Most kids start cussing in elementary school. In the fifth grade, I was reluctant but under pressure from two friends (one of which was a girl), I uttered my first cuss word and worked steadily on my technique throughout college.
After about 12 years, I could do it with such panache that it didn’t seem the least bit vulgar and would even make others laugh. My first job out of college I started working as an installer in the systems integration business. Technicians in the AV/TV/Film industry lean a little blue collar which meant that I fit it just fine and my occasional cuss word did too. After about 10 months I decided to move into account management which meant I had to give up the habit because with a sales job I needed to adapt my style of communication to meet expectations. Another aspect of sales is that it’s extremely time consuming. On top of my regular responsibilities, I was required to plan and host product demonstration seminars. I wasn’t really opposed to that in general but the problem was that they didn’t generate sales. My income was 100% commission based so current business always took precedent meaning that I would be working on the marketing up till the night before the event. Since I was always getting side tracked by paying clients and because my boss was so cheap, I never had time or money enough to be fully prepped for the show.
One of my coworkers who helped with show execution was a friend who goes by the handle “Toast”, a musician who used tin foil to burn images into bread…AKA: “Toast Art”. He was also a funny Italian guy who worked as a technician for the company. As a techie, it’s no surprise that my friend was also an artist with dirty words, just like all the other technicians that I knew. We lived and worked in Austin but our boss wanted to expand into San Antonio so I setup my first event about a month in advance of the planned date. As usual, I ran out of time and had to scramble to finish prepping the demo project the night before. The plan was to record Toast performing on video and use that as demo footage. We were to record him at the shop, ingest the footage, setup the demo project, finish stickerizing literature, and send out the final email blast. So he shows up with his guitar wearing a white undershirt, unshaven, and looking a little disheveled (like any good artist should). While we’re setting up, I’m assuming that he’s going to change clothes at some point but instead he sits down with his guitar and starts to practice. I ask, “Uhhh did you bring a change of clothes for the shoot”? He say’s, “What shoot? I thought it was just audio.” So without any time to reschedule the shoot, much less the event, we go ahead and video tape an original toast song with wardrobe left as is. As we work, we’re joking around as usual, trying to keep it light and Toast drops a word that I had never heard from anyone other than him. He’s a funny guy and true to Austin form, weird (idiosyncratic). Going off of context clues and my understanding of the word’s creator, I assumed its meaning was benign.
The next day, having finished as much prep work as humanly possible, Me, Toast and another tech load up all the gear into the company van and head south on IH35 to get setup for the show. After we’re all done and the guests finish rolling in, I notice that the turnout is twice what we’re used to in Austin. We have 80 or more attendees and I’m feeling good about the presentation. I had done lots of them in college and learned that the key to success was being completely natural rather than memorizing a script. So as I start my presentation, I rely on my natural vernacular (a perfect example of why it’s important to develop a professional vocabulary in one’s personal life if you work in sales) which carried some influence from my technician friends due to our many hours spent together just the night before. I was a little reticent using the footage of a messy looking guy in a tank top t-shirt, but I was feeling good about my pitch and proved adept with the material as I ran the demo (surely the audience would overlook one slightly awkward part of an otherwise brilliant experience). As I find my rhythm, the “Toast-ism” from the night before naturally finds it’s way into the conversation. Everything’s going better than average and I’m delivering a killer presentation! The thing that struck me as weird was that usually during these events, people raise their hands, or interrupt at regular intervals to ask questions. But, this room is dead silent. I mean, throughout the entire presentation, if I’m not talking, it’s crickets. As I scan the crowd, I don’t find many people making eye contact. The woman front & center is leaned back like a theatre patron sitting too close to the screen with her eyes slightly bugged out of her head, arms stiff, as she glances around furtively to get a peek at the people around her. I’m more than a little nonplused because I’m in rare form. I can’t figure it out…”What’s up with these people?” I even stop a couple times to ask if there are any questions. By the end of the seminar, not one person has asked a single question; not even during the Q&A session at the end. I think, “Man, this IS weird. This town has no freaking pulse.”
Back in Austin the next day, it all starts to make sense. Apparently somebody had called the shop. My boss asks me about it and I’m like, “yea…so what”? He says, “Uhhh. I don’t think that word means what you think it means.” So, I do a little research. Come to find out, my new word IS pretty bad. Not only that but, the song our artist chose for his performance (I had been run so ragged with planning, that I hadn’t paid attention to the lyrics during the recording session) was his one and only murder ballad. So as I replay the previous days events in my head, Instead of a brilliant presentation, I see myself at a professional event wearing business attire regularly dropping a word that’s so taboo that it doesn’t even make it into the George Carlin bit, while I stand in front of a giant projection screen featuring a song that recounts the tale of a man killing his wife and hiding the body.
George Carlin was right when he observed, “We need a list. Why is there no list?!” Thanks and good night San Antonio…..I’ll be here all week.