In case I needed a reminder that it’s not 1964 anymore, President Trump gave me one.
“Who the hell wants to speak about politics when I’m in front of the Boy Scouts? Right?” Trump said, as his audience at the National Scout Jamboree cheered. And then, like all politicians who say they don’t want to talk politics – he did just that.
What struck me was his use of the word “hell” as an interjection. No, I’m not naïve. Politicians, comedians, Joe Six Pack and others freely use that word and much worse.
But it did remind me of a time – 1964 – when the word caused a bit of an uproar at a Cub Scout meeting.
We were having some sort of scout meeting of several different troops – the Cub Scouts and Boy Scouts loved to dress up in uniforms and have meetings then – and probably now, too. This one was at what was then an open-air mall called Seminary South, in a community room in the basement. I was around 10 years old and I think I was a Cub Scout or was about to become a Boy Scout. The meeting had several scout troops gathering for an evening of good times and it may have involved a dinner for the parents. The community room at Seminary South had a stage and so one of the troops put on a skit or two.
None of them involved dragons, swords or explosions, I remember that. I immediately went home and wrote something that did. Who knows, I could have started writing Game of Thrones if I’d been more persistent.
One of the skits obviously hearkened back to vaudeville and it was pretty entertaining. A boy carrying a large plastic fish walks up to a door (I think we imagined the door as there was no scenery that I recall). The boy rings the doorbell – ring, ring. A man, played by one of the scoutmasters, answers the door and the boy slaps the man in the face with the fish, then runs off laughing.
Same scene, another ring of the bell. The man answers, the boy slaps him in the face with the fish, runs off laughing. This happens several times.
Finally the man tells his friend about the fish slapping and the friend hides in the imaginary bushes. When the boy rings the bell, the friend stops him. The man comes out and asks, “Why do you keep slapping me in the face with that fish?”
The boy turns to the audience and says, “Just for the halibut!”
Even though that joke must date back to those great comedians, the Romans, laughter ensued. The kid who rang the bell was good, I remember that. Better than his material.
But there was a little controversy. This was Texas 1964, just down the road from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and plenty of religious folk to the right of crazy. I know, I met all of them on my paper route. That’s another column.
While everyone laughed, there were more than a few twitters (the old-fashioned kind, not the ones Trump uses for government policy). Was it right to have a Cub Scout almost say the world “hell” in public, in front of ladies and small children, no less? The ladies of the church set their tongues to wagging. What, they asked, was this world coming to?
There were phone calls and, as I recall, an apology somewhere down the line. This was an era when I heard plenty of people tell my grandmother “Pardon my French,” after they’d said the word “damn,” in her presence.
That’s all changed of course. Lenny Bruce and Fort Worth’s own George Carlin saw to that. And that danged – Pardon my French – U.S. Supreme Court.
Now, fifty-some-odd years later, the president gets up in front of the Boy Scouts and uses “hell” like it’s just another word. Oh well. What the hell – and pardon my French.
Robert Francis is editor of the Fort Worth Business Press.