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A Swine Romance


Lots of new comments on my Eva Burgess entries, here and here, with different comment strings (and tedious assclowns) on each. A lot of people don't like what I did. That's okay. As I told a commenter:

As far as whether people agree with what I did or not, I don't take a poll to figure out my course of action in a given situation. If you do, you have bigger problems than being exceptionally tedious.

For the uninitiated, Eva Burgess is the woman who made a loud cell phone call while at the table next to me at the Rose Cafe as I was trying to listen to the classical music and enjoy my breakfast.

As somebody who's a bit concerned -- tweaked even -- about what I call "the disintegration of public manners," when Ms. Burgess shouted her information so anybody near her could (and, in fact, was forced to) hear it, I took notes (rather conspiciously) and then posted the information, including her phone number, on my blog (Eva Burgess Is Getting Glasses!).

I guess a few people, including my Charlotte, N.C./Brussels friend Little Shiva, gave her a piece of their mind on loud public cell phone abusage. Little Shiva wrote:

I called her. Got a woman with a childlike voice – not sure if this was Eva pretending not to be Eva or if it really was someone else. When I asked for Eva and the woman asked what it was regarding, I said "her new glasses!" Then I asked her to let Eva know she was mentioned on this blog. Oh, and Gregg, your first sentence up there is a crack-up!

Gregg wrote:

What ever happen to good old fashioned paranoia? I won't say anything personal or business to anybody unless I'm behind closed doors and the room has been swept for bugs.

What Amy does is like the Homeland Security guys who carries bad things onto airplanes to prove it can be done. She points up the lack of security that people have on their stupid phones, which goes hand in hand with their suspension of manners.

As she points out, people want to fill in the other half of a one sided cellphone conversation, especially when it's so public. Why not just hop on a podium and have an open mike to tell everybody your soc number and all your accounts and passwords? Might as well.

To be stupid and rude is a lethal combo. Amy can't prevent the Arctic ice from melting or insure we'll have Chilean Sea Bass in 2045, but she is taking a crack at public rudeness which eats up the bandwidth of our precious shared space. One jerk at a time.

My favorite new comment on my earlier Eva Burgess posts is this one:

Trying to bring waves of innocent harassment against someone for the minor rudeness of making a cellphone call in public is like trying to clean up a speck of dust on the dresser by hosing it down with urine. Your behavior is much more impolite than hers. That's the real problem. Not that there's some fanciful legal argument, not that she supposedly consented to having her number published. It's rude to openly invite people to harass one another. Period.

Of course, by your logic, I have a perfect right to publish a full-page ad in the New York Times, scolding you for your rudeness and suggesting that all and sundry post nasty comments over and over on your blog. But I choose not to do so, because, well, your obnoxious behavior doesn't justify mine, just as Eva Burgess's didn't justify yours.

Posted by: Paul Gowder at January 17, 2007 12:31 AM

(I'm not sure what "waves of innocent harrassment" are -- except, perhaps, a sign of the continuing degeneration of literacy in this country.) But, here's how I responded:

Why is it "minor rudeness"? Perhaps the fact that others find it a "minor rudeness" is reflective of the problem. Why do you find it it "minor" that somebody else's peace in a shared space should be aggressively disturbed?

You absolutely have a right to publish a full page ad criticizing me in The New York Times, and I celebrate that right. Haven't you read The Constitution and The Bill Of Rights? Why would publishing an ad against what I did be obnoxious behavior? It's part of being an involved citizen in a democracy.

Now I know the world is truly upside down.

What's most frightening is that you, unlike so many of the others, have the guts to publish this (presumably) under your own name -- which shows how ignorant you are of both our country's freedoms and what it means to have basic civility to others, and why it's so important that we don't take having either for granted.

And here's a frequently asked question:

You blogged about this? Why not just go over to her and ask her to keep it down, or take it outside? It sounds like there were two immature people in that Starbucks.

Posted by: Not Amy at January 12, 2007 12:58 PM

It was The Rose Cafe, not Starbucks. And here's my response:

That was the part that didn't make it into (Wall Street Journal reporter Jennifer Saranow's story -- along with my name and a few other details). Conveniently, I still have the answers to the questions along those lines asked by the reporter. I'll paste the text in below:
I just don't always feel like getting into an argument with people in the moment. People who are rude enough to shout into their phone in a public place are often too rude to care that you're disturbed by their phone call, and will get ugly with you even if you ask in the most polite way for them to pipe down a little. And why should I have to say something to them and potentially get into an ugly situation? No, we didn't have cell phones growing up, but weren't we all schooled in "Do unto others..."? Does Eva Burgess really want to hear me shouting into my phone about my personal business? Maybe, since I have her number I should call her up and read her my grocery list?

Incidentally, Saranow's editor e-mailed me to say he wanted to talk to me about why my name wasn't included in the story. I'm of the "more is more" school of journalism: Give people information, don't withhold it from them, so I couldn't understand why they led the story with what I did, yet called me a "blogger" instead of, say, "blogger Amy Alkon."

I was on deadline when he e-mailed me, but I hope to speak to him today.

Posted by aalkon at January 17, 2007 1:10 PM


Bravo, Amy.

Manners are quickly becoming a thing of the past. I believe it's insane to think that you were rude in any way. If she broadcasts her personal information to a crowd in a public place, then she must want the public to know about it (whether she realizes that or not).

Good job,

Posted by: Alan H at January 17, 2007 3:38 AM

Thank you so much, Alan. I suspect there are legions of people who feel as you (and I) do. The detractors just seem to be more vocal here (perhaps because they're thinking it could've just as easily been their shouted number posted on my blog).

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 3:43 AM


Sound pressure decreases with the square of the distance from the source. Were any other parties inside Eva's "sphere of rudeness"? And how did they react to her declamations or your note-taking? I would have thanked you publicly, or at least clapped.

Posted by: Dave at January 17, 2007 4:42 AM

I meant proclamation.

Posted by: Dave at January 17, 2007 4:44 AM

I agree with Paul. Part of being the bigger person is learning to turn the other cheek. That, or stamp a "No Cell Phones" sticker that I sent you on her ass. Sugartits.

tedious assclown tedious assclown tedious assclown tedious assclown tedious assclown tedious assclown tedious assclown tedious assclown tedious assclown

Posted by: Hasan at January 17, 2007 5:32 AM

Thing about cheek-turning is that it never ends. Once you've convinced yourself it makes you the bigger person, you can be as cowardly as you want.

Posted by: Crid at January 17, 2007 5:59 AM

When asking a cell-bonehead to kindly turn the volume down on their end, the response that kills me is "This is a private conversation!"

Um. . . no it isn't.

I want to call Amy and Crid and Gregg and Lena from the Frozen Food aisle of my local supermarket and tell them where I am.

No, really.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at January 17, 2007 6:15 AM

Ooo ooo. Pick me up a pizza.

Posted by: Hasan at January 17, 2007 6:29 AM

I'll take some collard greens, pepperjack cheese, oranges (hurry! prices are climbing), apples, one of those little tubs of sliced turkey, some of that Contadina pasta for the weekend, lowfat wheat crackers. Also one of those darling little bottles of sake. Thanks!

Posted by: Crid at January 17, 2007 6:35 AM

"Thing about cheek-turning is that it never ends. Once you've convinced yourself it makes you the bigger person, you can be as cowardly as you want."

Thing about bullying is that it never ends. Once you've convinced yourself it makes you the more honest/forthright/no-shit-accepting person, you can be as unpleasant as you want.

Not quibbling with your sentiment, Crid. Just your logic.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 17, 2007 7:03 AM

Great. Binary logic. So are you paralyzed? Here we are again with the thing where any solution or thought or principle is supposed to be the end-all solution to every problem that could ever happen.

We're not paralyzed! We can be aggressive some times and laid-back at others. Amy's taking shit for this and I (being meek and nebbish) wouldn't have done it either, but it's well within the range of a judgment call. Mostly people are using this as an excuse to cluck at her, which is obnoxious. "Turn the other cheek" isn't universally applicable, it needs context. People with cellphones *ARE* being rude (and even dangerous when driving), and it's good that some people have the 'nads to get harsh in response.

Be sure to get your grocery order into Deirdre ASAP, she's approaching checkout.

Posted by: Crid at January 17, 2007 7:25 AM

Three cheers for manners!

Cheers... cherries... hey, Deirdre, can you please pick me up some cherries?

Posted by: Melissa G at January 17, 2007 7:50 AM

The nonthink of the "one cheek turned-fits-all" approach reminds me of something that Cathy Seipp wrote:

...the especially psychotherapized culture here in L.A. discourages anyone with an actual opinion. I can't count the number of times someone has told me, in the worried tones that suggest Big Brother might be listening, "But that's a value judgment!" The last time this happened, I snapped and said, "Yes, and since I have values, I'm making the judgment."

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 7:53 AM

"We can be aggressive some times and laid-back at others."

Precisely, Crid.

This is why cheek-turning is not necessarily a never-ending state of paralyzing nebbishness.

And why life becomes extremely shitty when more than one person let's rip with the Tourette's tendencies at the same time.

Do I cravenly admire Amy? You betcha!

I am a terrible shooter of mean, impotent glares - especially at rude folk in the cinema. Which is pathetic. And pointless in the dark.

But maintaining a justification for retributive bullying after the fact is always a bitch. It so often sounds like an excuse for every sort of OTT playground-level tit-for-tat.

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 17, 2007 7:56 AM

> It so often sounds like an excuse
> for every sort of OTT

How? Why? Not to me.

Look, your company is a BOUNDARY. The range of you eyesight and hearing is something that others should show some respect for sharing. I'll never forget the first time I saw a twenty-four-year-old woman in line at Ralphs with a wire cellphone set in her ear, talking about the intimate details of her life with ten other people in range. It never occurred to her that the rest of the world didn't want to know about her stuff. She just assumed everyone was, and should be, as oblivious to her surroundings as she was. Maybe this is a sad, poignant commentary on the breakdown of social mores and the collapse of the American nuclear family, or maybe some people are just assholes. Either way, it's good to believe that people can be taught to behave.

Posted by: Crid at January 17, 2007 8:07 AM

Either way, it's good to believe that people can be taught to behave.

Or taught that there may be unpleasant consequences for behaving as if they're the only ones on the planet. With so many people so blatantly unconcerned about "the range of (others') eyesight and hearing," perhaps only the possibility of unpleasant consequences will get us back, the "silence of the commons," from Ivan Illich:

I shall distinguish the environment as commons from the environment as resource.

..."Commons" is an Old English word. According to my Japanese friends, it is quite close to the meaning that iriai still has in Japanese "Commons," like iriai, is a word which, in preindustrial times, was used to designate certain aspects of the environment. People called commons those parts of the environment for which customary law exacted specific forms of community respect. People called commons that part of the environment which lay beyond their own thresholds and outside of their own possessions, to which, however, they had recognized claims of usage, not to produce commodities but to provide for the subsistence of their households. The customary law which humanized the environment by establishing the commons was usually unwritten. It was unwritten law not only because people did not care to write it down, but because what it protected was a reality much too complex to fit into paragraphs. The law of the commons regulates the right of way, the right to fish and to hunt, to graze, and to collect wood or medicinal plants in the forest.

An oak tree might be in the commons. Its shade, in summer, is reserved for the shepherd and his flock; its acorns are reserved for the pigs of the neighbouring peasants; its dry branches serve as fuel for the widows of the village; some of its fresh twigs in springtime are cut as ornaments for the church - and at sunset it might be the place for the village assembly. When people spoke about commons, iriai, they designated an aspect of the environment that was limited, that was necessary for the community's survival, that was necessary for different groups in different ways, but which, in a strictly economic sense, was not perceived as scarce.

...The issue which I propose for discussion should therefore be clear: how to counter the encroachment of new, electronic devices and systems upon commons that are more subtle and more intimate to our being than either grassland or roads - commons that are at least as valuable as silence. Silence, according to western and eastern tradition alike, is necessary for the emergence of persons...

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 9:23 AM

"Silence, according to western and eastern tradition alike, is necessary for the emergence of persons..."

This sounds like the Scientology advice about giving birth!

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at January 17, 2007 9:47 AM

This topic is esp. interesting to me. Yesterday on my way back to work from dinner I almost got run over by a lady on her cell phone. She stopped less than an INCH away from my body....I have been considering taking a baseball bat with me. (This isnt the first time it has happened since I walk to work) Next time someone barely just stops, I'll hit the hood of their car. If they get angry I'll just say I was trying to draw their attention....since apparently my body being in front of their car does not get me noticed.

Posted by: PurplePen at January 17, 2007 9:54 AM

I find I'm safest if my approach to driving or crossing the street involves assuming everyone behind the wheel is drunk, putting on mascara while talking on a cell, or catching up on their naps. My approach to people who nearly run me over or crash into me? You guessed it:

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 10:11 AM

I only recently got a cell phone. (Which I know makes me way behind the evolutionary curve.)

I've only so far had use for it in public once or twice, but both times I remember catching myself talking and wondering if I was too loud.

Personally, I'd appreciate it if someone kindly told me that they could overhear me. Just like if I had my headphones up too high and they could hear my music, I'd like to know. It's still up to me to judge my behavior at that point, but sometimes our sense of what's loud and what's not can be skewed. And then I'd have a baseline for "not acceptable."

If I had been Eva, I'd have liked Amy to come over and tell me that I could be overheard. (And not just because Amy is a cool chick who would be fun to meet.)

I like your in-your-face style, Amy, but I think it is something of the coward's way out to scribble down your notes and paste them up publicly later without having taken the basic human step of confronting the problem as it happens, in person. Yes, you might get yelled at. Yes, you might get someone who will ignore you. (Neither of which seem to have bothered you before!) But once you've done that, then I think you have the impunity to post what you hear anywhere you like. Without that intervening step, posting Eva's information comes across as a passive-aggressive step.

If we all complain about how inhuman the world has become due to lack of manners, the way to redress that complaint is through more humanity, not less of it.

Posted by: Kitt at January 17, 2007 10:51 AM

"humanity"? Amy failed in "humanity"?

Is anyone else hearing condescension in this? Kitt may be write about talking to the person first, but still.

Posted by: Crid at January 17, 2007 10:56 AM

If I had been Eva, I'd have liked Amy to come over and tell me that I could be overheard.

Number one, why is it my responsibility to be Eva's mommy?

Number two, do you really think it was difficult for her to underestand that if she shouts into a phone, other people may hear her and be disturbed?

sometimes our sense of what's loud and what's not can be skewed.

This isn't astrophysics...

"If I shout into a cell phone is it likely people not involved in my conversations will hear me"? it?

The question isn't whether somebody knows, but whether they give a shit. I found a way to make them give a shit, and to not be aurally attacked and take it lying down. People should be accountable. If they're not accountable, I'll do my best to see that they are persuaded to be the most realistic way I see fit.

And I second what Crid says about "humanity." Gak.

And lemme tell you, if there's one thing I am not, it's a coward.

I'm not afraid to be in your face with anybody (unless they look like they might be armed). In fact, Crid and my boyfriend have suggested in the past that I sometimes should be a wee bit more prudent about who I approach face to face.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 11:33 AM

Sorry, didn't intend to sound condescending. Got a little windy there at the end. (And yeah, I was talking about approaching the person, not a failure of being a human being. More like the human touch.)

And I wasn't there, so I don't know how loud is LOUD.

I would have liked to be approached, in person, when it was happening. And then if I still went on being too much or too loud, then I'd say go ahead and blast away.

I disagree that that makes you her mommy. Her mommy would probably have indulged the delightful little sprite, who was after all, getting glasses.

Posted by: Kitt at January 17, 2007 12:02 PM

I kind of like the idea of someone being busted by someone they shared space with, possibly walked past and glanced at, yet neglected to consider that person anymore than a light pole. No, Mr. Boxed In My Car, you obviously did not see my car 2 inches from your front bumper. However, you did notice the scratches all across the front of yours after I scootched my way out. If you had noticed my car, you would have seen that it is a beastly old steel beater, and that it could smash the shit out of your car without getting so much as a scuff. Sometimes it takes something out of the ordinary to get someone's attention.

Posted by: Christina at January 17, 2007 1:45 PM

My hit-and-run driver was Leo Laine, and I tracked his ass down, and had him prosecuted for it.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 5:21 PM

What Amy did, really, was replicate the real-world negative consequences that could well have ensued from Eva's behavior, in a way that wouldn't actually ruin the woman's credit rating, have her identity stolen, etc. etc. IMHO, that has not been possible or appropriate in all of the situations in which she's critiqued someone's behavior, but it was here.

Not that you need my approval, Amy, but as someone who's had credit card and other personal info stolen a few times and who is paranoid about revealing personal details in public, I think you did this woman a huge favor by associating "talking loudly into a cell phone revealing sensitive personal information" with "having that information used in ways that are annoying."

Posted by: marion at January 17, 2007 8:09 PM

Thanks -- it's a very good point. Probably pointed it out to a few other people, too, as a matter of fact. So sorry to hear about the data theft -- I know it's a nightmare. Here in California we can freeze our credit to prevent that.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 17, 2007 8:53 PM


As an advice goddess, what do you advise me to do when I see someone littering? I've tried raising my blood pressure but that doesn't work.

Posted by: Norman at January 18, 2007 6:00 AM

Well, my friend David once saw somebody littering and said something, and they brushed him off. He was carrying a biography of Gandhi with him at the time, and he had to resist battering the guy over the head with it. I usally say something, as I do when they throw their butts in the gutter (which here in Santa Monica, go straight to the ocean): "The world is not your ashtray." The world is not their trash can either. Would they throw that on the ground in their own living room?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 18, 2007 12:02 PM

I am absolutely not one of those mothers who foists "cute kid" stories on unsuspecting strangers. And I sense you're not someone who enjoys hearing them. That said. . .We were in the doctor's waiting room yesterday and, ignoring the no cell-phones sign, a woman was yammering into her headset, which was hidden by her hair. My daughter, who's all of 4, was riveted. When the woman finally -- finally -- stopped talking, my girl turned to her and said, "I have friends in my head too, but mama doesn't like me to shout at them when other people are around."

The woman actually looked ever-so-slightly ashamed.

I'm sorry. I couldn't resist sharing.

Posted by: ProudMama at January 18, 2007 1:55 PM

I'm so glad you did. Just brilliant.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at January 18, 2007 8:40 PM

A basic law of society is that we must conform to what is acceptable behavior in public. I'll bet that Eva Burgess won't be broadcasting her personal information in public anymore. I'm sure she learned a lesson and I'm sure all of her friends did too upon hearing her little horror story. Public space = personal phone booth? I think not.

Posted by: Nan at January 19, 2007 5:34 PM

Hi Amy,

I want to applaud you for reacting to Eva's public phone call. On several occasions I have asked cell phone users in stores where I'm shopping to please do not speak next to me on their cell phone and always their reaction have been how dare I ask them to not speak on their cell phone next to me. One Persian woman was literally following me from aisle to aisle in the store. Every time I moved to another aisle to get away from listening to her on the phone, there she would be right behind me, talking as loud as possible on her cell phone. When I asked her to please stop speaking next to me, she was outraged. So, to the responses that suggested to simply ask the person to lower their voices, that does not work. A couple of days ago I was standing in line waiting to cash out my purchases and I had a Persian woman and her daughter behind me talking on their cell phones and in front of me a Hispanic man talking on his cell phone. I would like to see the use of cell phones in a closed environment like stores and restaurants be included in the Public Nuisance Act. Since people does not have the common sense to behave with decorum in public, then they are begging for their behavior to be legislated.

M Buchery

Posted by: M.Buchery at January 22, 2007 2:34 PM

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