The magic word.



I wanted an oat bran bagel with peanut butter.

I got shit instead.

I was at the bagel shop, mid-afternoon, post-lunch. I overheard two women in line ahead of me talk about their friend, a woman who’d suffered a stroke. She was 43 years old – my age! I made a mental note to never skip my daily blood thinner. The women mentioned that their friend was receiving rehabilitative therapy and regaining the ability to speak, though very slowly. Her vocabulary was limited to three words, one of which was “shit.”

Limited indeed, I thought.

How much could that poor woman communicate if one of her three words was shit? I waited my turn to order and wondered what I would want my three words to be, if in a similar circumstance.

My turn to order approached and the bagel situation behind the counter did not look promising. Many of the bins were empty. Supply was limited. I ordered an oat bran bagel, not toasted, with peanut butter. The young man at the register tilted his head and gave me a pouty face.

“Oh, I’m so sorry. We’re out of whole grain bagels. We’ll have a fresh supply tomorrow morning!”

“Oh,” I replied.

That one sorry syllable was inadequate; it couldn’t even hint at everything I wanted to, but didn’t say: “Listen junior, how does a fresh supply tomorrow help me right now? I don’t want to come back tomorrow. I know it’s not your fault there are no more whole grain bagels, but your trying to be all friendly and cute doesn’t help me. I want my oat bran bagel. Now.”

I changed my order to a plain bagel. The situation was almost redeemed when I realized I had a choice of smooth or my favored crunchy peanut butter, but then I had to wait more than ten minutes for a non-toasted bagel. What was up with taking forever to spread crunchy peanut butter on a bagel? As I waited, I didn’t have a fit as I normally would have. I had a revelation: I recognized the brilliance of the word shit. It can be various kinds of noun (a person or a thing) or it can be a verb. Shit can communicate a wide range of emotion. I had never before appreciated how multi-functional it was and how perfectly applicable it could have been at that moment.

“Shit, no whole grain bagels? I don’t give a shit about tomorrow’s delivery. I will shit upon the counter in protest.”

I’d never get that much mileage out of a word like “please.” Magic word my ass. Please would have made me sound like some wimp begging for a bagel. Please invites the possibility of no, whereas shit displays cojones. Shit is defiant and shows authority. Shit would have shown this mamacita takes no shit. It would have made clear that I was not happy about waiting for a second-choice bagel and introduced the possibility of menace, like there might have been hell to pay because I was displeased.

I didn’t use shit or any of those words that afternoon at the bagel shop, but I carry the knowledge of shit’s potential with me, like a super power I can unleash when needed. That’s a real magic word.

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