Housekeeping Tips From One Mercurial 'Mommy'

Originally published on October 1, 2012 6:20 pm

The cursing mommy likes her scotch. She also likes a martini — or four — and a full bottle of Kahlua consumed in the afternoon while soaking in a steaming bathtub and ignoring the knocks of her children locked outside. Along with her dubious parenting skills, the cursing mommy has no shame, and she swears an extremely blue streak.

She's the flagrantly unpolitically correct creation of writer and humorist Ian Frazier, who first introduced her via his columns in The New Yorker. Now, Frazier has put the mommy at the center of his first novel, The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days, her diary of one year of trouble.

Frazier describes the cursing mommy to NPR's Melissa Block as "very serious."

"She wants to do the right thing and she wants to do what is expected of her and she starts out generally, almost always, with a very good intention," he says. "But then something goes wrong, and then she just totally blows up and just screams and yells and curses. That's sort of her character. And then she recovers, you know, and then she's like, 'Wow, what was I thinking.' But she's mercurial in that way."

Frazier and Block discuss the mommy's feelings about the Bush administration, whom she's modeled after and how the humorist comes up with his material.


Interview Highlights

On why the cursing mommy often blames the Bush administration

"She belongs to a book group and every couple weeks they read another book about how terrible the Bush administration was. And so she knows all these Bush administration people and their names sometimes almost substitute for curse words in her rants."

On whom the cursing mommy actually resembles

"It's me. ... I did used to kind of put on a housecoat and slippers and just sort of lounge around and say, 'Ah, get your own lunch,' you know? It's kind of a love of a Phyllis Diller-type of character, you know? ... A housecoat and fuzzy slippers and you can just totally leave your personality and become the cursing mommy."

On the rise of cursing

"My grandmother, I don't think I ever heard her curse. And my mother might curse occasionally, but nothing beyond the mildest of curse words. And I think in our generation — I mean, I'm of the baby boom generation — suddenly everybody curses; men, women, children. ... But women curse in a way, I think, that they didn't. So I think maybe a lot of people, they do it and then they feel a little bit like, 'Hmm, gee, am I supposed to be doing that?' But it's just what happened, you know? ... It's just part of how things changed."

On why the cursing mommy couldn't be a dad

"Cursing dads are terrifying, you know? Cursing dads are — I don't know why, but no. It just doesn't seem to me that that would be funny. I mean it might be — you could try it and see. I suppose anybody just losing it and sputtering curses is pretty funny. But I think it would be more of a challenge, much more of a challenge, to make a cursing dad funny."

On the kinds of things he finds funny

"I think what is important for things to be funny is if you the listener, or the reader, get a chance to supply the humor of it yourself. That is, if the person telling you the thing does not know it's funny. It's your joke, you know. I remember years ago, there was an official named Adm. John Stufflebeem. And he used to come out — 'Now, Adm. John Stufflebeem will talk about' — and nobody ever said, 'This guy has a funny name,' you know? And to me, I always enjoyed when Adm. John Stufflebeem came out, because, you know, I felt like, wow, I know that's funny, and Adm. Stufflebeem probably doesn't, or maybe [he] does, he just doesn't want to make anything of it."

On how he remembers the funny things he encounters in real life

"I go back and write it down, immediately. ... For example, I was walking in the park near my house and a muffin fell out of the air and landed upright on the path in front of me. And I just, my God, that was incredible! A muffin fell out of the sky! And what was even more amazing, it didn't bounce or anything. And it landed exactly in presentation, just exactly like a muffin right in front of me. And I just thought, 'That is the most amazing thing.' Well, I looked up and hunted around the tree and finally I found way up there was a blue jay that was looking over. He had obviously — a very strong blue jay — had stolen this thing somewhere or found it somewhere and was trying to eat it up in the tree and it had gotten away from him. ... Or he just decided, 'Let's see if I can hit this guy with the muffin.' And he missed. But no, I'll go back and describe that in minute detail. You never know what the one funny thing of that might be. But yeah, I have folders and folders of stuff ... that I'll just note, and, you know, sometimes things come of it, but often nothing does."

Copyright 2013 NPR. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Audie Cornish.

MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm Melissa Block. The cursing mommy likes her scotch, and a martini - or four - and a full bottle of Kahlua consumed in the afternoon while soaking in a steaming bathtub, ignoring the knocks of her children locked outside. Along with her dubious parenting skills, the cursing mommy has no shame, and she swears an extremely blue streak.

She is the flagrantly unpolitically correct creation of The New Yorker writer and humorist Ian Frazier, out with his very funny first novel, "The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days." Ian Frazier, welcome to the program.

IAN FRAZIER: Well, thanks for having me.

BLOCK: Let's talk about this character, the cursing mommy. She first started appearing in your columns in The New Yorker. And now, she has a whole book. It's her diary of one year of trouble. What did you describe this character, the cursing mommy?

FRAZIER: Well, the cursing mommy is very serious, and she wants to do the right thing, and she wants to do what is expected of her. And she starts out generally, almost always, with a very good intention. But then something goes wrong.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Always.

FRAZIER: And then she just totally blows up. She just screams and yells and curses. That's sort of her character. And then she recovers, you know? And then she's like, wow, what was I thinking? But she's mercurial in that way.

BLOCK: And when she does go on these cursing jags, which is often, she inevitably ends up blaming the Bush administration.

FRAZIER: Yeah. She's still really hung up. She belongs to a book group. And every couple weeks, they read another book about how terrible the Bush administration was, and so she knows all these Bush administration people. And their names sometimes almost substitute for curse words in her rants.

BLOCK: Let's give a sense of this. We're going to be bleeping liberally here. This is one scene when the cursing mommy is vacuuming, and the vacuum scoops up her housecoat.

FRAZIER: (Reading) The cursing mommy is doing her cleaning today in a comfortable, old, floor-length housecoat that used to be Grandma Pat's. And I swoop the suckable(ph) right at my feet, and ah, no, the (bleep) machine inhaled the hem of my housecoat. Let go, you (bleep). Where the hell is the off switch? (Bleep) machine has inhaled the housecoat up to my knee. I'm yagging(ph) and ripping the fabric (bleep) piece (bleep) dangerous (bleep) vacuum cleaner (bleep) confidence of the Consumer Safety Bureau under the (bleep) Bush administration. Whoever they were that let this out, this dangerous piece of (bleep) (unintelligible) that vacuum cleaner be regulating (bleep) now I'm wrestling with the (bleep) vacuum cleaner and the (bleep) everything. Ripped hair, put, put, click.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Ian Frazier, you channel that voice alarmingly well.

(LAUGHTER)

FRAZIER: Well, my wife wants me to say that the cursing mommy is me.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: Not her.

FRAZIER: She is the patient and calm one. I did used to kind of put down a housecoat and...

(LAUGHTER)

FRAZIER: ...and slippers and just sort of lounge around and say, ah, get your own lunch, you know? It's kind of a love of a Phyllis Diller-type of character, you know?

BLOCK: The cursing mommy has a family.

FRAZIER: Right.

BLOCK: And it's - that it's just a heap of trouble. She's got one son who breaks out in hives and faints all the time. Another, who's a pyromaniac and takes all kinds of medication, including one that's called an anti-arsonic, and her husband, Larry, who's a frequent weeper and collects capacitors.

FRAZIER: Right. Right.

BLOCK: Capacitors fill the house.

FRAZIER: And the cursing mommy is always tripping over these boxes of capacitors. They fill the basement. And he goes to capacitors' conventions and stuff. And honestly, I don't know what a capacitor is.

(LAUGHTER)

FRAZIER: But it just sounds like something that maybe you would collect - I don't know. He collects, like, World War II-era capacitors and Soviet-made capacitors. And that's sort of where he - he's sort of off in that area. That's sort of where he is. And the cursing mommy is actually dealing with things like, you know, the garage burning down and stuff like that while Larry is otherwise occupied with his capacitors.

BLOCK: Have you had people come up to you and say, I recognize myself in the cursing mommy. I don't want to, but that is me.

FRAZIER: Oh, yeah.

BLOCK: Yeah?

FRAZIER: It happens all the time. I mean, it's sort of - it's like a trend. It's something that happened in history that, for example, my grandmother, I don't think I ever heard her curse. And my mother might curse occasionally, but nothing beyond the mildest of curse words.

And I think in our generation - I mean, I'm of the baby boom generation - suddenly, everybody cursed: men, women, children. I mean, it's - but women cursed in a way, I think, that they didn't. So I think maybe a lot of people, they do it, and then they say a little bit like, hmm, gee, am I supposed to be doing that? But it's just what happened, you know? It's part of - it's just part of how things changed.

BLOCK: Would it be as funny, do you think, if the cursing mommy were not a mommy, if it were a male character?

FRAZIER: Oh, so it's like the cursing, you know, whatever, dad?

BLOCK: Yeah.

FRAZIER: No. It wouldn't be funny.

(LAUGHTER)

BLOCK: I mean, why not?

FRAZIER: Cursing dads are terrifying. I don't know why, but no. I just - it doesn't seem to me like that would be funny. I mean, it might be you could try it and see. I suppose anybody just losing it and sputtering curses is pretty funny.

BLOCK: Is there any pattern to where you find things that are funny, things that strike you as funny?

FRAZIER: I think what is important for things to be funny is you, the listener or the reader, get a chance to supply the humor of it yourself. That is, if the person telling you the thing does not know it's funny, it's your joke, you know? It's like, I remember years ago there was an official named Admiral John Stufflebeem. And he used to come out - now, Admiral John Stufflebeem will talk about - and nobody ever said, this guy has a funny name, you know?

(LAUGHTER)

FRAZIER: And to me, I always enjoyed when Admiral Stufflebeem came out because, you know, I felt like, wow, I know that's funny. And John - Admiral Stufflebeem probably doesn't. Or maybe he does, he just doesn't want to make anything of it.

BLOCK: If you're walking around and you find or hear or see something that you think is funny, are you a note taker? Are you scribbling that down, or will you remember?

FRAZIER: Yeah, I go back and write it down immediately

BLOCK: You do?

FRAZIER: Yeah.

BLOCK: And what will that note look like?

FRAZIER: Well, for example, I was walking in the park near my house, and a muffin fell out of the air and landed upright on the path in front of me. And I just, my God, that was incredible. A muffin fell out of the sky. And what was even more amazing, it didn't bounce or anything. And it landed exactly in presentation, just exactly like a muffin right in front of me.

And I just thought that is the most amazing thing. Well, I looked up and hunted around the tree, and finally, I found way up, there was a Blue Jay that was looking over. He had obviously - the very strong Blue Jay had stolen this thing somewhere or found it somewhere and was trying to eat it up in the tree and it had gotten away from him.

BLOCK: Or he didn't like it.

FRAZIER: Or he just decided: let's see if I can hit this guy with the muffin. And he missed. But no, I'll go back and describe that in minute detail. You never know what the one funny thing of that might be. But, yeah, I have folders and folders of stuff like that that I've - that I'll just note. And, you know, something - sometimes things come of it, but often, nothing does.

BLOCK: Ian Frazier's new novel is "The Cursing Mommy's Book of Days." Ian, thanks so much.

FRAZIER: Thanks very much for having me, Melissa.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

BLOCK: You're listening to ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.