Is it really considered eavesdropping if you have absolutely no intention nor desire to overhear someone else’s conversation? After all, eavesdropping negatively connotes that the listener is at fault or somehow sneaking information from an unwitting subject. In the age of noisy cell phone chatter, I think it should no longer be referred to as eavesdropping, but rather, “eavestolerating”–as in, I tolerate those people who insist on talking not to me, not at me, but simply; in front of me. Yes, I have learned to “tolerate” cell phone yappers and believe that cell phone toleration will soon become one of America’s beloved pastimes, ranking somewhere between viewing televised golf and digging out an ingrown toenail...
The most entertaining conversations I tolerate are those of teenagers, usually girls. I am mostly amused by the fact that whenever I hear a teenage girl on the phone, it is as though she is talking to the last girl I overheard--excuse me--tolerated. Their exchanges are all so similar, and for the most part, sound something like this:
“Can you b’lieve that? I mean, I was just going ‘No way!’ and she was like ‘Yeah’ and I was like, ‘O-my-gosh! That is, like, so gross!’ and then she was all... and I was all...and we were both like...‘Whatever!'”
My favorite part of teen-talk is when a girl asks her wireless friend something like, “But... is she prettier than me?” Now, this is where tolerating becomes a bit tricky for an extrovert like myself who must then refrain from interrupting a conversation--which I have not been officially invited to join--in order to inform her that, grammatically speaking, it should be asked, “Is she prettier than I am?” However, with all my “tolerating” experience, I have learned that the rules of grammar and sentence structure are non-existent, especially when the use of proper English would require a teenage girl to utter the words I am and pretty all in one sentence. So, knowing it is taboo for a teenager to suggest that she’s anything more attractive than a St. Bernard when conversing with friends, I just have to let it go.
And lest you think teenage girls are the only ones guilty of blabbing in the presence of others, thereby testing the levels of “toleration” in those around them...
Just a few weeks ago I learned about one middle-aged woman’s volatile relationship with her father as a result of a cell phone conversation which took place in the express lane at the grocery store. Apparently, her parents are separated and dad has nothing nice to say about mom...blah, blah, blah. Thanks to the fact that this woman was slowly unloading her jam-packed cart, (at the express checkout, mind you) everyone in line had the privilege of hearing this woman patronize her father and threaten to hang up on him if he could not “find something positive to say.” After about the third threat--which somehow inhibited her ability to place items on the conveyor belt--a few of us in line started chanting “Hang-up-on-the-dirty-rat! Hang-up-on-the-dirty-rat!” No, we really didn’t say that, but we were all thinking it. And if we weren’t thinking that, we were thinking forty-six items in the express lane...huh?! Did I mention that this all took place in the express lane?#@!%*!
Not only has this habit of tolerating cell phone conversations tested my patience, it has also proven itself educational. At my son’s last baseball game I learned the finer points of horse breeding from the woman sitting in front of me. She had a “mare” which had just lost a “foal” (that’s a baby horse, for all you city-slickers) and since it was “day 18" (she counted on her fingers to be sure) of her cycle--the horse’s, not the woman’s-- it was apparently time to “breed” her again the following weekend. Again, I wanted nothing more than to interrupt and beg in the mare’s behalf to give poor Nessie a break, but those pesky unwritten social rules of “toleration” made me refrain. I did, however, learn much from this conversation and was quick to realize how grateful I am that, 1. I am a human who is not forced to procreate yearly. 2. I am a woman who has not given birth to offspring weighing more than ten pounds. And, 3. I am a biped whose two legs are perfectly capable of getting up and walking away from conversations that are not directed to me, nor at me, but rather, in front of me.
But, ya know, as I contemplated walking away from this particular conversation, I couldn’t help thinking to myself, Like, no way! I was so totally here first! Like, if she can’t keep her gross ‘horsey chitchat’ to herself and, like, find something more positive to say, then OMG! SHE should totally be the one to leave--not me. Like...Whatever!
Hey, is that YOUR cell phone I hear ringing?
And here I am some twelve years later, hoping that the conversations I overhear will somehow get more intelligent with time…
Just this weekend, while enjoying a beautiful luncheon, I overheard a few aspiring Millennials engaged in actual conversation! No cell phones involved! And the fact that they were discussing their favorite college courses, gave me great hope that insightful dialogue might ensue! But once again, I was disappointed. Interrupting my family’s commentary regarding the delicious pasta salad we were devouring, the twenty-something behind us began talking loud enough for the four adjacent tables to hear (even though she was only addressing the two friends flanking her). After adjusting her barely-butt-covering minidress, she went on to explain that her Anat and Phys class was by far her favorite. “Cuz, seriously. I like learned so much in that class. So yeah. The last time I went to the doctor I was totally able to take like twenty minutes off my visit because I knew words like ‘edema’ and ‘vascular’ ya know? Words I would never have known before I took that class. [Her friends nodding in admiration.] So yeah, I could like totally understand everything the doctor said to me, and I was like, hey, college has made me smarter. Seriously!”
"That is so cool," one of her friends says as she goes to check her dormant cellphone.
And once again, after retrieving my rolled eyeballs from the back of my head, I looked into the face of my sixteen year old daughter and prayed. Prayed that she will one day realize that the best education is the one that teaches you how much you have yet to learn...that talking just to hear yourself talk, usually nets meaningless and often unnecessarily stupid conversation...that with all the Grey’s Anatomy and NCIS she’s watched in her young life, words like ‘edema’ and ‘vascular’ are well within her word bank without taking Anat and Phys...and just before I could finish my prayerful pleadings, Anna turned to me and whispered, “I’m glad she liked her science classes, but she should probably pay more attention in English.”
And I was totally like, “Seriously! Right?”