Dispatches | April 18, 2007

I’ve always been an eavesdropper although cell phones have almost ruined the pleasure of it.  What’s overheard is usually fragmentary, one-sided nonsense of the what’s-up-not-much sort.

Yet on vacation people still have real lunch-table talk.  On the back patio of a small café in Cabo San Lucas, while my husband outlined our afternoon plans, I kept my ear tuned to the conversation of two forty-something couples at the table next to us.  Extreme Makeover had remodeled the home of a woman from their town who had experienced a series of amazing personal tragedies.

“She’s a real witch,” one of the wives said.  “I wouldn’t have even mowed her lawn.”

After several minutes of puzzling over who might have nominated her, they moved on to the topic of Mexican drivers, who also displeased them.

Later that day, at a beach outside of Los Todos, I sat in a chaise lounge in front of a large chicki-hut bar reading Richard Russo’s Straight Man when three men with tight gym-rat bodies, low-riding board shorts and pinch-front straw cowboy hats sat at the table next to me.  They were joined by two women in string bikinis who danced to the Doors’ cover songs banged out on an electric organ farther up the beach.  They all ordered beer and ceviche.   

They were hairdressers from San Deigo.  They talked about friends of theirs who were mannies and hairdressers and personal assistants for the rich and famous.  They talked of celebrities who have recently come out and those who never would.  They all agreed that Prince was androgynous, not effeminate.  His long list of famous hookups-Vanity, Carmen Electra, Kim Bassinger-meant that he certainly was not gay. 

“Too bad,” one of the guys said, feeding his small black-and-tan dog a tortilla chip.  “He’s an amazing performer.  Tight bum, too.” 

The verdict was still out on Tom Cruise despite his recent marriage to the so-so looking Katie Holmes.

Turnabout is fair play.  Last night at a formal dinner hosted by Arts and Science, I sat with a fundraiser, two history professors, an art historian, my writer husband and a few others eavesdropping on our own conversation. 

Mention of a new exhibit at the Museum of Art and Archeology led to unanimous praise for the British Museum, where most at the table had seen the Lindow Man, the Rosetta Stone, and the Elgin Marbles.  My husband, who was reading a biography of Lord Elgin, said that the dispute over the ownership of them started soon after Lord Elgin bribed the Ottoman Turks who controlled Greece and shipped them to England.  Which naturally raised the question of whether the marbles should be returned to Greece.  We weren’t sure, though in the art world there has been a whole lot of reappropriation going on. 

From there, we veered off academic course and lamented over the dynamically destructive power of moles.   

The fundraiser generously gave out the name and number of her mole man.

“Seventy-five dollars a head.  He leaves his kill in a Ziploc bag on my front porch.”

The historian seemed to think that was pretty high bounty.

She explained that moles are solitary creatures; probably only two or three per front yard.  $300 will wipe out the entire mafia.

“Anyone watch the first episode of the last season of The Sopranos?”

My question halted conversation. 

Who did I think I was talking to?  San Diego hairdressers?  Only one other person at the table had HBO, though several had heard that Rome was fun and creative with its take on history.  So conversation quickly slid back into a more regular groove:  retirement, summer vacation, grant writing.  Though we did for a moment talk about a celebrity; Katherine Hepburn had attended the guest speaker’s alma mater, Bryn Mawr.