Posted tagged ‘speech impediments’

Boring Jim

June 21, 2011

Circa 1989, I was completing my shift at what was probably the worst job I have ever had.  Believe me, that is saying something.  I was working nights in Brooklyn for a major commercial bank.  My job title was Final Proof Clerk, and I worked alone.  The salary was abysmal and the hours long.  I went in at about 4:00 PM, and with overtime virtually guaranteed, I did not usually get home to Manhattan until 3:00 AM at best.  In those days, the City was not so gentrified, and the subway commute at that hour was often an adventure, particularly since I was dressed in a suit and carrying a briefcase.  One of the things I had going for me was I was often mistaken for a cop by the night people looking for trouble.  There were a few incidents, but it could have been worse.

 I liked to stop off at a local saloon a block from home for a few pops before going home.  My buddy Matthew was the bartender, and out of courtesy, I would call and see if he was going to be closing, or if he’d wait for me to come in.  It is crucial here to mention that I stutter.  My stutter is neither subtle nor occasional.  I stutter frequently and very obviously.  I would call Matty and ask if I could come by, and invariably, he’d say loudly “Who is this?” Since I had had trouble saying his name, he knew exactly who it was, but it was always worth a chuckle.  A number of my friends over the years have pulled that on me, and it is pretty funny.  I don’t mind friends giving me flack as I’m a master at giving it back.  Give and take is a good thing if you have the temperament for it.  Matty told me he had a few stragglers yet and couldn’t close, so come on in.  It was a Tuesday night.

I arrived at the bar about 3:30 AM.  There was one couple at the end of the bar animatedly groping each other and an older dude sitting in the corner by himself.  I’d seen the guy around, although we’d never spoken.  I was to learn later that everyone called the guy Boring Jim.  In my experience, people who get saddled with a handle like that have earned it. In spades.

Matty came over, brought me a beer, and we shot the breeze for awhile.  Our conversations usually were made up of insults of varying degrees.  Matty looked like a bouncer, maybe a former offensive lineman.  In truth, he was a very interesting and educated guy; a teacher, football coach and a history buff.  But he was not terribly interested in making great impressions.  If a customer came in and thought Matty looked like a bonehead, he was happy to meet their expectations.  He also had another trait I greatly admired, one which I possess myself.  Many people have a certain line of decorum beyond which they will not go.  If Matty had such a line, it was very pliant.  He could be absolutely out of control, and although being good and “cocktailed’ helped, it was not required.  The guy was a riot.

The couple at the end of the bar required refills, and Matty left to take care of them.  Out of the corner of my eye, I caught the older guy getting out of his chair and sidling over to join me.  He asked if I minded him joining me, and being a gregarious and friendly sort, I shrugged.  I didn’t mind if he did; or didn’t.  He slid into the chair next to me.

“I couldn’t help overhearing your conversation,” the guy said. “I’m Jim,” he said, holding out his hand.

“Billy,” I said, shaking it.

Jim leaned closer to me, looked around to insure privacy, and asked in a secretive voice “Are you aware you have a speech impediment?”

His question absolutely amazed me. Having been saddled with stuttering since kindergarten as a result of paralysis from an allergic reaction that had nearly killed me, my very essence had been shaped by this handicap. Kids are cruel to others who are different, and I’d been “aware” as long as I could remember.  But anyone capable of asking a question of such moronic magnitude had potential.  I saw the chance to have some fun with this guy.

No” I replied with an expression of dismay.  “No one has ever told me that.”

“Oh, no question, you do,” Jim said, nodding his head sagely.

“You know Jim, people have been looking at me strangely for years, and I could never figure it out” I said.  “But thanks to your insight, it is beginning to make some sense to me.  They must have been looking at me because I talk funny.”

“Oh yeah, yeah” Jim nodded emphatically.  “They heard your speech impediment.”

“Well thanks Jim, that would make sense.” I said. “The waters are a little less murky.”

Matty returned, having overheard the entire exchange.  He was fighting desperately to keep from laughing out loud.  I was hoping he’d make eye contact with me, but he was too smart for that.  He’d have definitely lost it.

As we spoke, our attention was drawn to the couple at the end of the bar. The groping had intensified, and it appeared they were contemplating attempting coitus on two bar stools, a feat better left to circus acrobats.  Matty saw the situation, reached under the bar, and came out with a mini-Louisville Slugger baseball bat.  He walked down to the entangled couple, who were far too involved to see him coming, and slammed the bat on the bar in front of them.  The sound was like a gunshot.  The couple unclenched and sat looking fearfully at Matty and his bat.

“What do you two do in bed?” Matty inquired, “Drink?”

“So Billy, what do you do for a living?” Jim asked, as Matty rejoined us.

I do hockey play-by-play,” I answered, pausing for effect.  “On radio.”

My reply, coupled with Jim’s look of absolute bewilderment, caused Matty to guffaw out loud.

“Naw Jim, just pulling your leg there” I said, smiling.  “I’m an interpreter at the UN. Have a good night.”

I left.