Watch out for the Um people.
I was studying the “Um” people the other day. You know the type. They wait in line, staring at the racks of donuts in Dunkin Donuts or the extensive menu at a fast food joint, but when their turn comes, they are dumfounded. The clerk says, “How may I help you?” They reply with, “Um.” They tap their index finger on their chin and repeat it again, “Um.” Finally, they get started. “Give me two jelly.” That’s followed with another, “Um.” All through the selection process their dialog is interspaced with ums. That’s why I call them the Um people. They’re never prepared for the task at hand. When the exasperated clerk finally gets their order together and says, “That will be seven dollars and sixty-eight cents,” they shift right back into the um mode, as in, “Um, where did I put my wallet?” Everything that comes their way is a shock. We all do this from time to time, but the Um people never get out of the groove.
Old coots are the exact opposite of Um people. We know what donuts we’ll order before we leave the house. We come prepared for line situations. We know what it will cost; we have our money ready. We make the exchange, accept the, “Have a good day,” and step out of the way. Like customers of the “Soup Nazi” on the Seinfeld TV show, we are obedient, compliant and unobtrusive. We do this because we hate lines. It’s why we go to dinner at four o’clock in the afternoon; we don’t want to wait for a table. It’s an ailment that affects all old coots. It’s incurable. It’s limiting. And, it’s why we so dislike Um people.
Our line-phobia is a handicap, that’s for sure, but it does have its good points. It’s made us into experts on line behavior. We don’t get in lines that take over five minutes. We sit off to the side and study the dynamics of the people that do. It’s how I first detected the existence of the Um people. I love to watch them in line at a donut store, and even more at a deli, ordering a sub. They are overwhelmed by the number of choices, the number of decisions that they are forced to make. First, they have to select the size, six inch or one foot. That’s good for two or three ums. Then they are confronted with a bread selection - hearty Italian, whole wheat, white, etc. That’s good for another few ums. This is when I swivel in my chair to get a full view of the Um symphony. The choices of meat, cheese, vegetables and garnishes are endless. The crescendo of ums is deafening. The fatal blow comes when the clerk offers a final option, “Would you like that toasted?” That does it; the Um person’s brain reaches overload. He runs out of the store, waving his hands in the air and screaming at the top of his lungs. It’s what I’ve been waiting for. The clerk looks over to me and asks if I want a free sub. “Um,” I reply. “What are my choices?”