Almost nobody from Letongaloosa makes a big splash on the national or international scene. In fact most Legtongaloosans recoil at the thought of making a big splash in public. That’s why folks in town felt sorry for Ruby Jentlow. Ruby didn’t seek the spotlight. The spotlight found her after she decided to rein in her volatile temper and to modulate her voice.
Ruby grew up in a family of shouters. Her parents and brothers and sisters shouted a lot. Ruby’s mom and dad, Rufe and Gina Jentlow, met in Washington, D.C. back in 1971 at the height of a presidential campaign. Rufe and Gina were young members of the Muglump Alliance, a small one-issue political movement.
Because Muglump leaders weren’t fluent in Politic-Speak, the Muglump Alliance was shut out of mainstream political discourse. So they began to shout, and people began to listen.
As young political Muglump operatives, Rufe and Gina became well trained shouters. Their children, including Ruby, grew up to be shouters.
When she wasn’t shouting, Ruby was friendly, kind, charming, woman who had no desire to make a national splash.
But one day she and Angus Rex, a good friend whom she admired for his soft spoken demeanor, were having a quiet conversation at a coffee shop. They disagreed about something that didn’t amount to a hill of beans, and before they knew it the conversation had turned into a shouting match.
It wasn’t much of a match. The best Angus could muster was 65 decibels. Ruby’s shouts averaged 82 decibels. She hit 88 a couple of times, and once topped 90. Ruby crushed poor Angus. A couple of bystanders, who loved to hear Ruby get wound up, clapped. Ruby felt terrible when Angus walked away crestfallen.
She resolved to change. She vowed to rein in her temper and pledged never to let her voice rise above 60 decibels. When people found out about the pledge some of them began baiting Ruby, hoping to goad her into a high decibel outburst. The more they persisted, the quieter Ruby’s voice became.
Amazingly, people around her, even those who came to goad her, began to speak more quietly too. And people began to actually listen to Ruby and to one another.
After word of Ruby’s transformation got around, a group offered a prize to anyone who could make her yell. No one succeeded. Those who yelled at Ruby not only failed to make her yell, they often ended up speaking more quietly themselves. Someone recorded one such encounter on a cell phone and posted the video on the Internet.
A network reality TV show “How Weird Is That?” pulled the Ruby video off the Internet and broadcast it on national television. There was a big public response. Some people said Ruby was a true citizen leading a much needed movement toward public civility. Others said Ruby was part of a clandestine movement to subvert the Constitution.
Political talk show hosts jumped on the issue and harangued their audiences and each other at the top of their lungs. National newspapers and broadcast news organizations transmitted the story around the world. Some people suggested, quietly, that Ruby should be nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize. A few shouted that she should have her mouth washed out with soap.
That’s when folks in Letongaloosa started really feeling sorry for Ruby. Reporters and paparazzi camped out in front of her house, and trailed her everywhere she went. They stuck microphones in her face and beamed strobe lights through the windshield of her car.
Through it all Ruby raised her voice above 40 decibels only once. That was to ask a hard-of-hearing hardware clerk where she could find a light bulb for her refrigerator.
The story has a happy ending. Most news-cycle-driven issues have a very short life span after they disappear from the mass media. The public soon forgets about them. A few worthy issues move forward.
The James Mapleton Emery Foundation offered Ruby a half a million dollar grant to conduct research on low-decibel public discourse. She accepted the grant and went quietly to work.
Dr. Larry day is a retired J-School professor turned humor writer. His book, Day Dreaming: Tales From the Fourth Dementia is available for purchase via his website: http://www.daydreaming.co