Y’all I think I made a complete fool of myself at the very first Rome Rotary meeting of the new year.
Here’s how it happened.
A couple months ago, I was asked by the club to be the guest speaker at an upcoming meeting. You should know that there are two Rotary clubs in Rome. There’s Seven Hills Rotary, which meets on Tuesdays, and I’d say that its membership is (generally speaking) made up of young professionals and Rome’s movers and shakers.
Then there’s Rome Rotary, which meets on Thursdays. It’s made up of many of our community’s leaders and business owners — commissioners, law enforcement, pillars of the community. I think it’s safe to say that (generally speaking) it’s got an older membership. Certainly more traditional in its values and traditions.
Let me say that I’m not a member of either of these clubs. A membership in either Rotary was one of the qualifications for what I call being Rome Fancy.
Well the Thursday Rome Rotary is the one that invited me to be their guest speaker. It was decided that Jan. 2 would be the day I’d speak. It was the first meeting of the new year and they told me that TRADITIONALLY at the first meeting of the year, the guest speaker makes predictions about the coming year.
I should have known how this would go down. That demographic isn’t what I would typically say would be fans of my work. Here’s why. I would consider them more refined and conservative. I, however, am crude and crass and I say ridiculous things to entertain people.
So it’s the day before I have to speak and even though I’ve had AMPLE time to prepare an appropriate presentation, I have procrastinated and I have absolutely nothing prepared. Then I have the brilliant idea that I’ll wow the club members with edgy but hilarious stories that I wouldn’t be able to publish in my regular newspaper column.
I should say here that the club members were nothing but nice and welcoming to me. They sat me up in the front of the room and fed me a delicious lunch and several members came up to me before we started and had very kind words for me. So that was wonderful.
I had written my own introduction for my editor (and Rome Rotary member) John Bailey to read aloud. I thought it would be hilarious if I was so self-praising that they’d knew it was all just a joke. So I included things like “Severo is a treasure to the community,” “Severo is beloved by many,” “Severo is the Mother Teresa of Rome, Georgia.”
As John read all that, I’d say that about half of the room laughed. I should have known right then to change my presentation. But still my stubborn self thought “be edgy and funny and crude because they’ll LOVE how refreshing that is.”
They did not LOVE it.
I started off by offering one prediction for the coming year — that all negative things in Rome in 2020 would be blamed on the tennis courts. And I listed several ridiculous things that HAD been blamed on the tennis courts in 2019.
Then I dove right into what I imagined would be a stand-up comedy type routine that would have all the Rotary members ROLLING on the floor with uncontrollable laughter.
I told a story about my experience with borderline racism, I talked about my drunk but lovable friend Brandy and then I regaled them with a tale of a time when Rome businessman Jay Shell played a joke on me.
As I told the stories, I looked out into the room. The right side of the room seemed to be enjoying it. They were laughing and were right along with me as I told my stories. They got it. They were into it. They were along for the ride.
The left side of the room, however, was not as enthusiastic. I glanced over to that side every now and again and saw only blank stares. They weren’t being rude, it was like they just didn’t find what I was saying the least bit funny. I felt like a comedian who was totally bombing in my first stand-up routine.
I tried to focus on the people who were laughing, but I kept looking over at the side of the room where no one was reacting. I swear you could hear crickets over there. And I may have seen a tumbleweed roll by.
I wrapped up my presentation by saying that my columns aren’t ground-breaking journalism. And they’re not meant to be. By and large, they’re meant to be ridiculous and hopefully funny enough to give people a tiny little break from a lot of the heavier news that bombards us. And they’re meant to reflect our community — our neighbors, our friends, our coworkers, our families.
When the meeting was over, the club presented me with a card that said they were making a donation in my name to BackPack Buddies, which provides vulnerable children with enough food to sustain them through a weekend. A few members came up to me and thanked me for being there and said they enjoyed my stories. And I even got texts from members saying they enjoyed a less traditional presentation.
Let me say that the ENTIRE time I was there, the members made me feel welcomed and appreciated. They were very nice to me. But I couldn’t help but feel like I had failed to read my audience and tailor my material accordingly.
However, I’m putting a positive spin on it and telling myself that I broke down barriers and shattered glass ceilings.
So if there are any other clubs in Rome who would like to have me as a guest to tell crude, classless and inappropriate stories, all I require is a free lunch and that members pretend to laugh at everything I say.