Friday, April 13, 2012

In which I tell a story

So there's this fabulous new restaurant & lounge in town called Lot 10. My friend Dan is the chef. If you're not squeamish, you should check out his surreal behind-the-scenes-sort-of blog at Eat Me. The Lounge has been doing a really awesome series called Trampoline with our independent bookstore co-op, Buffalo Street Books. It's a storytelling competition. The first one was last month, and I went and it seemed like a lot of fun. The theme of that one was "In the Beginning." I watched my friends Eric & Dan and my husband get up and tell five minute stories, pretty much off the top of their heads. The theme for April's Trampoline was "The Ex Files." And I thought of a story the minute I heard it. So I thought, I should try this. I'll write my story, practice it (you can't use notes) and get up and tell it. Just to say that I did. I think it's good to challenge yourself every once in awhile, to do something that you normally wouldn't do, or that others wouldn't expect of you.

Now, I'm not a fan of attention- I far prefer to be behind the scenes pulling strings- but I'm no stranger to public speaking. I have to do tours of our facility for my job, as well as getting up and speaking to the resident councils every month. (Trust me, there is no tougher audience than a crowd full of senior citizens who really just want to complain about food.) I've had to do presentations and talks for almost every job I've ever had. It's kind of ironic that someone who's such an introvert has made a career in public relations.  We also had a public speaking/ speech writing component to the English program in my high school, where every year from 8th grade on, you had to write and give a speech. They would pick people from each grade (or class? I don't remember all the details) and have a school-wide competition in the auditorium, then the winners from certain categories would compete regionally. I went to the regionals once. It may have been more than once and I've just blocked it out.

Just because you're familiar with public speaking and not necessarily afraid, it doesn't mean your nerves don't try to get the best of you. And in spite of the fact that I was pleased with my story and well-prepared, once we got to Lot 10 and I threw my figurative hat in the ring, I had to work very hard to keep from becoming a nervous wreck. Several Jameson's & ginger ales helped. What did not help? BEING THE VERY LAST ONE TO GO.

Felt like it looked like this. Could've been the whiskey.
I tried to focus on what exactly I was nervous about- and I realized I was most afraid that I would forget what I was going to say. By the time it was FINALLY my turn, I had convinced myself that once I got into the flow of it, each part would come to me just fine. I had some nervous laughter and for a bit at the very beginning, I panicked that I wasn't going to remember it all. But once I slowed myself down, it all was there.

To be perfectly honest, I didn't give a flying fig how anyone else thought I did. I mean, it was nice to get compliments from my friends in the audience and good marks from the judges (one of which was my husband, who gave me a 9 out of 10 because he didn't want to show favoritism but the crowd convinced him to change his score. So he made it 19 out of 10.) but it didn't matter to me. If I got through it without forgetting any of it, didn't botch up my delivery, and I did pretty much what I set out to do, I was happy. I honestly can't remember the audience's reaction at all. It's funny- it was never the crowd that made me nervous. It was my own memory failing me that gave me the quakes.

Anyway, so next month's theme is "The Greatest." If you're in the Ithaca area, I highly recommend you come out for it. It's Thursday, May 3rd at 7pm. I don't think I'll be doing a story for this one. It will be nice just to sit back and enjoy instead.

For those of you who don't feel you've already wasted enough time reading this entry, I'm putting the text of my story below. Please keep in mind that there is a minor amount of poetic license involved, either for effect or to supplement holes in my memory.

So, my dad was a Navy SEAL.

For the most part, it was pretty cool. But there was one area where it honestly, sincerely, genuinely sucked to be the daughter of a Navy SEAL- and that was dating. Now, I did not head into the courtship arena particularly well equipped to begin with. I possessed plenty of other handicaps besides having a trained assassin for a parent. When I entered seventh grade, I was four feet six inches tall, and I weighed 66 pounds, about three-quarters of which was hair and teeth. But eventually I got a little bit taller, got contact lenses (so I could ditch those Kathy-with-a-k dewdrop glasses with the pink frames- you know the ones), and I finally got my braces off, which meant I didn’t have to wear headgear anymore, which was a very good thing because I’d had the unfortunate habit of wearing my Walkman along with my headgear, so I spent most of junior high tooling around looking like a switchboard operator from the 60s.

But with these crucial changes made, by high school, boys started talking to me. And not just to ask for help with their homework. And after numerous conversations with one in particular, we made plans to watch a movie over at my house one night. So I made popcorn, he brought over some shitty action movie on VHS, and I went down to the fridge in the basement to get us a couple of Cokes. When I returned to the rec room, he was staring at this picture on the wall.

 “Hey, who’s this?” he asked me.

Okay, I made up the machete part.
“That? Oh, that’s my dad.”

“That’s your dad? THAT'S your dad? The guy with the two bandoliers of ammo strapped across his chest and the machete in his teeth? That’s your father?”

“Yeah. He was a Navy SEAL. That’s from when he was in combat in Vietnam.”

Hey, Che!
Now, even though we lived in a very small town, my dad’s service wasn’t really common knowledge at that point. For one thing, my dad didn’t like to brag about it; SEALS are trained to keep a low profile, and like most people who’d served in Vietnam, he was apprehensive about how some people might respond.  And quite frankly, you never would’ve guessed by looking at him. He may have been the spitting image of Che Guevara in his SEAL days, but by the 90s he was looking like a cross between Flip Wilson and Billy Joel.

So, as I confirmed the identity of the man in the picture for my friend, you could see the color drain out of his face, and he started stammering.

“Oh my god! I am such an idiot! I can’t believe I forgot! Listen, I am so sorry, but I just remembered this assignment that I have to do for tomorrow. Wow, I can’t believe I forgot all about it till now.”

“For what class?”

“Uh, English.”

“I’m in your English class. We didn’t have an assignment.”

“Uh, it’s extra credit. Special credit. Extra special credit. I need it to graduate on time. Listen, I’m really sorry. Hey, see you around!”

Thanks, Dad.

I eventually found other less easily intimidated boys and even married one with a minimal amount of bloodshed. But my dad, realizing he had a powerful tool at his disposal, had upped the ante. Framed photos of him in Vietnam started multiplying on the walls of the rec room. Somehow, inexplicably, when I was had a boy over, the photo album from his SEAL training in Coronado would appear on the coffee table in front of the couch, perhaps opened to shots of Hell Week training with green-suited men struggling to run in the surf with a telephone pole hoisted on their shoulders, or maybe my dad’s personal favorite, the one of him posing with the shark he had caught with only his hands and a k-bar knife. But I could tell I had a keeper when I pulled him aside early on & said, “Hey, just so you know, my dad was a Navy SEAL,” and he responded with, “Really? Cool! Does he have any pictures I could see?”


  1. Kerry,
    You always manage to make me smile.
    Thanks for that :)

  2. I'm dying to know who wet themselves in your rec room!..Great story! Can't wait for next month!

  3. caught a shark in his hands oh boy.....and that is SO Brett, he always has a cheerful curiosity doesn't he?

  4. Love it Kerry! Best line ever "66 pounds...three quarters of which was hair and teeth"