Tuesday, April 15, 2008

The "F" Word

Last week Janet Reid had a post about a writer whose publisher dropped him because they got tired of him sending them "F-you" emails. Naturally, all her good little clients got on the comment board to reassure her that we would never do something like that, and for the most part I suspect we were all telling the truth.

It occurs to me, on reflection, though, that there was one time in my life when I did actually swear at someone. It happened like this:

Many, many yahrens* ago when I was a junior in college, an administrative error left a couple hundred of us without housing. After a couple of months in a temporary dorm where nothing got fixed, it wasn't a good idea to unpack because you didn't know how long you'd be there, and my roommate kept locking me out so she could have sex with her boyfriend, I wound up sharing a tiny apartment with three women I barely knew. Sherri and Monee I got along with fine (though they couldn't stand one another), but Lillian and I hit it off like bleach and ammonia.

Lillian was deeply-repressed fundamentalist Christian and a rabid conservative. The first thing we clashed over was homosexuality. She told me one day, very sanctimoniously, that she didn't believe gays were actually evil, they were just sick and needed to be cured. I have a half-brother and some very good friends who are gay and so I took exception on their behalf. She thought that I was probably a lesbian myself but wouldn't admit it to her. I thought she was probably a lesbian but wouldn't admit it to herself. She thought I was a dangerous, bleeding-heart liberal. I thought she was insane.

So, anyway . . . . After we'd been living together awhile a problem came up regarding the food we each brought in the house. Sherri and Lillian were both relatively well-off, going to school and living on money from home. Monee and I were poor as the proverbial church mouse, relying on scholarships, Pell grants and student loans to pay our tuition and scraping by on what we could make by working when we weren't in class. In Sherri and Lillian's eyes, anything in the kitchen was fair game, so that Monee and I, who could least afford it, kept coming home to suppers that were no longer there.

Finally we sat down and discussed it with them. At first they were both indignant. After all, they bought food too and they weren't telling us we couldn't eat it. Since we lived together we should be like a family? And, considering there were four of us and each of us despised one of the other three, they may have had something there. Still, that wasn't a solution either Monee or I was comfortable with. I'm not entirely sure why, but I think it may have been, at least in part, the fierce pride of the very poor. We were struggling mightily, but we were supporting ourselves. I don't need your food, thank you. I am able to buy my own. And for me, there was another complication. I'm a vegetarian, so if someone ate what I'd bought for dinner, there wasn't necessarily going to be anything among their groceries to replace it.

After a long discussion they agreed that we would each treat our groceries as our own and not take anything that didn't belong to us without at least asking. Sherri conceded gracefully, Lillian, less so. How much less so I was to discover a couple of nights later.

At the time she and I were the only ones home. I had been in class all morning, then worked all day, and I was trying to catch up with my homework so I could get up the next morning and do it all over. Lillian, puttering around in the tiny kitchen, decided to make popcorn.

"I think I'll make some popcorn, Loretta. Is this your popcorn, Loretta? Do you mind if I make some popcorn?"

I sighed. "No, it's not my popcorn. Do whatever you want."

"Of course, I'll want some butter for the popcorn. Is this your butter, Loretta? Can I use some of this butter, Loretta?"

"Yes, that's fine." I had transferred in from a junior college with an associate's degree that counted as the core work for my major, but my 8 AM art history lecture assumed that I had taken prerequisites that I had, in fact, not.

"Oh, and salt! Is this your salt, Loretta? Do you mind if I use a little salt, Loretta?"

"I don't know whose salt it is. Go ahead."

"I'm going to need a pan to melt the butter. Is this your pan, Loretta? Can I use this pan?"

"That's fine."

"Oh, and a fork to stir the butter too. Is this your fork, Loretta? Can I use your fork."


"And this is your popcorn popper too, isn't it, Loretta? Can I use that? Is that all right? Do you mind if I use your popcorn popper?"

At this point I put down my pen and said, "Lillian, I do not give a damn if you use the fucking popcorn popper."

She went to bed.

Turned everything off, went into her darkened room without a word and climbed under the covers with her clothes still on.

Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt. Guilt.

MAJOR guilt.

I was always taught to be kind to others. Don't hurt people's feelings. If you can't say something nice about someone . . . . And PROFANITY! Ladies don't swear! They certainly don't say the "F-word"! Strong language is the refuge of those who aren't intelligent enough to think of a better way to express themselves.

Finally I got up, went into her room and said, "I'm sorry I lost my temper with you."

In the glow coming in the window from the streetlights I could see her give me a smug, self-satisfied little smile. "I forgive you," she said very sweetly.

And at that point I very nearly cussed her out again, but I decided it wasn't worth the aggravation so I just turned around and went back to my books.

*For those of you who recognize the term "yahrens" I'd just like to be clear that this is a reference to the original BG and not to the popular but hopelessly bastardized modern version, which I refuse to even look at on the grounds that Starbuck's not a woman, dammit! He's a GUY! A really cute GUY! And when I was twelve I had a crush on him and a dog named after him and everything! So he's NOT a chick! Sheesh!

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