• 21°

Al Batt: Watch out for the potty mouth man outside the post office

Tales from Exit 22 by Al Batt

He wouldn’t set his long underwear on fire to keep others warm.

But he’s a good guy.

He’d risen early because he’s an early riser. The morning’s brain fog and darkness had caused him to look for his cellphone by using the flashlight on his cellphone. That sounds goofy, but who among us hasn’t done something similar?

He told me the tale of his tomfoolery outside the post office that morning. He enjoyed tattling on himself, but his story was mostly swearwords and conjunctions. It was a string of profanity peppered with a few words that weren’t. His words melted all the snow within 6 feet of him. Cusswords rolled off his tongue faster than a bad lumberjack splashed in a log-rolling competition.

He was running full tilt with an onslaught of obscenities. It’s good to be passionate about things and he was passionate about vulgar speech. Supposedly, he owns the complete five-volume set of the encyclopedia of expletives, the video version. He teetered precariously on the edge of offending himself before he paused to gather his breath as his mind searched for curse words he hadn’t yet used.

He used off-color words as sentence enhancers and strived to use every one he knew in each sentence.

“Pardon my French,” he said. “Cussing and coffee are the few thrills I get in life. I remember you telling me cussing was my Achilles’ elbow.”

I didn’t correct him on the elbow and heel thing because I wasn’t certain I hadn’t told him it was his Achilles’ elbow and Achilles wasn’t around to object by pointing at his heel.

I rarely hear “Pardon my French.” I used to hear it when a fellow hit his thumb with a hammer and blurted out “@#$%&!” before remembering he wasn’t alone. “@#$%&!” is called a grawlix and is a string of typographical symbols used in comic strips to represent an obscenity or swearword. “Pardon my French” is a non-apology for using obscene language and has been used to mean that since the late 1800s. It was originally said after someone had used a French word instead of an English one and was a snooty way for the speaker to offer a counterfeit apology for using a word the listener wouldn’t understand. The art of condescending is the art form practiced by the most people.

I know the words but I’m not good at swearing. I use substitute words to express amazement, annoyance, disgust or pain. Fiddlesticks, dagnabbit, holy cow, barnacles, William Shatner, buttress, curses and fish sticks work fine for me. Occasionally, I’ll toss in Buick, cellophane tape or quote Shakespeare’s “I scorn you, scurvy companion.” Those words work for me and I could say them around the Dalai Lama.

To a boy, a swear word is an earworm. Four-letter words are gateway cusswords. I blame my inability to weave a tapestry of dirty words on a boyhood home lacking in vulgarisms. My parents eschewed coarse language no matter how dire or traumatic the situation.

Dad said, “Cheese and crackers!” and “Son of a gun.” Mom’s wild words were limited to “Oh, my!” and “My goodness!” and more likely to be zipped lips that were locked and the key tossed away. This act sometimes involved the action of putting her thumb and forefinger together as if she were pinching a zipper pull and moving it across her lips from one side of her closed mouth to the other as if operating a zipper. I’ve tried that but my zipper becomes stuck. I find it useful to remind myself to “Zip it,” when I’m losing an argument.

One day, as I struggled to fix something on Mother’s Chevy Vega (a torment on wheels), I groaned in frustration. She said, “You know what our old neighbor used to say” — there was a stumbling pause. “I can’t tell you what he used to say. It wouldn’t make any sense without the bad words.

After my father died, I took my mother to the movies. We enjoyed watching movies, but it was challenging to find a movie with limited swearing and violence that wasn’t vapid. Sitting next to my mother during those films was likely more uncomfortable for me than it was for her.

The chronic cusser outside the post office was on his way to get take-out fried chicken with extra skin. He claims fried chicken is his emotional support animal.

I bid him adieu by saying how nice it had been exchanging pleasantries with him.

I won’t tell you what he said.

Al Batt’s columns appear every Wednesday in the Tribune.