Monday, June 27, 2011

Inside Voices. Outside Places

The other day I was sitting waiting for a friend to join me in a coffee shop when a group of young mothers walked in. Two strollers. One baby-bucket. Three diaper bags with numerous pockets stuffed with this and that. The women wore crisp cottons and designer jeans and sandals with sparkles and jewels and leather straps. Their hair was sleek and shiny, one streaked, one bobbed, one pulled back in a pony tail. Their babies were chubby cheeked. Smiling. Cooing. They were all beautiful and fresh looking.

After maneuvering their strollers and baby-buckets into place they sat down at the table next to me and proceeded to chatter as their infants slept or toyed with plastic rings or ate Cheerios from a plastic tub.

It really was hard not to overhear their conversation -- honest, I wasn't trying to eavesdrop - but the women didn't make any attempt hide what they were speaking about.

First, there was the conversation about breast-feeding and sore nipples. Ouch! That one quickly digressed into a comparison of designer labels on their children's clothing which morphed into an inspection of one woman's sandals which she'd just bought in Phoenix. She proudly displayed them for her friends, and anyone else who was within a fifteen foot radius, to see, along with a blow by blow account of the shopping expedition she'd had while buying them.

Don Cherry and every other wannabe sportscaster take note. You ain't got nothing on a woman describing her frenzied zip through a discount store, carrying a baby in one arm, an armload of designer jeans and blouses in the other while trying to grab the last pair of Manolo Blahniks from an equally crazed, shoe coveting woman intent on scoring the same shoes. What action! What tension! What drive! And man, can she talk fast in the recounting of the tale!

Now, I'm not sharing this story because I'm complaining about the baby-totin', fast-talkin' mama's who were seated beside me that day. Though I must admit, I don't remember looking that fantastic when my daughters were that age. I remember feeling lucky to get out of the house with a blouse on -- that's if I could find one that didn't have milk leak stains in strategic places.

Okay, so I was a little envious of their youth, their beauty, their belief in their centre stage place in the world. I was a little jealous in their confidence that their conversation, from best baby food to designer labels to nanny woes, was the only conversation worth having (and hearing) in the coffee shop that day.

But seriously. When did we decide that the coffee shop was just an extension of our living room and because it's 'home' no one can hear us so, we are safe to share the most intimate details of our lives?

Have you noticed?

You go into a coffee shop looking for a nice quiet corner to sit and read or simply contemplate the foam bubbles popping on the top of your triple decaf, extra hot, two pump skinny vanilla latte in a 'to stay' mug when your reveries are interrupted by the couple at the next table talking about their newest sex toy, or a group of highschoolers sharing every detail of their drunken binge on the weekend.

I mean seriously? Do we have to know everything? Do we have to share it all?

From Joy Behar to Dr. Phil, are we just so into 'me' we've got to let it all hang out where ever we go?

Has going viral usurped common sense?

Has reality TV dumbed down our ability to be real? The Bachelorette. The Biggest Loser. The Bachelor. The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills. Sex in the Itty Bitty City. Intervention. Tough Love. Trading Places.

Seriously... do I care if a Hollywood Housewife loses her cellphone and can't call her chauffeur to come and take her across the street to her neighbours? Do I want to look like a movie star, or a dancing queen, or be the next Ultimate Coyote Ugly?

Somewhere, in the midst of all that reality TV exposing the unreal lives of the rich, and not so rich, and famous, within the talk show opening of Kimonos and purging of our psyches, we have lost our minds and are wandering this lonely planet in search of a place to be alone.

Because it's hard to imagine anyone is alone when a walk down the street is accompanied by a hundred people holding conversations on their cellphones.

Sometimes I think we're all in such need of having to look like we're connected we're all just walking down the street talking to invisible friends, throwing our words into little black devices that are wired-up, wired-into.... dead air.

I mean, really people, if every one of those cell phones is active, that's a whole lot of data packeting going on and a whole lot of brain cells getting fried.

It's impossible to go to a movie or theatre or any live event these days and not have at least one cellphone go off during the show. Just as it's impossible to sit in a coffee shop and not overhear someone else's conversation.

So here's my campaign. Let's get the living back into the rooms where we live. Let's not take our latest conquest, latest purchase, latest sexual exploit onto the streets. Let's take it all back home!

And if we can't do that, let's at least use our inside voices when outside the home!

You with me? You willing to join this one woman crusade of taking back good manners? You willing to teach the world that being at home in the world doesn't mean treating everyone like they're in our home, it means treating the world like we're visiting in someone else's home.

Best behaviour children. Be good now!


Anonymous said...


I imagine, if were still alive, that Marshall McLuhan would love your piece this morning.

I share some of your amazement/frustration as you describe annoyances we've all felt.

On the other hand, where is the harm in people communicating more than they used to - whether it is good quality or not.

For every mom-at-Starbucks you describe there are probably 20 sprinting from the daycare to the office while juggling 4 calls. For every story or coffee spilt in chaos there might be one less crazy person locked up . . .

... right, we don't lock them up anymore - we serve them in the community (not well I might add) and many end up at your door

There are many things right (and wrong) with the world. While your piece is funny, I wonder if it might be easier for you to just get your coffee 'to go' and avoid all that people watching . . .

then again, people watching can be a lot of fun



Louise Gallagher said...

Ah Mark -- you caught me! Truth is... or should I say... reality is.... I love the people watching and eavesdropping. I love the communication.

the writing this morning was my stretch -- to be funny. :)

I'm not a funny writer so I soooooo appreciate your saying it's funny! Yeah! :)

thanks my friend. As always, your insights are gems.

Anonymous said...



you are a funny writer

it's easy for you


you are funny, naturally

you diffuse and deflect with humour, sarcasm and double entendre all the time - perhaps as coping mechanisms, but effortlessly just the same

I'm not saying 'quit your job and do stand-up', but recognize that humour is an arrow in your quiver

most of us try very hard to do what you do effortlessly


Maureen said...

When we're in a restaurant and someone at a nearby table begins a cell phone conversation, my husband, who claims to be an introvert, chimes in. Amazing how quickly the call ends. (P.S. I'm under the table, hiding, while this is going on.)

Louise Gallagher said...

you're my hero!

Louise Gallagher said...

Maureen -- now that would be worth seeing! Good for your husband! why do people think they have to speak louder on the phone than when with their dinner companion?

S. Etole said...

It's probably my age, but I frequently wonder where privacy has gone?!

Anonymous said...

Yes, privacy has gone but so has individual self-respect and self-dignity; OMG, who wants to hear someone yapping about their personal lives in a public forum. If more us were to "chime in", perhaps more people will stop. There's always hope!