Monday, July 21, 2008

Call Her Back

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?


Jen said...

" expose the hypocrisy of the Republican party. It's not the place to debate your past judgment or to consider entering AA"

Well, you mean business! If you ban debating past judgement and considering AA then you really aren't leaving the Republicans any options for the loo except peeing..

Antonio said...

The increasing waistlines in this country bothers me too. NYC recently passed a measure requiring chain restaurants to print the calories in a dish right on the menu. The sad part is some people want them removed so they can eat without guilt.

It takes real effort to stay thin in American culture, especially if you have bad eating habits. It's kind of ironic that bulimia and anorexia are still big problems in a nation so overweight.

pacalaga said...

Ah, my dear GayProf, not all of us cell phone users care to bother those around us with nastiness and sordid details.

historiann said...

You must not get out of Midwestern Funky Town to tour the rest of your new home state very often--you'll see a lot of obesity all over your state!

And, yes: the phone conversations everywhere give us TMI, IMHO. (Although, doesn't working on a college campus give you way more information than you really want about your students? They apparently can't change clasess without talking to someone!)

Greg said...

So, was the reunion? Did you have fun, do you feel closer to them now?

Or was the fun on this trip reserved for observing the obese and the closeness for the conversations overheard?

At the risk of your Gravitas, I hope you had a good time getting to know everyone a little better!

GayProf said...

Jen: I always assumed that Republicans lacked the moral conscious to even know that such a thing as "bad judgment" existed to debate.

Antonio: The increasing waistlines is a complicated situation. We should all be concerned and start to think about what is behind all of this weight gain (and I want to believe that it is not that people suddenly became "lazy"). As a starting point, we should make High Fructose Corn Syrup illegal.

Pacalaga: I have a cell phone, too. But I prefer to carry out my heart-wrenching breakups via txt msgs.

HistoriAnn: Alas, I know that my current state is always on the short list (top three) for "fattest" in the nation (but Texas almost always wins in that list). I have also noticed that my students seem to be getting larger on average. This concerns me a great deal.

Greg: The reunion was great!

To answer your question posted elsewhere, I have no idea why people don't read my archive. Just because it is two years old doesn't mean that it still isn't genius.

dykewife said...

i love this entry. i hope you had fun with your family at the reunion, though you didn't write much about that.

i would never say anything on the cell phone in public that i would in a private situation. to me they're for asking, "where are you?" when i'm getting a ride; "get some milk and bread."; and "make sure you take the steak out of the freezer so we can cook it tonight."

anything more private is taken to a place where i can have some privacy, or if that isn't possible, at least lowered voices.

we don't have phone booths here anymore. they're all sort of poles with a little shelter thingie to keep the phone from being directly rained on. superman would be very quickly arrested for indecent exposure up here...that and his naughty bits would disappear in a saskatchewan winter and "super" wouldn't apply any more.

Laverne said...

Ah, the obesity observation. I do it too, but as one of those folks
"20-30 pounds overweight" it's a comparison:
"Well, at least I'm not as fat as she is."

Why is it we attach so much more to simply overeating? Fat people are lazy, fat people have no will power, fat people are sloppy and don't care about themselves, fat people are the reason airplanes need more fuel to fly.

I don't believe there is an overweight person out there who thinks, "I look great the way I am." Rather, we spend our time avoiding mirrors, and trying our hardest to not let our thigh touch that skinny person's sitting next to us on the plane.

oh, a nerve has been hit.

However, about the cell phones? Snark away. They drive me nuts.

Frank said...

So how did you enjoy my neck of the woods? Did the heat and humidity bring back "happy" memories of Texas?

Java said...

There is a new more relaxed level of acceptable public manners. I would have said a new standard, but I don't think it is a standard. It is way below standard. And I don't accept it, either.

Earl Cootie said...

I just wonder who in the world all these people on cell phones are talking to. I only talk on the phone maybe once or twice a month. I realize I'm an outlier on that particular curve, but still, who can spend that much time on the phone?

Anonymous said...

I'd also like to know the secret of "cellphone invulnerability" that some of my students seem to believe they possess as soon as they start dialing. No car could _possibly_ hit them, no signpost could _possibly_ be in their way....

Of course, in other workplaces, one can also learn far too much about colleagues from their cellphone conversations. Did I _need_ to know that person's dosage of Effexor? Great Hera, no.

tornwordo said...

It's definitely an American thing. I've been startled a few times from American tourists seemingly shouting into their phones around town lately.

GayProf said...

DykeWife: I don't really like talking on the phone at all -- So imagine how I feel about doing it in public.

Laverne: I don't mean the obesity to be a "I'm better than my fellow citizens" sorta moment. Indeed, I have struggled with my weight. While I am good now, there have been times when I was easily 20 pounds too heavy.

My concern (which, I grant, was expressed with some snark) is that we aren't thinking about why this happening to so many of us all at the same time. It is very unusual in terms of history (where the problem has most often been people starving).

Frank: Some of it was gorgeous, some of it was like Decaying Midwestern Urban Center.

Java: What are these things "standards" of which you speak?

Earl: The other thing about cell phones is that you are never more than twenty minutes from a private phone. Do you really need to talk right at this very second?

Rethoryke: You get super bonus points for your subtle WW allusion.

Torn: I can't imagine what people in other nations think of us when we travel.

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Ayırma Büyüsü said...

Well, you mean business! If you ban debating past judgement and considering AA then you really aren't leaving the Republicans any options for the loo except peeing..w