Herman: Is this South Lamar holiday greeting vulgar or good cheer?

Nov 30, 2017
Ken Herman
The holiday greetings sign at Work Coffee Co. on South Lamar Boulevard has drawn some objections. On this photo, the American-Statesman blacked out the letters in the word that is offending some passers-by. The letters are not blacked out on the sign. KEN HERMAN / AMERICAN-STATESMAN

Noah Marion insists the holiday message prominently posted on the streetside sign outside his South Lamar Boulevard business is meant to be the sincerest of seasonal greetings. Others see otherwise.

Marion’s Work Coffee Co. has been there, along with Noah Marion Quality Goods, which makes and sells leather goods, for four years. It’s drawn some positive Yelp reviews.

In August, a Yelp reviewer praised Work as “my favorite place to get work done. Great atmosphere, people and space. The house-made cold brew coffee gets me going like no other (and) the leather goods are just the icing on the cake.”

Back in June, my distinguished colleague Michael Barnes wrote: “Despite the current lack of decaf coffee, I fell in love with this charming and very local spot. I even purchased a hand-tooled wallet.”

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But recent Yelp reviews have taken a decidedly negative tone.

Nov. 22: “Driving down Lamar and what do I see?? ‘Happy F—- Holidays’ on their sign. What kind of place of business would not only feel this way but publicly denounce ‘The Holidays’ – aka Christmas? Don’t care what they have to offer inside, would never support this business.”

The reviewer didn’t spell out the offending word. The sign does, but we won’t here in the family newspaper. (We blacked out some of the letters in photos taken to go with this column.)

A Nov. 15 Yelp review: “I am no prude but try not to cuss in front of my kids. When driving home with them in the car, my 3-year-old asked what (those seven letters) spelled. I told her and tried to explain that we don’t say that. But she is curious and learning and then asked what it meant. I just hope she doesn’t say it and end up getting in trouble at school. A place with so little care and respect for kids isn’t one I will visit.”

There are more complaints on Work Coffee’s Facebook page: “Never been there. Will never go there. Their sign using a vulgar word that they think is cute has convinced me that the taste of their coffee must be as bad as their taste in wishing me a happy ‘f—ing’ holiday. … And don’t use words like that on a sign that is placed in a position for all to see, including kids.”

Another: “Your sign is vulgar, nasty and inappropriate. Fbombing the holidays is just not right. I don’t care how weird Austin is.”

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Another: “Colossal signage fail. A poor taste pour-over that has fouled South Lamar and your company’s reputation. Pretty sure you’re probably violating signage ordinance, too. Y’all really need to take that down and apologize. Peace and good will trumps Toxic.” (FYI, the city has no ordinance regulating sign content.)

And there are more, enough so that by Nov. 15 Marion posted a response that fully spelled out the word (I’m not doing that here): “We are very sorry you find our lighthearted adoration for the word f—- to be offensive. … We are spreading holiday cheer and love for one and all. We all have different perspective about the world around us and I respect your perspective but I am a creative person who makes the decisions around here and I don’t feel like you’re respecting my differing perspective. F—- isn’t a bad thing around here, we celebrate regaining that word for positivity. Thank you and have a blessed day.”

I spoke with Marion and found him thoughtful, though I largely disagree with his thoughts. He told me he was “extremely shocked” by the negative feedback and said positive response has outweighed the negative. I’m extremely shocked that anybody would be extremely shocked that the sign would draw some ire.

Marion says in his world and his store “that word (is) the best superlative.”

“And, honestly, we were just saying happy holidays to the nth degree,” he said. “That’s the way here in our world we say it.”

“One man’s vulgarity,” he said, “is another man’s poetry.”

“Vulgarity is such a bizarre thing in my mind. It’s completely contextual and it’s generational and it’s time sensitive and time relative. … I really just believe that we live in an antiquated world filled with notions of prudence, and the time is now to change all things, especially those that no longer have a place in the world.”

“Spreading happy holiday cheer in the parlance of our time is most certainly not the most egregious act that’s happening in the world today,” he said.

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Marion is 33, unmarried, has no kids and insists “I wasn’t trying to do anything but spread cheer.” He’s unconcerned about the sayers of nay.

“None of those people come in here anyway. If they had been our patrons and had ever bothered stopping to see what we do here it would be a different story,” he said. “But none of those people are stopping. And quite frankly they never will anyway because they’re going to Starbucks or whatever. They’re not supporting local businesses, and they don’t have a good sense of humor.

“So they would be a fish out of water at a store where we believe in everybody’s individuality and freedom of expression and freedom of language. And that one word today doesn’t mean the same thing it meant 40 years ago.”

Yes, probably. But I think he’s missing a point here. For better or worse, many of us communicate in different ways to different people, tailoring what we say to the audience that’s going to hear it. There’s a time and a place for some words. I don’t think the holiday season and a South Lamar sign are the time and place for this word. But maybe this indeed is generational and time-sensitive and time-relative.