Deep Thoughts

The Perfect Epithet

“Hell” and “damn” just weren’t doing it for me any more. I needed a better epithet, one that could be used in all sorts of annoying situations: when I run out of dishwasher detergent, when I’m cut off in traffic, when I walk in the kitchen and finding Porter literally climbing the walls.

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I needed something that could convey fury or annoyance, frustration or just plain crotchetiness. I didn’t expect to find it in the middle of the matinee showing of “Brokeback Mountain.” When I read the short story back in the late ’90s, the only phrase that was truly quotable to me was “Gun’s goin’ off” and that was not used to express frustration, but rather the release of it.

I’d been dying to see the movie, and this weekend Bill took Finn hunting. A friend and I were able to carve out a couple of hours and we headed to the theater for the 4:40 showing. We were both on a tight schedule. She had to take her son to a bar mitzvah at
seven. I was trying out a new babysitter and didn’t want to leave the duo with her any longer than necessary. I can ignore seven year olds climbing the walls, but I didn’t think an eager-to-please babysitter would.

Other reviews will tell you that “Brokeback” has great screen performances or that it’s not so good. I enjoyed the movie a lot, and suspect that you will, too, if you enjoyed the short story. However, regardless of your position on the issues presented in the movie, it is certainly worth going to see, if only for the delivery of one particular line of dialogue.

The cowboys are standing by a river, surrounded by mountains. Jack is hurt and outraged by something Ennis says. He is disgusted, disgruntled, displeased. What he yells captures his feelings perfectly:

This is a goddam bitch of an unsatisfactory situation!

I elbowed my friend excitedly when I heard the line. “That’s it!” I whispered. “He just summed up the way I feel 99% of the time!” She shushed me but when I glanced over I could see her laughing.

After the movie, my friend and I walked into the parking lot and searched for her car. We roamed around in the cold wind for several minutes. The movie had lasted longer than we had expected, and we were growing panicky: she at the thought of her son missing the bar mitzvah, me dreading the hell my twins were surely putting my babysitter through. We stood on a grassy median and looked across the cars, then I looked at her.

“This is a goddam bitch of an unsatisfactory situation!” I yelled. And then we howled.

I’d found my new epithet, and it worked perfectly.