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Hot Air, Cold Nights
First City Toastmasters Prove Speechmaking
Can Be a Breeze! - Part I
By Sharon Lint


March 14, 2005

Ketchikan, Alaska - "Hot Air, Cold Nights" was the theme of this year's Laughathon put on by the First City Toastmasters. If you missed the happy, spirited event, you missed a lot. The two-hour show took place at 7 p.m. on Saturday, February 26th at Cape Fox Lodge and laughter was in attendance as promised. The show was free, the coffee was hot, the desserts were tempting, and everyone there reported they had a great time.

Eight First City Toastmasters spoke during the event. Each person delivered a 4- to 6-minute speech about a true-life misadventure, a funny story or told a rib-tickler poem. There were two categories for the competition: Original Material and Adapted Material. A panel of three judges decided on the top three contenders.

The topics of the winning stories ranged from everything from underwear and outhouses to disappearing boats. Gerry Knasiak won First Place and received a blue t-shirt and a Blue Ribbon for her entry entitled "Undercover." Mike Salee won Second Place for his poem, "Sitting Pretty." His prize was a red ribbon and a 'Speakers' coffee mug. Third Place was a tie. M.J. Turek with the Tall Tale she called, "Clarence and Me" shared this distinction with David Wiechelman who spoke about an alcoholic experience he dubbed "One of Those Days." The Third Place prizes were a Lucite paperweight with the Toastmaster logo and a Silver Tongue Award pencil.

The audience was also asked to vote for their favorite speaker. Jack Shea won this "People's Choice Award" with the narration he named "The Onion." He received a t-shirt for his trophy.

But the prizes didn't stop there. Everyone went home a winner. All those who participated were also given a "Silver Tongue" award and even the judges received letter openers with the Toastmasters logo as a thank you. And best of all, everyone - whether speaker or listener - went home with a belly full of laughs.

The participants were all excited about the chance to speak in front of a live audience. In addition to the judging process, the night also gave each speaker a unique opportunity to gauge their skills by means of the immediate feedback they received from the audience. And, whether a seasoned veteran or a nervous newbie, everyone knows practice makes perfect.

Toastmasters Jeff Fitzwater and Gerry Knasiak acted as this year's Laughathon Masters of Ceremonies. Jeff opened the event by telling the audience a little about the Toastmasters Organization.

"Toastmasters is an international organization with over 200,000 members in 10,000 clubs in over 8 countries in the world," he said. "The purpose of Toastmasters is to help make you relax as you learn in a positive and encouraging environment how to present . . . a terrific speech, whether you have ten days to prepare or just ten seconds."

He then introduced Gerry Knasiak. Gerry continued where Jeff left off - explaining a little more about Toastmasters and what the group is all about. She also told a funny story that emphasized the importance of choosing the correct word for the occasion when speaking.

"I love to tell the story of Winston Churchill who was the Prime Minister of England," she began. ". . . he was in the country visiting and was at a buffet . . . [with] fried chicken, one of his favorite dishes. So, he went up for a second helping and he told the woman, 'I'd like another breast, please.' And she said, 'Oh, Sir Winston, we don't say breast, we say white meat or dark meat.' So, the next day, there was a knock at the door of this hostess and there was a corsage being delivered with a note from the Prime Minister that said, 'Thank you for your hospitality. I would be honored if you would wear this on your white meat.'

After the laughter died down a bit, Gerry went on to introduce the judges for the night. "The three judges were former members of a nefarious gang, the corrupt Cheechakos. . ." she grinned. "Introducing . . . Bobbie 'the Bomb' McCreary . . . and Dave 'the Don' Kiffer . . . and Judith 'the Bookie' Anglin."

She also acquainted the audience with Jessica Riveri as the Timer, and then officially began the competition by presenting the first speaker with a little pun. "It is my pleasure to introduce a man who will never rub you the wrong way," she joked, adding, ". . . help me welcome Jeff Fitzwater."


Jeff's entry was entitled "Stupid Questions" and fell into the Original category. The speech focused on those questions we here in Ketchikan endure each year from tourists as they roam our streets as if it were Disneyland instead of a working community. Jeff listed these five top questions in a Dave Letterman type style.

"Number five on the Stupid Question List . . . Where are your dogsleds, your igloos, your Eskimos?"

"Number four is often heard by our hard-working bank tellers . . . What's today's exchange rate for American money?"

"Number three is very similar to, related with, but more primitive than number four. It's usually accompanied with large hand gestures and delivered in a deafeningly loud shout: "DO  YOU   SPEAK  ENGLISH?"

"The number two most stupid question: You often see a tourist whose arms encompass every rack card, business card, flyer, souvenir slip and tourist schedule ever printed for Southeast Alaska and they grab your arm and they plead with you to know when the next showing is of - you guessed it - the Northern Lights."

"Now for the number one stupid question. It's been documented that seven out of ten tourists who walk down a cruise ship gangplank, will stop on the dock, look up at Deer Mountain and ask, 'How high above sea level are we?"

After listing the five top questions, Jeff proposed that we erect a monument to the Unknown Tourist on which these questions and answers would be imprinted on the pedestal in order to ease tension and impart knowledge.

He then concluded by saying, "Just remember that old, ancient, native proverb: Never judge a tourist before you walk a mile in their flip-flops. In other words, before you put another notch on your car bumper for every tourist you've run into or give into the temptation and just say 'go away!', remember, we're all tourists somewhere."

Putting on his MC hat once more, Jeff then introduced the next speaker, Gerry Knasiak. "This next speaker says that she's retired, but I've never seen a harder working individual," he said. "She has been in Toastmasters here in Ketchikan for fifteen years. She used to be in the Department of Human Resources at the Forest Service. She says she functions as the Resident Radical in Ketchikan, and as her business card says, she is a Feminist At Large. She is an extreme advocate for the Arts, for Civil Rights and for Intentional Intelligent Politics. She is giving a speech with Original material called 'Undercover."


Gerry began by discussing the funny side of women's undergarments, such as pantyhose. "One time I was walking with a friend," she said, "and as we walked side-by-side, she shrunk. . . and she said, 'my pantyhose are slipping down and I'm trying to catch up with them."

Continuing on the subject, she then switched to comedic situations regarding her mother's admonitions about clean underwear. "No spots, no stains, no holes. [my mother] she was obsessive. . ." Gerry laughed along with the audience and continued with her story.

One day, it seems, Gerry didn't notice that the elastic on a pair of underpants looked a little worn and she rushed off to school anyway. Before long, the elastic gave way and she clamped her arms against her waist in a poor imitation of John Wayne to hold them up until she could find a safety pin.

She finally found one and was rushing up the stairs to the girl's restroom to fix her problem, when calamity struck. "I almost tripped and my arms flew out, and my pants fell to my ankles and the bell rang and doors opened and people came out and I was terrified so I sat down and I pulled my skirt . . . [down] around my legs," she told the audience with big, horrified eyes.

Of course, her friends noticed her sitting there and asked if she was okay and embarrassed, Gerry lied and grimaced and said she had a cramp and would be okay. "Finally, the bell rang and the students disappeared. . . and as I raised up, I saw two legs . . . my English teacher!"

Luckily, her teacher went on his way without saying anything to embarrass her further, but Gerry said she learned something that day and shared it with the crowd for her conclusion. "I learned that you DON'T die of embarrassment, although you wish you could!" she quipped.

The next speaker was once a native of Oklahoma who has always loved meeting weird, crazy people. His entry was an original tale entitled "A Visit with Martin Miller" and Gerry introduced him by saying, ". . .help me welcome Ralph Gregory."


"He was introduced to me as Martin Mike . . They emphasized the Martin almost like it somehow defined him or singled him out," Ralph grinned as he opened the tale. "His hands were sticky and soft and kind of moist . . . his hair slicked back to make it stay."

The next day Mike offered a bunk and dinner and Ralph followed Mike off to his place in the woods. Even though the place looked a bit rundown, it was cozy enough. Mike sizzled some meat, saved the grease in a jar and made a delicious stew. As Ralph waited for dinner, he listened as Martin Mike expounded on his firm belief of a frugal lifestyle. Ralph said, "He held to a life guided by a Spartan taste, everything is clothes, shelter, or eaten for food."

Then Ralph's eyes shifted a bit as he told the audience, "then he reached for that big jar - the grease from the meat - and taking a big dip, he started rubbing his hands and hair . . ."

However, dinner was soon ready and he forgot the strange behavior as the two of them both ate heartily. "That meat was so tender and easy to chew, it was tasty and savory and went down just right," Ralph enthused.

The next day as they started back to work, Ralph noticed the pelts covering Mike's walls. "My skin fairly crawled. . ." Ralph shivered. "I took it to be some sort of rodent control program . . ."

Leaving quickly, they reached the camp and in the evening, with the work done, they all headed back to town. On the skiff to the floatplane dock, Ralph told the pilot about those rats. "Why, them's not rodents . . . he kills them martins for their pelts and EATS their meat! That's why hides are nailed to the way to his shack. They're his main source of food, claims they can't be beat!" the pilot laughed.

Gulping, Ralph said, "Seems to me I could feel those little blind critters trying to get up - squirming, thrashing about in my gut . . . I leaned over the side . . . I lost my lunch, not to speak of my pride."

As the audience swallowed along with him in sympathy, he continued by excusing Mike. "Mike intended no harm, meant to treat me to the best . . . so I hold him no grudge. . . [but] next time I'm out, I'll need a place to stay . . . [and] it won't be Mike's shack in the woods with Martin Stew."

As Ralph finished his speech amid great applause, Jeff took the microphone again. He indicated the dessert table at the back of the room and announced that he hoped the culinary experience at intermission would be a little bit better than Ralph's experience with Martin Miller. He then went on to introduce the next speaker.

"Our next speaker is the Transportation Manager for Princess Tours . . . he's calm, he's cool, he's collected, he's interested in outdoor things like hiking and gardening vegetables and he's an expert at brewing - not tea, but . . ." Jeff paused for effect before he continued, " . . . a home brew expert."

"He's going to give us an original story entitled "One of Those Days. Let's welcome David Wiechelman."


"First, I need to make two disclaimers. One, I'm not advocating the type of behavior you're about to hear. Two, you should always use alcohol in moderation," David said, beginning the story with solemn qualifications. "Of course, at the time of this story, I was eighteen years old, so I probably wouldn't have listened to either one of those disclaimers myself," David laughed.

As people listening nodded their heads in a "been there, done that" fashion, David explained that his story was one in which he wished he could go back in time and do things differently. In January of 1979, his military company had just returned from six weeks in the field and paychecks were waiting. They were excited because they were supposed to have the next day off too. The chance to go to town and unwind and blow off some steam was beckoning. One of his roommates was from Puerto Rico and his family had sent him a bottle of rum - first class, homegrown hooch guaranteed to melt the shirt onto your back. "I, of course, helped him drink it - ALL OF IT!" David emphasized as he continued.

"After this rum appetizer," David recounted, "we decided to head into town and patronize one or two or three or four of the local bars . . .suffice it to say we were well-lit by the time the bars closed and we were HAPPY."

He didn't remember the rest of the night, but he did remember how someone caused the door to his room to fly open at 4 a.m. and how that someone yelled, "get your gear, assemble in the yard, we're moving out!"

"Oh, GREAT!" David exclaimed, remembering the moment. Still HAPPY, the group was able to somehow get dressed assemble in the yard, and climb into the back of the trucks to travel across the base to the airfield.

"Airfield? Wait a second," David exclaimed again. "We're ground pounders. We're grunts . . . who said anything about helicopters?" David shook his head. "I was not HAPPY anymore [just] Okay. . . did I mention it was January? Did I mention I was dressed for zero degree weather? Did I mention I was prone to motion sickness under the best of circumstances and these were not the best of circumstances?"

"By now, I had sobered up enough that to realize that it would be agonizingly warm in those helicopters and a hangover was settling in quickly. Forget about being Okay. I was now NOT HAPPY."

Sitting in the helicopter between two enormous grunts, he began experiencing what he called, "intense gastrointestinal distress." Both grunts responded by telling David in so many words, "Don't even think about blowing chunks in my direction."

"Did I mention I wasn't HAPPY anymore?" David queried. "In very short order, my condition deteriorated to the point I was VERY UNHAPPY. . . in desperation, I took off my helmet so that I would have a regurgitation receptacle . . . and luckily at about that time, the pilot turned around and yelled back, 'get ready to jump. . .'

"Amen!" David shouted. "Music to my ears. . . with a superhuman effort, I sucked it all back down. . . I should have received the Medal of Honor or at least a Bronze Star. . . I put my helmet back on, jumped out and hit the ground rolling. . . well, that did it. I sprayed that farmer's field with 90 proof fertilizer straight from the beautiful sunny island of Puerto Rico and accompanied it with some of Germany's finest barley and malt concoctions."

Shaking his head, David ended his story by saying, "What a sad, sad waste of good beer and rum. Although I'm sure it made those crops VERY HAPPY!"

A ten-minute break ensued then and everyone helped themselves to the free coffee, tea, and desserts or visited the no-host bar. After which, Jeff and Gerry brought everyone's attention back to the podium and Gerry gave everyone a chuckle with a little story about age.

"Hot Air, Cold Nights" is continued with Part II only on SitNews. . .


Related Article:

Hot Air, Cold Nights - First City Toastmasters Prove Speechmaking Can Be a Breeze! - Part II By Sharon Lint - Published March 15, 2004


Sharon Lint is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
Contact Sharon at sharon(AT)
Sharon Lint ©2005

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