My cellphone has a very special feature on it. The ability to identify assholes. Twice now, that alarm has been tripped.
I should tell you that I am a reasonable and considerate person. I shush my kids in theaters, refrain from conversation and I turn my phone to silent mode. I do the same with my phone at conferences, lectures and in business meetings. I don’t take calls in the theater and if I were to receive an urgent call, I’d excuse myself to the lobby to call back.
However… I am a mother of four. I’m rarely in a theater or business meeting, or attending a conference or basically anywhere alone, without a delicate, intricate, web of childcare in place. Oh to have the luxury to TURN OFF my phone entirely.
Yes, indeed, I’ve heard the argument that we all survived without our parents having cell phones but the difference is that nobody expected our parents to be available at all times and places. There were other systems in place. There were phone trees and neighbors and patient principals who’d let us do our homework in their office and not charge our parents $20 in ten minute increments for a half hour before calling Child Protective Services.
The other day I was thrilled to be at a screening of the MadMen finale in Hollywood. It was a packed theater and it contained many of the cast, crew and friends and family. Truly, I was elated. But I was also worried. My daughter had to be picked up at about the exact same time the screening started. My husband was juggling a couple of other kid pick ups and errands that were not his usual gig I worried he’d be flustered and she’d be left waiting at an empty campground. Before the lights went down, I fired off a quick text.
Fifteen minutes into the screening I felt my phone, inside my purse, vibrating silently. Images of my daughter pissed off on a picnic table came to mind. I was seated at the smack dab middle of the theater so there was no getting up to check my phone. I quietly peeked inside the bag. I saw her name at the top of the screen. My heart started to thump a little harder.
Without even thinking about it, I slid out and flipped over the phone to scan the message. She was asking me a question about school for tomorrow. She was not in danger. Phew.. and WHAM!
The man sitting behind me clocked me in the shoulder. By clocked, I mean he hit me. He smacked me in the shoulder so hard, that it would ache and distract me for the rest of the screening.
“WOULD YOU PLEASSSSSE PUT THAT GODDAMNED THING AWAY!” he hissed in my ear.
I was too stunned, and also possibly not ballsy enough to do what I wanted to do which was stand up in front of G-d, the cast of MadMen and Matt Weiner and kick him in the nuts and show him where I’d like to put that phone away. Kind of like Better Draper when she gets a gun. (Forgive the reference if you’re not a MadMen fan).
This was not the first time this has happened to me. The first time was at a play that I had been invited to as a blogger. I was shooting and sharing video and photos (no flash) of the production, as the company had specifically requested I do. I was using my cell phone. The woman sitting behind me hit me with her cane and hissed a similar message to me. “PUT THAT CELL PHONE AWAY!!!”.
Note: she did not use her cane to hit any of the several dozen people shooting video on video cameras or taking photos with their cameras.
The two incidents have me thinking. Obviously it’s ruder to publicly smack a stranger than to check a text message but where does the line exist? How responsible are we for not distracting or disturbing others.
Is that guy with a chronic cough an asshole for seeing a movie in public?
Should all kids be banned from theaters?
Should sneezing be an offense, or only for loud sneezers?
How about loud popcorn munchers?
People wearing sequins and hats?
Personally, I’m sick of being criminalized for worrying about my kids. I assume others who sneak a look at their phones are doing so for a good reason and find it easy to ignore a silent phone-checker. Easier than a hacking popcorn muncher, certainly.
But others might disagree so perhaps we should assign a texting area to the theater for doctors, officers of the law and parents like me. That way if I’m ever stuck sitting near Mr Explosive Temper again, I’ll have a little backup to arrest him and treat my injuries.