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Jewish World Review Sept. 1, 1999 /20 Elul, 5759

Bob Greene

Bob Greene
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Up the creek with a paddle--and cussing up a storm --
THE CASE OF THE CURSING CANOEIST (why does every aspect of American journalism these days make us all sound as if it's 1933 and we're the New York Mirror?) is nearing its climax.

The Case of the Cursing Canoeist, as you may have heard, began a year ago when a man named Timothy Boomer, 25, of Roseville, Mich., fell out of his canoe and started cursing. Loudly.

Nearby in the lake was a couple with two young children. They were so shocked and disgusted by Boomer's language that the mother covered the ears of her 2-year-old daughter, and they paddled away from Boomer as quickly as they could.

He was arrested. He was charged under an 1897 Michigan law that prohibits cursing in front of children.

Many people made fun of the law -- which is hardly ever enforced -- and of the fact that Boomer was arrested for cussing. But earlier this summer a jury in Michigan convicted him -- and last week a judge passed sentence.

Judge Allen Yenior sentenced Boomer to perform four days of community service, and to either pay a $75 fine or spend three days in jail. The sentence was put on hold to allow Boomer to appeal.

By the way . . . the community service that Judge Yenior ordered for Boomer? The judge was specific in what kind of community service the Cursing Canoeist must perform.

He must work in a child-care program.

Perfect. The guy gets arrested for using language so foul in front of children that the children's parents flee in terror -- so the judge decrees that the man must work with children.

What lucky little toddlers they're going to be.

But there is more to this case than what ends up being done to Timothy Boomer.

Just to see what we're dealing with here, I contacted Michigan legal authorities and asked to see the full text of the law that the jury found Boomer guilty of violating.

Here it is:

"Sec. 337. Indecent, etc., language in presence of women or children -- Any person who shall use any indecent, immoral, obscene, vulgar or insulting language in the presence or hearing of any woman or child shall be guilty of a misdemeanor."

So it's not just children whose delicate sensibilities the law protects -- it's women, too.

Now . . . I don't think there will be much disagreement if the contention is made here that the world has changed just a wee bit since that law was put on the Michigan books in 1897.

Has anyone, by any chance, listened to women talk lately? Especially when they're angry -- but not necessarily when they're angry?

No offense to any women out there who take pride in not cussing -- but a case can be made that women these days are among the dirtiest talkers in the history of the planet.

All right, all right, not you -- you, madame, would never curse. But have you heard the language your fellow women use not just when they're steamed, but in everyday conversation? For emphasis, for goodness' sake?

Let me tell you from personal experience -- you will not get very far in today's world if you hear a woman cussing loudly and you attempt to be helpful by gently reminding her, "That's not a very ladylike way to talk."

So people are poking fun at the Michigan law -- and that's just with the general supposition that the law is to protect children from hearing cussing. Wait until the word gets out that the law also is meant to protect women's sensitive ears.

But the world has become a cesspool as of late, so maybe a closer look at the Michigan law is appropriate.

Rather than repeal it, as many people are suggesting, the answer instead should be to strip it of its gender discrimination.

Add men to the law, too. Make it just as illegal to curse in front of men. For the public good. Sort of the ultimate anti-air-pollution legislation.

And then make one more amendment: Change the category of the offense from misdemeanor to felony.

Maybe a capital felony.

That would be a good deterrent: Cuss in public, and you're going to the electric chair.

Any last words?

Better make 'em clean.

JWR contributor Bob Greene is a novelist and columnist. Send your comments to him by clicking here.


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