Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Eavesdropping on Evangelists

I have a dissertation fellowship, which means I'm privileged to work from anywhere my laptop can take me. This usually means libraries, coffee shops, and, if I'm lucky, city parks. In my time in these places, I've overheard some very strange things -- you wouldn't imagine some of the stuff that goes on outside of your cubicle during the day -- and I thought I'd share my top three favorites.

The first happened in the Tupelo library upstairs in a neglected part of the city library, where the building stores antique furniture and collectible books stored in glass cases. I had wedged myself into a corner in an attempt to hide and get some work done on the dissertation when the peace and furniture dust were interrupted by the approach of two women: one, a young attorney representing a local firm, and the other, an older, perhaps retired woman looking besmirched but reluctantly willing to be there. They sat in a position where they could not see me, but I could hear everything. The attorney began the interview -- I really thought she was dictating her will or something -- but it got strange as it progressed. It went something like this:

"Where were you when you when Mrs. ____ passed away?"
Elderly-looking garden-club lady: "By her bedside. I was her nurse."
"Did you administer any medicines to her that day?"
"Only those prescribed to her."
"Are you aware that her daughters think you poisoned her?"
"I am."
"Did you?"
"I did not."
"Do you believe in euthanasia?"
"I believe people have the right to die or live as they see fit."
"Do you believe you should be the one to determine if they should die or live?"
"No. I am a nurse. I want them to live."
"Did you poison Mrs. _____?"
"I did not."
"Why would her daughters think so?"
"Because I am their stepmother, and I married their dad. They've hated me since the beginning of the marriage. They didn't trust me with their mother."

So that was odd. I do wonder what happened to her. Do you think the garden-lady went to jail? Why would her husband let her take care of his ex-wife? And why would she do it? The whole situation seemed bizarre. And the woman seemed completely, unflappably calm.

The second odd thing I heard was at my typical visit to Starbucks, which I go to once a week to do my work. This story also involves an attorney and her client. The conversation went something like this:

Attorney: "You do know you'll have to translate everything I say into Arabic or whatever language it is you people speak. Everything. Your wife must know everything I say."
Man: "Yes."
Attorney: "I don't think this procedure will be difficult. Is she a terrorist?"
Man: "No."
Attorney: "Is she related to a terrorist? Has she ever been around terrorists? How long did she live in the Middle East before coming here? Has she ever been to jail? Has she ever been in a rally?"
[Man answers questions]
Attorney: "I had a friend who moved here from the Middle East. Everyone automatically thought he was a terrorist."

So I suppose she was a getting a visa -- but it was an odd conversation nonetheless. Incidentally, the woman who needed translating never showed.

And, finally, one of the strangest conversations I've overheard in a while came yesterday on the town square. I'd just finished running the Batesville 5K route and was stretching to let my right leg stop cramping up on me when I saw an evangelist with a sign. On one side, it read : "Let me tell you why you should go to hell." On the other, it said something like "Repent of your sins." And he had a bullhorn. He was shouting to no one in particular, "Women! Cover yourselves! Don't let the sin of the world corrupt you with temptations of the flesh! Cover your arms and your legs and do not tempt men of Christ!" I truly looked around for the ghost of Flannery O'Connor. I think she was certainly there with me. About this time, instead of my favorite cantankerous Catholic writer, I saw a man approach the evangelist and begin an animated conversation. I was afraid to get close -- I, after all, was in a running outfit and feared the lunatic's wrath -- but I heard the man tell the evangelist, "My mother was a Catholic and her mother before her. I am Mexican." And the evangelist responded, "Then you, sir, are a half-breed." I do not know what that meant.

As I began pondering whether or not free speech should, in fact, be limited, a local police officer took the evangelist and his gigantic sign away. Perhaps the saddest part of that overheard conversation was the silent part. Two young boys, I'd say about 11 or 12 years old, accompanied the man with the sign and they sat slumped on the bench, completely silent. They did not look unhappy, or angry -- even exuberant or committed. They looked . . . blank. Minions. In training, perhaps.

Have you ever wondered if people are, even unwillingly, listening to you?


Camille said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Camille said...

I find myself doing this whenever I am alone. I find it hard to "turn off" sometimes--in fact, I read lips really well and that makes it even harder to stop doing.

redwingsprincess said...

I thought this appropriate to your post:

Oh, and one of my students used a billboard from this site as a serious, scholarly source for a Budweiser advertisement and was tlaking about how great it was because it used humor. Sigh.

You make me want to start a blog, by the way.

Leigh Ann said...

Glad to know I am not the only one who has the ability to listen to 3 other conversations and continue with the one I am currently having.

Very good reason to always be careful what you say...even when you think no one is listening.