Okay, I have been known to utter indecorous words from time to time. I’m trying to cut down, though. It’s not that I have forgotten them –they still sound rather naughty- it’s more that they seem precarious now. Dishevelled… a different kind of dirty. And what they accomplish I’m no longer certain –if I ever was. But I suppose there is an expostulatory stage of Life which requires time on pedestals. Demands individuation. Brief moments of spotlight. But for most of it, I think watching quietly from the shadows and choosing an appropriate moment critique for action is a better plan than jumping into the raging current without a proper strategy.
Of course, I’m older now, and arthritic in my tongue. It often hurts to swear when one is in one’s yellow leaf, and it does little for the tree. There are other ways to cathart. Other, more attractive, purgatives -yet I must admit, at times they are not sufficient for the job. Swearing centres around taboos, I believe, and the frisson seems to come from flaunting the ability to flaunt the forbidden fruit. From uttering the unutterable. So the words tend to cluster around bathroom stuff, as well as religion and sex –only one of which holds much sway at my age.
But times change don’t they, and wanting to keep abreast of the ever roiling waters of verbal laxatives, I decided to pay attention to how the Young are currently phrasing things –to see if there are any new topics they’ve decided to disparage. New words. New codes.
I would not do it conspicuously, of course –it would be better to imbibe without actually tasting the waters, listen without seeming to listen.
I considered pretending to be asleep –it’s what is expected of elders, after all- but a venue that permits that also discourages the kind of youth interaction that would serve my purpose. And I’d likely have to sit in a coffee shop until the Apocalyptical Horsemen arrived and ordered donuts before I would get any useable results there. So I decided on a McDonalds outlet near a high school -and, since they all are I think, the choice was easy.
Now, even as a senior, you have to be careful when you’re sitting around for long in a location like that. First of all, it tends to encourage repeated purchases and there’s a limit to the number of coffees a bladder can hold. But more importantly, you don’t want to look unsavoury. Personally, I don’t think I do, but then again I’m used to me. Sunglasses –especially if they’re the dorky kind that fit over bifocals- stand out. And I think hats make you look suspicious so I decided not to wear my rapper cap or the toque my mother knit for me when I left home. I finally settled on a grey hoodie with matching jeans to allow me to blend in. And to allay any misgivings, and totally fool the kids, I decided to pretend to be doing a newspaper crossword puzzle. It’s what the elderly do in McDonalds to pass the time. Fly-on-the-wall stuff.
What I didn’t bank on was a boisterous group of teenagers from a nearby arts college out on a lunch break. There were three of them, all wearing sweatshirts and jeans, and two exhibiting the usual jockeying for status as the boys knocked shoulders with each other and vied for the attention of the only girl who had braved their company. She seemed unimpressed and the little jewel on her nose sparkled in the fluorescent light as she glanced around the busy room. But even so, there was a curious lack of the usual four-letter taboos I had expected to hear.
I have to admit to a certain thrill of anticipation, nonetheless. As if I were standing, curious, on a stile and peering into a new, greener pasture, I unholstered my pencil.
“Jeez, I don’t know, Stephanie,” one of the boys said. “I think you were definitely Harrising him…”
‘Jeez’? Come on guys -we were using that when I was a kid. I suppose he was nervous or something, but ‘Harrising’? We all misspeak, though… I smiled and pretended to add something to the puzzle in front of me as the girl –obviously named Stephanie- briefly rested her eyes on me en route to her accuser.
She shook her head playfully and giggled defiantly. I’d never heard a defiant giggle and realized I was breaking new ground but couldn’t figure out how to transcribe it in the puzzle margin. I squeezed the pencil for inspiration but the conversation continued without it.
“Look, Jako, he was dissing Carr, eh? I mean, like, ignoring her influence…”
Jako rolled his eyes and raised his hands as if in profound disbelief. “Mother Kahlo! Carr wasn’t even a member, Steph.”
‘Mother Kallo? That was a bit ambiguous, I thought, but I could hear the exclamation mark so it must have been a profanation… It seemed familiar, though.
“Yeah, sure, Jako, side with the men again, eh?”
“And you’re not polarized? Whoa, you wouldn’t even admit Thomson’s influence on the group…”
Stephanie shrugged. “If you’re gonna include him, then you have to leave the door wide open for Carr…” She seemed to pout for a moment. “At least she was still alive, eh?”
“Look, even Harris admitted Thompson’s influence…”
Stephanie crossed her arms. “Harris?” she said, like she were invoking the devil. “Have you even read his essay, Jako?”
It was Jako’s turn to sulk. “Oh, for Kahlo’s sake? Steph, we discussed it in class a zillion times.” I thought I caught him stealing a glance at me, but I could’t be sure.
He’d used ‘Kallo’ again; I improvised an approximate spelling and then double underlined it –maybe he was invoking the wrath of an obscure Grecian god that Stephanie was obviously fond of. Kids sure read a lot more than we did, I thought, shaking my head in admiration.
She smiled accusingly. “And…?”
“And no,” he replied, glaring at her. “Have you?”
“No, just Varley, Jako! What do you think, eh?” She uncrossed her arms and leaned forward over her Big Mac to stare at him.
‘Just Varley’ –now there was a new one! Probably a pseudonym for some unspeakably rude act, I decided as I scribbled it down and then underlined it as well.
“You’re just sore because we glossed over the Beaver Hall Group.”
“They had almost as much influence as the Seven…”
Yes! An obvious biblical reference to the Sins. Good. I wrote it in the margin.
“Yeah,” Jako said with a sneer, “When they had A.Y…”
‘A.Y’? This was going well, I thought -and although I had no idea what it meant, it was obviously a mean thing to say.
“And remember, Steph, all ten of them studied under Brymner…” said the other, smaller boy who’d been silently gobbling up his fries until Jako reached for some.
Hah! ‘Brymner’. I started to write down the word and then erased it. No, I decided, that’s just somebody’s name.
“Meaning what?” Stephanie was not backing down. “That, like, men had to help us? That without their help we would still be in the kitchen cooking for them…?”
“Carr again, eh? That’s not what I’m saying…” The quiet boy suddenly stood up and grabbed his tray, risking a quick glance my way. “Anyway, we’re gonna talk about Frida this afternoon, remember?”
‘Carr’? I was beginning to suspect something here. Was Carr the new deprecation? I was sure I’d heard that word before…
Stephanie rolled her eyes and stood with the rest of them. “Tokenism! Frida’s just a way of introducing bloody Rivera.” She said the name with an ill-disguised snarl.
Hah! ‘Bloody’ –that’s more like it. But I wasn’t sure if it was the invective, or merely an adjective describing the ‘Rivera’ thing. Either way, I wasn’t certain it was what I was looking for. Neither was ‘Frida’, for that matter.
“What’s wrong with murals?” Jako asked, taking her tray to carry for her.
“I’m not into Big, eh?” she said, grabbing the tray back from him.
Ahh, now ‘big’ may be a double entendre, and I wrote it down excitedly. I was beginning to feel like an ethnolinguist at first contact, listening to sounds that had no meaning.
As they started to leave, I slipped into camouflage and pretended to write something down in the puzzle as if I’d finally thought of a word for it. I smiled at my clever ruse but I felt someone standing next to me and looked up.
Stephanie was smiling too, and her face seemed about to laugh. “I saw you looking at us, sir,” she said. “Hope we weren’t too loud,” she added, her smile growing by the second.
“No,” I said, blushing. “I was just thinking of words for my crossword, I guess…”
She glanced at the words I’d written in the margins beside the puzzle for a moment and nodded. “Well if it’s asking for a five-letter word for a feminist Mexican painter, it’s spelled K-A-H-L-O… not K-A-L-L-O.” Then, for some reason, she winked at me.
Where do they learn this stuff I wondered and smiled to thank her, realizing with a sigh that I’d never make it as a kid nowadays.