On Monday, my best friend’s firstborn will be defending his dissertation. Apparently it’ll be on Zoom, and the public is welcome to watch. I’ve never seen a dissertation defense, and I plan to watch because I’ve known this boy since he was in diapers, and, well, he’s a genius. I don’t expect to understand it at all; he’s in a medical science program, the kind where you go to med school a couple extra years and emerge with two doctorates, medical and “of philosophy,” as they say. But it’ll be interesting to watch.
I have to say, I’m enjoying this phase of parenthood, where a kid is more or less launched into the world and your work is pretty much done. I say “more or less” because I imagine they stay on the family cell-phone plan and HBO subscription until you die. And “pretty much” because they’ll always need you, at least a little. But it’s fun to sit down with a young adult, pour two glasses of wine, and have an adult conversation. You can say “fuck” without feeling like you’re corrupting them. It certainly beats adolescence.
Two language-related incidents in recent days here. First, the grimmer one: A substitute teacher in a suburban high-school here was escorted from the building by administration, fired and told to never return (in so many words). Her crime? Saying “get your cotton-pickin’ hands off of it” to a black student. This was captured on video, because apparently kids never put their phones away, and it had to be done.
The story I read was by some Gannett partner paper out in the ‘burbs, and was written as though she’d burned a cross in the classroom. I can’t find the link now, but there was one passage where the superintendent talked about how all substitutes are of course qualified, but “we can’t know the prejudices in a person’s heart” when they’re hired. Until they come out in language like that.
All I could think was, she said “cotton-pickin'” so she wouldn’t say “goddamn.” Or something worse.
While it is obviously abundantly clear why that phrase is racially offensive, it’s also one of those usages that was common, once upon a time, and had nothing to do with race at all, at least not when I ever heard it. It was a way for your mom or dad to intensify an order without using profanity. Get your cotton-pickin’ hands off the stereo, Jimmy is better parenting than telling Jimmy to take his fucking hands off the volume knob.
It’s an antique phrase, granted. When I hear it in my memory, it comes out in Mel Blanc’s voice, because Yosemite Sam used it a lot when he talked to Bugs Bunny. Wait one cotton-pickin’ minute, etc. I asked some younger people what they thought, and here’s where I was really surprised: Several of them had never heard the phrase at all. Ever! So much for the ubiquity of Looney Tunes.
Some people say gosh darn, some pea-pickin’, some doggone, but it’s all the same. Lots of parents used that phrase when I was a kid. Lots of parents continued to use that phrase when I was an adult.
Memo to the room: We can no longer use that phrase. Substitute fucking, instead. You may still get in trouble, but you won’t be branded a racist.
On Friday night, we went to the Dirty Show, Detroit’s annual erotic-art festival. It’s been a while (Covid), and I was pleased to see the old spirit is back, with vaccine checks at the door and a fair number of masks.
As we were preparing to leave, the burlesque dancers took a break and a comic came out to do a tight five. It was a young woman, about Kate’s age, and she started out blue and reached a shade of blue so deep and bloooooo they need a new word for it. The performers’ names were projected on a screen behind them, and I suddenly realized that I knew her. Or rather, I knew her parents. They lived around the corner from us in Ann Arbor, and Kate played with her sister. Later, Kate and the comic went to Cuba together for a three-week study abroad program.
Alan was laughing his ass off. The jokes weren’t that funny, but there was a certain humor in seeing how far she’d go for the next laugh, like watching someone on a high wire. “Do you ever look into the toilet after you shit and think about how big a dick you could take back there?” etc. All I could think of was the sweet kindergartener I first knew, and of course, if her parents would rather she choose a stage name.
Not sure how we got there from Bernie’s dissertation, but good luck, Bern! You’ll do great, I know.
A little bloggage:
David French – David French! – is warning of the political violence to come, gestating in American evangelical churches:
Some readers may remember that I debated Eric Metaxas at John Brown University in September 2020. While the debate was civil enough, it was clear to me that Metaxas was operating with a level of commitment to Trump that went well beyond reason. He truly believed Joe Biden would destroy America. He truly believed Trump was God’s chosen man for the moment.
Then, after the election, Metaxas escalated his rhetoric considerably. Let’s recall some of his quotes about the election:
“It’s like stealing the heart and soul of America. It’s like holding a rusty knife to the throat of Lady Liberty.”
“You might as well spit on the grave of George Washington.”
“This is evil. It’s like somebody has been raped or murdered. … This is like that times a thousand.”
Indeed, Metaxas claimed certainty even in the absence of proof: “So who cares what I can prove in the courts? This is right. This happened, and I am going to do anything I can to uncover this horror, this evil.”
Hey, Dave – you guys built this Jurassic Park. You can’t be that shocked now that the velociraptors are finding the weak spots in the fence.
So, then: Happy Superbowling, everyone.