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Op-Ed

We’d Like to Hear You Never

Yapping on cell phones has gotten out of hand—on the bus, on the street, even in subways, civil life is trampled with every outspoken call.

Some feelings are cumulative. If, say, once a year I were forced to hear some drunk tween screech an unintelligible semblance of words into her phone on the subway at 1 a.m., I could live with it. If this were an unusual occurrence, I wouldn’t be made to feel all of my meager supply of testosterone mixing with adrenaline to form a potent cocktail of annoyance bordering on rage—but I feel this every day.

I’m not claiming to be exempt from taking a call in public. When I’m by myself, I do it from time to time—but the phone’s always on vibrate, and I talk so quietly the person on the other end invariably asks if I’m OK. My cell manners are worthy of a tribute in Emily Post’s 18th edition of Etiquette, and I wouldn’t be surprised if yours are, too. Many people are admirably polite. But we’re outnumbered by those who get off on letting everyone in the train or bus or shopping mall know about their most recent hizookup.

It is my dream that someday science will discover that cell phones are carcinogenic, but until then, we must think of other ways to discourage high-decibel public yakking.

—Respond to the loudie as though she were talking to you. Laugh at her jokes. Answer her questions. Ask questions back, then act confused about why she isn’t answering them.

—When she gives out her contact information at full volume, contact her later. Be sure to call from a private number, and say, in a Hannibal Lecter voice, “I heard you talking loudly on the train. Thanks for your address and phone number. See you again soon.” A card to that effect mailed to her home may be even more effective.

—After she gets off the phone, approach her and offer advice about what she was discussing. This could be as simple as “I think you’re gay, too.” Or: “I’m not sure what you have is treatable.”

—Hand out downloadable cards from the Society for Handheld Hushing. They say things like, “The rest of us don’t care what he/she said to you.” Or make your own cards. I recommend printing up some that say, “You’re being a dick.”

I sincerely hope we can all band together to create a world that is free of searingly well-projected babble.—If you’re afraid of getting beaten up, download a white-noise track to your iPod. When earplugs aren’t enough (you’ll still hear the purgatorial cacophony), white noise makes you feel like you’re watching a boring movie full of obnoxious, poorly rendered characters while holding two conch shells up to your ears. I assure you: it’s soothing.

Even asking someone to be quiet can sometimes get you stabbed. Let me be clear: I do not want you to see a knife anywhere but your kitchen. So to avoid injury, there are some things you should never, ever do.

—Do not grab the cell phone out of the talker’s hand. This could get you arrested for theft. And, according to my calculations, it has a 15- to 99-percent chance of getting you pummeled. Instead, refer to the physical-contact-free techniques above.

—Do not use a cell scrambler. Although this device is legal in the U.K. and will prevent anyone in your proximity from receiving calls, scramblers are illegal in the States and can get you thrown in the proverbial hoosegow—that’s jail, where cell phones are used to start riots and kill hundreds of people and you should definitely not consider reprimanding anyone for anything.

—Do not kick or throw things at the talker. This could get you arrested for assault. Moreover, it has an even higher likelihood of leading to your ass being bludgeoned than any of the above. Not to mention, it’s bratty.

—Do not verbally abuse the talker, even though it’s legal to do so. Verbal abuse is not only crappo from a karmic perspective; it’s also highly unlikely to end the talker’s call. In fact, she might just loudly slander you back, thus increasing the decibel level still more.

I sincerely hope we can all band together to create a world that is free of searingly well-projected babble. One where only emergencies merit talking in public. Like when you just have to tell your best friend about that hot guy in chem class…