I was eating an Egg McMuffin in McDonald’s this morning. My headphones were still on, but I had paused the recording in order to read the paper. As I ate, a woman stopped by my table. She’s an elderly lady who had once worked as a substitute teacher in my school. She’s retired now, and a few months ago, we had seen one another in this same McDonald’s. I had been reading the paper that day as well, and she had been meeting two friends for breakfast before going for a walk in the nearby mall.
She said hello, apologized for introducing me to her friends as “Dick” the last time we met (a mistake that has been made by people more than once) and thanked me for not embarrassing her in front of her friends by correcting her. She then said goodbye and moved to the other side of the restaurant, where her friends were once again waiting in the same booth that they had been sitting in months before.
Since my headphones were still on, these ladies must have assumed that I was listening to music. This misconception, combined with their age and failing hearing, caused them to speak is raised voices, and before long, I heard them talking about me.
It was quite the surreal experience. After finishing my breakfast, I ran to my car, where I recorded as much of their conversation as I could remember. It went something like this:
Bitty: Look! He’s back. Can you believe it?
Betty: I thought you said he was rich. Why would he be eating here?
Bitty: He is rich! He published a book. And he was on the front cover of the Sunday paper. It said he made a treasure on his first book and his second one comes out soon.
Betty: But look what he’s wearing. His sweatshirt has a big hole in it. And his hair’s a mess.
Bunny: But that’s how rich people always look in public. They don’t want you to know that they’re rich. That’s how the National Enquirer gets all those pictures of movie stars looking so crummy.
Bitty: Yes. Exactly. He’s an author. His book is in all the stores.
Betty: I don’t know. He doesn’t look like much of a scholar to me.
Bitty: You don’t know him. He was greatest teacher of the year a couple years ago and his book was in the New York Times. I’m telling you. He’s rich. And famous.
Bunny: He sounds pretty good to me. What do you think he’s listening to?
Bitty: Probably classical music. Or jazz.
Betty: He doesn’t look like the classical type to me. Look at him. He looks like a slough (I think she said slough, but I’m not sure, since the definition of the word doesn’t fit into the context of the conversation).
Bitty: Bite your tongue. He has a wife and a baby and a book and he’s a teacher. He’s a good boy. And he’s famous. The kids love him.
Betty: Still looks like a slough to me.
Bunny: He does to me, too, but you can’t judge a book by its cover.
At this point, the conversation turned to someone named Marc who also looks like a slough and the three were finally done with me.
I’ve often thought how fun it would be to be a fly on the wall while people are talking about me. I had my chance, and I was not disappointed.
For the record, Betty was right about most things. According to my accountant and my checking account, I am nowhere near rich and am certainly not famous. I am not a classical music aficionado, and my slovenly appearance had nothing to do with a desire to remain incognito. I was on my way to the gym and had not showered yet, and despite the large hole in my sweatshirt, I still like it a lot and wear it often.