I don’t know who Conway is, but I know he will take care of everything. The man on the phone tells me so. Right now, the company is moving only ten container ships. They need to do a lot better than that to make quota. “Everyone may be baffled now, but let me tell you, have no fear,” the man says. “Conway is on it. He’s the man for the job.”
As I said, I do not know Conway, but I feel better already. You can’t run a shipping business moving only ten container ships. You’d be bankrupt in no time, not to mention the loss in trade to ports like Houston and New York. As the man on the phone continued, I imagined what Conway looked like: tall, Texan, with a non-nonsense approach to the Merchant Marine.
Actually, I have no interest in shipping or the Merchant Marine. I was forced to pay attention, as was everyone else at Gate 41, because the guy on the phone spoke in a loud voice and didn’t seem to care. We were held captive.
I don’t know what has happened, but people now are very willing to discuss private business in public places. I have overheard intimate details about family relations, surgical procedures, legal proceedings, and problems at work, which usually take the form of he-said/she-said. And that’s just riding the subway.
Modesty as a virtue has all but fallen away. Of course, how could it be otherwise when the latest trends in the cult of celebrity include micro-bikinis and tell-all exposés? I suppose the NSA hasn’t helped here. Not only do they record everything, but they preserve it for eternity. Surveillance–aka, voyeurism–has entered our national psyche.
I do not know what’s behind the phenomenon of private business in public places. It could be convenience, urgency, or a belief that the person is protected by anonymity. I am not a cynic (I keep saying this, which is like insisting it’s not about the money), but I have come up with two explanations: (1) people actually believe their conversations aren’t being overheard, (2) they don’t care that they’re being overheard.
The first reflects an innocent view of American culture (we’re just loud); the second is much more disturbing. It would mean that we, as listeners, are being held captive intentionally and that the woman describing her hysterectomy doesn’t give a fig if it makes us uncomfortable. I am afraid this is closer to the truth. In fact, you’d probably get a nasty reaction if you complained, which is exactly what happened with a woman flossing her teeth. It has gotten so bad there are now signs telling people not to clip their nails, brush their teeth, and use the poles for acrobatics. We need posted rules? Sadly, yes.
There could also be an element of bravado or dominance in the phenomenon. For instance, LBJ was known for taking a bowel movement in the presence of staff and others aboard Air Force One. When you’re that important, you can make people stand there while you defecate. In his case, it was an act of dominance and, possibly, humiliation on the part of the person talking to him on the toilet. And, of course, you can easily imagine him finishing and not washing his hands.
Lately, there’s been a lot of talk about civility, particularly as the political parties prepare for the presidential election next year. Donald Trump takes pleasure in the uncivil jab, dismissing it as politics. But civility must start with respecting ourselves and then the others around us. I am not saying that someone who puts his feet up on the seat in the subway or bus is a slob. But these little habits add up.
Then again, as the man said, there’s no need to fear. We’ve got Conway, and he had every hair in place.
Feature image by Jim Reardan on Unsplash; “Bad Manners,” from Forgotten New York. Want more? Go to Robert Brancatelli. The Brancatelli Blog is a member of The Free Media Alliance.