I Can Hear You!

Cell phone on bus

The first time I realized how hearing one-sided conversations on a city street was the new normal, I was walking down Madison Avenue in New York City. There was a young man keeping pace with me but too engrossed in a conversation to pay any attention to me.

“You always do that!” he said as we waited for the cross walk sign to change. “You tell me you’ll meet me at a certain time and then you don’t show up. Why should I believe you now?”

Why indeed? I have friends who do that to me, so found myself rooting for him. “You go, guy,” I thought. “Don’t let that person take advantage of you!” And then I thought: What person?

He didn’t appear to be holding a phone. I didn’t see any ear buds or a Bluetooth earpiece in his ear.

When the light changed, I lagged behind a bit so that I could move to his left. Sadly, there was no earpiece in that ear, either.

He seemed to be having a conversation with someone neither on his calling plan nor on his phone. I turned left towards Fifth Avenue, leaving the young man to his conversation with the voices in his head.

I bring up this story not to make light of the young man’s emotional problems or to point out how we have become used to being among strangers having one-sided conversations. No, I bring it up to illustrate how non-nonchalant we have become with airing the details of our personal lives in public.

I am old enough to remember pay telephones and telephone booths. A lovely invention. We would find an available phone, fish out a coin to pay for the call, sit down and CLOSE THE DOOR before we initiated the call so that we couldn’t be overheard.

But no longer. Since the rise of the ubiquitous cell phone, privacy is just so not important. On the bus or subway, in an elevator or office cubicle, we seem to have no problem spilling the beans.

Here is what I’ve learned just this past month:

  • Debby’s doctor said it’s a yeast infection.
  • Ben’s wife is a witch and if she thinks she’s getting that much alimony, he’ll bring up that affair she had with the guy who painted their living room–and maybe demand a paternity test because why else would Robbie have that red hair?
  • Maryanne hasn’t slept with Dennis since he developed that “crusty spot.”
  • Alan doesn’t have enough cash to meet the payroll this week. Could he borrow a quick $15,000?

And this is just on the #4 bus from North Station in Boston.

Really, people? Get a room–an empty room! And for heaven’s sake, close the door before you start talking!

No wonder the Quiet Car on Amtrak is always so crowded.

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