New York is populated with millions of eavesdroppers. Often catching another’s plea, rant, or explanation isn’t intentional, but situational instead. Conversations take place between street corners and across intersections. Cell phone users rarely speak quietly since it’s nearly impossible to hear while talking on the noisy streets of Manhattan. And on a crowded bus or train, New Yorkers hear each other, roll their eyes, sigh, and even chime in. Whether shouting or chatting at a low decibel, the words in this town rarely go unheard, and strangers are always listening.
Last week, I cut through Times Square on a Friday night. Two men in back of me with thick accents had an intense discussion. Originally, I thought they were in a disagreement or even a heated argument, and I considered crossing the street to avoid the altercation. This forced me to focus and pay closer attention.
Miscellaneous expletives rolled off their tongues, and soon I realized they were joking about a coworker’s incompetency. In NYC, cursing in public is expected, encouraged and amplified. I continued to walk and remained on the same side of the street while they followed.
Recently at an Upper West Side brunch, I ordered huevos rancheros but my plate was served with a mimosa and an ear load. I couldn't help but hear the extremely loud and incredibly close, bickering couple behind my table.
"The reason I don't talk about this is because I don't want to get into it again with you," he said.
"Well, I think you should ask my permission for stuff like this," she replied while chomping on her brunch.
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He came back with statistics, " You know I went to like 47 concerts last year before we started dating."
The facts didn't seem important to her, "I don't care how many concerts you went to. That was then and this is now."
Tables were approximately two feet apart, so this was no place for a private talk. Was this the break-up date? Did he treat her to a veggie omelet before axing what already seemed like a doomed relationship? Perhaps she was too controlling. Or he wasn't willing to sacrifice some of the bachelor-like activities from his pre-relationship days?
I wanted to shout, "Dump him---there are millions of other jerks to date in New York who don't attend 47 concerts per year!" That’s almost one per week for crying out loud. Or maybe something more comforting like, "You deserve better. Get out of this thing now, and find someone who appreciates you and your controlling idiosyncrasies." But I resisted and kept my suggestions to myself. I watched her preoccupied face, which never left him as I walked away to pay the bill.
Two weeks ago, I rode the 7 train to Long Island City with a few friends. We were a tad energetic as we discussed a recent shopping trip. It was a play-by-play raucous account of the happenings of the day, with no detail left out.
Our volume was turned on high, and the entire subway car listened. In fact, after about five minutes of babbling, I realized that no one else was even talking. The three of us were so immersed in our own little Prada world to notice that we’d become the free rush hour entertainment. The straphangers on this train weren’t eavesdropping New Yorkers, they were just plain nosey. But then again, with our trio of big mouths, did they have a choice?
On the website Overheard in New York, quotes picked up by New Yorkers are published daily. These tirades may be absurd, X-rated or offensive, and many are unbelievable. Every second, someone says something worth repeating while others listen.
Below are a few excerpts from New York at its finest.
Little Girl: Mommy, why do people in New York always wear black?
Mommy: I don't know. Maybe they just don't like looking pretty.
--Upper East Side
Girl: I know you made it. Look at you. You got a BlackBerry. Yeah, you made it. You got that good-smelling leather.
--Elevator, 12th & 5th
Overheard by: Thirsty Violet
Tourist Lady: Everyone has been so nice in New York, not what I expected.
Woman: We are nice, just self-absorbed.
Overheard by: Renaissance Chick
'That Guy', after proposing during the game, is standing and hugging his fiancée:
Yankee fan: What are we doing, playing baseball or getting married? Yankees first, wife second! Now sit the F down.
--Section 18, Yankee Stadium
Overheard by: Lindsay
Small child in stroller: Mommy, why did you wake me up? Don't wake me up when I'm sleeping!
Mom: Fine. I'll leave you on the train and you can miss your stop and then the rats will get you.
--Brooklyn bound Q train
Overheard by: djingo
Woman: I find the suburbs to be extremely frightening. I know they all have air conditioning, but still...
Cabbie: I got in some trouble and my wife threw all my clothes out of the house. I never realized how many clothes I have! I know New York streets better than my own closet! (laughs)
--Cab, Broadway and Houston
Conductor: This is an express, uptown C train. You heard right: an express C train. Next stop: 125th Street. If you need local service on the Upper West Side, please transfer across the platform to the D, as in "Daddy done did it" or B, as in "bad boy Bobby Brown" train.
--C train, 59th St
For more about life in New York, follow me on Twitter, or on Tracy’s New York Life.