Freshman year at Illinois State University… I redefined myself. Wasn’t the first time I rebuilt my image, but the previous time, I fell into myself. No control. This time, I was in charge.
I was smart, taking literature courses, I read Kerouac, Ginsberg, men of words. Big, smooth, edgy words. I was an intellectual (or so I thought) — attending poetry readings, art shows and other gatherings of the bright and cultured.
But I grew up on the Southside of Chicago. So south that I was actually in the suburbs. There, we had foul mouths. The F-bomb, selectively dropped, gave us a class and style among our dumber brethren who could only use the more guttural words like the s-bomb, the a-bomb, the h-bomb, and the ultimately low-brow, j-bomb (which, as it turned out, meant somerthing different than I thought).
Combine them in a sentence, verbing some, nouning others, tossing in the rest as adverbs and adjectives, and viola! One suburban intellect was born, but only if he used the f-bomb with frequent (and by frequent, I mean as often as an Englishman drinks tea) and common parlance.
In other words, to use the f-bomb properly, it had to sound natural, unforced and ordinary. Practice helped, whch I did,
To really say it all well, a speaker needed a beer in the right hand helped, using the left to make whatever absurd point needed to be made. If a beer wasn’t available, a cigarette helped, or, if necessary, a cigar. The genuinely thoughtful people smoked cigars and already had beards ready for a psychiatrists’ convention.
When I was a freshman, Ronald Reagan was in office, and the university dialect, in proving itself ‘thinking’, required an anti-Reagan overtone, with a few snips about Republicans. Of course, being from the southwest suburbs, where being a Democrat was not a choice, but a blood borne infection the entire population embraced (free speech and all enabled all of us to conclusively arrive in the same place politically), I found no issue at all joining the university’s Blast the Republicans Party. The BRP, or, as was commonly known, BURP, was found in a dozen iterations, but they were basically like the Reagan Is God (are you RIGged?), but wore different shoes.
A week into school, once September hit, I settled down and really learned what it was all about. My poetry teacher explained she slept with various poets, including Robert Bly. A Marxist literary analysis professor assured us his way was the only way, though my Eckankarist writing professor said otherwise. The philosophy professor, in absolute certainty, blurted out how there was no certainty at all, and that Christians, above all, were idiots. He was a Unitarian, an especially tolerant group, though they had a little asterisk when someone actually believed something.
Back to language.
The f-bomb, I quickly realized, was more of a Greenwich Village intellectual’s word. It really was not meant for those who knew other words. We bragged about our liberal minded thinking while dismissing the rest as cretins, or, as we liked calling them, conservatives. What did it matter that we attended Farm Aid while the conservatives were often the actual farmers? The farmers couldn’t afford Farm Aid tickets, so the only overalls were worn by students wearing Birkenstocks,
Who cares? We were rocking with Willie Nelson. He used the f-bomb, smoked pot, and had the raspy voice of an angel.
I continued to use the f-bomb, though I wish someone had protested this bomb as well. I was in over my head when I encountered a guy who told me what was needed wasn’t a protest, but action. Action? Say what? F.
I was a defiant pacifist, and told him so. I was so pacifist that the Mennonites wouldn’t let me in. They prayed, and that seemed too active for me.
How do I, a young and brilliant poet trying to show off my verbal chops, explain to someone the elucidated light of liberalism?
“F-this,” I said, “That f-in’ f f is f-off his f-in f f f. F.”
I sure showed him some argumentation there. Freedom of speech. Used every word I knew.
The guy I argued with left me without a word and headed to the homeless mission to volunteer with his church while I stayed around to argue some more about poverty and the masses.
And there went the bomb.