Saved by the Bell

I’ve got it: An easy way to avoid talking to people we don’t want to talk to. Coincidentally, it’s the same way we avoid talking to people we do want to talk to, and you know how we do that. We talk on our cellphone until everyone we’re having dinner with finishes and leaves the table. 

I stumbled upon my technique for avoiding people when a clerk at the convenience store chatted on his cellphone while I waited. And waited and waited. Whatever he was talking about was clearly more important than me paying and being on my way, at least to him. Either I was invisible or he was holding out for the shift change so that someone else would have to deal with me.

And that’s when it hit me. Getting a well-timed phone call could be a great way to avoid an unpleasant social situation. Say the conversation at the family gathering turns political and you don’t want to have to tell everyone again why they’re all wrong. Or the woman in the kiosk at the mall is preparing to invite you over for eyebrow plucking. Or you’re pulled over for speeding and the officer is approaching your car. Well, maybe not then.

But generally people leave you alone when you’re on the telephone—unless they’re under the age of ten. Unfortunately, there’s no way to get your cellphone to ring at precisely the right moment. Or is there? The following is purely for demonstration purposes. I haven’t tried it—yet.

Let’s say I’m at a carnival and I don’t feel like being hounded to play Whack-A-Mole. I don’t want to pay someone to guess my weight because it would be embarrassing if they guessed right. And I certainly don’t want to try the Balloon Dart Throw. It’s not that I don’t want to take home a giant pink teddy bear, but I’m pretty sure the dart tips are dull, the balloons are under-inflated and I couldn’t hit one even if that wasn’t the case.

But I feel bad saying no up and down the midway to people who are trying to make a living. So as I near the Balloon Dart Throw booth, I look surprised and give a little start as though my cellphone has just vibrated in my pocket. I pull it out, tap the screen, put it to my ear, say hello and listen carefully—to nothing.

If I feel confident in my acting abilities, I can say a few words as I pass by the booth, but I don’t have to say much. I just nod and frown. The man at the Balloon Dart Throw booth thinks I’m listening carefully, so he sees no point in calling out to me even though he senses I’m the perfect mark—softhearted and a poor thrower.

See how simple it would be to avoid talking to people you’d rather not talk to. I can’t believe no one has thought of it yet. Every third person I saw today was talking on the phone. How easy it would be for them to just fake it as I pass by. Hey wait…

(Dorothy Rosby is the author of several humor books, including I Used to Think I Was Not That Bad and Then I Got to Know Me Better. Contact