When I was in college, most of my fellow students had fairly raw vocabularies. My roommate Jay was particularly varied in his creative use of the expletive. I didn’t object to it, but rarely participated. There were two notable exceptions.
During my sophomore year, we were putting on a production of the play Dylan, about the poet Dylan Thomas’ travels in America. It was a complex play with tons of characters and myriad sets. Everyone in the drama department spent some time doing all the different tasks required of putting on a play. In this case, I played several small parts and was the prop master. I was a good prop master, had done it on several productions, but this was a near herculean task, since each character required at least one prop, and each set required many. There was a set toward the end of the play that was to be filled with fresh flowers, so I made an arrangement with the local flower market to, each Friday of the run, pick up a car load of flowers that were just too old to sell, but still beautiful. I was resourceful.
There were also several scenes with reporters and other characters that required pens, pencils and clip boards. I gathered more than enough and put them on the prop table. There was also a set with an alarm clock. I used my own personal alarm clock. It is a rule in theatre that no one ever touch anything on a prop table unless they are about to go out on stage with it. Well. During the rehearsal period, the pencils, pens and clip boards kept disappearing. I kept replacing them. Then, during one of the final dress rehearsals, I went back to check props and discovered, once again, that several of those items were missing, as was my alarm clock. I kind of lost it.
I tromped out onto the stage where Bob, the director, was rehearsing a scene, and announced in a clear, booming theatre voice, that I was done replacing the effing pens, pencils and clipboards and that the clock used for the hotel scene was my own and whoever had been taking things from the effing prop table had better by-God put them back now. I then tromped back and forced myself to calm down. I noticed that it was fairly quite in the theatre, something that never happened during a dress rehearsal, then Bob started the scene back up and the noise level returned to normal. He never mentioned the inexcusable interruption. Years later I was told by a fellow student that, “we were all nervous during Dylan, but none of us freaked out until we saw you freak out. Geoff never freaked out. It really freaked us out.” I had no idea I could have such an impact. Oh, and the pens, pencils, clipboards and alarm clock magically reappeared on the prop table within an hour or so.
The second time I let loose was in my Senior year, during a production of Max Frisch’s The Firebugs. Several of the first year students were in the production as the Firemen chorus. Since most of them hadn’t yet gotten their own makeup kits, I let them use mine. One day, I noticed that someone or several someones had dipped their brushes (or fingers) into several of the color pots without cleaning them in between and several of the color pots were quite polluted. I channeled my inner longshoreman and said some version of, “if you’re going to effing use my effing makeup, have the effing courtesy to clean your GD brushes between colors!” There was a stunned silence, then Jay (remember Jay? Roommate Jay, who liked to swear?), said, “Geoff, I’m ashamed at you!” Everyone laughed. But no one ever polluted my makeup colors again.
Very selective decisions to swear can be effective, it seems.
Since college, I have taken up the occasional profanity to the point where I have to be careful and really monitor my speech around children. I don’t, as a habit, use profanity in my email, however. Until a few months ago. I was bantering back and forth via email with a good friend about the fact that ABC still wasn’t going to stream the Oscars© unless you had one of a select few cable services. I don’t own a television, so streaming is the only option. That, or inviting myself to someone else’s party. I thought I found a solution, but, after writing my friend about it, discovered that, for several reasons, it wouldn’t apply to me. I wrote him back with several “F”s and a couple of “S”s. Only, when I hit reply before writing that email, the wrong email was highlighted. So I sent that email to someone else. A client.
A little while later, I received my client’s reply. It was a simple, “huh?”
I apologized profusely to him, explained the whole thing and sent the email to it’s proper recipient. Luckily, the client has a sense of humor and thought it was funny.
I did get to see the awards show. Sort of. I invited myself to my friend’s house. It was raining and his cable went out about 3/4 of the way through the show. If I believed in instant Karma, I’d say that was because I’d used such language in an email.
I won’t ever use profanity in an email again, though. I swear.