The following was part of a featured speech at the 1991 National Stuttering Project convention in Dallas, Texas. The speaker, who is a professor in the Purdue University Department of Communication Disorders, has given his permission for it to be reproduced below. JAK

Old Fart Face

by Bill Murphy

As far back as I can remember and until my mid thirties, I vigorously attempted to hide my stuttering at all costs. My bag of tricks was full. Word substitutions, circumlocutions and other avoidances were my mainstay. But my repertoire also included more tricky, covert means to temporarily hide the stuttering. Timing my speech output, just as someone else was beginning to speak, or raising the intensity of my voice stopped the dreaded jerking of my head or the vice-like clamping together of my vocal cords where no sound would come forth. If these preventatives failed and stuttering began, I was prepared with many disguise behaviors: pretending to have a coughing spasm, a sudden sneeze, or letting all of my air out and trying to talk with what is called expiratory air reserve.

Now, of course, as all stutterers know, these tricks of the trade aren't fool proof and mine failed as much as they succeeded. So the quest to discover new, more subtle ways to hide my stuttering was surely as diligent as the ancient knights' quest for the Holy Grail. The search to find the means to hide my stuttering was especially important because, despite my blocking and jerking, I was fairly outgoing. My desire for social contact fit especially well with the discovery during my senior year in college that I could be fluent at times if I played the role of a clowning, joking prankster.

About the time I was perfecting this new trick, I met a sexy young lady. She had just graduated from college and was teaching in a small town about a half hour drive from campus. We were introduced by her cousin, a fellow I had met drinking beer in one of the local college bars. Of course, right from the beginning I began the quest to hide my stuttering. This was somewhat easier because I met this young lady for the first few dates at the above mentioned bar. Masking the stuttering was enhanced by downing a couple of beers, giving me a sense of well being and a feeling as if I possessed the proverbial glib tongue. After a few drinks we would go out to eat or to a movie, usually double-dating with her cousin and his girl friend. This, of course, made it easier since being in the company of others who could carry the conversation allowed me to reserve my speech for words that were more likely to come out fluently.

After the third date or so I screwed up enough courage to ask the cousin how he thought I was doing. His response, "She thinks you're kinda cute," although hard for me to believe, set my heart to racing. The delicious racing, however, quickly turned to thumping fear. "She thinks I'm cute," I thought. "Boy it must be because she doesn't know I stutter." Now, even more than ever, I had to do everything I could to hide my stuttering.

The following weekend we met again. This time we began with a movie; no fluency enhancing liquor, no double date partners to fill in the quiet spaces. Just me and her! What a night! I turned my bag of tricks inside out: word substitutions, voice changes, joking, laughing and playing the buffoon. I'd say anything as long as it came out fluently. At some point during the night I sensed not all was going smoothly between us, but my drive to hide the stuttering overpowered my social senses. At the end of the date I remember asking her if she was coming to town the following weekend. Her response was lukewarm, something about being unsure and why don't I call her and we'd discuss it. CALL HER! Oh, if she only knew. I might be able to hide my stuttering in person, but over the phone, not a chance.

The next few days were filled with anxiety whenever I thought of the phone call. Several times I actually picked up the phone and dialed the first few numbers but quickly hung up. I tried to think how I might begin without stuttering, because, as many stutterers know, if one can just start fluently the rest of the conversation may come out smoothly. For sure, I knew I couldn't say my name. Over the years I had developed quite a repertoire of word and sound fears. Beyond a shadow of doubt, I knew words beginning with p, b, t, or d were death traps. Words beginning with s, sh, and f could usually be spoken fluently.

By Thursday afternoon I had had it. I couldn't, I wouldn't procrastinate further. The agony was unbearable. I was going to make this call, now! Dialing each number increased the pounding of my heart. What could I say? How could I say it? Maybe I could be funny. What words would come out? From the receiver I heard, "Hello." Nothing came out of my lips. "Hello, Hello" she repeated. This time I sputtered, "Er, Oh, Ah." Again she asked, "Hello, who is this?" My mind was racing. What sound could I say? Suddenly I thought, "'F' words are easy to say," but what "f" word? What would sound funny and fluent? And then it just came out. Loud and clear with absolutely no stuttering, "HELLO, FART FACE." After a long pause I heard, "Bill, is that you?"

I don't remember the rest of the conversation. Yes, I had been fluent, but now I was also mortified. I was ashamed. "Fart Face?" Where did that come from? How could I have said that?

I never saw the young lady again. I never told anyone about the call and whenever it popped into my head, like a nightmare, I quickly shoved it back into my unconscious recesses.

It was fifteen years later when I first shared that shameful moment with another person. After sharing the experience I felt a little better so I kept telling it. Today, almost twenty-five years have passed since I uttered those three words. But now I feel different. The story is now told as a joke. It's actually funny to me. Each retelling has leaked away little bits and pieces of the original shame. My speech is now generally fluent and I try to smoothly ease out the remaining stuttering. The shame of stuttering is still present, but greatly reduced. I minimize the shame by doing lots of voluntary stuttering and talking to people about my stuttering. Life is pretty good now. I have a lovely wife and son and generally feel successful in my profession. But you know, every now and then, I wonder, whatever happened to Fart Face?

added with the author's permission, November 25, 1997