Why cellphones are like hair curlers

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Although I endeavor to remain ever peaceable, I felt a bit miffed today in the checkout line at the grocery store as the young lady in front of me loaded her packages onto the conveyor belt and jabbered away on her cellphone. It reminded me of when I was first dating, and how we guys would watch for a sign that told us how we rated with the young lady of the moment.

In those pre-hair-dryer days, a woman who put her hair up in curlers had to wait an hour or more while the curls air-dried and set. American culture was different then. It was common to see ladies wearing curlers in public. A scarf worn over curlers was an accepted fashion. After all, one had to complete one's daily chores before the evening's festivities.

A cheap transparent blue or yellow hair net was less acceptable than a scarf, and it was generally reserved for wearing around the house or, if absolutely necessary, a quick jaunt to the local store. Any lady who brazenly wore naked, uncovered curlers while shopping was considered to be somewhat trashy. Most mothers wouldn't let their daughters do that.

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Some women always seemed to have their hair up in curlers. Maybe it was just the easiest "do." Or maybe they hoped that if their prince arrived that day, they'd be ready in a jiff, curls akimbo. Or, more likely, these curlered ladies hoped folks would assume they had a very important date later that day, and they had to primp.

Back to dating: We guys knew how we rated simply by whether the girl who had agreed to a Saturday afternoon drive or walk or paddle-boat float in the park was wearing curlers when we arrived. If she opened the door with her hair up in curlers, our hearts would sink a bit. That meant she had someone more important coming later. The soft curly hair was for him. We had to settle for the hard wraparound hair.

These days, cellphones are a bit like hair curlers. The young lady in the supermarket was basically telling the checkout guy that she had someone better to talk to, someplace she'd rather be than there with him, or with us. She was implying that this business of checking out was somewhat of a nuisance because what was really important - the one who was really important - was on the other end of the line.

The same message is being delivered by cellphoning drivers, cellphoning post-office patrons, even cellphoning joggers. They are telling us that what they're doing in our immediate vicinity is of secondary importance - perhaps requiring just their physical presence. But the person on the phone is more important than we are.

Some folks, though, like the ladies who always wore curlers, always seem to be on their cellphones. Male or female, they may be hoping that something really fun and important is happening on the other end - unlike the boring stuff on this end. And sometimes it feels as if people use their cellphones the way some ladies in curlers did, to make people think that something important is happening in their lives.

Other times, of course, they're on the phone just to find out if they were supposed to buy 1 or 2 percent milk.

I once had a teacher who suggested that people choose between two basic attitudes in their relationships. They choose either "I love you," or its polar opposite, "You don't love me enough."

Tracing the source of my irritation toward the cellphone lady in the supermarket, I had to confess that it was my assumption that she was telling us that she didn't love us enough to be there with us.

We were strangers, so maybe that was OK, even though we were sharing a moment in the grocery store line. I was more irritated, though, that she didn't love the checkout guy enough to give him her full, un-curlered, un-cellphoned attention. Even though he was giving her all his attention, she didn't return that simple human kindness.

(The same holds true in traffic. The cellphoned, curlered folks seem to be telling us that they don't love us enough to give us - and this dance that we share on the road - their full attention.)

So because the young lady in the grocery store was not loving us enough, I had chosen the exact same mood: "You don't love us enough."

I knew, for my own peace of mind, that my obligation was to love the cellphoning miss, in spite of the choice she had made.

So as she glanced my way, I simply mouthed the words: "I ... love ... you ..."

It brought her right back into the room, right back here into the present with us.

"Gotta go," she said, not looking at me ever again. She paid the cashier and got out of there.

"How's your day going?" the cashier asked.

"Just great," I replied. "Love it. And yours?"

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