Friday, March 21, 2008

Twit-on-me, a blowback on twaddle

Sometimes you can see yourself more clearly through the eyes of someone else—even when that person is a little unbalanced. Perhaps especially when he's a little unbalanced.

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 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.


Nicole P said...

What a funny story!

Linda O. Johnston said...

Great story, Kathryn--a good one to incorporate into a book someday, not just the term "twit"! As a non-smoker, I can't totally fault the guy's message. It would be fascinating to learn the reason for his fervor, though--or make it up for an interesting book character!

Kathryn Lilley said...

Hi Linda and Nicole! Yes, he was definitely a great character!

Signature Vintage said...

rofl....that is so funny and I can relate. I was a waitress for eight years and have so many glittering references for a book in which a heroine is a slow, retarded, half-wit wait staff who wouldn't know her own toosh from a hole in the wall. Good times, let me tell you, lol! Great blog!

Annette said...

WOW, what a great story. Thanks for sharing.

Camille Minichino said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Camille Minichino said...

He's the kind of character you wouldn't believe in a novel ... unless it were written by an excellent crafter like Kathryn!

Kathryn Lilley said...

Sue, I would love to work (only briefly, because my feet couldn't take it) as a waitress, just so that I can pick up some of those kinds of stories!