Saturday, October 18, 2003

In the Cell Phone of Good and Evil

I was on a fairly empty 7 train today, and a young woman across from me was talking on a cell phone. An older (and by that I mean older than the phone user and I, but certainly not a senior citizen) woman sitting next to me suddenly screamed, "Put the phone away, please! You’re very rude!!"

Now, I'm not one of those people who thinks that pointing out bad etiquette is the height of bad etiquette; I shush people in movie theaters and stuff like that, and I am a master of the Evil Glare (tm). But I do think it's much more rude to yelp at someone else on the subway than to talk in a normal voice on a cell phone. And that was the really odd part of the outburst: While we've certainly all seen people shouting into their phones on the street or disturbing the peace in a restaurant this woman was talking in, if anything, a lower than normal "outside voice." I couldn’t really hear her at all over the sound of the train itself. Certainly not over the shrill shrieking of the woman to my right.

It's not considered rude to talk to your traveling companion on the subway, so when did the cell phone itself become such an object of scorn? One could argue that talker was actually making less noise than if she'd been having a live conversation, since there was only one of her! Was the angry woman maybe just annoyed because she couldn't eavesdrop on the one-sided conversation? I wonder if that's the key: It's not rude to converse in public, as long as those around you can listen in?

I wanted to ask the screamer these questions, or at least point out how quietly the phone user was talking and that she didn’t deserve to be yelped at by a total stranger, but of course fear of tipping a clearly unstable woman even more off-balance and the undeniable fact that it was none of my business kept my mouth shut. Then she said to Cell Girl, who had wisely ignored her as well, "Fucking peasant!" and I knew I had made the right choice.

In some weird twist of (bad) karma, when I changed trains I was trapped in a crowded car with a small child -- a boy of about two or three -- who was playing with what I assume was a parent's cell phone. And he knew how to play its ring. The "1812 Overture." Disco version. Over and over and over again. Buy the child a damn toy!!! If anyone else's head was going to explode along with mine they showed no signs of it, and I wondered how that was possible. I actually wished the mean lady had changed trains with me, just to see what she’d do. I gave the kid an Evil Glare (tm) (his parents' backs were to me so I couldn’t EG them), and he actually closed the phone and looked at me sort of sheepishly. Ah, yes, train them young! I smiled at him, 'cause he was admittedly adorable, and for a second felt bad about giving the EG to a toddler. Then he opened the phone and played the 1812 again and all remorse fled.

The kid didn’t even really look like he was enjoying himself. He wasn't dancing or singing or even smiling to the music. That would have been cute and melted even my heart of stone. No, he looked very serious. As if it was in fact his sole mission to drive me completely insane.

I wonder if that's how Screaming Lady got that way. Check back with me in ten years, okay?

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