Please ... treat me like a stranger

As I sit here slurping noodles at my desk in the middle of the newsroom, I realize that perhaps I'm not the right one to be asking this question (especially since some of the noodles just spilled on my lap and - mmm! Waste not, want not!), but anyway, here goes: Why is everyone so disgusting in public these days?

I mean, look around you. Sniff around you. Perk up your ears. If you are in a mall or on a bus or anywhere, chances are that right now you're overhearing someone's dinner plans, dating history, or recent medical diagnosis. Turn around and you'll see someone else putting on her makeup. Not just the lipstick, but the whole shebang, with sponges and swabs and sometimes the application of entire eyebrows.

Brett, a friend who flies a lot for business, says he's been on several trips where the women near him were painting their nails. "Smelled like a salon!" And that was a good smell compared with the passengers gnawing their cheesesteaks and tuna heroes even before the plane took off.

At my local multiplex, I've been hard-pressed to concentrate on a movie (OK, "The Incredibles" - not that deep) while sitting behind a family eating their evening meal. I couldn't even blame them, because the theater sells these meals. Not just nachos but entire chicken dinners, with side dishes! Maybe the VCR brought movies to our living rooms, but now the movie theaters are returning the favor.

In fact, the whole world has pretty much become our living room. Clearly, it was the cellphone that brought private conversations into public. But remember when boomboxes brought someone else's choice of music to the streets? The assailing of innocent ears goes back at least to the '80s.

As for gorging in public, it was fast food that brought eating out of the home and into the car. It's been spilling out ever since. Clever marketers, aware that we're willing to do pretty much anything so long as we can eat while doing it, started serving food in hitherto off-limits locales, like bookstores and supermarkets. Now we don't even think twice about chewing in front of strangers trying to read or shop.

And of course, our time-crunched lifestyle means that a busy mom simply has to clip her nails while she's waiting for her chai behind some college kid in his pajamas. Yes, they are really wearing PJs, and slippers. Sometimes fuzzy ones.

If only all this homey behavior - dressing for bed, spewing crumbs, yakking about innards - meant we actually treated each other more like family. Or ... wait! That's exactly what we are doing, and it's gross!

America, it is time to brush yourself off, shut off that phone, and go back to treating strangers like strangers.

Lenore Skenazy is a columnist at The New York Daily News. © 2005 New York Daily News. Creators Syndicate, Inc.

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