Fax me at the Plex

Russell Baker

September 19, 1990|By Russell Baker

YOU ARE in a movie house on the edge of your seat because the Indestructible Thing from Ghastly Galaxy is sneaking up on Arnold Schwarzenegger with a spray gun carrying liquefied muscle-shrinking gas, one drop of which can reduce a weightlifter to a 97-pound weakling faster than you can say Schwarzenegger.

Suddenly the telephone rings in the next seat. "Hello, this is Jason," says your fellow moviegoer, then, "Jennifer! You got me at the movies, Jen . . .

"No, not Stallone. It's Schwarzenegger, but the special effects aren't so hot. Just that old thing with a guy's brain being squeezed out through his eye sockets. Speaking of Stallone . . .

"Jen, I know you weren't speaking of Stallone. I was speaking of Stallone. Did you see the new Vanity Fair? The one with Stallone on the cover and the big print saying, 'I want to be Stallone'? Makes him sound just like Greta Garbo. 'I vahnt to be Stallone . . .'

"Who's Greta Garbo? Come on, Jen, nobody's that young. She's the one who said, 'I vahnt to be alone.'"

By now Schwarzenegger has the Indestructible Thing by five of its tentacles and is squeezing its eyeballs out through its spray gun, and you no longer care, do you? You're too busy fighting the urge to squeeze Jason's cellular phone out through his tonsils.

Yes, this scene is fictional, but something very much like it is being played out nowadays in enough movie theaters to create demands for banning cellular phones in movie houses. In California, which is always first with the worst as well as the best of everything American, people are even saying there has to be a law, and you can guess what this will lead to.

Yes, a movement. Just what this country needs, right? Another movement. There's no avoiding it once angry movie fans start leaning on governments, movie theaters and Jack Valenti to ban cellular phones from the Bijou.

I know, it's not the Bijou anymore. It's the Plex One, Two, Three, Four And Upwards Through Sixteen, but the ban makes more sense when we imagine it being enforced at a Bijou, because when Americans still went to the Bijou it was to see the movie.

When you go to places called Plex, whether Plex One or Sixteen, you probably ought to expect to have half the audience gassing on the phone. Since the typical Plex's screen isn't much bigger than the typical home TV, the distractions which Americans accept as normal parts of the TV night may seem natural there: going out for beer just as the Indestructible Thing aims its nozzle, working the crossword puzzle, using the phone to tell Jennifer who Greta Garbo was.

Nevertheless, excessively Plexed though America is, there are still real moviegoers -- at least in California -- who would rather fight than have their Plexes, small and grim though they are, turned into TV rooms.

They can expect angry resistance from telephone addicts. With enough lawyers and lobbyists, the nation's telephoners will have no problem finding a constitutional right to bear telephones wherever the bearing impulse dictates. After all, it's not telephones that disturb moviegoers, it's people using the telephones.

Why punish people who desperately need telephones in their pockets and purses when they go to the movies? What of the typical American investor, so crucial to the nation's economy, who needs up-to-the-second stock market quotations from Hong Kong, London, Tokyo?

Should he be denied the right to relax for an hour or two in a Plex because purist movie extremists refuse to have Schwarzenegger's big scene spoiled by a call reporting an unparalleled opportunity to make a quick million in Hong Kong?

No wonder America is in danger of losing its Number One standing and becoming Number Three, Four, Five or even -- Heaven forbid! -- Number Sixteen. That we should ever see the day when movie fanatics trample the constitutional right to bear telephones . . .

The history of technological nuisances suggests that before this particular issue is settled, something even nastier than cellular phones will turn up at the Plex. I mean the portable fax.

I hear it already: A gasping Schwarzenegger is being crushed in the coils of an interplanetary robotic boa constrictor when the machine rings in the next seat.

"Jason here, Jennifer. Send all 500 pages. Just fax me at the Plex."

Baltimore Sun Articles
Please note the green-lined linked article text has been applied commercially without any involvement from our newsroom editors, reporters or any other editorial staff.