After all the abuse I've heaped on their pretty little heads, you wouldn't think a Washington restaurateur would be calling Levey for advice. But there on the other end of the phone was a guy named John. He wanted to know if I thought he should ban cell phones from his showroom floor.
John is co-founder of "a restaurant in downtown Washington that you've heard of. In fact, Bob, you've eaten there."
I let that last one pass. (Had I hogged the rolls? Had I spilled my soup?) But I couldn't resist leaping in with all three feet when John asked if I found cell phone calling incompatible with fine dining.
"Incompatible?" I roared, as if I'd just downed six rolls for fuel. "Cell phoning in restaurants is the rudest practice I've ever been around. You'd be doing everyone a favor if you'd ban them."
John reminded me of an enduring Washington truth: Lunch in a fancy downtown place isn't just lunch. It's business.
"But the whole point of having a business lunch is to zero in on the people you're lunching with," I said. "When you make a cell phone call from your table, or when you take one, you're telling your companion, `Sorry, you're second in importance.' I would never dare to send that message."
John worried that he'd lose customers to restaurants that permit cell phoning. I said it would be a cold day before that happens.
"You'll gain more people than you'll lose," I predicted. "Same as with smoking. When smokers were forced to leave, nonsmokers who avoided you for years came romping back. Your business will do better, not worse.
"Second, the sheer self-involvement of cell phoners is already chasing customers away. When I'm having a business lunch at the next table, I don't want to hear, `Now you be sure to hit three home runs for Daddy, okay, buddy?'
"Third, I don't want my own privacy invaded. My definition of a comfortable business lunch is one where I can tune into my guest and my food, not into some inane conversation that could obviously wait."
In case he wanted company, I told John what's going on in New York. Some of Gotham's finest eateries have banned cell phones, often with spicy doses of scorn.
According to a recent story in the New York Times, Danny Meyer, owner of such posh places as Union Square Cafe and Gramercy Tavern, said this in his spring newsletter:
"If clouds of cigarette smoke and pungent fragrances like Giorgio and Poison were the dining room scourges of the '80's, then the rampant, inconsiderate use of cell phones in restaurants has become their baneful heir." Meyer has banned cell phoning in all his establishments.
The Times itself weighed in with this rhetorical flourish: Cell phone discussions in restaurants are "high-volume, one-sided, arrhythmic monologues" that are "becoming the technological equivalent of halitosis."
John said he's persuaded. He said he'll make his cell phone announcement "one day very soon." I told him I'd be by to hog more rolls and spill more soup -- now that I know I can do both in relative peace.
Thanks, Frances M. Hordes, of Silver Spring, for fresh proof of what never needs proving: Kids are the funniest creatures.
Frances's niece has a 6-year-old son named P.J. The niece took P.J. to a new school to register him.
The principal asked P.J. if his father works.
"Yes," the boy answered. "He works very hard. He even has two jobs."
"Does your mother work?"
"Oh, no," said P.J. "All she does is lay around on the sofa and have contractions."
P.J.'s mother was expecting her fourth child at the time.
SEND A KID TO CAMP
I call them The Haters Who Give Anyway.
"Bob, you have no idea how much I hated camp," said a woman on the phone. "I hated my bunkmates. I hated how all that swimming made my hair brittle. I hated the way bugs and ants were everywhere. I was homesick, and angry at my parents for sending me away."
"How do I send a contribution?"
The answer is at the bottom of my column every day this month and next, I told the caller, once I had stopped chuckling. I thanked her for seeing the value of our program, despite her own experience. Her reply:
"There must be poor kids who will enjoy it. The least I can do is kick in a few bucks."
That's the spirit. Care to share it?
Our goal by July 30: $550,000.
In hand as of June 16: $78,164.85.
CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.
VISA OR MASTERCARD:
Call Post-Haste at 202-334-9000 on a touch-tone phone. Then punch in K-I-D-S, or 5437, and follow instructions.