Bad Habits » Moodswing

Bad words

The things we leave behind

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My mechanic told me I can't hit anything with my car anymore, so I guess there goes the rest of my day. Originally I had planned to spend it practicing backing my trailer into my driveway, but already a big hunk of the morning had been wasted reattaching my front bumper, which somehow got torn off after only the first few minutes.

"You're missing a bracket, so that bumper is just glued on," my mechanic, whose name is Kong, informed me. "The slightest tap and it will fall back off again."

I am still unsure how my front bumper got torn off as I was backing up. I do recall that my bumper was attached when I drove off, trailer in tow, from my book signing at Outwrite Bookstore the night before, and it probably stayed that way all the way home, at which point, after copious practice backups -- turning the front this way so the back would go that way -- after I thought I'd backed it in successfully, after I'd patted myself on the back for a job well-done, after I'd turned the key off in the ignition of my car, I looked forward to notice that I'd left a big hunk of it behind.

"How did that happen?" my daughter Mae asked as she walked right on by my bumper and did not help me pick it up or anything.

"Oh, hell if I know," I said.

"Quarter!" she yelled. Mae charges me a quarter for every bad word she hears me say, and she's very entrepreneurial, so her definition of profanity is a lot more broad than mine.

"'Hell' is not a bad word!" I insisted.

"Quarter!"

"I can say 'hell'!"

"Quarter!"

Even though she's only 8, I remember a hundred years ago when she was born, the idiocy of my conviction that I could continue my life as it was and somehow she would fit right into it. New parents always think they can pull that off, which explains why you see babies in trendy bars a lot, because their trendy parents still think their lives haven't changed. I personally practically grew up in a bar, though not a trendy one, where my dad spent his days and where Kit the beehived bartender used to pay me a quarter to erase the bad words off the bathroom walls. Like Mae, I was an entrepreneurial child, and there were a lot of bad words on the bathroom walls. It turned out Kit was partial to most of them and the only one she really wanted erased was the word "nigger," which appeared, at the most, maybe three times a week. Still, though, the gig wasn't bad, and I was able to save enough money to buy a bongo drum from the liquor store next door.

It was probably around then when I realized the tool of my future trade would be words, many of them bad ones, and I remain quite partial to most of them. Expression is essential, I keep telling my kid. You can't interfere with someone else's and you can't let someone else interfere with yours. I'm very big on that, even though I stopped playing OutKast in my car the day 3-year-old Mae sang along with the words, "I got my mouth on my mike and my hand on my dick!"

By then I'd already published two books with the words "bitch" and "slut" in their respective titles. I figured readers would get the joke, and most of them did, but still there were a few cerebral cinder blocks out there who took big enough offense that it actually eventually affected Mae, who asked me, "Why do you use bad words in your books?"

So I had to remind her that, you know, freedom of expression is super important, and you have to be careful because one of the most common ways to inhibit another's expression is to declare offense to it. In fact, no single word is a bad word, it all depends on the context surrounding it, and you can't point to a single word standing alone and call it "bad" any more than you can point to a pile of flour on a table and call it cake. It depends on how you mix it. Until then it's all just ingredients.

Now my third book is out, and the cover is different than I had originally planned, because I'd planned on continuing the joke by putting the word "whore" in the title, but by the time the book was due the joke wasn't so funny anymore. Lord, but isn't that always how it is? You have kids and your life changes without you even knowing it. You might think you're progressing just as you always have, but really you're just backing along ass first, turning your life this way to make it go the other way, and just as you're patting yourself on the back for a job well done, you look forward to see you've left a big hunk of it behind.

Hollis Gillespie authored two top-selling memoirs and founded the Shocking Real-Life Writing Academy (www.hollisgillespie.com).

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