Recently, I've been hearing people use a lot of words I haven't heard since I was a kid - you know, kid-speak.
Now that I'm all grow'd up, it means something completely different. There's a different context - without the blind naivete of youth keeping my consideration of the social and interpersonal consequences of that language at bay.
That is to say: We used to say some silly, stupid and awful shit to people when we were kids, and when I hear it now, it makes me cringe.
I'm going to take the next few weeks and write about some of the language of my youth - to try to capture the horror and nuance of the things my friends and I used to say. It's not like we were bigots or Nazis or Fox News screaming heads... even the worst of us weren't that bad. But it was thoughtless, and weird and funny and cruel and layered.
Today's word is:
Tubolard n. Someone who is overweight. The word is a concatination of "Tub of lard."
It's not just an insult that speaks to size, it also implies, in nearly equal parts, a lack of athletic ability and social awkwardness. For example, there was this guy I grew up with who was big - fat. When he was a kid, he was a tubolard. In high school, however, even though it didn't appear that his BMI had significantly changed, he DID join the wrestling team - where he could bring his considerable girth to bear. He often won his heavyweight matches simply because he was difficult to move, and even harder to move OFF of you once he toppled. At this point, as part of a team, having found some athletic success, no one referred to him as a tubolard. He was just "big."
The term wouldn't mean a lot to many kids today, I think - maybe not even to kids who grew up in the city.
We were a farming community, and most of us raised livestock. Part of our diet consisted of by-products from having our livestock processed at the local slaughterhouse. My family raised hogs (as did many others), and we always had the following in the freezer: Pork chops, pork roast, ham, bacon, sausage (links, and ground), and a tub of lard. Yes, it's a miracle that my heart didn't simply explode at the age of nine.
Lard came in a one-gallon white plastic tub. Lard is simply white rendered fat - like butter without the flavor, and made from animal fat rather than milk fat. Everyone I grew up with knew what a tub of lard was, so the concatination seemed natural, and the first applications of it to people - on the playground during a game of Smear the Queer (the subject of a future entry...) - helped define its other nuance. The kids who weren't fast enough to avoid being "smeared" were generally those who were, due to girth and / or lack of coordination (many times co-occurring), the slowest to get up. Imagine, then, laughing, pointing and taunts of "Look at that tubolard!"
If a kid was socially ostracized because of his size and physical make-up, which was often the case, the playground was the crucible within which his fitness to climb the social ladder was tested: we accepted a certain amount of awkwardness if a kid could kick some ass at something... football, tetherball (for the girls), baseball, running, or sheer physical domination over others. Smear the queer was the mechanism for that, and the football usually got tossed to the slowest, fattest, most awkward kid on the field - a kid who was there trying to fit in. How long that kid could fend off the mob - through quickness, speed, strength or simply size - determined if he was fit. If he got "smeared" quickly - and especially if he didn't get up quickly and shake it off - he was probably a tubolard.
But as we got older, the word no longer served, and as kids grow and social groups change and athletics draw in even the tubolards, we adjusted. Another friend was, in his youth, a tubolard - short, overweight, flabby, awkward (even down to the stereotypically poor eyesight and taped-up coke-bottle glasses). In high school, he joined the football team where his relative short stature and mass created a low center of gravity that made him a formidable offensive guard. His propensity to wear a blue sweatshirt and sweats to practice helped to transform "tubolard" into the affectionate term "Big Blue Tub of Goo."
It doesn't seem any better, but here's the way this particular social dynamic worked for us. He wore that name with pride because it was unique - no one else was THE Big Blue Tub of Goo. Even though it still carried all the physical denotation of tubolard, he was separated from the masses of other tubolards and was a PART of the football team - he was OUR Big Blue Tub of Goo. And the uniqueness of it was our way of justifying having a former tubolard on the team: He's different from you all. He has use on the team. He's part of the group, and even though he's a tubolard, we can't call him that anymore (or risk a paradox wherein the social matrix collapses as groups merge).
He still had that name through graduation, and I never heard him complain about it. He always wore a smile - even kept wearing the blue sweat suit. I never wondered if it bothered him, or made him feel bad to have his name dismissed for a tubolard variant - it even took me a minute when sitting down to write this to remember he was called Bruce. A quarter century later, when I was talking to my brother about the house down the street from him with the foreclosure sign, he said "That's Tub o' Goo's place. I guess he lost his job a couple months back, so he couldn't make the payments. Why? You interested in buying it?" Somehow it didn't seem appropriate, though I didn't let him know that.
As I sit here in the coffeeshop writing this - my spreading waistline hiding the athleticism of my youth, and my doctor requiring quarterly visits to monitor my blood sugar, my liver (from medication for...), my arthritis... I wonder if my girth and flab, lack of physical coordination and social awkwardness (I actually prefer sitting alone in a coffe shop writing to most types of social interaction), and the fact that I'm now a high school teacher might earn me a spot in the vast array of tubolards from my youth, or if someone would have an equally pejorative but unique pet name for me.