I don’t like to eavesdrop, but twice last month I was seated in a restaurant booth where the “party” sitting at an adjacent table could not be ignored. I’m using the word “party” in the noisiest sense of the word.
That’s right, they would not be ignored. Heaven knows I tried. When you’re at a restaurant with family or friends, it’s more polite to focus on the conversation at your table, instead of on another one nearby.
One of these situations occurred in a distant city on the first weekend of the new year. My wife and I drove several hundred miles to attend a family friend’s funeral, and the only thing not sad about the trip was the chance to eat lunch at one of our favorite Mexican food establishments this side of the Rio Grande.
My wife and I sat down near seven people jammed into a booth meant for four — five at the most. A chair had been added for one person at the end of the table, almost blocking access to the corridor leading to public restrooms. Based on the scope of topics being tackled by this group, I concluded that they were probably university professors on Christmas break. Their discussions, which at times bordered on friendly debate, were peppered with references to classic literature and scientific journals.
It boggled my mind. Their conversation was as stimulating as the enchilada sauce on my plate.
I attempted to ignore their repartee, because my wife and I wanted to fully enjoy the meal at hand. I pretended to be fully consumed sending texts to family in Austin, bragging about where and what we were eating. I didn’t want it to appear obvious that I was eavesdropping.
But the scholars seated in the booth just behind my wife ventured into a topic that could be debated for as long as people have breath to debate it. Someone mentioned that, wow, here we are, at the first weekend of a new decade.
They were off to the races.
One of the members of the group who happened to be facing our booth, and who happened to be scrunched up against the wall, took issue with that assessment. Sure, the year is now 2020, but that doesn’t mean it’s a new decade. To substantiate his claim, he went back to the start of the 21st century, which he argued began in 2001, not 2000.
Perhaps I had started eavesdropping more attentively at this point, because I happen to agree with his point about the 21st century.
The reasoning is that the first year A.D. was not “year zero,” but it was “year one.” A century — 100 years — didn’t end until “year 100” had ended. “Year 101” started the second century.
If I had been the official scorekeeper, I would have declared a draw, with both of them accurate on separate points. I declare as “correct” the argument about the 21st century starting in 2001. But the decade? You can start counting a decade whenever, and the 10 years from January 2010 to January 2020 are indeed a decade. So is any other 10-year span.
For a moment, I wanted to offer my assessment of this topic, but while I was still considering it, the group moved on to some recent discovery concerning the planet Venus.
Closer to home is the other restaurant where I couldn’t avoid eavesdropping, but this time, the “party” seated just behind me was less scholarly. As they covered a variety of topics, their voices soared like experts on a cable network political discussion.
Now, don’t suggest I should have complained to the manager. Apparently, the manager is friends with these customers. He even joined them for a few minutes as they “partied” on. I must say, some of what they said was clever, and sometimes quite funny.
I’m fully aware that my own table manners aren’t always what they should be when dining out. But if others should eavesdrop, I hope they are likewise entertained.
Gene Deason is editor emeritus of the Brownwood Bulletin. His column appears on Fridays. He may be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.