On eavesdropping

The queue at Pep Boys was unusually long. Perhaps the first occasion of snow, sleet and freezing rain of the season prompted the population to stock up on anti-freeze, salt and new windshield wiper blades. That certainly was our reason for stopping in on a Sunday night just before closing. Whatever the reason, we had a long wait.

Like every other mercantile in the twenty-first century, the queue at Pep Boys was lined with all sorts of useless goodies that could easily be added to an already overflowing armload and purchased on impulse. I elbowed Mike and pointed to a display rack to our left, which was stocked with “pre-wrapped” gifts for the whole family. The majority of the gifts on the display were ideal for use in one’s automobile, with one exception.

“Look,” I said aloud in a low voice to Mike. “Emergency roadside kit…tire pressure gauge…Armor All…nose hair trimmer that plugs into your cigarette lighter…” A tiny voice in my head started to sing, “One of these things is not like the other…” We both giggled and returned our attention to the static queue.

Suddenly, I heard a brusque, scruffy voice belt out behind us. “Hey, honey, I was getting a kick out of what the girl in front of us was saying. Look…all of those gifts are great for the car, but what about that nose hair trimmer? Who possibly thinks ‘Gee, now sure would be a good time to trim my nose hairs, I think I’ll do it here on the interstate.’?”

What amuses me is not that this man heard my comments about a humorous misplacement of wares and chose to share them with a loved one, but that he was obviously eavesdropping on my conversation and made no attempt to hide it. This man must be the least subtle person in the state. I am reminded of Sesame Street’s Guy Smiley who, when on a jungle safari was shushed by another muppet for scaring away the wildlife, exclaimed in a similar (but not quite so gruff) voice, “But I am whispering! This is the softest I can talk!”

I tried to suppress a smile as I glanced back at the man’s wife, who caught my eye and immediately smacked her hand to her forehead, closed her eyes and shook her head in embarrassment.


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