Friday, March 21, 2014

What I Overheard - Back by Popular Demand

The Intrepid Eavesdropper

(Number Two)

I'm at it again. Listening in on conversations. But it's okay because it's in the pursuit of a greater good - right? Improving my storytelling and dialogue skills is a viable excuse - right? Of course it is. So, without further ado, here is round two of the fascinating snippets I overheard last week in two of my favorite coffee shops. Today, I'll start with short and sweet and move to longer and more involved.

It's not wrong if I have a good reason.

Snippet Number Four:  "Making It Better"

At the Starbucks in the hospital lobby, on a Tuesday morning. It's raining outside. A man is washing the windows with large sweeping motions. It's quiet in the coffee shop. All I can hear is the clicking of my laptop's keys and the swish-swish of the squeegee. There is a break between customers, and one barista is talking quietly to another. She puts her hand on her friend's arm and says this beautiful, heartfelt line: 

"You're less bubbly and happy than usual and I just want to make it better."


Snippet Number Five:  "You're Having A Fucking Boy"

This is about as different as you can get. It's about half an hour later, and I'm still at the Starbucks in the hospital lobby, across from the Ultrasound Unit. A woman is on a cell phone, leaning against the shop's condiment bar. She's got the phone propped between her ear and her shoulder, and is shaking cinnamon and cocoa into her coffee as she talks. She stirs the coffee with quick, angry motions. To me, she seems more interested in her coffee than in the conversation.

She shouts into the phone.

"Guess what you're having?"

She listens to the person on the other end of the line, but only for a second.

"A boy. You're having a boy."

She makes a snorting noise.

"Another fucking boy."

She slaps a lid on her coffee.

"Yeah. It is."

She slurps her coffee, then stalks out the door.

This one still bothers me. There are so many questions that I will never know the answers to! Is this woman pregnant? She didn't look pregnant. Why is she annoyed that it's a boy? Does she already have five of them at home or something? Is she talking to the baby's father? She doesn't say "we're having a boy", she says "you're having a boy". Something seemed so wrong about this conversation.

All I can think is: That poor baby boy.

Snippet Number Six:  "Give Them Candy"

I am at my other favorite coffee shop, Zoka. I'm grumpy. I don't have my favorite table - I'm at the breezy table right in front of the door because that was all there was. But I'm coping. Not long after I arrive, two men pull out chairs from a large table clear across the room. One of the men - he's perhaps twenty-five years old and has the loudest voice I've ever heard - seems to be training the younger man (he's college-age) to teach an all-day-long SAT prep class. For over two hours, they discuss how to teach different sections of the exam to high school seniors - math, English, history.

"Essays," says the older man. "Some of them go on and on and on. Like this one."

The instructor flips open a four-inch-tall three ring binder, looking for a particular essay. He finds what he's looking for, then jabs the page with his finger. "You have to consider the voice. Is it too self-conscious? Too full of themselves? Look at this girl's essay." He turns a few pages. "Look at this part. She's inserting too much of herself here. Right there. See that?"


"And grammar. Identify the rules of grammar. Make sure they have a command of it - but then let them run with it and make it their own."


"That's the hard part. To know when they've gone too far."

The younger man nods and looks dubiously at the gigantic binder.

"Make a list," suggests the older man. "Put the most common things that give them problems up on the wall. Have conversations with them. Make them talk. Make them do worksheets, and then discuss them. Worksheets are good."

The younger man is scribbling notes. I think he looks flustered.

The older man leans back in his seat. "The best advice? They get tired around three o'clock. I say get some sugar into them."


"Always give them candy at the break."

I stop listening at this point - the minutia is mind-numbing. But as I go back to my own work, I can't help but think how lucky I am to be privy to this moment, and remember when my own children took the (very expensive) classes these men are discussing. I also know this: I would never have come up with this scene on my own. Never in a thousand years.

It really was this big.

Snippet Number Seven:  "You Just Have To Keep Going" 

The following snippet also took place at Zoka. It was the next day. Two men, dressed in slacks and collared, button-down shirts are sitting at the table next to me. No fancy lattes or mochas, just black coffee. Older man does almost all of the talking. He has a deeply lined face, a chipped front tooth, and steel gray crew-cut hair. He is constantly tapping his foot.

"I tell people to look at my hands." The older man holds out his hands. The nails are short and somewhat ragged, but clean. "I work with my hands. All my life, I've worked with my hands." Turns them over, shoves them in front of the younger man.

The younger man obviously knows what's expected of him and takes a good long look. "You work hard. You've done well."

Older man slurps his coffee. "Yeah. I have my guys. They go out there. Thirty years, they do their work. And people come to us."

"I've heard good things about your place."

"It's job satisfaction, that's what it is. I run a tight ship. Everything kept clean. Lots of light. No yelling at people. It's safer that way."


A pause, while they both take a drink of their coffee.

"I keep the radio on to fifties type music," says the older man. "People ask me, why do you listen to that old stuff?"

"Well, why?"

"It doesn't get the customers riled up, you know? Not like that modern stuff." He talks about that horrible modern stuff for a while, then he moves on. "The most important thing is to keep the place safe. And clean. But you have to be careful. I tell my guys to be careful." He holds out his hands again. "Cause look what can happen. Look at that." He holds out his thumb. "I cut my thumb clean off! A short saw. They put it back on again."

The younger man gawks.

"See?" says the older man. "You can see where they did the surgery. The color is different."

Then was a long discourse about bone grafts, and skin grafts, and hundreds of stitches, and bandages that bled all over the place. The younger man looks kind of yellow by the time the older one is finished describing every little detail of his ordeal.

"Well. It doesn't look that good, but it works," says the older man, grabbing his coffee with the hand in question. "You just have to keep going."

The color is different all right!

And that's all for this time! I'll just keep going. I'll continue listening and gathering overheard dialogues and eventually I'll have enough for Intrepid Eavesdropper Number Three.
Thanks for reading!



  1. Hi from a fellow AWer! *waves* This is a great idea - the variety of conversations one can overhear in public never cease to amaze me. Looking forward to the next edition!

  2. Thank you Kathryn! It's fun - and I seem to be hearing more and more good stuff. Also, it's a good challenge to write them up so that they're actually interesting! Thanks for stopping by.


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