Tag Archives: etiquette

Remember When People Were Quiet in Libraries?

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The first rule I ever learned about the library is that it is not pronounced “lie-berry.”  The second rule I ever learned about the library is that you’re supposed to be quiet.  This second rule was enforced by popular culture.  For example, the apparition in the library at the beginning of Ghostbusters does not say “Boo” or “Ebenezer Scrooge,” but “Shh,” holding its translucent index finger to its translucent lips.

And that has been my approach to libraries throughout my life.  No talking loudly, unless you want to get attacked by a ghost.  True, rules of society change.  At weddings, instead of throwing rice, people blow bubbles.  “You’re welcome” becomes “No problem.”  What was once a highlight-worthy tackle becomes a 15-yard penalty.  But I always thought that the library, the sanctuary of reason, would remain a quiet place.

But evidently that rule, too, is under assault by the rules committee.

Just this past Saturday, I visit my local library branch to see if the copy of Harry Potter and the Fire Breathing Insurance Adjuster that I reserved has arrived.  It turns out I have to wait a few more weeks, so I take a seat in the club chair by the window with a copy of The Collected Clifford Books that I’m re-reading for my adult education class, “International Politics and Large Cartoon Dogs.”

I am not, however, alone in my nook.  The young man at the desk adjacent to my chair is wearing a red hooded sweatshirt, jeans, and sneakers.  All young men these days wear hooded sweatshirts, jeans, and sneakers.  His black fleece jacket and backpack are lounging on a chair next to his desk.  The backpack has black mesh outer pockets through which I can see pencils, pens, and an iPod suspended in a nest of thin white wires.

Something on his person vibrates and he answers his cell phone in a loud, clear voice.  “Hi…Yeah, I’m just trying to get this homework done…I don’t care about the grade anymore.  I just want to be done….”

I’m wishing he just wanted to be done with this telephone conversation.  I clear my throat loudly a few times but he does not turn around. A lot of people are sick these days, and perhaps he thinks that I am just another library patron who is a little under the weather.  I consider peeking out over the top of the desk, but in law school I was trained to be confrontational only for money.

So I move to another portion of the library.  There is a seating area on the second floor, over by the children’s reading room, where I can relax with my book and admire samples of finger painting from local artists.  I am once again engrossed in my reading when I am disturbed by three-year-old child who is lying face down on the floor, kicking and screaming into the carpet.  A woman I presume is the child’s mother is standing next to him, telling him that this is no way to protest the BCS ranking system.  I wish she would take the child away and channel its energetic fury into something productive, like a blog, but she makes no move.  I’m glad when I hear the child start to run out of breath, but then a librarian calls a number, and a new child steps up from the front of a long line of children, hands a small piece of paper to the librarian, and replaces the out-of-breath child on the floor and commences kicking and screaming with a fresh pair of lungs.

I make another lap around the library, searching for a quiet place.  At the back of the library there are some people talking as if they are contestants on a game show.  In the foyer there is someone playing Angry Birds with the sound on.  In every corner of the library I am assaulted by the noise of patrons who seem to have forgotten that one is supposed to be quiet in the library. 

I finally get up the nerve to complain to the head librarian.  And she tells me, in a voice better suited to the floor of the Senate, that the library has a “no shushing” policy.  Guess I missed that initiative in the last budget vote.

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Filed under Books

Remember When It Was Fun To Go To the Movies?

This was the title of one of my earliest posts, but that post did not express what I truly felt in my heart on this subject. A more proper treatment follows. 

Remember when it was fun to go to the movies?

Image courtesy of Creative Commons

I do.

Going to the movies as a kid was one of my more cherished experiences during the Reagan Administration.  On a Friday night or Saturday afternoon, my father would ask my brother and I, “How would you boys like to see” and he would name a movie that he thought we would want to see and that he felt would be appropriate for children our age. Until I went away to college, this meant it had to be a cartoon or about a talking animal.

I distinctly remember my father handing the ticket cashier a $20 bill for an adult and two children, and getting back enough change to buy us candy. Twizzlers were my go to movie-food. I would make sure to open it before the coming-attractions so that the deafening Twizzler-wrapper noise would not disturb my fellow viewers. Then I would take each Twizzler, bite off both ends, and blow through it like a straw.

One of my earliest movie memories was when my father took my brother and I to see a popular holiday season movie called Gremlins.  The commercials that had probably influenced my father’s choice of film had showed these cute little primate-looking things.  Except at some point the movie became less about cute little primate-looking things and more about old women sent on an electric chair speeding up several flights of stairs and jettisoned through a window to certain death.  My father was more horrified than the characters in the movie.  He asked my brother and I if we wanted to leave, but we shook our heads, eyes never leaving the screen so that we wouldn’t miss any of the mayhem.

My wife and I recently went to the movies for the first time in years.  There were so many teenagers I thought the Garmin had accidentally sent us to the high school.  I said to my wife, “So this is where people go when they are not old enough to go to bars.”  She replied that my social commentary would sound a lot better while waiting on line for tickets.

While I was waiting for tickets I looked up at the prices, and realized I was going to have to hit the ATM that was conveniently located fifteen paces away in the theater lobby. While punching in my PIN I reminisced about the days when a movie ticket cost only $7.50. After we got the tickets I wanted popcorn, and had to hit the ATM again.  Thank goodness it was a week I got paid.

We sprinted to Screen # 47 and did not miss a single moment of the half-hour of coming attractions and commercials.  I looked around for the remote control and finally understood what was meant by the term “captive audience.”

Half the seats the theater were occupied by teenagers, and each teenager’s hands were occupied by a small glowing screen. I thought that perhaps the small screens were a visual aid for a generation so accustomed to viewing small screens that the big screen exceeded the viewing range.  But upon closer inspection of the Justin Bieber seated next to me, I saw that the little screens were just smart phones that were being used in the way that everyone uses them: tune in globally, tune out locally.  If there was ever really a fire in the crowded theater, at least I would be able to see where I was going.

As the movie started, I noticed that the younger members of the audience would get up and leave, and then come back, and then leave, and then come back.  These antsy adolescents were either part of a cult that drank a lot of water before a movie, or were hanging out in groups and treating public space like their den.

About a half-hour into the movie, a latercomer took a seat behind me.  He spent what seemed like ten minutes taking off his very large and crinkly coat, and made so much noise that I missed the framing of the protagonist’s major conflict.

Then someone in the back right corner decided it was time for potato chips or some other snack that comes in a deafening bag.  Two characters in the film started and ended a romance before the character in the back of the theater was done opening the bag, which the good folks at Dolby were nice enough to pipe through in surround sound.

During the final battle scene, two people a few rows back got into an argument over the federal budget.  And then someone shouted into a cell phone, loudly, “Just meet us outside! The movie’s almost over!” I started to get up and say something, but the soles of my shoes were stuck in congealed soda that a fellow film-goer had wanted to share with the floor.

When I got home I called up my father. I told him about my experience at the movies, about the cell phones, the coming in and out, the talking, the eating, the glowing screens. “Dad, it’s just not like it used to be,” I said, and thought that he would feel my pain and join in condemnation.  But he just laughed and said, “At last, my son, you are a man.”

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Filed under Television and Movies