There Oughta Be a Law...


Yes, you heard it here first! I, myself, am saying, 'There oughta be a law . . . .' But let me explain.

These days, there is no detriment to various forms of ill behavior visited upon those of us who are among the rapidly decreasing ranks of the well-behaved. We who would not think of speaking during a live theater performance, cutting into lines, or engaging in other out-and-out rude behavior have little recourse when confronted by this type of unmannerly conduct.

The elements of such behavior seem more varied as civilization marches on and provides more means and tools for the uncouth, but I will focus on cell phone-related conduct.

Last week, I was nearly hit head on in a parking lot by a cell phone user (hereinafter referred to as a 'celler'). At most, my car hood might have been dented, but the celler would have fared somewhat the worse for the encounter. He was standing on the pedals, both hands on the handlebars, as he pumped his bicycle up an incline, cell phone jammed between shoulder and ear. This posture mandated that he watch the ground. Had he taken one hand off the handlebars to cradle the phone, his bike would have make a tight circle and immediately fallen over.

I have no objection if an individual wants to take his life in his own hands while making the all-important call, but to expect others to watch out for him while he chatters away obliviously is downright insolent. And there's nothing we can do about it.

An engaged celler navigating a monster SUV around a corner is a terrifying sight from nearby potential victim lanes. Likewise one who is sliding across three lanes of rush hour traffic in a sports coupe. The idea of someone at the helm of a two-ton semi-guided missile occupying the same stretch of roadway as I do while engaging in distracting activity and exhibiting the thousand-yard-stare is unnerving.

I do not propose legislation to regulate such behavior; idiocy carries its own reward. However, as an innocent by-driver, I would not want to share the 'reward' for someone else's idiocy. I propose that auto insurance companies charge cell phone users a rate consistent with the greater risk to others. Let the free market regulate unsafe behavior, not the government. If this requires legislation to free up insurance companies to do so, so be it.

All that said, the ire that brings me to the keyboard today is the related behavior of the cell phone loudmouth. Similar to the expression 'potty mouth,' this individual is someone I refer to as the 'celler mouth.'

A cell phone is a sophisticated electronic device capable of picking up quiet sounds from two inches away'the maximum distance from lips to mouthpiece'and transmitting those sounds over thousands of miles and thence through a speaker to the listener's ear. The user doesn't have to SHOUT.

My wife and I were recently enjoying a tasty dinner at a local restaurant, a nice little Italian place that makes a thick, tasty marinara sauce like my grandmother used to cook up. The typical quiet murmur of conversation emanated from the table behind me with only an occasional word or phrase poking its way into my consciousness. Then, the cell phone warbled.

It was one of those irritating faux-compositions of electronic bloops and bleeps that goes on and on and causes Beethoven'or maybe Mozart'to spin in his grave. 'HELLO' WHERE Y'ALL AT?'

A moment later everyone in the restaurant, the parking lot, and the gas station on the corner knew the caller was lost, as the celler mouth proceeded to give the caller step by step directions to the eatery. Return to quiet.

A few minutes later, the phone burped again. The caller, we were given to know, was still lost.


Our serenity was interrupted four times by this series of calls as the celler mouth steered the geographically-challenged caller to our location. Evidently, the celler was not cognizant of the sensitivity of modern electronics and had been schooled in telephone etiquette by someone whose first 'telephone' was made from tomato cans and string.

Worse than cell phones are the increasingly common cell phone/walkie-talkie combinations that subject everyone within earshot to both sides of an inane conversation. Following is a conversation I heard, of all places, in a restroom at an interstate rest stop.



'NOTHING?' (An outright lie. This guy was doing something, but I won't elaborate.)

Two loudmouths for the price of one. I hear that one company is making this service a nationwide option. Spare me.

Writer Nick Schulz observed that 'society has moved past the point where it is considered rude to hold a private conversation in public.' Perhaps. I still consider it absolutely ill-mannered of the perpetrator when my quiet dinner, an experience I paid for, is interrupted by a loudmouth of the cell phone'or any other'ilk.

It's a matter of property rights. I traded my hard-earned property'money'for the right to a quiet dinner, just as a theater ticket gives me the right to enjoy an uninterrupted movie or concert. The restaurant owner traded me the dinner, the space, and the promised experience. The celler deprived me of it.

Furthermore, the restaurateur was deprived of something valuable: a contented customer. The businessman wants to use his property in the most financially beneficial manner; alienating potential repeat clients is not the road to success.

Again, I'm not suggesting a legislative solution to the behavior side of the equation. Human behavior that is not aggressive, coercive, or fraudulent should not be legislated against.

I suggest that everyone subjected to rude behavior in like circumstances inform the proprietor that he is not receiving what he has paid for. It is a market decision. The businessman must make a choice, either to suffer loudmouths gladly or to maintain a relationship with customers that will return. The property owner must decide the highest and best use of his property. He may even prefer to run a restaurant for oafs; it's a growing market. Or set aside a room for boors. 'Smoking or non-smoking? Manners or no manners?'

Therefore, I will forward this column to the restaurateur and will do so at any future time that my rights are violated and I am unwillingly deprived of my property.

One aspect of the fitness to survive in a society should be the ability to get along with one's fellows. Courtesy and polite formalities are social lubricants, absolutely critical to a society with an abundance of moving parts, i.e., individuals, in constant contact. Loutish behavior should be a contra-survival trait. A phrase attributed to writer Robert A. Heinlein goes like this:

'An armed society is a polite society.'

Consequently, I would give in to the following legislative remedy: that the Code Duello be updated and legalized along with the open carry of arms.

Let's give Darwin a chance.

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Joseph S. Bommarito's picture
Columns on STR: 17

Joseph Bommarito was a freelance writer who lived in Georgia.  He passed away on January 3, 2005.  Comments can be sent to his wife Sally.