My Name is Jim Abbott; A-b-b-o-t-t

by Jim Abbott

In my younger days, like many of us, saying my name (especially my last name) was quite the problem. Almost always, the attempt to do such would result in a block, followed by the traditional (not to mention most infuriating) comment of "what, don't you know you're own name?" (HA-HA; very funny.) Or, along with the stomping of the feet, neck twists, and facial contortions, it would come out a garbled, gurbled, mumbled mess; at which point my listener would invariably ask, "I didn't quite catch that last name," and I'd have to start all over again.

At some point, during my early 20's, I came up with the idea of saying my full name, and then spelling out my last name. That way, I could at least (hopefully) gain some control of the phone call/name saying situation. I used this technique (if you can call it such), mostly on the phone; so that my listener, when they asked who I was, would always hear me say "my name is Jim Abbott; A-b-b-o-t-t." For some reason, doing this seemed to relax me a bit and allow me to say my name with a greater degree of fluency in the first place. This became a standard practice which I still do to this day, though much of the time, I manage to speak more fluently than I did in my youth.

A couple of years ago, a guy who I worked with, a fellow who I'll call Lance; seeing as that's his name, rose thru the ranks of our union (United Auto Workers), to become the president of our local (Local 155.) There have been a number of occasions in which I have had to call him at work; and every time, when asked by his receptionist "who's calling please?", I would answer, "my name as Jim Abbott; A-b-b-o-t-t." About 5 months ago; Lance called me at home, and said, in a joking fashion, "is this Jim A -b-b-o-t-t. I knew immediately what he was referring to. Obviously the receptionist (her name is Tracy) had made a comment about my phone mannerism's. After we finished our conversation, I explained to him why I always spelled my name when I called down to the local. He laughed and said he was just messing with me, that it was no big deal; but to me, it kinda was.

As a PWS, I grew up as the butt of a lot of jokes. Now, here I was, 42 years old; having long since gotten over the shame and embarrassment that my stuttered speech had once caused me, feeling once again as if I was being made fun of. This time, not because I stuttered, but because of something I had started doing as a reaction to my stuttering. I made up my mind to talk to Tracy; to try to clear the air. Not that I was planning on dressing her down or anything; but just to explain why I did what it was that I did.

While I was at first somewhat cheesed off, as the weeks passed, I began to think that perhaps she took what she obviously looked at as my rather bizarre phone behavior as somewhat of an insult to her; that perhaps she thought that I thought that she wasn't all that bright. That even after numerous phone calls, I still felt she needed instructions in how to spell my last name. Now, I was more determined than ever to clear the air.

In the ensuing months, I saw Tracy on a few occasions, but the time was never right; she was leaving the building, or she was busy, or I had something going on. That is, until this past Thursday, at our monthly Executive Board/Joint Council meetings. In between sessions, I saw her alone in one of the meetings rooms; so I approached her.

I told her about my stuttering, and how I began spelling my last name in an effort to avoid having to repeat myself. About how I have continued that practice to this day, how it has become habit more than anything. I also told her that while at first I was kind of angry, I came to realize that perhaps I'm the one who should be apologizing, as perhaps she felt that I was insulting her.

Wouldn't you know it, we were standing by the copying machine, and as we were talking, Lance came in the room to make a copy of something or other. Being the wise acre that he is, he couldn't help but interject a smart alec comment. During a lull in the conversation, he made mention how I was much like Tigger from Winnie the Pooh. You remember Tigger (voiced, I believe, by Paul Winchel), he who would always say his name as, "T-i- double g-er; that spells Tigger." Like I said, Lance is a real wise guy.

Tracy and I laughed about the whole situation, and she assured me she was insulted not in the least. She also said that she at no time thought my phone conversations to be a bit strange; but me thinks her eyes told a different story, though that is really unimportant. I felt better after talking to her, as I had gotten something off of my chest that had really been bothering me.

Anyway, that is all that I had wanted to say and..........oh, by the way, did I mention that during our conversion, Tracy told me her husband also stuttered?; and she spoke of how frustrated he sometimes gets because of it. So before I left, I told her about our support group, about the National Stuttering Association, and I handed her one of the NSA business cards that I always carry in my wallet; on which I had written both the phone numbers of both Bernie Weiner and myself. Now, will the gentleman in question ever call either Bernie, myself, or the NSA. Maybe, maybe not. No doubt, there is a good chance he won't; after all, there are three million PWS in this country, yet the NSA only has some 3,000 members. There are about 25,000 PWS in the metro Detroit area, yet we only have some 25-30 people who semi regularly attend our meetings. Maybe he won't call for weeks, month's or even years. Maybe he never will make that phone call, but at least he's been provided with some information that perhaps he didn't know about before, information he might someday make use of, information that might someday have a positive affect on his life.

I reckon these words are geared towards those who are mild stutterer's, or those so called "covert" stutterer's. Those who at times can come across as being, or those who try to project themselves's as being, fluenters. I guess the morale to my little tale then is this; when you come out of the stuttering closet, when you open up, when you're able to cast aside the shame, the fear, the embarrassment. When you're able to begin talking to others about your affliction, even on those occasions when your stuttered speech is not so obvious; you never know who you're going to meet, or somehow come in contact with. And you never know who's life you might someday help change.

posted to Stutt-l, February 23, 2002
added with permission of the author