I don’t drink, smoke, do any sort of drug and have even given up coffee and Red Bull, but swearing is still, despite all efforts, my Achillies heel. I blame it on my former New York Times, New Jersey section editor who used the F-bomb as every part of speech and punctuation as well.
When I first began working for the Times as a stringer, about 15 years ago, I didn’t need to delete expletives from my speech, let alone e-mails because I just plain didn’t use them. However, after several years of multiple daily phone calls with my section editor, I became so desensitized to the word that I began to use it with regularity.
That came to an abrupt halt when I was out on assignment one day and my mother came to our house to babysit the boys while I was out doing an interview. When I returned home mom told me, “A man called claiming to be from The New York Times. He expects you to call him back. I told him I’d see about that.”
That is all she told me at that time. The following story comes from the aforementioned contrite and swear-free editor who answered my return call. The story requires a moment of background.
This editor habitually called with a greeting that was never, “hello,” but a rapid-fire, no breaths or prisoners bark full of F-bomb adjectives.
Mom and I have almost identical “phone voices” and her hello triggered the floodgates of salty greeting when the editor rang me up that morning.
The editor moaned: "I swore at your mother! How upset is she? What did she say?”
Even now I remember the icy trickle down my spine as he unfolded the story in technicolorful language and detail. We had a “curse jar” in our house, and allowance would be eaten alive by it if you uttered a profanity. Today, in our house, cursing gets you more chores, and if you swear while doing them, the chores multiply like rabbits.
Back to the editor’s call where, apparently, Mom listened and listened and then took a few breaths before saying to him, in what I can imagine was the tone of a disdainful snow queen, “I am terribly sorry, SIR, but my daughter is not in at the moment. If you will give me your name I will give her some of your message.”