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I Can't Say ****


Harry Buschman

In our house there was Dada, Mummy, Buffy and me. Buffy was my little brother and barely able to crawl. We had a cat we called "Fluffy," and a puppy named "Cuddles."

We never failed to say "please" and "thank you" to each other and we never uttered an unkind word to Fluffy or Cuddles, (even though Cuddles was not reliably paper trained). None of us would think of using the Lord's name in vain or say "****," or "**** you." To sum it all up, butter would not melt in our mouths, let alone ****

I can still remember a day in late summer, Buffy was crawling on the rich green grass of our back lawn and he picked up a sizable piece of Cuddles' ****. Mummy quickly took it from him and flung it over the fence into our neighbor's vegetable garden. She smiled indulgently at Buffy and told him never to play with "ka-ka" again.

For as long as I can remember, Dada and Mummy developed an extensive language for all the nasty things in life. They sugar coated them to make the world seem sweeter for Buffy and me. Why it seems like only yesterday I remember Dada saying "Oh Ka-Ka! Ka Ka!" when he hit his thumb with a hammer while putting up a shelf in the kitchen. Looking back, I have to admit "Ka-Ka" never made **** any more palatable, and in many important ways it never satisfied the pent up anguish that caused a person to shout out "Ka-Ka" in the first place.

Mummy would send Buffy and me to our rooms whenever Uncle Angus, (Dada's bachelor brother) would come to call. Uncle Angus, a beefy, red-faced man, would say "****" right out straight in front of everybody. With my ear to the hot air register in my bedroom, I often heard him say, "**** you" and "*** of a *****" too. It must have been an unbearable experience for Dada and Mummy.

When I went to school I found myself in the company of children who called **** by its generic name. There were other asterisky words too. Ronnie in the first grade leaned over to me in class one day and whispered, "Look'it the **** on the English teacher." I had only known them as "la-las" before.

But my ears were really opened when I played second base for the school's third grade baseball team. There, I heard "*** ** * *****!" directed at me for the first time when I tagged out a runner who thought he was safe. With Dada and Mummy standing by on the sidelines my only possible response to him was to use the strongest term we used at home, which was "foul person!" Even though I was quite proficient at second base, I was horror-stricken by the casual profanity I heard in baseball, so I switched to the tennis team instead.

Our family was an island of purity in a sea of obscenity, and we held our heads high in the presence of people who swore. But, today, I look in vain for the gratification and reward for our abstinence. We are no better off for our asterisks -- our teeth are no whiter for denying ourselves the sweet satisfying indulgence of "****," and "**** ***'s," nor is our breath any the sweeter for our "ka-ka's," our "la-la's," and even our "wee-wee's." Instead we have become the laughing stock of our upwardly mobile and foul-mouthed  neighborhood.

What is more, I cannot deny that the substitution of asterisks in my writing career has kept me from achieving the esteem and success in the field of literature that I truly believe I deserve. There is a sad loss of communication in the use of asterisks. Let me give you an example....

On the final page of "Gone With the Wind," Rhett Butler turns to Scarlett and says, "Frankly Scarlett, I don't give a ****." As written by Ms. Mitchell, there is no possibility of misunderstanding. Had asterisks been used, however, it would have forced the reader to make a decision on his or her own... and it might well have been the wrong one. The reader might have chosen ****, ****, or even, (Saints preserve us), ****.

There are not many positions available for a writer who can't say "****" when he hits his thumb with a hammer. Therefore, I am reduced to writing the homey recipes and sober obituaries that come my way these days while I look enviously at my fellow writers who have rocketed to the top of our profession with their foul mouths at full throttle.

Radio talk show hosts say **** and even *** **** with poise and assurance. Disc jockeys and jockeyettes, stand-up comedians, (both black and white), basketball players and baby kissing politicians are all free of such restraint these days. Many of them are given awards by their peers and seats of honor in halls of fame. Why can't I swear, *** **** it!? Why can't a simple thing like **** roll off the tip of my tongue? I can't even let fly with a "Gol-dang," or a "Gosh-darn" when conditions warrant -- I would die of mortification!

How much more successful I would be today if Dada had said **** instead of "ka-ka" when he hit his thumb with the hammer? If his brother Angus had been my father, I would have a Pulitzer Prize by now.

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