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The Rabbit talks shop about Portland chicken.

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Brief History of Bun

The care and feeding of the impossibly small

Random Crap Generator

The odds and sods of this and that

The Cancer Chronicles

An accounting of my father and his resident alien

The Chicken Saga

An accounting of my folly with fowl

The Ascent of Boy

Person rearing for amateurs

The Ascent of Boy »

The Potty-Mouth Pot
March 1, 2011 – 11:35 am | 7 Comments

The Potty-Mouth Pot

I was raised proper, by which I mean a proper appreciation of language in all its splendor. Our family did not exclusively fawn over the most flashy words, nor the most humble. We took delight in using descriptors of all stripes, including those reserved for the bawdy house. Within the panoply of adjectives and expletives, I learned at my mama’s knee how best to decry, offend, verbally defenestrate.

We practice our art with caution but devotion. It’s too easy to rely upon the ugly but poignant “Fuckwad,” so we reach for more interesting ways to express distaste. “Blithering, emo, wuss-tastic fuckwad” is, to my ears far more interesting, and importantly, more precise. “What is the fuckwad doing?” Blithering. It’s all right there, sewn up in a tidy package. “What kind of fuckwad is he?” An emo fuckwad, who aspires to such far reaches of wussiness that he’s wuss-tastic.

I guess it’s always been this way. I got damned to hell by my best friend in second grade because I said “damn,” a bit of irony that was lost on me since I neither knew what “damn” meant, nor what this place called “hell” was all about. Was it near Mount Olympus? Did Zeus live there? If so, I really wanted a date with Cupid, the Roman hunk of “Cupid and Psyche” fame and Eros’ doppelganger. I was only eight, but I knew hotties when I read about them. Plus, he had wings. That’s pretty awesome.

Once my son Milo was born, I valiantly razed my language to the realm of modestly offensive, and then further into the dull confines of Vanilla Soft Serve Ice Cream once we belatedly realized that Milo had a real knack for language too. Instead of wusstastic-ness, I have become enamored of completely antiquated charmers like “Sweet Fancy Brown!” and “Good grief!” I don’t say “Gosh” or “Gee whiz,” but the words “Criminy,” “Dangit”  and “Oh, crumb,” feature often in my mild expletives.

And let’s face it, expletives help. You drop your groceries: what do you do? Thank the heavens for giving you one more challenge in your already ridiculous day? No. You curse, blurt, spit, and then you pick the frozen strawberries up and move on. If I couldn’t do that, those groceries on the ground might just send me around the twist, and I would lie down next to them tearfully, wondering how I used to manage to get through my day at all.

But I’m not stupid. Not very, anyway.

I know that there’s a time and a place for everything, and first grade is probably not the place for a seven-year-old to be yelling “Fuck off, ______!” at his friend who had just told him to go to hell. I realize this is probably a little raw for the playground out of the mouths of babes. I really do.

So after telling Milo that it was inappropriate and he wasn’t allowed to say words like that, I created a mutual disciplinary response to the elegant but perhaps misplaced use of “Fuck.” (I mean, syntactically, Milo nailed it: “Fuck off!” was the perfect response to someone who just told him to go to hell, and if he was fifteen it wouldn’t have raised any alarms.)

So I created the “Potty-Mouth Pot,” the bank into which we must pay our debt to the gods of expletives and curses. It’s a blown glass jar displaying our shame for all to see: Milo owes twenty-five cents for every use of the span of “grown-up words” (which linguists might argue are a badge of the truly immature); I owe a dollar.

Why the disparity to the potty-mouth pot? Because to teach the lesson well, I figured that we needed to identify who was winning the contest and who was losing. Each dollar bill was so much easier to separate from the quarters my son reluctantly placed in the jar that we could, by taking a quick glance, estimate the winner.

This is also known as “hubris.”

The first day went predictably. Chastened by my admonishment but also soothed by the admission that I too suffered the curse of cursing, Milo and I paid our first debts to the pot together. He was testing the boundaries of our agreement. Did “Damn” fit the requirements? Yes, but “Dam-age” did not. He paid a quarter for “Damn” but not “Dam,” and he was terribly proud of finding the workaround.

I symbolically paid my first dollar into the kitty. (“What’s the kitty?” he asked. Same thing as the “pot” in poker. Now we’ve introduced gambling terms.) Even though I hadn’t said a single blue word, I felt I should make the point that I would be fair and honorable in the contest, that he could count on me for holding up my side of the bargain. If he had to pay, so did I.

The next dollar I shelled out was when I was on the phone: I said “Damn” to someone and Milo shrieked “YOU OWE A DOLLAR! YOU OWE A DOLLAR!” I gamely paid up, neatly folding my dollar and placing it in the jar.

Then he said “Hell,” and I had to wrestle him for the quarter he was loathe to part with. He cried as he let it tinkle to the bottom of the jar, separated from its mate by only two single bills, and Milo begged me to change the rules of engagement. His bereft display confirmed my impromptu but cleverly crafted lesson from which he was suffering the consequences in a real and tangible way.

Depressed over the loss of a third quarter, Milo bemoaned our arrangement to his father as he was going to bed one night.

“Don’t worry,” Lars said. “Mom will lose. I guarantee it.”*

Aside from the fact that I married the male version of Mata Hari, this information was enough to give Milo a renewed sense of purpose and hope.

He mastered his reliance upon potty words with the zeal of a convert. After his third quarter went in the pot, he was done. Not a single verboten word has passed his lips, though he has danced playfully around acceptable substitutes.

I have not been so fortunate. It turns out it’s mitochondrial. While I have, in general, turned an about-face on the real dirt-bombs, I seem incapable of eradicating the basic building blocks of interesting language: damn, hell, crap are so intrinsically bonded with my molecular material that they are woven into the fiber of my tongue. I cannot, apparently, get rid of them. Like herpes, or gout: there for the duration, like it or not.

My son has learned valuable lessons, too. He has learned the skill of secondary hearing, which eluded him until now. I used to beg, scream, shout, dance in front of him, block the television, pull his socks off–whatever it would take to get his attention. Now I don’t need to worry. If he’s engrossed so deeply in a book that I could throw a hockey puck at his head without him flinching, all I have to do is drop my guard and talk like my DNA tells me to and I have Milo’s undivided attention. “Potty-mouth!” he shouts with delight as if being revived from a coma. “You just said a bad word! Pay up, MOM!”

He has three quarters in the bottom of the Potty-Mouth Pot. I have at least thirty bucks in there. But who’s counting?

Don’t answer that.

*Let’s get one thing straight: I’m not even the star player on the potty-mouth stage. Grandma, from who I learned everything I know, talks like a trucker with a fatal case of gutter-tongue. Even now, with her adorable Grandma walk and her devotion to baking holiday cookies, she blasts the room with language dripping with so much ooze it’s amazing people let her into nice places. Colorful, descriptive, eloquent and utterly demented, she shames all pretenders to the potty-mouth crown with their pedestrian lack of creativity.

So I found it both charming and ridiculous that after Grandma heard about my struggle to reign in my gutter mouth, she paid up one lowly quarter to Milo in the interest of making a good impression…even though she had outshone my every utterance in front of the boy in two short hours over dinner.

A quarter.

Making a Mockery of Mutual Interests
September 14, 2010 – 1:15 pm | One Comment
Making a Mockery of Mutual Interests

You all forgot I could write the funny, didn’t you? I did.

The Gossip Pages
June 25, 2010 – 10:06 pm | 6 Comments
The Gossip Pages

or: A Few Thing I Learned in New York About Writers For The Nervous Breakdown, with Greater or Lesser Emphasis on The Truth.
The last time I was in New York I had morning sickness …

The Scales Fell From My Eyes; They Were Made of Plastic
June 10, 2010 – 2:45 pm | One Comment
The Scales Fell From My Eyes; They Were Made of Plastic

These days, perhaps one of the most indelible images in my mind is of a dead sea bird, not covered in oil from the Deepwater Horizon disaster, but whose rotting carcass is filled with bottle …

The Road to Hell is Paved with Petrochemicals
June 5, 2010 – 9:13 am | 2 Comments
The Road to Hell is Paved with Petrochemicals

Mr. McGuire: Plastics.
–The Graduate, 1967

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Finding Heaven in the El ‘Ortez
May 29, 2010 – 10:10 pm | 2 Comments
Finding Heaven in the El ‘Ortez

In a different life my husband and I were in the dank center of a rock band who had hit it big.
Screwy and the Pin-ups* was at the height of its draw. And we, our …

Dear Everyone I’ve Ever Known (and Some I Haven’t Met Yet),
May 8, 2010 – 9:50 am | No Comment
Dear Everyone I’ve Ever Known (and Some I Haven’t Met Yet),

I’m sorry for the mass mailing. I’m a terrible correspondent, as I’ve explained in greater or lesser tones of contrition for most of my life. My parents always tried to encourage me to write thank …

A Boy and His Transmogrifier
April 22, 2010 – 12:13 pm | 4 Comments
A Boy and His Transmogrifier

For Christmas, Santa brought our six-year-old boy the classic tales of another six-year-old boy (plus a tiger): “Calvin and Hobbes.” And oddly, he was not enchanted, like, immediately.
Calvin and his tiger Hobbes moved around the …

Stanley and I
March 12, 2010 – 8:44 am | 3 Comments
Stanley and I

Arguments around the dinner table are not this family’s modus operandi. We’re not even arguers; we’re more akin to intense debaters who pore over details and minutiae, then realize we’re preaching to the choir and …

The Pyrex Tolls For Thee
March 8, 2010 – 12:00 pm | 4 Comments
The Pyrex Tolls For Thee

If you’re coming to my house for a social call, a casual tête-á-tête, a little visit just to say hi, make sure to take note of both your surroundings and your offerings. Bring wine if …

Sometimes a Thing is Just a Thing, and Sometimes It’s Some Other Thing Altogether
March 1, 2010 – 1:41 pm | 9 Comments
Sometimes a Thing is Just a Thing, and Sometimes It’s Some Other Thing Altogether

We have a happy little nuclear family, all things being equal. My husband and I had our son when we were past our rather exciting young adulthoods, and were married seven years before we heeded …

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 4
February 24, 2010 – 12:03 pm | One Comment
Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 4

We rediscovered our favorite chicken place on the opposite side of town from where it had been a few years earlier. Sayulita is magical like that–things open and close, move with no warning, change and …

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 3
February 23, 2010 – 10:38 am | 3 Comments
Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 3

The brochure for Punta Sayulita was left behind in the house that we rented, living in the stack of airport magazines abandoned by previous visitors, and my husband, always on the lookout for a new …

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 2
February 18, 2010 – 1:53 pm | One Comment
Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 2

As a private residential community of just 62 exotic and handcrafted homes, this serene Mexican hideaway will also offer its residents a stunning Beach and Surf Club designed by de Reus Architects with an engaging …

Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 1
February 15, 2010 – 10:34 pm | One Comment
Hello Luxury, Goodbye Paradise Part 1

A stone’s throw from the allure of Sayulita, there is an unspoiled 33-acre peninsula of lush and tranquil shoreline. Upon this romantic sweep of coast, amidst a tropical jungle thick with wild orchids, mangoes, tamarindos …