Saturday, January 18, 2014

Crying Foul

Lately I've been thinking about bad words. Like unwanted family members, they've become so much a part of the landscape that no one notices them anymore. For instance, I bet you didn't notice that even the friendly pre-recorded male voice on the New York City subway uses foul language ("Stand clear of the *@#!@-ing closing doors, please"; "This is 176th @!!&%-ing Street"). The barista at Starbucks says, "Would you like your #$%^-ing receipt?" and you say, "Yes, **&$# you."

Obviously this signals the degradation of our society, which clearly was not degraded enough to begin with, even when we started wearing thongs. (Think about it: as a society, we did this voluntarily. Of course there are honorable exceptions, such as the Pope.) (I am assuming here.)

My point, as you have no doubt guessed, is this: we need to return to the refined language of a bygone era. I realize most of us are ill-equipped to remember a cultural zeitgeist any longer ago than Full House, but I assure you we had even older eras. Think back to elementary school, when you learned about Abraham Lincoln. Can you imagine how the Gettysburg Address would read if written today?

Four score and seven #$%^^& years ago
Our fathers, those sons of @#$%!-es, brought forth...

But you know what's really weird, when you think about it, is that most people nowadays use bad words without even being angry. This is really jarring to me. I grew up in a house where no one used foul verbiage except in the case of a seriously rage-inducing event, such as a severely backed-up toilet. But now I hear people use these words in completely temperate situations, situations where no plunger is even thought of. ("Ya goin' to the &#$%-ing store?"  "Yeh, I'll pick you up some @($%^-ing Rolaids."  "Thanks, @#$%-er %(#%-er.")

This bothers delicate lilies such as myself. I was raised to believe you never use these words without just provocation, such as you are being garroted or have just been presented with tickets to Wicked. That's why our language needs to change. Only when we "up our game" verbally can we pull ourselves out of the current linguistic dark age. One good option would be to hearken back to the verbal modes of Shakespeare. Consider the following exchange, before enhancement:

PERSON A: I think Football Team X is a %^$*#-load better than that pile of %($^ Football Team Y.
PERSON B: Oh YEAH??? C'mere, you @$*%#&!
(They pull each other's ears off)

Whereas with a few Shakespearean tweaks, voilĂ ! Iambic pentameter:

PERSON A: My lord, my liege, in sooth I do aver
That worthiest of entities, Team X
Doth kick real good the nutties of Team Y.
Dost thou agree?
PERSON B:      Thou prick, c'mere, let's fight.
(They pull each other's ears off)

No, wait, that's no better. Plus, this option requires training, so that you'll be able to pull out those Shakespearean flourishes at a moment's notice, and who among us has that kind of time? This is why machetes are useful, in a pinch, but that is not my point.

Another, potentially less time-consuming alternative would be simply to give well-considered, articulate voice to your every waking thought. I will use the example of a person I know whom we will call Mrs. R.,* who was once bitten on her finger by her dog while feeding it (the dog) (not the finger) bits of meat. Whereupon Mrs. R. unleashed the following stream of bad words:

MRS. R.: (Feeding the dog)
DOG: Omnomnomnomnom (BITE)

Pretty unimaginative, am I right, folks? Now think how much more articulate of a contribution Mrs. R. could have made to human discourse if she had verbalized her emotions as follows:

MRS. R.: (Feeding the dog)
DOG: Omnomnomnomnom (BITE)
MRS. R.: I feel great rage at this moment, as manifested both literally and in a sense symbolically, by the seeping wound upon my finger. A curse upon you and all your hairy little ancestors.
DOG: Boy, are you ever an ***hole.

Yes, verbal communication is extremely important. You see how they hashed that out? Just think of the pent-up feelings that might otherwise never have been communicated. Can you imagine, for example, the pain and suffering that might come of never cursing your dog's ancestors, let alone never knowing that you're an asshole?

This is why my dream stands strong of one day living in a world devoid of emptily used dirty words. Yes, granted, they are an instant and handy thoroughfare to emphatic self-expression. But I urge you to take a brave first step by using them at least sparingly. When, you ask? To make it simple, let's limit your bad-word use strictly to the following extreme situations: (a) when evil ninjas attack your house; (b) when you burst into flames, and of course (c) those Wicked tickets.

* This is so you will not uncover her true identity as Mrs. D.

Thursday, January 2, 2014

Another Year, Another Set of Extremely Moderate Goals

Now that 2013 has passed, it's time to reflect at length and smugly on your proudest accomplishments of the year. Because however inconsequential they may be to the rest of the world, you know -- deep in your heart -- that they surpassed the accomplishments of people more pathetic than you. At least, probably. On which note, here are mine:

  1. I achieved a 94% success rate in leaving one or both appliance chargers at home en route to far-flung lands, and
  2. I spent an estimated 10,391 hours on the phone with the state health insurance hotline, which is pretty impressive when you note there are only 8,760 hours in a year.
Call me a braggart if you will, but I believe these accomplishments are pretty darned admirable, especially when you consider I wasn't even working with a life coach

Let's take a closer look at #2 in particular. I'm going to go ahead and call this my most heroic feat of all time, given I spent all but 20 minutes of it connected to the Helpful Lady-Bot. The Helpful Lady-Bot is a merciless android monster with a warm, cheery voice who taunts you periodically. Her function is to interrupti the Herb Alpert waiting music with cheerful sadist comments like, "Did you know your question may be answered on our website? Go to www.hahahadiepunkthismeansyou dot com and click on..." And so on. 

But here is the problem. And allow me to put this in bold and capital letters for emphasis:


Of course the Helpful Lady-Bot knows this; she just likes to toy with you. In Bot school she was the bully who took all the other androids' lunch money, then waved it over their heads trying to get them to grab it before yanking it away. (Talk about accomplishments: this she managed despite not existing.)

However, I emerged triumphant. On December 22, I succeeded - in a Christmas miracle the likes of which George Cukor would have killed to enshrine for posterity - in enrolling for health insurance. I reached an exceedingly competent and kind professional named Tanisha, who swiftly enrolled me in a plan despite the fact that her predecessors, on the odd occasion I had reached one, had failed to determine that I exist.* Of course I suspect these folks also regularly failed to chew and swallow correctly, but this is all water under the bridge now that I am (presumably) enrolled.

Obviously the moral of this story is don't give up on your dreams, or something like that.

Now clearly the foregoing has been addressed to those in pursuit of a goal. A goal might be anything: it could be enrolling for health insurance, but it could also be winning the World Cup, or winning the World Cup if you ever get off the phone with health insurance. Whereas this next part I would like to address to the goal-seeker's loved ones. Remember that your support is of the utmost importance to this person. That's why you should holler encouragement really, really loudly in their ears:

HELPFUL LADY-BOT: Did you know your question can also be answered on our website? Go to www. ...
YOUR LOVED ONES (in your ear): YOU CAN DO IT, BOB!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!!!
YOU: Can you pipe down, please? I can't hear.
YOUR LOVED ONES (louder, because you need more encouragement): GO, BOB!!!!!! YOU GOT THIS, BUDDY!!!!!! YOU GOT THIS!!!!! GO GO GO GO GO!!!!!!!
YOU: Look, I'm really touched, but could you...
INSURANCE REPRESENTATIVE (picking up after 3,706 hours): Good afternoon, New York State of Health. How can I assist you?
YOUR LOVED ONES: YEAH!!!!!! BOB!!!!!! MY MAN BOB!!!!!!!! YOU CAN DO IT!!!!!!!!!!! ROCK IT, BOB!!!!!!! WORK IT, BABY!!!!!!!!! 
YOU: Shut up! Someone might answer! I need to hear!
YOU: For the love of God, shut...
YOU (in tears): PLEASE!!

But encouragement can also be a negative thing. I base this statement on a lethal encouragement incident I once saw with my own eyes.** I was at a figure skating competition, where a teenage figure skater named Charles was performing before a crowd of a few hundred spectators including, unfortunately, his own parents. Regrettably, the family had positioned themselves close to the boards, so that Charles, who would probably have preferred death by maggot, instead got the full onslaught of their affectionate encouragement. It was a sequence of events that went like clockwork: the family would send out an encouragement-beam, and instantly, Charles would fall. It went like this:

(Charles is skating; sets up for a jump)
FAMILY: Oh! OH! Here he goes! Here he... GOOOO CHARLES!
FAMILY: Ohhhhh! Go, Charles! It's OK! You can do it, buddy! You can do it! (Charles sets up for a jump.) You can-- whoaaa! Here he goes! Here he goes again! GOOOOO CHARLES!
FAMILY: Ohhhhh! Don't worry, Charles! Just a fluke! Ellie! Ellie, cheer for your brother!
(Charles falls while not even jumping)

Of course, knowing what young sibling relations are like, it is entirely possible his little sister had put a curse on him. But one way or another, my point is that encouragement can be a force for evil. By the end of the program Charles had fallen about 75 times and ended up placing 335th in the competition despite the fact that there were only 12 competitors. He was even beaten by the Zamboni driver and the head of the local skating association, who had spent the competition sitting in the bleachers scratching his personal region.*** So, as loved ones, you must use your own best judgment as to when to cheer and when to stop, unless of course you are a dum-dum, in which case there is very little I can do to help you, aside from suggesting a career OUTSIDE of the insurance hotline industry. Did you hear me? I said OUTSIDE. Here, lean your ear closer if you like. 

And to those who continue tirelessly chipping away at a long-held goal in 2014, I can only urge you to keep plugging. Keep your head up high and never give up. Unless, of course, you're trying to break into the New York theatre world, in which case I can only say to you, in all sincerity and from the deepest depths of my heart: get outta my way. 

* I admit I have my doubts.
** As opposed to with somebody else's eyes, which could potentially get you into trouble.
*** But then, his technique was flawless.