talking in public

I have neglected to mention that I also give historical walking tours of the Lower East Side, of the Bowery, of Chinatown and Alphabet City. Each of these last lasts about two hours of non stop talking. Yesterday I gave the first historical walking tour of the Bowery since the stroke two weeks ago. (I would have done last week, but no one showed up.)

I wasn’t sure how it would go, but it wasn’t bad at all. Many of the tour phrases are familiar to me from prior repetitions, so opportunity to innovate sentences is limited. Besides, the  richness of the information dwarfs the occasional odd expression or hesitation, so it was [a] fun tour, although I was annoyed, mostly by pride, for the sake of not having my accustomed fluency and facility.

In any case, it was a rich opportunity to observe deficits. Most obvious, though not perhaps most common, were momentary lapses for lexical items. Some were easily by compensated by alternate words: couldn’t recall “actor” so I improvised “thespian,” not the ideal word, but serviceable. On the other hand, I spent about ten long seconds finding the expression “men’s shelter” for which there simply was no substitute. I have no statistical evidence, but it does seem that compounds are particularly trouble for retrieval: “birdwatcher,” for example; “ornithologist” had to suffice in a pinch. People must think I’m awful pretentious or, at best, “precious.”

More common were the strange turns of phrase and odd grammatical quirks: shifts from active to passive, agent to object, plural for singular either in the noun or verb. Since the tour is a performance, I didn’t have time to note the deficits carefully, but I did find myself at a little confused at midsentence, uncertain where the agreement or grammatical relations would continue correctly.

Later that evening, I spent an old acquaintance whom I’ve always cherished for his careful sentence structures in speech. I had forgotten the other side to his speech character: his slow, deliberate speech. It was pleasant to recall that there are many speech styles and many virtues.

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