Curses

written by Alexander Danner & Jeff Van Dreason (Greater Boston)
produced by Mischa Stanton

[[SFX: tape recorder starts]]

SALLY GRISSOM (SG): What do you want, Donnovan? Why do I feel like I’m in the fucking principal's office?

BILL DONOVAN (BD): I would like to attempt to have a serious conversation with you.

SG: Right, as opposed to our typical light and fluffy chit-­chats peppered with nothing but chuckle-fuckery–

BD: A serious conversation begins out of a place of respect for all participants, wouldn’t you agree? And a serious conversation means both participants take that mutual respect seriously.

SG: You respect me? Let me work. You were berating me about being behind like thirty minutes ago. I don’t have time for this. I ­­ don’t ­­ I don’t even have time to think of a clever pun about how little time I have right now.

BD: I’ll be brief. There have been some...­­ complaints about your...professionalism.

SG: My professionalism?

BD: Specifically, your choice of unprofessional vocabulary.

SG: We’ve gone over this, Donovan. You want me to take the most complex scientific breakthrough in the history of the very thing I’ve only just discovered how to manipulate and water it down into Time Travel for Dummies.

BD: That’s an entirely different issue. The fact is, your mouth produces two wildly different kinds of unlistenable jargon: it’s either PhD gibberish or filthy profanity.

SG: Holy shit, I am in the principal’s office. I invent time travel and you’re going to scold me for saying H­-E-­Double-­Hockey-­Stick?

BD: You say a lot worse than that and it’s become a distraction.

SG: To whom?!

BD: That’s classified.

SG: Oh, give me a fucking break. What is it with you soldier boys? You get your dicks hard storming beaches but hear a little colorful language and you look ready to lose your goddamn lunch.

BD: That’s exactly what I’m talking about. I don’t know what kind of gutter­mouthed future you come from, but here in 1945, we respect people. It’s all part of that serious conversation I told you about earlier. Respecting everyone involved and making sure they’re comfortable­­

SG: It was Barlowe, right?

BD: What?

SG: Who complained. It was Quentin Barlowe.

BD: The people who contacted me about this issue will remain classified– 

SG: People? So it’s more than one...

BD: I have received several complaints.

SG: But one of them was from Barlowe because I was just with him and I was frustrated and swearing like a hungover sailor and then he bounced and then the next thing I know I’m being hauled into Principal Donovan’s office by some crew­cut jackboot fuckin’ robot.

BD: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

SG: Wouldn’t it make you feel better if you said "I don’t know what the fuck you're talking about?"

BD: No.

SG: Have you ever even tried to fuck?! ...SAY fuck, Jesus Christ, I wish I could shove those words back into my mouth.

BD: You’re not the only one. And you are going to try to do that very thing. You’re going to try really hard not to be such a potty­mouth or there will be repercussions.

SG: [laughing]. Who says potty­mouth? Seriously.

BD: Sally...

SG: You’ve really never said fuck, have you?

BD: That’s none of your concern.

SG: Right. “Classified.” Got it. But actually that makes sense. You’re probably not the only one. Barely anyone has. Man, the past is so uptight.

BD: I need to know that we have an understanding.

SG: I tell you what. I will personally promise that you won’t receive any further complaints about my professionalism.

BD: So you’re going to keep your foul mouth in check?

SG: That’s classified.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Diary of Sally Grissom, August 18th, 1945. Here’s the weird thing. I don’t even think I swear that much. I do it when I stub my toe or lock my keys in my car or when I’m super stressed out because if I fuck up with the time machine my gory bisected torso is going to scare the shit out of a much younger me...

But after Donovan yelled at me, I had this thought: Swearing is great. Like when you really find the perfect combination of filthy curses, you feel like a fucking champion! That’s scientific fact. I may have found my true calling. I didn’t go back in time to win World War II or invent skateboarding or rock n’ roll. I’m here to teach an entire generation of people how to throw up their middle fingers and say “Get the fuck off my train!”

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

ANTHONY PARTRIDGE (AP): Swearing is good for you? Come on, Sally, that’s a bit rich.

SG: It’s 100% scientifically fucking proven. These researchers in the UK did this whole study, asked 140 students to stick their hands in consistently cooling water while monitoring their vital signs. Half of them could swear, The rest had to stay silent. The 70 who were allowed to swear experienced a hypoalgesic effect that disrupted the link between perception of pain and the feeling of pain. Swearing makes you hurt less.

AP: That’s malarkey.

SG: You’d feel a lot better if you could say “that’s bullshit,” but it’s not bullshit. Swearing makes you feel better psychologically because it’s an easy way to trick the brain into thinking you’re doing something rebellious and exciting when you're really just... making sounds with your mouth just like you always do.

AP: Exactly. It’s all just a string of syllables, which is all the more reason why there’s no need to use them.

SG: No, that’s all the more reason to use them, Partridge, keep up, goddamn it. Look at it this way. What’s the difference between the words “poop” and “shit?”

AP: One is a word people we don’t use in polite society.

SG: No, the answer is “basically nothing” aside from their components. They’re synonyms, they mean the exact same thing. But one is acceptable to say and one isn’t. One gets you in trouble, earns you disapproving looks in public, gets you written­ up or fired and the other just makes you sound like you’re a potty­-training toddler. The weird thing is, the potty­-training toddler word is the acceptable one for us grownups? Swearing, saying “shit” rather than “poop,” changes that. It fires up the amygdala–the emotional processing bit of your brain–triggers you to be on edge, allows you to express the paradoxical tension that comes with the powerful social taboo of not using certain coded words with our willingness to rebel against the establishment! In short, it gives you an insane rush to the head, all without facing any real kinds of consequences or danger.

AP: Didn’t you just say it could get us fired?

SG: We’re working on a time travel device for a top­-secret government agency and you’re worried they’re going to fire us for using naughty words? Fuck that noise.

AP: Noise? Sally, that’s not profane, it’s surreal.

SG: It’s an expression. You know, noise: interpreting specific oppressive conversation as indecipherable nonsense, AKA, bullshit. Come on, Partridge. Try it. Say ‘shit.’ See how you feel.

AP: Look, I can express my frustrations just fine. I have a large and complex vocabulary that allows me to express myself without recourse to vulgarity.

SG: Bullshit.

AP: What do you mean, bull.... nnnngh!

SG: Oh, so close.

AP: Why do you think I can’t express myself?

SG: You’re frustrated right now. So go ahead. Express your frustration.

AP: I–I’m very frustrated. I would very much like to go back to doing my actual job. But instead I’m stuck in a pointless and increasingly offensive conversation! You see? I expressed my feelings, entirely using socially acceptable vocabulary.

SG: But you *didn’t* really express anything. You *explained.* That’s not the same thing. The word “frustration” conveys a certain emotional data point, but it does so in a purely intellectual way. Saying “frustration” doesn’t express frustration any more than saying... oh, hell, let’s go with “adenocarcinoma.” Any more than saying the word “adenocarcinoma” expresses the experience of gruesomely wasting away from stomach cancer. It’s that same bullshit notion that thinking should supplant feeling. But being a scientist doesn’t mean you stop feeling things! It doesn’t mean emotions don’t get to you. It just means you feel very, very strongly about uncommonly esoteric topics. Science is a pursuit of passion. Discovery is a byproduct of passion. Knowledge is born of the love­­–yes, LOVE­­ of knowing. If you haven’t experienced that, then you’re in the wrong profession.

AP: Sally, this...you’re exhausting me. And we have so much to do.

SG: Look, I know Donovan is riding your ass to turn out results, but I personally guarantee this will make you feel better. [Pause] Stop sulking. I need your help with the others.

AP: The others?

SG: I’m going to teach them all how to swear like proper goddamn vulgarians.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: Sometimes I think the hardest part about being a time traveller working in the past is that I can’t even use the single most important word for people in our specific circumstances, pursuing our specific course of research to have in our lives: “Mindfuck.” It’s the only word that really describes what it feels like to have your entire way of looking at the world, your entire understanding of identity and causality, and and and...and everything! Just turned upside down and kicked out the window. Our daily routine involves actively dwelling on the causal complexities of temporal paradox... What else could you call that?

These people need this word. They just don’t realize it.

[[SFX: radio tuning]]

SG: So the more combinations of curses you string together, the more powerful your swearing will be and the better you’ll feel. It also helps to have something to focus on. For example, most people involuntarily swear after suffering a minor injury. I’m sure you’ve all experienced that before, right? Barlowe, what do you say when you have a painful accident like that?

QUENTIN BARLOWE (QB): Ouch?

SG: Yeah, okay, but wouldn’t you rather put some oomph into that ouch? ‘Fucking ouch.’ Try that?

AP: This is ridiculous and I won’t have any part of it.

SG: Oh. Oh my god. Excuse me. Oh my fucking god. You were one of the people who complained to Donovan, weren’t you?

AP: I don’t know what you’re talking about.

SG: Wow. I had no idea you were such a spineless pussy.

AP: Don’t say that.

SG: [laughing] Pussy? Partridge, you’re a pussy if you can’t even hear pussy, let alone say pussy. Just be glad I didn’t use the C-­word.

AP: C­-R-A-P?

ESTHER ROBERTS (ER): Oh, boy.

SG: We’ve got a lot of work to do.

ER: I’m not clear on how this is helping us do science.

SG: Because it’s improving your general mental stamina. It’s a method for exorcising the pent­-up frustrations that impede productive rational thought by fully expressing them in a neurochemically efficacious way.

ER: Okay, I can follow that.

AP: Really, Esther? Really?

ER: I’m a woman of science. I’m game for an experiment.

SG: Let’s start simpler. Quentin, how about a simple “goddamn it.” Try that.

QB: What am I asking god to damn?

SG: The... ouch. The booboo. The accident. I don’t know, what difference does it make?

AP: You’re torturing us, Sally. Do you understand that you’re torturing us?

QB: I just don’t see the point if it’s not directed at anything or anyone specific.

SG: You’re thinking about this a little too literally. You’re not actually commanding god to damn something.

QB: But it’ll be more effective if I think I am, right? If it makes you feel powerful because you’re transgressing, won’t it be more effective if the transgression is larger? If I’m not just taking God’s name in vain, but actively committing an act of hubris?

ER: He’s got you there, Sally.

SG: You know, let’s leave the blasphemy angle out of it for now. Maybe that’s just too much power for Barlowe.

QB: Am I still supposed to be cursing?

AP: No. // SG: Yes.

QB: Sh...shit?

SG: Okay! Shit! Yeah, we can work with that! A perfectly serviceable general purpose epithet. Stub your toe? Spill your coffee? Shit! Miscalculate your coefficient of friction? Double shit!

And that’s fine. Basic swearing for basic troubles. But what if you’ve broken your toe? That hurts a lot more than your basic declaration of “shit” can convey. But you can append it with modifiers to enhance its power! And there’s room for nuance, too. For instance, which would you rather be: a dipshit or a dumbshit?

AP: I’m sure nobody wants to be either.

QB: Uhh...if I had to be one, I guess I’d rather be...a dipshit?

SG: Very good! Why?

QB: Because it’s sort of..cute sounding, I guess? It sounds more innocent.

SG: That’s exactly right! It’s less harsh. A dipshit is someone sort of harmlessly useless. Whereas a dumbshit actively undermines more competent people through their foolishness.

ER: So, can we move this along to the advanced class?

SG: If you feel ready for it.

ER: Oh, I’m fucking ready.

QB/AP: [gasps!]

AP: Esther, I’m shocked!

ER: Why?

AP: You’re...not Sally.

SG: What is that supposed to mean?

AP: Nothing, just that Esther’s...you know?

QB: A proper lady.

AP: Exactly. Esther comports herself.

SG: Ouch.

AP: I’m sorry, Sally.

SG: You’re apologizing to the wrong person.

ER: You know he’s totally full of shit, though, right?

SG/AP: What?

ER: He’s full of shit. Partridge curses plenty. If he doesn’t realize I’m in the room? If he thinks he’s alone, or there’s just Jack, or Quentin, or Bill Donovan? He swears like anybody. Once you or I walk in, though, or at least once he realizes I’m standing there...

AP: Okay, I confess! I’ve said A words and S­-H words and B words and F words! I’ve said all the words! When I was thirteen, my mom made me suck on a bar of soap for an hour and a half *after* my father paddled my a...my behind to teach me a lesson. Can we drop this now? Can we move on?

SG: Okay, point to you. That time you actually expressed yourself.

AP: And without a single swear word.

SG: But we still haven’t addressed the issue of why no swear words. Because it obviously has nothing to do with the personal aversion you’ve been claiming this whole time.

AP: It’s consideration, Sally. Just basic, gentlemanly consideration.

QB: You know. For ladies.

SG: What conversation are we even having? I’ve been telling you this whole time that it’s fine to curse around us!

AP: Around you. But you’re...you.

ER: And I’m me.

AP: Right.

ER: Anthony, I swear all the fucking time. I just don’t swear around you. Because I know you’re too dainty to handle it.

AP: What is this, you’ve got some kind of secret second life where you go around spewing profanity?

ER: Well...

SG: Every woman has a secret second life.

AP: Not every woman!

ER: Oh, I know that look. The “not my wife” look. He’s thinking about how Helen tells him every little thought in her pretty little head, and would never let a dirty word pass her lips–

AP: She wouldn’t!

SG: Newsflash, Partridge. Helen can drop an F­-bomb like a pro.

AP: A...she can what?

SG: She says “fuck,” Partridge. I’ve heard your wife say “fuck.” Multiple times.

ER: So have I.

QB: Me too.

AP: ... Okay, fine... you swear, Esther swears, my wife swears, all the women swear! Welcome to the modern world. Aren’t we proud of ourselves?

SG: Empirically, I’d have to say “yes.”

ER: I’m honestly looking forward to this advanced lesson.

AP: [long sigh] Fine. Go ahead. Let’s have the advanced lesson. What’s it about?

SG: Well, it’s about “fuck,” of course.

AP: So, it all just comes down to sex then?

SG: What? No. It has nothing to do with sex. That’s not the the point of good vulgarity. It’s just about the aggressive viscerality of it. So, if I call someone a motherfucker...

AP/QB/ER: Whoa!

ER: That’s going a little too far.

SG: ...I’m not actually accusing them of incest. I’m just calling them an asshole in the extreme.

QB: Can’t I just call them an asshole?

SG: Are you kidding me? Did you hear that reaction when I said “motherfucker?”

QB/ER: WHOA! // AP: Come on, Sally!

SG: See the difference? And again, like with “shit,” you can pair “fuck” with all sorts of suffixes and prefixes. So when we want to go another step beyond dipshit and dumbshit, we can take it all the way to “dumbfuck,” to describe someone who is not only intellectually detrimental, but intellectually detrimental in an interpersonally noxious manner.

And there’s infinite suffixing possibilities from there! ­Fuckhead, fucknut, fuckwit, Fuck­up, fuckload, fuckton, fucktastic, fuckpuddle, fuckwind, fuckwad, fucksplosion, fuck­a­doodle­doo! Or, going the other direction, you can connect more than one vulgarity to create such evocative insults as dickshit, taint-goblin, assballs, or shitfucker!

QB: Taint-goblins? Are those...

SG: They don’t always have to make sense. The idea is just to shout something horrible rather than losing your shit.

QB: Wait, does that mean...

SG: IT MEANS HAVING A TANTRUM. Jesus Fuckpuddle, Barlowe, stop asking dumbfuck questions, okay?

QB: Yes ma’am. Sorry for. For being .. such a dumb...butt?

AP: Dumbass.

SG/ QB/ ER: [gasp]

AP: Yes, well you’ve pushed me into it. I’m at my limit and I simply can not take it anymore. You’ve insulted my manners, you’ve insulted common decency, you’ve insulted my wife, so I’ll insult your ears. You’re all behaving like ...like little shit-bastard kangaroos with double dumb asses and goddamn Jesus Christ dipstick-shits for heads up your butt... sticks.

ER: Butt­sticks?

AP: I hope you all go to hell and...and and and lick assfucks while sucking goddamn dumb shit ball wads.

SG: ...Jesus Christ, Partridge, no wonder you didn’t want to swear. You are really bad at this.

AP: Fuck you, Sally!

SG: Ah, there we go. That’s much better. Now how do you feel?

AP: How do I feel? How do I feel? [Pause]. I feel great, actually. I’ve ­­ I’ve wanted to say that to you since the moment I met you.

SG: Aww. Thanks, Partridge! Fuck you too.


ars PARADOXICA is created by Daniel Manning & Mischa Stanton.
Curses featured –

Kristen DiMercurio (Sally Grissom)
Katie Speed (Esther Roberts)
Robin Gabrie
lli (Anthony Partridge)
Rob Slotnick (Bill Donovan)
Lee Satterwhite (Quentin Barlowe)

Original music by Mischa Stanton and Eno Freedman-Brodmann.
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