528 The Conversation
Hanging out in strange places can change your perspective. If you spend an evening hour dawdling in a saloon, on a subway platform or in a traffic jam, you sometimes come away with new ideas, or, maybe, revived old ideas.
This happened the other night in the lobby of an assisted living home. The destination wasn't random. But the reason for being there's irrelevant.
Settling in with a cup of coffee and a dime novel, the plan was to read and think for the hour. This was not to be. People kept interrupting without meaning to and without knowing it.
A knot of people began to form a few feet away, but in easy earshot.
First to arrive was a young girl, maybe 80, with one of those rolling walker things with the big wheels and the small basket attached. Handy if you need help walking and your hands remain strong enough to grip the hand brakes -- same thing they have on bicycles. She sat. Then a few more similarly aged people arrived. They began to chatter. Most remained standing.
It's rude to eavesdrop. But not having heard a conversation like this one in ages, it was impossible not to.
The first thing that caught attention was that the people talked one at a time. No one interrupted anyone else. In New York it's a cultural thing, and not the best cultural contagion we have to offer. That didn't happen. The sound of one voice talking. Then another and another. Spaces between sentences and no overlap.
The women were talking about their favorite dime novels, for the most part. They were talking about sentences and choices of words, with praise here and criticism there. But it wasn't like listening to a convention of retired English teachers. It was just a small group of mostly women talking about what they liked and what they disliked about books. Not great literature, just books.
One was a fan of John Le Carré. And she had reasons. Another preferred Tom Clancy. And SHE had reasons. If this conversation had taken place in a saloon, the participants would, by the middle of the second drink, be at each others' throats. If it were on a subway platform it would have been much harder to hear, even though it would have been at a greater volume.
As they got ready to leave -- apparently they were being met by one of those small buses that take people to and from events or medical appointments or, well, saloons, their listener flagged their attention and confessed to listening in, and telling them he hadn't heard a conversation of this kind in decades, and "thank you."
The Le Carré lady replied "Oh, I'm so glad you enjoyed it. Eavesdrop any time. Come back again." And she seemed to mean it.
And I will.
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I'm Wes Richards. My opinions are my own, but you're welcome to them.®