For me, this morning provided one of those mirrors.
I was taking my daily walk, huffing up the hill toward the beach, when I came upon a man. He was alone on the street corner.
The guy appeared to be down on his luck—his belongings were dangling from dingy-looking plastic bags, and he was holding a cardboard sign, the favored messaging mode of panhandlers. And he was in a wheelchair.
Now, I don’t normally give money to street people. (In Southern California, if you donate to everyone who has his hand out, you’ll quickly go bust.) But maybe it was the wheelchair. Or maybe I was feeling particularly Zen-loaded and beneficent, thanks to the meditation exercises I’ve taken up recently to ward off stress.
So as I approached the man, I reached for the zipper of my fanny pack. I was planning to hand him a dollar. But first, I paused to read his sign. I was expecting it to say something like, “Need $$,” or “Will Do Wheelies for Food.”
But it didn’t.
The sign said Ban Smoking.
I stopped in my tracks.
“Ban smoking?” I said, gaping at the sign.
He glared at me. “Yes!”
At that point, I should have stopped while I was behind and moved on. Instead, I decided that perhaps he was supporting one of those annoying California state initiatives. (You can’t walk ten feet around here without being asked to sign a petition about saving the seagulls, and other meaningful statutes).
So I continued my query. “Do you want to ban smoking everywhere, or just inside?”
Another glare, this one fiercer. “Everywhere!”
Then he launched into a lecture. He told me about Lee Harvey Oswald, and about how Oswald was a smoker. But then Oswald got shot, which showed him.
By this time, his lecture had escalated to a full-pitched, screaming rant.
He worked himself quickly up to his finale. “So the next time you want to be a smart-ass,” he proclaimed, “Stick it up your ass, you twit!”
To which I replied, in my best Land-O’-Flakes way, “Okay sweetie. Have a nice day.”
Which was in itself twittish, I realized.
Now, this guy was probably a couple of crayons short of a 64-box. But still, he had a valid argument—it was patronizing and yes, twaddlish of me to assume that he was homeless and looking for money, and to launch into an unprovoked discussion about his sign.
But as a writer who’s always looking for fresh expressions, I was impressed by his use of words. "Twit" is not a noun that you often hear bandied about, especially by Shouting Men on Street Corners.
When I got home, I immediately went to thesaurus.com. There I found all sorts of amusing synonyms for twit: dodo, dumb cluck, pinhead, schnook, and my personal favorite, dingdong. I’m pleased to note that I’ve already used dumb cluck in my next book, A KILLER WORKOUT. I’ve started another book, and I hope that I'll be able to find a place in it for dingdong. My kind of word. And it will have been brought to you, compliments of the Shouting Man.
As a writer, I have to take advantage of whatever tiny dregs of inspiration comes my way.
Even when it's spelled T-W-I-T.