Friday, February 13, 2009

Crossin' The Line

Word up. The video links are not safe for work, children you are not responsible for, devout Southern Baptists, and women who clutch their pearls and get a touch of the vapors at the slightest hint of profanity.

Last Sunday Josh and Steph told me I needed to watch the Saturday Night Live short "I'm on a boat." (safe to read wikipedia entry) They said it was really funny. And it is. It's a nonsensical song where a guy wins a free boat ride, takes two friends with him on this world-class luxury yacht and disses everyone else who can't be on the boat. It's also replete with profanity. (I've written about the F-word before so I'm not going to rehash all that.) It must have been difficult to listen to on TV since they had to bleep it out more often than ohhhh...say...about five Hell's Kitchen programs with the caustic Chef Ramsay. Believe me, that's a lot of fuckin' bleepin'.

Now for the last year or so, SNL has shown some pretty wild and funny stuff that's not safe to watch at work or around other people's children. In other words, some people would be offended to hear or see it and some would be upset if their kids saw or heard it. Truth be told you can only discuss the Emmy Award (safe to read wikipedia entry) winning "Dick in a box" or "Jizz in my pants" (safe to wikipedia entry) in certain company. Most of us recognize when it is and is not appropriate.

Forty years ago--and I realize we're dealing with different times, social mores, etc.,--a friend of mine brought Steppenwolf's first album over. I put it on my parent's console stereo (anyone remember those?) and two trying-to-be-cool 12-year-olds kicked back. Then my dad unexpectedly came home from work. Remember, it was a different time. My dad was a strict disciplinarian. Panic stricken, Eddie and I ran into my bedroom. In the meantime, The Pusher started playing. Terrified, we waited for my dad's wrath to explode as "I say God damn. God damn, the pusher man." echoed down the hallway to us. After two minutes of eternity we came out because Eddie was afraid my dad would break the record he paid hard-earned money for. Standing there in his uniform, my dad hovered over the open console looking down at the record spinning away at thirty-three and a third. Crumbs from his sandwich fell onto the record and orbited the spindle as he silently ate and stared.

I timidly asked, "Dad, you want me to take Eddie's record off of there?" I knew he was less likely to destroy it if he knew it belonged to someone else.

"Yeah." And he stepped aside. I lifted the arm, flipped the switch to "Off", blew the crumbs off and handed Eddie his record. He quickly inserted it into its protective sleeve and slid that into the album cover. "See ya, Hank." And he was gone.

And then my dad did the most surprising thing. He didn't say a damned thing. I was more relieved that my life was not ended than anything else. It wasn't until later I realized that his silence was a change in his reaction towards certain boundaries being crossed. A sort of "pick your battles" thing. A couple years later I was in the Catholic Youth Organization, a high school-age group. One of the kids brought the Woodstock album and with a "Watch this" they played Country Joe McDonald's "I-feel-like-I'm-fixin'-to-die rag" which began with a cheer. "Give me an 'F' -- F!" "Give me a 'U' -- U!" "Give me a 'C' -- C!" I'm sure you get it by now. Some of the parents were horrified, mortified, and pissed off as they heard the answer to Country Joe's question, "What's that spell?" I think he asked five times. I found out my dad was one of the few who stuck up for us. He told the other parents that this was the reaction the kids were trying to get. They were waving a red cape and daring them to charge. And for what? It's just a song. Some of the parents were having any of that so they charged. The priest listened and put a stop to all the music. So we stopped going. It's hard to be around rigidly-minded people.

I think it's great my kids and I can share and talk. I know they know all the "bad words" and they probably use one or more on occasion. So do I. But there are times and places when it's appropriate and when it's not. And I hope I'm contributing to a healthy process where they learn to recognize that and set good boundaries for themselves. So far so good.

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