At the ATM in the lobby of my employer's building, I fumbled for the glasses that were still on my desk. Then, like a two-year-old puzzling over the proper hole for a trapezoidal block, I finally figured out the right way to swipe my card. I was was so intent on answering all the questions on the hypercurious screen (who designed these things -- Ken Starr?) that I failed to notice that another nocturnal worker had sidled up to the machine beside me.
Suddenly, a belch worthy of Mount St. Helens startled me out of communing with my digital banker. I looked to my left. There, oblivious to my presence, was a porky, middle-management financial type in a bad suit calling up some cash. I was about to ask what flavor slop he liked dumped in his trough when he broke into a loud conversation with someone named Ron, as in: "Hey, Ron, what's happenin', man? Yeah, I'm getting outta here...."
NOWHERE TO HIDE. It was only then that I realized why this ill-mannered slobovnik from suburbia felt free to emit gaseous blasts and blab in high decibels as if no one else were there: As far as he was concerned, no one was there because he had attached to his simian head the latest advance of that abomination known as the cell phone -- the headset cell phone.
It has come to this: No public space is safe anymore from the invasion of the headset zombies. You can be strolling down a sun-drenched avenue, perusing cleverly dressed store windows, musing on a moment from an erotic afternoon long past, or simply trying to remember what the hell you were supposed to get at the market, when without warning, your zone of privacy is disrupted by a headset zombie. Mouths blaring, arms flailing, they intrude with abandon. And oh, are they self-important.
There are mutations of the headset people, such as the Walkman zombies, who sing loudly with "their music," jiving along like something out of the Mummers Parade. But cell-phone headset zombies exude an air of pomposity that's much more annoying. They're high-tech hip, running on Internet time, and can't be bothered with Luddite niceties like not blabbing in the ear of someone whom they've never seen before and likely never will again. They have lunches to do, places to be, arrangements to firm up, portfolios to manage.
And they're dangerous. A colleague saw one headset zombie so deep in conversation and removed from his surroundings that he walked into a wall.
BAN THE BEASTS? On the highway, headset zombies are truly a menace. In the not-so-old days when someone talking on their cell phone was driving too slow, they at least had some idea there were other people on the road because they could still hear external noises with their one unencumbered ear. Now, with both ears full of some always momentous -- and sometimes contentious -- conversation to which they're responding, headset-zombie drivers are lost in a world of their own that places every car around them in jeopardy.
So, in our unending crusade to control personal behavior, do we ban headset cell phones as we have public smoking? In cars, maybe, but only because intruding on someone else's space is really objectionable when you do it with an SUV. Otherwise, I guess we accept for the moment one more affront to city life and pray headset zombies go the way of their uncool forbears -- men in white belts. Scotti, senior editor for government and sports business, offers his views every week in A Not-So-Neutral Corner, only for BW Online