**Despite the title, this piece contains NO profanity**
Earlier, I was watching my biography. It wasn’t Ben Hur or Superman or Citizen Kane or any of the other movies one might aspire to tell their life’s memoir. Instead, the movie is called Bad Words and it’s my life story. It was just released in the US (I’ll have to thank China for its lenient copyright laws) and it was written by a guy, Andrew, who married a friend of mine, Tiffany, both of whom went to my high school. We met briefly, but he probably didn’t know he was writing my biography when he was in the middle of writing it, but writing it he was (and with greater precision and honesty than I ever could), all the same. That’s just as well. No one, not even the main character of the movie, would want to admit this movie was about them. It’s not because it’s not funny. It is. I roared and rarely do I roar. It’s because every person has the better sense than to say “That gloriously embarrassing and humiliating depiction is about me! I’m that offensively ugly off-putting one! I’m that grown man who throws tantrums and carries grudges and suffers any cost and bears any burden just to be right. I’m that guy!” and yet I am…that guy.
From the complete disregard for the feelings or aspirations or others, even children, to the terminal obsession with being “right” despite being clearly wrong because of it, to the excessive drinking and unmitigated self indulgence, that is me up there on that screen. Luckily it’s on screen where grown men throwing tantrums is funny and comedic. If it were anywhere else, like in life, my life, it’d be more like a tragedy and less like a lesson. What wasn’t in the movie, yet there in its scenes, was what my life was like when I was younger. The main character held onto being right for weeks. I held onto mine for hours and then for years.
When I was kid, living with my aunt and uncle and their kids, the family was invited to swim at a friend’s pool while the friends were away. What I looked forward to most, was the hot tub. I was excited about it for the days that led up to the weekend, talking about it without ceasing and imagining it without end. Why I wanted to spend time in a hot tub so badly I don’t know, but I do remember the day of the trip, that morning in the car, there was talk that even the thirteen year old son of the owners of the home wasn’t allowed in the tub and, so be it, neither would I. While there’s nothing wrong with children being in hot tubs (when properly supervised and at an appropriate temperature) this was in the days before the internet and my aunt and uncle didn’t know better. I suspect they were being cautious, perhaps too cautious but my refusal to listen, both adamant and absolute, didn’t likely help my cause. They told me I wouldn’t be allowed in and I insisted I would be. My uncle finally laid out a towel in the outer room of the house, the room that exited to the backyard and pool and told me to sit on it until I was ready to accept “Pool, yes. Hot tub, no.” I would not. Instead I sat there the entire day, from late morning until after sunset when we were leaving, on that towel, there in that outer room. To be honest, I don’t recall ever seeing the pool that day. I don’t think I ever did. It wasn’t for lack of effort. My cousins pleaded with me, attempted to talk sense to me and I refused. I simply would not, could not, let go. In a child, this may be understandable, for 15-20 minutes. It is not understandable, nor is it normal, for hours to all day. What’s even less understandable and more abnormal is that part of me still thinks “I won”. Yet there was no battle, only a towel…and my defiant ego. Hindsight is a good reminder. The movie’s reminder isn’t much different. The main character exploits a loophole for a cause that was greater than my own. And while his exploitation draws the ire of everyone else, it drew my appreciation and applause. After all, it was my story being retold and my ego being stoked and stroked. It was as though I finally made it into the hot tub!
When I reached the 66 minute mark of the movie, I raised my arms in victory. I would have done the same as our unheroic hero did. In fact, for thirty three years, I did exactly what he did and it almost killed me. Sadly, I would have been happy to go at the time.
At 80 minutes and 20 seconds, I wept because he was speaking a language I have no trouble understanding. For most, it’s a language of violence, for me it’s my language of love. Sometimes I still speak it.
What I don’t speak is growing up, moving up or moving on. The movie didn’t either. It wrote about it. So did I (I’d hate to say where I was is where I still am and that the movie grew up faster than I did, but…it did. What I did in years, it did in minutes); at the age of thirty three, I wrote, at the advice of a friend, my deceased father a letter (I’ve mentioned it before). I was convinced I had nothing to say and after thirteen pages of saying it, I got a little of what the movie gave me, another reminder… Maybe you’ve heard it asked before “Would you rather be right or would you rather be happy?”
For most people, they can answer that question without hesitating. For me, it’s something I still think about. In that sense, the movie wasn’t just a break, or a repast or a piece of innocent entertainment. More than that, it was my mirror. It was seeing how often I choose the former to sacrifice the latter. It was seeing me on screen and it wasn’t pretty or flattering or favorable, but it was real. As ugly as that reality is, there is one saving grace…contrary to Andrew’s expected experience with screenwriting, for me with life, since childhood, it’s all been uphill from there. My life has gotten significantly better, not worse.
Andrew wrote it, I lived it: Bad Words, my biography.