By Harry Welty
All that I had to do was give damned oral book report. Little did I know that it would knock me off whatever trajectory I was on like a nuclear blast nudging an asteroid out of an imminent collision with Earth.
Mrs. Berg was not a bad teacher although Larry Noteworthy, and Jim Bigham, now an orchestra teacher and an attorney respectively, had put her in a foul mood. This was the year they climbed up on the roof of our school and draped a bed sheet over her window with some illegible, sophomoric joke on it
I didnít think much about it when she assigned the report. I went to the school library with the rest of the class and checked out one of the Danny Deaver books. As I began reading I noticed some classmates copying the blurbs from the dust jackets of the books they would be reporting on. I was a little resentful that while I was actually reading my book their shortcut would spare them the necessity of doing any actual work.
Like most of my teachers, Mrs. Berg had alphabetized us for her seating chart. This meant that I, as a student whose name started with the letter W, always sat against the far wall which meant that I was always the last student to escape once class was dismissed. In this case it also meant I would be one of the last students to give my report.
Linda Chutney, a transfer student, had taken a vacated desk in the front of my row. An adult would have described Linda as mature. As a ninth grade boy all I knew was that Linda had these things on her chest which I wasnít supposed to take any notice of Ė two of them. Linda was obviously very nervous when she gave her report. She took deep breaths as she struggled to keep her composure so that her bosom rose and fell like the prow of a clipper ship in heavy seas. The effect it had on me was not unlike that of a psychologist swinging a pocket watch back and fourth. All I could think as Linda gave her report breath by breath was: ďDear God donít let me look that conspicuous when I give my report. Of course, this ghastly thought became a self-fulfilling prophecy.
When my name was called I instinctively took the deepest breath I could. I must have reasoned that if I could just cram enough air in my lungs I wouldnít have to exhale like poor Linda had.
ďMy report is about the book Danny Deaver and hisĒ . . . (I donít recall) flying machine, submarine, time machine . . . whatever. . . I began boldly as the huge well of oxygen in my lungs escaped. From the moment I began I knew that after I had used up all that air I would never be able to inhale again. I would have but one breath to give my entire report. All I could do was wait helplessly as the kid at the end of the alphabet made a fool of himself.
As my lungs emptied I tried to compensate by racing through my report but this was of little use. My final words came out sounding like the rude noise an unknotted balloon makes as it jets willy nilly through the air until it falls to the floor spent. I only stood about five inches tall as I slunk back to my desk. I waited in dismal silence as Mrs. Berg made notes on the written portion of my report. The entire class seemed to have a hand in passing my paper back to me. It was marked with a vivid, red F.
I was so shell shocked that that very night I begged my father, MY FATHER, for advice on how to avoid embarrassing myself in public ever again. He suggested that go out for debate the following year when I entered High School. Although this would mean having to get up and speak in front of people again I was so desperate that I took my Dadís advice.
My first debate was judged by a nun who was a locally famous debate coach. Iíll never forget how she let loose a loud, guffaw when I announced that I would offer 25 reasons, in my five minute rebuttal, explaining why the other side had not made its case.
Iíll never know where my original orbit would have taken me before that ninth grade panic attack but I am where I am today because of it. Iíve also had twenty-five reasons for everything ever since.
is a small time politician who lets it all hang out at: www.snowbizz.com