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  • Writer's pictureBrian Kindall Author


The true measure of a righteous man is in his swear words – those utterances that rise spontaneously to the surface when he is surprised by pain or frustration or fear. You can tempt him with harlots, money, or liquor, but all of those turpitudes can be contemplated beforehand, their ramifications weighed and measured until the potential offender can gather his good sense and turn his back on the potential offense. But drop a brick on a man’s toe and you’ll find out what he’s really like on the inside. A righteous man will either, 1- hold his tongue altogether, or 2 – supply a sugarcoated euphemism in place of a word more awful.

My grandfather was my first great example of how a righteous man should act. Granted, he had a lot of practice. He was a carpenter, and was prone to banging his thumb. As a boy, I would sometimes help him with his building projects, and I’ll never forget the revelatory day he pinched his fingers between a pair of two-by-fours. He clutched his hand. He bit his lip. He turned purple in the face. And then, clear as you please, with all the vehemence of a sedated nun, he whispered, “Sugar!”

I was greatly impressed. Here was an example of pure holiness. Here was a man as sweet on the inside as he appeared on the outside. Wow, I thought. Sugar. I could only hope that when I was tested by fire I would be so sanctified and self-possessed.

That day came soon enough. Shamefully for me, it came while I was in the presence of my grandfather. I was tightening a lag bolt with a wrench, really reaming on it, when – as they say – I flew off the handle. I raked my knuckles hard across a rough board, peeling them like carrots run across a cheese grater. I did all the usual stuff – I turned purple, bit my lip, clutched my hand. I even did a little dance. But when it came time to vent my pain by way of an audible expression, all heck broke loose. A stream of profanities flowed freely from the depths of my startlingly wicked soul.

“*(^!” I howled. “!^*)_<**~! %((#%! /><(^#!¡!¡!”

Oaths came out of me that I didn’t even know I knew. Vile verbs. Sinful syntax. Devilish Diction. Mephistopholian metaphors. Beelzebubular bleeps. Like four-letter party favors handed out at a hell-bent cusser’s convention.

I knew my grandfather was shocked. He didn’t say anything, but surely he was disappointed in his wayward grandson. I could feel it in his silence as he bandaged my bloody knuckles. He didn’t look me in the eyes, but finally, upon completing his first aid, he softly said, “Sugar,” as if to remind me of what was proper. “Sugar,” he repeated. “Sugar’s all you need.”

Of course, I was ashamed. I obviously had evil in my veins. But at least now I knew clearly what I had to work with, what about me I needed to improve.

Time passed. I experienced more instances of sudden pain and panic. Each time I swore like a sailor. I couldn’t seem to overcome my weakness. Profanity had a hold on me. I was a curseaholic.

Then one day I was playing basketball with some friends at school. At one point a pass went wild and smashed a kid named Ned right in the nose. He grabbed his face in his hands. I was the closest, and stopped running, bracing myself for the inevitable spew of loathsome words. Blood trickled through Ned’s fingers. He tipped his head back to check the flow. And then he said, “Flip.”

I wasn’t sure I had heard him right. “What?”

He looked at me askance – the only way a boy can when he has a bloody nose and his head is tipped back. “Huh?”

“What did you just say, Ned? I need to know.”

“Flip?” he gurgled.

“That’s what I thought.”

Could it be that a peer possessed the same purity as my grandfather? Was it even possible? I was intrigued. Sugar had never felt natural to me. It was not my go-to word. It felt old-fashioned, like a quaint explicative pulled straight out of Little House on the Prairie. But now Flip was an understatement I could embrace. I could make it mine. There was a quality in that single syllable that spoke to me on a deep level. It echoed of truth. It rang of salvation. I knew that if I could master the ways of Flip I could be saved from my own wantonness.

Ned turned out to be a nice guy. When I confided in him of my unruly vernacular, he placed a hand on my shoulder and assured me that he completely understood. He offered to take me to his church for a special class before school.

I went. And I’ll be honest, the rigorous re-education program in which I found myself enrolled sort of muddied my brain. Some of what I am about to divulge did indeed happen – I’m almost sure of it – but some of it, I have to qualify, might only have been a dream.

I found myself in a poorly lit basement with a dozen boys my own age – teenagers – as we were the problem group in regards to swearing. If one’s cussed streak could be subdued at this early stage, one could be assured of a long and happy life of euphemistical bliss. So went the theory.

Two clean-shaven young men in white shirts guided the dark proceedings. We began each session by standing in a circle and praying for strength. Then we got down to business. The leaders were ingenious in the many ways they could solicit profanity. They were miracle workers in the techniques of spontaneous hurt. When my first test came, I was asked to take a seat. This seemed a friendly gesture, but I was mistaken. They only wanted me off my guard. When I sat, a strategically placed tack pierced my right butt cheek.

“ƒ¡^*!” I yowled. Which was a long ways from Flip.

One of the re-educators scribbled something in a notebook, and then sadly shook his head.

My road to recovery, I knew, would be a bumpy one.

The ways of Flip (what I came, rather bitterly, to call Flippancy) did not come naturally to me. I just didn’t have the gift. All the other boys made marked progress in the program. You could hear their evolution furthering with each morning’s work. But I was pretty hopeless. My tendency was not to replace my more vile words with Flip, but to incorporate the sugarcoated word into my own verbal sewage. I was beginning to feel beaten. Dark circles formed under my eyes. Futility infiltrated my otherwise bubblingly boyish personality. And then one morning it all came to a head after I was subjected to an electric shock by way of twelve-volt di-ode hidden in a tube of Chap Stick.

“####Flip!” I shrieked. “Flippin’ flippity *>¡)-flip! /*~{-Flip! ^,:+-Flip! `..^§-Flip!”

And so on, and etcetera. You get the idea.

By the time I was done with my tirade, the entire room was blushing, even my white-shirted mentors. They escorted me to the door. “We apologize,” they said, “to you, God, and the world. But you are possessed by a demon stronger than we are able to tame. Please don’t come back.”

Sure, I was crestfallen. But also a little relieved. I had suspected all along how it would end. A born slangster just knows. I wandered the streets, muttering imprecations. I hung out around construction sites and Hip-Hop bars, just hoping to hear a few off-color words. But those dudes were pretty mild compared to me. Mere posers in the guttural arts.

“Flip!” I mocked, in the voice of a little girl. “Oh, Sugar!”

I learned later that the before school reeducation program had disbanded, forbidding any further use of Flip. It seemed my nasty verbal vomiting had managed to change the word for all concerned. It no longer satisfied the need for a euphemism, but had become just as vile by its association to me. (If you doubt this, look it up in the American Heritage Dictionary’s etymological history for the word Flip.) Pity Ned and those other poor boys who now had it in their psychological wiring. They were surely as doomed as me.

Like so many degenerates, I’ve somehow managed to join society. I keep my problem a secret. There is no medication yet available, but I’ve heard that certain drug companies have some promising possibilities in the works (although the side-effects list is still startlingly long and disturbing). Until then, I do my best to avoid situations where I might be exposed. I pray. I meditate. And I take refuge in my wife and kids. They alone know me and my great failing. They know not to ask me to assemble newly purchased bicycles, or to repair the toaster. They keep me away from bricks and open-toed shoes. God bless ‘em. They love me anyway, warts and all. They are the righteous sugar in my otherwise bitter and profane life.

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