The Cell People
A woman reading a book raises a gaze of exasperated woe. Next to her is a dude whose one-sided babble runs something like this: “Nah, ain’ fuckin’ that bitch no mo’…Crazy-ass bitch be fuckin’ Shafon, now, man…Yeh…Yeh…Fuck that fuckin’ shit—I told the bitch I wanted her to have my baby…” With impregnation all the rage as a show of potency these days, I’ve no doubt this lively, autochthonous vernacular will live on. And having once been young, I also know the pleasures of gratuitous obscenity. I’ve just never known the pleasures of being overheard. Yet, looking around at the twenty-five percent of bus riders talking on cell phones, I realize that they’re not in it to be overheard; they’re in it to escape. If they gave a damn about the audience, they’d heed the deadpan glares around them, and ask, “Are these people annoyed?” But they don’t give a damn because they’ve opted to be preoccupied with someone somewhere else—someone with whom they are, miracle of nonplussing miracles, gabbing.
Reluctant as I am to plead ignorance on behalf of the cell people, I’m left with no choice. Choice went out the window the moment the distorted midi-tone of “In Da Club” sounded. From that moment, obliviousness for the sake of talk set in, or whatever you’d call it—disregard, heedlessness, disrespect… Whatever it is, it’s immune to censure. It serves as its own defense. Any attempt to staunch it by speaking up bites you back, because no matter how heavily laced the speech be with phalluses, orifices and the gymnastics that conjoin them, interruption is rude.
If we, the other seventy-five percent of riders, could aptly punish the cell people, it would have to be something along the lines suggested by a certain episode of “This American Life,” titled “Telephone” (January 16, 1998). It’s about a teenager whose father, exasperated by his son’s bong-fogged descent into thieving, lying, and flunky self-oblivion, secretly tapes his kid’s phone conversations. When the kid finally discovers the setup, his dad hands over the tapes. On listening to his own cringe-inducing demonstrations of ignorance, selfishness and vanity, he’s inspired a la Glen Campbell’s eternal lyric (taken from train-station graffiti), “Think a little more of others and a little less of me.” Perhaps the young man whose “crazy-ass bitch be fuckin’ Shafon” should have to listen to himself, say, for an hour (any longer would be cruel and unusual). As King George, Dick Mephistopheles, Karl Beelzebub and colleagues have all our phone conversations digitally archived, it wouldn’t be difficult to make these available to local authorities.
The reason the above punishment is so apt is that the offenses of the cell people involve a feature of immaturity: lack of awareness. The cell people juvenesce the second they connect. Sure, babies cry, urinate and defecate, kids have a hairy over the Brontastic Avenger at the bottom of the Captain Crunch box, teenagers sport a neck-to-kneecap T-shirt with a machine-gun-flourishing drug lord on it; but we excuse their naiveté and inexperience. We trust that one day a reflective capacity will develop and they’ll ask that profound and fundamental question, “Am I an asshole?” Our trust, however, fails us when it comes to a 250-pound, sebaceous, hairy, musk ape that can ejaculate at will. Come to think of it, fuck trust—we expect him to compensate for his post-pubic repulsiveness with a bit of perspicacity. If he fails, it matters not whether his obliviousness can be attributed to a V600TX-Y Blue-Tooth 1.3-megapixel 3G streaming video MP3/AAC audio blah blah blah…
When I hear the technologically impaired cell people, I often feel as if the obscene voices and whimsies that adults do their damndest to keep from public exposure were parading before my ears. Perhaps, being distracted, they feel liberated from social censure—free to express the inner imp. Or maybe they simply can’t pay attention to two things at once. The effect, however, is that they add to the general load of impishness that we would all like to escape.
© Copyright 2006, Jan DiVincenzo. All rights reserved.