These days, with all our communication devices, BlackBerries, Bluetooth phones, and other gadgets, we get to hear what everybody else is doing, even if we don't want to. Instant communication is ubiquitous in our society - it's getting hard to remember a time when we were unreachable. There are few people in our circle of friends, for example, that don't carry a cell phone and/or a BlackBerry - and fewer still who mute their phones, or don't answer them, or resist the urge to take them out to check messages, while they're in your company.
In the very recent past, when a lunch or dinner guest would get on his or her cell phone or answer emails while we were in the middle of a meal - I'd think, (but not verbalize) "Hey - if that other person is so darned important, why don't you just go have lunch with her?!" But alas, I've long ago gotten over the idea that it's rude - which I think it is, and have come to accept it as progress. The convenience of being on call, and able to communicate, and continue making important business decisions 24/7 probably far outweighs the annoyance of having your casual conversations interrupted, your thoughts interrupted, your dinners and lunches interrupted, your life interrupted...by being subjected to half of someone else's phone call.
I've become so used to hearing snippets of stranger's conversations everywhere I go that they've almost blurred into white noise that I can choose not to overhear. That's why the following experience is so unique. I took a recess from my writing to go shopping. I went alone - it was to be a quick trip to the store with the express goal of acquiring a pair of jeans. That alone is a subject onto itself - jeans are a tricky matter - especially jeans that fit. They can be slim, or boot style, they can be stretch, or not - they can be low-rise or otherwise - but you still have to try them on to make sure they fit and look good, because it's tough to count on your size being standard across styles and designers. So, there I was in a dressing room, by myself, with several pairs of jeans - cussing silently to myself about the weight I must have recently gained, and the fact that the manufacturer's sizing chart was off, and other little petty complaints.
As I was struggling to pull on a pair of skin-tight jeans, I couldn't help but overhear the conversation in the dressing room next to me. And it wasn't just a one-sided conversation! The banter between the two occupants in the adjacent space actually made me smile - and in fact at times I had to stifle a laugh. Two women were trying on clothes, and talking loud. Though I attempted to stay in my own experience, theirs overwhelmingly slipped into mine, like water under my dressing room door. First they were complaining about the sizes of the clothes -- how the designers must have been smoking something when they sized the outfits. Then they started admitting they probably needed to lose some weight, and went on to rant about how they had attempted to lose that weight in the past, and what foods they'd had to give up. It was personal stuff-- full disclosure! And there I was - hanging on every word. The conversation then segued into the foods they loved, and how to prepare them. I was all ears. Their enthusiasm became almost orgasmic with descriptions of ingredients, aromas, and delicious, mouth-watering, methods for getting the recipe just right. I was intrigued, and beginning to salivate. While they tried on clothes, laughing, and complaining, they shared their secrets about how to cook savory dishes and where to buy special ingredients for them. Though I continued to try on jeans, I was totally absorbed by the women in the cubical next to me; listening intently - like a schoolgirl being dished juicy gossip.
I suddenly felt like a voyeur. I slunk out of my dressing room with a pair of jeans in a size that may not have met my expectations - but the adventure of shopping certainly had. I was grinning -- amazed at how this interchange had affected me. I'd actually overheard a nearly complete conversation that included two people. My God, it was almost weird, and kind of retro. I've become accustomed to being privy to lots of details about lots of people I don't know, and have learned to tune it out. It's the norm to listen to half of a conversation - to observe individuals with wires dangling from their ears talking to absent interlocutors. It has become common place to witness people in restaurants, subways, alone in their cars, and on crowded sidewalks, having full-blown, animated conversations with invisible counterparts. But something about overhearing two friends enjoy each other's company, laughing and joking about the regular stuff of life -- their weight, diets, and culinary prowess, made me feel really good.
I know - this is silliness personified. But what the hell. With all the other insane madness we're coping with today - this little moment in time was like music to my ears. It was a reminder that with all the changes we go through in life, all the adaptations we make - despite all the conveniences of short-cuts and time-saving devices -- there are some things that remain the same. Friendships are important, and enjoying the company of friends - face to face -- is still a worthwhile way to spend some time. And if you're lucky enough to overhear a full, two-sided conversation between friends like I did, you might even walk away with the best recipe for Pasta Bolognese you've ever tried.
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