Is There anything Worse Than an Untimely Cellphone Ring?

We have a little gem in our neighborhood. It is a bookstore.  Situated in a cottage-like house, on the old, traditional farm. Surrounded by the old trees, next to the farm with belted cows.

Books are displayed on elegant shelves or on the tables. Not in stalls like in B&N or Borders.  You can discuss your reading interests with the staff, since they read a lot too.  The rooms inside look like the ones you want to have in your house.  One is particularly dear to me and very inviting during the cold weather.


The best feature of McIntyre’s Bookstore has been their frequent meetings with the authors. They happen 3–5 times a week. Better or less known writers come and have their book readings.  They usually present a chapter from the new book as a part of their marketing.  Then there is a discussion and book signings afterward. Most of the authors are from the South, and quite a few are from North Carolina (what do we have in the water here?).  For us, reading fanatics, this is a unique opportunity to learn their craft.

A few weeks ago, they hosted Frances Mayes. She read from her newest book, Under Magnolia. Mrs Mayes was born and grew up in Georgia, so talking about the South comes natural to her.  Right after she started reading, her cell phone rung. I was startled.  I am particularly sensitive to cell phone interruptions and see it as a big no-no. Most of the people in the room had the same feeling, and so had Mrs Mayes.  Everybody started reaching for their phones and looking at each other. No offender was found. The author looked around the room with a frown on her face while the phone kept ringing.  Then she looked at her purse and her eyes opened widely. It was her very own phone!

She apologetically smiled and looked at the display. Her hand wants to her mouth.  “It’s my husband calling from Cortona”.  People started laughing, and a tense moment was neutralized.

She recently bought property in Hillsborough, not far from us, and lives here permanently.

I have heard cell phones going off during doctor visits, medical staff meetings in my hospital in California and in the middle of serous conversations.  It’s comical to watch an inflicted receiver of an untimely signal to take a few seconds to realize that he is a culprit. And a few more to find the off button. These can be the longest seconds in somebody’s life.  One’s hands are slapping over the body searching for the device and later on, they tremble to push the switch.

But the most dramatic effect is when you hear a cell phone going off during a symphony concert or music recital. For music lovers, a concert hall is a sacred place and having a cell phone going off is a mortal sin. There is no worse sacrilege for a conductor than that. In 2012, a concert by the New York Philharmonic was interrupted in such a brutal way.  They were playing Mahler’s 9th Symphony.  Conductor Alan Gilbert, after hearing a cell phone ringing for several eternal seconds, stopped the music and asked the offender to turn it off.  Then he took off where he finished.  It’s interesting that the owner of this device initially didn’t even think it was his phone.  More power to Mahler and stunning performance by the New York Phil.

The funny thing is, that the conductor had the same ring on his phone, and this was the sound he was waking up to every morning.

He changed his alarm tune ever since.

The conductor was more forgiving than the audience.  They were ready to lynch the poor guy.

Or you can kill him with the kindness.

Before cell phones, there were beepers.

There is a cartoon I got from Bonnie. Many a year ago.


The device was very different, but the auditory and visual effect was equally dramatic.

Some of these gizmos were more sophisticated than others. While in training in Cincinnati, we had beepers with little speakers to convey the brief message. They were used for one – way communication between mainly residents and nurses. A friend of mine didn’t want to go to a certain conference and asked a friendly nurse to call him out. After a few minutes into the meeting, his beeper went off and this clear female voice of an ICU nurse announced “Hey Phil, I am calling you out of this damned conference, as you requested”.  He left right away because staying in a room with an angry attending and with laughing residents was not an option.

One doesn’t forget moments like that for the rest of life.

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