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Saturday, September 14, 2013

The F Word

Even though it happened over fifty years ago, I remember exactly where I was standing the first time I heard the F Word. I did not know what it meant (because I had never heard it), but I knew it was something terrible.  At least that is how I viewed it then. Today my opinion about the F Word depends upon who says it, when it is uttered or written - how and by whom, in what context, whether it is public or private, kind or profane. I now consider it to be a noun, a verb, an adjective, and adverb, a sex act, a detestable act, a thing to abhor or maybe some one or something to adore. It is complicated. 
 I was standing somewhere near third base at Randall Park which was the auxiliary playground for the Mountain View Elementary School in Wheat Ridge, Colorado. I don't remember if I was on third base or if I was the third baseman. We were playing softball during afternoon recess. I was twelve years old and in the sixth grade - the year was 1959.  A boy classmate said the F Word loud and clear. I remember some other kids gasped. (They must have heard the word before and must have known what it meant - why else would they gasp?) That is why I knew the word was wrong.  I grew up hearing bad words in my house because my parents fought a lot. They called each other such horrible things. But they never used that word.

I think I used the dictionary to look up the F Word. I am pretty sure because I would not have asked anybody. I couldn't ask my parents because I couldn't swear. I couldn't ask my friends for the same reason, and, besides, I would look like a nerd not knowing what the word meant.

Let me add this - I don't remember my friends or classmates using profanity of any type at any time in school or any place else other than that afternoon. It just was not a part of my life in the late 1950s. Even on the two over-night camping trips I took in Boy Scouts, the other guys just did not swear. Things changed when I entered junior high school.  I think it was in the eight grade other boys started cussing.  Then they started to discuss their sexual exploits with girls. By my sophomore year almost every high school lunch conversation included some guy bragging about his recent conquest. I never believed any of them. That is until my senior year when Jim T. got his girlfriend pregnant. We were in band together. He wasn't the type of guy that would have talked about having sex. I was dumbfounded when I found out he was going to be a father. I didn't even think he knew anymore about sex than I did. I was wrong. At least he knew enough to get his girlfriend pregnant. They got married. She did not return to school. As far as I know she did not graduate which was an anomaly for my school. I think my class had the highest percentage of graduates in the State of Colorado that went on to college in 1965.

On Christmas Day in 1959 I got the most horrible gift twelve year old nerd could get - the talk from my dad.  We had gone out to a restaurant for dinner on Christmas Eve. My big brother and his wife of less than one month happened to be in the same restaurant. She had a very visible baby bump. My mother was really upset and told my dad that pregnancy explained why my sister in law could not fit into her bridal gown.  And so on Christmas day my dad took me aside, shut the door, and tried to explain the facts of life. He was probably more nervous than I was. I won't bore you with the details because you already know how pregnancies occur.  My being a total nerd and his being an awful teacher made the life lesson totally horrible. I remember leaving the bedroom and going back into the living room with the look like I had done something wrong. How F'd is that?

 About a year later was the very first time I heard the word "faggot".  This time I was playing touch football with some neighbor guys. I probably played touch football all of five times in my life. A boy much larger and older than I was called me a faggot.  I don't know why he said it.  Just like the day I first heard the other F Word, I knew the word he called me was something horrible. As soon as I got home I got out the dictionary to find out what kind of a horrible thing this kid thought I was.  I did not believe what I read.

The only other reference I recall in my life was when my mother would be watching Liberace on television. Every time she saw him she would say with such honest "Isn't he pretty!" The few times my dad saw Liberace, he would call call him a "Sissy!".  He said the word with disdain. He was repulsed by the guy. I did not know what queers, faggots, homosexuals, or sissies did, but I did know that I was not one of them.

During the second half of my freshman year in college I made friends with a boy named David. He was a bad influence on me because he swore which caused me to start to swear. He had a girlfriend with whom he really had sex.  He was the kind of guy who kissed (and whatever else) and told. When he wasn't with her, we hung out together and wrestled a lot - almost every day.  My roommate, Louis, picked up on the wrestling and the way I talked about David. He said "You sound like you love him".  I did not have to look that up in the dictionary.  David and I were supposed to room together our sophomore year. Instead, he enlisted in the Navy.  Oh, F!

Fast forward from 1966 to 2013.  I swear a lot more than I should. I even sometimes let the F Word out of my mouth when talking to customers.  I go "Oops!" and hope I am forgiven.

The F Word has become socially acceptable in a lot our culture. Kids in elementary schools swear like sailors. Well, some do. Those that don't do not have to use a dictionary to understand the meaning, because the F Word is said by so many people all day and in all places. It is said at school, after school, on playing fields and locker rooms. It is said by boys and girls, men and women, by pimps and by Presidents.

We hear the F Word in movies and in many television shows. If you watch BRAVO or the Food Network, MTV, FOX, or Discovery Channel, you will hear the F Word in a lot of the shows. Yes, Food Network. Chef's swear. Even women chefs.  I'm no prig, but sometimes I get offended by these people who cannot control themselves. The networks bleep the F word out, but you still know exactly what was said and meant. But at least with television, I can decide not to watch a particular show or network if my sense of propriety gets too rattled.
I am no prude.  I'm a liberal Democrat. I believe in free speech and living your life the way you want.  I don't believe in a lot of government control over any part of any person's life or property. My blog is about Key West real estate, not about politics or popular culture, or gayness.  So why I am writing today's blog about the F Word?, you ask. Partially because the F Word is posted in storefront windows up and down Duval Street in Key West.  The F word has become so acceptable that merchants freely display it.  The word that made me gasp as a twelve year old is now visible to any child or adult who can read as he or she walks on Duval Street. But that is not entirely why I write.

A few weeks ago I reported on the (temporary-maybe) closing of Banana Republic.  I feared the worst but others say it will reopen. I have had several buyers ask me about all of the closed shops on Duval.  A couple of weeks ago I drove up and down the street a couple of times taking in all of the closed spaces.  It is scary. I know some are being prepped for new tenants, but there are still a lot of empty stores that are just reminders that things are not good here.

Key West is where I live. I moved here by choice. I love this place. But I hate to walk on Duval Street.  Each time I do I feel assaulted and insulted. Loud music blares from bars and drunks walk the streets with go-cups in hand. Cops do not enforce our open container law - at least not as to tourists. They certainly do not enforce the noise ordinance. Several months ago I went to the Waterfront Playhouse to watch a play. When I was walking back to my car, a young female hooker approached me and asked if I wanted to party. WTF?

I tell potential buyers that the streets of Key West are safe, but warn them that if they are going to get into trouble, it will probably be inside or outside one of the bars on lower Duval.  The entire area is a blight.

Key West has become a safe haven for the homeless.  Many head to the beaches to set up camp early each morning.  They hog picnic tables and spaces built for tourists and locals. The new children's park at Higg's Beach is enclosed with fence and gate that warns only adults who accompany a child are permitted entry. This is to keep pedophiles and bums out.

The homeless get free medical care at our hospital and taxpayers foot the bill. This makes me more angry than just about anything.   

This is not the Key West I fell in love with on my first visit, and it is not the Key West that I moved to in 1993.  There is another variation on the F Word that has come to symbolize what is happening to Key West: Failure.


Anonymous said...

Well said, Gary.

Anonymous said...

Yes. Brilliant and so sad to hear.

Anonymous said...

Agree with you Gary. I was taught that your freedom to swing your fist ends where my nose begins. You have lots of freedoms, as long as you don't in fringe on others.

What does that have to do with Key West? I stay in KW every winter for 1-2 months, I can't get over the noise on the streets from the big motorcycles, and scooters without mufflers. If I walked down the street with a boombox that was as loud, I would get a ticket/arrested. Why do these motorcycles get a pass? It's particularly an issue in Old Town, and on White Street and Truman (the main routes to/from lower Duval bars)

Key West such a great place to live, despite these issues. But when you write how nice it is to live in Casa Marina neighborhood -- I could not agree more.

Anonymous said...

I would not call KW a failure not even remotely. But your points about some of its negative aspects are well taken. Not sure how to fix lower Duval (area north of Southard). But we still love many if not most of the establishments in the other areas of Duval (La te Da for example). We walk along Whitehead when leaving the Waterfront Theater (a super gem) to avoid the straight drunks on lower Duval (sorry straight folks but it is true - the gays and others who party on upper Duval are much more sophisticated and well behaved). Promoting our wonderful theater and arts scene might help bring in more vistiors who love and respect KW. And lets try to bring in more gays and their friends and families. The gays saved this town once so perhaps . . . .

Anonymous said...


Oh my gosh---my girlfriend and I were just talking yesterday how frequently the "F" word is used and how much we hate it! This is a great post; they all are!!! The first time I heard the "F" word used was in second grade. I had no idea what it meant but do remember saying it at home and promptly getting a slap across the face!

My first job after graduating from college in 1982 was in Key West and while I didn't love my job I fell in love with the island and met and fell in love with a wonderful man. I left KW after a year, moved to California ( and married that wonderful man), and then we moved to Idaho and Ohio. However, we always kept KW in our hearts. My husband and I would return for a visit every five years. Fast forward to 2009 and we returned to the island for a 10 day vacation-
looked at real estate in a price range we felt we could afford (and for fun)-and ended up buying a place!!! Yes, we still love KW but at times lament that it is not the place it once was. (I remember gasping the first time I saw that a restaurant chain (Fridays) had come to the island and a Disney Cruise ship in port at sunset sometime in the 90's).

We spend 4-6 months a year in KW so I do not feel I can be as vocal about Key West politics/changes/etc. as the Conchs and long-timers (such as you) are. Often I wonder how they feel about all the changes. We read the KW Citizen daily and try to keep current with KW events. We can only wait and see what the future will bring.

As for the tacky T-shirt shops with the vulgar shirts; ICK!!! I am embarrassed when guests come to town and we walk along Duval.

At any rate, keep up the GREAT work. Your blog is very well done.

Anonymous said...

Very well said Gary. Vulgar is the appropriate word, and it seems to be getting worse, not only in KW, but wherever you travel. Product of the times, idk, but when i hear and see such words used soo loosely and freely, I can only shake my head.

PS: you seem more like a libertarian than a liberal democrat.

Gary Thomas said...

Sunday update: The lead story in today's KW Citizen says our local hospital "gave treatment...about $14 million was primary care to homeless men and women". This means our hospital has to over-charge insurance companies and Mediacare/Medicade to recoup the loss. It charges non-insureds with money more than the service/care would cost up north. That in turn makes the cost of providing insurance to local employees more expensive because the cost must be offset by real money.

The mayor now wants to create a 24 hour a day comprehensive shelter for the homeless on Stock Island.

The mayor spoke to the KW Association of Realtors a few months ago and boasted about raising city revenue by increasing parking meter rates.

Anonymous said...

I think the person who drew the editorial cartoon in today's edition of the Key West Citizen read your blog!

Anonymous said...

Ten years ago when I was living in Boston I volunteered at a soup kitchen there. In order to better understand our soup kitchen guests we conducted in depth guest interviews over a period of several weeks (those willing to be interviewed). I was astonished by what we learned. While many of our guests were the working poor who had homes in the nearby community, most of our guests were truly homeless who did not work and appeared to be suffering from mental illness. We also found that most of the homeless who were mentally ill were also vietnam veterans. Not sure what the solution is but I wanted to point out that the homeless problem is much more complicated than it appears at the surface. Most homelessness is the result of mental illness and many many who are mentally ill and homeless are also our veterans. It is national problem that should have national solutions but unfortunately communities like Key West are forced to grapple with the problem on their own.

Anonymous said...

I don't necessarily get the connection between you being a liberal democrat and your acknowledging that you are upset about homeless people getting free medical care. The democrats pushed for the Affordable Care Act... perhaps more people should be informed about what they vote for. I like your blog and info on real estate -- you seem well informed about that.

Anonymous said...

I do not mean to put words in your mouth Gary but I think you are upset that KW is being forced to pay for the health care of its homeless. To that concern the Affordable Care Act might be the answer - if Florida implements it as it was intended. Under the Affordable Care Act, once fully implemented, the homeless will be eligible for health care paid for by expanded medicaid. So instead of the local community of Key West being forced to pay for the health care of homeless who are drawn to KW by the weather it would be paid for by federal tax dollars - shared equally by the entire country. A national solution for a national problem as suggested by a previous anonymous. Gary being a liberal dem makes perfect sense to me.

Anonymous said...

Gary, this blog explains exactly why we left Key West. Living there was nothing like we had expected or had experienced while being there on vacation. Yes, I know living anywhere is very different than visiting. However, we noticed in just the year we lived local businesses closing and Duval Street becoming more and more trashy. I avoided it like the plague except for the Southernmost area where at least I felt safe and could go to a few places I enjoyed. With the major roadwork and closures, our street became a major thoroughfare with loud traffic at at all hours. It was not peaceful living to say the least. More and more locals I spoke with said it was time to leave. Key West seems now to be turned over to cheap tasteless low budget cruise ship passengers with a penchant for tacky t-shirts. I am glad we left when we did.

Anonymous said...

Love your blog Gary. Love Key West too. It is sad to see what is happening. I avoid Duval street, cross it quickly to get to the other side. Maybe containment in a Stock Island shelter would be better. Homeless would not go though. Also, containment of tourists on the cruise boats would be a good idea. Maybe Stock Island for them too. I talked friends into coming down for the Key West Literary seminar. Now I regret it, it is so tacky.
The conference is great, but not the junky shops and drunks and low end tourists.

Gary Thomas said...

"Also, containment of tourists on the cruise boats would be a good idea. Maybe Stock Island for them too."

Let's run that one by the Chamber!


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Gary Thomas in a Nutshell

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Key West, Florida, United States
I first read about Key West in a magazine called "After Dark" sometime in the mid 1970's. But it wasn't until March 1984 that I made my first visit to the island that would become my home. I had two weeks for a vacation and reserved a room at Colours Guesthouse (now Marrero's Guest House) for one week. I thought that if I didn't like Key West, I could always go back to Miami or Ft. Lauderdale for the rest of my trip. But after a couple of days in Key West, that was no longer a consideration. But when I wanted to extend my stay for the extra week I found there was no room at the inn. The guesthouse owner did find me a room at LaTeDa, the infamous guesthouse/restaurant. That's a story I'll write another day. But those two weeks in Key West gave me the realization that I had found Paradise. Key West has been my home since 1993 and my only regret is that it took me so long to get here. I am a full time Realtor at Preferred Properties CRI. Let me help you find your new home or business in Paradise. Living in Paradise is not a slogan, it's a way of life.