Friday, January 25, 2008

Three strikes against common courtesy

Register columnist Randall Beach weighs in on Elm City issues twice a week in the New Haven Register. Now, his column also will appear here on the Express.
The hurly-burly of modern life keeps smacking us upside the head with more and more situations in which we ask ourselves: Do I speak up about this behavior? Or should I just walk away?

"Dr. Ethics" now presents you with three such encounters for your consideration. All three happened to me or my family within the past week in New Haven.

One: Last Saturday night, I eagerly went to the Criterion Theater to see the highly acclaimed new movie, "There Will Be Blood." Naturally, there was a large crowd, but I found a seat on the aisle near the back.

Just before show time, a couple squeezed past me. The woman was trying to reassure her man that these seats were fine, but he was agitated. He wanted to check farther up, but was afraid they might lose the seats they already had. She convinced him to stay put.

Early during the movie, I became aware that this man, who was seated next to me, simply could not relax. He squirmed, he shifted about and he periodically checked his cell phone, which of course was glowing in the darkness.

I was enjoying this great movie, trying not to be distracted by his shenanigans. But at times I found the big screen losing out to his cell phone fixation. (I had turned mine off when the movie began.)

At one point, the woman was hunched over, whispering into that phone. Occasionally the two of them would anxiously consult it together.

Once he got up to go to the bathroom. That was understandable; the movie is about 2½ hours long.

I wondered if I should say anything, but I decided to keep quiet and try to focus on the movie.

When it was over, he complained to her, "Two hours and 45 minutes I’ve been sitting here!"

That did it. As we got up, I said to him, "Sir, you are a very fidgety man."

"What, because I had to go take a pee?" he demanded.

"No, it’s the cell phone," I replied. "Over and over and over."

"I’ve got to keep up with medical calls," he told me in his agitated tone.

I found this hard to believe, but I said no more.

My view: If you really are a doctor and are on call and need to keep checking your phone, you probably shouldn’t go into a crowded movie theater on a Saturday night. The other patrons paid $10.50 and deserve not to be distracted.
If you’re not a doctor, turn off your phone. Am I wrong?

Two: I was having coffee at crowded Willoughby’s near a young woman wearing a Yale sweatshirt. She too was on a cell phone, but that was not the issue. After one of the calls, she stood up and asked me, "Would you be able to watch my things for five minutes?" I said sure, no problem.

Well, five minutes came and went. Meanwhile, a couple came in and, seeing the woman’s bag on one of the two chairs of her table and a few items on that table, they stood off to the side to have their coffee.

A few minutes later, I wanted to leave. But I felt I couldn’t because I’d promised to watch the woman’s things.

When at least 10-15 minutes had elapsed, she returned. She thanked me, but I decided to let her in on a little Willoughby’s etiquette.

"You really shouldn’t leave your table for so long when there are people who need a place to sit," I said quietly.

She explained she had had a parking problem with her car. I shrugged and departed.

My view: She should have packed up her stuff and taken it with her when she needed to deal with her car problem. Don’t you think?

Three: My wife and her father, who is 86, went to one of our favorite restaurants for breakfast Sunday morning. It too was crowded and a line began to form outside after they were seated.
The restaurant’s co-owner, who knows our family as regulars, pressured my wife and her dad to place their orders right away. After they finished eating, he wanted them to leave rather than linger over their coffee, explaining there were a lot of people to accommodate.

My wife was angry. She says the co-owner was brusquely rude and should have cut them some slack because we’re regulars, and because of her dad’s age. I’m bothered to hear he was impolite, but there were those other people waiting on the sidewalk in cold weather.
Your thoughts?

Randall Beach can be reached at, or 789-5766.

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