Can The Small Talk

The Snark Zone: Letters from the Editors
Amanda “The Bellman” Marlowe

Writers tend to listen to the conversations around them. We’re always looking for snippets that would make a good scene, or trigger that best-selling novel’s plot. With cell phones, there’s a lot more to overhear than there used to be. And half of a conversation can be far more interesting than the whole conversation. The woman on the train seat next to yours is buying life insurance for her young children, but you hear her say “No, that’s too expensive. Forget the health insurance, just give me the life insurance.” The writer’s brain immediately supplies the backstory: She’s about to murder her children for the insurance money. The kid yelling into his cell phone about how much he hates his dad becomes the main character in your next angstful coming-of-age story. We’ve all done that sort of thing.

And people talk on cell phones almost everywhere, so it’s hard not to overhear them. They’ll break up with their lovers at full volume at a bus stop. They’ll chew their kids out as they’re walking down the street with a Bluetooth headset. You can’t tell the weirdoes from everyone else anymore—almost everybody is talking to thin air now. Everywhere. And I do mean everywhere. Even in the bathroom.

Three times this past weekend, I’ve heard a phone ring in a public ladies’ room. Once in a McDonald’s, and twice at an airport. This didn’t surprise me particularly. What surprised me was that the gals, who were all on the can at the time, answered.

Maybe I’m not up on today’s etiquette, but I think it’s gross to answer a phone when you are in the bathroom. I would really prefer you let me leave you a voicemail message. Even without the germ issue, there are some things that you just don’t need to share with the world. Bathroom trips (as that CNN anchor found out recently) are very high on that list. I don’t need to know you are going to the bathroom. I really don’t. So if you’re in the stall, and your phone rings, check your caller ID. If it’s my number, do us both a favor and just let it ring.

I understand some people live with the phone in the hand, or the Bluetooth ear piece permanently attached, but really‚Ķ is there any phone call so desperate you have to answer it in the john instead of calling someone back about five minutes later? Certainly none of the conversations I was privileged to overhear were particularly noteworthy. They weren’t even story-worthy. They almost all of them ran something like this:


“Oh, hi. Look, can I call you back in about five minutes? I’m in the bathroom.”

I’m sorry. There’s not much writing material in that sort of conversation. Well, okay, I admit that’s an obvious lie—it did fuel this Snark Zone essay.


E-mail: bellman[at]

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