Mostly rambles, few brambles
When Giving a Speech, Try Picturing Everyone Naked, See Where That Gets You
My palms were sweaty, and my breaths were quickening as if I were about to deliver a baby made entirely of anxiety. The psych-up speech hadn’t been one of my best. I’d forgotten all the snappy lines and lyrics I usually say to myself, all except for “If you don’t stop sweating, everyone is going to hate you.” What’s the movie where that keeps getting repeated by James Gandolfini?
I had sold more gift-wrap, coupon books, and popcorn tins than anyone else across our company’s eight acres of cubicles. On the phone I could sweet-talk, shit-talk, or pillow-talk anyone into forking over their hard-earned coin, soft-inherited cash, or government-issued welfare in exchange for pre-garbage paper, quick-lube-heavy coupon collections, and popcorn tins of unimaginable grit.
I talk for a living, but tonight I wasn’t ready, and my levels of exuding salty moisture now could only be described as “oyster-esque.”
They introduced me and applause ensued as I shuffled up and hunched over the podium. I wicked another sprinkling of flop sweat off me, flicking it off into the crowd like I was dismissing mass. Looking out at the first row of tables, “The Splash Zone,” I felt the pit of my stomach fall out of my butt, and probably all the way to the Earth’s core, as the other forty tables behind them came into focus.
Our fourth-grade teacher, Mrs. Cook, had once told us, “If you’re nervous speaking in front of people, just picture everyone naked.” Her advice had been entirely predicated upon judging bodies of which people should be personally ashamed. “Consider these varicose-y tubs of mouth-breathing pastiness,” I could hear Mrs. Cook’s saccharine voice saying over and over again, “your speech may be the absolute worst, most incoherent thing your audience has ever heard, but that’s not nearly as embarrassing as living for even a day as one of these distended, fun-house-mirror abominations.”
Surveying the field of skin before me, I thought, “I can’t believe I only had to eat around two hairs in my salad.” Everyone was suddenly so naked and, yet, they had not stopped their gulping of mashed potatoes and pork medallions. I searched Mrs. Cook’s advice for any caveats regarding a gorging audience, but found nothing.
Every word of my speech vanished from my mind and I couldn’t un-see the mole-heavy landscape I had imagined. Curse you, Slippery Gandolfini, I thought. I looked for clues, any context whatsoever, and found myself inferring, “Why, again, was I giving the keynote address at this pre-orgy gala?”
I started slowly with material I thought would go over well in a naked, randy room. I wished them a well-hydrated and inhibition-less evening. “May your hedonistic passions not be fettered by light or light rugburn,” I said as the room hushed. The faces sat stunned now, the din of silverware quieting. My words carried a poise and confidence that I’d never known I possessed. “Love thy neighbor, love them covered in potatoes and in mushroom gravy.” There were laughs, there were gasps, there were heartfelt tears as I transcended lines of oration and pleasure. I’d spent my life talking and selling, but this was the first time I’d actually connected to my audience.
The next day my boss told me she didn’t know who either “Cook” or “Naked Gandolfini” were and, despite her best efforts to get Human Resources to classify my incident as a stress-induced fugue state, my use of pork medallion props was the “material of sexual nightmares.” My speech was unforgiveable, and I would need to wipe of my headset, pack up my desk, and find a new place to sell gritty popcorn over the phone.