Puppy Chow and the Art of Public Speaking

Remember when you gave your first speech in school? So humiliating. Nerves out of control. Trying to remember breathing. Talking too quietly. Swaying. Suddenly forgetting that you had control over your body movements and gestures; awkwardly forcing them instead. Thinking note cards would save you from your listeners. Finishing twice as quickly as when you practiced at home.

If any of you have ever watched me give a speech, you know that 4th grade train wreck hasn’t gone away for me yet. I cannot imagine how painful it is to watch or how uninformed you feel when I am done. Heck, I don’t even like my speeches. I…Abhor. Despise. Loathe. Passionately hate speeches with all of my heart.

After years of embarrassing treachery in junior high and high school, I purposely took my undergraduate speech requirement at the esteemed Lincoln Land Community College. I wanted to avoid seeing anyone I knew, and I didn’t have to worry about my grade as long as I passed (transfer credits don’t go toward GPA).

Our first speech was the simple demonstration speech. I was randomly selected to go the first day. Like everything school-related, and because it was summer, I put in as little effort as humanly possible. I just wanted to get this class over with for so many reasons. I chose to demonstrate how to make Puppy Chow because it is simple and one of my favorite things in the world.

Speech day rolls around.

So here I am, practicing my stupid speech with the expectation of pure hell, and the teacher asks us to come to the chalkboard to sign up for time slots 1-6. What in the world do I want in this situation? Do I want to fail early but get it out of the way? Or do I want to crash and burn toward the end when people care less, yet have to sit there dreading my turn? I can’t bear going first. A demonstration speech on how to prepare Puppy Chow, one of the easiest things in the world to make, by someone who clearly wants to be anywhere but in front of this room of people making Puppy Chow, is idiotic. So I sign up for second. This will give me enough time to see that it is possible for another human being to give a speech to a group of fellow humans and not spontaneously combust. Plus, there will not be enough time to have a heart attack from apprehension.

I sit back, try to relax, and watch Jennifer L. walk up to the front of the room. “I wonder what creative idea she has for this demonstration speech,” I think to myself to pretend like I care. She starts getting supplies from two brown bags and puts them on a table. Seems like this involves cooking.

“Hi class, I’m Jennifer, and I am going to show you how to make a yummy treat today.”

I see what looks to be a box of cereal, and maybe some chocolate chips.

“My family calls it “Muddy Buddies,” but you have probably all had the popular dessert known as ‘Puppy Chow’.”

WHAT.

Are you serious?

This is unbelievable. I can’t even comprehend how ridiculous this is.

She is making Puppy Chow also? The one person ahead of me chooses this of all things. You’re telling me I have to go right after her? How original can I possibly be? How unlucky am I? Why me? Freaking Puppy Chow.

To make matters worse, she is much more detailed in her demonstration, and she seems confident and eager to be speaking.

I instantly switch to panic mode, which on speech day is not really a switch. I clearly can’t go next, or even today, or even with stupid Puppy Chow as a topic at all. I will take a lower grade just to be able to go the next day. No, I will feign illness (I could easily make myself faint in front of the room). Maybe I will just drop the class. Better yet, I will simply transfer to another university that doesn’t have a speech requirement. Or I could even just drop out of school completely. No, I should probably finish school. This all sounds extreme, but this is how I actually respond in these situations. What is painful for others is a literal guillotine for me. In no way, shape, or form can I do this sp… “Thank you, Jennifer. Next is Curtis. Get any items you need ready and we’ll start in two minutes.”

The shock still hasn’t set in. I have no choice but to take my ingredients up to the table. For me, it is a walk of shame.

Nice, off to a fantastic start. Great confidence.

I cannot want to be at the front of the class any less than at this point.

Aww, look at them, enjoying the samples of food Jennifer is handing out…Puppy Chow. I am depressed. I am torn. I am lost. I am dead.

“Hi. I am making Puppy Chow also,” I mumble in only the most vapid, humorless, unconfident Curtis way that I know. Of course, no one laughs. I stare at them like an old person first realizing how to use a webcam, but I find nothing to work with. Seems like we have developed a nice rapport.

I feel like they absolutely know how to make this already, so every single word and action from me is wasting their time. Their precious time becomes my only interest. The words I wrote on the note cards look absurd now that I am in front of people. People who just witnessed someone else making the exact same thing, and who already had no interest in watching an insecure person give a speech. I don’t even want to hear what I say. Any will I had is gone. I wonder how harshly they are judging me. Who is this moron speaking?

Five dreadful minutes later, and three minutes before the minimum time requirement, I find myself walking back to my seat in a trance. If I am alive at this point, I am not aware of it. I have no clue what I said. I definitely skipped some steps, and there are only a few of them. I don’t think I even made Puppy Chow. I awkwardly hide a huge bag of mix I had already prepared instead of handing it out. Why would they want more? How nice of me to bring enough for everyone.

The moral of this story is, I suck at speeches. I’m awful. I still hate Jennifer L. for stealing any semblance of thunder I might have. And never again am I showing anyone how to make Puppy Chow. You melt chocolate, peanut butter, and butter and put it over Crispix or Chex, then shake it in a bag with powdered sugar. Jokingly easy.

On a more serious note, it is ridiculous how nervous I get in front of people. I envy those who can stay somewhat loose and maintain composure enough to know it might not be fun but it isn’t the end of the world. One day, I will actually be Curtis in front of people. I can be funny, quirky, intelligent, and interesting. My personality needs to present itself in front of an audience much, much better. I’m gonna work on that. Just not by making Puppy Chow.

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The TI-83 Taboo

The Texas Instruments TI-83 scientific graphing calculator is an object of both affection and hatred for me. That was the calculator to have, back in high school. Especially the clear one (the TI-83 Plus silver edition) because it looked cool. Playing games during class was the hip thing to do: my favorite was dodgeball and whatever the icicle one was called. And, of course, Tetris.

Once college and finance classes came around, I found myself having to deal with other calculators. Finance professors like when students use financial calculators, and their reasoning for not allowing the TI-83 is because students can easily program them to assist in cheating. So students like me, who had no intentions whatsoever of even dreaming of programming the calculator to cheat, nor did I know how, were punished for the tiny number of people who actually did this. And if someone is smart enough to program a calculator, they probably don’t need it to cheat. The people who cheat most likely got the programs from the internet. The people who actually knew what they were doing in finance classes had no reason to cheat, and I can’t think of many ways you could cheat any finance calculations anyway.

It only bothered me a little that teachers were taking this precaution, until I realized how visual I am. Imagine typing a long research paper. Let’s pretend you can only see one word at a time, then it goes away once you start typing another word. No matter how sure you are of your good typing skills and vision, you still have the thought in the back of your mind that you could have made a mistake. How annoying would it be to have to write a paper like that? Well, that is how I feel when I use calculators. I am so obsessed with accuracy and seeing exactly what I input. Only after being sure of what I have entered can I trust the output. And with some functions such as present value and future value of money, you need to input multiple things, like years or months, payments, interest rates, etc. You’re telling me I am supposed to enter in a long array of separate things and just hope the computed result is right, without seeing exactly what went into it??

Screw the teachers. With the TI-83, the keys are big and spread out and the screen is huge. The screen holds so many numbers. No need for memory functions. No need to remember what you pressed last and hope it is right. Everything is on the screen for you. Everything you typed, easy to read. You can trust your answer when you see everything you put into the calculator. I have missed test problems before because of  a stupid calculator. One of the inputs, which is somewhere hidden in the calculator’s memory, was wrong, and if I could see it, I would probably have corrected the error. In my mind, it is not fair to just rely on something so loosely to come up with such important answers. And double checking is not exactly the easiest thing in the world in finance. In fact, sometimes you just have to hope you did it right the first time. That’s so stupid. In real life, computers do this work and, in the rare instances someone does use a calculator, more power to them if it is a TI-83 programmed to cheat, or to speed things up and come up with the right answer.

With the thought of actually missing test or homework problems because of not being able to see everything I put into a freaking calculator, and blindly relying on less than optimal technology only because of a few other idiots who cheated, I started losing my mind. In such an art, with the need for accuracy so imperative, it is not fair to use a dumb financial calculator. Naturally, I started sneaking in my TI-83. Teachers would come around and check our calculators, and I would put out my financial calculator for them to see. When they passed by, I would reach under my desk and pull out a hidden TI-83, the love of my life. I essentially cheated, even though I only used the calculator for its intended purpose. It felt even better because it was so wrong. But I also was making a stand for what was fair in my mind. I did get caught a couple times, but played the innocent, unaware card, which is so easy in classes with stupid business majors who are horribly inattentive.

Yes, because of a select few who cheated with their TI-83 calculators, I became a criminal every time I did financial calculations. It’s ridiculous that one of the most useful calculators in the world, especially advantageous to finance, cannot be used in any freaking finance class. I like to consider myself a patriot, though. I will defend my inalienable right to use a TI-83 and to be sure of the computed solution. Keep your heads up, fellow TI-83 supporters.