The One with the Eavesdropping

“When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen.” ~Ernest Hemingway

I wholeheartedly agree with Hemingway on that point. Being a writer, I am a shameless eavesdropper. The best way to get a feel for the rhythms of natural speech is by listening when I am not a participant in the conversation. I have a distinct advantage in this area because I live in a busy city. Conversations are always swirling around me: at the coffee shop, on the subway, through the closed window of someone’s apartment. (Just kidding!) (Not really!) I can’t not eavesdrop.

Here are a few of the gems I overheard this week.

  • Boy: But I want to sit doooowwwwnnn!
    Grandmother (mostly to herself): Oh, hush now. You got young legs. My legs are old and tired. When you old and tired, then you can sit. Complaining to me about sitting when you as good as new. I got things to complain about. My back aches and my feet ache. And I got the gout. Boy, when you got the gout you can sit. Count your lucky stars you don’t have the gout.


  • Twenty-something woman talking on her cell phone: I’m just exhausted, like really stressed. (Audible sigh) I know I just need to slooww down…I dunno…If I could just get some kind of disease. Not like a really nasty one or anything. Something where I could just sleep for like a week…Right, like mono. You know anyone who has that?


  • On the 2 train, morning commute…a legally blind man sits with his seeing-eye dog resting comfortably at his feet. The dog is wearing an orange vest and a harness.
    Woman: Oh, what a lovely dog! She’s gorgeous.
    Man: Thank you. The woman reaches down to pet the dog. Please don’t pet her.
    Woman: Why not? I’d really like to pet her.
    Man: She’s working now.
    Woman: She’s not working. She’s just sitting there. Then she says to the dog: Whuz the pwobwem wit a wittle pat, huh?
    Man: She knows that when she has this vest on, she’s working and she can’t be distracted.
    Woman: What if you take the vest off? Then can I pet her? To the dog: Take tat wittle west off.
    Man, getting frustrated: I can’t take the vest off now. She’s working.
    Woman: But I’d really like to pet her.
    Another man: Hey buddy, this is Fulton Street. You wanted to know when we got to Fulton Street.
    Man, grabbing the dog’s harness and dashing off the train: Thank goodness.


  • Australian girl: Mommy, why do they call it New York? New. York. What’s so new about it?


  • A woman is riding the 2 train with a large suitcase
    Woman:Excuse me. Does this train go to JFK? Because I think I…
    Woman # 1 with super long fingernails: Gurrrl! You on the wrong train.
    Guy #1:What you got to do is get off at Atlantic, transfer to the D going uptown. Uptown, you hear me? Then take the N or the R…
    Guy #2:The D?! What are you talkin’ about? Lady, don’t take the D. Listen. I’m gonna make this real simple. Stay on this train to Franklin. Take the S. That’s S like suave, if you know what I mean. Now the S will get you over to the A…
    Guy #1:Man, the S doesn’t go to the A. I’m tellin’ you.
    Guy #3:This is all wrong. She just needs to backtrack to Fulton Street.
    Guy #1 and Guy #2 simultaneously:Fulton Street!?!
    They continue like this for three more stops.
    Woman #2:Where are you tryin’ to go, miss?
    Woman with the suitcase, visibly flustered:The airport?
    Woman #2, shakes her head:Naw. You can’t get there from here. You shoulda taken a cab.

Have you overheard any interesting conversations lately?
Have a great weekend, everyone!





  1. I don’t think I could have overheard the conversation with the blind gentleman and refrained from slugging that annoying, rude person.


  2. Excellent eavesdropping Jackie!

    I’m with Snoring Dog about the idiot that wanted to pet the seeing eye dog. And that was great about the coterie of know-it-alls advising that woman about how to get to the airport. How unfortunate that she simply didn’t have the app for Hop Stop!

    A few days before Super Bowl Sunday, I was on a 1 train heading uptown when an au pair, in her mid-late 40s, got on at 14th Street with her young charge, a boy about seven. The dispatcher was holding our train in the station. A crowded express train pulled in across the platform. The youngster wanted to get on that train reasoning that if they did, they would reach their destination, Times Square, sooner. She might have been taking him to one of the Super Bowl-related events going on there. She insisted, “No. We’re fine. Let’s stay here.” The express pulled out and we continued to sit. Another express arrived. Our local, still not crowded, did fill up a little more. The kid was getting antsier, but the au pair wasn’t moving. Finally, our train pulled out of the station. Four stops later, at 34th Street, the conductor is screaming over the speaker, “Stop blocking the doors! If you can’t fit on this train, take the one right behind it! We’re not going anywhere until you stop blocking the doors!” The boy, exasperated asks, “Why can’t we just go with the doors open?” A helpful man explains that the mechanics of the train prevents it from moving with the doors open. The au pair adds, “We need to be safe.” The man says, “Yes, safety first. Listen to your mother. Mothers always know what’s right.” The boy, who has now lost all patience, screams, “She’s not my mother! she works for me!” The man is taken aback by the kid’s outburst. The train moves. We enter 42nd Street, the au pair and boy exit. In their wake, another man, laughing hilariously, sitting opposite them mimics, “She works for me!” I sit in silence thinking, “I’d hand in my resignation.”


    1. That is a GREAT one. I love that the kid seems to know all about which trains will get him to his destination fastest. The poor au pair was probably hanging on the local a little longer because her “boss” had worn her out!


  3. That interaction about the airport was hysterical!! (Sadly, I’d probably have been that woman on the wrong bus, though, haha) And the New York comment… too funny. The dog story made me sad–what is wrong with people? As for me, I’m a major bigtime eavesdropper, too. Two days ago I took the train to Boston and it was amazing the bits and pieces of conversations I could hear — not to even start on what people will TELL you. My funniest moment was when I overheard some conductors joking around and one said to another: “Did you see that LION?” pointing outside. Then the rest of them went into gales of laughter. Clearly an inside joke, but pretty funny for me as an outsider, too! Great post, Jackie!


    1. That’s so much fun to overhear an inside joke. It can be useful to be a “fly on the wall” in conversations going on around you. I wonder what he meant by LION? I hope that you can put it to good use on your WIP!


  4. OMG, the mono comment is BEYOND HILARIOUS! And you have captured it so perfectly! Yes, you’re right, eavesdropping is the best way to learn dialogue. But, still, I’m still laughing about that woman. Seriously, have we not all been there? I mean, not wanting a disease or anything, really, but so damn tired? LOL

    Have a great weekend, my friend.

    Hugs from Ecuador,


    1. Ha! I know just what you mean, Kathy. This was one busy week and I had a moment where I thought, if I could just somehow sleep for a few days straight, that would be ah-mazing! 🙂

      Here’s to getting some rest this weekend.


  5. Incredibly funny. It really made me laugh.
    The funniest I’ve ever heard was

    Woman: People in that country over there like where the Dalai Lama lives –
    Man: Vietnamese
    Woman: Are you sure that’s Vietnam?
    Man: Yes
    Woman: They wear those orange clothes
    Man: Yes
    Woman: Are they not vegetarians?
    Man: Yes. In Vietnam they are vegetarians.
    Woman: I don’t think so.
    Man: Sure the Dalai Lama people are vegetarians. Why?
    Woman: Because I just saw one with orange clothes and he did not look vegetarian.
    Man: How could you tell?
    Woman: He ate a giant Hamburger.
    Man: They are all the same. Preach one thing, do something else.


  6. I just want a disease. I hope the karma folks weren’t eavesdropping on that comment. And doesn’t everyone know not to pet a dog who is working. They’re highly trained. Come to London–you’ll hear so much!


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