May 2008 - Helen Chappell

 

Hello?

by

Helen Chappell

    I passed 20 SUVs on the St. Michaels Road today, and every single one of them was driven by a blonde woman talking on a cell phone. This is such a Talbot stereotype I think the council should consider adding it to the county flag. Blonde d’or, rampant on a field of British Racing Green, with a cell phone avant and SUV sinister. By their bad driving, ye shall know them.
     A while back, I was attending a very solemn funeral for a very respected person in a church known for its tasteful restraint. In the very middle of the service, someone’s cell phone went off. The surrounding mourners were treated to one side of a conversation on closing a real estate deal, with way too much information on who paid what for how much.
     If I had been the deceased, I would have risen from my coffin, marched down the aisle and haunted that man for the rest of his unnatural life.
     Not even the time-tested device of twisting around in one’s seat and giving the cell phone guy the patented WASP Glare of Death could detach him from the making of money. And believe me, there were some older people there who know how to give the WASP Glare of Death. Queen Elizabeth herself could not convey the chilly lesse majeste of an offended Episcopalian matron. Some day, if I say my prayers at night and watch out for wolfsbane, I too may be able to convey the Glare of Death, but it’s going to take a lot of practice.
     And I may get a lot of practice, if people don’t start turning their damned cell phones off. There’s a time and a place for everything, and driving, public events and crowded stores are not the place to disclose one side of a personal conversation.
     The fact that most people think you have to scream to be heard on a cell phone doesn’t help. The other day, in the Safeway produce aisle, I was able to overhear the entire conversation that ended a marriage, or at least one half of it. I suppose I shouldn’t have listened, but rather moved on to poking at the Oven Stuffers, except I’m a writer, which means I can be as nosy as I please, and you’re on a cell phone in the Safeway picking over the strawberries and talking about the most intimate details of your sex life.
     Can you hear me now? Yes, I can, and so can that man weighing tomatoes, and the lady with two small kids buying grapes, and I’ll bet anything that other lady with the hat isn’t half as interested in that celery as she is in how the Other Woman makes you feel young again, sorry honey, but I’m leaving you.
     I bet the whole store can hear you. Did you think you were all alone in a supermarket at rush hour? Did you think at all? No, of course not. You’re a cell from hell, and your sense of entitlement blocks out the rest of the world.
     As far as we were all concerned, she should get a landshark lawyer, divorce your sorry behind and be happy she’s no longer married to an idiot who chooses to break up on a cell phone at the produce counter. Maybe the canned juices would have been classier, I don’t know. This is one game I don’t play.
     My cell phone is off most of the time. I use it for emergencies and for getting directions when I’m lost, which is a lot of the time. Frankly, since the advent of e-mail, I hate talking on the phone. Maybe it’s because I’m a writer, and I can compose my thoughts better when I’m typing them.
     Maybe I never developed the habit of using the cell phone as an extra appendage because I live in a section of the county where the reception for the little buggers is so poor I have to walk down to the end of the driveway to get a few bars. Thanks to the un-community mindedness of a couple of weekender lawyers who think cell towers will ruin their view, this situation is unlikely to change any time soon.
     God help any of us who have to dial 911 from a cell down here.
     Dnt evn tlk 2 me bt txtng. My fngrs r 2 ft 2 pnch kys + my brn is 2 slo.
     People who treat cell phones as an accessory need to be told the 90s called and they want their look back. Woe betide the diner at my table whose cell phone peals “Booty Call” in the middle of a course, especially if they ignore everyone at the table while chattering madly away with someone on the other coast. You will never be invited back to eat with me again. You have no home training.
     Even professionals, who need to be in touch 24/7, have the good manners to set their phones to stun, rather than ring. But then again, they have less to prove, and more to lose if they miss an emergency page from court or hospital.
Public stoning of inconsiderate cell phone users is, alas, outlawed.
     But I did attend a concert at the Avalon once where someone’s phone went off right in the middle of the show. The performers stopped in mid-song, and gleefully focused their attention on the faux pas phoner, while the rest of the audience waited in breathless anticipation for their next move.
    “Who’s calling?” A performer asked from stage.
    “Janet,” said the suddenly shamed audience member.
    “Hand up Janet,” another performer commanded, and the shamefaced girl gave up her phone. Gleefully, the audience passed it hand to hand until it reached the stage.
    “Janet?’ asked the first performer when he got the phone. “Everyone say hi to Janet!”
    “HI JANET!” The audience thundered. The very trim on the rotunda shook with the reverb.
     The second performer took the phone. “Hello, Janet? This is X.
     We’re on stage at the Avalon now, and she can’t take your call. Want to leave a message? No? I thought not. Okay, bye, now.”
     When he closed the phone and handed back to the audience, there was the largest, loudest, longest cheer I have ever heard in that venerable theater.
I bet that girl never leaves her cell phone on again.