Lynn Hummel: Fiddlesticks! I’ve been fired!
We’ve heard all about A. J. Clemente, the Bismarck anchor man doing his very first broadcast. He didn’t know his microphone was on and uttered a few choice expletives, then was fired. Career started and career finished in 15 minutes.
The story has gained widespread national attention. Clemente has appeared on the David Letterman, Jimmy Kimmel and Morning Joe shows and has achieved 15 minutes of fame and bushels of sympathy. He may get a new job out of his blunder too, but shooting himself in the foot was not the best thing to do on his first day on the job.
It’s too late for me to advise A.J. Clemente, but let this column be a public service for those who follow in his bloody footsteps.
The first lesson is this: the mike is always on. Treat it like a gun that’s always loaded. How often do we have to hear experienced public figures say something they regret because they didn’t realize the mike was on? It happens all the time. President Obama has done it, Vice President Joe Biden has done it, Mitt Romney has done it. Richard Nixen did it too, except he’s the guy who turned on the switch. You don’t want to hear, “Oh, is this on?”
I worked with a carpenter named Ray who was a good guy and a hard worker who swung his hammer with force and authority, if not accuracy. Every so often Ray would hit a thumb or a finger with that hammer. His black and blue fingernails were proof. Now there’s nothing that makes a guy want to swear like hitting his own finger with a hammer. That hurts. But Ray didn’t swear. He’d holler — Jee-Rusalem! That was his swear word. Now if A.J. Clemente had said Jee-Rusalem into that open mike, he wouldn’t be famous, but he’d still have a job.
The air in locker rooms is often blue and it’s not from steam or sweat. It’s from the language. Sometimes it’s the coach, but usually it’s from the boys (I’ve never been in a girls’ locker room) trying to sound tough. I talked to one old college basketball player who told me he had a notorious foul mouth. Looking back, he says he is embarrassed by the language he used in and out of the locker room.
One day the coach brought in another athlete, a clean cut, straight shooting football player who talked to the team about the straight and narrow way. The foul mouthed basketball player admired the nerve and heart of the visiting athlete. He decided that very day to make two changes. First, he decided to stop cussing. And second, he decided to stop cheating on his college exams. That’s right. He had actually hired a guy to write an exam for him.
One day, four year old Sam went to the zoo with his grandfather. When they walked in the zoo gates, Sam looked around and said, “Where the hell are the elephants?”
Grandpa was shocked and immediately called his daughter, Sam’s mother. “Your son has a bad mouth and he’s embarrassed me. Here’s what he said…”
The mother cleared the air. “Dad, you’re the only person he’s ever heard talk like that.”
We all get frustrated at times, and angry. We hit our fingers with hammers and feel pain in hundreds of ways. While most of us aren’t necessarily going to make a sharp turn to the straight and narrow path, we could certainly benefit from the practice of my carpenter friend, Ray. We can substitute a mellow word for the rotten alternative so that we can avoid polluting the air for our children, grandchildren or whatever locker room we’re in or channel we’re on.
So here are 20 substitutes for cleaning up the language: Jee-Rusalem (a gift from Ray), curses, rats, ding-busted, bologna, blast, drat, bleep, shoot, hockey puck, bloomin, God Bless America, crud, crabcakes, confoundit, dump truck, balderdash, fiddlesticks, zap and mott.
If you run into A.J. Clemente, pass this along and wish him a long, happy, successful career — and a civil tongue.