If I said I was sitting quietly in a public place, and someone nearby suddenly cried out, “Fuck!”, you might not assume I was at the library. Yet, that is where I was--the Chelsea District Library to be specific.
Now, I accept that today's public libraries are essentially Internet cafes decorated with bookshelves. That is my main purpose for going to the library. It's also where I borrow DVDs, do my taxes, and plan my career. Put simply, the library does for my brain what the laundromat does for my clothes. It gives me access to routine services I cannot afford to supply myself at home. I say all that to acknowledge that today's libraries, in contrast to those of my childhood, are not places dedicated to the act of reading quietly.
Still, let it be said with a sigh of relief that a person belching out an F-bomb in the library still has a hint of stigma to it. The stigma is even greater when the vocalist in question is a young boy. Best guess? The cusser was maybe in the 4th grade, but probably younger.
I sat two computers away when he yelped, "Fuck!" With only the blurry input of my peripheral vision, I had assumed I was sitting near a speed typist in the act of transcribing a long document. Not so. This young boy was stroking the keys with incredible velocity, but he was only hitting the arrow keys. The profanity came as a result of not getting the high score on a free Yahoo Games download.
When he said the F-word, I wanted to scold him. No parent was nearby. I could have pulled it off (and have in the past). But I did not correct him. It was a one-time outburst, so I let it slide.
Still, in the seconds following his expletive release, I imagined myself scolding him. And to my surprise, this is what I envisioned saying:, “Hey kid, don’t use that word. You haven’t earned the right.” My disapproval wasn't coming from a traditional moral high ground. At that moment, I realized what really bothered me about the child swearing. At a glance I could tell that prepubescent Cyber squatter had not earned the right.
Grow another foot taller, little boy. Get your heart broken. Lose at some life quest that doesn't come with a Do Over button. Then you can use the great token of catharsis: "Fuck!"
This episode makes me think about my niece--a high school senior counting the weeks to graduation. Recently, she muscled her way through The Great Gatsby for English class. It was a book she didn’t like but still completed. It was a delight to read her e-mail to me after finishing. She accepted The Great Gatsby as a great work of literature, but told me straight out how lame the characters treated each other. A fun and cool read, the book isn't. Nevertheless, she now goes into adulthood with a literary sampling of how adults mistreat, manipulate, and survive each other. My niece earned something by finishing that book.
To be clear, I don’t ever want to hear her drop the F-bomb. But should it slip out during a stressful conversation about finishing high school, she’ll receive my forgiveness. Depending on the context, she might even witness a sympathetic chuckle. She is earning the right to cuss now and then, as all adults do.
But to that free computer-mooching suburban cherub who dropped the F-Bomb over nothing special, the only rebuke that came to mind was, “Hey kid, don’t use that word. You haven’t earned the right.”