Summer Re-Run: On Dirty Language

Fair warning:  This post strays from PG-13 due to the subject matter.  If you are at work or squeamish about foul language, you may want to skip this one.  Or you can read on and experience the thrill of your lifetime.

Knowing how to curse is like knowing how to apply perfume.  If you use it sparingly and in the right spaces, it can leave people refreshed by your aura of mystery and coquettishness.  People near you think, Ah, she really knows how to cuss right.

If you saturate yourself with bad words, spray them all over the place like the house is on fire, then people will cough and avoid you.  You reek like just any foul-mouthed bitch.

And yet almost everybody does it.  Probably every culture since the beginning of time has created a set of words that everybody agrees are foul, then goes on to banish those words to a separate room where they stay in darkness.  When it’s time, in proper circumstances and company, they’re let out and they do their dirty business for everyone to enjoy.  Then they’re sent back to their room in disgrace.

But what would we do without them?

When you kick over a full can of yellow paint on your living room floor, are you going to say “shoot”?  No, you’re going to say “Fuck.  Dammit.  Fuck this shit.”   Something like that.  There’s a calming effect those words bring like no others can.

We aren’t born knowing those words.  For most of us, they are quarantined in the early years, when you play peekaboo and sing along to “Old MacDonald.”   At some point, the child goes out into the world.  They come home and ask, “Daddy, what’s fucker mean?”

Who knows where they come from?  But one by one, they introduce themselves.  Bitch.  Shit.  Crock of shit.  Tits.  You don’t get a book.  You learn them at the school of hard knocks.

Some people learn to use them well.   There are a few comedians who can curse with every other word and get away with it.  A few movies.  For the rest, too many bad words are just a poor substitute for being funny.  It’s desperate.

But when used well and in the right place, dirty words can be a thing of beauty.

When he was coaching high school football, my brother became frustrated with one of his players who wasn’t having a good night.  It was time to get into his face.  As the player came off the field, my brother hollered, “Jawoski, what the hell are you doing out there?”

Jaworski said, “I’m getting my fucking ass kicked.”

It was the dropping of an atomic bomb that ended the war.  A perfect application.

During the Korean War, President Harry Truman appointed General Douglas MacArthur as commander of the United Nations forces.  In the beginning, MacArthur performed brilliantly, especially the legendary landing at Inchon, a gambit that rescued the entire U.N. effort.  But MacArthur was also a legendary gasbag who thought Truman was beneath him.  He publicly criticized Truman’s strategy of limiting the war and refusing his requests to conduct air raids in China.  When MacArthur, over Truman’s orders, issued an ultimatum to the Chinese, Truman removed him from command.

MacArthur returned to a hero’s welcome in the United States.  He received stacks of mail, an enormous ticker tape parade in New York.  Truman, by contrast, was on his way to a 22 percent approval rating, the worst of any president since Gallup began polling.

MacArthur piled on.  He addressed a joint session of Congress, which interrupted him 50 times with ovations.  At the end of his speech, he bid a pompous farewell:  “I now close my military career and just fade away, an old soldier who tried to do his duty as God gave him the light to see that duty.  Good bye.”

Later, when asked about MacArthur’s address, Truman responded: “It was nothing but a bunch of damn bullshit.”

Truman, who had seen his share of dead soldiers as an officer in World War I, wasn’t using “bullshit” idly.  It was a succinct reinforcement of civilian control over the military.

Cussing doesn’t have to have a grand purpose like that.  Sometimes a curse word is just the perfect word.  Sometimes there is no other way to describe Chad in the mailroom as anything but a royal dickhead.

Sometimes you knock yourself out to meet somebody on time, and then they’re 45 minutes late, forcing you to leave a message on their cell phone that “It’s 8 o’clock and you are no fucking where to be found.”

Sometimes something is just built like a brick shithouse, because what’s more solid than a brick shithouse?  Nothing.

Sometimes you ignore the One Way sign and turn the corner into four lanes of oncoming traffic blaring their horns at you.  What will you do?  Well, you’re going to say “What the fuck?”

Sometimes somebody really doesn’t know shit from Shinola, which really gets to the heart of it because everyone knows Shinola is very different.

I haven’t confirmed if this story is true, but one of the most effective uses of cussing I’ve ever heard was performed by a relative, who is not the kind of person to throw dirty words around carelessly.  She was arguing with her mom about something.  They were going on and on.  Her husband stepped in and said, “Well, I think that …”

She interrupted him:  “Nobody gives a fuck what you think.”  The situation was resolved with one blow.  If you are going to use a dirty word, be sophisticated and do it right, just like that.

Are older skateboarders a little odd? (continued)

Last year I wrote this post  wondering why it seemed unusual to see people in their 20s and older skateboarding.  Turns out I was dead wrong, as skaters from California to Australia let me know.

A couple weeks ago I read something that reminded me again how wrong I was.  Louis Zamperini — Olympic athlete, World War II hero, subject of Laura Hilderbrand’s book Unbroken (soon to be turned into a movie) – skated until he was 81.  He kept skiing for another ten years.

It was just another amazing part of his life, which unfortunately ended earlier this month.

Summer Re-Run: Me and My F-150


I posted this on September 22, 2011:

Those who know me also know that I am not the kind of guy who needs an oversized, tricked-out ride to be macho.

Then I drove a big truck for a while, and I discovered that I am the kind of guy who needs an oversized, tricked-out ride to be macho.

It was serendipity.  It happened when I flew to Boise this summer to spend a couple weeks with friends and family.  My flight there was delayed, and when I arrived at 1 a.m., the rental car rep told me that all the cars were out.  The only thing left was a pickup.  Because of the hour and because I had been expecting the smallest, most humiliating heap Hyundai makes, that sounded just fine to me.  It might be fun to drive an Isuzu or Nissan Titan for a while.

People can often recall every detail of the moment they first encountered a love.

That night was hot, but unlike where I live, Washington, D.C., Boise’s air smelled arid and sweet.  You could see hundreds of stars.  So I didn’t mind that I had to cross the entire rental lot, which by then was empty of vehicles or life.

From a distance, I saw my rental.  It was under a lamp.  It grew bigger and bigger as I got closer.  My head was buzzing from the 2,800 air miles behind me, so I wasn’t entirely confident in my senses.  But could it be?

Yes it could.  When I got closer I froze, and that was when the fireworks exploded in the sky and the choir and harps began their song.

It wasn’t a pickup.  It was a Ford F-150.  Extended cab.  Four doors.  White, with kick-ass blue stripes down the sides.  I threw my bag in the bed and stepped up to the cab.  The delicious smell of rental car interior everywhere, and the paper mat under my feet.

When I drove it out of the rental lot, I experienced a kind of elation and power that I had never known before.  The engine block was massive, and I felt like a 12-year-old sneaking dad’s car out of for a driving, having to stretch my neck just to see over the steering wheel.  The hood was fat, and it poofed up in the air and across the horizon.  I’m here, the engine was telling me.  What can I do for you?

Not only did I feel like a 12-year-old sneaking dad’s car, I drove like one too.  Part of it was the sheer excitement of having this rig at my disposal.  But most of it was adjusting to the size.  I’ve driven big trucks before, but this was like driving a brick shithouse.  For a while, I clipped the curb on every corner I turned.  But then I got used to it and went for a little drive.  People were still out at the bars downtown, walking in the streets, buying a sausage at the stand.  There wasn’t a one of them that didn’t stop and gawk at that phantom F-150 as it drove by.  Who could blame them?

I drove to my sister’s house, where I was staying, parked, stepped down from the cab, and it was like repelling from a cliff.  For the next two weeks, I didn’t so much as walk across the street.  Anybody need a lift?  No problem.  Everyone loved to ride in it.  Even my tallest passengers marveled at the leg room in the back.

The dash had all kinds of candy, including a screen that lit up with a message when you started the engine.  “Built Ford Tough!”  I often pulled over and turned the engine off and on, off and on, just to see it.  The dash also had a gas mileage meter, and sometimes it showed as many as 18 mpg.  Tough and green.

I pulled up to stoplights next to inferior cars.  Rolled down my window and stared at the driver in the Jag next to me.  Revved up that monstrous engine.  Want some?  Yeah, I thought so.  There’s only so many of us that are built Ford tough.

I took it to Canyon County, west of Boise, farm country with miles and miles of beets and corn and potatoes.  I saw many other F-150s, gave all their drivers my thumbs up.  Most stared back with blank expressions, but I knew they understood.  It was nice to be around my people.

I went from driving with both hands at 10 and 2 to driving with one finger at about 5:30.  Felt good.  Like and extension of me.

After a while, it was over and time to turn the F-150 back in.  I left early in the morning.  The sun was rising and already hot.  I pulled into the lot, turned off the ignition, took one more look, and then left the key in the night slot.  Our friendship ended like too many friendships do:  at dawn, at the airport, in a fog of insufficient sleep, when you say goodbye and know you’ll never see each other again, and then you turn to face the anonymity and coldness of a day on airplanes, knowing it would never be the same again.

Before I left, I said goodbye my sister and thanked her for letting me stay with her.  I told her I’d miss her.  But deep inside I knew I’d really miss that truck.

Summer Re-Run: Orange Light

I published this post, titled “Orange Light,” almost exactly a year ago.  I remembered it this morning because everything felt exactly the same:

This morning I dropped my daughter off for the grand final of her summer camp, which is the sleepover.  We were all a little nervous.  She has spent the night at friends’ houses, but this was different.  She’d only been at the camp two weeks.  New friends, new camp counselors, new surroundings.  All the kids sleeping in a big room, and 36 hours away is a long time when you’re nine.

We started packing last night.  There was a lot involved.  The pink backpack wasn’t enough.  We needed the pink suitcase.  I said I’d get the matching pink Cinderella sleeping bag.

There was a frown.  That’s a bag for like a four-year-old, she said.

I could argue about it, or I could accept the cold hard truth that she was right.  So I gave her my bag instead, a North Face that’s good down to 15 below zero.  No princesses on the cover, just an adult, characterless navy blue.

We double checked everything out on the porch this morning.  It was all there and then some.  But not quite.  She went back inside.  I waited and looked at the day.  Hot already.  A film of humidity in the air.  She came back with her Kitty for tonight, and I unzipped the suitcase and she packed that smiling cat face right on top of everything else.  Thank God.  There was still a little bit of four-year-old there somewhere.

Of course, when we got to the car, I remembered that lately she’s abandoned the back seat, where she sat all her life.  Now she rides shotgun.  She can shut her own door most of the time.

We arrived at camp and got all the gear out, with some help from the counselors, who were sweating in the 8 a.m. heat.  I gave her a hug and then it was goodbye.

On the way home, I thought about that goodbye.  It was a small one, but it felt bigger and connected to all the other tough goodbyes I’ve had to say in my life.  Then I told myself I needed to get a grip, I’d see her tomorrow.

What is it about parenthood?

It’s so humid in Washington, D.C. in July that even on a cloudless day like today the sunlight hits orange on the streets and trees and sidewalks.  I’ve grown to like it.  Everything has a sheen over it, like a photo from a long time ago.  I wanted to bottle that orange light up somehow so I could release it on a gray day next February or whenever I needed it.  But it’s sunlight.  You have to enjoy it when it’s in front of you.  It was already moving and will keep moving throughout the day until it vanishes, and you have to wait until the sun comes up again to see it.

Bieter Blog Summer Re-Run Season

I’m not sure if they even show summer re-runs anymore, but they used to be a fact of life.  Everyone complained about them.  But as I think about it, before syndication and DVRs and Netflix and all the rest, sometimes they were your only chance to see an episode you’d missed the first time around or just wanted to see again.  Otherwise, it was lost forever.

So out of nostalgia, I thought I’d bring reruns back here.  I plan to republish some of my old posts from time to time over the next month or so.

Actually, I admit it really doesn’t have much to do with nostalgia.  It’s more because I plan to be a little lazy during that time, and when I’m not lazy I’ll be working on another couple projects I’ve been putting off (including rebuilding this site).  Nostalgia just sounds better.

On the other hand, as the networks used to say:  If you didn’t see it the first time, it’s not a re-run.

Please pardon the construction

After three and a half years of the same look, I’m finally updating this site, so my apologies for any abrupt changes over the next few days:  weird and inconsistent fonts, missing pictures, missing comments, and other little mysteries.  It’s a little like renovations to your house, I’m finding out — a little painful but hopefully an improvement when it’s over.  Thanks for your patience.


Happy Father’s Day

Photo: Dad said that when you're too old to raise hell, you raise flowers.  In his memory and with Shannon's excellent advice I planted these outrageous begonias along the front walk.</p>
<p>Notice the pink-white-pink-white configuration -- that's all me!

My Dad said that when you’re too old to raise hell, you raise flowers.  In April I took his advice and planted these begonias in his memory.  My expectations were low, since almost anything I plant turns to dust.  But now, almost two months later, somehow they’re still alive, and it’s fun to look at them every time I walk by.  It turns out he was right.

He was a great dad, and even after 15 years I miss him all the time.  When your father has died, days like this Sunday always feel a little strange, but I think it’s still a good chance to be grateful for what I have.

I’m thinking about growing a beard

Let’s say you’re a guy.  Maybe you actually are a guy, in which case you can just be yourself, but if you’re not a guy then just pretend for now that you are a guy.

The weekend comes and you don’t feel like shaving, so you don’t.  Feels pretty good, doesn’t it?  You’re a man of leisure.  But you’re not a couch potato.  You’re active.  You’re rugged.  You’re out there clearing brush and hunting raccoons with hair on your face the way things were before the razor was invented and everything went to hell for the human race.

Then it’s Monday morning.  It’s been 72 hours since you last shaved, and you have a pretty good stubble going.  You have to go to work, but you don’t have any meetings in person.  Could you get away with it?  You’re not 19 anymore, and you know there’s something suspicious about an old guy who keeps a midnight shadow.  But you want to keep a piece of the weekend alive.  What the hell.

You walk out into the world with your dirty face.  Is it just you, or are people treating you differently? There are some looks.  What do they mean?  Do they think you look so confident that you don’t care what you look like, which is cool and sophisticated?  Or do they think you look a guy hitting the all-you-can-eat buffet?  It could go either direction.

Tuesday.  There’s more at stake, people to meet and a lunch.  But it’s with another guy who also probably didn’t shave over the weekend and who would respect it.  You examine yourself in the mirror.  When you’re honest with yourself, you accept that it’s a pretty piss poor look.  There are a lot of deficiencies:  the spot below your bottom lip, the uneven cheekbone line.  Then there’s a lot of hair where you don’t need it, headed to the convention at your Adam’s apple.  It’s a badly mowed lawn.

But you fill in the blanks in your imagination.  There’s potential.  You put your thumbs together under your nose and your palms against your cheeks and imagine what it could look like when it’s fully formed.  That’s a damn good looking beard.  You decide just to trim it a bit.  You’re all in now.

It’s so scratchy!  It’s needly.  Summer has arrived in DC and it’s 100 percent humidity, and when you go out it feels like you’ve pulled a wool turtleneck over your nose.  You could go back inside and be rid of the thing in three minutes.  But at what cost?  You push on.

Wednesday.  It’s a little less itchy and you’re getting used to it.  This is a crucial point.  There’s a tug of war between the part of you that just wants it over with and the part of you that wants that beard, even though the look in everyone’s eyes says it’s a disaster.

The part of you that wants it over with knows that there’s no good reason for you to have a beard, just like there’s no good reason to have a moustache.  You don’t need to do this.  You’re not part of a religion that requires a beard or an NHL player.

But you’ve come so far.  You can see the top of Everest.

What will you do?  Will you end the dream?  Can you live with the regrets when you watch it all go
down the drain?  And are you man enough?  Even if you’re a woman?

If adults still signed yearbooks

It was cool to be on the Work-Life Balance Committee with you this calendar year.  I felt like we really got to know each other and had some good times.  I hope next calendar year you’ll be on the Allergy Awareness Committee.  Would be 2 cool and we’d have some good times!!

Stay cool this summer.  If U can’t stay cool, then let me know because I know a really good air-conditioning guy.  I am now laughing out loud!  Have a great summer!

It was cool to finally get together with our husbands even though they had nothing in common and it was really awkward the entire dinner watching them try to make polite conversation.  Have a great summer!

You know what’s really cool about you?  How you are able to settle for “just good enough” in your life.  I wish I wasn’t such a perfectionist and didn’t have to be the best all the time.  I like how you are okay with average and just being who you are.  Stay cool like that!

Hey bro.  I really appreciated your lending me your backhoe.  U R super cool!  U know you can always borrow my miter saw.  Although B careful because the last guy who borrowed it is now called Three-Digit Dave.  I am laughing out loud.  H.A.G.S.!

I am glad you are letting me sign this because I wanted to apologize for the thing I said about your dress at the auction, which was a total misunderstanding.  I totally don’t think you are a Real Housewife of Duluth!  You know I think you are cool and I hope you think I am cool.  Stay cool 4ever!

I really appreciated the suggestion on moisturizer, and the hollandaise sauce out of the squirty tube.  It really came in handy!  You are cool and I hope you have a great summer.

What’s up brah?  Thanks for convincing me about the extended warranty.  That was super cool.  You are 2 cool!  H.A.G.S.

How cool was it to confuse the barista this year with our fictitious Norwegian names?  Remember when you made him spell “Rjejhavandjhosen”?  Too fun.  That was funny!  Stay cool forever.

I am glad we both did Cardio Pilates this year because it was really great to get to know you and we are both really great at Cardio Pilates.  I would like to do Cardio Pilates with you next year.  Have a great summer and stay cool.

Are the Olympics worth it?

Bobsledders once slid down this track in the 1984 Sarajevo Games.(Photo courtesy of Dietmar Eckell)

I’ve always assumed any city would be thrilled to host the Olympics, because they instantly gain a spot among the elite places in the world.  Even with all the headaches and expense, your city will always be an Olympic city — and as of now, only 41 places can say that.

Apparently, though, things are changing.  At least four cities have pulled out of the bidding for the 2022 Winter Olympics — Munich, Davos/St. Moritz, Stockholm, and now Krakow.  It seems Oslo’s likely to follow, leaving only Almaty, Kazakhstan and Beijing as possible hosts.  The cities withdrew the bids after polling their residents, who seem to think, as one author put it, “the whole thing is one huge, useless waste of money.”

That seems harsh until you look at some of the numbers.  Russia, which spent $51 billion for the most recent games in Sochi, and China, which spent $40 billion on the 2008 Summer Games, took baths.  Montreal just finished paying off its debt for the 1976 Summer Olympics. 

After it’s all over, the cities are often stuck with enormous facilities they can’t use.  Think about Sochi, until now a place best known as a summer destination.  What are they going to do with a curling arena?

I remember watching the diving competitions at the 1992 Barcelona Summer Olympics.  At the time everyone marveled, because it was an outdoor site with a breathtaking view of the city.  You’d see photo after photo of divers in midair with the famous Barcelona buildings in the background. 

Years ago when I visited Barcelona I went to see that spot.  It looked like a run-down neighborhood pool, with chains around the gates and leaves gathered in the corners. 

I thought of that visit when I saw these photos by Dietmar Eckell of abandoned Olympic venues.  He shows crumbling hotels, crooked bleachers, a derelict bobsled run left over from the 1984 Sarajevo Games.  The pictures are beautiful in their own way, but also a little sad, a warning to potential host cities of the risks of dashed expectations and lingering messes.

Like almost everybody, I hope cities continue to want to host the Olympics, and I expect they always will.  But I can understand why they wouldn’t.  Everybody has a good time at their party, but the day after they’re stuck with the credit card bill, all the dishes in the sink, and the unidentified guy still passed out on the couch.

(Photo by Dietmar Eckell, via Yahoo Sports)