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Sailor Mouth

Sailor Mouth

 
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Once, my father took me out to a harborside bar and restaurant in the South Jersey shore town in which he lived — just the two of us, or “me and my first-born boy, my number one son,” as he lovingly put it.

We rattled down to the harbor in his well worn Jeep that smelled of old cigarette smoke. Every cup holder was half full with discarded cigarette pack cellophane wrappers and random loose change for tolls — since he believed EZ Pass was a sham program designed to make it possible for the state to track and punish drivers who disobeyed speed limits or the like.

On our trip down to the harbor, he asked me if I had ever sworn.

“When I first learned curse words, I did all the time, but then I found out they were bad and my mom says I’m not supposed to. I get it,” I explained.

“Go for it, Mike! Daddy’s car, daddy’s rules.”

“I don’t know.”

“Let ‘er rip!”

“Ehhh……”

“Come on, Mike!”

“I don’t know which one to say,” I laughed sheepishly, wracked with inexplicable nerves.

“Bitch!” my father exclaimed with glee, the plosive, sharp word bursting from his bristle-lined lips and bouncing against the windshield of his Jeep. “Come on!”

“…bitch…” I murmured.

“There he goes! Tits!!” he continued, showcasing a clear predilection for hetero-perspectived, suggestive gender-specific terms that exponentially heightened the discomfort of his very young but still very gay first-born.

“………….t i t s…..” I yucked up.

“Good man! Good man! Come on, Mike. Put some back into it! This is daddy’s car, you can really let ’em rip. Come on. Try the best one of ’em all, the big daddy… ‘Fuck!’”

Fuck.” I stated.

“Fuck!!” he encouraged.

“Fuck…!” I effortfully attempted matching his enthusiasm.

“FUCK!!!!” he bellowed like he did when his favorite NFL team, the Cleveland Browns, inevitably lost yet another Sunday game.

“FUCK!” I matched his volume, weary but emboldened.

“FUCK!!!!!!!!” he roared as we sped down the road to the harbor.

“FUCK!!!! FUCK!!!!!” I let loose in hopes this would be good enough for us to stop.

“BITCH!!! TITS!!!!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!!” he cheered, a leader hoping to rouse his sole troop from weariness.

I hesitated.

“Come, on Mike!!! My number one son over here, come on!!!” My dad rolled down the windows. “Let them hear you, who cares!???”

Every tiny muscle in my body clenched.

“BITCH!!! TITS!!!!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!!” he reminded me of our present rallying cry.

I looked out the window as we neared the harborside restaurant; it was now or never. I wanted to enjoy my time with my dad.

I stared into the space where the sky met the sea and it seemed the world ended and revved myself up.

I opened my mouth and positively shrieked:

“BITCH!!!!!!!!!!! TITS!!!!!!!!!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!! BITCH!!!!!!!!!!! TITS!!!!!!!!!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

My vocal power resonating into the humid summer night in a youthful high pitch, rather unlike my father’s husky smoker’s foghorn bellow, which soon joined me. Together, we sang our song most profane.

“BITCH!!!!!!!!!!! TITS!!!!!!!!!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!! BITCH!!!!!!!!!!! TITS!!!!!!!!!!!! FUCK!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

He pulled the car into a spot and the windows came up. He turned the ignition to power the vehicle down.

“Whew boy!!!! How do you feel, Mike?”

“Okay…”

“That feel good?”

“…it…tingles.” I responded, unsure what to say so I simply employed SpongeBob SquarePants’ opinion on using “sentence enhancers” from series classic Sailor Mouth.

“Damn straight it does! Let’s get some grub!”

We went into the restaurant and were promptly seated opposite each other at a booth. It was quiet for a Saturday night, I suppose, but the months outside the summer always rendered this Jersey Shore town something of a shell of all it promised it could be in Bruce Springsteen’s shinier epics.

My dad ordered his favorite beer to start — Beck’s — that soon arrived in a big old beer stein.

I was a very chubby child with the healthiest of appetites, so all it took for hunger like starvation to set in was the burnt oil scent of delicious-if-despicable fried food. I told my dad, and he proposed an order of mozzarella sticks for the table.

If his suggested swear words didn’t exactly excite me, this suggestion most certainly did.

They arrived with my father’s second Beck’s. “All that salty talk got me thirsty, Mike,” he explained — he talked like a cartoon character sometimes.

I tore into the mozzarella sticks, and though both my parents had taught me how to share, I was a bit preoccupied to concern myself with my father getting a fair share of our appetizer.

He happily sipped his beer as I smothered myself with finger food, then…

I couldn’t swallow.

It wasn’t working.

Half of the mozzarella stick I had just eaten lie on my tongue and half of it stretched down my esophagus — the warm, gooey cheese bridging the two halves across my windpipe, obscuring it.

I couldn’t breathe.

I panicked.

I didn’t know what to do.

I stared at my father and pointed at my throat.

“What’s a matter, Mike?”

I thought it was pretty obvious.

“Eating too fast, huh?”

I felt my little heart pounding in the center of my chest, pushing up at the food neither it nor I could seem to clear and letting me know this was a very big problem.

“An appetite like his daddy,” my father chortled.

I tried breathing in a little from my nose to keep myself going while I figured out what to do.

I grew lightheaded and desperate.

“C’mon Mike, it’s just a mozzarella stick, what’d you do??” he mustered.

I surrendered some presence and consciousness to my screaming instincts and let them tell my body what it needed to do to survive this string-cheese strangulation.

Without any forethought, I reached my chubby little paws into my own mouth and grabbed the end of the mozzarella stick settled still in my now very dry mouth. I pulled and pulled and pulled, like a clown or a sword-swallower performing a trick. My audience, too, was entertained.

“There he goes! Where he’ll stop, nobody knows!” my dad hollered.

I pulled and pulled some more, my panic and breathlessness mixing in my chest, building like boiling water within me.

Snap-thluck.

Finally, the entirety of the comically stretched, disgustingly drenched mozzarella stick snapped from my mouth, hit my hands and then the table in front of us.

My dad applauded as I removed the lid from the pot and my panic bubbled over.

“I WAS CHOKING!!!” I yelled at my father.

“You’re not anymore!”

“I didn’t know what to do!”

“That’s what you get for eating too fast, Mike. You gotta take your time and wet the whistle while you go. Come on, you know that. Daddy taught you better.”

Our waitress approached.

“Everything ok here, boys?” she asked, perhaps having overheard my shout and now noticing the mess on the table.

“Oh, yeah, hon… Mike, Jr. here just got a little carried away. Got a good appetite on him, just like his pappy,” my dad dismissed.

“Well, just wave me over if you need anything,” she said to us both. I don’t know if she believed him or not, but I felt as alien as I ever did in my sort-of second life as my father’s son.

I spent Saturdays or Sundays with my dad as a kid, as defined by my parents’ custody agreement.

Six days a week, I lived my life as my mother’s son, cultivating that identity in her image and lessons. Every morning, I took nearly as long doing my hair as she. I dressed sharp. I watched all the shows she did — Friends and Will & Grace, ER, and sometimes, at her discretion, Sex and the City and The Sopranos. I loved singing along to Madonna and dancing with my mom. I read voraciously beyond my level, wrote stories, and drew comics.

Then, my one day with Dad would come. I’d wake and shower, leave my fine blonde hair be, throw on a t-shirt and sweatpants, and be ready to play the part of my father’s son as best I understood it. Image and vanity didn’t exist. I said I watched all the shows I thought he did — Ren and Stimpy, WWE Raw and Smackdown, and South Park. Music? I usually just listened to whatever was on the radio and didn’t pay too much attention to what it was until I found out my dad kinda liked OutKast and Weezer, at which point I would gleefully recount everything I had read about them and their music across various internet message boards and fan sites. I thought school was boring and couldn’t wait to get home and play N64 or PlayStation.

At this weird little harborside bar restaurant on a quiet summer Saturday, catching my breath after choking on a mozzarella stick without any aid or sympathy, I felt like my second life in the role of my father’s son had nearly ended me.

Our waitress walked away. I fell quiet. At that moment, I couldn’t bring myself to perform.

My dad laughed, raising his hand to gently pat my arm from across the table.

“Bet you could swear now, huh, Mike?”


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