Eavesdropping…Or Not

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.

9 thoughts on “Eavesdropping…Or Not

  1. Ah, yes. Dining out as performance art — I’m familiar with it. Fortunately, TG enjoys eavesdropping as much as I do. Anybody watching US would probably wonder why we both crack up periodically, apparently without either of us saying anything to instigate it. 😉

  2. Last summer we camped in a remote area–just our family and one other large group of people. They were loud and obnoxious and their language not suitable for our kids (or theirs), but I sometimes found myself taking notes. I wanted to be mad that we’d traveled so far–on horrible, washboard roads–only to be serenaded late into the night by drunken strangers, but they kept making me laugh.

    And no, eavesdropping isn’t eavesdropping under these conditions.

  3. You deserve the eavesdropping opportunity as partial recompense for their romantic mean spoiling loudness and intrusiveness.

  4. It’s depressing to discover this isn’t just an LA phenomenon. Noooooo!

    I do like your parting response to it, that being said 🙂

  5. I am an unrepentant eavesdropper at coffee shops, and often transcribe the conversation right into my laptop.

    Some of my faves. The first couple are one side of cell phone conversations:

    “I realize we haven’t met yet or anything, so I won’t hold you to your answer, but would you ever consider reversing your vasectomy?” And then, a little later in the conversation, “I just want to see your picture. . . . No, I don’t care if you’re dressed or not. Either way.” Pause to listen. “That big? Sweet.”

    Another cell phone call by woman sitting about three feet from me, oblivious to my obvious fascination: “When people hear about me, they always think I’m older than I am. Probably because I have so many kids, plus being married so many times. Plus, being a widow. It starts to add up, let me tell you.” She listened for a while, then she said, “Oh, sure, 35 is young to be a grandmother. You don’t have to tell me.”

    Both sides of the conversation can be pretty good too:

    “I’m kinda like that weird kid in that movie. I see the spirits of people and animals.”
    “Yeah, like dead dogs and shit. I mean, when I see them they’re walking around, but they’re all misty like.”
    “No kidding?”
    “Yeah. My neighbor’s cat hung around for like a year after she had it put to sleep.”


    “You look like you taste salty.”
    “What, I look sweaty?”
    “No, just salty and delicious. I want to lick you.”
    “Oh. Well, that’s all right then.”

  6. A little boy I was babysitting for had a mother who was extremely well to do. When asked how she was doing, she was never any less than ‘exceptional’ and I believed her. She had style and grace, never a hair out of place and never a lax moment showing on her french manicure. Her little son was about four and already the most fashionable guy I’ve ever seen (including the Beckham brood). On the day I overheard him, he was playing house with two of the girls I was also looking after.
    He was going from one end of the playroom to the other, gripping his stomach and moaning, “Oh my God…these cramps are going to kill me!”
    I guess he wasn’t recruited to play the father that day.

  7. People do get bored with themselves, and think that other people will be more interesting and more fulfilling. Some travel to far parts of the world, but unless you are multi-lingual, you might be limited to using imagination.

    However, just by dining out, we can learn how interesting our neighbors are.

  8. Most excellent! Thank you for sharing. I will be sure and use my restaurant voice from on!

  9. Even as someone with considerably dampened hearing, I somehow manage to eavesdrop on conversations. That, or people are just really loud when talking about extremely personal matters. Of course, nothing tops Marina Del Rey a few years ago after we had lunch and walked past paramedics trying to resuscitate an old man in a speedo and a guy on his cell phone say, “Yeah, we were playing volleyball and this guy is dying now so you wanna go get some french fries?” Classic.

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