Picture me at 15. I’m skinny and awkward. I haven’t figured out how to comb my hair for my age.
In the field behind our house where workers dump road material that will later become a parking lot for a strip mall, I pace back and forth, saying something. Seeing me from a distance, you might conclude I was insane.
“My neighbor has a gun,” I say. “In fact, not having the good fortune to live at the end of a cul-de-sac, all my neighbors have guns.”
It is the 20th or so time I have said these words, the first lines in an eight-minute “standard oratory,” a category of speech competition. I am giving the speech at a competition in a few days, so I am relentlessly practicing.
Every activity or sport or occupation has its own vernacular. At a breakfast place the other day I heard someone ask, “Did you throw the eggs yet?” They needed a verb, so “throw.”
High school speech was no different. The question most often asked as we sat in high school lounges after giving our speeches or performing our theater pieces was, “Did you break?” In speechspeak, it asked if you “broke” through the preliminary first round by qualifying for semi-finals later in the day. We would nervously say, “I hope I break.”
In addition to my standard oratory, I did a humorous duet with Dray Holman, which we took from the Monte Python skit about the Piranha brothers. I also did a dramatic duet with Rob Shaeffer. I don’t remember the exact play from which it was culled, but I do remember that the key element in the scene is that I poison his drink and he dies on stage. Rob died in real life in his 20s.
Admittedly, I wanted to win in every contest, but I was just a tenth grader competing against all high school grades, and wasn’t as good an orator or actor as I might have been. Despite it being a speech class, I didn’t get a lot of instruction. My only first place finish was at the Cameron University meet, which we dominated because it wasn’t much of a tournament.
As my adult life has developed, I have become completely comfortable speaking in public. In fact, I am very much in my element in front of a class of 20 or an audience of 200. If I had the time, I would love to be active in local theater.