Boring Your Dog

So, the other day, I'm sitting on a park bench down by the river, soaking up some sunshine and nicotine, getting those caffeine levels back where they belong, letting my mind drift, watching birds snag fish out of the water, and studying a few cloud formations. Idling.
A girl in shorts, walking her dog, goes by. (Or "A girl walking her dog in shorts walks by.") I record this event. (It's not about her shorts. Really.) I record it mentally.
Girl (late 20s). Shorts. Dog. The dog looks bored. He would like to run. I can tell.
The dog isn't even interested in all the birds and bugs and sunshine. I don't know the girl. I don't know her dog. I just know that the dog would rather be running. He's not an old dog. I am an old dog. I am not interested in running. But I can tell that he is.
But he's walking. And his master, well, she is talking. On her cell.
She's walking north. From my left to my right. Up river. With her bored dog.
And she's talking about something somebody said. Like, "Tina told me Robert said he didn't want to go to Chicago this weekend." That sort of conversation. She's talking with another female. Or a gay guy. Or somebody. A guy wouldn't sit still for a conversation like that. Unless he was desperately in love with her. Or in love with her shorts. Or just desperate. Anyway, I'm pretty sure, from the snippets I'm hearing, that she's just chatting with a girlfriend. And she continues walking. In her shorts. With her bored dog. And her cell phone.
Helping me idle away the afternoon is a woman I work with. We are talking. She is drinking tea, I think. She doesn't smoke. I sit downwind of her. We discuss work and rumors and philosophy and child-rearing, because she has a couple little kids at home. (You're welcome at this point to draw parallels between the girl in shorts with her bored dog and the tea-drinking woman on the park bench with her old dog, me. I don't mind. I will explain in a minute why these are not parallel events.)
There's the sunshine. The river. The future. The caffeine. The conversation. Two people soaking up some rays together. The girl with the bored dog has gone. Two kids with fishing poles walk by. A siren can be heard in the distance. It's mid-week, so we're not thinking about our individual weekends yet. On the other side of the river is a freeway. You can see it, but you can't hear it. A nice day all around.
The girl in shorts comes back. She is walking south now. From our right to our left. Down river. The dog is still walking along patiently. And the girl is still on her cell. Now she is talking about shopping. Like, "And Ruthie bought some jeans that won't fit her, and I found a scarf." Like that. And it's been 15 or 20 minutes since she was last by here. We've lost track of the time. The tea-drinking woman and I were lazing about, having a conversation, and losing track of time. The girl in shorts has been talking, probably non-stop, for half an hour. And her dog marches on. Sleepwalking. Not even stopping to pee.
The tea-drinking woman I'm with laughs about the girl with the dog. "Poor dog."
I wonder aloud what the girl in shorts could be doing if she didn't have the cell phone.
She could talk to her dog. Good boy! You're a good dog! Isn't it a swell day today? Wanna run? She could think about her future. She could let her mind go blank. (Or blanker.)
She could plan a future or make a decision. She could examine the sky. She could take off those shorts and jump in the river. But that's a whole different story that would involve me calling for an ambulance or something, because the river's not for swimming, especially not at this bank. But the point is, and I've digressed all over the place here. . .the point is that we could all do so much more with our minds and our time and our friends, that is, the people we're with, if we weren't jabbering on cell phones every free moment of the day.
"Poor dog," says the tea-drinking woman.
"Nothing to say, but a lot of free minutes," I reply.
The tea-drinking woman has a cell phone on her belt, but she ignores it a lot (unless it's her sitter or her husband). She just sits and soaks up the sun and enjoys talking with an old dog (me), and I smoke and watch the clouds and enjoy her company. And that's the difference between me and the bored dog with the cell phone girl. His master is ignoring him. His master has better things to do than talk and run and laugh with him. That dog knows that he rates last. That dog knows he is just a dog. He doesn't count. He doesn't really matter to the girl in the shorts. She doesn't even talk to him. Poor dog.
I wonder if there's a backlash coming. I wonder if people will someday decide that they've chatted enough. I wonder if there will come a time when a movement rises. . .the low-tech, no-tech, anti-cell-phone movement. Think green. Think here and now. Just hang up and drive. Some sort of social ripple that you read about in Newsweek while waiting at the doctor's office. "Today's youth have decided to hang up and live life and love the ones they're with."
Or. More likely. People will walk around with motorcycle helmet-looking things on their heads. Mirrored visors with heads-up displays inside. Music and cell phone conversations swirling around inside their "My World" helmets. There will be no tables or booths in coffee shops. Just single chairs. Chairs and more chairs filled with helmet-wearing people, chatting endlessly into their own chin mikes, talking to other helmet people in distant coffee houses. And the drunken poets will sleep in the corner with no personal conversations to keep them alive.
If I were a kid today, I would hate the sound of Mommy's ringtone. It would mean she was no longer paying attention to me. It would mean that Mommy had more important things to do. It would mean that I was only second place in her heart. And, if I were a bored dog, walking along while my master chatted on her cell, well, I would be one depressed dog. I'd want to run. I'd want to bark. I'd want to play. It's a nice day. Hang up and play!
Helen Mack

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