She is lurking. She knows the most intimate details of your life. She is…the eavesdropper. And she is me.
Listening to other people’s conversations is one of my favorite pastimes.
To turn down the creep factor, know that I don’t seek it out like some sort of aural Peeping Tom. It just so happens that when I’m out for a meal, writing in a coffee shop, or standing in line in a grocery store, people in my vicinity will engage in conversation and sometimes it’s about delicate matters.
I stare straight forward, pretending to study the magazine rack’s “36,271 Tricks to Drive Him Crazy”, or concentrate really hard on eating toast, while they spill it.
And oh the delicious the things I’ve heard! Dialogue so pithy it would make Aaron Sorkin cry. Dialogue so vapid it would make Aaron Sorkin cry.
I fancy myself a kind of sociologist, studying the intricacies of human speech and behavior. It’s research for my other unqualified-for profession: screenwriter of the world’s yet-to-be-written, original screenplay.
I stumble into guiltily delectable moments like:
A couple at Starbucks deciding how they were going to conceal their office romance, in an office that evidently had a strict policy against office romances.
This should be a Netflix series.
Three young men in line for a concert (in -31 C weather) agreeing that the gaggle of young women in heels and bare legs behind them (about whom I expected the boys to make some inappropriate/ objectifying comments) should “Put some pants on” lest they “freeze to death.”
I’ve snooped on first dates, job interviews, daddy-daughter outings, old friends catching up…
And most enthralling of all, from my apartment window, a jilted lover pleading three stories up to the woman who wouldn’t take him back. Gems like (yes, I wrote them down):
“I know. I am an asshole.” And “I never felt this way about Jillian.”
What fun! What a sneaky little thing I thought I was!
That is until recently, when I happened upon a group of lady friends at a café listening to, and giving supportive advice to their frazzled friend struggling with an ex-boyfriend who, if not stalking her, was disrespecting her boundaries.
The seriousness of their conversation and the earnestness of their friendship forced me to realize that my eavesdropping couldn’t be, and probably wasn’t about entertainment.
I was enthralled because these were real, human experiences. Was it similar to the seduction of reality television? Only an actual sociologist knows for sure.
But if I were to experience the privilege of glimpsing into a different life, empathy would have to accompany me. It may sound trite, but everyone has a problem or worry they’re carrying around like a heavy, awkward suitcase.
So does this mean I’ll plug my ears and reform my prying ways?
No. I’m still going to listen and find it interesting. But next time you see me pretending to read a book, know that in a small, twisted way I’m learning to be a slightly kinder person.
Jane Testar is a writer and performer with the Winnipeg sketch comedy troupe, Hot Thespian Action, an improviser with local improv troupe, Outside Joke, and the host of the CBC Comedy Factory Podcast.