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E.T., Phone Home, but Not from Church � Chef�s Choice Nine If you haven�t noticed that cell phones are bugging more people than ever, you probably don�t get out much anymore, something I tend not to do myself. Still, you�d have to be comatose not to notice the continuing tirade against cell-phone abusers in the national media.

Just the other night, Charles Grodin devoted his op-ed segment of �60 Minutes II� to their increasing rudeness in public. �Can�t they at least lower their voices?� Grodin pleaded.

I was delighted, therefore, to see July was designated the first �National Cell Phone Courtesy Month,� something I didn�t know before coming across Al Neuharth�s column, �Can we curb rude cell phone telephone manners?� in a recent issue of USA Today.

I also noted with interest the idea was the brainstorm of a Florida etiquette expert who lamented the arrogant discourtesy of many cell-phoners rather than the danger they pose on our nation�s highways. In other words, it wasn�t the increasing odds of perishing at the hands of a multitasking motorist that bothered her but that so many cell-phone users are arrogantly discourteous in public.

�There are 137 million cell phones in use in the USA,� Neuharth pointed out in his column. Millions of them go off menacingly every day, he groused, their oblivious, with their self-centered owners blithely carrying on long, loud phone conversations in theaters, restaurants, libraries, museums, churches, classrooms, even at funerals.

And in church, I�m afraid, any day now.

A funny thing about phone etiquette, though. Not long ago what bothered much more than public loudmouths were the people who wouldn�t call us back, perhaps under the misconception it would blow their cover as deal-makers without a moment to spare. �A sign of a good executive, remarked a movie mogul in Los Angeles magazine, �is someone who doesn�t return phone calls,�

�It�s worse than dog eat dog,� laments Woody Allen�s character in his 1989 movie, �Crimes and Misdemeanors.� �It�s dog doesn�t return other dogs� phone calls.�

So what was infinitely more disturbing to many of us -- until we got used to the idea -- was that in today�s time famine most people don�t respond anymore, particularly in business and professional matters. The unspoken assumption is �What part of my not getting back to you didn�t you understand?�

We�ve conditioned ourselves not to expect an answer. In an age of instant communications but a world with no time for anyone but those who can show us the money, the non-reply has become a legitimate response. We�ve come to accept it as standard business protocol from just about everyone from whom we need something who doesn�t need anything from us.

And that, my friend, is sad. Because it�s about being ignored, something very few people, young or old, take to kindly. But to older folks in particular, to a generation that continues to regard deliberate tardiness and not returning phone calls as inexcusable bad manners, people who don�t get back to us are particularly abrasive -- more so, I�d say, than cell-phoners who carry on loud conversations in public to give themselves �a feeling of importance,� in Neuharth�s words.

And so I�ve become inordinately grateful for civility whenever and wherever I find it. As a consumer, I conscientiously acknowledge good manners -- and bad -- by bestowing or withholding my patronage accordingly. It�s all I can do, I figure. It should be enough. Because there are a lot of people out there just like me, older folks, in particular, rubbed raw by rudeness. If I ran a business, I�d worry about them. As if my business depended on it.

It isn�t the cell phones, then, that are the problem, but the people who walk around with them stuck in their ears. Long after these fashionable appendages have been replaced by, say, cell transmogrification, which will allow us to drop in on the people we converse with in person, civility will still be the style, still be cool and modern.

Even to those, I hope, who vow their cell phones will have to be ripped from dead, cold fingers � a distinct possibility for those who dial and drive.

Lionel Fisher is the author of Celebrating Time Alone: Stories of Splendid Solitude (Beyond Words Publishing, 2001). Reach him at beachauthor@hotmail.com to share your thoughts on magnificent aloneness.