About a month ago, I walked into work on a Monday morning, and set about the usual tasks: cutting fruit, rinsing out the tap lines, priming the dishwasher, making coffee and more. This side of wiping out the salt-gunk that collects on the baseboards during this time of year in Wisconsin — what you have to understand is, once the first major snow and/or ice storm hits around late November or early December, that precipitation is there to stay, forming a sort of semi-permafrost that anchors each subsequent one, aids in its slickness, guarantees a sort of short-term legacy of broken ankles and embarrassment; same goes for the salt laid down by city-owned trucks and management property employees alike: that sh** is ubiquitous till May — it’s the least glamorous part of my job. I’ve recently gotten a promotion and, along with it, a considerable amount of pull and authority. It’s going to my head, too: I throw around my 145 pounds like I’m my own boulder in the Highland Games.
During opening duties — it was, I think, while I was testing the kitchen dishwasher pH — my manager informed me, fairly matter-of-factly, that I was going to be shooting a video later that afternoon for our restaurant’s website. We do several events a month, including monthly tap takeovers, and this was to be the first of many advertising said events. The setup was simple: pimp our three upcoming takeovers, lighting on one beer by each brewery. It would be approximately one minute long; it would feature just me and beers; it would be awkward for everyone involved.
The video itself is actually pretty cool. It’s slickly edited, and I look good. I really do, and it’s more a testament to fortunate lighting and the editing skills of our marketing department. Like I said, it’s about a minute long. Like I didn’t say, it took almost an hour to film.
Some of this is due to the typical nitty-gritty of filmmaking magic: changing angles, slight blocking changes, on-the-fly alterations to dialogue, etc. They checked and changed my mic levels six times, switched up my talking points three times, and we had to restart at least 10 times because I couldn’t keep my eyes looking directly at the camera for one lousy minute.
It had more to do with another aspect of me, though, and that’s my stutter. It’s a speech impediment I’ve been living with ever since I can remember — my parents recall, as I was learning to talk, my grandparents asking why I spoke “like that” — and one that I only really learned to manage about 10 years ago. And by “manage,” I don’t mean that I’ve been able, even now, at almost 30 years old, to control it. It still nags at me, though I think that, simply, my decision to completely disregard it in favor of expressing my thoughts has helped me run, in general, roughshod over most of my speech-related blocks.
I don’t talk about this much. I’ve felt for years, perhaps mistakenly, definitely naively, that I’ve left it mostly behind, that it’s a flaw successfully tucked away, present but unobtrusive: a mole whose edges have yet to unravel into a signifier of something that may or may not be sinister. As a child, it was excruciating, a feeling compounded by the fact that I technically did it to myself whenever it happened; as a rule, I shut up. I got some of the highest grades in my classes, was generally well-liked among friends, but was always the quiet one. If the teacher called on me — which he or she rarely did, made sensitive to my hang-up — I gave one- or two-word answers, and prayed that they didn’t start with “s” or “f.” I once, at nine years old, tried to tell my dad about a 400-foot home run I’d seen on Sports Center one morning before school. It took me five minutes.
These videos are going to be weird for me because I deal with my stutter not through any sort of speech therapy, not through any sort of breath exercises or meditation, but by simply ignoring it. I work a job that requires me to interact with people I’ve never met on a daily basis; to meet with and project some authority to brewery reps, distributors and other people who directly or indirectly might have an impact on the financial stability of our company. I deal with that kind of responsibility by simply owning who and what I am. If it takes me two minutes to say what would take anyone else two seconds to say, then so be it. In a way, it actually works in my favor when negotiating; if you make someone wait on you, they automatically feel like you’re worth waiting for.
I said I’ve watched the video. I have — just not with the sound on. From the visual, I can tell that they’ve taken the best possible takes and spliced them together so that I seem like a halfway coherent human being. I’m grateful. I can tell from watching, though, where I get stuck, if only instantaneously: my eyes project a modicum of panic, if the rest of my face belies it; I’m enjoying what I’m doing, after all, which is talking, effusively, about craft beer. It helps.
Will I ever turn the sound on? I doubt it. Maybe if I’m drunk enough, one night. Words sound different, emanating from within, as opposed to the opposite. And when those words are yours, drunkenness makes all the difference.