With an unexpected slice of good weather sneaking in last week, my family and I elected to visit our fine city beach for an afternoon.
The water was cold and the level of the lake was high — narrowing the sandy portion of the beach considerably. Still, we were able soak up some sun and enjoy a wholesome good time. Until …
We had staked out a small spot and were tossing around a Frisbee with unnatural flair and dexterity. Suddenly, a war or words erupted around us. A woman with a little girl, maybe 4 or 5, on one side. An extended family with a child or two of similar age on the other.
I’m not sure of the history of the combatants, or who provoked who, but it went something like this:
“Yeah, you better keep walking you bleeping bleepity $%#!! skank!,” yelled one member of the family.
“%&!&!! you. I ain’t no bleeping bleepity $%#!! skank,” replied the woman, even louder. “She’s a bleeping bleepity $%#!! skank bleep!”
Is it OK for me to use the word skank in a family newspaper? Because, really, it was the most harmless part of the entire conversation, and I don’t want to replace every word with bleeps or punctuation marks.
“Go bleep yourself!”
“Bleep you, you bleepity, bleeping !#$?!!.”
“Listen to the mouth on that bleeping $#!&! What kind of bleeping mother talks like that in front of her bleeping #$!!# of a bleeping kid? Bleeping pitiful,” he said, patting junior gently on the head.
At which point I very nearly turned to the man and, in my best sophisticated British accent said: “Jolly good, old chap. I do appreciate the delightful irony in your bawdy repartee.”
Instead, I subtly shrugged my shoulders and continued tossing the Frisbee to my middle-school-age children. I’m not proud, but no matter what I did, they couldn’t unhear what had already been said.
“If I’m such a bad #$!@!! mother, how come only four people have complained about my bleeping kid, and 10 people have complained about your bleepity bleep?”
“Why don’t you come over here and my #$!@! wife will kick your bleeping skank (derriere)?” (*Note, the word derriere was not actually used.)
It seemed that a war was about to break out, and there wasn’t a lifeguard within shouting distance — not that some high-school kid trained in CPR and the backstroke would or should know how to deal with this situation.
Although the repeated blowing of an air horn to drown out their words might have been welcome.
“I’m pregnant but I’ll still come over there and bleeping kick her %?!#!! (posterior). I ain’t never backed down from any bleepity bleepity bleeping skank in my bleeping life. I’ll kick all y’all’s bleeping (keesters),” she screamed, gently stroking her daughter’s hair. The other woman flexed in anxious preparation.
Yes, I probably should have said … something. Or done something. But frankly, I was terrified that the guy’s wife, or small child for that matter, would eviscerate me without problem or regret.
Somehow, cooler heads prevailed before fists were thrown or anyone went into premature labor, but needless to say, our relaxing family afternoon had been somewhat modified.
We come from a quiet neighborhood, where none of this is the norm. I checked my children for damage. They’re considerably older than the kids of the combatants, but I guess they live a bit of a sheltered life. Heck, one sheepishly admitted that he didn’t even know the proper usage of the word skank. It’s a reggae-style dance, I told him.
Now, I’m not saying that the public beach should only be public for some of the city’s people. Still, I’d love for the family-friendly day trip to remain friendly for every family.
We’ve got a very long beach; is there any way we could separate it into sections? An R-rated section for those who want to say whatever they bleeping #!%&!! want. A PG-13 section for, say, teens and those in tasteful bikinis. A G section for small, impressionable children. Even an X-rated section if you want to go the topless route.
This idea, by the way, can easily be adapted into a post-apocalyptic young adult novel.
I don’t know what the best answer is, but right now my ears are still bleeding and I don’t want to go near the water.
Email Steve Ouellette:email@example.com