Everybody Curses, I Swear
Uncensored Tales from the Hollywood Trenches
By Carrie Keagan, Dibs Baer
St. Martins Press Copyright © 2016 Carrie Keagan
All rights reserved.
FUCK YOU GRANDMA!
Well-behaved women seldom make history.
— Laurel Thatcher Ulrich
I guess I was always a foul-mouthed little shit, or as my parents would say, "Experimental with my words." I shouldn't have been, considering I had a pretty squeaky-clean upbringing in Buffalo, New York. It wasn't like I was a bad kid from a bad family. Quite the opposite, in our community, my family was considered upstanding, hardworking, and humble. My grandparents on both sides were devout Catholics and went to church dutifully every Sunday. My parents didn't really swear unless it was at an inanimate object or when my dad would try to shave our sheepdog each summer. Both situations were more farcical than anything else. I can still hear my mom throw down with a can of Spam while my dad went all biblical on a pile of hair with legs we called Peppy. My dad, who owned a gym and appeared on local and regional TV and radio shows as a health and fitness expert, was so well-known and well-liked, I call him the unofficial mayor of Buffalo. My mom was an entrepreneur who helped my dad and my uncle start and build their respective businesses, as well as being supermom to me and my brother and sister. Now you can see where I got that fire in my belly from.
I come from a big family. Well, it's actually small for a typical Irish-Catholic family, where size is a direct correlation between drinking and a lack of birth control, but you get my drift. On my mom's side, I have eight uncles, two aunts, and eight cousins. On my dad's side, I have two aunts and seven cousins with whom my brother, sister, and I spent a lot of our time. Most of us kids pretty much lived at my dad's parents' house, which was right down the street from our grade school. Mind you, afternoons at my grandparents' weren't the nonstop eighties dance party you might be imagining right now. It was more like an extension of school with all the food groups represented. Each afternoon, we were exposed to a rigid curriculum of gym, study, recess, dinner, and naptime. All under the watchful eye of my Grandma Peggy, a real honest-to-goodness teacher who had us in such a state of lockdown that I'd swear she could conjugate the "chemistry of thought" if given the opportunity. We were allowed to have fun as long as we were learning something. Which makes it all the more interesting that the very first entry in my lifelong naughty-word manifesto happened here of all places.
In order to truly appreciate this defining moment in my life, it's important to know my grandparents. Grandma Peggy was an English and French teacher who was as loving as she was strict. When she said, "Please excuse my French," she actually meant French. Grandpa George was a gentle soul and a devoted husband, quiet and reserved. A simple working-class hero who never took any shit from anybody and was a lifelong loyal employee of the Ford Motor Company. For my grandmother, being a teacher wasn't just a profession; it was a way of life. She yearned for knowledge the way the Kardashians yearn for attention and laser hair removal. Well, almost as much. She loved to teach, to talk, to argue, and to reason. So much so that my grandfather would routinely turn off his hearing aid in order to escape the daily verbal onslaught known as light after-dinner conversation. No one was safe. I remember that any time I would send her a card or write her a letter, I could look forward to having it mailed back to me all marked up and corrected in red with a grade. There were days when I felt like I was a supervillain and my crime was the ... gasp ... overuse of the dangling participle. That's a lot of pressure when you're five.
The point is that Grandma Peggy was such a grammatical gangster, a stickler, so proper and ultra-conservative that her be-all, end-all F-word was "fart." Anything beyond that was inconceivable. I do take a little pleasure in the fact that my grandma had a game-ender curse word, and I loved her very much for it. Plus, she secretly told me I was her favorite because I always took my naps right on schedule. Hey, you take the wins where you can get them, okay?!
Having said that, we come to the dawn of my myth, my legend, my reason to pontificate about facts that I am marginally familiar with. The right given to me by the celebrity Gods that bestow anyone who has a brush with fame the belief that what they say matters. It so happens that the beginning of me took place on the occasion of my third birthday. It was a Tuesday. An unexceptional Tuesday. It was unremarkable in every way except that it yearned to be a Wednesday. The story, which was told to me by my father through mime and song, as is the tradition of our clan, goes that my entire family had gathered at Grandma Peggy's home for a party. It was a festive occasion, and everyone had gathered around the famous pink table in the kitchen, eating my aunt Maryanne's nacho dip, drinking rum and Cokes out of those old glass Coke bottles that Grandma hid in the garage. I was perched in my high chair, taking in all the activities and enjoying being the center of attention. My grandmother was busy boiling hot dogs on the stove with her back to us. The room was bustling with chatter from the various conversations happening between my cousins, parents, and friends. ... It was, perhaps, that uncomfortable din that permeated the kitchen that prompted my grandma to firmly tell everyone to "settle down" as if we had all just come into her class from recess. Such moments are often mood killers at a party, like stepping on a dog turd right in the middle of telling your friends just how good the fresh grass feels beneath your bare feet. But today something else quite unexpected happened. As the noise in the room quickly died down, suddenly and out of the blue, I dropped three words that changed the course of history:
"Fuck you Grandma!" I exclaimed.
As if it were pierced by the falling blade of a guillotine, the room, abruptly, became deathly quiet. The air became as thick as Jell-O — or whatever else it is that Bill Cosby serves you — and time turned to slow motion with everyone dodging each other's silent thoughts and stares like Neo in The Matrix. Fearing that a laugh could die of loneliness, my cousins bolted out of the room, fighting their tears. Moments after, like dominos on the fall, the adults lost control, and the room erupted in laughter. To her credit, the old lady didn't slap the snot out of me. She just ignored it and kept making those wieners. As I stared at the back of my grandma's head and basked in the glory of the cackles I heard around me and in the next room, I had an epiphany. The kind of epiphany that only a distracted three-year-old can have. I decided that I wanted a hamster. Oh yeah ... also, swearing is FUNNY. Sure, Grandma was obviously disappointed in me but I was three and I had no idea what I was saying but my cousins thought I was the coolest kid that still crapped their pants. From then on, cursing just came naturally to and out of me.
I wasn't the only badass in our family, come to think of it. Despite our commitment to God and Grandma, there was a rebellious streak in my clan. My dad is a straightlaced stand-up guy but loves to tell a dirty joke, like, "What do an easy woman and a good bar have in common? Liquor in the front and poker in the back!" I didn't say they were good. I just said they were dirty. It doesn't matter. He always makes me laugh. (Except when he's whistling Nazareth songs while we're at the grocery store. That's just embarrassing.) My mom is a smart and kindhearted woman who doesn't take kindly to being taken advantage of. Case in point, when I was fairly young, I remember she got fed up with the never-ending stream of "gimme, gimme, gimme" from the Catholic church we attended and told us we didn't have to go anymore if we didn't want to. Um, we didn't and therefore did not. It's not that she didn't have faith; far from it. It's just that she didn't feel the need to pay for the privilege, especially while she and my dad were struggling to make ends meet. Flash-forward twenty-five years, I took my mom on a trip to Rome, and while we strolled through the Vatican, she blurted out, "This stuff is all bullshit." I was both stunned and in awe. I waited for the thunderbolt to strike us down, but it never happened. My mom considers herself a "recovering Catholic." She believes in God but is still recovering from the associated mindfuckery.
Turns out, even "Fuck-You-Grandma" had a secret naughty side. When I was in grade school, my cousin Sito and I rummaged through her extensive book collection and found what some might consider the textbook for sex: the original 1972 version of The Joy of Sex. You know, the one where all the explicit pictures are hand-drawn sketches and everyone was so hairy it was like you had stumbled across a book called Where's Beaver? and, guess what, Beaver was everywhere. We'd turn on Scooby-Doo, and while I'd be making ramen noodles or grilled cheese, he'd sit at her legendary pink kitchen table and read it out loud like passages from the Bible. I'd sporadically glance over his shoulder to look at the dirty illustrations of the lady and her shaggy lover, described perfectly by one reviewer as "a werewolf with a hangover." Looking back, it's hilarious that this book, where every erection looked like it came from Chewbacca's personal dick pic collection, taught me half of the stuff I know about the birds and bees. From how to have sex on a motorcycle — while it's moving (cue Kim and Kanye, or the sexier version with Seth Rogen and James Franco) — to invaluable advice, such as, "Vibrators are no substitute for a penis" and "Never fool around sexually with vacuum cleaners." I will say that it's interesting that today I do have a thing for guys with long hair and/or beards. Is it possible that the Neanderthal humping his way through The Joy of Sex was the original mold for all future men who tickled my loins? Hmm ...
"Well, I just like a good ol' fuck. I mean that's my favorite word. I mean ... that sounded awful!
— Simon Pegg
I also got some of my sex education from my Uncle Kevin. Wait, that came out wrong. But he would appreciate the joke because Uncle Kevin has a really fucked-up sense of humor. Actually, it was more Aunt Barbie with an assist from Uncle Kevin. We used to have family movie nights at my aunt's house when I was pretty young. She had HBO and nobody else did yet, or no one had figured out how to steal it. Back then, in between the wall-to-wall airings of Eddie and the Cruisers and Grease 2, HBO would throw on what I like to call "classics with a cock- shot." Movies that were there to titillate, but had enough going for them to be called cinematic art instead of soft- core porn, like American Gigolo or Two Moon Junction. Apparently, not much has changed in the last thirty years in HBO's programming model. Anyway, when the movies would get a little dicey, my uncle Kevin would try to save me from being exiled to another room by my mother. "It's fine," he'd say. "Connie, let her watch." I was always getting kicked out just when the movies would start getting good. Like the time they booted me during the movie Against All Odds because Jeff Bridges and Rachel Ward were having some seriously sweaty sex in Mexico. "Okay, punkin' pot, time for bed!" my dad said abruptly as their tan naked bodies writhed on the beach. But, eventually, I wore them down with a three-pronged, foolproof strategy:
1. Pretending to have fallen asleep in front of the TV.
2. My perpetual need for glasses of water after being sent to bed.
3. My insatiable need for yet another bedtime story.
They were putty in my hands. Eventually, it just got easier to let me stay and watch. As a result, I also got to watch a lot of "age-inappropriate" TV shows, including legendary and lecherous British comedian Benny Hill. Hill was sexist, disgusting, and vile; a dirty old man chasing scantily clad women around, trying to grab their boobs and bums. I had no business watching it then, and there's no way it would get past the PC-police today. At the time I hated Benny Hill, but funnily enough, I basically grew up to be a dirty old man. A dirty old man trapped inside a Barbie doll body.
On the outside, I've always looked sweet and innocent. The truth is that it's an elaborate disguise I wear. At heart I'm a wannabe Goth girl, a little dark and a lot of weird. But it doesn't come from a place of angst. I'm not pissed off at the world, I'm not on some half-assed pseudo-existential mind trip, I'm actually a happy person. I think it's just part of my DNA. I'm a lot like my crazy great-aunt, Betty. She had super pale skin, like me, long pointy fingernails and jet-black dyed hair. She looked like actress Yvonne De Carlo. I always wanted to dye my hair black, but my mom wouldn't let me. Aunt Betty was bawdy and liked to drink and swear. Sound familiar?
It wasn't just genes; there were environmental factors that helped create my weirdness. My mom collected medieval things like unicorns, but they weren't the sissy My Pretty Pony kind and no, this has nothing to do with the swingers' community ... get your head out of the gutter. She was into some dark shit, like medieval beasties. Now, before you start comparing my mom with your neighbor who has a Hello Kitty gnome collection, please keep in mind that unicorns are mystical creatures and the national animal of Scotland. This is some serious fucking shit. She also collected ancient leather-bound books about dragons and graveyard headstone etchings. She was Game of Thrones chic before Game of Thrones! There was always a cornucopia of intriguing curiosities around our house. Thanks to my mom's influence, I, myself, have a collection of gargoyles.
My mom also delighted in reading me the most twisted Grimms' fairy tales, which I loved, and teaching me to sing along to songs like "The Hearse Song." You know how it goes, "The worms crawl in, the worms crawl out ..." We'd have so much fun together. Funnily enough, the only time I ever got creeped out was the one time she left me home alone for twenty minutes while she went to the store and put Chitty Chitty Bang Bang on the TV. That's right, the kid's film. Don't ask me to explain why or how but for some reason the Child Catcher scared the ever-living shit out of me. Saying he could "smell the children," with his big nose, top hat, and greasy black hair. (Which, by the way, I would find attractive now.) I ran around the house in sheer terror, closing every curtain, locking every window, and hiding in a closet until my mom came home. In a strange way, there really is nothing like a children's fairy tale to really fuck you up. Even thinking about that fucker's face now I still get the ickies in my creep-out parts. I recently forced myself to watch Shitty Chitty utilizing the Ludovico Technique from Stanley Kubrick's classic film A Clockwork Orange, with the fucking specula and everything, and it still freaked me out.
That's the only movie that's ever really scared me. And here's why. Good old Uncle Kevin got me hooked on horror with one little white lie that I've now adopted as an absolute truth: that I was named after the Stephen King book/movie Carrie. In addition to pervy comedy shows, he used to let me watch classic scary movies, like Friday the 13th, Halloween, Night of the Living Dead, and The Exorcist, which has my all-time favorite line from the infamous head-spinning scene: "Did you see what she did? Your cunting daughter!" In the original Friday the 13th, there was a scene where the killer drives an arrow right through Kevin Bacon's throat. Instead of covering my eyes, Uncle Kevin slowed the video down, rewound it back and forth, over and over again, and explained to me how they did it in intricate detail. When we were done, that VHS tape had the wear and tear of a teenager's porn collection. His crash course on the intricacies of horror special effects was so profoundly impactful on my personal growth, it was as if I'd just read a treatise on The Ascent of Man. From then on I was obsessed with gore, and to this day, I just really get off on blood. The more disgusting, the better. One of my all-time favorite movies is that old sexy classic The Human Centipede, in which a German doctor surgically connects three kidnapped tourists ass-to-mouth. Need I say more? (Continues...)
Excerpted from Everybody Curses, I Swear by Carrie Keagan, Dibs Baer. Copyright © 2016 Carrie Keagan. Excerpted by permission of St. Martins Press.
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