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Quiet Desperation

Something rings true about conversation without phones

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I had lunch with Mark, a good friend, someone I have known for 30 years, an important Colorado artist, and the wittiest man this side of New Smyrna.

We met at a Littleton restaurant and reminisced for two hours.

Not once, not a single time, never, and not at all did he check his messages, make a call, take a call, or tap away on a phone.

I am not even sure if he brought one into the restaurant with him in the first place.

Not once did he say, “I need to check my messages,” or, “I have to make a call.”

Without cellphones, it left us with this: an in-person, personal conversation.

Meanwhile, all around us, others were on the phone, their voices loud enough to be heard from here to sundown.

“Yeah, Bill, right, can’t make it buddy. Gout.”

And, “No, no, don’t call me at home when she’s there.”

It was just the two of us. No outsiders.

We talked about Little League baseball. He couldn’t hit, and it stemmed from a single incident when his team went to the batting cages and the pitching machine bloodied a kid ahead of him in the line.

The kid screamed.

He never saw the kid afterwards, but he saw a bloody towel.

It put fear into him that followed him throughout Little League.

My own experience was the opposite. I led the league in hitting.

But then, at age 13, my eyesight changed, and I didn’t tell anyone. I didn’t want to wear glasses. But it meant I didn’t make the high school team.

If Norman Rockwell were alive, I’m sure he would illustrate a series of Americans on cellphones, in restaurants, grocery stores, art museums, and everywhere else.

The Masters golf tournament organizers, bless them, prohibit “cellphones, beepers, and other electronic devices on the grounds at all times.”

Oh, and “weapons of any kind (regardless of permit).”

I’m sure phones still ring.

Some forget. Some think they are special.

I’m retired with no family, and I have few friends. Of course, I don’t need a cellphone.

Others have good reasons to communicate constantly. Don’t you?

But I overhear things I wish I weren’t overhearing. And it’s loud.

Remember “boom boxes”?

People complained. There were fights on buses.

“Turn it down.”

“Sez who?”

Now it’s not loud music we overhear.

If I encounter someone who is talking without regard for those around him, I might begin to talk out loud nearby.

Sometimes I correlate with the conversation, and sometimes I recite something, like a little Kafka.

No one notices.

I have met others for lunch who were “out to lunch.” On the phone all the time, and our conversations were clipped and compromised.

A story might get started, and then get cut off.

“Sorry. Mind if I answer this?”

(YES.)

Mark told a wonderful story.

He is from Wisconsin. It was a 60-mile trip from his hometown to Milwaukee, where the Braves played in County Stadium.

The first time he walked through the tunnel to the stands, and saw everything — the field, the players — in color, he couldn’t believe his eyes.

He had always watched the Braves on a black-and-white television.

Mark told a wonderful story from start to finish. There were no interruptions.

Craig Marshall Smith is an artist, educator and Highlands Ranch resident. He can be reached at craigmarshallsmith@comcast.net.

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