George Carlin’s “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television” (But You Can Say in English Class!)

A lot of you youngsters may not know about this, but comedian George Carlin debuted a brilliant routine about free speech and censorship in 1972.  It was called the “Seven Words You Can Never Say on Television,” and you can see what they are in the meme above.  Like a lot of people my age, I was inspired by Carlin’s on-point social commentary about a lot of issues, and I used him and my musical idol Frank Zappa as inspiration for a speech I gave to my college English classmates at ASU a decade later in 1985.  Carlin was arrested for delivering these words in a comedic routine to an audience in my hometown of Milwaukee (how embarrassing for Milwaukee, imho!), and the case actually made its way to the U. S. Supreme Court in 1978 where the court ruled against Carlin, and the uptight crowd embarrassed itself yet again!  The topic of my speech was freedom versus censorship, and what more relevant issue could I possibly come up with for a college Public Speaking class?!  (And you know how I feel about freedom!)

In 1985, the idea of censorship again caught the public eye when a group called the Parents Music Resource Committee (PMRC) reared its ugly head.  It was led by Tipper Gore (congressman at the time Al Gore’s wife), and they actually held congressional hearings about rating so-called “obscene” records similar to the way movies were (and still are!) rated today.  Heavy metal was big at the time, and the religious poser types in Congress hated all that “satanic” crap about sex, drugs, and “the Devil,” and they didn’t seem to like Prince too much either.  Of course, my musical idol Frank Zappa was front and center at the congressional hearings speaking out against such anti-freedom foolishness, and that put the issue of freedom versus censorship on my radar as a particularly relevant topic for a speech I was assigned to give in my Public Speaking class at Arizona State.

One of the things you were graded on was your ability to come up with an attention-getting opening for your speech, and boy did I have the perfect one in mind—Hahahaha!!!  I must confess that I considered several possible openings before deciding on the one I really wanted to give.  On the one hand, a more perfect opening than Carlin’s “seven dirty words” could not possibly be had since his routine and story were quite well known in 1985, and it perfectly illustrated the theme of my speech. But on the other hand I had to consider whether I would flunk the speech, fail the class or suffer some other disciplinary action if the teacher didn’t like it.  The English teacher was an older dude, but he appeared pretty socially liberal to me, so being the WTF kind of guy I was, I decided to go for it.  After all, they were only seven words, and if you listen to the entire George Carlin routine, he actually defends the idea of verbal freedom quite well and makes censorship of mere words look pretty absurd.  So I already had a defense prepared should things go south with the teacher; and I knew that I was taking a bit of a chance, but I think you know by know that I’m pretty much wired that way!

The day of my speech arrived, and I was starting to feel pretty nervous (not about public speaking like most people, but about doing something banned by the U. S. Supreme Court in a college classroom instead of in a nightclub or a theater!)  I had actually written an alternate “wussy” opening in case I lost my stones at the last minute, so I could wait until I got up on the podium to decide.  A few speakers were scheduled before me, and as you might expect in an undergrad Public Speaking class which was required for all English majors, most of the kids dreaded public speaking, had no experience doing it, and just wanted to get their 6-8 minutes over and done with!  Consequently, the few speeches preceding mine were boring as hell in terms of both topics chosen and the utter lack of passion or interest that went into writing and delivering them.  In fact, they were so lackluster that half the class wasn’t even listening to the speakers and were staring down at their desks reading or writing something unrelated (we didn’t have cell phones then–Hahaha!  In spite of the fact that the speakers were pretty boring, there was something almost rude about ignoring them, and this just didn’t sit right with me.

I was becoming increasingly annoyed and said to myself a few minutes before my speech that I sure as hell wasn’t going to be ignored like that!  Unlike the English majors taking the class because it was required, I was a Journalism major and took the class as an elective because I actually enjoyed public speaking and thought it would be an easy A. I was on the debate team in high school, had been onstage many times in bands, and I had written what I thought was a pretty good speech on a topic I was quite passionate about (freedom versus censorship), and there was no fucking way I was going to let my fellow students just ignore me.  I don’t even care whether anyone agrees or disagrees, or loves or hates what I’m saying, but if I’m standing up there talking, I’m damned sure doing my best to not waste your time and make you want to listen!  And that was really the assignment anyway—To write and deliver an interesting speech that grabs the audience’s attention and interest.  So with all those thoughts congealing in my head, I took the podium, gave myself a few seconds to become annoyed at being ignored by my classmates, and said without any introduction or explanation: “SHIT, PISS, FUCK, CUNT, COCKSUCKER, MOTHERFUCKER, AND TITS.”  And I said it loud so that I made sure even the people at the back of the room heard it. 

There were about 30 students (and the teacher) in the classroom, and the gentle buzz of whispered conversations and rustling papers immediately gave way to dead silence as everyone looked up at me in utter disbelief.  I can still remember it to this day–The open-mouthed looks on the other students’ faces silently screamed: “DID HE REALLY JUST SAY THAT IN ENGLISH CLASS?” After an appropriate pregnant pause, I think my next line was something like: “Now that I’ve got everyone’s attention I’m going to talk about the important issue of free speech versus censorship, and I’m pretty sure you know which side of the issue I stand on.”  I smiled and got a few laughs on that line, and I can say with absolute certainty that the entire class listened to my entire speech and even applauded at the end—Hahaha!!!  I also remember concluding my speech by pointing out that even if some of the audience were offended by some of my language, their discomfort was a very minor thing when compared to the importance of a free flow of ideas and discussion in a free society! I also made the point that a college classroom was an ideal venue for the free flow of ideas so that we could all learn as much as possible.

I must admit I was concerned about what the teacher thought, and he was cool enough that he was smiling a bit and at the end of the speech jokingly pointed out that I had certainly gotten everyone’s attention!  And since I know you’re all wondering, I did get an A on the speech and an A in the class.  As I said in another essay: “No Guts, No Glory!” Unfortunately, I’ve heard from some friends that have kids in college now that things aren’t quite so free anymore. My speech likely would have emotionally “triggered” someone and violated the “safe zone” policy of universities, and I’d be lucky if I weren’t thrown out of school.

So much for the free flow of ideas and all that “old-fashioned” stuff, but it makes me more than grateful that I grew up in the freer era that I did and that the English teacher had the mindset that freedom was a higher value than “emotional safety” or whatever they call the anti-freedom mindset these days. I’m old but I have heard that modern wussies are called “snowflakes” these days because mere words cause them to melt. Apparently they were never taught the “sticks and stones” rule by their parents when they were about 4 or 5 years old. I’m quite grateful for that early life lesson too because if you go around worrying about what other people think and say all the time, you end up living a life of fear rather than freedom. And the ultimate irony is that most people don’t really care all that much what you say or do anyway. Be free…

Learning about Sex and Love in the ’70s–Chapter 1

I guess this story really begins when we had a puzzle at home featuring Connie Kreski, Playboy magazine’s Miss January 1968.  I’m not sure how it ended up under the Christmas tree (it was a gift to my Dad from one of his friends, I’m guessing), but as a 6-year-old boy I loved puzzles, and one with an image of a “naked lady” was an extra special treat!  I saw it in the round can and I’m sure I didn’t know ahead of time that it was a beautiful topless Playboy centerfold, but as you will see below, things were pretty tame back in those days. 

A few days after Christmas I dumped it out onto the formal dining room table (where we did all our puzzles) and got to work.  About halfway through, I realized it was a “naked lady” puzzle, and I was wondering how my parents would react.  Not that this stopped me from continuing—I really wanted to see what a beautiful semi-nude woman looked like.  Just about then my Mom came in and saw me working away and was starting to scold me for taking out a puzzle that wasn’t mine.  My Dad overheard the conversation and stepped in to say that it was fine with him if I did his gift puzzle—I think he kind of gave my Mom a look as if to say: “Don’t worry—He’s supposed to like “naked ladies”—It’s perfectly normal!”  I think my Mom realized the truth of this sentiment, and after all this was the “sexually liberated” 1960s.  Of course, that was nothing compared to what kids see today in the age of the internet!

In that same vein, I rather suspect that both my Dad and my next door neighbor’s dad made it relatively easy for their sons to find the current issues of Playboy and Penthouse magazines that came out every month.  From ages 8-12 or so, my neighbor Chris and I would sneak peeks at the current issues in our Dads’ nightstands and get our first shot at a sexual education.  Although we technically grew up in the era of “sexual liberation,” our parents were a little too old to be fully invested in it.  But I think it did influence them to at least be open minded enough to expose their kids to nudity and sexuality without having to address the subject directly.  Hey—If Hugh Hefner and Bob Guccione could do the uncomfortable and potentially embarrassing work for them, why not take advantage of it! 

Besides the obvious idea of Dads of that era wanting their boys to grow up to become straight dudes who liked girls, there was also an interesting facet to Penthouse that was advantageous to women as well.  They had a column we read every month titled “Call Me Madam” by Xaviera Hollander, a Dutch call girl and madam who had written a book called “The Happy Hooker” before she was hired by Penthouse to write their column.  Xaviera’s column was great in several ways—First, it focused on the idea that men needed to know how to please women sexually.  Until that time, I’m guessing the prevailing attitude was that a woman’s satisfaction was irrelevant and sexuality was all about the man getting laid. 

Second, it was an advice column that taught men specific aspects and techniques about how to please women sexually.  Those of you that know me know I’m an avid reader who loves to learn, and I am eternally grateful to Xaviera for wiring my young mind correctly and teaching me enough “how to” stuff to at least get me started off on “the right foot” (so to speak—Hahaha!) once I became a teenage boy.  We didn’t have the internet in those days eons ago, and our parents weren’t going to teach us much about sex even if they knew it!  Who better than a hot Dutch woman who had sex for a living for decades?  Thanks so much, Xaviera!  (And the women in my life thank you too…) 

In addition to our fathers’ monthly stream of Playboy and Penthouse, we were fortunate enough to have a family of slightly crazy people who lived in a Victorian mansion in the woods about a half mile away from us.  They were part of the original farming family who owned the land and built our idyllic neighborhood one house at a time.  Aunt Sylvia was a complete wacko (think “crazy old spinster” right out of Central Casting) who lived with her parents at age 50, and she enjoyed having the neighborhood kids in to hang out, play pool, do whatever else, and basically roam their giant “Munsters Mansion” at will.  Well, one of the things Chris, Tom and I discovered while roaming the mansion was grandpa’s gigantic stash of Playboy, Penthouse, and a few other more extreme mags that he had virtually filled an entire cabinet with.  Unlike our fathers who read and tossed the current issues, (and I will admit to finding a few in the trash and hiding them under my bed–Wink!) Gramps (or maybe even Aunt Sylvia—It’s not like we asked whose mags they were, and in hindsight Aunt Sylvia may have liked girls) saved everything, so we had a virtual sex “library” at our disposal anytime we were there.  I do remember Gramps catching and scolding us once, but we all agreed not to tell our parents and the library stayed open—Woohoo!!!

Thanks Dads, thanks Aunt Sylvia, and thanks Gramps for giving the young boys the knowledge to keep their future women as happy as possible!

Do You Have the Term Paper Blues? My First “Career”

I think everyone has the “term paper blues” at some point! I can’t take credit for the phrase in my ad though. I stole it from that mail-order term paper place that used to advertise in Rolling Stone and other music mags back in the 1980s.

I graduated from ASU in August of 1987, and after working full time during my last two years of college, I decided I deserved a short break. I had money in the bank and rent in 1987 was only $275/month for a decent one-bedroom apartment in Tempe! I had earned a degree with honors in journalism with a marketing minor, but there were really no decent jobs to be had back then. An entry level journalism job paid about $12K/year, and the only business careers available to me were commission sales type gigs that would require me to get a haircut and wear a suit and tie. Pardon my French, but fuck that shit!

College had taught me one valuable skill though, and that was how to research and write “A” papers. I actually learned this skill at Marquette High School in Milwaukee (it was identical to Brophy here in Phoenix), so just for the hell of it I decided to post the ad as an editor/tutor on the old-school kiosks at ASU in 1989 or so. I figured I could show other kids how it was done, and It’s not like I needed to earn a fortune to make a $275 rent payment!

Things were kind of hit and miss for the first year or so until I met a student named Niki. At this point I need to be very clear about one thing–I was NOT writing students’ papers for them at this point. I was strictly helping/tutoring/editing, etc. as my ad promised. That all changed when I met Niki at the Hayden Library one Saturday afternoon. Niki had a five-page English 101 paper to write, and it required sources, etc. as you would expect. It quickly became clear that Niki had never written anything like this before, so we spent about 3-4 hours in the library starting from square one on what was really a pretty standard project.

After the research was done, I handed Niki the stack of photocopies (yeah–I know I’m old–Don’t rub it in!) and told her to follow up with me in a week or two when she had her rough draft completed. She asked me what she owed me for that day and I think I told her $40 or $50. She then asked what she thought my editing phase of the project would cost, and I told her about the same, but that it really depended on how good her rough draft was. She could definitely save some money by working hard on it (I had already given her a rough outline) and leaving me less editing work to do. Without batting an eyelash, she segued right into the question that changed my life for the next 10 years and probably beyond. “You seem like you know what you’re doing. How much will it cost if you just write it for me?”

I know a lot of you won’t believe me, but I was honestly taken quite aback by the question. What I didn’t realize was that Niki (and a lot of her friends I soon found out!) were a bunch of rich East Coast kids who came to ASU for sunshine and fun, not a serious education. I ruminated for a minute as I did my mental calculations and figured out that it would probably be more work for me to edit whatever she came up with than to just do it right the first time! I think I told her an additional $75 or so for me to write it, and although I didn’t know it at the time, it was off to the races!

After a couple more of these deals with Niki (and she got A’s on all the papers of course!), I got a call from her roommate wanting me to start writing her papers. Of course I agreed, and it turned out that Niki’s roommate was the president of a sorority of rich Jewish and Italian kids from the East Coast, and (get this) her boyfriend was the president of the fraternity of the same crowd! Within 6 months I became “the term paper guru” to a slew of rich kids and was working nonstop at my desk for the next 10 years. I don’t think I put up an ad again. And by the way, I did almost none of this sober. I would usually do my research during the day and then chill out at my WORD PROCESSOR (hahaha!) smoking a bowl and swilling a few beers. Hey-most of that shit was pretty damned boring to do sober!

At the end of my unexpected career I probably wrote about 700-800 papers, earned 15 college degrees worth of “knowledge” (and I use the term loosely!) and I even wrote two master’s theses (no nothing in medicine or engineering for you judgmental worriers out there!) in marketing and music. My average was in the 93-95 range, so I had a lot of happy customers, I made good money, and I didn’t have to have a “boss” or a “day job.” My “cubicle” was my own desk in my own house, and it wasn’t very far to the refrigerator in the kitchen. Who wouldn’t be grateful for those 10 years of great luck-I was well paid to stay in college, and I actually did do exactly what college trained me to–Hahahaha!

My Talk Radio Interview About My Term Paper Biz. The interviewer is my best friend Kevin so he didn’t use my last name!

An very old photo of most of my 10-year output.
A lot of boring-ass topics in there…

How I Learned Honesty from My Mom

I’ll let you guess which one of these things taught me honesty.
But all of the rest happened much more often!

To hear people talk now about corporal punishment (commonly known as “spanking” in the days of yore) as akin to “child abuse” makes my blood boil. I’m actually very grateful to my Mom for teaching me honesty at the point of a leather belt. (Well, it wasn’t exactly a “point”–she kind of folded it in half and slapped away on my “tighty whitey” clad ass!) To be very clear, my parents were quite reasonable in terms of discipline–Typical forms included a disapproving look, a few choice words, or a minor punishment like no TV for a few days or being banished to one’s room in the pre-digital era (gasp!) I vastly preferred the bedroom banishment because I was an avid reader with a small library in my bedroom. Some punishment indeed!

That said, the one thing my Mom wouldn’t tolerate was being lied to by her kids. When asked if I were guilty of some household rule infraction, I tried to BS my way out of it maybe a dozen times or so between ages 3-8. Hey, what the hell–It was worth a try, right? In fairness to my Mom, she typically gave me at least two opportunities to come clean before Dad’s belt came out. The first time the question was asked with a raised eyebrow or something similar; the second time my Mom added some attitude, and by the third time, she was pissed and the belt came down on me.

As I was getting my belting, my Mom’s anger at my dishonesty was expressed quite verbally as well, and the general theme was that a mother and her children HAD TO BE ABLE TO TRUST ONE ANOTHER 100%, and that there was absolutely no margin for error on that important point. As I said, it took me no more than a dozen times over a few years to learn this lesson, and I take it to heart to this day. It is essential to be honest with family, friends, lovers, business associates, ad infinitum so that they will trust you. (I might make an exception for the police–Hahaha!) And the trust I have earned from this early lesson in honesty has been invaluable in helping live an awesome life for which I’m eternally grateful. Thanks, Mom!!

But as I got older I drew definite distinctions between what information was someone else’s business (including my parents’) versus what was strictly my business. You can read my essay on “How I Became a Libertarian at Age 4” for more on this point. And as you will see in some of my other stories to come, I definitely did not consider the mythical age of 18 to be “adulthood.” My definition of adulthood began around age 14 when I declared my independence from a lot of the social restrictions the adults wanted placed on us while they indulged in similar behaviors with wild abandon–Hahahaha! Freedom and honesty were always equally important values to me, and both have served me well in life.

How I Became a Libertarian at Age 4

Back in the 1960s, it was pretty much a parental decision in terms of when one’s child would start school.  I’ve heard they have strict rules now, but if your parents were sick of you driving them nuts around the house, they could sign you up for school at the drop of a hat.  That’s pretty much what happened to me when my parents enrolled me in kindergarten at Oriole Lane School back in 1966. 

I lived in an idyllic place called Mequon, Wisconsin which was about an even mixture of honest, hard-working farmers, blue-collar folks, and college graduates who wanted to live in a place where they could raise their kids right.  It was so idyllic in fact that my kindergarten teacher’s name was Mrs. Apple.  Seriously.  If my memory serves (sort of), Mrs. Apple was a really sweet 20-something woman who had all the business in the world teaching kindergarten.  She was kind, relaxed, had a very chill demeanor in general and could totally relate to young children. 

I really liked Mrs. Apple a lot (as did all the kids), but there was a problem in my head when she would declare that it was “naptime” around 11am.  I was a very energetic young boy (some things never change!), and I was very perplexed by a “naptime” so early in the day.  It didn’t register in my young mind that it could possibly be “naptime” if I weren’t even tired.  However, it did register that someone else could not assume the power to make me take a nap against my will.  Apparently, the hard wiring in my brain was different than that of the other kids. Although I didn’t have a word for it yet, I realized I was a libertarian at that moment. 

Mrs. Apple and I went back and forth about the absurdity of taking a nap if you weren’t tired for a week or so, and she (and my Mom!) eventually convinced me that it would be best for the class (now known to me as “the collective” or “society”) if I would lay down quietly on my mat like a good little chimpanzee and pretend to nap so none of the rest of the chimps would get any ideas about questioning authority.  And 52 years later, only I decide when I’m going to ‘take a nap” or wake everyone else the fuck up!!!

Letter to Ben and Jim–Doing Drugs at Age 6

My Sister Kristin & I at ages 4 & 6.

Hi Ben & Jim–

Your story tears at my heart because I had a similar experience 40 years ago when I was a 6-year-old boy in grade school in the late 1960s.  Ritalin was fairly new on the market, and schools and shrinks were just getting into the act of drugging kids who were bored with the “education” they were receiving in government indoctrination camps (aka “schools”).  Like you and most boys with above average intelligence, I found school to be incredibly boring and felt the need to talk out of turn, doodle on my workbook, read things other than what were part of the plan, etc.  The teacher sent me down to the school psychologist (a fairly new job title back in 1968) to find out what was “wrong” with me.  The psychologist and the teacher had a counseling session with my mother and I, and he determined that I was “hyperactive” (they didn’t call it ADHD back then) and some Ritalin was just what the doctor ordered.  My Mom filled the prescription for psychoactive drugs, and VOILA!–I became a walking Zombie overnight!  I’m sure my teacher was very happy during the few days I was doped up in her classroom, but when my father came home from an out-of-town business trip, he was anything but pleased.  

In my case the slogan should have read: “Ritalin–So much easier than TEACHING.”

(Full disclosure about my Mom: She loves me very much and wasn’t trying to harm me.  She thought she was helping me.  Unfortunately, my Mom has a blind spot when it comes to trusting authority.  If a guy with a lab coat, an advanced degree, or a shiny badge tells her to do something, she will do it.  I’ve been working on her about this authoritarian crap my entire life to no avail.)

My father came home from working out of town to find his normally energetic, extremely talkative six-year-old son moping at the kitchen table with a glazed look in his eyes.  He immediately knew something was wrong but not knowing the cause, he asked my Mom what was going on.  Had I had a bad day in school?  Was I being punished for something?  When my Mom told him what had gone on that week at school while he was away, my father HIT THE FREAKING ROOF!!!  He first gave my Mom an earful about it, and knowing my father I’m sure voices were raised (mostly his) and fists were pounded on tables.  The Ritalin went into the trash immediately.  Whoever prescribed the drugs suffered my father’s wrath next. 

Back in the 1960s, “better living through chemistry” was the motto of both the medical establishment and the counterculture.  Of course, Big Pharma was trying to gain a larger clientele by hook or by crook.  (Oh, wait–Some things never change.  Thankfully, my father trusted his own wisdom over that of the “doctors.”)  The next morning, my father called the principal of the school and reamed her a new one. 

He was rightfully appalled that the schools would recommend drugging children as a first option rather than using the children’s feedback of boredom to improve the “educational” system (which can’t be improved in its current incarnation by the way–The school system is rotten to the core. Personal teaching and learning is by far the best way to educate, and anyone who is interested should read “The Underground History of American Education’ by John Taylor Gatto.  It’s both comprehensive and brilliant.) 

However, my father did insist that if the regular class work could not keep my mind engaged, the school had better assign me some additional, more challenging assignments.  The principal babbled some lame apology to my father and within a week, I and another above average kid (coincidentally my close friend and next door neighbor Chris) were placed at a table in the rear of the classroom with advanced work–simply textbooks and workbooks from the third grade (we were in first grade at the time).  When we finished with the third grade material (in several months), we moved on to the fourth grade math & reading books.  By the time I was actually in the fourth grade, I was reading at the eighth grade level and my boredom problem was solved by me sneak reading books of my choice in class while the teacher droned on about stuff I already knew.  Of course, I was occasionally punished for this, but it sure beat the heck out of taking the Zombie pills.  Thank you, DAD!!! I owe you one!

The sad thing about our country is that things have gone so far downhill in the past 40 years.  My father was able to rectify the attempted dumbing down of his son simply by pounding his fist on the table, reaming several ignorant people, and asserting his parental rights.  Everyone backed down, no judges forced drugs on me, and I went on to become a highly functional and successful (though often non-conformist!) individual.  Obviously, things have changed for the worst when a father cannot insist on the right to educate his own son in his own way without the state insisting on drugging his child and forcing him into the government indoctrination camp. 

My best advice to everyone is to keep your own mind as active and free as possible under the circumstances.  Most of your “education” will not occur in school; it will occur by your own choices of topics and ideas you research in the library and on the internet.  I graduated from ASU with honors in 1987 and I freely admit that most of what I was taught was absolutely useless nonsense.  I knew college was crap at the time, and I have spent the past 22 years unlearning what little garbage “knowledge” took hold in my subconscious.  I continuously read books of my choice when my reading skills reached the eighth-grade level (in the fourth grade) and have been educating myself since then.   This may not be the “norm” in modern America, but the good news is that nobody can really control your mind–Keep educating yourself and you will be OK in the end.  You will be 18 before you know it, and you will be 47 shortly after that (like me!). And it will happen much faster than you think.  Life is very short, but make the most of it.  It is a cool experience if you can just get through the childhood part of it where people tend to have more control over you. There are some wonderful adult experiences awaiting you if you keep an open mind and think for yourself…

Kind Regards,

Eric Cartridge

(I apparently wrote this under one of my “stage names”—Hahahaha!)