address toward opposing political party adherents.

Haidt’s *five moral indices are as follows:

Care/Harm: “It is wrong to hurt people; it is good to relieve suffering.”

Fairness/Cheating: “Justice and fairness are good; people have certain rights that need to be upheld in social interactions.”

Loyalty/Betrayal: “People should be true to their group and be wary of threats from the outside. Allegiance, loyalty and patriotism are virtues; betrayal is bad.”

Authority/Subversion: “People should respect social hierarchy; social order is necessary for human life.”
Sanctity/Degradation: “The body and certain aspects of life are sacred. Cleanliness and health, as well as their derivatives of chastity and piety, are all good. Pollution, contamination and the associated character traits of lust and greed are all bad.”

Each of these foundations contributes to successful civilization. Haidt notes that the first two, Harm/Care and Fairness/Reciprocity, appeal to left-leaning political thinkers, while the last three, In-group Loyalty, Authority/Respect, and Purity/Sanctity, appeal to right-leaning individuals. Even in thinking of those values, readers can identify which foundations are more important to their own worldview. Furthermore, readers can begin to see how, if one political group prioritizes some, while another political group prioritizes others, argument will ensue. To move toward seeing there is more than one political lens is a step in the right direction. And to acknowledge that someone else has a different stance–and respect that stance instead of the mindless shouting down we see offered as entertainment on what passes for news programs promoting both political parties on television–is maturity.

Haidt points out that Rodney King is famously misquoted. King did not say “Can’t we all get along?” He actually asked, “Can we all get along?” Such a small grammatical distinction creates a huge difference in application. If we focus on our similarities: a love of family, a desire for our community to succeed, a yearning for the United States to be “the best she can be” (thought ideas differ on what that entails), we can strengthen constructive components of our citizenship rather than tearing each other, and consequently our great country, down. For goodness’ sake, we’re all Americans.
Individuals can also take the words of Maya Angelou’s poem “Human Family” to heart: “In minor ways we differ/In major we’re the same.” Even more to the point, the intentionally repetitious ending: “We are more alike, my friend, than we are unalike.”

I wound up getting along fine with Randy for the rest of my school days, and am somewhat embarrassed that the fool in that childhood argument was me. Hopefully we can all step back and focus on what’s good about our fellow Americans then begin to behave more like grown-ups on life’s political playground.

from The Righteous Mind: How Good People Are Divided by Politics and Religion, by Jonathan Haidt. New York: Random House, 2012, chapter 7. www.righteousmind.com.

*Synopses of moral foundations are taken from “Morals Authority,” Tom Jacobs, in Miller McCune Magazine, May, June 2009, Vol. 2, Number 3, pp. 46-55. Read “Human Family” at https://allpoetry.com/Human-Family

Explore your morality at a website associated with Haidt , www.yourmorals.org.

SarahTubert’sHamiltonASL

This week we are delighted to host three golfers with the Murphy USA Shootout Symetra Tour. One of golfers, Emily Tubert, shared her sister Sarah’s ASL signing of the beginning of Lin Manuel Miranda’s Broadway runaway Hamilton. Two beats in and you’re hooked-

In Pursuit of Dolphins

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Short summer fiction for this season of beach vacations-

This story originally appeared in the Summer 2014 issue of Cloud 9 magazine.                                                                   

In Pursuit of Dolphins

I’ve always heard that if dolphins are present, you don’t have to worry about sharks. I never thought much about sharks, but I always thought it would be great fun to swim with dolphins.

Ever since I was four, my family has vacationed on Anna Maria Island, a sliver of sand off the Gulf coast. As grade school children, my brother Jack and I spent hours shoulder deep in the Gulf. We would hop at the right moment to let the waves lift us and set us down again gently, like seagulls perched on the water’s surface. We’d strain our eyes for a glimpse of that first fin, when the dolphins would approach. They’d glide up or down the coast, in that transitional border between their sea and the shallow water man claimed as his territory, and we would fantasize about playing with them.

Jack and I would change into our suits in the station wagon before we arrived. I couldn’t wait to blast out of the car and smell that slightly unpleasant, oil-tinged beach scent. As our parents unpacked, we’d be jumping through the breakers. I’d lean over to scrub my face in the surf and taste the salt. It stung my eyes and drops of sea water trickled into the back of my nasal passages, burning out any leftover sinus.  Jack could venture shoulder deep immediately, but my belly button had to stay dry until my mother set up camp on the sand. Even after she arrived, to read her magazines and consolidate the freckles on her back, if she caught me beyond that halfway mark of the pier, I’d have to sit on the beach next to her for thirty minutes.

Now that I’m grown, my family still escapes to Anna Maria Island every other year. My husband Reese and I have to unpack as our son, Curt, splits for the pool. I gripe at him for choosing concrete over coast, then head for the beach, my shoulders soon tight from sun and salt. As I share my thrown-together sandwich with the seagulls, my eyes adjust to the vast distance. I stare hard for the familiar dark curved triangle that cuts through the surface of the water, and then slides under again.

Midway through our last vacation, we woke to drizzle. With rain in the forecast, we decided to blow the morning at a nearby aquarium. But while Reese was tying his sneakers, the balcony brightened.

”I have to take advantage of this,” I kicked off sandals and ran toward the bedroom.

“You’re staying?” Curt hadn’t pulled on a tee shirt yet.

“Sure.” I yelled through the closed door as I slipped into my suit. “You want to?”

He didn’t respond. I left the bedroom, started on him again. “You can’t pass this up. We might see dolphins. Give it a chance.”

The previous summer, before his tenth birthday, Curt’s soccer team reached the semi-finals of a city-wide tournament, largely due to his athleticism. He didn’t like shooting goals, but preferred to control the ball from mid-field. The young coach had no children, had never played soccer, but had read some books. On the field, the kids appeared to play without a game plan, even to the parents on the sidelines, who still struggled to understand an offside penalty.

The score was tied 1-1 at the end of the game, sending them into a shootout. The parents watched as coach and players huddled across the field. Then one of the smaller boys donned the jester-like goalie’s jersey.

“Why isn’t Curt playing goalie?” A teammate’s father threw up his hands as he paced the sidelines. I shrugged and we all stood there, stunned.

Our goalie did not stop a single kick. After Curt booted in the ball, the other team’s goalie caught every player’s attempt. On the sad ride home, I asked, “Why on earth did Coach Winfrey put in Micah as goalie?”

Curt looked out the window. “He asked me to and I said no.”

I almost hit the ditch. “Why?”

Curt looked down at his cleats. “I was afraid to.”

I was astounded at his reply, but let it drop. Now, with a glorious morning’s swim as prospect, maybe my son needed a little push to join me on the beach.

“Why stare at fish through glass when you can experience the real thing?”

Curt hesitated.

“We won’t go far,” I promised. “It’ll be fun.”

He slung a towel over his shoulder. He would swim in his black mesh shorts, the ones he wore day and night, letting them dry while eating hot dogs by the pool. Reese left to find a cup of coffee and a newspaper. I scooped up my flip-flops, and Curt and I scooted down the stairs.

When we reached the beach, the sun was already wavering. The shoreline was practically empty, and I couldn’t see any other swimmers. I stepped through the breaking waves and strode then stroked out to my favorite spot, shoulder deep. I didn’t wait for Curt, who was taking his time getting used to the water.

I turned to the shore, which looked far away, sixty yards or so, due to the minute grade of the slope. I was two-thirds of the way to the end of the pier to my right. Curt dog-paddled out. Usually he preferred boogie-boarding to wave riding, but I had hurried him out the door without his board, and he didn’t want to trek back up to the condo. He floated a little, easy in the salt.

“Don’t you love it here?” I looked at my son. He lifted his head out of the water and gazed as if he were thinking about something. Maybe he wished he’d gone to the aquarium to see the fish up close. If the rain returned, we’d be sorry we stayed, and Reese had the car. The wind blew, and thick clouds choked out the sun’s warmth.

Curt shivered and stared at the waves. “I’m thinking about sharks.”

We had never worried about sharks on this beach before, due to the regular dolphin sightings. However, last summer a boy had lost an arm to a four-foot shark less than five miles south of our beach, and an elderly man had been attacked off his private pier a few miles north of us. He died soon afterward. I tried to put the thought of it out of my mind.

“Miles of sand and sea surround us, tons of fish. Why would a shark come up to us?”

“Maybe that’s what that boy thought,” Curt replied, not looking at me.

“How many people have been in this water since then, though? We’re well inside the safe zone.”

He remained unconvinced.  And I couldn’t dispel the thought that, since we were alone in the water for as far as I could see, if one were lurking, we’d make a fine brunch.

“All right, I’ll head in some,” I sighed. Curt looked a little relieved, as much for me as for himself. I semi-backstroked, in a sitting position with my back to the shore, piddling really. We stood when I was rib-cage deep, half way to the end of the pier. The waves weren’t ready to break yet, were rolling into their head, still good for a lift. I spread out my arms and bent my knees, lowering my shoulders to the water level to get the full effect of the rise and dip. Then I caught sight of the fin far off to my left.

I squinted and focused hard before saying anything. Many times what seems to be a fin is merely a lapping wave.  A viewer has to gaze straight and hard, but in a general area, because the dolphin won’t surface again in the same place. But the fin rose again, and this time it was unmistakable. There were three of them, still far down to the south.

“Dolphins!” I turned to yell at the scant beachcombers who had braved the damp weather, none of whom were within earshot but who could recognize my gestures. They covered their eyebrows, salute fashion, and nodded in recognition.

Then I realized: for all the years we had spotted dolphins out in the Gulf, my parents would never have allowed me to swim that far past the pier. But if we hurried, Curt and I could intersect their path.

“Hey, we can reach them. Let’s go.”

Curt didn’t move. He had never mentioned an interest in touching or swimming with dolphins. Though very much in shape, he had never swum a lap at sprint pace, and swimming has its own cardio-respiratory demands. Besides, the dolphins’ track ranged out twice as far as the end of the pier.

How badly I wanted him to share this with me—something he could tell his grandchildren sixty years from now. The fins continued to arc, nearing ten o’clock. I lunged toward Curt and pulled on his arm.

“Come on; this is an unbelievable opportunity! You have to.”

He reluctantly joined me. We swam freestyle, the stroke for speed, another hundred yards. We were well past the pier, and I didn’t want to think about how deep the water was. Usually this beach drops into a trough after the gradual slope then rises onto a surprisingly shallow sand bar. In past years, during low tide, I have stood rib-cage-deep at the bar, near the end of the pier. While snorkeling, Reese has seen dozens of sand dollars on the outer edge of the bar. But this year we were unable to locate the incline. Two days earlier, we swam out just past the pier, occasionally dropping straight down to sound for the bottom. Reese is six feet tall, and when the surface was two yards beyond his arms stretched above his head, we quit trying. We were beyond the bar. Maybe the sand was not as shallow. Maybe the bar had shifted closer to shore than we guessed and we had passed it.

Curt had not matched my pace. I held up, listened for him, and gauged the progress of the dolphins. To my surprise, they reared up at about 11 o’clock to my left. A hot chill swept over me. First of all they were black. They didn’t look like Flipper at all. They were close enough for me to see their shiny flesh, which made me think of how a runner’s thighs would feel after a two-mile jog, slick with a slight give, but firm under the surface. They didn’t seem to be mammals. Because of their slow, clockwork-like movement, they appeared to be mechanical replicas. Their alarming progress seemed incongruent to their leisurely pace, perhaps because of their size. They were much larger than I’d expected, and I realized that I was afraid.

I could hear Curt splashing behind my splashing. He sputtered, “Are you sure those aren’t killer whales?”

“They’re dolphins.” I was so out of breath from swimming that my voice squeaked. What if they were friendly dolphins’ malevolent cousins? What if one were a nursing mother who thought we were trying to harm her young one? If a creature this size could crush my ribs with even a playful roll of its body, what could it do to Curt?

I forged ahead and tried to determine the length between me and the dolphins as they curved and slid under, unhurried but advancing markedly. When describing a fateful or heroic experience I always exaggerate distance to my benefit, thus I reckoned they were a little farther off than they seemed. Twenty feet? But in an area the size of the Gulf, distance is distorted. Knowing this, I reckoned it would be less than it seemed. Five feet? I considered body length, and guessed they were about two body lengths from me.

I was delirious with excitement. The middle one, the largest, puckered his blow hole and then the hole disappeared as his head cruised under the surface. I charged forward, slapped the water and yelled to get their attention. They ignored me. I tried to scream underwater, anything to reach them. They were practically straight in front of me, but how far?

Strangling wheezes shot out of my heavy breathing. I had to draw deeply, and I fought to avoid swallowing more salt water as the gray waves kept coming. I felt dizzy. My heart was hammering from the swim; I swam some more. I longed for Curt’s boogie board. They glided on. I was spent.

Or was I? I couldn’t possibly reach out and touch those huge beasts. Nothing could be holding back my arm from its maximum span. Surely my fear wasn’t slowing me down, constricting my bronchial tubes, convincing my brain I couldn’t make contact with the dolphins.

Years before, on a summer afternoon in the middle of a freshwater lake, while I was swimming off a rented pontoon with my friends,  a ski boat skimmed by, its wake so large that it rocked the pontoon and knocked its detachable ladder into the water. I was closest to where the ladder sank, and everyone called for me to save it. I bravely dove down, but the deeper I probed, the murkier the water became. Sunshine glinted off the aluminum as it floated down, just beyond my grasp. I tried to grab it, but the chill of the thermocline made me shudder, and I scurried to the surface.

To my friends’ hopeful faces I shook my head, coughing. Nobody questioned my effort. We’d all have to chip in on the $150 to replace it, so surely I had done everything possible to reach it. But I wasn’t sure then, and now I couldn’t tell either.

With these beautiful exotic creatures so close, I wanted to be able to say, “We swam with dolphins. “ To crow in front of my brother, and tell my friends at home. To be the one at the party to regale guests with this adventure, to share a lifelong memory with my son.

Runner-up, bridesmaid, also-ran: there’s no trophy for almost. Almost hit the ball over the fence. Almost crossed the finish line first. Almost cleared the tracks before the train.

Meanwhile the dolphins slipped by. They were simply faster, at home in their territory. I angled north, but couldn’t reach them. I treaded water while Curt caught up with me. We watched the fins rise and fall.

“We were so close,” I panted. “Maybe they’ll circle around. Sometimes they circle around.”

“We missed it,” Curt muttered.

“You want to stay a while? Isn’t it neat to be out this far?” I pulled up my legs, wrapped my arms around my shins to make a ball, but began to sink. I scrambled to the surface, hacking. At least Reese wasn’t around to see how far out I’d taken Curt.

His breathing was labored. “We’re out pretty deep, and you sound horrible.”

He seemed to spend as little energy as possible to keep his head above water. For the first time, I thought about how tired he was.

The sky had darkened more in our pursuit, and with the object of my focus gone, I realized the waves had grown more choppy, the wind more intent. I smelled the storm rolling toward us; saw the opaque gray wall at the horizon. We were a long way from the shore. Drops began to ping against my cheeks. I turned to watch and yearn for the diminishing dolphins. And I knew that sharks were the least of my worries.

A Study in Cylinders

I wanted to post this on the fourteenth anniversary of my mother’s death, April 7. But I have hesitated. I wrote this as an exercise at a writing workshop I attended soon after Mom died; the scenes were still very fresh and visceral. It’s not an easy story to read, especially for anybody who knew and loved my mother, or for anybody who has watched a loved one succumb to cancer. I expressed a lot of frustration at the cancer in this story, and what it did to my gentle, generous, smart and conscientious mother. The story was originally published in the Spring 2004  Arabia Review,  p. 74.

With that introduction I submit:

A Study in Cylinders

Mom tramps toward the lipstick display in the Bath and Beauty Shop, leaning on the counter for support. She selects a tiny fake silver canister, pops off the cover, scraping a clump of color against the lid. She twirls a maddening fuchsia open to the very end, the way I got scolded for doing when I was a little girl, when I could not understand the weakness of the stick. She pokes it in my direction. I duck my head backward to keep from being given a clown nose. I also fear the column of color will break off, its length incapable of defending its girth against gravity. I check to see if the salesgirl is watching. Luckily she’s talking on the phone.

Mom’s hand is shaking and I imagine the oily pink smear on the tile floor. Pink is supposed to be the color without an ugly side, but I don’t want to use up my last tissue wiping it off Mom’s tennis shoes. I take her arm, still surprised by how thin it has become. I speak low, so the salesgirl won’t hear me.

“I don’t want a lipstick here. You know we always get Estée Lauder.”

I was taught at a tender age to believe that Estée Lauder’s sheep fat is higher quality than any other sheep fat. Mom stops a minute and looks thoughtful, a look that in recent months I have come to dread.

“You’re right,” she says, and walks unsteadily around a table offering salt scrubs and sponges. “And why don’t we finish with a lipstick?”

I sigh. The candle, talcum powder, and room freshener spray are not enough.

“Fine. I’ll get a lipstick.” I stalk to the display and snatch the product on the farthest right end, a deep brown red that is meant for a complexion much darker than mine. I hold the tube up to her and shake it to show her I got a stupid lipstick.

She smiles and sets down the lipstick she was holding without swirling it closed. The lengthened raspberry cylinder rests on the salt scrub table, somehow not rolling off, and I rush to it. I pick up the tube, twist the cord of color back into its shell, snap on the lid, and push it back in place with its sisters in the “Rave Pink” line.

I gently steer Mom toward the register. The salesgirl begins to tally our purchases. I glance sideways at my mother. Her blue eyes maintain that disheartening Not-Mom look that returned several months after the radiation therapy brought her briefly back to us. I wish we were at home instead of here.

Mom begins to fidget. “Did I get a lipstick?”

I try a distraction ploy. “Where’s your checkbook? Why don’t you start writing the check?”

As she rummages through her purse, tattered tissues spill over to the counter. Three of her lipsticks land with a soft tortoiseshell crack on the floor. She seems oblivious to the mess of tissue shreds as well as my finger tapping on the counter. She has become increasingly slow but earlier in the day she uncharacteristically snapped at me when I suggested I pay. At the florist shop, I was horrified at the unreadable state of her check register. Chicken scratch had replaced her lovely cursive in the items space, amounts crossed out or written over previous entries, several numbers strung along a single line. I made a mental note to hide her checkbook at home.

“Did we get your sister anything?” She doesn’t look up from plundering her purse.

“You brought her in last week, remember? I think we’re in good shape.”

I have tried to use that last phrase to move Mom on today, but it can backfire. After retrieving her checkbook, she wanders back to the lipstick display and selects “Rave Pink” again.

The salesgirl adds it to the purchases and beams, “$61.55.”

Her checkbook splayed open, Mom labors over the date line. I lean toward her.

“It’s January 28.”

She nods and begins to scribble large curlicues to the side of the personal information at the top of the check. The salesgirl stares at my Mom’s scrawls, wrinkles her eyebrows, and looks at me. My eyes plead please please please just be patient and don’t ask any questions. My mother has been a good customer of this store, but the girl is new. I fish $65 out of my billfold and hold it to my side, away from Mom, so the salesgirl can see. She nods, curious. Mom finishes the check, tears it out, and hands it to the salesgirl. She looks straight at my mother, doesn’t examine the check at all. She places our purchases in a sack, and when Mom turns to leave, crumbles the check. I thrust the money on the counter and mouth, “Thanks.”

In the car, Mom wants me to try my lipstick. She swivels it up and hands it to me at the stop light. I make an O with my lips and tap it on. It’s ridiculously dark but now I’ve used it, scratched that diagonal surface of black-maroon, so it’s nonrefundable. I curl the receipt around her “Rave Pink” and drop the tube in my purse. She’ll never use it and maybe I can return it.

She wants to take me to shop for jeans next. I’m exhausted, and I can’t see how she can stand, five days after the second treatment of her final round of chemotherapy. I maneuver the car toward home, but after the last stop light, she remarks, “Oh, we need to find you some jeans.” So I turn the car around and head to the department store.

I don’t need jeans. I don’t want jeans. I have never liked to shop, am not good at it. I want to take care of my mother, but she wants to buy me things.

I try on a couple of pairs, too big in the waist, too tight in the thighs, as they have been since puberty hit me. When I walk out of the dressing room the second time, Mom is resting her head on her hand, leaned forward. Her blouse hangs gaunt on her frame, and her wig needs to be adjusted slightly. I seize the opportunity.

“I’m not finding anything and I’m really tired. How about we go home?”

She nods wearily, and I am free.

 

The registered nurse instructs us to watch the tube.

“The tube tells the truth,” she says. “When it goes from yellow to red, it’s bad. The kidneys are shutting down. When the tube has flecks of brown in it, that’s actual tissue.”

It is early April. We sit around Mom’s bed and occasionally snatch a look at the tube. She doesn’t know this; such instructions and observations are passed in the kitchen, out of earshot. We don’t really know how much she knows now anyway. She can no longer talk, and is certainly past the thought of lipstick.

While my sister stands on the left side of Mom’s bed and holds her attention by telling about the grandchildren, I sidle over to the right side of the bed, about two-thirds of the way toward the foot.

It snakes down discreetly from the edge of the white cotton top sheet, loops through the metal frame of the hospital bed, widens into the bag we also observe nervously. But our main concern is the plastic tube. Clear, perfectly clear so that there is no mistake about its contents. At first the pale yellow liquid leaves no trace along the sides of the tube, sliding down into the bag as it should. An unpleasant sight, that tube, not an object of conversation at a dinner party, but vastly necessary. I forget its primary job of removal. I only think about its importance as a signal, a long narrow messenger that will objectively explain the internal ravages I cannot see. While the few visitors courteously avoid looking at the tube, it is quite visible to us, the family members. A life line, a death line.

For days, the tube remains clear. This is the good time. But the less Mom eats, the darker the tube will become. We coax the straw for the liquid supplement into her mouth, the natural and pleasurable act of eating having become a laborious, unnatural process that leaves us all drained. The book hospice gave us warns that at some point she will refuse to eat, and we must accept that.

A wash of red sticks to the sides of the tube, like cherry Kool-Aid in a straw, sending us into a frenzy of consultation in the kitchen. While we know it’s a step in the process, it still frightens us. We wring our hands and smile and say, loudly because we cannot help ourselves, “Morning, Mom. Look out at the sun. Your dogwood’s growing. See how tall and straight it’s become.” And when Mom slowly raises her unseeing eyes, whether or not to try and look outside, or just to respond to our voices, we glance quickly at the tube to find its sentence.

Next come the flakes of yellow that stick to the sides of the tube. They look like tiny confetti inside the plastic, which still curves gracefully at a diagonal from the middle of the bed through the bars and into the bag. The bag does not have to be changed because it isn’t full; it hasn’t been full in several days. In the agony of watching the flakes grow slightly larger, I find myself wishing it would get worse, hurry up and get over, anticipating the darkening, thickening contents of the tube.

I struggle to find subjects to talk about. Books I’ve read or house renovations both seem inappropriate. They reek of a material world in which my mother no longer has a part. A well-meaning relative arrives and puts makeup on Mom’s face, blush to camouflage pale, puffy cheeks, lipstick on shrunken lips, and I think if it makes the relative feel better, why not.

The tube exhibits a remarkable spectrum of yellow. It darkens to that of a Black-Eyed-Susan petal, a hint of orange entering the picture. Instead of rice-paper-thin flakes, there is substance, not a clot yet, but slushy. The flecks remain stubbornly lodged in the dispassionate plastic tubing. We graduate to shavings, then chips, and only several hours’ worth of gravity, seemingly quite uncooperative at this point, pulls them down.

The orange tint becomes dingy at first, then downright dirty-colored. Nobody vocally acknowledges that when we’re looking at more brown than orange, the brown of dried blood, it is, as the nurse puts it, pretty bad.

Reddish clots actually fill the circumference of the tube now. It doesn’t matter, though; there’s nothing coming through that would be blocked. I realize that I’m actually looking at kidney tissue. I’m tired in so many ways; I know where we are in the process, but still my mind irrationally tries to come up with ways to return that tissue to my mother’s body.

Soon there will be nothing at all coming through the tube, except the truth.

 

It’s August now, and I sit Indian-style on the floor in what now serves as my father’s bathroom. He wanted the dresses out of her closet the week of the funeral. Next I waded through costume jewelry, undergarments, and pajamas. Now I face a vanity full of health and beauty products.

I toss flasks of stale perfume, hardened lip gloss samples, facial powder that smells like an old woman, which saddens me because my mother didn’t get to be an old woman. Eyebrow crayons, bent bob pins, a tube of insect bite cream, items less than a quarter full that I don’t care to cart home. I place in a basket—one of Mom’s I will take home—a candle, an unopened tin of talc powder, unused room freshener spray. I have to be careful. With the first item officially retained, I reverse my unconscious policy of absolute disposal, and become prisoner to a law that decrees everything must be saved. A commemorative Estée Lauder bicentennial compact holds no memories for me but represents value. Seven combs of assorted lengths go into the basket because in my family of five, someone can always use a comb. A jewel-toned mosaic soap dish which matches nothing in my bathroom gets tucked into the basket.  Her toothbrush has been commandeered for fine-cleaning niches and corners. The lipstick Mom purchased for herself back in January, too light for me, remains, the receipt tightly coiled around it, in a pocket of my purse. It will stay there until it gets too hot, leaks, and permanently stains the lining.

Linked with the drudgery of my chore today runs a secret thought, that I might find some pearl of great price. Miniscule gilt boxes forgotten in the murky corners at the back of the drawers beckon with anticipation of ruby earrings, an overlooked sapphire, a Liberty silver Dollar. I lift the lid of a gold-plated round box to find a variety of lapel pins, all plastic, all related to cancer research: Race for the Cure, a smiley face, a pink ribbon. Another small white box holds Christmas jewelry: snowmen and angel pins, jingle bells, earrings that are sugar-cubed-sized purple wrapped presents. My hand hovers over the keep basket. I set the box down in between the basket and the waste can.

I proceed to the larger items under the sink, leaving the disinfectant spray and aspirin, taking the Vitamin C and iron pills. I recall how Dad and I combed the pharmacy for calcium with Vitamin C at Mom’s insistence, only to later learn that the doctor prescribed calcium with vitamin D. I chew a calcium tablet before dropping the bottle in the basket, but I have no faith that it will benefit my health.

In the back left corner, her side, a shoe box is stuck to the shelf paper. My breath quickens, and the silence grows loud in my ears. I lift it into my lap and raise the lid.

A faded crimson crepe hair net holds pink bristled curlers. I gulp when I realize that these curlers hold my Mom’s hair, her actual hair that fell out fifteen months ago and never really came back. I pick up one of the curlers and see the smooth gray rolled around it, not the fine chick down that covered Mom’s scalp after the radiation. This is the hair she had three Christmases ago when Dad griped at her for spending too much on presents for everyone, when she gave me another Estée Lauder gift set, when she slipped in my pocket the expensive watch that I didn’t feel like I needed because she had given me one ten years earlier, and it still ran perfectly well.

I roll the curler between my hands. Its wire structure is bent somewhat, most likely from being worn while Mom slept. The short white bristles must be made of incredible artificial fiber to survive, still spiny enough to hold hair tightly rolled. Each one of the cylinders in the bag has its share of Mom’s hair caught in the bristles, all that’s left.

My hand shakes as I touch one of the delicate filaments and pull it off the curler. I lay it against my leg and stroke it because it comforts me. I plunge my hand into the hair net, the curler bristles scratching me. I remember crying as a little girl when I had to sleep in abominable curlers such as these, the quills poking my head. Now I wish I could feel that pain, be a child again, have thirty more years with my mother.

More than the bath products, more than the countless jeans and shoes, more than the Estée Lauder, more than the jewelry that Mom gave me over the years, I want to keep these simple pink curlers. I press one up and down my thigh, feel the spines sting. I consider calling my sister to see what we should do with these curlers that could serve somebody for another twenty years. I sigh, and with tears rolling off my chin, I drop them in the waste can.

Roosevelt was Right

Theodore Roosevelt was my favorite president long before Ken Burns created his documentary about the Roosevelt family. Aside from his mistaken, historical-context-laden Native American policy, which I do not condone, Roosevelt rose to the challenge of Chief Executive and accomplished much in his eight years in the Oval Office. What makes him unique is that instead of trying to change people and issues on the other side of the political spectrum, Roosevelt tackled the problems that his own party was responsible for aiding and abetting. Through his family’s impressive economic and political profile, Roosevelt represented the party of Big Business. Yet he successfully limited the powers of big business, namely the growth of corporations, during his time in office. As an insider, Roosevelt knew well how to get their attention then motivate them to cooperate, effectively throttling a power that promised to run away with any sort of individual rights for the people and small organizations. His method of operation is one we should all consider and apply to ourselves.

With whatever demographic you associate, look to call down your own trouble-makers instead of pointing across whatever barrier there is, to someone who sees things differently (Notice I didn’t say “wrongly”).  I’m speaking in extreme opposites on purpose:  Immigration? If you’re a legal immigrant, use your knowledge of families and movements to help the police find law-breaking immigrants. Religion? If you’re religious or atheist, encourage like-minded individuals to find ways to make life better for everyone, instead of acting in destructive ways, which is the antithesis of true spiritual aspirations. Politics? If you’re a Democrat or Republican, stop encouraging the radical 2% fringe on each end, because they don’t represent the best of your party.  Economic or social status? Instead of the rich blaming the poor and the poor blaming the rich for all social ills, try to get your “brother” or “neighbor” to see how he might be adding to the problem, in the myriad minor ways people warp and tilt the law in their favor.

With a little forethought and dedication, you can use your situation as an insider in your own subgroup, as Roosevelt did, to appeal to citizens who are acting against the best interests of our country. We aren’t getting anywhere gouging at “the enemy,” whatever side of whatever skirmish we’re on. There’s really so much more that we have in common, if we would quit focusing on another group whose views on one subject or in one area might be opposite our own. Trust that “they” have their reasons, and, just like “your” group, most are committed to trying to make our world a better place.

We extol the courage of our military heroes. Does it really take that much courage to look at a bigot or sycophant and say, hey, bud, dial it down?!

So call down those in your own ranks who are giving the other side a target. I’d much rather someone I know and trust point out my thought distortions, gross exaggerations, and self-justifications than someone I expect to see the worst in me. I’ll pay much more attention to the former.

Roosevelt became president after the assassination of William McKinley. Who knows if he ever would have been elected president on his own? But when he was presented the opportunity, he made a difference. We each have unique opportunities in our own spheres of influence. Don’t waste your resources slinging hardballs into a brick wall; that negative energy  keeps your hands dirty. See what you can do with the folks on your side of the issue.  While you focus on that irritant in your own eye, that speck in your adversary’s eye might become less of a bother, and you might find ways to work together in spite of yourselves.

Profanity Doesn’t Mean Crap Anymore

I never found vulgar language to be worth the trouble. Profanity didn’t provide enough payback for me in the currency of the sensations or satisfactions that compel us toward our chosen vices.  Though I remember trying out a string of dirty words in junior high, determining how they felt in my mouth and out of it, and deciding to opt for more gratifying improprieties, I’m by far the minority in this category. In recent years, I have observed profanity exploited to the point that it fails to provide the power it promises. And its usage, while superficially considered creative, more often hinders creativity. If people don’t come up with new swear words, we’ll be left with no strong language at all.

By definition, a curse word ought to be an attention-getter. It has been used historically as a show of bravado, or to offend, shock, hurt, or intimidate. We need a select group of words for just that purpose. Convicted felons, gang members, and down-and-outers, to name a few people who live in a hardened state, a state in which regular language will not suffice, deserve to have their own vocabulary to express their harsh existence.

I don’t generally come in contact with such a world, but during a particularly low time in my adult life, swear words occurred to me regularly. That phase passed quickly, but it did make me realize that there are times when profanity suits our condition. However, it shouldn’t be all the time for most people.

Profanity’s power partly derives from its status as a transgression; I don’t pursue that argument here. But the extent that swear words promote ignorance reaches almost a moral degree to any lover of civilized language. People have become so accustomed to hulking up curse words that they use them in lieu of better, truer words for the situation. For instance, a person once described a trip to me by saying, “We had a hell of a damn time.” I wondered, was that fun or miserable?

One symptom of this dumbing-down of vocabulary is the manner in which profanity has been adapted to many positions of sentence structure. Like all languages, English is complex and beautiful, with complicated rules, suffixes, and stress marks (among other indicators) to denote a word’s purpose in speech. And yet people opt for the same trite words to communicate myriad thoughts, actions, and information throughout their day. Take the sentence, “That lousy girl is always lying.” One may insert the word “shit” in four different positions: Continue reading Profanity Doesn’t Mean Crap Anymore