'Adventures in Eavesdropping'

Carissa Halston

            Most people talk as if no one can hear them.   Or as if no one is listening.   Even worse, they discuss painfully banal topics.   Dinner, budgets…what they want to do with their lives.
            But as I was sitting in a coffee shop on Newbury Street, I realized that a Sunday morning is the perfect time to verbally delve into what really matters.
            Well, it is for some people.
            I found myself seated between two demographics: twenty-something hipster males and single women on the verge of forty.
            I make these distinctions as if men and women weren't different enough.
           To my right, from the women, I heard things like,
           “Sometimes I'm one person, the person who needs to make things up to get attention.   The person who needs to drag a compliment out of you.   I'll fabricate things to get what I want.”
           And her friend's empty response?
           “You didn't fabricate your father's death.”
           Just like that.   Like blessing someone after a sneeze.
           Not to make light of anyone's death, but to juxtapose what I was hearing on my left, from the males:
           One said, “I'm going to join a carnival.”
           “You're going to become a carnie?” the other replied.
           The first lowered his eyelids and let his head loll left, meaning, “Of course not,” then looked back to his compatriot somberly and said, “I'm going to sell corn dogs.”
           His friend weighed this confession, before shrugging and commenting, “Respectable living.”
           Each sipped his own warm beverage in turn and fell into silence, pondering the wonders of a seedy carnival setting versus the salt of the earth living of a man who peddles corn dogs.

           Shortly thereafter, I left the coffee shop.   I stood in the middle of the sidewalk, halfway down the block, and in any given direction, I saw young people.   Mainly girls.   Mainly under the age of twenty.   Nearly all of them…talking like this?
           Even when they were on cell phones?
           Everything they said?   Sounded like a question?   They can't make declarative statements?   Even one word?   Used to begin a sentence?   Such as, “Okay?”   As if she needed permission to start telling a story?
           So, try to imagine?   Having a conversation with one of these girls?   Where you can't see her?   You can't shake her to make her stop?   And you wonder why you're friends with her in the first place? You wonder why you ever gave her your phone number?   In fact?   In the middle of the conversation? You're thinking about changing your number?   So then you won't have to deal with her anymore?
           And while you're at it?   You should probably also move?   Because it's inescapable?   Her voice follows you home at night?   Lingers in your dreams?   Haunts your waking hours?   Or maybe you're really lucky?   And you have no idea what I'm talking about?
           …but I doubt it.
           To escape the deafening interrogative on the street, I retreated to the safe confines of the Army/Navy.   In the back of the store, I sidled up near a display of overpriced Converse just in time to hear a guy, with a voice like Seth Rogen's, say:
            “Jenny and I were at a coffee shop last week and I gave the waiter a 60% tip.   Because he deserved it.   Because he was hot.”
            It's the voice that caused me to eavesdrop in this instance, but I wondered if he chose ‘hot' to mean, ‘in high demand,' or, ‘physically attractive.'   Then I wondered if the person he was speaking to guessed at the correct meaning.
           When you're listening in on someone else's nearly public conversation, it's against all mores to ask.
           To round out this collection of people who speak as if they're the only beings in existence, I feel the need to include those few gems whose conversations push the boundaries of regular communication and more closely resemble performance art.
           I was in the waiting room of a Planned Parenthood.   Before you gasp, I was there for my annual.   A girl walks in, this conversation already in progress:
           “No, no.   I just got here.   I walked.   Would you shut up?   I'm fine.   Jesus.   Well, maybe I wouldn't have had to walk if—that's not what I'm saying.”
            And here she pauses to roll her eyes, like the precocious child she is, “Can we just talk about something else, please?   Thank you.”
            There was no gratitude in her thanks.   Only a healthy amount of disdain.
            “Did you call your Mom?   Travis.   Hello?   Did you call her fucking mother?”
            She flitted so easily from anger to apathy:
           “How is she?”
            Then her expression fell.
            “You didn't tell her, did you?   I don't care what I said before, we're talking about it now.   Did you or did you not tell your mother?”
            Say it isn't so.
            “Oh my god.   I feel sick.   Do you know what she'll do?   She'll tell my parents.   Is that what you want?   Yes, she will totally tell them.”
            Why would Travis's mother do such a thing?
            “Because she's a fucking bitch and she hates me!”
            If Travis's mother is a bitch, that would make Travis…
            “Okay, I did not call you that.   No I didn't.   No, I—you have to call her back.   Yes.   Yes.   Do it now.   Use the other phone.   I want to hear you do it.   No, but I wouldn't have to have this goddamned conversation with you at all if you had come with me in the first place.   I don't need this shit right now.   …what, you want me to break up with you from the waiting room of a Planned Parenthood?”
            Grandstanding in the waiting room.   Every eye was on her.
            “Well, don't make me do it, then!”
            And that's when they called me in for my appointment.
            I could be wrong, but it's probably conversations like hers that cause Planned Parenthood to have a No Cell Phones policy.