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Domestic Bliss


I've resisted the cell phone thus far, and it's possible I hate them just because I don't have one. It has admittedly crossed my mind that it would be good to bring one along on road trips in case of an emergency. Otherwise, the arguments for having one have not been compelling. My kids have urged me to get one so they can find me any time, day or night. My response to them is, "No way. The last thing I want is a ringing phone following me around everywhere I go." Besides, they know where I am day and night, and if they don't, it's because I don't want them to.

But my No. 1 argument for not having a cell phone is that so many people become rude, thoughtless automatons with that little electronic monster smashed up to their ears.

Who has not noticed the number of people walking down city sidewalks, blabbering into thin air, oblivious of everyone and everything around them, spouting off into a cell phone? I would argue that the number of cell phones per capita directly impacts the quality of street etiquette and civility. People talking on cell phones stare into a twilight zone, barely seeing passersby on the street. It's as if the act of talking and listening to a disembodied voice while walking directs their attention inward. These people don't see what's going on around them because they are focusing on the inside of their own heads.

One day last month, I watched, along with an entire Starbucks full of customers, as a very large man on a cell phone proceeded to chew out an employee, threatening to fire the guy. The more he talked, the angrier he became, the more oblivious to his surroundings. "You know what you're required to do, and you're simply not doing it!" he bellowed into the air. "I think I'm going to have to let you go." We exchanged nervous glances, strangers in Starbucks, until finally an elderly woman walked over and said to him, "Young man, are you not aware that everyone here can hear every word you're saying?" It took a minute to register. He gazed across the top of her head and paused for a moment, then walked out the door and continued his harangue on the sidewalk outside.

Yesterday, standing in line for a coffee, I found it impossible not to eavesdrop on the sexy purring of a young woman behind me, whispering orgasmically into her cell phone. "Um-hmmmmmmmm... !" Giggle, giggle. "Yeah, it was greeeeeeaaaaaat ...."

And traveling recently, I found myself stuck on an airport shuttle bus with a blustery surgical supply salesman who had one of those head-set cell phones with a belt attachment making it possible for him to talk on the phone, smoke a cigarette and read the newspaper all at the same time, completely oblivious to the nine other people crammed into the van with him. He auto-dialed a series of doctors, apparently neurosurgeons, schmoozing the receptionists until he finally got a surgeon on the phone. "Dr. Johnson? Brad Franklin here with Med Tech. Yeah, hey, I was just wondering if you've had the chance to use our device lately. Any hemangiomas? Brain tumors?" He flipped to sports. "No? Slow, huh. Well, I need to sell another unit before the end of the year and I was just hoping ..." He paused to flip his cigarette out the window. "Well," he said, "if a case comes up and you need to re-stock you be sure and let me know. Hey, I've got tickets for the Alabama game next Tuesday and a VIP box if you're interested."

I know more now than I ever wanted to know about the surgical supply business. Astonishingly, this man revealed a huge amount about himself and his business life to all nine people on that bus, but never spoke or even looked directly at a single one of his fellow passengers.

My No. 1 beef with cell phone users? They answer the flipping thing no matter what. I sometimes get the feeling that I could be on my deathbed, spilling my guts, revealing my deepest, darkest secrets, but if my companion's cell phone rings, I'll just have to wait. Have you been in this situation? The conversation is warming up, you lean across the table, relaxing, and a thin, whiny beep rises up from your friend/lover/husband/wife's pocket or handbag or backpack. His eyebrows rise, he raises a finger as if to say, "One moment!" then pulls out the little silver transmitter, places it to his ear and is immediately transported elsewhere.

The world's a lonely enough place already. It's reason enough to just say no to cell phones.

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