Sunday, August 21, 2011

The ding-a-ling’s speech

As I took the sheet of paper out of my rented tuxedo pocket and cleared my throat, I tried not to dwell on the sea of formalwear spreading out before me, its inhabitants waiting patiently for a speech.

My body responds physiologically to public speaking the way a normal person’s body responds to being tasered, with the attendant loss of control of multiple organ groups. Fortunately, my bladder has always hung in there, but as the microphone quivered under my chin, weaving back-and-forth as if getting an early start on the Macarena, I realized that the circuits connecting my hands and my brain were already fried.

Fortunately, I’d folded the page containing my speech into quarters. One lesson I’ve learned the hard way: If you’re giving a speech, never give it from a loose-leaf sheet of paper. Once your hands start shaking, a full sheet of paper becomes a flopping rainbow trout that you’re grasping by the tail.

“It is my great honor to be speaking to you today,” you’ll begin.

“Flap, flap. FLAP FLAP FLAP FLAP!” your speech will say as it jumps out of your hands and wriggles into a nearby creek.

Some people will tell you that it’s helpful to picture members of the audience naked. The male mind pretty much does this by default anyway, so that advice doesn’t really help.

I found myself in this fix because, at great risk of forever tarnishing the superlative, my buddy Derek had asked me to be the best man at his wedding two weekends ago.

That’s a lot of pressure to ask a friend to absorb. Not-too-shabby man? I could handle that. But best man? That sounds like a superhero that never really caught on. Plus, the only way I’d ever honestly describe myself as a “best man” would be if I could add some heavy qualifiers in there, like, “I’m the best man standing in line at this Taco Bell at the moment.”

But just plain best man? Of course I was honored to be asked, but I was far more nervous to be Derek’s best man than I was to be the groom in my own wedding.

For the groom, your main responsibilities are to brush your hair, dress yourself and show up on time, basically all the things you were expected to do for your first day of kindergarten.

The best man has to deliver a speech to a ballroom full of people, treading a fine line of threatening to embarrass the groom without actually saying anything bad about him, all while being funny, touching or both. And he must do all this even if he is the kind of guy who gets nervous and flubs his order at the drive-thru.

Here’s a little excerpt from my toast, which helps to explain why single-occupancy rooms in college are so popular:

“One year, Derek and I shared a townhouse with four other guys, and the only way those four guys and I could survive on our own was to forage through Derek’s cabinet and eat his Doritos. Derek just wanted to keep his private Dorito stash, but every time he bought a bag, we’d wait ‘til he was gone and plow through them. Eventually, Derek put a Kryptonite bike lock through the handles of his cabinets. I think the low point of his college career might have been the time he came home to find his cabinet doors locked together, sitting on the floor with their hinges removed, with an empty Doritos bag on the coffee table.”

At that point in the speech, I handed Derek a new bag of Doritos, hoping to make amends. I learned from Gallagher and Carrot Top that good props can make up for bad jokes.

Anyway, despite any speech-giving travesties that may have occurred that day, Derek and Becky got off to a great start. I probably shouldn’t have eaten their new bag of Doritos, though.

You can help Mike Todd figure out how to work his cufflinks at

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