Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

Zap! Cellphone problem solved

Light bulb turns on during checkout lineup waits

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As a public service, I have come up with a genius idea that will make life better for people who spend a lot of time standing around in lines.

This idea came to me like a bolt from the blue the other day as I was -- you won't have seen this coming -- standing in the checkout line at my local grocery store.

I would normally insert a few scathing jokes here about how this line was long enough to be seen from outer space and was moving at the speed of airport luggage, but the truth is the line wasn't that long and it wasn't moving at all.

At first, the problem was the middle-aged woman at the front of the line was making the purchase of her groceries seem more complicated than bringing peace to the Middle East, but involving more negotiations with the cashier.

The snag seemed to be the woman was 200 per cent sure she had only bought one loaf of bread, so why was the cashier charging her for two loaves, and maybe it would be a good idea if everyone stopped what they were doing and rummaged around in her grocery bags.

I'm sure we would have gotten to the bottom of the bread conspiracy eventually, but that's when her cellphone went BLEEP! BLEEP!

She flicked it open and pressed it to her ear. Clearly, it was an urgent call.

"OH HI!" she bellowed at a decibel level the rest of us in line could have heard even if we'd been standing in, say, Grand Forks. "OH, NOTHING IMPORTANT. YOU? UH HUH. WOW! IS THAT RIGHT? THAT'S GREAT! OH, YOU KNOW WHAT ELSE IS GREAT? THEY'RE HAVING A SALE ON TOILET TISSUE. WHAT? YES, REALLY! IT'S TWO FOR ONE TODAY. I KNOW. UH HUH. WHAT? HOT? YES, I'M MELTING!"

The woman had a lot more to say to her cellphone buddy, but I sense you have caught the flavour of the vital conversation.

As you can imagine, the people standing in line behind this woman grew quite agitated and, being Canadian, we made this abundantly clear via displays of righteous indignation, such as staring off into the middle-distance, shuffling our feet, muttering under our breath, rolling our eyeballs sarcastically and flipping through the pages of the store's celebrity gossip magazines as loudly as we could.

Finally, the woman pocketed her cellphone and wandered away with her groceries, including an undisclosed amount of bread. The cashier shrugged her shoulders to let the rest of us know she empathized with our plight, but was powerless to have this woman thrown in jail.

Then, foolishly, I strolled across the parking lot to the pet-food store to stock up on dog biscuits. Moments later, there I was in yet another lineup, consisting of myself and another middle-aged woman, who, although I cannot produce documents to prove this, must have been related to the woman in the grocery store.

I say this because, when it was time to pay, instead of pulling out her wallet, she pulled out her cellphone and began shouting at someone.

"HELLO!" is what I recall her bellowing. "OH HI. NO, NOTHING IMPORTANT! JUST BUYING KITTY LITTER. UH HUH. TWO BAGS. THE BIG ONES. YES, EVERYTHING IS SO EXPENSIVE THESE DAYS. WHAT? TOILET TISSUE IS TWO FOR ONE TODAY? WOW! THAT'S A GREAT DEAL. MM HMM, YES, IT'S VERY HOT."

As the conversation dragged on, the pet-store cashier and I exchanged sympathetic shoulder shrugs and eyeball rolls to convey the concept there was nothing we could do under current Canadian criminal law.

Which is when I got my brilliant idea. You know how modern cellphones are packed with useful features, such as cameras and video games and stereo speakers or GPS devices?

Well, imagine if, whenever a cellphone user talked in an inappropriate location, such as a checkout aisle or a darkened movie theatre, and at an inappropriate volume, such as heavy-metal drummer, the smartphone dealt with the situation by, say, emitting a lightning bolt.

Don't get me wrong here. I'm not talking about a lethal lightning bolt. Just one with enough juice to remind the impolite phone user about the importance of being courteous.

After a few zaps, I'll bet they'd get the message. I'll also bet they'd need a few rolls of sturdy two-ply tissue.

Fortunately, I know where they can get a deal.

doug.speirs@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition July 11, 2012 A2

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