Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Loud cell-phone talkers: don't call us, we'll call you

I am Larry David. Hear me roar.

There are only two sins that I consider to be unforgivable:

1. Throwing trash on the ground.

2. Screaming into a cell phone in what's supposed to be a quiet, public place.

And the good and bad news is that I'm willing to back my belief with action and activism by being a "rudeness Nazi," which consists of fighting rudeness with rudeness in hopes of attaining that one, clear "teachable moment" where we all can hold hands and sing "Kum Ba Yah," nary a cell phone or piece of garbage in sight.

Hallelujah, brothers and sisters.

Great balls of fire!

To prove it, here's a dance-remix collection of some of my greatest hits, not including "Great Balls of Fire:"
  • Picking up a Coke can freshly thrown out of a car window, and throwing it back from whence it came.
  • Picking up wrappers freshly dropped onto the ground, sneaking up behind the guy who dropped them, and surreptitiously putting them back into his coat pocket, where - I hope - he discovered them later, saw the error of his ways, and repented for all time.
  • Saying, "Shame on you" when a guy chucked his cigarette wrapper onto the sidewalk on Broadway. To my surprise, he picked it up. Shame works!
  • Rolling my eyes as I pick up someone's fresh garbage and make a grand show of it as I drop it into the recycling bin, as if to say, "See, it's right here. You could've done it. But you didn't. Because you're rude. And lazy. And don't care about the environment. You suck."
  • Waiting for a loud cell phone talker to reveal his (it's always a guy) phone number on the bus. When he does, writing it down, then calling him later on to politely let him know how rude he was (or still is) being.
  • Sitting next to a loud cell phone talker on the bus, and pretending that I'm on the other end of the conversation. Example:
Loud Cell Phone Talker (on cell phone): "Where we goin' tonight?"
Me (not on cell phone): "Applebee's?!"
I've found that these Larry David-inspired shticks get big laughs when I tell the stories later. However, men do seem to enjoy them more than women, which is usually the first sign you've embarked on something idiotic.

Of course, these seemingly harmless shenanigans can also get tense at times, because the offenders generally don't take kind to being publicly called out on being an idiot - though I'd argue that I'm just the guy making them aware of it. They were still idiots before I got involved, right? Right!

But so far, so good: I've lived to tell the tales. Whew.

Taking the sting out of rudeness

I thought about my little vigilantism hobby yesterday when I picked up the New York Times - yes, the very paper I've resolved to stop quoting so much in 2010 - and was delighted to see the article, "As the rudes get ruder, the scolds get scoldier."

Turns out that my side project is, in fact, a grassroots movement. And newsworthy, no less.

In the article, we meet:
  • Amy Alkon, an advice columnist, and woman after my own heart, employing my patented "call the caller" shtick. But she takes it a step further, posting the personal details she overhears from loud cell-phone talkers on her blog.
  • Vinnie Bartilucci, a computer programmer who places a small recording device next to people talking on their cell phones. When questioned, he replies, "Since you obviously want me to hear your conversation, I'd better keep a copy of it."
  • Shannon Stamey, who runs the Disaffected Scanner Jockey blog, where she regularly recounts tales of her confrontations with rude people - to the delight of her readers.
  • Lynne Brown, an office manager, who listens in to people's conversations, then asks them about personal details when she runs into them later. "Hey, how's that group therapy going?"
  • Hugh Jackman and Daniel Craig - famous actors! - who recently broke character in A Steady Rain on Broadway to stick it to an audience member whose cell wouldn't stop ringing.
Can you fight rudeness with rudeness?

However, what had never really crossed my mind until yesterday is the question raised in the second part of the story: could it be that these "harmless pranks" aren't actually teaching anybody anything, just making the offensive person more defensive and doubling up on the rudeness?

Hmmm....it's a good point, I guess. So, what's an anti-rude, rude activist to do besides embracing the irony?

The Times' floats this possibility: the card company, pardonMOI, which makes cards for strangers, like:
"Pardon MOI, I couldn't help but notice that you're talking too loudly on your cell phone...perhaps you could tone it down a little?"
And, for planes:
"Pardon MOI, I couldn't help but notice that your group is too loud...we're getting complaints from other planes."
Not bad. But it still doesn't change the fact that if your message isn't taken well by the offender, you're stuck in a plane with him 32,000 feet above planet Earth.

So, I've been thinking about another solution, which involves bringing the loud cell-phone talkers into another arena: art. Instead of insulting and ridiculing them, maybe we should celebrate them as "great artists," which is something that the Bud Light Real Men of Genius Campaign has already done, God bless 'em:

I've also considered a YouTube gallery of fame, not shame, in which we post a celebration of "Mr. Really Loud Cell Phone Talker Guys," who, as the above ad says, "Insist on ignoring the latest advances in cell phone technology," like this young man - the future Prime Minister of Canada, perhaps - and his enabler on a Winnipeg Transit bus:

At the end of each year, we vote, tally the results, and crown our very own King of Rudeness. The guy gets a key to the city, and is placed - sans cell phone - in a little chair at the top of the Canadian Museum for Human Rights' Tower of Hope, where we affix him with display spotlights, a la Purple City.

At ground level will be a bronze plaque that reads, "I'm sorry. We can't hear you. You're breaking up. Good bye."


  1. That card company might have a problem, given that as far as I can see, only a total dick would say "Pardon Moi" instead of "Pardon Me".

    I am, however, totally against rude cell phone talkers.

  2. Rude cell phone talkers and littering also bother me. However, I am not nearly brave enough to call people on it, not even my own friends. I've had friends litter and I've told them it's not cool but I'm generally ignored. I wish I was brave enough to really confront strangers and get a good story out of it.

  3. I guess there's a fine line between "being brave" and "being an idiot." A line I walk daily, I'm afraid!

  4. "Shannon Stamey, who runs the Disaffected Scanner Jockey blog, where she regularly recounts tales of her confrontations with rude people - to the delight of her readers."

    I like this one, especially working in a retail environment where you encounter rude people constantly. I suppose rather than getting upset about it I should laugh it off and post it on my blog.

  5. I had someone literally 'bark' at me, out of nowhere, while walking over the St. James bridge the other evening. I immediately snapped back (perhaps not-so-wisely, considering he was walking with his two large friends) that he was "barking up the wrong tree". People are just plain rude. Keep fighting the good fight!

  6. What a great ad-libbed conversation by LD hahahah...one of my fav episodes of CYE.

    I will ashamedly admit to being a loud talker in pretty much every situation, but I try my best to tone it down in public, particualry on the bus.

    I cannot stand littering.

  7. This post made me laugh out loud, and you deserve a standing ovation for everything I've ever wanted to do but was too afraid of being chased down the street! (or worse)

    haha all of these are very true. Hmm I wonder what the guy in #2 would have done if he saw you putting his garbage back in his pocket. I think I see a reality show in the future...

  8. There's a good chance that I'm going to get an iPhone for Christmas. My worst fear is that I'm going to become one of...them. The last thing I need is for technology to amplify any dick-ish tendencies I keep hidden.


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