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Wide Is The Gate (That's Why It Attracts Barbarians) by Sal Moriarty

The greatest test of a man's character is his tongue. Oswald Chambers

I'm trying to stop cursing. Trying, the operative word here. I've been thinking about it quite some time, but the habit is embedded in my very being. I've been cursing, to some degree, since I learned to talk.

When I was about eight, we had a bar stool I pretended was a horse. One day I took my pony to the front porch. He was wearing a makeshift saddle (crafted from two of mom's old purses), old jumper cables serving as reins.

I, of course, was a western hero to behold, decked out in brown leather cowboy boots with buckles, old vest my dad never wore, plastic gun belt with plastic gun. I turned the holster around backward on my right hip because we had an old tintype photo of my grandfather's brother wearing his gun belt that way. He was left-handed and, evidently, would draw the gun across his body. I'm a lefty, too, and adopted the strategy (he was eventually killed in a gunfight over a game of cards, so there you go). It goes without saying I wore a magnificent cowboy hat, crafted from a brown grocery sack.

I watched True Grit (1969) the night before and was reenacting the stirring climax where John Wayne reads Robert Duvall and his gang the riot act before charging on horseback, reins clinched in his teeth. If you're of a certain age, you probably remember the line from that scene.

“Fill your hand, you son-of-a-_________!” I exclaimed, to the imaginary outlaws in our yard.

I galloped to victory as, in my mind, Glen Campbell and Kim Darby watched from a bluff high above the proceedings. I was holstering my still warm plastic six-shooter when I heard the front door open. I looked up and there stood my dad, arms crossed.

“What did you say?” he asked, head tilted.

I'll bet John Wayne never got in trouble for cursing.

Anyway, I've been doing it as long as I can remember. It's just that, now, there's no reason to do it. I did it when I was a kid because kids want to act like adults and, of course, kids are really stupid. I did it as a young man because I was around other young men most of the time, and that's what young men do because, of course, young men are really stupid. I did it in middle age because, well, I was really stupid.

Now, however, as I bridge the gap between middle age and decrepitude, cursing just seems like a crutch for the inarticulate. I mean, there used to be reasons to curse. I'm of the opinion the profanity used by the likes of Richard Pryor and George Carlin, for example, played a role in shaking up a society with one foot still in a world where television couldn't show a husband and wife in the same bed. That kind of stuff had to stop.

For me, I think the reason I've put so much thought into retiring profanity from my vocabulary is because of the kind of people I see most commonly using it. They're usually loud and obnoxious, craving attention. The kind of person I encountered at a restaurant a few weeks back.

It was your typical eatery, catering to everyone. There were families dining and, I'm sure, people of all religious persuasions. I was sitting quietly, minding my own, when a young woman entered wearing a shirt that read, “I Love Sluts”. This would not have gone down well in southeast Texas twenty years ago. Maybe ten, even. I'm quite confident she has the saltiest of tongues,

For all the wailing and gnashing of teeth I hear about political correctness, many seem compelled to say or do anything in their power to shock complete strangers (as if any half-way observant American can be shocked these days). They'll tell you they do it because they don't give a rip what other people think (only they don't say rip). But if you behave, and speak, in a manner designed to provoke a response, and draw attention to yourself, clearly you care a great deal what others think. Otherwise, why would you do it?

I am in no way religious, but I don't want to be a simple vulgarian, a slave to my own insecurities. That kind have been gathering at the gate for some time now. When I hear myself cursing, I worry I'll be counted among their ranks. I don't want to be like those people.

It's worth mentioning I've also given some thought to cutting back on the drinking, as well. The problem is there are still plenty of reasons to drink.


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