Please shut up

Augustine Marinelli

A while back, I found myself reading a Jonathan Franzen essay that lamented the death of public space. He specifically pointed out that the private behavior of others was intruding on the public sphere; in other words, citizens are turning the public domain into their own squalid living rooms. An arbiter of this trend is the cell phone.

Now I don’t have a problem with people making calls on their cell phones in public … as long as I cannot hear the call. But discretion seems to have jumped out the proverbial window, as I wish I could at times. Each day I am subjected to loud snippets of personal conversations that I could certainly live without. Like stereotypical tourists overseas, these offenders seem to think that the louder they talk, the more interesting their words will become. I can assure you that this is not the case. Nobody cares when your party is this weekend. No one cares how much you drank and how hung-over you were before you made that call. No one cares about who did what to whom and who photographed it and posted it on the Internet. No one cares.

Another annoying habit of those with cell phones is the increasing number of people who elect to have personal arguments. Breaking up with your boyfriend? Confronting him about the other night? Fighting with your mother about money? Having a drama-queen crisis in your apartment? In that case, please come out to the train station and be sure to project your voice so that all of us can hear you. Speak slowly so that I can take notes and be able to read them later. And while you’re at it, be sure to work up plenty of tears, so that I can see at least one crying, sniveling wreck of a human being before I go to class. After all, it brightens my day. What ever happened to wanting to preserve your dignity by crying and arguing in private? I will be honest, most of these offenders are women. (And before half the campus population rises up in anger, I’ll tell you all I don’t care. I haven’t been on a date in two years, and I can go another two with ease.) But that doesn’t let men off the hook either.

Often when I find myself washing my hands in a public restroom, I will see many enter the bathroom, sit down in a stall and speed dial someone while answering nature’s call. I think this speaks for itself, but I need to raise one question: Does the person you are talking to know what you’re doing?

The most bizarre incident that I’ve experienced occurred on the R5. I was sitting in front of a woman who was telling the front half of the train (and the person she was on the phone with) all about her singing career. She was apparently trying to set up an audition with a gospel choir. So, like anyone that is in the singing business (right?), she decides to start auditioning right there. On the phone. On a crowded train. During rush hour. She gets through two (bad) bars of some gospel standard before a coalition of angry commuters (and myself) glare at her long enough to force her to exit without an encore. She gets up and says to her caller with great frustration, “No one on the train wants to hear me singing!” Shouldn’t that be patently obvious? But it isn’t.

I recently read about a poor movie-going woman who was trying to watch “Brokeback Mountain” in a Texas theater. Another member of the audience was carrying on a long conversation on her cell phone during the movie. So when this woman tapped this aurally displeasing audience member on the shoulder to ask her to stay quiet, a self-righteous explosion of rage ensued. This ended with the obnoxious woman on the phone filing an assault charge against the lady who dared touch her shoulder in order to tell her to keep quiet. While I will certainly take risks to protect the sanctity of the public sphere, I do not need (yet another) assault charge filed against me. I’m pretty sure I’m fighting a losing battle anyway. People lack the desire for discretion and just do not care anymore. Citizens are now content to bring the squalor and ugliness of their home life wherever they go. You don’t believe me? Go outside and take a look. Before we know it, people won’t even bother to dress themselves and will show up in public wearing pajamas. Oh. Too late.