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I was born approximately 25 BC -- Before Cell phones. Like many, I'm old enough to remember what it was like before the magical mobile machines. Life had so much more.

• More worrying. Every second I was away from home, I was convinced a school nurse, potential client or Publisher's Clearing House representative was trying to get in touch with me.

• More returning. Without input from family members, I'd inevitably buy the wrong flavor (sons), style (daughter) and price (husband).

• More wandering. Over the years, I drove the equivalent of 43 trips to the moon, motoring aimlessly around Virginia, D.C., Maryland and, inexplicably, Minnesota.

• More spending. Easily, I spent more than $100 on gas looking for 7-Elevens that would break a dollar, only to use more gas finding a pay phone.

• Even more worrying. Being late-phobic, I would agonize whenever I couldn't let people know I was in traffic. Like the time I was late to see my doctor about the rash I developed after using a public pay phone (see above).

• More shouting. I often lost my voice yelling two flights up/down to my kids, instead of (equally lazy, yet voice saving) texting.

If my future grandchildren ask me to list breakthroughs that changed my life, cell phones would be in the top five, along with e-mail, key fobs, Frappuccinos and dishwasher tablets. That's assuming lipo-lotion doesn't come to pass between now and then.

Although safety and convenience are the main reasons cell phones are widely used, the most overlooked benefit is eavesdropping ease. Without cell phones, I wouldn't have known that the guy in the dark suit was a liar, saying he was stuck in gridlock even though he was lazing in Starbucks. I wouldn't have appreciated the mounting frustration of the mom in T.J. Maxx, at least not until her little angel commando-crawled into my fitting room. Or that the boyfriend of the young woman at Target really hated weaves. "Everyone knows that!" At least everyone trying on shoes that day at the Reston Target.

Cell phone performers use the technology as microphones, performing monologues that entertain (and in some cases annoy) everyone within listening distance. It's a creative challenge for me to put the pieces of one end of a conversation together, weaving lives with yarn spun from anger, angst, boredom, and lots and lots of gossip.

Sometimes there is audience participation. I've inserted myself into many conversations, much to the mortification of my children. I will laugh at a cell phone performer's observation ("So true!"), offer aid ("Did you say you need frozen pizza dough? It's over by the deli counter"), or add my two cents ("By the way, Smith Mountain Lake is another nice vacation spot").

I recently had the good fortune of overhearing one of the most amusing cell phone performers to date. We were at my son's graduation in an indoor coliseum. Because the venue was so large, many folks were using their cells to meet up, standing at their seats and scanning the vast audience for whomever was at the other end of the phone. Ten minutes before the ceremony, the woman behind me got a call from someone trying to find her. It was, shall we say, a vain attempt. Without taking a breath, she executed this run-on sentence response to the seeker:

"What-am-I-wearing?-I'm-wearing-a-tank-but-a-dressy-tank-and-matching-cottony-skirt-but-I-didn't-get-them-together-so-it's-not-too-dressy-and-I-found-cute-sandals-that-are-comfortable-but-not-flip-flop-comfortable ... [pause] ... oh. I'm wearing blue."

So thank you, cell phone performers, for livening up otherwise dull outings. I wish I could reciprocate, but I tend to keep my voice down when I talk on my cell, for fear that a rude, get-a-life woman would eavesdrop.

[June 24, 2009]

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