Monthly Archives: February 2010

What’s freakin’ wrong with the F-bomb?

When I was a teenager I swore a blue streak. There were one or two words that I considered taboo, well, one anyway, but other than that not much was off limits. I might have made an effort to curtail the swearing in front of my parents but I couldn’t have been 100% successful because I remember my mother telling me, with a long suffering sigh, that the problem with swearing wasn’t intrinsic to the words themselves. The problem was that when I swore I wasn’t using my brain to come up with a more effective way to express myself. I respected that argument and am ready to use it myself if and when it becomes necessary with my own daughter.

Despite the logic to my mother’s assertion, there were times at work when no other words would do, which brings me to the F-bomb. First let me say that I was very much a grown-up when I first heard the term ‘F-bomb’. I’m fairly certain that I was in my late thirties, perhaps even early forties, before I was introduced to it. That may be because in my generation we didn’t censor ourselves so there was no need for euphemisms. It seems, however, that the crew coming up behind us was a more genteel lot.

Some years ago I became aware that often when I used the F word, people would laugh in that slightly shocked way, indicating that while they would never use that language, coming from me it was entertaining. Then a strange thing happened. I started hearing the word ‘freaking’ all over the place, usually without its final ‘g.’ The same people who squirmed when I said the F word (or as they would say, “dropped the F-bomb”) not only didn’t seem to mind the word freakin’, but used it themselves!

I ask you now, what’s the freakin’ difference between the F-bomb and the word freakin’? If we all know what’s really meant, why is my use of the F word shocking (and apparently occasionally, as someone once reported me to HR, upsetting) but the word freaking itself is not a problem? Are the people who say freaking use their brains to come up with a more effective way to express themselves than I am?

I don’t know the answer to that. I’m going to ask my mother.

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The smell of despair

To collect unemployment benefits you have to agree to look for work every week, report any income you make in a week you collect, and attend a two-hour seminar on how to find a job. You might be able to fudge the first two but there’s no wiggling out of the third.

The address for the seminar closest to my home was a mall in Cambridge. Who knew there was anything other than retail there? But lo and behold, between Jack’s Smoke Shop and PetSmart, there was a doorway with a sign above it for the Career Source.

The door opened into a long corridor that reeked of stale smoke, the smell of despair. At the end was an elevator. I waited for what seemed like forever for the door to close for the short ride to the third floor. When I reached the office I struggled in vain to figure out where I was supposed to go until someone flapped her hand in the vague direction of the room. By the time I took my seat in the classroom I was more than a little irritable. Then we met our presenter.

This man, I’ll call him Peter, introduced himself as someone who could relate to our situation. He’d been let go from his job as a European History teacher at a parochial school several years before and that had led him to his current job preparing us to go out and find gainful employment. He was a soft-spoken, articulate man. He led us through a handful of predictably content-free PowerPoint slides with such sincerity and care that I found myself paying attention in spite of my resentment. And all the other attendees were too.

The class was filled with all manner of folk, our own little microcosm of society. There were women with manicured nails and guys with dirt under their nails. There were people with dyed hair, gray hair and no hair. There was a man with an earring in each ear and a woman with multiple earrings in one ear. There were watch caps and baseball caps and wool hats. There were band-aids and tattoos and canes. There were native English speakers, people who spoke English as a second language, and people whose Boston accents were so thick they sounded to me as if they came from a foreign country.

Sitting with these people was a humbling experience. For many of them what Peter was saying was going to make a huge difference in their lives. He was arming them with valuable information about how to approach a job search. He was explaining the free services and resources that were available to them through the Career Source. He was giving them hope.

I went in feeling put upon and annoyed that I had to sacrifice my time to be there. But I left grateful that such a place exists, knowing that for lots of people that compulsory seminar is as valuable as the unemployment payments themselves.

Buy in haste, decorate slowly

Why is it that purchasing a house, the single most expensive thing you’ll ever buy in your life, has to be done in a rush, but deciding what rug to put in the family room can take years? It’s true that making the decision to invest in buying a house can take a very long time while you agonize over your ability to take on a mortgage, but once the house hunting is actually underway, buyers are often faced with the need to make an offer on the spot or lose the house of their dreams.

The house hunt is an intimate process, particularly if you’re doing it with a partner. You’re searching for a house that will be a home. You want a place to raise kids, celebrate life’s highs and ride out the lows. You want a safe haven from unsatisfactory jobs and friends who invariably let you down. When you find a house that resonates on your particular frequency, you can feel it. And as you envision your furniture in that house, you hear another couple say to the realtor, “It’s perfect. We’re going to make an offer.”

All of a sudden your chest feels tight, there’s a knot in your stomach and you start having trouble breathing. You now know with certainty that this is meant to be your house. It is the only house your furniture will look good in. There is no other house in town that can compare.

You rush up to the realtor as soon as the other couple steps away and say, “We want this house. Whatever that other couple is offering, we’ll go higher.” Within 24 hours it’s over and you’ve won. The house of your dreams is yours. You’ll be in debt for the next 30 years.

And thirteen years later, you still can’t agree on a rug for the family room.

5-pound bag of peanuts

I don’t do a lot of entertaining. Having friends over usually means serving dinner and I’m not much of a cook. So when I do invite people over I try to set reasonably low expectations. I may ask something like, “Do you have a Cheez-Whiz allergy?”

Sometimes the gods will be smiling on me when I invite my in-laws over for dinner. My mother-in-law will say, “That’s wonderful. I’ll bring dinner.” There’s nothing like having a dinner guest who brings the meal. She is a fantastic cook. She can whip up a meal for 30 people with a half hour’s notice and it will taste like she’s been slaving away for hours.

I also don’t watch sports (if you don’t count the opening ceremonies for the Olympics; I like the parade of nations). So imagine my husband’s surprise when I told him we were hosting a Super Bowl party this year. “To watch the game?” he asked, with a horrified look on his face. “And the commercials,” I reassured him.

There were going to be seventeen of us in all. I wanted to have enough appetizers so that everyone would be able to find something they liked. I believe what you lack in quality can be made up in quantity. I envisioned people spread out all over the house, some watching the game in the family room, some lounging in the living room, others gathered around the dining room table sharing stories while the appetizers magically floated from room to room.

The guests, however, stayed glued to the TV in the family room, where the chips and salsa, cheese and crackers, and Spanakopita from Costco were on the coffee table. The appetizers that were strategically placed in other rooms were largely untouched; a fig and olive tapenade with goat cheese, a veggie platter with low-fat dip, a bowl of kim-chee and a plate of California rolls.

We did empty a few bottles of wine and lots of bottles of beer, and everyone seemed to have a good time. So I guess it doesn’t matter that the 5-pound bag of peanuts is still a 5-pound bag of peanuts. There’s always next year.

A blanket apology

As evidenced by previous posts, this blog has no particular theme. It will reflect whatever is top of mind when I sit down to write. These days I spend a lot of time thinking about my work-in-progress, a Young Adult novel for, well, young adults. (I look forward to telling you more about that in subsequent posts.) I also spend a lot of time thinking about my daughter and that’s where I feel the need to issue a blanket apology, in advance.

I, like you, have limited patience for people who talk about their children ad nauseam. It’s okay, you can admit it, we’re alone. When your friends start talking about their children you fix your smile and prepare to be a good sport. If the story is about a younger child and is told in a voice meant to approximate that of the child, you might even leave your smile in place like the Cheshire cat and go off to your happy place in your head.

These are the defense mechanisms we employ when parents are speaking admiringly of their offspring. The reactions are different if the parents are angry at their children. Those stories are entertaining. They cause our antenna to go up as we lean forward in our chairs. Our heartbeat accelerates as we anticipate a story that will validate that we are not alone.

Parenting can be a very lonely job, not unlike writing a novel. Even if there is another adult in the family there are hours in the day when you are on your own, or worse, just feel like you are. Parenting happens in real time, you don’t get to go back and edit it once you’re done. So what do we do instead? We talk about it. Sometimes the stories are uplifting and sometimes they’re a downer, but there’s a constant stream of them because parenting is 24/7.

So, I hereby issue a blanket apology for all the posts about my daughter that will inevitably worm their way into this blog. You are not obligated to read them, of course, but she is an endlessly entertaining subject. She’s very smart and as an only child she relates well to adults. Her teachers are always struck by how nuanced her sense of humor is and how well she communicates. Why just the other day, oops, sorry. This post was the apology, I’ll save the stories for later.