In the months since the ban on cell phone use while driving, I’ve noticed more people murmuring into their cell phones in line ups at the movies, in the bank, at the drug store, in grocery aisles. It’s usually while they’re shopping. And it’s not just “Hey, it’s me. Do we need parsnips?” It’s “Hi, Whatcha doin’? How’s it goin’?” Murmur, murmur, murmur. Squeeze “Uh huh.” Murmur, murmur. Press, sniff, murmur murmur.
How does the person at other end of the phone feel? Do they know that their friend is squeezing a cantaloupe, silently paying a cashier, very rudely at that, or giving a lobster the eye? Does it bother them? It would bother me. But, then, not that many people feel compelled to call me. I must admit, I am not often consulted on the state of parsnips or my take on How It’s ‘Goin’ (Whatever ‘It’ is). Most people I know understand that calls like this are, um… Annoying.
Today there’s a 30-something woman standing at the bakery counter in the grocery store. Simon Chang suit, pointy sling-backs, good core strength, root perm to die for. She’s talking to herself. No, wait, there’s a cell phone plastered to her cheek. Go figure. Murmur, murmur, murmur. “Just a minute,” she says into her phone as the teenage bakery worker approaches.
She’s already jabbing at the glass case. “Are those organic lemon tarts?” She says abruptly to the deer-in-the-headlights bakery kid. Silence. Long sigh from the woman. “I’ll have to call you back,” she says into the phone (Ya think?).
“I’m fine, thanks, and you?” I answer, quickly reviewing the gamut of possible connections. Middle School Vice Principal? No. Neighbour’s realtor? No. Man from my past? No way (no tattoos or visible impediments).
Then I realize too late, with humiliation and a flush rising up my neck, that the man saying hello isn’t talking to me. He’s staring past me, his face is expressionless. He’s on the phone. We are not acquainted at all. His proximity to me has nothing to do with familiarity. In fact, he’s subtly, yet oddly and impatiently, nudging me through MY turn (thank-you-very-much) with the cashier at the 10-items-or-less check out.
Cell phone users seem to have little or no sense of personal space. Before I leave the store, I notice two more women on phones at the bakery counter. They have the same look, could work in the same office. One reaches in front of the other for the Specialty Cake book. The woman in the way won’t budge. Instead, she snags a pack of crumpets out of a basket in front of cake woman.
It’s like a weird ballet, the two of them negotiating space, begrudgingly accommodating one another, jingling their trunk show bracelets in each other’s faces while ignoring each other at the same time. All the while, they’re yakking away, conducting separate conversations that sound exactly the same. It’s some urgent, can’t-wait-until-they-get-home issue: how Camille said such and such, and then Frank said so and so. I’m not eavesdropping. Honestly. But it sounds like they could be on the phone to each other.
While there is a very good possibility that my husband might like to be included in decisions like Stilton versus Gouda, and that my friends would love to hear about Camille and Frank’s breakup the instant it occurs, I know I’d be creating a monster if I got a cell phone. I’d lose myself, and start phoning anyone and everyone at the drop of a hat. “Oh my God… this guy in the line up behind me is soooo rude.”
If I had a cell phone I would miss interacting in the real world; my engagement to experiences like choosing the perfect cheesecake would be lost forever. I’d start pestering my children. “Whatcha doin’? Where’re ya goin’?”
Who am I kidding? My mother could do all this, and more, without either of us having a cell phone. She just knew where I was and where to phone. When I was 19 and living on my own, she slyly copied down the number of the payphone in the laundromat she knew I used and called me there one night, which was embarrassing as hell.
The payphone kept ringing and ringing and no one would answer it. Finally this really good looking guy in a pair of carpenter’s overalls and no shirt, who, incidentally, I’d seen in there before, got fed up and answered it. I can only imagine what my mother said to him and how she described me. He dropped the receiver and walked towards me. “Is your name Margie?” he asked. I thought I’d shrivel up and die right there on the spot.
I can’t remember half the telephone conversations my mother and I had, or what we talked about that night, but now I sure miss her calls.
I guess I have to admit, I am a tad envious of phone talkers in general. I sometimes wish my husband would call me at work once in a while just to say hello. But let’s face it: he knows that if he phoned me for no particular reason, I’d think the Martians had landed. (“Who is this, and what have you done to my husband?”) At the very least, I’d want to know just exactly what was “goin’’” on.
“No cell sign at a Subway” from The Best Article Every Day
“Always Connected” Lavalle PDX @ flickr.com. Creative Commons. Some Rights Reserved.