I am a writer, a comic, a spinner of stories most often a mixture of truth and hyperbole. Which means I am a natural collector of people’s stories. And it doesn’t hurt that I have great hearing. The kind of hearing that caused me on more than one occasion to hear all about my students’ sexual escapades while having my back turned, writing on the chalkboard across the room. (If you are curious, even the uber-conservative religious band kids were getting blow-jobs back in 2004. I doubt much has changed since then.)
It isn’t that I wanted to know who got lucky with whom over the weekend, it’s just that people tend to have no real idea about vocal modulation and acoustics. At times, even a whispered conversation can be readily heard by others if the person’s diction, location, and the materials of the walls add up to the perfect storm of “eavesdropping”. However, some folks, by virtue of their central location in the universe, speak so loudly it is nearly impossible to not hear their conversations. In which case it isn’t eavesdropping because the listener is doing nothing covert to hear a “secret” conversation.
Take Mister Soandso and my romantic dinner the other night. It was at a expensive and trendy restaurant where the establishment has struggled to balance decor with profit margins. In other words, lots of tables with sound-dampening materials in abundance. However, the party of three sitting four feet from us put up a conversational challenge with which the beautiful fabrics and tinkling water sculptures could not compete. They were a party of two women and one man, and the one woman was in a profession that delivers babies but who’s pager had thankfully remained silent through her burger and adult beverages.
Here were a few of their conversational gems:
- On housing: “I don’t know. Do you think my million dollar house is too big for one person?” “Well if you want to live in a nice neighborhood, that’s what the houses go for.” “I know. I just think sometimes I should move and find something a bit, well, better.”
- On relationships: “I haven’t had any luck with [on-line dating service]. I just can’t find anybody. And my heart is so full of love.” “But that’s good. You should have a heart full of love. It’s a good thing.” “I know but I just can’t find anybody!” “I agree! It’s so hard to find somebody decent! [Ex-boyfriend’s name] was perfect as long as he didn’t open his mouth. That man was gorgeous but too stupid to be around for more than just sex.”
- On aging: “I can’t believe I’m going to be 40 in a few months.” “Oh stop! You look fabulous! You know you do.” “Well, yes but I met [apparently younger man] for drinks the other night and he just kept going on and on about how old [some other man] is and how he just couldn’t imagine being with someone that old. I finally told him my age. The night didn’t go very well after that.” “Well he’s just too shallow for you then!”
I’ll stop there. It was one of those dining experiences that was too funny while also being too irritating. I guarantee you none of the people sitting by us could hear our conversation and yet we could hear all about these three people’s lives as well as the table of eight sitting on the other side of us. (They were nearly as loud, just not nearly as interesting.) Whatever happened to people being taught that “restaurant” situations require “restaurant” voices? It’s one thing when someone goes out of their way to eavesdrop on your conversation. It’s quite another when you broadcast your news. I’ve had so many dining experiences where my private conversation is punctuated by other diners’ conversations. (In case you are wondering, it is never a good idea to discuss how much you drank the other night nor how many times you vomited nor the contents of said vomit. Especially when the diners around you are going to drop several dollars on the meal you just made them lose their appetite for.)
So please don’t be upset if your conversation shows up in a novel or comedy sketch and you are the loud and whiny character wearing a red shirt. It seemed rude to ignore the little nugget you shared with me during my entree course.