Vignette #4: Overheard on the Subway

These days I’m on the TTC, the Toronto subway system, fairly often. In accordance with my resolution to practice paying attention, I often eavesdrop on conversations in the subway, which, since patrons go to such pains to act as if they’re the only people in the subway car (even when they’re pressed up against a dozen other passengers at rush hour), are often surprisingly candid.

Here are some of the more memorable excerpts of conversations I have overheard, with the imponderable, banal and cryptic content edited out. For some reason, which I will leave up to others to speculate on, women seem to converse more on the subway than men, and their conversations are generally more interesting.

A woman, probably late twenties, talking to an older woman: “God, I’m glad I’m not a man. It’s waaay too complicated.”

Two very well-dressed women, probably early thirties, laughing: “He’s OK, but serious self-esteem issues. (Pause, almost whispering) He doesn’t show well.”
Man, probably in his thirties, talking to an obviously unhappy, considerably older man: “I think [Canadian conservative Prime Minister] Harper is an asshole, and I swore I’d never vote Conservative, but of the three party leaders he’s the only one I know well enough to know exactly how little he can be trusted.”
Two teenage girls with shopping bags from trendy stores: “Her Dad is, like, Psycho Dad, he doesn’t let her do anything. She’s like a complete prisoner in her house. One day she’s just going to blow.”

Two guys in suits, probably fathers in their late thirties: “It seems as if young girls are supposed to dress to show off everything but still act like angels, while young guys act like studs but dress like monks — layers of clothes that reveal nothing. What’s that about?”  

Two older women, clucking: “She bought herself flowers afterwards. How pathetic is that?” Reply, after long pause: “I buy myself clothes. They last longer.”
Young lovers; she’s drinking milk from a carton and has her other arm around his waist, and he’s avoiding her attempt to kiss him: She (laughing): “Why won’t you kiss me?” He (very low voice): “I don’t want to show off. It’ll make everyone else crazy.”
Two women, probably thirty-something, conversing quietly in French (my translation): “How come all the guys (gars, people?) who take the subway are ugly?” Reply: “The good-looking ones are still ( toujours, always?) in bed.”
Two guys, probably fortyish, short sleeves and ties: “He earns twice what I do, but I wouldn’t trade places with him for anything. Not just the hours. Your self-respect has to be worth something.”
Two young black women: “I love you ‘KD’ but I don’t know why you do that. You and Trish are always saying these (nasty?) things about each other, behind each other’s back. That’s just messed up. And I’m caught in the middle.” 
Man, thirty-something, to younger woman, perhaps a date: “I became a vegetarian last year. Now I only eat chicken… and sometimes fish and chips.”
Two young women, with Goth clothing, piercings and tattoos: “Well, yeah, he’s promiscuous, but he doesn’t start it. Girls are always coming on to him. You can’t really blame him.”
Man, indeterminate age, to similar-looking man (brother?): “She’s so demanding. I don’t want to be needed that much. It’s great to be appreciated, but I’ve already got a full-time job — I don’t want another one when I go home.”
Woman, probably twenties, watching a young guy leaving the subway car, shaking her head, to another woman of about the same age: “Guys shouldn’t be allowed to dress themselves.” “Except gay guys.” “Even some of them.”

Woman, probably early forties, to younger very slim woman who has been raving about meditation: “I don’t want to know my inner self that well. I’m afraid of what I might discover.”

.     .     .     .     .

After one of my subway trips I’m waiting in a second floor boardroom of an office tower for the rest of the invitees to show up. I’m looking out the window. There’s a daycare centre with a big picture window on the main floor of the building directly opposite, and I’m watching the little kids playing. One little boy is crawling around pushing an enormous red plastic dump truck full of yellow plastic ‘bricks’. The truck is half as big as he is.

Suddenly, a little girl holding a doll, who has been watching, seats the doll in a high chair at a nearby table, wrenches the truck away from the boy, dumps out the yellow plastic ‘bricks’, and walks away.

The boy sits for a moment, staring at the yellow ‘bricks’. Then, unperturbed, he retrieves the doll, lies her on her back, and uses her arms like cranes to lift the yellow ‘bricks’ one by one onto her stomach. When they’re all ‘aboard’, he raises the doll’s arms and legs up to hold the ‘bricks’ from falling off, and ‘drives’ the doll, with her full payload, along the paddedfloor to her unloading destination.

Category: Short Stories
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4 Responses to Vignette #4: Overheard on the Subway

  1. David Parkinson says:

    Delightful. Thanks!!

  2. Dr. Omed says:

    This reminds of the scene in Wim Wenders’ ‘Wings of Desire’ in which the angel-in-an-overcoat played by Bruno Ganz listens to the thoughts of various passengers.

  3. catnmus says:

    Our newspaper (San Francisco Chronicle) has a daily entry called “Public Eavesdropping” that readers can submit. It’s always humorous. Here’s today’s entry. Remember, this is San Francisco:”This reminds me of Cincinnati, with all the hills.”- Seventyish female tourist to 70ish female tourist friend, overheard near Post and Larkin by Jean Tepper

  4. Jon Husband says:

    I do that often as well … similar results. I try to make sure that I am not an assertive eavesdropper as I want to respect peoples’ boundaries, so only go with what presents itself.I do it on public transit, and whilst walking around in downtown areas, etc. I go walking downton just on purpose, to watch, listen, observe.Windows on our world, and when done over time, a nice non-linear sorta fractal way of building up observations about paterns (as I think you are demonstrating).

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