In The Real Cool Killers by Chester Himes, published in 1959, the euphemism “mother-rapers” appears frequently. Is that less offensive than the phrase it was replacing?

 

I was not much surprised that the thirtyish woman on the subway was carrying a pink purse that matched her pink sneakers. I was a bit more surprised that they both matched the pink surgical mask she was wearing. I thought, however, that the mask should have had the Hello Kitty symbol on it.

 

          Were these words meant to be comforting? Before the medical procedure, the anesthesiologist came to me and explained what he was planning to do in the operating room (although he did not tell me how the insertion of various needles in my wrists was going to make me wince.) He told me about various risks of the anesthetics, something I had heard before from other procedures. He left, but before I was taken to the operating room, he came back with a worried look. “I just saw the results of your stress test. It indicates that you will have an increased risk of a heart attack from the sedatives we will give you.” Then came the words meant to be reassuring, “But what better place to have a heart attack than in the OR?”

 

“Since the world began has any man ever been able to know what would happen tomorrow?” Paul Bowles, The Spider’s House.

 

I was given a booklet when I first went to the doctor that described the procedure and aftercare. It said that after discharge: “Avoid sexual activity until your follow-up appointment with your cardiologist.” I thought, “Even if you don’t find your heart doctor overly attractive?”

 

“Chekhov says that it is in the beginnings and the endings of stories that we are most tempted to lie.” Wallace Stegner, Crossing to Safety.

 

I had forgotten the German-Turkish-American server’s name. She feigned, I think, that she was upset. I said, referring to the Mexican-American server/busboy standing next to her, “I have known him longer, and I forget his name.” She replied, “We call him Doughnut.” I looked at him and said, “Why is that?” He just smiled. She explained. “He went to a house of pleasure, and instead of giving out dollar bills, he handed out doughnuts.” The Colombian-American bartender clarified that the establishment was a strip club not too far away. The Mexican-American server/busboy had bought the doughnuts at a fancy neighborhood shop, and he had given them out to the strippers. He would not tell me what kind the doughnuts were—I thought that they should have been Boston cream–but his English is limited, and he might not have understood the question. A few minutes later, however, he looked at me with his always sweet smile and said, “Now I am a VIP.”

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