Attendance not necessary

Photo by MZ

Let’s get right to the point, shall we?

What? You were talking first? Sorry, but I think what I have to say is far more important.

What happened to manners?

I’m not talking about high-society etiquette and dispute over the proper spoon to use. I’m referring to everyday, common-sense, Golden Rule kind of stuff.

My nickname isn’t Emily Post. I don’t pal around with Judith Martin (but I adore her weekly column on social graces) and often I let slide things that maybe should be addressed. Rather than call out the store clerk who yaks into her cell phone headset while ringing up my order, I just grab my receipt and make a mental note to spend my money elsewhere. There does exist hope amid all the chaos: While scouring the racks at my favorite resale shop, I was pleased to overhear the owner taking to task two of her employees for “excessive texting” on the job. High five to you, woman.

Excuse me, I ‘m talking now. Please put down your phone. I see you over there.

I can trace this slimy little trail of behavior right back to the first cordless phones. When was it? Sometime in the early 1990s? Suddenly everyone was multi-tasking: They were doing their nasty business in the bathroom while being interviewed by a reporter; they blathered on about this bitch and that ho while steering a shopping cart through a grocery store. The sounds of ring tones bleating and chirping out all genres of musical hits during church services, movies, plays and children’s programs grew more commonplace and acceptable.

Next thing you know a new generation is reaching adulthood with this model of behavior as the norm. You cannot  blame parents for all of this. Spread it around to the cell phone companies and cable TV and reality programming.

In a search for common ground on this stuff, I find myself nearly alone in a field. My mother has a cell phone but she only turns it on when she wants to make a call. (Overly polite and from another era.)  At the other end of the spectrum is my daughter, who sleeps with her phone next to her pillow, eats with her phone in her lap and performs household chores with one hand while texting with the other. Sometimes she takes a break to log on to Facebook. (Unable to disconnect, ever.)

Here is a recent conversation I had with my teen, in which I explain how I went to a fine-arts fundraiser concert, at which we were asked to turn off our cell phones before the show, and how no one listened and just kept on texting and surfing the Net on their smart phones all through the show. What the freakin’ hell, people?

She: So? What’s your point?

Me: What do you mean, so? That’s rude. I hope you don’t do that.

She: Mom, it’s not rude to text during a show. Texting is silent.

Me: I don’t know about that. I can hear that annoying tap-tap-tapping from across a room. It’s not subtle. And it is rude to ignore the performer and chat no matter in what form. You think the people on stage can’t see what you are doing?

She: You need to lighten up. You’re the rude one with your stupid phone always ringing and vibrating in your purse. Half the time you can’t even find it and you never answer it. Talk about rude.

I reminded her that I keep my phone on vibrate these days and I return calls as quickly as I can. I’m even trying to respond to texts with something more in-depth than “OK” or “THX.”

She: Whatever.

Me: How is it OK to be in someone’s physical presence, yet ignore them in favor of chatting or texting with whomever is on your phone?

Apparently this is a gray area, one that I have a hard time wrapping my aging gray matter around. So, it’s not rude to ignore the person or performance in front of you as long as you are saying nice things about the performer on Facebook and Twitter and posting pictures from your phone to the Net? Is this how it works?

She: Do you want some kind of award for politeness? I think most people would rather be with someone real than with some prissy woman who’s trying to be perfect all the time.

Am I am pris? Am I not real? God, if she only knew me back in the day. Hah!

Why must I shut off my dumb phone while you tap away on your smart phone? In my one-person quest to uphold lost social graces, am I viewed only as uptight and outdated. Is there any hope?

While I considered whether I was a prissy perfectionist old skool mom, my preschooler interrupted our debate with this directive:

“Shhhh, mom,” she whispered and pointed to a Barbie doll “mom” seated at a miniature desk with computer and phone.”You have to be quiet. She’s working on her computer.”

Great, now I’m a hypocrite as well.

Survival skills


Scene I 

Interior of suburban home where a stressed-out mother is opening bills and attempting to balance the family budget. Mom opens the monthly cell phone bill.  There is a loud scream, followed by the pounding of footsteps down a hall leading to a teenage girl’s bedroom.

MomZombie: You exceeded your minutes last month, to the tune of $500. Unless you can cough up the overage fees, we’ll have to confiscate your phone for one month.

Girl from the West: But mom! This is totally not fair. People keep calling me!

MomZombie: You don’t have to take the calls ….  

The argument abruptly ends, as the teen girl realizes she is out of options. Her bank account is empty, the funds withdrawn earlier this year to cover the last big overage. She hangs her head in defeat and hands over the device. It is as if she has reached into her chest and yanked out her own  beating heart. For the next few days the teen is a husk of her former self.

Scene II:

Pre-dawn inside same suburban home. A coffee maker gurgles in the kitchen, spitting liquid energy into a glass pot as a tired and impatient mom prepares breakfast and steels herself for an hour’s drive in the dark. Wondering why teen daughter isn’t awake, mom darts down the hall and throws open the bedroom door, flips on the light switch. 

MomZombie (shouts to the form under the heap of quilts): “Get up! You’ve overslept by 30 minutes!”

Girl from the West: But mom! You took my phone away. It’s my alarm clock. How am I supposed to get up?

Mom points to the clunky rectangular object perched near the teen’s headboard.  It has a curious arrangement of illuminated numbers, letters, buttons and a dial. In some museums, such objects are labeled as ALARM CLOCK/RADIOS.

Girl from the West: But mom! You know I don’t know how that thing works.

Scene III:

Entrance of suburban mall on a weekend afternoon. Mom is surrounded by two teens about to embark on a sport known as shopping. Both teens want to separate from the chauffeur/wallet in order to gossip in privacy.  But there is a logistical issue.

Girl from the West:  How are we going to do this without phones? How will we find each other?

MomZombie: Here’s an idea. We agree to meet in an hour at the food court.

Girl from the West: But Mom! How am I supposed to know what time it is? You took my phone away. It has a clock on it.

Mom points to a unusual object encircling her wrist. At the center of the wristband is a round piece with numbers and lines. Apparently early humans used these tools to tell where the sun was in the sky. Mom urges the teens to search for similar objects, often found on walls.

Miraculously, the parties manage to navigate the large building and reunite at the appointed hour. Somehow, the world continues to rotate on its axis. Meanwhile, a small rectangular beating heart ticks quietly in a sock drawer in a suburban home.