Thursday, September 29, 2005

SUMBing the F-Bomb

I was in a huge hurry this morning as I often am these days. At one point I was sitting at my desk, trying to get my stuff together for Humanities 1100 and I realized I was swearing under my breath (SUMB) about every third word. It seems I’ve developed, over the last few years, a SUMB habit. I’m not sure where it started or why but I’m definitely cussing like a patron at the ballet.

I have a complicated relationship with swearing it seems. I remember at eight, after listening to that great Jim Croce song “Bad, Bad, Leroy Brown, baddest man in the whole damn town,” asking my mother if I could swear. I mean how pathetic: asking one’s mother permission to swear? Later as a teenager, my Mormon friends (I was a self-proclaimed atheist at the time) would let it rip. It embarrasses me now to think I was the numbskull teenager in line ahead of some poor mom with her 7 year-old daughter at Hardees saying, “Goddam it you motherfucker give me my wallet back or I will fuck you up.”

Many times I’ve reformed my swearing habits—once, at least in her presence, for my Mormon girlfriend (I will never forget the look she gave me driving to Logan during my Christmas break from Methodist College in North Carolina after I used Jesus Christ in some slang fashion); another for my two-year LDS mission; and another while at BYU which waned when around my Utah State friends. Once I settled down into post zoobie-land life (post BYU), I was caught off guard by the language people in the real world used. Of course getting a job at an alternative high school, alternative in that hemp was THE issue for every paper and large black electronic leg bracelets were marks of courage, my transition was rather extreme. The “foul” language seemed so cruel to me coming from these students’ mouths. I don’t know that the context of their language was that much different from the language of some of the faculty but the presence of the language in class further corroded my already tenuous hold on any semblance of authority or control. And it could be very mean and demeaning—the “you fuckin’ c*nt” variety of swearing.

But even the language of the inactive LDS/ atheist faculty faction (I had been adopted by exception since I was an active LDS liberal), made me cringe. For several months a few faculty members from this group would slip out an F-bomb every time they saw me. It became a big joke because they knew the F-word made me grimace. Often in normal polite conversation big Paul would say something like: “I don’t think this fucking new rule about our fuckin’ students is going be able to prevent them from being fuckers.” That afternoon big Paul would then ironically give his long lecture to the student volleyball team about not using the c-word as his wife had helped him understand the nastiness of this particular word. He relished each moment of these discussions with the students; it was a bit perverse. They had a lot of fun with me and I didn’t mind that much—certainly better than the f-bombs coming from my students. During this time another colleague, Liz, made the first argument I’d heard (I know I’m very sheltered) for the versatility of the F-word: it’s a verb, it’s a noun, etc., etc.

Now I’ve grown up and gone to college—very few if any F-bombs in my classes these days and I have to say I like it that way; at least I don’t miss the threatening or vicious F-bombs. But now it seems I’m dropping little SUMB F-bombs all over the place. I’d hate to do a count on a day like today--certainly moving towards three digits. It’s dangerous you know: a sin is first a thought and then acted on. And in this way the versatility of the F-word provides for many grievous actions: using the Lord’s name in vein, bashing in someone’s face, coveting, flipping someone off, adultery, and not loving your enemy. Maybe I can ask my Mormon bishop permission to SUMB: “I know it’s not quite Christ-like but it’s my way of preserving my sanity.” He’ll never buy it.

Friday, September 23, 2005

Fall Season Musings

I've decided I need to get into another tv show I can watch with my wife. We are going to watch Westwing and we used to watch Judging Amy but it got lame and now I think it's canceled anyways. So, we tried out My name is Ed. It had some great laughs (e.g. redneck Ed trying to be sensitive, "Are you a homosexual American?") but it was a bit crude at times. Not sure it will work. We also tried Office. It's billed as a comedy but I thought it was, at least this episode, so pathetic that I found myself cringing and feeling bad for the characters the whole show.

Enjoyed the fall change in leaves (didn't enjoy freezing my ass off) as I rode down from the Tour de Suds mountain bike race this past Saturday. It's a 6 mile gut buster climb from Park City to Guardsman's Pass. What a strange race: many people wear costumes as it's the end of the year race and many carry up a beer to finish at the top. I don't mind the beer/laid back feel but it's a bit demoralizing when someone's carrying and drinking a beer and still in front of you. One guy did the race on a single speed bike wearing full length cowboy chaps. He finished just ahead of me--at least he wasn't also drinking a beer. It was a nice way to end my summer of riding.

We've been (well mostly my wife) canning salsa, pasta sauce, peaches and apples. I love canning or, better said, I love canning going on while I'm reading a book in the background. The smells are delicious, fresh, earthy and they represent accomplishment, storing up for the winter, and industry: "It smells like...fall."

Thursday, September 15, 2005

Call and Response

Thursdays are my tough days at home. My wife works the entire afternoon and evening while I do dinner in between carting kids to piano and art class. This evening I received what seemed to be two prank calls. I think they were trying the old Bart Simpson call into Moes bar (e.g. asking if Oliver Clothesoff or Mike Rotch is in). I didn't quite catch their nifty phrase as the phone connection was a bit fuzzy and because like Moe I was duped. This is disappointing but what really burns me is my lame come-back.

I was just about to leave to pick up my two older kids from art class; I was already five minutes late and the prank caller had called earlier when I was simultaneously trying to grill peppers, cook corn, cut up a tomatoe, and instruct my daughter in proper table setting. So at this point I was getting a bit irritated with prankster joe. Once I realized it was yet again the prankster, making me even later, I really wanted to scare them off so they wouldn’t call again. And, might you wonder, what did I come up with? Was it something like Moe would say to Bart:

“Listen, you lousy bum, if I ever get a hold of you, I swear I'll cut your belly open!”

Or “It's you isn't it ya cowardly little runt? When I get a hold of you, I'm gonna gut you like a fish and drink your blood!”

No, not exactly. Instead I somehow came up with this: “Listen, stop calling or I’m going to really be here.”

What in THE hell does that mean? They’re probably still shaking in their boots. I can’t believe I had nothing better than that. What happened?!? Performance anxiety? Fear of offending their parents if they turned out to be the Mormon Relief Society President’s kids? Inability to summon vigorous manly anger? If only they will call back so I can really stick it to them. I think I will use Moe’s “cowardly little runt” phrase and then go into a tirade about how I’m a working father with kids and dinner in the oven. Surely they will then shake in their boots and feel terribly sorry for adding stress to my already stressful evening.

Saturday, September 10, 2005

Can I speak to your wife?

I'm finding it much harder to post now that summer is over and real life has kicked in. Having said that I going to keep trying.

No one specific event or issue is nagging and/or inspiring me, but a number of small items.

I drove my son and his five other friends to preschool on Friday. I'm the only father that will take a turn on the carpooling obligations and this I love. I always wanted to participate in those moments in my kids' lives. And, while I can bitch about the pay I receive as a teacher, I do love the flexibility it allows me. Though I've had a number of odd or uncomfortable situations being a father at home, especially in the summer when I'm working from home a lot and my wife is away working. One time a woman dropped off her child to play with Andrew, my 4-year old, but didn't know I would be the parent in charge: she stumbled and stuttered but finally left her children. On several occasions women have called to set-up a play date or set-up car-pooling or to discuss something time sensitive but when I answer and tell them my wife isn't home, they usually decide I'm not the ONE to talk to about such things. Sometimes I've just let it go; other times I've tried to hint that I am indeed the ONE to talk to. Of course I don't blame these women as many (most?) men are clueless (and I still am clueless about such things as doctor appointments and school projects--last year I didn't even meet my son's teacher: what a loser). Still, it's just a bit strange being on that side of the fence, the father at home side.

I realized the other day how hard it might be to be a single-father. A friend of mine who recently moved into the neighborhood confided that it's been quite difficult to fit in as a single father with three kids; as he explained it, "how often do men get together so their kids can play?" Activity and relationships really do need containers and constructions in order to be performed. It's not good enough to just say, "I will be different" because it's nearly impossible to act in ways that are not validated or allowed in our culture. I mean sure my friend could call up some married guy say, "let's get our kids together" but it's almost impossible to imagine: their is very little, if at all, any social structure to support such an event.

Well, it seems I couldn't help but create a little theme.

Friday, September 02, 2005

My one poetic act

How do we forgive our fathers?[1]

“That there is the south west corner post to the lot. The line then runs across that ridge and then down on the other side of that brown hill. Do you see it?

“I think so; it’s kind of by that dead pine?”

“Which one? No, not that one; it’s the one on the other hill.”

“Oh, I see it now.”

Every year we make a pilgrimage to my dad’s cabin; every year my dad takes me and the kids for a jeep ride; every year he points out the stakes that mark both of his 40 acre lots. It’s a passing-on ritual, father to oldest son, the son who will remember our land, who will keep it from marauders and bandits.

My father and I have little in common: he’s an electrician, I’m a professor; he can build or fix just about anything, I hire out. I like people; I work with people; I like to talk. My dad is silent; he seems embarrassed and awkward at every social exigency. I’ve feared and even hated him, but I’ve never craved someone’s attention more. Even at 22, a few months after my return from an LDS mission to Spain, I still so wanted to please him.

Maybe for scaring us with unexpected rage
or making us nervous
because there never seemed to be any rage there at all.

Last count, I add up exactly one poetic act in my life, one perfect moment where the gods favored me, where my actions were crisp, efficient, symbolic, necessary and unambiguous. On a knoll above our cabin I watched each ravine on both sides as my dad and his friend brushed for me on the last day, in the last few twilight minutes of the last hunt I would ever partake in. Just about when it looked like they were reaching the bottom of the ravines, a four-point buck walked up on the hill about 100 yards away. I raised my 270 rifle, the first and the last time, took aim and squeezed off a shot. All the years of brushing, hiking, and almost-shots paid off. The deer dropped: one shot, one bullet, one four-point. I could see pride in my dad’s eyes as I cut up the belly of the deer from anus to chest and then reached in a yanked out the esophagus.

A Saturday morning, years ago, in our basement--me reclined, my dad coming in for a drink:

“What are you still doing in here?”

“I’m reading, Dad; it’s a really good book.”

“Some of us don’t have time to waste all day on reading; somebody has to work around here.”

How do we construct the past? Can we rely on our memories? I’m confident my dad hated my reading; I’m certain he was impatient when he tried to teach me how to build things or take things apart. Clearly I’m not like him. I like ideas; I talk; I interact with people; I’m uncomfortable with silence, with unsaid things: I’m confessional; I read to my kids, go to their soccer games, talk to them, pray with them.

And shall we forgive them for their excesses of warmth or coldness?
Shall we forgive them for pushing or leaning
for shutting doors
for speaking through walls
or never speakingor never being silent?

My father has gotten quite obsessive about his cabin in his “retirement.” He doesn’t quite feel like he’s accomplishing anything unless he’s improving the cabin. It’s a fortress with four sources of energy: solar panels, mega-sized industrial batteries, a huge gas generator stored in a horse trailer a half block away, a small generator in the garage; running water from a tank dug in up the hill; cleared and groomed land all around. He just can’t get to my mom’s muddy backyard where she’d like to put pavers, nor does he have time to accompany my mother to watch me complete a biathlon in Wellsville—there’s holes to be dug and walls to build at the cabin.

Do we forgive our Fathers for marrying or not marrying our Mothers?
For Divorcing or not divorcing our Mothers?

Motivation, obsession, and meaning. In last 10 years, I’ve obsessed about running the Wasatch 100 mile footrace. I toiled away 13 hours on one trail run. I left our house at ungodly hours of the day; I’ve thrown up for days after a race but I just can’t quite get to the outlet my wife would like in the bathroom. How can this be? Son of a bitch: son of my dad.

Do we forgive our fathers in our age--or in theirs?
Or in their death?
If we forgive our fathers, what is left?

[1] “How do we forgive our fathers?” by Dick Lourie; read in the last scene of Smoke Signals by Chris Eyre.