For whom the phone rings

Burt Prelutsky
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Posted: Apr 24, 2006 12:06 AM

Robert Benchley, a clever chap when he wasn't drunk as a skunk, once observed: "The whole world can be divided into two groups: those who divide the whole world into two groups, and those who don't."

Frankly, I suspect that everyone performs this bit of simple division on a regular basis, if only because it's the one kind of math most everybody can handle. We all tend to break people down along the lines of race, religion and nationality. One group consists of whatever the individual happens to be, while the other group consists of everybody else in the universe.

What is truly astonishing is that each and every group actually believes it is the best, the smartest, the nicest. They're also convinced, be they cannibals or Frenchmen, that they're the only ones with decent table manners.

However, most folks are downright amateurish when it comes to dividing the human race into two groups. I mean, hell's bells, a Martian, so long as he wasn't colorblind, could divide earthlings along racial lines. But it takes a real professional, someone like myself, to discern the subtle, but very real distinctions, that separate us.

For instance, take cell phones. There are those who use them and, then, there are those of us who think that there is something awfully silly about people who can't go five minutes without having one glued to their ear.

Knowing people as I do, I know that 999 out of a thousand cell phone conversations are totally unnecessary. Who am I, you ask, to decide which calls are necessary and which aren't? Easy.  A necessary call is one made to the auto club, letting them know you've run out of gas on the Hollywood Freeway, or a call to let someone know you're running a half-hour late because you got stuck behind some idiot who ran out of gas on the Hollywood Freeway. Otherwise, what's so urgent?

As you see them posing all over town with their tiny phones, their brows furrowed in feigned concentration, pretending to be oblivious to everything around them, you can almost pity the poor souls. Who do they think they're fooling with their little charades? Are we supposed to assume that President Bush just called, wanting to know what to do about the Middle East peace talks, or that Alan Greenspan phoned, wanting to know if he should raise or lower the prime rate? Believe me: Marcel Marceau, on his best day, couldn't convince anyone he was miming an important cell phone conversation, so what chance does a mere soccer mom have?

The fact is, none of us are buying the routine. We all know that you're just gossiping with your cousin Shirley or lying about your golf score or yakking incessantly about “The Apprentice”. There's no harm in it, just as there's no real harm in your next door neighbor putting on his wife's party dress before going out to water his lawn. It just seems so darn goofy.

The real mystery remains, why would anybody want to pack around a telephone?  Is it possible that I am the only person in the world who doesn't want to be reachable 24 hours a day? Has it finally come down to this, that there are only two kinds of people in the world—everybody else and me?