Top Worst Things I’ve Had to Do as a Stutterer
1. Say my name in an interview. Kids who stutter generally have problems when the following meet up: nervousness and consonants. My stupid, real, Eastern European-derived nomenclature is like the linguistic CRAG from Guts for kids with debilitating speech impediments. On more than one occasion, I’ve sat for a New York Minute trying to unload a trash bag full of “S’s” and “C’s” out of my ineffectual mouth. At least once in the last 6 months, I’ve actually thrown my middle name in to get a running start at my last name.
2. Talk to people on phones. In person, body language affords the ability for diversion—stuck on a particularly frustrating word like “aluminum” or “Monroe Doctrine?” Just point wildly in the opposite direction, reconfigure your locked-up facial muscles while the person looks to see what’s over there, take a deep breath, grab your ass, and give it another go. But, this can’t happen on the phone. Which is why, as a newspaper intern, especially when covering nerve-wracking assignments (DNR guy in Willmar who has to go shoot the cougar hanging out in a tree by the middle school), there were a few occasions where the next hardball question lofted the way of the interviewee was merely squeaks and gasps for air. Pul-lu-lu-litzer-esque.
3. Read aloud. As an English teacher who occasionally forgets to “prepare/get my shit together” before class, I will often just read aloud like a flash fiction piece from Dave Eggers about a car accident and boxing from our textbook instead of printing it off (laziness=saves paper). But, like every third time, in front of 25 freshmen who until today had some respect for me, I hit a word or sentence that my mouth muscularly can’t finish and instead, I’ll just skates along on a consonant (“Nnnnnnnnnagasaki”) like a cartoon character sliding on a loose banana peel. Some jackass in back may make a thinly-veiled reference to Billy Madison, and I’ll all endure a torturous 35 minutes, dreaming up what kind of drink I’m going to kill myself with tonight at bar.
4. Make polite dinner conversation. Approximately 90 percent of the time stutterers can cover their malfunctioning mouth and/or use techniques (ala wildly pointing in opposite direction, changing the word, firmly clasping your privates) to avoid verbal pratfalls everyone else got over when they left the 3rd grade/didn’t have autism. But, for some reason, polite dinner conversation—usually with your new girlfriend’s parents—is like a Washingtonian spawning-salmon lake for impenetrable words and phrases. Usually I’m in the middle of a conversation, making a hilarious point about asparagus/the bicameral legislative philosophy, and suddenly my mouth locks up like frozen Siberian garage door. The looks on their eyes go from: what a good joke, what will he say next? To “he must be drawing up the suspense for the story?” To “why is his stupid mouth still hanging open, and is he grabbing himself?”