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Entry 6-4-01 (originally written 5-16-01)
In which your humble narrator learns never to say Bad Words.

One day in second grade we spent a day learning about environmental pollution, which was a really big issue for grown-ups at the time. Pollution was bad. They made this perfectly goddamn clear. The word had come from on high that pollution was the new evil, and damned if kids weren't going to know it, and know it early. So they explained pollution to us in terms devoid of meaning-- the kind a second-grader was supposed to understand. They didn't want to confuse kids with substance, they just wanted them to hate pollution. Afterwards we were told to draw an example of pollution that we had encountered. I was only six years old, and lived in an apartment, and we never went on trips. Maybe I was just a stupid kid. The only example of pollution I could conceptualize was an alley full of trash with graffiti all over the walls. The graffiti was really the worst of it. Trash was cool... you found cool things in the trash. But big kids would write nasty words on the walls. I didn't imagine that grown-ups wrote graffiti; they were the ones telling us pollution was bad.

I knew that if I was going to do this picture right I'd have to write the actual words down. I was pretty wary of this, so I asked the teacher if it would be okay. I described the idea, junk-filled alley with graffiti, and she said that was fine. So I got to work. While all the other kids were dutifully drawing smoking factories and smog-filled traffic jams, I rendered a garbage can overflowing with trash in front of a brick wall, upon which I wrote such happy words as 'fuck,' 'bitch,' 'nigger,' and 'Pissy Cat,' and laid in a swastika and a peace sign. It still looked a little thin to me so I added random initials here and there, and drew a goofy stick-figure face over the cryptic 'Pissy Cat.' I was a little unhappy that I hadn't achieved the density I was looking for; my known list of taboo words was short, and even that age I was aware that not all of them normally appeared in this context.

I added the ubiquitous abandoned tire leaning against the wall, and flush with my own genius I turned the drawing in. I felt as though I had truly conveyed the nastiness of pollution, had laid it bare. And I succeeded... my mother was called in for a conference that evening regarding my artwork, and I was to be brought along. I had no idea what it was about until the teacher showed her the picture I'd drawn in class. I had gone from quiet, mildly weird kid to major discipline problem in one afternoon. My mother was bewildered by the drawing and insisted that I never said or wrote swear words, and I didn't... as was typical she had harangued me until such words were practically eradicated from my vocabulary. I did draw the occasional swastika or KISS logo on my notebook, having no idea what they meant but knowing the big kids did it so it must be cool. The teachers objected to the KISS logo but never said a word about swastikas.

So the two of them decided to ask me about my drawing, and I told them simply that I was told to draw what I'd seen, and that's the kind of stuff I saw, so I drew it. That was it. I wrote the words because I knew they were bad and because showing something bad was the point of the project. I wonder if everybody has gone through this, where you're told to be honest and you are, until you reach a point where you're too honest and the grown-ups can't deal with it and tell you to turn back... hey kids, maybe honesty isn't the best policy. I called their bluff and they couldn't handle it, so Mom got called in to help bring me in line.

I was told that it was commendable that I'd been so honest in my depiction, but that I shouldn't do this again, whatever the reason... first by the teacher, and then by my mother later on. After this I was even more deathly afraid to swear. I couldn't swear. I couldn't even say words like 'hell' or 'damn,' even though the TV was saying them, until I got to college and away from my mother.

One more crucial piece of wisdom I received from my mother during this time was that if you held up your middle finger at someone and they couldn't see your fingernail, you weren't really flipping them off. I don't think this was in the rulebook, but operationally it seems to hold true. If the nail faces away from them, they think you're showing them a booger you just picked.

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