A mother's final, best lesson: Part 10
Don Murray's 'Now and Then' Column

Old Ladies, Cell Phones and Teeshirt Slogans

Would someone please tell Crabby Old Lady what all the talking is about? In a most unscientific, ongoing study undertaken by Crabby when she is out and about in New York City, more than half the people sharing the sidewalk with her at any given moment are talking on cell phones in varying degrees of distractedness.

Yes, Crabby does own a cell phone, though the reasons are becoming increasingly unclear as she almost never has anything to say that can’t wait until she is not surrounded by general traffic hubbub, honking horns and emergency sirens.

Two new studies were released last week suggesting that hands-free cell phone use in automobiles may not be any safer than hand-held cell phone use in automobiles.

"There's a growing body of evidence, even absent this new research we're doing, that suggests using hands-free cell phones does not minimize the risks of getting into an accident," said Rae Tyson, spokesman for the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration. "The act of conversation can be extremely distracting, whether or not your hands are on the phone."

      - Chicago Sun-Times, 20 July 2004

Crabby now has incontrovertible evidence that the act of conversation - if only of the hand-held variety - can be extremely distracting even when it does not involve an automobile.

In addition, although further study is undoubtedly in order, it apparently causes extreme meanness.

In the late morning on Saturday, Crabby was returning home from a neighborhood grocery shopping trip carrying three bags of food with more in her shoulder bag. As she turned the corner into her block, she was whacked straight-on by another human body. She landed hard on her arse, fortunately well-padded, in a most inelegant position with her groceries splattered and scattered into the street - a smashed tomato, broken eggs, a split melon, shattered light bulbs...

When she looked around to see what she’d hit, Crabby saw a young lady – 19, maybe 20 or 21, she guessed, who was quite attractive by Vogue magazine model standards. The girl was carefully picking her way through the grocery mess as she continued - having left Crabby still on her arse in the middle of the debris - to chatter on her cell phone.

Crabby could muster only an inarticulate “Hey,” as she, still harboring a delusion or two that she is as supple as she was 40 years ago, tried to heave her 63-year-old body upright. The girl glanced back as she stepped off the curb and silently – so as not to interrupt her cell phone conversation - mouthed, “Sorry,” and kept going.

Now this could be just another same old, same old complaint about the rudeness of youthful cell phone users, but there is a kicker. The first thing Crabby noticed when she looked up from the sidewalk to see what had hit her was the teeshirt the pretty, young cell-phone-talking girl was wearing. It said, “Eyes Off, Ears On.”

Crabby Old Lady is wondering if you think that teeshirt slogan is as funny, less funny or more funny than the one she saw recently that said, "Greetings from Abu Ghraib."


Getting older in modern times may mean having all the latest gadgets but cell phones??? Ok I have a computer and love it and have been thinking about a cell phone till my last trip to the city. It seems like every one down there has one of those things growing out of their ear. I came back to the counrty and said NO THANKS TO CELL PHONES.

I hope that this comment does not imply that I am naive enough to think that people interact in anything more than an extreme superficial manner in the big city while out and about, say, getting groceries, however, Ronni, this anecdote reminds me of when I went away to college. There were at any given time roughly 40 to 45 thousand students on campus at Michigan State University. Escaping my hometown, not a small town, I'll admit, I had hopes of meeting people, making new friends, etc. When I got to campus, I was utterly dismayed. How in the hell was I going to meet anyone when everyone walked around with a pair of headphones lightly clamped over the ears! Everyone appeared to be in their own little bubble of tunes. I quickly learned that it was nearly impossible to meet anyone outside of one's dorm, which was unfortunate, but that's another story.

Here in the Midwest, we do acknowledge each other on the street quite often, sometimes not, and sometimes simply to say, "I see you. I'm acknowledging your presence. I don't have any quarrels with you. But I am carefully watching you even though it appears that I might not be paying any attention." This of course changes when one is downtown and the ratio of opportunities increases. Then, as in the big city, pleasantries and courtesies and acknowledgements drop off completely, and one is left to read t-shirt slogans and license plates.

I'm not sure how I feel about the t-shirt slogans in question. It seems like the trend of the times is to embrace and blatanly champion how obnoxious, ridiculous and pathethic we can at times, perhaps more often than not, behave, all made acceptable under the guise of honesty.

"What it's really like to get older"...is to know you're a stranger in a strange land where the desparate mindlessness of the moment is driving, walking, eating, whatever, with a goddamn cell phone next to your ear. Not everyone is like this. But as you point out, it's not an uncommon sight and unfortunately they bump into you. Who are they talking to? What are they saying? Why can't it wait? The need to call and be called is a lot like needing to see and be seen, so desparate. I have an image of a telling moment in a restaurant in Miami. A handsome young Cuban man and a beautiful young Cuban woman sat across from each other. They wore fine clothes. For almost an hour, they talked into their separate cell phones, oblivious to each other. Growing older each day, I look around and find that I'm an alien on my own planet. I have a cell phone but it's for emergencies and for making cheap, outgoing calls to family in the evening. No one has my number and I don't ever want to be called.

Gahhh! Cell phones are a pet peeve of mine. More specifically, their use by unconscious people. I don't think that it is the equipment itself that poses a hazard in the driving scene, but the fact that the talker's mind is occupied by something other than his/her driving.
P.S. Even a regular telephone doesn't fit my hand very well (if I make more than one telephone call within a week, I'm being loquacious) so you can tell that I'm not a good candidate for owning a cell phone. Not that I'm techno-phobic--far from it--but some things are better left unacquired.

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