O b s e s s i o n s
In the library late at night, someone’s cell phone rings. The owner picks it up, whispers inaudibly for a while. In the next carrel, you pretend not to notice. Soon, though, the speaker’s voice gets louder, and you can’t help but catch the odd “didn’t sleep with him” or “so ugly I can’t stand it” or “well if he hadn’t been passed out on the kitchen floor.”
The phone owner has passed the “30-second whisper mark,” the point past which, if you are still having a telephone conversation in public and no one has called you out on it, you speak as though you were in a soundproof room. Everyone around you pretends to be cleaning out the inside of their ears, but what they are really doing is removing their iPods so they can hear just what happened to Aunt Carol’s poor appendix.
And not since Harriet the Spy have the throngs of accidental listeners kept the juice to themselves. In the guise of a Grape feature, Oberlin long ago joined the masses of eavesdropping citizen-journalists who sit scribbling on the bus while the old women across from them talk about their sex lives.
Well, maybe you don’t overhear so many of those on the LCT, but it doesn’t make “Overheard in Oberlin” a member in any worse standing of the growing collection of “Overheard” blogs and columns. Listening to other people’s conversations, while perhaps still reminiscent of a crazed Richard Nixon, is now as kosher as Wikipedia.
The hobby, facilitated by keeping one ear headphone-free, has spawned publications all over the globe, “Overheard in New York” being only one of the most widely blogged and read. Dublin, Minneapolis, London, Pittsburgh, “law school” — it seems like everybody everywhere says something funny when he/she thinks there’s no one listening. Even (or especially) in Oberlin, you’re not safe. Maybe this should bother rather than amuse us — after all, when you speak to another person you hope it’s in confidence and you don’t really want, or need, the whole world to hear you. Or do you?
Inspired by the craze and the fact that I thought I looked sort of cool carrying a stack of notecards in my pocket, one week I dropped a few eaves of my own. “Last week, I ate not one, but two McChicken Sandwiches,” a robust fellow doing lunges said to his training partner at the gym. “It was the best 20 seconds of my life.” Later, by the arch, a pair of possible fourth-floor Noah residents were engaged in a heated argument. “You go catch that squirrel, then you can make a squirrel-powered toaster,” one threw back.
It was too good. Did people lie awake at night, thinking of what out-of-context phrase would resonate best in a quiet town after the lunch rush? Has the fertile world of blogs and human-interest columns (like this one) made people so self-aware that they actually want people to listen to their conversations? If you say just the right (or wrong) thing at just the right time, you could be famous — if anonymously and in a sort of insulting way. You, too, could be “Hipster #1.”
In a political and technological environment where someone’s hidden phone camera can ruin a campaign, people who wear ties to work are being more careful than ever, but it would seem that Obies, in a perhaps less-than-conscious way, still want their 15 minutes.