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A Cautionary Tale by: Rick Bayan

Osgood Mott was born with a rare, peculiar and socially debilitating disorder: he needed to break taboos. Mind you, the man led a clean and blameless life. He never indulged in cannibalism or enjoyed carnal relations with his aunt. His political beliefs were as moderate as his intelligence. His amiable goatlike face and genial voice betrayed no hidden reservoirs of psychosis. Osgood Mott seemed every inch the decent and productive citizen. You might have liked him if you had known him, but of course now he's dead.

Osgood's transgressions were almost entirely verbal. Unlike most of us, he needed to speak the truth -- the EXTREME truth -- regardless of social prohibitions and sensitivities. He was addicted to candor the way certain young people are addicted to rock-climbing or commercial sports drinks available in alarming phosphorescent colors. His body rejected namby-pamby euphemisms like "differently abled" the way a transplant patient rejects a new liver. He continually found himself jousting with fashionable minority groups and politically correct causes. It's not that he WANTED to joust with them; the workings of his mind left him no choice in the matter. And of course, his compulsion to tell the unappetizing truth would ultimately lead to his ruin.

His mother noticed this fatal candor in his early years. At birthday parties and school pageants, she would overhear young Osgood discussing his bodily functions with his friends. "I love to make pee-pee with my wee-wee." Or: "Don't you like it when you can see peanuts in your poop?" The trouble is, he was at least thirteen years old at the time.

Despite lectures from his parents and teachers, Osgood could never entirely break himself of the habit. "I had a satisfying bowel movement this morning," he reportedly told his interviewer at The Sharper Image when he was applying for a customer service position there. "I like those firm, smooth ones that glide right out, with no straining or breaking. Once I passed a single turd that must have been 16 inches long, I swear! It was so awesome I took a picture of it. In fact, I have it right here with me... the photo, I mean."

Osgood felt no hesitation or guilt when it came to discussing sensitive religious, social or political issues. I remember the time Osgood attended the funeral of our high school golf coach. When he heard a Catholic priest describe the Virgin Mary as the "mother of God," Osgood was intrigued. After the service, he cornered the priest and asked him, "If Mary was the mother of God, does that mean her mother was the grandmother of God? And if Mary had a brother, was he God's uncle? I wonder if God's parents ever grounded him when he came home too late from a date or something. But I suppose God didn't need a car; he could just zap himself to the mall or whatever."

After stunning the priest, Osgood went to console the coach's widow. "I really liked Coach Finnegan," he told her. "But you know, I don't think that's him in the coffin. Coach would never wear rouge on his cheeks, and he has this weird smile with his lips pulled really tight. I think it's a wax dummy if you ask me." Mrs. Finnegan was about to thank Osgood and move him on before she swooned. Then Osgood added, "I'll really miss Coach Finnegan. I wonder if we could come back in about 10 years and dig up his skeleton. I'd love to see him again, wouldn't YOU?"

In high school, Osgood tried to get dates with some of the girls that he liked, but his candid approach worked against him. In typical Osgood fashion, he'd walk up to a girl and say something like, "I really love the way your chest curves out. It makes me want to rub up against you for some reason. Would that be OK with you? I mean, if you're busy now, we could wait until lunch and do it in the cafeteria."

Osgood had a keen eye for observation. At the state college, his art history professor showed slides of the Sistine Chapel ceiling and asked the class for its reaction. Osgood volunteered his opinion: "I can't believe Adam had such a tiny little weener on him. I wonder why Michelangelo likes to paint naked men so much more than naked women. When he does show naked women, they're just blank down below. I KNOW women can't be blank down there, but that's the way you always see it in art. How come they never paint the details?"

After flunking out of college, Osgood managed to offend just about everybody it was possible to offend. Here are just a few of the Osgoodisms I've collected:

(to an outspoken liberal couple):
"If you believe in equal opportunity, how come you're sending your kids to a private school? Oh, I get it -- you want them to have an equal opportunity to meet rich kids."

(to a distinguished poet after a bookstore poetry reading):
"We used to know a crazy person who talked like that, except that he talked to himself. I wish I could understand what you said. I guess I'm not smart enough to read your book, so I won't buy it."

(to a lesbian couple he encountered at a party):
"If you're attracted to women, how come you make yourselves look like men? You might as well date REAL men and be normal."

(to a rabbi, on being asked why he wanted to convert to Judaism):
"I want to be one of God's chosen people so I can land an important job in the media someday."

(to the wife of a deaf man, on being told that the proper term is "hearing-impaired"):
"My grandfather is hearing-impaired. I think your husband is DEAF."

(on being introduced to an African-American physicist):
"Wow -- I didn't know you people could do science, too! That's great! Can you still dance?"

The last comment proved to be Osgood's downfall, since he had the ill-fortune to blurt it out at a job fair that was being covered by a local TV station. The media went wild over Osgood's gaffe, and he was forced to apologize publicly for what were termed "callous and insensitive racist remarks." But Osgood's reaction was vintage Osgood: "You don't understand," he protested when asked to recant his statement. "I thought it was GREAT that a black person could be a physicist. Does that sound racist to you? I was just wondering if being smart affected his dancing ability, since most smart people are geeky dancers and most black people are really good... uh-oh."

A judge ordered Osgood to enroll in a six-month in-house training course at the esteemed Al Campanis Memorial Clinic for Sensitivity Studies. There they counseled him, hypnotized him, enlisted him in meaningful group exercises, questioned his beliefs, administered the occasional mild electric shock when he gave the wrong answers, plied him with politically correct reading matter and reprogrammed his brain for greater receptiveness to diversity. He was a model student.

In six months Osgood was ready to meet the world again. The local TV stations covered the event, and an interviewer asked Osgood what he had learned.

"I'm gratified to acknowledge that I've worked through my issues," Osgood replied. "I've come to realize that free speech isn't truly free if it gives offense, because then it becomes a tool of oppression. Thanks to the Al Campanis Memorial Clinic for Sensitivity Studies, I've been forced to re-examine my offensive verbalizations and confront them before they could adversely impact any more lives. I feel renewed and wish to express my sincerest apologies to anyone I may have wounded with my insensitivity in the past."

For the next several weeks, Osgood visited with representatives of various minority and special-interest groups. He pledged, before the congregation of the Mt. Moriah African Methodist Episcopal Church, that he would "crusade to rid society of the lingering mythologies of race, including those pernicious lies regarding superior African-American athletic ability and a racially inherited sense of rhythm." He urged the Jewish community to "use your influence to correct those who dare suggest that the Jewish community is influential." He told the leader of the Gay and Lesbian Alliance (GALA) that "we owe it to our common humanity to reach an implicit understanding of the diverse sexual spectrum, including not only gays and lesbians but the transvestite and transgendered communities and Michael Jackson as well."

Suddenly Osgood was more popular and successful than he had ever been in his life. He had won the respect of his community; he made new friends; he was dating a desirable woman; he even landed a position as a columnist and cultural critic at the local newspaper. And he was miserable.

Let me tell you about my last encounter with Osgood. We were colleagues at the paper where he worked, and we had known each other since the sixth grade. I had always shown more tolerance for his eccentricities than most of our peers; in fact, I always regarded him with a sense of brotherly affection and concern.

Anyway, one rainy evening in September about ten years ago, Osgood and I found ourselves alone in the deserted cafeteria. I was hunched over a cup of black coffee, beneath the dim overhead lights, hoping to stay awake long enough to make my deadline. Osgood seemed more nervous than usual; in fact, his eyes had the look of glazed desperation you see in wanted criminals or game-show contestants.

Osgood was the first to speak. "I can't stand it anymore, Rick," he announced. "I think I'm coming unglued."

I asked him what was wrong.

"I feel like a robot," he complained. "My mind still works the same as ever, but the words come out all different. I HATE all those things I've been saying to please the special-interest groups. It's not that I have anything against those people. I never hated anybody. It's just that I'm not free to speak my own opinions anymore, and I can't stand it. I tell you, my brain has been hijacked by the PC police. I mean LITERALLY."

I gave Osgood a skeptical look.

"I'm not just raving," he assured me. "When I was at the clinic they implanted an electrode in my skull. Now, whenever I feel inclined to break a verbal taboo, I get a jolt of current. The only way I can avoid it is to use politically correct euphemisms."

"Like 'Americans of color'?," I asked.

"Yeah, that's the least of it," he muttered. "Or how about 'concerted outreach to the ascendant multicultural majority.' I don't even know what I'm saying half the time, and it scares me."

"That sounds pretty dismal," I said. "What can I do to help, Osgood?"

"Pull the electrode. Just yank it out of my skull. I've tried to do it myself, but I can't. I've been told I'll die if I remove it."

"So you're asking ME to pull it? But that would be murder!"

"No," Osgood reassured me. "It'll look like I did it myself. Come on, Rick, you'll be doing me a gigantic favor. I can't live like this anymore."

Osgood uncovered a shiny metal knob that had lain concealed under the hair on the back of his head. He coaxed me as I worked up the nerve to commit the fatal deed. Trembling, I pulled the knob and felt it slide out of his head with an appalling snap.

Osgood slumped to the floor, still conscious as I tried to comfort him during his final moments on this perplexing planet.

"Osgood, is there anything I can do for you?," I asked him.

"Yeah, Rick," he said. "When I've been dead for about ten years, could you stop by my grave and dig up my skeleton?"

I tried to suppress a sniffle.

"Sure, Osgood," I promised him. "Hey, do you realize your mind is free again?"

And Osgood Mott, breaker of taboos, died with a smile on his face.

note: Rick Bayan is the author of The Cynic's Dictionary (one of RoG's all-time favorite books). You can visit his website, The Cynic's Sanctuary, at www.I-Cynic.com which contains some of the best rants you'll ever come find on the web.

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