For the past several days I have been in Pennsylvania and New Jersey for a family reunion. This involved my mother’s side of the family, the Irish-American side. My relationship with this family always felt more distant because they seemed so far away. They probably seemed that way because they were far away.
As a contrast, my father’s family were almost entirely in New Mexico when I was growing up. We saw them almost weekly, if not daily. None of my mother’s family, though, were in New Mexico. They were divided between California and the Northeast. At most, we saw them annually and, among other reasons, they always seemed less familiar. Perhaps to remedy this situation, they have worked to build periodic reunions in particular locations now that we are all adults. This time around, it was a return to the communities where that side of the family lived in the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.
It has been some time since I have traveled. Alas, my fragile economic circumstances (an on-going result from my breakup of two years ago -- sigh) has kept me mostly grounded with the exception of the occasional work travel and holidays in New Mexico.
Maybe because it had been some time since I traveled, but certain things about this nation struck me. First, and most obviously, this is an obscenely obese nation. On my flights, the number of people who were overweight by twenty or thirty pounds easily outnumbered the people who were a healthy weight. I used to only notice this when I flew from Texas. Now, however, it is the case universally (including children). No wonder the airlines are paying so much for fuel. Lugging around our extra poundage has to be costly. Each passenger is now 1.5 of a passenger from twenty years ago.
The other main insight involved cell-phone culture. This technology has seemingly loosened the divisions between public and private space. As a I waited in an unending airline customer-service line (I use the term “service” with irony), the man behind me in the queue became increasingly agitated during a telephone conversation with his wife. Among other things, he accused her of infidelity, grand-theft auto, alcoholism, abandonment, and general dishonesty.
I felt sympathy for the man as things were clearly going badly for him. All the same, the ubiquitousness of cell phones has meant that these types of conversations are no longer restricted to the privacy of office, homes, or even phonebooths. It made me wonder at what point we decided, as a society, that such tings were best discussed while in the middle of a crowded airport? I appreciate the need to multi-task, but do you really want to initiate a divorce at the same time that you are calculating the mileage on your frequent-flyer account? I wondered if he was going to carry on this conversation straight into the jetway.
In another instance, I went into a men's room at a restaurant where a man in his twenties was talking with great animation. "Why?" he pleaded into his cell phone, "Why did you tell my brother that I got drunk and slept with that girl? I am at dinner with him now and he asked me about it. . ." As I emptied my bladder, I learned much more about his familial and romantic relationships than I really needed to know. Call me old fashioned, but I think that men's rooms should only involve two purposes: peeing and creepy, closeted Senators cruising undercover cops. Even then, the latter should only be around to expose the hypocrisy of the Republican party. It's not the place to debate your past judgment or to consider entering AA. Do we imagine that cell-phones generate a cone-of-silence as soon as we dial?