Mendocino Haiku #1
Cell phone call
tossed in pond
Nearly three years ago, Tony Miksak's staff at Gallery Bookshop, Mendocino, Calif., came up with the idea for Signage Haiku after a discussion about "reports that bad cell phone etiquette is rampant, involving, but not limited to, discussions of pooped diapers and bad boyfriends."
Cell phones have been part of our culture long enough that I can already think of them in a personal, micro-historical context.
During the mid-1990s, I had a phone that looked like the squawk boxes soldiers used in World War II movies to call in artillery support. If I wanted to make a call on the road, I had to put an antenna on top of my car. Sometimes it worked.
As mobile phones diminished in size and increased in power, they became status symbols for a while; they belonged to people who had to be in touch at all times with the office. Just having one was enough, and it was easy to dislike such people. A stand-up comedian at the time said that he had bridged the status gap by holding his garage door opener to his ear and talking, and no one knew the difference.
Now mobiles are the People's Phone; they've been democratized, socialized, promoted to absolute ubiquity. Status is conferred only upon those who buy certain high-priced models that allow them to check e-mail, teleconference, surf--perhaps even sail--the Internet and communicate with the International Space Station.
In New York, I sometimes find myself counting the people walking past me who aren't chatting on cells. It's a small number.
Back here in the Green Mountains of Vermont, where cell phone coverage goes to die, we still have to deal with the issue, and the bookstore is where I'm most aware of cell abuse. I'll share three of my "favorite" cell delinquents. I'm sure you have your own.
The AWOL Shopper comes to the checkout counter already talking on a cell phone. After the order is rung up and they've been told what the cost is, they say, "Excuse me." Not to the bookseller, of course, but to the person on the other end of the line. They fumble briefly for credit card or cash, toss it on the counter, then resume the conversation.
The Retail Commander wanders through the bookstore like an ordinary shopper, but maintains constant communication links with other members of a shopping patrol, barking orders, plotting muster coordinates and repositioning troops to scout for bargains at the J Crew, Versace, Ralph Lauren or Anne Klein outlets. Walkie-talkies are occasionally used, just to raise the irritation quotient.
The Weekend Business Warrior has reluctantly agreed to accompany his or her family for a long weekend in Vermont, but must at all times remain in contact with the main office. Somewhere in the stacks, these vigilant troopers stare uncomprehendingly at bookshelves while saying things like, "I told him that if he didn't come down at least five percent, we'd squash that deal. . ."
WBW's are also most likely to say, with a seamless blend of genuine astonishment and dubious cell reception, "Can You Hear Me? I'm In A Bookstore! In Vermont!"
We all have stories about being trapped in cell hell while someone shares their one-sided tale in a supermarket line, on a train or in a restaurant. We've all heard the muffled ring from a pocket or purse, and seen people who were just speaking with us suddenly say, "Excuse me, I should see who this is." A fumbling for the phone, a bright hello, and they have left the premises as surely as the ghost of Elvis.
I was thinking about all this while reading an article in the New York Times recently about the increasing popularity of illegal cell "jammers." Like my boyhood dreams of being invisible, possessing a jammer is appealing, especially in the bookstore, where lack of cell phone etiquette is most apparent to me. But I'll restrain myself. Bookshops are not libraries. Silence is never a goal, especially on a busy day.
Still, I would love to collect some of your bookstore cell phone horror stories and solutions.
One I've considered is signage on book displays, with this visual and the words: CAN YOU READ ME?