Boorishness calls, asking the rest of us to shut up

February 08, 2004|By DAN RODRICKS

IN MY YOUTH, I should have spent more time with Mad magazine's "Snappy Answers To Stupid Questions." Instead, Miss Odabashion had us reading The Courtship of Miles Standish, Lost Horizon and Silas Marner, and where did it leave me? It left me with nothing to say to the obnoxious woman with the cell phone at Saigon Remembered.

I could have used a snappy comeback.

I was too stunned to think of one. I choked when the target appeared.

Saigon Remembered is the very nice Vietnamese restaurant across from the Senator Theatre in North Baltimore. I was there for lunch with four chums, doing what Ray Oldenburg, the sociologist and author of The Great Good Place, encourages: meeting friends, talking, kidding, kibitzing, laughing. There's nothing like conversation with your pals in a warm neighborhood place to get you through a long, wet, frigid winter.

Humans have a powerful need to associate with one another - not that you need a sociologist to tell you that.

But these days, e-mail, instant messages and cell phone chatter pass for what used to be eyeball-to-eyeball conversation in corner taverns, coffee shops and diners.

Yes, we're all busy. So I cherish opportunities to actually get with my buds. And there we were, in Saigon Remembered, experiencing real-life human interaction, at a table by the window on a cold day in the city. We were catching up, kidding, kibitzing.

One of my friends told a joke.

And that prompted loud laughter. And that prompted a young woman to hurry to our table to tell us to hold the noise down, because she was trying to talk on her cell phone. Then she scurried back to her table, where she ate her lunch alone while engaging in a long conversation on her wireless.

Did you get that? Restaurant. Friends talking. Friends laughing. "Could you please hold it down, you guys? I'm on my cell!"

We all looked at each other in stunned silence. It was as if we had unknowingly violated some new code of conduct or local ordinance. We had never seen or heard this animal, Cellaphonus malus (bad-mannered cell phone user) - the one who presumes a right to quiet in a public place. In the lull, my friends and I could hear this new species chewing food and yapping on the phone, foraging in its lonely, virtual wilderness. One feared for the future: Certainly, there must be more of them.

Assault - and buttery

Turns out that it's a tradition of the Baltimore County Bar Association for members to throw dinner rolls at guest speakers. You can't look it up. There doesn't seem to be much in the way of documentary archive on this, but I confirmed the existence of the goofy tradition with John Nowicki, current bar association president and himself a target of an unbuttered roll at Tuesday's annual black-tie banquet at Martin's West.

Having never attended this event - I couldn't afford to be in a room with that many attorneys - I have never seen the roll-throwing firsthand. I only caught wind of it because a woman who was there wrote to express outrage that grown men, including sitting Baltimore County judges, could engage in such juvenile behavior.

"It's a tradition, all in good fun and good humor," says Nowicki. "I don't know how it got started."

Federal and state judges have been the target of dinner rolls. So have prosecutors. Supposedly members of the county bar even flung rolls at the late Spiro T. Agnew when he was vice president - to the dismay of the Secret Service.

Personally, I like silly traditions - there aren't enough of them - but my mother, the former Rose Popolo, taught me not to waste food. Here's a suggestion for the future: Make every member pay a dollar for a roll. They can throw it at anyone they like (or dislike) and the Maryland Food Bank gets a contribution.

Petty crime fighting

You think maybe Baltimore police have something better to do than knock off low-level bookmakers and bartenders who run betting pools during the Super Bowl? You think maybe, with the city still suffering at the hands of homicidal drug dealers and other hoodlums, the police had set their sights higher than, say, a $10-entry Super Bowl block pool at one of the many new bar-restaurants in Canton?

Think again. Cosimo Savino, owner of the 4-year-old Cosmopolitan Bar and Grill on O'Donnell Street, says six of Baltimore City's finest were in his place with a search warrant during the dinner hour on Friday, Jan. 30. They confiscated the $500 that had been collected in a pool, cleared 30 to 40 customers out of the bar and cited Savino's bartender for illegal betting. Savino asserted that at least two other bars in Canton had been raided.

Busting bartenders in one of the most violent cities in the nation. Good idea.

Well, it's only money

Here's another good idea - from the people who run the public schools in Anne Arundel County: Let's make sure taxpayers know that their money is spent wisely. School board member Konrad Wayson says he's troubled that "a lot of people had the perception the school system wasn't efficient," and that "not enough money was getting to the schools." So he wants to pay an outside consultant $500,000 to disabuse the public of such silly notions.

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