More than 25 years ago, back in 1977; I was the smallest kid in school (well I think there may have been a girl or two smaller, but they usually ended up being "March of Dimes" spokes models). Certainly, at the ripe, old age of eight, I was the smallest boy in the 3rd grade at Sabold Elementary School in the painfully, middle class suburbs of blue-collar, white-collar, junkyard dog-collar, Philadelphia.
Each Thursday at 1pm (following a well-balanced lunch of the color brown, green and white - served warm and red served cold and jiggling), my tiny 3"9', 58lbs frame could be found, but almost not seen, rushing down the hallways. My sweet-faced, melon-sized head (accentuated with a chestnut brown mop of hair with bangs that looked like string cheese and spent most of their time encaging my big, brown eyes like jail cell bars) often full of thoughts of Hardy Boys adventures and Evil Kenevil heroics. I would rapidly shuffle my perpetually untied Buster Browns down the stuffy, overheated - "class-is-in-session-better-have-a-hall-pass" halls with the shamelessly painted, orange glazed concrete floors and posters screaming "Reading is D-Y-N-A-M-I-T-E!".
My destination: Speech Therapy
From age seven to my early and tortureous years of junior high school, I was cursed with a rapidly running mouth, a nasal-garrish-Philadelphian accent and "a lisp". Each attribute difficult to take at face value, unless your with the tour company for "RENT", but far more horrific grouped clumsily together
Weekly lessons, diligent practice and constant pressing of my tongue to the back of my front teeth when I was reciting, "She sells seashells by the seashore" (ala Cindy Brady without the curls and well only "half" the sass) didn't offer nearly half the encouragement to improve, that bullying and put-downs from boys with names like "Rusty" and "Pepper" during 7th grade gym glass (an oddly homo-erotic and homo-phobic institution for pubescent humiliation if ever there was one) brought forth in me
My parents were always so proud at how quickly I overcame my lisp once I reached Jr. High school - reasoning that the timing with puberty must be more than coincidence - and be credited for the transformation. I weakly smiled and often retreated to my boyhood bedroom and practiced words like "Stop saying that Stupid Shitheads" and rubbed my scraped knee or bruised arm, like a genie's latern for good luck.
This is all came to mind the other day when the drunken straight guy at dinner seemed so amazed and admiring of my bruiser physique, quick wit and rough exterior...maybe I let myself down by not telling him how I earned it, maybe I should have just smiled and not let it matter, but somewhere in the back of my head - hidden behind years of forgetting, I heard a kind little boys soprano voice chirping - lisping - "thhhhee thhheelllssssthh thhhheashellssthhh by the thhheashore".