The Old Coot Rediscovers the ‘Um’ People

This isn’t the first time I’ve written about the “Um” people; actually, it’s the fourth or fifth time I’ve covered my favorite target for people watching. It never fails to give me a chuckle. 

This latest encounter was in a donut shop. She was in line, fortunately not the one I was in, staring at the racks of donuts. When her turn came, she was dumfounded. The clerk asked, “What can I get for you?” She replied, “Um,” and then tapped her chin with her index finger and repeated the Um. Finally, she got started. “Let me have two jelly donuts, followed with another Um. All through the selection process her dialog was interspaced with Um’s. 

Um people are never prepared for the task at hand. When the exasperated donut shop clerk finally got her order finished and said, “That will be seven dollars and sixty-eight cents,” she shifted into a new Um phase, as in, “Um, where did I put my wallet?” Everything that comes Um people’s way is a shock. We all do this from time to time, but Um people remain stuck in 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, inefficient lines. It’s why we go to dinner at four o’clock in the afternoon; we don’t want to wait in line for a table. It’s an ailment that’s incurable. It’s limiting. But on the positive side, we get a real kick when we witness an Um person in action.    

Our line-phobia is a handicap, that’s for sure, but it does have its good points. It’s made us experts on line behavior. We don’t get in lines where we suspect an Um person is in the queue. We sit off to the side and watch the show. 

It’s especially entertaining in a deli when an Um orders a submarine sandwich. The number of decisions forced on them overwhelms them. First, the size of the sub: six inch or one foot. That’s good for two or three Ums. Then a bread choice confronts them – Italian, whole wheat, white, etc. That’s good for another few Ums. That’s when I swivel in my chair to get a full view of the Um symphony, the choices of meat, cheese, vegetables and garnishes. 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?” 

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