Point of View: It Was All Right

It was my inner imp that was getting in the way

In rehearsing a speech to give on Helen Rattray’s behalf at her induction into the Long Island Press Club’s Hall of Fame, my nerves got the best of me and I began hamming it up. Actually, it was my inner imp that was getting in the way — I was upstaging myself.

“Think of her,” Mary said, pulling me up short. “Stop all the clowning around. Nobody will pay any attention to what you’re saying, they’ll just notice your tics.” She had learned that years ago in a public speaking course. Next to death, her teacher had told her, people are most afraid of public speaking. I am in that number. 

Mary’s advice was, of course, sound. Make ’em laugh — or at least smile — is more or less my metier. Get in and get out. Which perhaps is why I’ve never written anything longer than 500 words. The speech was more than twice that, and I had fallen so in love with my easeful words that I refused to brook any more changes. Still, I was tending to rush at times, Mary said. Think of Helen and slow down. I had written a good speech. It would be all right.

But would it? The crowd at the Woodbury Country Club that night was raucous. Umpteen awards were being handed out and everyone was hooting and hollering. I remember thinking Karl Grossman, the club’s founder, had created a monster. I was hungering for perhaps one more glass of wine, however unpalatable. 

Best Blog, Best Use of Facebook, Best Use of Twitter, Best Social Media Campaign, Best Non-Local News/Feature, Best Non-Local Photo, Best Food and Beverage Narrative, Best Entertainment Narrative, Best Entertainment Video, Best Interactive Presentation. . . . I remember turning to Helen and saying, “We’re dinosaurs!”

Then they said no one speaking that night (Helen was one of three Hall of Fame honorees, Jimmy Breslin and Carl Corry being the others) should exceed five minutes. We’d timed mine at just under nine! Hurriedly, Mary and I began to slash and burn, Xing out, alas, some funny things. And then I was cued to come up. 

The noise level was still pretty high when I began. 

“After Ev Rattray’s funeral 37 years ago, his widow, Helen Rattray, whom you are honoring tonight, took my hand and held it, as if to say, ‘Well, here we go. . . .’ ” 

As I said this — slowly, and looking at her — I could sense that voices had lowered, that people were listening. 

As Mary had said, I could indeed take my time in addressing myself to Helen, whose night it was. In short, I knew I had them.