As I writer, it is perfectly acceptable, and practically a professional requirement, for me to eavesdrop.
How else would I know how teenagers whine, or families fight, or men flirt (yeah, I’ve been married THAT long) – in order to get it right in my stories?
Restaurants are especially good. Booths are best, because you can listen to the people behind you so inconspicuously. I listened to the complete story of a guy’s divorce that way once. It was terrific. (The story, not the divorce.)
Last year my husband and I were in one of the more prestigious restaurants in town to celebrate our anniversary. The weather was really bad, and the only other diners there were the actor Sam Waterston and his companion (wife, maybe…I have no idea.) But anyway, my husband was professing his love, and being quite romantic, so it was pretty much a bust as an eavesdropping occasion. I thought I heard “Woody Allen” in Mr. Waterston’s conversation, but I could hardly say to Hubby, “Shushh, I’m listening to the next table,” it being our anniversary and all.
But last night made up for all of that.
My husband and I had been out shopping, and stopped at a Chinese restaurant that we like. The food isn’t even all that good at this place. It’s just that about 20 years ago, an old friend of my husband’s called us out of the blue to say that he and an associate were in Connecticut on business, and asked us to join them for dinner.We met at this Chinese restaurant near their hotel. We had one of the most fun evenings we had ever had. We laughed ourselves silly that night, and now we can’t even remember what we were so silly about. I do remember a lot of wine. But 20 years later, we still like that restaurant. We call it Gus’s Chinese Joint.
So last night, we are eating at Gus’s Chinese Joint. My husband was quiet. He was tired and preoccupied. This is not a necessarily a bad thing if you like to eavesdrop.
A family was two booths down from us, but there was no one in between. I couldn’t see them well behind my husband’s generously sized head, but oh my, their conversation was Choice.
It was Mom and Dad and Son and Daughter, both of the kids around college age. Mom and Dad and Son had very soft voices. I strained, but couldn’t really make out what they were saying.
But Daughter was clear and LOUD. And her side of the conversation alone was enough. In fact, I think I enjoyed it more because I had to imagine what everyone else was saying, as I listened to only one-fourth of the dialog.
“Now that you are a JP and all,” said Daughter, “I suppose you will want to officiate at my wedding. If I ever have one.”
That sentence was pretty cool. I like to think she was addressing her mother.
And then the kicker.
I wouldn’t say she hollered. It was more of a very loud gasp.
“OMG! You shaved your chest! Why on earth would you shave your chest?????”
And just when I strained to hear how her brother would answer, her old man tore open his shirt Superman-style.
“Oh DAD! That is so gross!!!!”
That fifty-something father of two had been manscaping. And he bared his chest in Gus’s Chinese Joint.
Daughter was shocked.
I like to think that Mom was laughing her ass off.
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