Tuesday, July 10, 2007

Can You Hear Me Now?

What's That In Your Ear?

I’m sure that none of YOU are guilty of doing the following, so forgive me if I complain a bit about those OTHER people....the ones who are having way too much of a relationship with their cell phone. These people don’t just use it. They caress it. Fondle it. Berate it. They flip it open the way smokers used to snap up the top of their metal Zippo lighters, just for show.

Some things should be done in the privacy of one’s home, or the privacy of one’s bedroom, for that matter. Some things should be done quietly, so our own air space isn’t more polluted than it already is with thumping bass whopping you from both sides on the highway or lockers slamming between classes, or a really bad radio station played too loudly while you are trying to do some serious shopping.

First, it’s important to note that if you are an actor or a writer, you have automatic permission to eavesdrop.

Because I said so, that’s why.

You can’t read other people’s mail. You can’t tap a phone. Do not start peeking at your kid’s or spouse’s journals. If you’ve got a telescope, keep it aimed at the sky, buddy, not someone’s window.

But when you are out in public, in a waiting room, wandering the mall, on a bus, in an elevator, or standing in line for something, anything people say can be what I call MATERIAL. Perhaps a couple is breaking up at the next table in the Chinese restaurant. That could be interesting.

But this phone stuff is starting to look mighty silly to me.

First, when car phones were so expensive they were a real status symbol, I read in a catalog that you could buy a shell of a car phone, really cheap, so other people would think you had one and therefore you would be cool. A phony, but....cool. I guess.

Then, just like the day that suddenly everyone is running around in shorts after a cold winter, the air turns warm and cell phones bloom every where you look. I’m not sure when it happened. But now it seems that almost everyone is connected.

A man is in the grocery store. He is standing in front of the produce section. He whips out the old phone and gets clarity on whether summer squash as opposed to zucchini would go better with the salmon, color-wise, that is. Oy. What if he got home and his spousal equivalent complained that the vegetables clashed? Absolutely a necessary phone call.

A woman is with a friend in the home accessories section of a discount department store. They are discussing lamps, just like normal people. Then debate about this couch cushion compared to that couch cushion. Uhf. Out comes the phone. “Honey? I’m here at TJ Maxx and I just wanted to know if you think that a lamp with a glass base or ceramic would be better in the den? Are you sure? Well, the glass one is like a Waterford crystal and...sure you do....no, no, Waterford. You know those goblets that Bob and Sissy gave us? Like that. Or there’s this other lamp here that’s a really pretty green only with a dragon on it. How do you feel about dragons? Well, just tell me. How can you not have time to talk about this?!” Meanwhile her in person friend is standing there like a lump. She’s been put on hold.

People are driving and talking, their head with that little tilt, while they are stopped at the light and looking something up in their day planner. They don’t notice the light is green.

People are walking and talking. They are wandering around parking lots mumbling into their palms as though they are Secret Service scanning for snipers. Except the guy in the golf shirt and shorts has tripped on the curb. The Secret Service doesn’t trip.

The people with earpieces are even more unsettling. We are walking on a city street and we do not know if the person approaching us is using his Bluetooth or speaking to his space buddies on Neptune.

Mostly, I wish that people would not answer their phones in restaurants, then eat and talk on the phone. Or yell. People are warned in honeyed tones by the stage managers at concerts and plays to “Please, take a moment to turn off your phones and turn your pagers to stun during the performance, thankyousomuch.”

I think phones should be checked at the door with the wet umbrellas. Perhaps you think I am being a tad petty. But you know I don’t mean you. If your phone rings you answer it, say, “Uh, huh, OK. Sure. See you at five,” and get back to the people you are with in person.

But none of you were with me that day at a nice restaurant when a woman dining with four friends called home, “Just to check,” and spent the next half hour yelling at her kids. She ordered during this time. She ate during this time. She didn’t talk to her dinner companions who couldn’t talk to each other, I don’t think.

She said, “Becky. I’m telling you. Are you listening? Because I’m only going to tell you once. Becky? What did you just say to me? No, no, no. You go get your brother. I want to talk to him. Go get him I said. Becky! Did you hear me? Go. Get. Your. Brother.” The next half hour was like that. Since I was eating with my father and step-mother who are both pretty deaf, they didn’t notice, and kept trying to engage me in conversation. But I could only hear The Mother of Becky screaming on her cell phone.

Also, given that I do believe in evolution, unlike most of the students I’ve been teaching for the last five years, I think opposable thumbs are going to morph. They are going to get long and pointy, the better to text with. Students can pretend they are paying attention while they text people they saw ten minutes ago. They don’t have to wait until class is over to let people know how bored they were with our class. Or that I slipped up and cussed.

If Mother Nature wanted us to use cell phones so much we would all have ears with Velcro like strips. Until that happens, keep the phone folded until you absolutely, positively need it. You and I know this.

Flat tire on the turnpike. Lost in a strange neighborhood. Really, really late and you don’t want anyone to worry.

But not when some trivia geek stops a conversation to phone a friend and find out whether the Seinfeld episode in which Kramer falls asleep in a tanning booth is the same one in which George is especially worried about “shrinkage.”


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