I like to eavesdrop.
This news probably doesn't come as much of a surprise, since many of my columns are based at least in part on the interactions of people around me. I believe nosiness is the hallmark of a good writer. So when I listen in on others' conversations, I'm not really meddling: I'm simply honing my craft. Consequently, my husband has grown accustomed to being randomly shushed when we're out on a date night.
"So there we were, my photographer and I, in the middle of nowhere," he'll say, "when this guy comes out of the woods with a tomahawk and yells—"
"SHHHHHHHHHH," I stop him. "I just heard something about someone working for Faith Hill!" I lean forward and put my ear close to the bar, hoping to catch a few extra sound waves traveling down its gleaming surface. Bingo. I tune in the beleaguered-looking brunette three seats down.
"Oh, you won't believe this, Hubs," I murmur after listening for a moment. "She says Faith has been having stomach bubbles."
"Stomach bubbles?" Hubs asks. "What the hell are those?"
"You know," I say, waving my hand dismissively. "It's like a a singer thing. You hit one too many high notes, and the next thing you know, your stomach sends up a bubble. It can totally ruin a song like 'This Kiss.' "
I smile with deep satisfaction. Now I'll have something to talk about at my next Bible study. "Faith Hill's been having stomach bubbles," I imagine myself saying authoritatively to the other women. "Or possibly hammock troubles, which wouldn't surprise me either. We left our hammock outside this winter and the squirrels chewed it to bits!"
"How do you know so much, Lindsay?" someone will ask admiringly.
"Oh, girls," I'll laugh. "Believe me, I get around!"
Eavesdropping is responsible for many of my favorite memories. Who cares if the memories aren't actually mine? I recall fondly, for example, the teenage girls once seated in the booth next to mine at Waffle House. They'd wanted to toilet-paper someone the night before, but were so worried about getting caught that they decided to simply toilet-paper their own yard.
"My dad's face!" one said, as their young hostess laughed helplessly. "He was all, 'Stephanie! Who is responsible for this?!' And we're all, 'Oh, it must have been some boys or something!'" The girls laughed until tears streamed down their faces. One booth down, I shrieked with laughter right along with them — at least until they noticed me and grew quiet. Quickly, I got hold of myself and became very involved in a staring contest with my raisin toast.
After that incident, I learned to be a little more covert about my snooping. Take last Saturday night, when I was having dinner with my friend Yvonne. We were chatting about nothing in particular when I heard it.
"Shhhhhhhh," I said, holding up one finger. "Monkeys." Yvonne looked confused. Quietly, I pointed at the next table, where a man was holding court over his rapt tablemates.
"That chimp was a pain in the ass," the man was saying. "Remember that Rodney Dangerfield movie with the chimp? Yep, that's the one I'm talking about."
"Yvonne," I said quietly, "I think that guy over there is some kind of monkey man!"
"A monkey ma—"
"SHHHHHHHH!" "—and somehow, that damned chimp got hold of a loaded shotgun," the man continued. "And so we all hit the floor and had to stay there on the set until the chimp put the damned thing down." His audience laughed while Yvonne and I looked at each other in disbelief.
"There was one monkey, though, that was just plain mean," the man said. "He'd smile at you and look all cute, and then when you got close, he'd grab your head real quick and bang it against the wall of his cage." I shuddered.
"So this woman comes in one day," he went on, "and she just had to have that monkey. I tried to warn her about him, but she wouldn't listen. Had to have him. So she takes him home and the monkey gets loose and starts tearing her house to pieces. She calls out the wildlife people and it took 'em four hours to catch that monkey and put him back in his cage.
"So the next day, she brings that monkey back. 'You tried to warn me, but I wouldn't listen,' she says. Well, I felt bad and let her trade him in for another monkey. And as soon as she left, I took that monkey in the back and I shot him."
Yvonne and I stared at one another, eyes wide.
"And then I took him to a taxidermist and had him stuffed," the man continued. "Brought him home and put him in a chair. And whenever I look at that monkey now, I just laugh and laugh." He sat back, pleased.
"That is the most jacked-up story I've ever heard," I said in amazement. We sat in silence, both of us uncharacteristically at a loss for words.
That's the thing about eavesdropping. Sometimes, you learn more about monkey business than you ever really wanted to know.
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