Saturday, May 21, 2005

Competition

Who’s more annoying? Person A, who knows her behavior is annoying but persists anyway Person B, who is entirely oblivious to the annoyingness of her behavior?*

When I was in high school and used to ride the subway an hour to and from the last stop on the Brooklyn F train five days a week, I used to have elaborate fantasies about retaliating against the dudes who carried boom boxes and made whole subway cars suffer their music at top volume. I dreamed of bringing my own box and blasting Metallica or Iron Maiden and completely drowning out their gangster rap. I couldn’t think of anything more obnoxious than this completely self-centered, in-your-face disregard for the other passengers. The answer to the above was clearly Person A.

This was before the invention of cell phones and the advent of “ring tone testers”.

We’ve all experienced the person who, with utter absorption, scrolls through all 203 of their phone’s potential ringing sounds, bombarding everyone around him with tinny renditions of every sane person’s most reviled songs at ear piercing volume, totally unconscious of the pain and suffering he is inflicting upon his fellow passengers. This person--Person B, AKA Ring Tone Man-- I now know is vastly more annoying than Person A, the Boom Box Dude. The utter self-absorption of Ring Tone Man completely blows my mind. Ultimately, his failure to notice the glares, the rolling eyes and the remarks being hurled in his direction annoys me even more than his annoying behavior itself.

Ring Tone Man actually makes me feel a certain respect for Boom Box Dude. Now there’s some irony for you, huh? But seriously, I can respect (at least from the comfort of my kitchen) the disrespectfulness of Boom Box Dude because by flaunting his disrespect Boom Box Dude shows he is at least conscious of the people around him.

Ring Tone Man had a friend, a friend who I also hate. Her name is Useless Headphone Girl. Useless Headphone Girl, who’s never noticed that her headphones actually serve as amplifiers, who’s never tested their volume, is clearly a Person B. She has a fraternal twin sister, who knows that her headphones don’t keep things to her ears alone but doesn’t care. This sister is a Person A--she couples up with Boom Box Dude and she tends to enjoy singing along with her music and, occasionally, dancing in her seat.

This (highly insightful and cutting-edge!) analysis was prompted by a recent, amusing encounter with a Person A. It was late on a Friday night, my friend Sam and I were heading home from a night of bad cinema, scurrying subway rats and puking drunkards, and we were looking for a little peace on our train journey. Unfortunately, we sat down next to three bored teenagers. A couple stops into our ride, one of the teenagers, a lanky boy in a cap, picked up the lid of Snapple bottle and began incessantly snapping the pop-top button. Ignoring a few half-hearted requests/threats from his friends, he continued to pop, clearly relishing the annoyance he was causing.

Sam and I tried to hate this kid(well, Sam probably tried to ignore him because she is nice and I am not) but it was hard to hate him because he was trying so valiantly to make that happen, and somehow, this was slightly, if absurdly, endearing. In the end, I offered him a dollar if he would stop popping the pop-top. This turned out to be a brilliant idea. His friends cracked up, he stopped popping, and when I opened my wallet to get out a buck, he refused to take it.

See, that’s the thing about Person A--you can win. You can ignore his intentional annoyingness and deny him the clout he seeks, or you can acknowledge his annoying behavior so he will feel satisfied and cease it. With Person B--Ring Tone Man and his lot-- you have no means of retaliation. To Person B, you do not exist, and this makes you powerless. So I say pack your wallet with singles and hope for Person A. And if you are unlucky and wind-up in a subway car with Person B, I don’t know what you can do except hope that the exit to the next car works and that cell phone companies will finally get over Yankee Doodle Dandy.

*Note: If you read the earlier, unedited version of this and the whole Person A, Person B thing made no sense at all to you, know that it was my fault and not yours.