Cellphones not allowed!

Savannah Morning News

Oct. 28, 2017

“Firearms not allowed.” I like that sign when I’m going into a restaurant, a grocery store, a library. To me, it’s comforting. You never know when someone might go postal. People are crazy. I’d like to see that warning in universities, too. Oops. Not this year. Not in Georgia.

“Quiet zone.” That’s a good one too. I’ve seen it in certain Amtrak cars – mostly in the Northeast – where it works pretty well. No one but your friends and family (and maybe not even them) wants to hear about your botched meeting, your rotten boyfriend, your aching bursitis.

“Buckle your seatbelts.” Always a good idea even though I gotta say: I never thought I could get used to it way back when the signs and the laws went into effect, even going so far as to feeling insulted when seeing a sign telling me to do it. But somehow it worked. I’ll give them that. It was a good campaign.

By now those are some of the warnings we’re used to seeing. But here’s another sign I’d like to see: “Cellphones not allowed.” Put them in a basket by the front door when you enter your home. Leave them in your backpack when you drive. Stash them in your office drawer when you leave work. Forget about them when you go into a party, a dinner, a restaurant, a fundraiser, a boat ride.

I can hear it now. What about my camera? Fine, use the old-fashioned 35 millimeter type; even the point-and-shoot. How about my calendar? Get one of those pocket size versions. A calculator? Review your arithmetic; it couldn’t hurt. But. But. But. The picture of my new baby (insert grandbaby, dog, beautiful bloom, flowchart)? Slip them into your wallet if you must – or your crossbody bag.

Do we have to wait for someone to tell us to do this before we wake up and do it ourselves? Smartphones? I’m very close to going back to a dumbphone.

“Put me out of my misery,” I moaned the other day in the car when I couldn’t remember the actor in season two of Ben Ketai’s “Startup” on Crackle. “Not a pretty face, older, big head, great voice. One syllable first name.”

“Ron Perlman,” someone in the backseat announced, 4.1 seconds later.

Right. Now I’m not in misery anymore. Wrong. Because I really wasn’t in misery. You want misery? A neck ache is misery. Besides, I probably could have thought of it anyway if I had taken a deep breath and stretched my brain and my neck just a little, just a little. And what did it matter in the long run? Ten to one, I wouldn’t have remembered it 20 minutes later. And who cares?

Too much information. Too many interruptions. Addiction. Instead of crack we have phones. We’ve been hoodwinked, bamboozled. We’ve been taken for a ride. Thank you, Steve Jobs. And we thought all he wanted to do was streamline how we listen to music.  Can we just talk? I find I have to put my cellphone two rooms away when I’m reading a book or else I’ll be peeking at the score of the Cubs’ game (well, not anymore, not this year; let’s not talk about that), I’ll be checking to see how many orders have come in for any of my books (“Hope springs eternal in the human heart” – thank you, once again, Alexander Pope), I’ll be glancing at my messages. For what? I wonder. What in the world can’t wait? I have no answer for that except to say it’s classical conditioned response, classic B.F. Skinner, psychology 101, classic action and consequences.

We are rats in a box waiting for the food to drop. So what if only one email – one message – out of 50 results in the sale of a book, a painting, a compliment? That’s all it takes. It’s what I used to say about golf when I played. One good shot. That’s all it took to get me to play again.

We are compelled to look at the screen. Even in a dark room like a movie theater. Does the person in front of me know or care who she is disrupting – what magical moment she is intruding upon – when she lights up the space around her to “check” on something during a movie? What about when this happens during ordinary conversations with friends? There must be some guilt attached to the act – some idea that it isn’t the right thing to do – when we see someone’s head lowering as if they’re about to nod off. But, no, they’re not nodding off. They are sneaking a look at the screen. They felt a vibration. Maybe phantom, maybe not. Someone wants them! Someone tried to call and it can’t wait. Someone very clever thought to term this “notification,” as in urgent, immediate, must-deal-with now.

Stash the urgency. Push back. Don’t believe the hype. You are smart, not your phone.

Cellphones not allowed.





Friends in odd places

Savannah Morning News

Oct 22, 2017

What do you do when you quit working? Who do you visit when your mother died and your grandchildren live a zillion miles away in Montana? How do you expand your circle?

How do you learn Yiddish when you’re a Baptist?

“Easy,” said Betty Hodges. “You find someone like Sylvia.”

“It was my lucky day when I met you,” said Sylvia Dane-Kellogg.

It was bashert, Yiddish for meant to be, or destiny, when these two women, separated by decades, religions, experience, met.

“We were tying knots,” said Sylvia, in her Brooklyn accent. “Making blankets.”

“At Congregations in Service,” said Betty finishing the sentence – in her broad Midwestern accent where the “r” is prominent –  which is what they do for one another. They finish thoughts, they share stories.

“Norman (Hirsch) was very involved with that, too,” said Sylvia, “such a mensch.”

“That’s a good person, right?” asked Betty.

“Right,” said Sylvia. “That was Norman. It’s incredible one man could do what he did. He was a very good kisser, too, very affectionate.”

Two days after Hirsch’s funeral at Congregation Mickve Israel – and four days after Hirsch’s unexpected death – Betty showed up at Sylvia’s for their weekly Wednesday get-together. This week they were still talking about Norman, a friend to both of them.

“He was involved in things that mattered,” said Sylvia. “He didn’t push himself to the front. He did the work. I could see that from the day I met him and Julie (his wife).”

That was when Sylvia was a few years younger.

“Thereafter I became aged and couldn’t go to the activities,” said Sylvia, who just turned 99. “

“That’s where me met,” said Betty, 73. “When the group was making blankets. That’s when you asked me to come visit.”

And so she did.

“Betty keeps me informed about the world,” said Sylvia. “But sometimes I think better I shouldn’t know.”

“It’s been two – maybe three – birthdays that I’ve crossed paths with this beautiful lady,” said Betty. “I couldn’t do this kind of visiting with my mother. She lived out of state. This is perfect. I love her.”

Betty worked for the city of Savannah for 23 years as a community development director. After short stints with the city of Tybee and a contractor she found herself without a job, with too much time.

“That’s when I decided, ‘I have to do something.’”

Around that time Betty participated in a silent retreat at her church, First Baptist, “when we were given a charge to think how we can give back,” she remembered. “I was the mission chair. When my pastor heard about Communities in Service – the group Norman helped form – he came to me and asked, ‘Is this something we should do?’ I didn’t know much about it then but I answered, ‘I’m not interested if it’s not interfaith.’ Turns out it is. Muslim, Bhai, Jewish, Catholic, Unitarian, Unity.’”

But that wasn’t enough.

Six years ago when Betty heard about LOVE Mentors, a group formed by five churches on Skidaway Island, she got involved with that, too. LOVE stands for local, outreach, volunteers, educators. She and 120 other volunteers work in partnership with the Savannah-Chatham County Public Schools to tutor below-grade-level elementary school students. Twice a week Betty goes into the same school and meets with the same child.

“I’m borrowing grandkids,” she said. “I’m not a trained education. I’m a mother and a grandmother.”

“We have another connection, too,” said Betty. “Mickve Israel and First Baptist share a caterer, Bryan (Graves).”

“Allow me to interrupt,” said Sylvia, interrupting. “And to disagree. I am fed by my visitors, like you.”

“Another thing,” Betty said, continuing the associations between the two of them. “One of my best friends was Rabbi (Saul) Rubin’s secretary. I took his 12-week class in Judaism. I wasn’t ready for it to end.”

That reminded Sylvia of the day Rabbi Robert Haas, from Mickve Israel, called and asked if he could come visit.

“I thought what does one speak to a rabbi about? I was petrified. At the time he wasn’t married. I said, ‘I’ll find a bride for you.’ He stayed three hours,” she said.

Right about then Betty’s phone “chirped.”

“Your birds have sung,” Sylvia said.

“Time for hand bell practice, dinner and church,” said Betty.

“Zei gezunt,” said Sylvia, as her Wednesday visitor prepared to go. Go in good health.

“Zei gezunt,” said Betty. “See you next week.”