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Can You Hear Me Now?

by Rose Madeline Mula

"I just got on the train, and I couldn't wait to tell you," he shrieked into his cell phone while stowing his duffel bag in the overhead rack. "Guess who knocked on my door last night?! .... That's right! ... No, I'm not kidding! She said she's thrilled that I moved into the building! And get this — she was wearing skin-tight short shorts and a tank top with a neckline down to her belly button, which was pierced, by the way! Her tongue, too! She invited me down for a drink when I get back! I tell you, she's hot to trot!" (The guy spoke only in exclamatory clichés.)

I shot a dirty look across the aisle. I wondered if he was oblivious to the fact that he was sharing his news flash not only with his friend on the wireless connection, but also with everyone else within earshot — half the car, at least. Since he was speaking so loudly, I decided he was very aware of his broadcast range and was obviously trying to impress all his fellow passengers either about his upcoming sexual exploits with his new neighbor, or merely that he had a cell phone.

If the latter, it didn't work because, unfortunately, he wasn't the only one. As they settled into their seats, dozens of other riders pulled out their own phones and shared with the rest of us details (some embarrassingly intimate, some incredibly boring) of their personal lives. Fragments of conversation assaulted me from all directions:

"It was the worst dental experience I ever had! Five shots of Novacaine, and the pain was still excruciating. The SOB was leaning so hard on the damn drill, I expected him to strike oil any minute! ..."

"... I miss you too, Sweetie ... .No! I miss you more ... It seems more like two years, not just two hours ... I love you ... No, I love you more ... Yes, I do ... No, you hang up first .... No, you ...."

"... so I'm selling the whole effing portfolio ... I'm sick of this whole effing market ... and that goes for the effing company, too. I'm gonna unload it and spend the winters in Tahiti, and summers at my Lake Como villa .. .No, I've had it with effing Gstaad. That effing chalet has been nothing but trouble since I bought it ..."

"Hey, Joe. It's me. Thanks for getting me to the station on time. I just barely made it. So what's new?" (Wait a minute. Didn't he just drop you off? What could be new since then?)

When Alexander Graham Bell spoke those innocuous words, "Mr. Watson, come here. I want you" into his "electrical speech machine" in 1876, I'm sure he had no idea that his invention would spawn a cellular monster.

What did people do before cell phones? Actually, we managed to function perfectly well. In fact, it was wonderful. No matter how much our home lives were interrupted by the ringing of the telephone, at least when we were on the road, the rails or in the air, we could always count on a peaceful respite. We'd be out of touch. No one could reach us. Bliss. But the party's over. Today, hardly anyone leaves home without a cell phone.

At first, a select affluent few had car phones. I envied them so. How comforting it would be not to have to worry about getting a flat tire on a deserted road late at night. Later, phones began to appear on airplanes. A boon for passengers who wanted to notify a loved one or a business associate that their flight was delayed. A great idea, I thought.

But seemingly overnight, the cellular craze mushroomed. Talk about too much of a good thing. Still, the beast might have been somewhat controlled; but then the worst happened: Unlimited calling plans were introduced, giving users free rein to give voice to every inconsequential thought, every trivial detail.

Consequently, almost every driver you see has one hand on the steering wheel and the other clutching a cell phone. Either that or they're talking into unseen microphones, making it look as though they're babbling to themselves while hurtling down the highway. It's very disconcerting.

And it's not just travelers who have a wireless umbilical cord to the world. So does every jogger in the park ("I just completed mile five; I should be home in half an hour — although, on second thought, I'd better slow it down from here, so I'll see you in about forty minutes ..."); every shopper in the super market ("Honey, they don't have super crunchy peanut butter; shall I just get crunchy?"), every sunbather on the beach ("I'm gonna catch a few more rays ... can you hear the surf? ... Yes, I remembered to put on sun block ..."). And thanks to the advent of tiny headsets, even skiers on the slopes can transmit a second-by-second report of their progress ("You should be here! This is awesome! Whoa! Big mogul coming up! .EEEEEEEK!")

The diabolical devices are everywhere. Nowhere are they more prevalent than in our institutions of learning, from colleges down to the elementary grades. It's highly unusual today to see a kid escaping from school at the end of the day who isn't talking on a cell phone. A child who doesn't have one is a social outcast, a pariah, a throwback to the Dark Ages. It won't be long before babies emerge from the womb clutching miniature cell phones to their tiny ears. And when the doctor smacks their bottoms, instead of crying, they'll yell, "Can you hear me now?"

I can understand the rationale: Parents believe they can keep track of their children by equipping them with cell phones. Yeah, right. Like if Mom calls, a kid is going to admit, "I'm at Susie's. Her parents aren't home so we're in her bedroom kicking back a few beers." Of course not. He'll say, "I'm just going into the library so gotta turn off my phone; I'll be home late. Got a ton of studying to do."

I was hoping that the advent of text messaging would at least reduce the number of ubiquitous conversations I'm forced to listen to everywhere, but no. It seems that senders of text messages are compelled to follow up with a voice call asking if the message was received. ("Did you get it? ... I sent it five minutes ago ... No, not the one about my catching Jen in the sack with my brother — the one where I asked if you think I should get a second opinion before having a colonoscopy...")

Thank God he hadn't had the procedure yet. At least we were spared those details.

Do you know what I'm taking with me the next time I leave home? No, not my cell phone — industrial-strength ear plugs.



Rose's new book, If These Are Laugh Lines I'm Having Way Too Much Fun, will be published by Pelican Publishing Company in the spring of 2006.

Editor's Note: Rose Mula's most recent book, The Beautiful People and Other Aggravations, is now available at your favorite bookstore, through Amazon.com and other online bookstores, and through Pelican Publishing (800-843-1724), as is her previous book, If These Are Laugh Lines, I'm Having Way Too Much Fun.

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