Getting off… Oh no…you thought I meant…that getting off! Right. Well…wrong. While this particular kind of “getting off” is also companioned by heavy breathing and occasional shouting, this explosion of emotion sounds more like: “GET-OFF-YOUR-PHONE!”
I was at one of my favorite local restaurants this past weekend, picking up Chinese chicken salads and to-die-for cupcakes. While I was waiting for the cashier to pack everything up, I noticed two really cute little kids; I would guess the little girl was five and her little brother was probably a year younger. I am definitely not one to stare, or point, for that matter; I’d had it drilled into me that it is rude to stare or point, which according to my mother was not only rude but a sign you were a peasant (rule of thumb was, if you were going to point you used both your index and middle finger together, this singular difference making people better able to distinguish good breeding!) That said, whatever my breed, this morning I felt justifiable cause to stare and point.
This man, this, this…well-dressed man in a very expensive suit was perched like a penguin at a table with his two darling children, it appeared doing his college best to try and talk to his kids, who looked like they were on Prozac.
I thought, ohhhh, how nice , a dad, with his kids,…(okay, yeah, I am a sucker, that’s all it takes for me to well up, the mere sight of a dad on his own with the kids.) This guy was talking non-stop about something, blabbing on and on in the general direction of his kids, yet upon closer inspection I noticed the little girl sitting quietly twirling the end of a clump of her shiny golden locks, staring off in the distance, while her brother listlessly poked at the metal holes in the chair in a half-hearted attempt to play a game he had just made up. Clearly this was no company for Socratic dialogue, but still, there was no connect at all.
I thought, hmmm. Is he scolding them? Then I saw him laugh. No, that’s not it. Are they just to young to understand what he’s talking to them about, I mean maybe he’s talking to them about things they aren’t interested in, like politics or math or…Bernie Madoff. Maybe he doesn’t spend a lot of time with his kids so he’s making up for lost time and trying to tell them his life story in one session; or maybe his kids are learning or socially impaired in some way and he decided if he just keeps talking to them they will spontaneously heal from the sound of his voice (you know, like people do when someone is in a coma); or maybe the kids are French and have forgotten how to speak English; or he’s divorcing their mother and he decides that this café is the perfect place to tell them the whole sordid and inappropriate story? Or maybe he’s on crack and just can’t stop talking, and his kids are so bored and have had to listen to him all morning and just can’t take it any more, but because they are 4 or 5 they don’t know how to articulate their growing aversion to his bizarre oratory tirade or… He was definitely into it, leaning back and forward, the guy could not stop talking, and no matter what he was saying to them the kids just sunk deeper into the coma-like state. What the heck? It was so odd, I just couldn’t figure out what was “wrong with this picture.”
The cashier interrupted my rich little fantasy and suggested I might want to pay now; the line behind me had gotten pretty long. I had almost forgotten what I was doing, I was so engrossed. I handed her my debit card and then looked back over, hoping to find a new clue and once and for all get to the bottom of this curiosity.
Nope, same guy, same scene except…wait…a minute. And then I had a flash of genius (Okay…but it was definitely some kind of flash). Oh, no… is that guy?...Could he be? No… I squinted my eyes, looked closely across the room, and zeroed in on his ear reflected in the mirror, and sure enough…I swear, had it not been for my mother’s imperative I would have shouted “OH MY GOD, HE’S ON THE F%^&ING PHONE!!” I gasped instead. That whole time, instead of trying to do what I naively gave him credit for, almost shed a tear over, he was on the f-ing phone. I was aghast. An emotion I find is reserved for, well older, more sour people who are very judgmental; whatever. So what! I gasped! I did! And I hoped it was loud enough for him to hear me.
Now everything made sense. Now I saw why these kids looked like they were in a dead zone. Oh, the judgments flew, and they were flying everywhere. It was like a judgment s@#%storm inside of me!!! The self-centered so-and-so, what a crappy parent, who brings their kids to a place like this and then ignores them for a half an hour, his wife probably thinks her kids are being loved and nurtured, having quality time with dad, giving her a well-deserved break, little does she know he’s completely ignoring them, and on and on.
So…of course they checked out, I thought, as I stared at him with my laser-like look of disdain! And you’re right; I didn’t give him the benefit of the doubt. I was way beyond giving this guy the benefit of the doubt. He was 20 minutes—no, wait, 10 minutes—beyond my margin of doubt. And yes, I was temporarily obsessively fixated on their little vignette almost the entire time he was on the phone, which I felt gave me the distinct privilege of being able to judge, and as a result of my verdict, would be given no benefit! I wanted to stride forth and pluck the phone from his sweaty grip and fling it into the abyss, which 20 years ago I might have done. (Which probably would have done little good.) But today I was only thinking about it!
“Number 36,” someone behind the counter yelled as I was being shuffled aside. I couldn’t very well just stand there and stare now, could I, and well, what if they weren’t even his kids, or he was on the phone with the homicide department and had just rescued these kids from a fate worse than death? Fine, I relented. I didn’t know why this guy was on the phone, or why his kids looked drugged. And is it any of my business? Some would say no, some would say it takes a village.
I see it so much now, parents—hell, people of all ages—who are with each other but not where they are, obviously wanting to connect, but not present to being connected. I watch young kids’ digits manipulate with their opposables, texting like fiends, like junkies, while in the car, while driving the car, parking, talking, walking, riding bikes, skateboards, eating in restaurants. It’s like we should all have the friggin’ phones surgically attached to our bodies! OR—how about, hang up the bloody phone once and a while?
Look, someone has to say it. We people are junkies for the phone. I know, we all have them, and I have no doubt been on the phone in the presence of my child, you betcha. Trying to make that deal, or get that person to love or like me, or avoid being lonely, or leap for the phone hoping it’s him, or whatever reason we all seem so incredibly desperate that we have to take the call right now. Or maybe we are just terrified of our own company, or to be silent or quiet.
For now I would settle for a modicum of respect and responsibility. Like:
1) If you are driving in the presence of other human beings, hang up the phone—you are putting them in danger. At least, use the speaker. You wanna kill yourself, that’s your decision. The rest of us want to live.
2) If you have children and feel burdened by their presence and wish they were not with you, get help, give them up for adoption, or at least try and talk to people you care about less than them during business hours or when they’re sleeping. Kids need, attention, respect, to feel safe and to have enlightened witness to see them!
3) Basically pay attention to where you are and the effect you may be having on other people. If it seems rude, it probably is. Just walk outside or keep your voice down. Manners are how we show each other respect!
Look, I am no angel, and I do have a phone. But I try like the dickens to be sensitive. Like when I cross the street and someone stops to let me go, I wave, Hey, thanks!; or when someone has one item and I have 90, I say “Go ahead”; and when I am on the phone and with someone else I try and remember this person’s life and time is precious, maybe I should act like it, so I hang up! Lately, every Friday I try and leave my phone at home for several hours, practicing what it was like when people had to wait. Remembering what it was like when everything was a little less frenetic and the pressure to keep up to speed wasn’t so severe. I have always loved Fridays, now they are a sure thing, for every Friday I get off! I highly recommend it ;)