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What it's like to speak to "older folks"

THE PUBLIC SPEAKER

By Bruce Cameron

According to my web site, I am a gifted public speaker in high demand. In this case, "high demand" means the same as "no one ever calls," because unless you count the time my high-school principal made me go on the intercom and confess that it was I who put a whoopee cushion on his chair at the last school assembly, I haven't really done much public speaking.

So I was more than a little excited when I received a call from the director of a place called Candlewood Living, asking if I'd come give a talk to the residents. "We always have a pretty good turnout for Leno," he advised me.

Leno? I was going to be following Jay Leno? I gripped the phone, concentrating on not panting. The words "HBO Special" started streaming across my mental vision. "I think I have that date open," I stated carefully, looking at my blank calendar.

"So what's your fee?" he asked me.

My fee? I closed my eyes. They were going to pay me? Me, the boy whose parents used to bribe him not to talk when the neighbors came over for dinner? "Um, I usually charge five hundred dollars," I lied, willing to negotiate.

"Well, we can't afford to pay anything."

Probably blew their budget on Leno. "That's okay," I negotiated.

A week later I found myself standing in front of the television in an intimate setting of couches and wheelchairs, nervously shuffling my index cards. The director of Candlewood Living told me I could start any time.

"This is where you do Leno?" I queried, glancing around the small room.

"Yeah, anybody who is still awake comes in to watch him every night," he told me.

I cleared my throat. "Well hello," I greeted the group. "A funny thing happened to me on the way back from..." I peered at my index card. What did it say? Paris? When the heck was I in Paris?

A man wearing glasses with black frames so thick they could properly be called "girders" held up his hand.

"Um, let's hold questions until the end," I told him.

"I just want to say, it's time to replace the carpet in the hallway."

"Oh Bert, not again," a woman moaned.

"What do you care?" Bert demanded. "You have more shoes than anybody."

Another hand went up. "What do you do, exactly?"

"I'm a humorist," I responded uncomfortably.

Everyone looked at me in horror.

"What kind of way is that to make a living?" my questioner challenged angrily.

This conversation sounded an awful lot like the one I'd been having with my father for the past several years. Since I already knew how it turned out, I was reluctant to get involved in this debate.

"I'm not like these other people. I've been as regular as clockwork. The trick isn't fiber, you just have to eat an apple a day," another man confided to me.

"So I was on my way back from Paris," I read from my card.

"Let the boy speak," Bert interrupted.

"Thank you," I responded gratefully.

"I just want to get this over with," Bert advised me.

"Son, would you mind scooting to the right just a little?" a nice old lady requested, making a waving motion with her hand. I slid to the right and stepped a little closer so she could see me better. "That's good," she nodded. She reached into her shawl and brought out the television remote.

"We're not watching Dukes of Hazard again," one man warned.

"Have you even seen the carpet in the hallway?" Bert demanded.

"Oh Bert," sighed the woman with many shoes.

"Well no," I admitted, "but this funny thing happened to me--"

"Well come on, I'll show it to you," Bert suggested, standing up.

"Why should he care about some carpet?" asked the man who ate apples regularly.

"Isn't that what he does for a living?" Bert sneered.

Apparently this was a good point, because no one argued. In fact, most of them seemed transfixed by the Home Shopping Network.

"Well, thanks for having me," I read from the last card in the deck.

No one applauded.

-- write to the author at
bruce@wbrucecameron.com

The Cameron Column, A Free Internet Newsletter
Copyright W. Bruce Cameron 2002
http://www.wbrucecameron.com/

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