Your guide to living as part of a society
Good manners are a lubricant and a balm for people who live among people. They are part of our history, part of an implicit social contract – a contract where “live and let live” and “do no harm” will always trump “get out of my way” and “shut the fuck up.” And unlike the existence of Global Warming or the “Theory” of Evolution, this contract is largely non-negotiable – or at least it will be when I am made King of the World.
The Cell Phone
Does any of this sound familiar? “Don’t interrupt; Wait your turn; Use your indoor voice; Say ‘please’; Say ‘thank you’; Say ‘excuse me’; Say ‘I’m sorry’; Look with your eyes, not with your hands; Don’t stare; Mind your own business;” and of course, “You can’t have everything you want.” If your childhood was anything like mine, you heard your parents say things like this all the time. They admonished you in public, at home, at grandma’s house, at school, in the grocery store…everywhere. They did this because they cared not only about you, but also about other people. Your parents were training you to be part of a society – to be good citizens. It worked. You started to practice what they preached, and lo and behold, you blossomed into a polite and well-spoken young person. And then you grew up; the cell phone was invented; and your manners turned to shit. I’m serious. What the hell happened to you people? Martin Cooper says he invented the cell phone because he was inspired by Captain Kirk’s communicator on Star Trek. He turned that inspiration into reality. The Fact that is the modern cell phone surpasses even the Fiction. Today’s phones are a marvel. They are portable telephones, computers, movie theaters, photo albums, sophisticated tools, and complex toys. Having said that, if you don’t count Napalm, A-bombs, and Care Bears; they may well be the single most offensive inventions ever to spring from the mind of Man. And I shall tell you why. People these days are flat out, unapologetic, in your face, who-cares-about-you Rudeniks. They think because they purchased a cell phone, they have the right use and abuse the devices any way they see fit and the rest of us be damned. It’s a twisted and selfish philosophy. And it’s as antithetical to good citizenship as Michael Vick is to dog ownership, David Hasselhoff is to sobriety, and Mel Gibson is to multiculturalism. I offer a few simple suggestions for proper use of the cell phone that will make Life easier for everyone. So let me help you. I beg you, let me help.
Part One: Hierarchy. Paper covers rock; rock breaks scissors; scissors cut paper; and real people trounce disembodied voices – or they should. This means that when you and I are sitting in a coffee shop, you do not take or make a call; you do not read or write a text message; you do not even activate the screen to see if you missed any calls. You refrain from this sort of antisocial behavior because it’s just damn rude. You are saying in no uncertain terms that you are only passing the time with me until something better or more pressing comes along. And unless you are an on-call surgeon waiting to hear about a critical patient who is “circling the drain,” you have a shamefully over-inflated sense of your own importance. And quite frankly, you are wretchedly insecure and starved for attention. Give your focus, your respect, and your energies to the human being sitting across the table from you. “My agent might call; My girlfriend’s cat is passing a stone; I’m waiting to hear about the success or failure of my mother’s new draperies.” Shut up, you. I mean it. If you can’t manage your pitiable need for constant stimulation and manufactured electronic adoration for the time it takes you to have a “cup o’ Joe” with a friend, you should be seen by a medical professional specializing in Narcissistic personality disorders. The arrogance! You would actually put a breathing, feeling, in-the-flesh person “on hold” because of the possibility Kim Kardashian may have tweeted yet another inanity essential to your continued happiness. And another thing, you don't walk up to a shop counter while conversing on the phone with one of your equally narcissistic blabberpuss chums, point emphatically to the last whole grain bagel in the display, and quietly mouth the words “dopo macchiatto” to the human being working behind the counter. Nobody deserves that kind of barefaced disrespect. It labels you a sociopath and an A-hole. “A”, my friends, is for Ass. Live in the moment. Turn off the phone occasionally. You simply are not that important.
Part Two: Discretion. You know what bugs me? Well, just about everything, but that’s neither here nor there. What bugs me at this moment is people’s apparent lack of situational discretion – their basic lack of good old common sense. Let’s say, for whatever reason, you simply cannot turn your ever-present cell phone off. You have to have it with you. You must. There is an emergency or something, and you are that “contact person” listed on all the forms. Ok. Fine. This does not, however, give you carte blanche and excuse you from the rest of humanity. You still have certain obligations to the rest us. Like being less loud than a roaring jet engine. I’m talking about simple volume here, people. Not only the volume of your phone’s ringer, but also the volume of your own voice must be modulated. Let’s address your phone’s ringer, or the more pretentious, ring tone. Please, please, please choose a ring tone and volume level that is appropriate to societal dwelling. If you have, like the clueless middle-aged woman I encountered on Metro North last week had, the Welcome Back Kotter theme as your ring tone; and if you are repeatedly and ceaselessly answering calls from your daughter regarding the ratio of bullion cubes to water for “home made” super secret chicken soup recipe; and if you insist on turning up your cell phone’s volume to levels surpassing that of the South American Howler Monkey in heat; then you have, without question, created a sanity-threatening predicament for the rest of us, you poor senseless bastard, you. And to add insult to injury, this Welcome Back Kotter woman kept returning her decibel-shattering phone to her oversized “catch all” saddle bag of a purse after every single call – lest it be conveniently at hand for the next absurd inquiry from her surpassingly annoying offspring. “Who'd have thought they'd lead ya (Who'd have thought they'd lead ya) Back here where we need ya (Here where we need ya)” repeatedly, continually, over and over an over, ad infinitum! I’m sorry. The problem is two-fold. One, we shouldn’t ever have to hear your phone ring. Set it to vibrate. That’s why there is a vibrate setting. And two, pipe down. Really. Hearing a high volume one-sided conversation is bad enough, but hearing a high volume one-sided conversation that is completely devoid of even the most microscopic shred of merit is too, too, too much to endure. And we shouldn’t have to endure it, because the problem is not, Dear Brutus in ourselves. Neither is it in our stars. The problem is in you and your oh so apparent lack of willingness to facilitate even the most rudimentary aspects of good citizenship. When you are at home, do as you please. When you are sharing public places with the rest of God’s Children, turn the ringer down or off and lower your voice. Just do it.
Part Three: Location, Location, and Location
Section One: The Car. There are certain places where it’s never okay to use your phone. Let’s start with the automobile. Auto means self, and mobile means to move. Essentially, automobile means that “Thing That Moves Around By Itself,” which is a terrible name for the mechanical contraption that most of us refer to as the car. It’s a terrible name because cars don’t move themselves – people drive them. Even if your driving skills have become so atrophied you had to buy one of those overpriced small-penis-compensating robotic cars that parallel park themselves, you are still driving the car. “I’m an excellent driver.” No you aren’t. Not everybody is an excellent driver. All drivers think they are extraordinary, and most of them are terrible. The average person is about as skilled behind the wheel as a three-toed sloth in mittens. And although I agree that any reasonably coordinated person could probably receive a phone call, chat briefly, and hang up the phone without endangering all of Mankind, I still have to maintain that there is almost never a need to be on the phone while driving a car. Yes, yes, it’s probably no more distracting to your enviable abilities of concentration than say, smoking a cigarette or eating a Filet-O-Fish sandwich. But the reality is that most of you are already smoking, eating, searching for tunes, disciplining a child, and/or regaling a carload of your chums with the awe-inspiring tale of how you attained Level 10 Prestige in Call of Duty Modern Warfare 2. So, YES, the added distraction of you fumbling around with your over-priced and over-prized cell phone while attempting to operate that “Thing That ‘supposedly’ Moves Around By Itself” does indeed pose a very real threat to your already overtaxed and over-stimulated little self, not to mention to the rest of Mankind. And I am just talking about receiving a call, people, not making a call. I am talking about talking, not texting. Texting while driving -- Jesus, I weep for the future. Texting is a cute way of saying TYPING. People are fucking typing while operating a motor vehicle. If you honestly think that you are able to TEXT while driving a car, then you are an idiot. Shut it. You are an idiot. Why don’t you compose your un-put-downable memoirs with an IBM Selectric perched on your ample thighs while simultaneously straddling a bouncy thoroughbred during the jouncy final seconds of a championship dressage competition? You know why? Because you are not that fucking coordinated, dearie. Nobody is – not you, not Nadia Comaneci. Not even the genetically engineered, 150-word-per-minute lovechild of Mario Andretti and Camillo Olivetti could safely TEXT while driving an automobile. Anyway, it’s against the law – and that’s your fault. It’s moot because legions of you under-coordinated, phone-obsessed chatterboxes have already caused innumerable traffic accidents; and now nobody can even look at a phone while driving a car without risking jail time. We are all forced to cork an ear with one of Lieutenant Uhura’s blue-toothy, “hands free” earpieces -- a.k.a. that which is De Rigueur for Douche Bags. And let’s talk about those “earpods” for second, may we? They are meant to be used while operating an automobile, not while shopping for tuna at the grocery store. You look the fool. Those of you who walk around with blinky electronica sticking out of your ears are the modern day equivalent of the pot-bellied, mid-life crisis guy with the Member’s Only jacket and the Porsche hat. You don’t look cool, you look ridiculous. When you get out of the car, pocket the earpod. “But what if someone calls me?” Then use your phone, Nerd. Are you a professional juggler? “My hands need to in motion and free of accoutrements 24/7!” No, they don’t. You are not that important. Nobody is that important.
Part Three: Location, Location, and Location
Section Two: The Theatre. (coming soon)