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May 2024
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Give me just half a sentence and I’ll take it from there.

By John Cadley

Cartoon man in green jacket eavesdropping

I live near a beautiful state park where I take long walks several times a week. Not infrequently I will see a small group of hikers headed toward me in the opposite direction, and as they go by I will hear a snippet of their conversation—not much, no more than a few seconds. But it’s always enough to make me wonder what they’re talking about.

Yesterday I passed two women as one said to the other, “… and you know what I said to her?” I spent the next quarter mile wondering—what did she say? Who did she say it to? It sounded like the woman was referring to some remark she didn’t like. Someone accusing her of cheating at pickleball? A customer service representative informing her that personal articles of clothing are not returnable?

It kills me not to know. I’d like to say it’s the trademark curiosity of a dedicated writer, studying life so as to reproduce it faithfully in his art. But it’s not. I’m just nosey. I do not subscribe to the National Enquirer, but I will—and have—given up my place in the grocery store checkout line to finish reading the copy I’ve borrowed from the rack. It’s lurid, probably not true, and I don’t care.

You can imagine my torment when I catch a particularly intriguing phrase such as, “Well, you know the trouble with Judy …” Trouble? Did somebody say trouble? For nosey people, the word “trouble” is catnip. It makes us crazy to know more. But alas, there is no more. Judy’s friends have passed from earshot, leaving me Tantalus-like on the forest path, reaching for fruit that will forever elude my grasp.

It is even more tragic because here I am, walking through a veritable Garden of Eden. Shouldn’t I be contemplating the beauty of nature, marveling at the mysteries of Creation? Shouldn’t I be filled with wonder? I am filled with wonder. I’m wondering what’s the trouble with Judy.

You can imagine how much self-restraint it takes for me not to stop and follow these people to find out more. Heaven knows, I’m tempted, especially when I overhear something that sounds like I should find out more, something that sounds vaguely nefarious. Have I stumbled upon some criminal enterprise in the making? My imagination runs wild and I see the headline: Local Man Foils Plot to Overthrow Town Planning Board.

For nosey people, the word “trouble” is catnip. It makes us crazy to know more.

Worse yet, what if the passersby have already committed the crime and I’m catching a whiff of their plan to cover it up? I still think of the two older women I encountered on the Bog Trail some months back. One walked with trekking poles and wore a large, pink fanny pack around her waist embroidered with I ❤ NEW YORK. The other remained incognito behind large, black wraparound sunglasses that looked like they could have been used for welding.

The two women walked slowly, so I caught more of their conversation than I normally would: “You can never get that out of a rug. We had to rip it up and …” I walked a few more paces, stopped, and turned around, my antennae quivering with suspicion. Say what you want, but in my long experience binge-watching true crime shows on Netflix, nobody rips up a rug unless they’ve got something to hide.

The pieces began to fit: trekking poles for escape over treacherous terrain ... fanny pack filled with supplies for wilderness hideout ... sunglasses to stymie facial recognition technology. Or maybe they were just two old friends out for a walk. How could I find out? I could pretend to be a park ranger and ask for identification. But then they could jump me and leave me unconscious in the woods. Don’t laugh. Seniors may not look strong but many of them take martial arts classes. One well-placed chop and I’m waking up next Wednesday.

I decided to let them go. I also decided I may be crazy. Who thinks like this? Is there a 12-step program for eavesdroppers? (“Hi, I’m John and I’m a snooper.”) Unlike other 12-step programs, however, Eavesdroppers Anonymous meetings will have no talking. I know that sounds awkward, but then again, who wants to share their feelings with a room full of nosey people?


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