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Eavesdropping Is the Hottest Drug of COVID Times

Any conversation between strangers is a welcome escape from yourself

Drugs are trendy. Cocaine is still around, but to hear older folks tell it, “doing coke” will never hit like it did in the two good years, 1974 to 1976. Heroin chic comes and goes, depending on how gaunt the fashion industry wants models to look in a given period. CBD was top of the heap as an herbal panacea for a minute there, but kratom is gradually taking over the scene. The great wheel of self-medication turns onward, the only true constants being caffeine and alcohol.

And maybe you’ve tried a broad range of substances, found your favorite, quit another. Maybe you’ve been high every which way. But… have you overheard a conversation lately? Whoo boy. It slaps.

The COVID-19 crisis has wildly reduced our social opportunities, trapping us mostly with ourselves — and our own thoughts. With this isolation, the aspects of ordinary strangers we would’ve happily ignored last year become rare and fascinating. For at least two weeks I have dwelled on what I heard a man saying on the phone as we passed in the street. With great laughter, he told whomever was on the call: “Yeah, she’s the one that got away. Kinda mean… loves cigarettes… perfect.” And he let the description of this lost love fade there. How exciting, to picture this mean, smoking woman a fellow had publicly reminisced about, as if she’d been conjured by his words. Where she was, what she was doing, and how many packs a day?

In a way, the less significant the conversation, the more pleasing it is. You get nothing from people hashing out their stupid election takes, or speculating on the course of the pandemic. But my downstairs neighbors discussing the complicated new hose attachment while watering the plants? The couple in line at the coffee shop, talking through their conversion to oat milk? Shoot it straight into my veins. I crave the unimportant, the dull, the quotidian. I beg you, speak only of trivia, or subjects for which I have no context (and can therefore imaginatively supply it). Eavesdropping has always been one of life’s little joys; now it’s more concentrated, more potent. A slice of someone’s experience outside your mental prison, served like an hors d’oeuvre.          

I suppose, if and when we regain any level of “normalcy,” that this idle chatter will once more fade into the white noise of a humming civilization. We’ll quickly forget how we thirsted for the most irrelevant gossip and micro-drama. Or, if we can stay conscious of this current flowing underneath the surface of history, we can drink from it for as long as we like. I’m tired of my emotions and opinions — let’s hear from anyone else. Let their personal fixations set the scene of a morning or afternoon. I’m glad to be part of the set design as they go about their business, chatting with a friend, a relative, a significant other. I’m just a fly on the wall. Don’t mind me!  

Really, uh, can I hire some of you to come mill around outside my apartment and shoot the shit? Just going to crack my window open and have myself a listen. I promise not to be visible, or interrupt. There’s no material too inane. Tell each other what clothes you’ve been shopping for online, or have an argument over your favorite Halloween candy. It’s all riveting as far as I’m concerned. You couldn’t possibly make me tune out. Sooner or later, you’ll strike gold, I’m sure.