When I was little my mom taught me to eavesdrop. “You just pretend you’re reading, or deep in thought, but really you’re listening to everyone around you.” She would take me to the Magnolia room at Rich’s where we would eat chicken salad and try to pick up on others’ conversations. Or to Gyro Wrap on Peachtree for a chicken gyro with a side of strangers’ juicy details.
Mom said that part of the fun of eavesdropping was you could make up stories about the people you overheard. That woman eating fruit salad next to you might be telling her friend she was “through with men,” but that wasn’t the real story. What people said often did not reflect the real circumstances of their lives, but you could garner clues by watching them. That woman who was “through with men”…was she blinking back tears? Tearing a Kleenex into little pieces? Or spinning her neck in self-righteous indignation? These little physical details told as much about their lives as their words.
The other night I went to hear the fantabulous Joshilyn Jackson speak about her new book, Backseat Saints (which you should go buy if you haven’t yet done so–it’s a wonder.) Joshilyn confessed that if you were ever sitting next to her at a restaurant, and it looked as if she was just reading a book, enjoying a little solitude, she most assuredly was not. She was, instead, eavesdropping on you, and then making up a story around something you said. Me too, me too, me too! I wanted to shout, but I controlled myself and stayed quiet in my seat. But how validating to learn that other writers do it, too.
Today I ate lunch by myself at Watershed restaurant in Decatur, GA. Watershed is one of my all time favorites, with its indigenous southern menu that always includes a vegetable plate. I ordered a great little crunchy salad topped with poached chicken and homemade mayonnaise. I nibbled away while listening to the charming conversation of the uber southern ladies next to me. My favorite overheard line? “Well he and I became dear, dear friends after he caught me stealing his gardenias.”
Just watch. I’ll use that in a book one day.