I Swear I've Given Up Swearing




I don’t make New Year or Lent resolutions. My reflective period comes around Thanksgiving. It seems a better time to take stock and see if I can work on attitude adjustment. I did something last year that worked pretty darn well. The word “darn” is a hint. Give up? I vowed to quit swearing.


I’ve never had a serious potty mouth, but I’m guilty of invectives when angered or frustrated. Before I retired, I had occasional bad teaching days and mind-numbing stupidity has always gotten under my skin. I never cussed out a student; I waited until I was out of earshot and let loose. Stupidity was another matter, especially politics, rip-off artists, and Massachusetts motorists. I’ll be understatedly charitable and say that we deserve every dime we pony up for auto insurance. Quite a few Bay State drivers are candidates for the psych ward.  


I’ve done well in my quest to stop swearing–not 100% but good enough to be in the A/A- range. That’s a shocker. Those who know me can attest that I’ll never be confused with a New Age crystal hugger. My academic philosophy is rooted in conflict theory, the belief that social change comes through opposition rather than consensus. Metaphorically (and sometimes literally), I doubt those in charge ever give up anything unless they’re forced to do so. I still call out miscreants and work myself into a righteous lather, so how on earth did I manage to can foul outbursts?


First, I’ve never used religious swears. I know enough to know what I don’t know, so I find it pointless to get into debates over the supernatural. My gut tells me it’s weird to postulate the existence of an omnipotent, omniscient power in one breath and insist in the next that any principality can be completely contained in a book or single faith. I try to respect the best of all religions, though I’m tempted to swear at those who insist they hold a monopoly on truth, use religion to gain wealth, or employ violence and claim they are commanded to use it. But even when I feel utter contempt and express it, I try not to be profane.


Weariness was another motivator. I became so sick of hearing f-bombs that I opted out of adding to air pollution. F-bombs have become the domain of boorish hipsters, the poorly educated, MAGA hat-wearing clods, teenagers trying to sound tough, hip-hoppers too unimaginative to find a decent rhyme, and legions of others who reflexively let loose whenever they are unhappy. Hipster f-bombs are especially irksome; they’ve managed to make all things f-related boring. When I hear a hipster swear I think, “Stuff it in your knitted cap. Nobody but you thinks you’re cool.”


Another word I refuse to use starts with B and slanders women. I find it so offensive that when women use it to discuss themselves or other women, I want to e-mail them applications for the National Organization of Women. That’s not a bad idea; I often wonder if feminism ever happened. When it comes to other demeaning terms for women’s bodies (or a person’s sexual preferences)–the kind you hear from Trump and bad boy rappers–I advocate mandatory pig snout transplants.


I find the lesser swears the hardest to avoid, though there is a long tradition of invented substitutes. W. C. Fields is credited with coining drat and Godfrey Daniels, Robin Williams (as Mork) used shazbot, and the movie version of Room Service gave us jumping butterballs. I’ve heard people use son of a monkey, frick, frak, and the ever-popular freakin.’ I invented my own faux curse: “I don’t give a sqwanker’s farley.”


But the main reason I curbed my cussing is that I cope better when I refrain. Maybe it’s that short pause when my brain is processing a suitable alternative–an adult timeout that gets me centered. I often shake my head at things that used to set me off. Plus, there are a lot of unhinged people in the world, so it’s not the best idea to flip the bird or fulminate around someone nuttier than a Snicker’s.


This holiday season I vow to cleanse my tongue further. I figure what’s the point of learning lots of vocab and confine myself to a few 4-letter terms? Wish me luck.


If you’d like to pursue a similar path but can’t go cold turkey, try impolite jargon few others will understand. The English, Irish, and Scots lexicons contain gems such as bauchule, berk, bloody eejit, bollocks, filthy cow, glakit, and sodding buggeration. I’d translate for you but, you know.


Rob Weir


The Runaways is Dull and Off-Target



Directed by Floria Sigismondi

Apparition, 106 minutes, R (sexual situations involving teens)





Is it possible to make Joan Jett seem boring? Watch the 2010 film The Runaways and you’ve got your answer. It’s an oblique glance at the band that not-yet-17Jett envisioned in 1975 that’s now considered a pioneering all-female rock ensemble. The movie, though, focuses more on 15-year-old lead singer Cherie Currie–to the degree that it stays focused on anything.


1975 was a weird cultural moment; 1960s rock gave way to soft rock and the sonic emptiness of disco. Into the void stepped punk, a DIY alternative to corporate rock. It allegedly embraced an ethos of violence, rebellion, and rejection of disco’s glittery-but- vacuous materialism. In truth, many punk bands were every bit as fabricated as made-for-TV Monkees (1966), a list includes The Sex Pistols and, to a great degree, The Runaways. Joan Marie Larkin transformed herself into Joan Jett, but the band was largely assembled by record producer Kim Fowley to get the right “look.” The right sound was of secondary concern.


Sparkling fidelity was seldom the point of punk, but Fowley never quite decided what his creation was supposed to be: punk, hard rock, glam, or something else. (Their glam persona looked a bit like the Bee Gees undergoing hormone treatment.) The film leaves the impression that Fowley (Michael Shannon) wanted the Runaways to be a masturbatory jailbait fantasy for young men. Jett (Kristen Stewart) recedes into the background as we watch Currie (Dakota Fanning) mutate into a 15-year-old Lolita crossed with a Victoria’s Secret street walker. The other Runaways–Lita Ford, Sandy West, and Robin Robins–are little more than extras that occasionally moan about how Currie’s come-hither soft porn, drug usage, and raging ego is ruining the band. In less than four years The Runaways went from international sensation–the Japanese went nuts over them–to Jett solo projects.


This bit of music history has been dissected like high school biology frogs, but this isn’t the movie’s biggest problem. Currie’s story held potential for a potent drama–an alcoholic father, a broken home, manipulation by Fowley, drug addiction, a breakdown, reconciliation with her twin sister–but director Floria Sigismondi presents everything without taking into account that The Runaways was Jett’s band and she its enduring legacy.


Casting was a major problem. Stewart and Fanning were roughly the right age for their respective parts back then–20 and 16–but this doesn’t mean either was cut out for them. Some may take issue with this, but I simply don’t get the Kristen Stewart phenomenon then or now; at her best she’s merely adequate and in The Runaways she’s as flat as a Heartland highway. Fanning was/is much more talented, but Currie wasn’t a good role. I suspect she was cast because Sigismondi wanted audiences to infer a physical as well as emotional loss of innocence, but at 16 Fanning exuded a sweetness that makeup, foul language, and lingerie could not hide. She was, as she appeared, a skinny kid whose attempts at playing a sex kitten invokes the feeling she hadn’t yet been weaned.


Michael Shannon was given leeway to portray Fowley as a greedy and abusive sexist pig. What we see on the screen is classic overkill with Shannon hurling invectives, threats, screams, and garbage. Fowley’s questionable character aside, Shannon’s overwrought performance comes off as caricature, not a slice of musical history.


The Runaways has a few redeeming qualities. It’s another reminder of why Joni Mitchell chose the phrase “star maker machinery” in her 1974 song “Free Man in Paris.” (Mitchell is proof not all mid-70s music sucked!) Celebrity can be a deadly game if you try to live the hype. Despite Sigismondi’s clunky direction, it’s hard not to sympathize with how a kid like Currie could get ground up by the machine (and that it still happens). It was also interesting to see a mature Taum O’Neal cameo as Currie’s mother, given that some felt she too was stained by early fame.


Mostly, though, The Runaways was more dud than a “Cherry Bomb.”


Rob Weir


Cranberries: Bogs to Bags to Bellies


I recently wrote about common crackers. Millions of Americans are about to shovel in an equally unpretentious food and I don’t mean the fan-tailed meleagris, aka/ the turkey. I’m talking about its bright red plated sidekick: cranberries.





This fall I knocked off a bucket list item by venturing to Chatham on Cape Cod to see and hear all about the cranberry harvest. Suffice it to say I had little idea about the process or the challenges facing growers. My defense is that I grew up in dairy and mixed farming country; cows and wheat I know, cranberries not so much. I’m not sure I ever saw fresh cranberries as a kid; for all I knew, they grew inside cans or muffins.




Like farmers of all kinds, cranberry producers work hard and are at the mercy of the weather and the market. Cranberries have to be tended constantly despite the fact they grow in “bogs.” Too much or too little rain wreaks havoc and the picking season is maddeningly short–pretty much October to the week before Thanksgiving. Then it’s pray for a good price. The bulk of Massachusetts cranberries are sold to two large firms: Ocean Spray or Quebec processor Fruit d’Or. Don’t want to accept what they offer? Good luck with all those berries.




Sixty-one-year-old Dave Ross of Little Scoop Cranberry Farm hires help for the harvest, but he’s essentially a one-man operation. In the company of Emily and friends Dominique and Tess we toured Dave’s property and got the lowdown. You’ve probably seen pictures of berries floating on ponds. I foolishly thought cranberries grew in water like some mutant form of red rice. I knew they ripened on bushes, but I was thinking something along the lines of tall, watery domesticated blueberries. I should have been thinking about wild blueberries–the sort that grow on the surface and are seldom higher than a foot or so high. 




The water is the nearly last step, not the first. Before that happens, a cranberry bog isn’t very picturesque; it’s a big messy shrubland with weeds and other vegetation poking out. Any standing water comes from Mother Nature, not human hands. The berries ripen and look a bit like rounded vermilion coffee beans. When they blush red, it’s time to turn on the taps.



Here's where I was really clueless. All those aerial shots of cranberries suggest they float in a deep lake, so I assumed boats were somehow involved in knocking the berries off their stems. What was I thinking!? Some kind of weed whacker for fruit? Actually, cranberry ponds are shallow enough that in ye olden days farmers donned waders, carried snapping scoops through the water, and plucked the berries from the vines. A few hobby farmers still do that if there are growing only for personal use.


Today, most cranberries are harvested by something that looks like a Rube Goldberg lawn mower crossed with an egg beater. They are driven through the water and rotating blunt blades knock the berries into the water. Because cranberries have four air pockets in which the seeds are held, the berries rise to the surface. Cranberry dogs then round up the berries and put them in a corral. Oh wait! I’m wrong about that. Actually, booms are used to contain them and it depends on how meticulous the farmer gets in collecting them. Those that are not gathered help reseed the area. Those wicked cool crimson seas pictured on the Internet are the contained berries that get vacuumed into the back of trucks through wide hoses; no aquatic Roombas need apply. 





Then berries are cleaned, sorted, and sent to the distributor while farmers spend the holiday season hoping for a nice check that covers growing costs, hired labor, and leaves a bit of profit behind. Soon, it’s first-and-ten/do it again as they prep for the next year’s crop. Let’s be frank:  New England cranberry growers are at a metaphorical crossroad. Hybrid berries increase their yield, but can old-style bogs compete with the enormous square plantation-style production of Wisconsin, which is now the largest producer in the nation?

 I hope so. Dave’s farm is a throwback, but it’s colorful in ways no industrial farm can be. I gained appreciation for how something as unpresuming as a cranberry is a labor of love. I shall ponder this each time I bite into a muffin or see a red berried puddle on my Thanksgiving plate.


Rob Weir

 [Note: All photos are mine except the two harvester machines and old-fashioned scoop.]