My first stuttering memory

While it is not really the first time I recall myself stuttering (or stammering, as I used to call it back then), it is my first major memory of realizing I have a speech impediment that will cause me problems.  The reason this memory popped back in my mind is because I was wondering about stuttering in other languages.  I do stutter in all languages I speak.  But I’ve heard anecdotal evidence of people only stuttering in certain languages, or not stuttering when they put on an obvious accent.

Anyway, back to my memory.  I must’ve been 12 or 13, I was probably in the 6th or 7th grade.  I was chosen (for what I can’t recall) to participate in a school debate.  In my second language. Hindi.  My history with Hindi is not a fun one.  I disliked the subject so much in school, that I even now have nightmares about my 10 grade final exam which involved memorizing literature from 3 text books.  I always went to “tuition” classes for Hindi, not that it helped much.  Anyway, now that I agreed to participate in this debate, I started preparing for it.  For the life of me, I can’t remember what the subject was, but I remember preparing for it with my Hindi tuition teacher, a kindly old woman who taught my friend and I for a few hours after school, when we’d rather be outside playing Tennis or Cricket.  I had my essay written out, she marked it up, I wrote it out again.  I practiced it, she praised my performance.  I practiced it again the night before the debate, and I was good to go. Or I thought I was.

I got up on stage the next day in school, in front of a crowd of about 150 kids (or maybe it just seems like 150 now and it was actually more like 35). I started to deliver my memorized speech-debate.  But my stomach knotted up, my throat went dry and my brain stopped working.  I was panting for breath.  I was stammering worse than I ever had.  It seemed like every word began with a vowel that caused me to struggle and repeat it, excruciatingly.   With things going so badly, my eyes glazed over.  I stopped paying attention to the audience or the delivery stance and poise one had to have while debating.  Instead all my attention was focussed on my own stress.  All I could think of was finishing this ordeal as fast as I could so my heart would stop pounding in my chest.  But the faster I tried to speak, the more I stuttered, the more I stuttered, the longer it took.

In hindsight, I don’t think I was ever nervous going up there to give my speech.  I don’t think it occurred to me that my stuttering would be a problem. And when I got up there and it became a problem, it took over me.  I can’t remember much after I was done.  I can’t remember what I did, where I went or how I felt.  Knowing me, I likely took my seat in the audience, listened to the next guy speak and when my heart and stopped beating, I probably forgot all about it.

The Haircut

This past weekend, luck put me on my way to Philadelphia on a Saturday.  As soon as I realized that Max’s would still be open I called for an appointment and he had an opening at 5:00 PM.  Maxamillion’s Gentlemen’s Quarters is a barber shop in the Rittenhouse area of Philadelphia.  I stumbled upon his shop a little over a year ago, while walking around the area.  I have been to several men’s saloons, unisex saloons and hair “chop-shops” but nothing like Max’s.  A large window overlooking Chestnut street, mahogany and oak mirrors and chairs, jazz & blues music playing in the background, the lingering smell of aftershave, a shoe-shine boy, and photographs on the wall of the famous people’s hair that have been cut at this establishment.

Max is a imposing, black man in what seems like his early 50’s.  Always a smile and a wave for everyone that walks by the window, he’s always dressed impeccably, be it his white barber coat or a denim jacket from the 80s.  His shoes are polished so that the gleaming light reflects of them.  His hair and beard are always perfectly trimmed.

Is it any wonder that the best haircut’s I’ve ever received have been from Max? He pays attention to every line with the shaver, every trim with the scissors and every draw of the comb.  When I leave Max’s 30 minutes after I sit in the barber’s chair, I look better and feel better.  It’s a true men’s salon, not like the namby-pamby establishments that surround it.  A man should only get his hair cut by another man, and preferably by a black man.  They know style.  Now I just hope that I’ll have a head of hair long enough to keep enjoying these fantastic haircuts.