I often wonder what it would be like to meet that guy from the beer commercials, dubbed the "World's Most Interesting Man." Would we discuss politics? Cooking? Opera? Definitely not opera because that's a subject I know nothing about and, out of boredom, he would probably leave with that posse of women who accompany him in every ad.
Instead, I keep meeting "The World's Most Annoying Individual," hereby referred to as TWMAI. I know I'm not alone; we've all met him. Or her. TWMAI can pop up anywhere at any time -- at parties, sporting events, school functions, you name it. The key is being able to extricate oneself from his or her presence, a skill I always struggle with.
My most recent encounter was at a Pittsburgh hotel bar. TWMAI sidled up a few seats from me, whipped out his iPad and began treating it the way a puppy treats a chew toy. His fingers furiously tapped, poked and swiped left and right.
Rather than do what 99 percent of diners do when eating alone -- scroll through our cell phones and look as if we're too busy to eat with others -- I elected to engage him in conversation. To quote Julia Roberts in Pretty Woman: "Big mistake. Huge."
"Playing an online game?" I asked during a lapse in the action.
"Yeah, with my 10-year-old son," he replied. "It's all about killing."
What a proud dad you must be.
There was no way to return to my phone and chicken wings. I had opened the door to further conversation and he breezed right through it.
"Where you from?"
"Chicago," I replied.
Why do people think that's an amusing retort? To be clear, there are only two statements for which the response, "I'm sorry" is appropriate:
- I just lost somebody very dear to me.
- I have teenage daughters living at home
"I'm from Philly but originally from New York," he said. "But I do love Chicago. Except for the Italian food. It tastes different."
Here we go again, I thought. Next comes the insistence that Chicago pizza doesn't hold a candle to New York pizza. I have had this conversation numerous times and, hard as I try to defend my city's deep dish delicacy (it's a meal, not a snack, you always have leftovers, one pizza per table means you can split the bill) I know the counterargument that's inevitably coming.
You can't fold it.
A perfectly valid point, if you're into food origami.
But this guy didn't just diss a singular item; he dissed an entire food group.
"What do you mean, 'tastes different?'" I asked.
"It just does," he said. Rule number one of being TWMAI is to never arm oneself with supporting facts. Only attitude.
Speaking of culinary delights, he then proceeded to tell me, unprovoked as always, that Ben and Jerry's Chunky Monkey is the duo's ONLY decent ice cream flavor.
"I disagree," I said. "Chubby Hubby is much easier to fold."
Rule number two of wearing the TWMAI crown? The inability to recognize sarcasm.
I glanced around the bar, desperate for someone to rush to my aid and help shut this guy up. I've always had zero tolerance for bullying but was ready to increase that figure to .001.
TWMAI rule three is to announce what he or she does for a living without inquiring about anybody else's vocation. Again, he delivered.
"I'm in town consulting for a large energy company," he said. (NOTE: I won't mention the company by name for it might upset the folks at Duquesne Light.) "Got 20 years' experience. I'm good because I know how to keep things simple."
"Isn't that exactly what a consultant is paid not to do?" I asked.
See rule number two.
It was hopeless. I paid my check and prepared to leave, even though the game on the wide screen was getting interesting. TWMAI returned to his iPad, but not before a parting word.
"I'm at this hotel all the time," he said. "Look me up next time you're in town."
"Sure thing," I said. "Maybe we can fold pizza together."
(c) 2014 GREG SCHWEM. DISTRIBUTED BY TRIBUNE CONTENT AGENCY, LLC