Mark was my neighbor and good friend during my teenage years. We first became pals after we had a brief fistfight that was broken up by other kids in the neighborhood. Strange how often things like that happen – first enemies, then friends. Mark and I were as different as night and day though. He was tall; I was short. I didn’t know a single word of profanity; Mark knew them all. Mark liked food I considered disgusting. I loved football, and Mark was a baseball fanatic.
In the late 1970s, the video game Pong was still slightly popular. Mark had the game console hooked up to a television in the finished basement of his parents’ home. We played the extremely generic, by today’s standards, video game whenever inclement weather kept us indoors. We were very proficient Pong players and our matches became legendary. Well, at least neighborhood legendary.
On one particular bad weather day, Mark and I squared off for what I thought would be a normal session of Pong battle. Right from the beginning, I noticed something very odd about my opponent’s comments during the game. Normally, a profanity laced tirade followed any error in Mark’s game play, but today, he only said, “Grrr!” The first few times he used the new expression, I just ignored it, believing he was just being funny. Eventually, I noticed that this was not a passing abnormality in my friend’s vocabulary. Mark was sincerely trying to replace his usual form of negative Pong communications with a new and more parent friendly commentary.
“What’s up with the all the Grrrs?” I finally asked Mark.
“Mom said I need to stop cussing,” he replied. “She said a good Christian watches what comes out of his mouth.”
“So you’re going to say Grrr every time you get mad?”
“Yeah, you have a problem with that?”
“No, but it could get a little monotonous, that’s all?” I replied.
“Monotonous?” Mark queried.
“Repetitive, dull, or droning,” I answered.
“Why would anyone know that?”
“My mom made me study for a spelling bee last year. I got a whole lot of definitions stuck in my head now,” I answered, watching the Pong game go one more point in my favor.
“Grrr!” Mark growled. “Maybe if you stopped scoring on me, you wouldn’t find my Grrrs so monogamous.”
“Wrong word, Mark. Monogamous means you only have one sex partner.”
Mark dropped his game controller and gave me a look of disgust. Shaking his head from side to side, he said, “I wonder how bad I would have beat you up if everyone hadn’t saved your butt last year.”
“The way I remember it, I was landing two punches for every one you landed,” I replied.
“Yeah, well it took two of your punches to match one of mine, word guy!” Mark yelled.
Suddenly, and without any warning at all, the two of us were at it once again, wrestling and throwing punches as we crashed against the furniture all around us. Mark’s mother and father had to pull us apart. That took quite a while, as neither one of us wanted to stop pummeling the other.
As I made my way out of Mark’s house, I heard him yell, “You should stick to spelling bees, ‘cause there’s not always going to be someone to save you from a beat down, Mr. Dictionary!”
Being quite young and naïve, and having very little time to think of a good comeback, I made the mistake of a rushed response. “Yeah, well you have a grrreat day Grrr-boy!” I yelled as I shut the front door.
To this day, I still regret my decision to belittle Mark about his sincere efforts to curb his addiction to profanity. We made amends a few weeks after our round two of combat, but Mark went back to using language fit for a truck driver. Six months after that, I won first place in the state spelling bee.
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