Have a seat at the Nitwit Table

Years ago, my friends Jennifer, Michelle and I worked with a brilliant, subtly wicked woman named Shirley whose job involved (among other things) assigning seats to delegates at our company’s national conferences. Many of these people were what we liked to call “difficult,” and what Shirley – who had been around the block – simply called nitwits.

To take the edge off, after long, tedious days of listening to imbeciles complain, she invented something she called the Nitwit Table. It was, I think, something like the late George Carlin’s imaginary “Greyhound buzzer,” to be used at airports to weed out people who were simply too stupid to fly. After a particularly trying phone call, Shirley would hang up, look over the top of her glasses at us and say evenly, “Well, there’s another one for the Nitwit Table.” It probably prevented her from being permanently medicated, or worse.

“Ehhhhhh… Greyhound!”

Shirley retired years ago, and Jennifer and Michelle and I have also moved on, but the Nitwit Table gets as much use as it ever did – perhaps more. Here are just some examples of the people currently seated there.

  • People who say, “There’s no ‘i’ in ‘Team’!” Well, there are two in “idiot.” Have one of those.
  • People who stop at the tops of escalators or in doorways, looking around and wondering where to go next. How about back to the Inpatient ward?
  • The guy who whistles along with the Muzak at the grocery store, and the woman in the cereal aisle, gettin’ down to The Pointer Sisters. What chemicals are these people taking??
  • A colleague whose help I solicited in moving a piece of heavy equipment at work. In a breathtakingly snotty teenage-girl tone, she asked, “What’s the matter – do you have arm problems or something?” In fact, I had fractured my arm quite badly the week before, so I put my plaster cast right up to her face and said, “Actually, my arm is broken. So I guess that qualifies as an arm problem.” A lot less serious than her Brain Problem, I’m guessing.
  • People who don’t recycle. Your seat at the Nitwit Table has been moved to the landfill, where you will spend the afternoon surrounded by your own festering muck, with seagulls landing on your head.
  • The entire family of a friend of mine I’ll call Julie, who completely ignore her young son (their first grandchild), sneak away with their other daughter and her family on luxury vacations – and then ask Julie to babysit their cat while they’re gone. The Nitwit Table may be too good for them, actually.
  • Most of the customers at Starbucks:
    • the ones with the giant, convoluted orders (as Bill Maher says, “The more complicated the Starbucks order, the bigger the asshole”);
    • the ones who rush up to the counter and then pull out a long list of special requests from 37 of their closest colleagues
    • the guy at the condiments stand who has apparently never prepared or consumed a hot beverage before, and spends 10 minutes with his elbows out, opening packets, shaking containers, sipping, stirring, adding a bit more milk and sugar, stirring, sipping….
    • the soccer moms with the children screaming “I want DRIZZLE!!!” I’ll give you “drizzle,” Junior. Since when do children drink coffee anyway? (And what the hell is “drizzle,” for that matter?)
  • The guy at McDonalds with a list of 21 special orders for his youth group. “OK, the first one is for a Big Mac but hold the special sauce and could she have exactly three pickles on each layer?” Hey, here’s an idea: take your fussy eaters on a picnic instead! I hear the Mojave Desert is nice at this time of year.
  • The childhood “friend” of mine who tracked me down and now sends me emails reminding me of naughty things I did when I was a child. I wasn’t actually a very naughty child, but as a grownup, hey, nothing is stopping me from putting a bag of flaming dog poo on her doorstep and ringing the bell, now, is it?
  • The woman who wanted to “integrate” her daughter into a 1200-student high school at which a friend of mine was teaching. The daughter had multiple food allergies including the ubiquitous peanuts, as well as dairy, wheat and eggs. Oh, and fresh fruits and vegetables, which made her “sniffly.” Could the staff please make sure those items were banned from school property?
  • The woman at Canadian Tire who tried to pay for a $900 flat-screen TV with an envelope full of random Canadian Tire money. “Let’s see, there’s one for five cents… and there’s one for 25 cents. Ooh, there’s another five cents…”
  • Ditto the guy at Loblaws on New Year’s Eve who whipped out a huge bucket of change to pay for his groceries. Told he had to have it sorted at one of the REALLY OBVIOUS machines by the front doors, he skipped off to do that and returned with a chit for $782, which he then wanted in bills from the cashier. While she was away getting clearance from her supervisor to basically act like the bank this guy should have gone to in the first place, he grinned cheerfully at the huge lineup behind him and said, “Golly, it’s amazing how little handfuls of change add up!” (It’s also amazing that people like this are let out without adult supervision, but never mind.)
  • Grown men who wear backwards baseball caps and ride around on skateboards with their teenage sons. If you don’t believe me, visit the Danforth on a sunny weekend afternoon. Or listen to “Go” on CBC Radio.

“Thorazine is our friend.”

  • “Emily,” the automated voice of Bell Canada. (Actually, let’s forget about seating her and just drown her.)
  • Office cliques. If you have time to giggle about what other people are wearing and “poke” each other on Facebook all day, your boss should probably look at replacing you with a robot. Or a plant.
  • People who whistle on the subway or at the office. Are public transit and cubicle farms not annoying enough?
  • People who use the handicapped washrooms to go “big potty.” Newsflash: just because it’s roomier doesn’t mean we don’t know you’re in there. How about leaving the handicapped washroom for people with actual disabilities, mmmmmmmkay?

There is, of course, another more exclusive (and less amusing) table nearby, with a slightly different name that good manners prevent me from disclosing here. It is a terrible destination indeed, and its guests include the following: people who will not give their seat on the bus to someone who is elderly, disabled or pregnant; career drunk driver Terry Naugle and his ilk; the people who are responsible for the ongoing Festival of Litter underway in Toronto; people who abuse animals; and people who say “nucular.”

Oh, and those two young men who robbed an elderly Toronto hospital patient who was on her deathbed. They may actually have a table to themselves, come to think of it, and something tells me they’re not going to like the waiter very much.

As for me, I would be remiss (and a big fat poopy liar) if I did not admit here that I have been a guest at the Nitwit Table on occasion, as I suspect many of you have been as well. It is an equal-opportunity destination, and its presence keeps us humble, focused and just that little bit afraid. None of this, however, takes away from the fun of consigning others to it – and it’s cheaper than therapy.

So, feel free to email me with your own Nitwit Table candidates. And enjoy the coffee.


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