It was May, 1992, and I was in a stupor of post thesis-completion cortisol letdown and alcohol-induced lethargy, and Mark Pagel was talking to me as I slouched in a large comfortable chair in the Peabody Museum’s smoking lounge.

“It’s obvious what they need to do,” he was saying, and I could tell from the look on his face, even in my foggy state of mind, that a morsel of wisdom marinated in humor was about to be served up.

i-0214052a866af5670ff538c7fa443158-profanity_in_a_bottle.jpg

I swear this stuff works great.
“Hrmphsmeh,” I replied, indicating that he should continue, I was interested.

“They need Ross Perot.”

“Hrmph???,” I knew Mark (and everyone else I knew) was not a fan of Ross Perot, the independent can-do candidate for President that year.

Mark continued, “He would tell them ‘just send some guys in there and fix it‘”

I realized that Mark was referring to the fact that the space shuttle had just pulled up to Intelsat-6 satellite, a very expensive and apparently very important communications satellite (there were rumors that it was also a spy satellite or linked to the Star Wars program). The satellite had taken to spinning, and it was not supposed to be spinning. The Shuttle astronauts had brought with them a seven million dollar satellite-grabber device (the “Capture Bar”) which was designed to grab this particular satellite and cause it to stop spinning. After several attempts during numerous expensive and dangerous space walks, it was clear that this was not going to work.

“Like when Perot sees some problem, he just sends in a hit squad. NASA needs to tell the astronauts to get get out there and grab the damn thing and make it stop moving.”

Mark is a very smart guy. You may recall that after the unsuccessful attempts at using the capture bar on that satellite, NASA did in fact send the astronauts out there to just grab the damn thing and make it stop moving. And they did and it did. And none of the astronauts went flying off into outer space.

I was reminded of that when I saw the film of the Shuttle team trying to unscrew a bolt holding a camera in place in the Hubble. They were trying and trying and trying, and finally, this guy who in his spare time fixes old cars twisted the damn thing off and they were home free.

Achenblog has an interesting post describing why it took so damn long to get the freakin’ bolt to freakin’ untwist: The astronauts are not allowed to curse.

Certain words act like WD-40. I cannot specify them in a family blog.

But astronauts, being heroes, are merely permitted to use incomprehensible jargon and astronaut-words like “egress.” They are not allowed to utter the very easily understood words that are deemed to be obscenities.

If those astronauts on Thursday had not been miked and live-streamed on NASA TV, I guarantee you the dialogue out there in the payload bay would have been something like this:

And then he goes on to provide details.

Which reminds me of a (very short) story.

When Julia was little, but verbal, something of hers broke and she brought it to me. She was never a kid to cry and get upset when something broke, or when she could not have something she liked. She was always very pragmatic about such things. So she brought me this toy, which was broken, and said:

“Daddy. Can you say ‘damn-damn-damn’ and make it work?”

Comments

  1. #1 Art
    May 15, 2009

    Creative use of colorful language might help loosen a stubborn part but, in the end, I usually grab a can of Kroil and it comes off. Kroil beats Liquid Wrench and WD-40 hands down.

    In the rare case the rust buster doesn’t work I resort to BFI, Brute Force and Ignorance, often a BFH, and/or the fire hatchet.

  2. #2 DuWayne
    May 15, 2009

    You’re rather remiss in not mentioning an important correlate. Profanity’s analgesic qualities – especially after you whack your finger with a hammer (or fall off a roof headfirst and land on a stack of OSB).

    When eldest was almost three, he discovered this property for himself. He had just whacked his thumb full swing with his 3/4″ head hammer. It was an injury that in any other context would have had him screaming bloody murder and justifiably. But instead he started hopping around and yelling profanities in his piping little voice, grasping his thumb. Within minutes, he uttered his final “fucking damn – DAMN!!! He had noticed something about his wound – it was bleeding. I half expected him to start wailing, because he hates it when people bleed (and being a roofer at the time, I came home with bleeders pretty regular like).

    Instead he positively beamed at me. “I workin hard papa?” half statement, half questioning. (I like to say that blood, sweat and dirt mean you’re actually working – I still say that actually.) Unfortunately, he decided that profanity only helped with work related injuries – later that same evening, when a toy or book fell on the injured thumb, he screamed bloody murder – which again, is totally understandable. Split thumbnails really hurt.

    I think I may have to just blog about my adventure, falling off a roof headfirst – suffice for now that I was mostly unconscious the moment I fell, before I hit the ground…Also suffice to say that it is remarkable I am not a quad or dead.

  3. #3 Jason Thibeault
    May 16, 2009

    That… is… ADORABLE.

    Erm, I mean your son hopping around spitting profanities then looking for approval of his work ethic. Not the falling off the roof thing.

    I’d like to add that martial arts use yells to “focus” the power of your strikes, so perhaps there’s something about yelling that encourages or induces you to give your action that extra 5% boost or whatnot. I don’t know why it would do so, because one would think you’re splitting your attention. Any studies done on this?

  4. #4 Left_Wing_Fox
    May 16, 2009

    Priceless, and true. Screaming “MotherFUCKER!” will open a jar of pickles nine times out of ten. Although Handing the jar off to the next person is also usually required.

  5. #5 TonyC
    May 16, 2009

    Back when I was involved in martial arts – a sensei told me the shout had nothing at all to do with focus – it was all about stopping you from overthinking your strike. Just do it, don’t think about doing it. Strangely, you thought more about the shout (which sensei thought important, so it had to be loud and very focused) than the action (kick, punch, combo, whatever) resulting in a much more fluid and powerful strike.

    At least that’s my story, and I’m sticking with it. It did seem to work.

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