Molly Fisk: The Pleasures of Eavesdropping

One thing I like about being a writer is how you can sit anywhere for hours and amuse yourself. Restaurants, for instance. Good-bye self-consciousness and awkward glancing around. I settle into my chair and eavesdrop like a professional, stealing whatever I like best: phrases, accents, points of view. In fact, if you know me, you might want to sit a few tables away, lest I cherry-pick the great verb you’re using or accurately describe your turquoise cardigan and red plaid Dansko clogs.

Tonight, for instance, there’s a family nearby: three middle-aged adults, one girl in her late teens, and a lady who must be at least 90 judging by the state of her skin. She  ordered, with a huge smile, a glass of root beer. The only man in the group is calling her Mom and has walked four miles today, he mentioned. I’ve also learned that he never uses the A/C in his truck, and they found this restaurant just recently but have already eaten here twice, driving down from Truckee for the pleasure.

Doesn’t this make you happy? People are so completely themselves, in the end, no two alike, like snowflakes. Even if you take a sub-group: silver-medal athletes in Rio, say, and line them up in a row, they are so different! Even the road crew working in front of my house these many weeks. Everyone wears those protective suits of neon yellow, and hard hats with curtains down the back to cover their necks. They’re almost all guys, they’re almost all white, and no one’s very young or old, they’re all in the middle. You could lean toward thinking of them as generic if you weren’t careful. But this one is courtly and that one has a strikingly Irish face and this other one moves just like a cat as he measures the mouth of a culvert. We’ve got tobacco-chewers and fathers-of-five who don’t look a day over 18. The sole woman, who held the stop sign for a few days, was incongruously named Vanessa.

I’m at Diego’s, in case you’ve been wondering. One of the waitresses here is a local actor — why do we say waitress still but not actress? I saw her perform as the poet Emily Dickinson once, and she was so good I went back the next night, too. This is another mystery. People are so distinctly themselves, yet some of them can turn into someone else with incredible skill. Not me. It’s enough work for me to try to distill myself into the simplest, Molliest Molly.

Sometimes, as my friends and this road crew would be happy to tell you, I am in a bad mood. I can get crabbier than a snake with a half-shed skin at the thought of people — how loud they are at 6 a.m., for starters. How many seem to be moving to my town and how badly they drive.

But then I go sit in a restaurant and actually pay attention, and without warning I fall in love with us all over again.

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  • Joyce Wycoff September 18, 2016 at 1:14 pm

    I’m still delighting over your notion of being the Molliest Molly. And, I’m embracing your joy in eavesdropping.

  • WENDL in Manhattan September 10, 2016 at 11:05 am

    To quote another one of my favorite writers, Dorothy Parker, “People are more fun than anybody.”

  • Molly Fisk September 10, 2016 at 10:37 am

    Oh, dear… Thank you for giving us the other side of the matter! If we are ever in the same café, I promise to sit at least three tables away and not describe you. xox

  • Patricia Yarberry Allen, MD September 10, 2016 at 9:29 am

    I have been the object of this kind of careful observation myself, Molly. I know many writers of various genres and over the years discovered that some had cribbed a few of my “isms” when I found myself described down to the last hmmm in an occasional story or chapter or post. Not always in a flattering way I might add… I have learned to be more careful around those who can not help themselves as they are constantly gathering ingredients for their next literary stew. No pinch of Dr. Pat please!

    I don’t know how you do it but we are so happy to have your essay here every Saturday morning. Thanks for this thoughtful, insightful and amusing post.

    Dr. Pat