I found this photograph last night, in an old notebook labelled “eavesdropping”. Taken at the Hollywood and Western Metro Station in LA, it makes me think of Ernest Hemmingway’s Flash Fiction (“For sale: baby shoes, never worn”).
Much to the consternation of nearly everyone I met during my two years living in Los Angeles, I never owned a car so went everywhere by public transport. What a drug den is to a junkie, LA public transport is to an eavesdropper. Perhaps to justify my lack of wheels, I used to busy myself writing down shards of overheard conversations (can’t do that in a car):
“I need new sneakers Ma, honest, the jury won’t like these yellow ones.”(Young teenager with his mother on the metro red line)
“You can’t leave psychic traces on IKEA furniture, that’s a fact.” (Armenian Woman talking to her friend – I stole this line and used it in The Pink Hotel)
“How many you feed her, man?” said a kid in a baseball cap on a bus stuck in Hollywood Boulevard traffic.“One a week,” says his chubby friend, clutching a box wrapped in a white plastic bag. “Where do you keep ‘em?” says the first kid. “Freezer,” says the kid with the box. “Your Mom don’t mind?” says the first kid.“She don’t know. I put the rats in an ice cream tub and my mom says she’d never get work if she ate ice cream.” There’s a pause, as both boys stare at the box full of what is presumably snake food.
I was inspired to root through that old “eavesdropping LA” notebook last night after watching the brilliant Tis’ Pity She’s a Whore at The Barbican, where private transgressions repeatedly occur under the claustrophobic glare of the whole cast on stage. If the crowd isn’t watching, then servants hover in the wings and scorned lovers crouch like wound springs, watchful, ready to pounce. Lydia Wilson is a breathtaking chameleon as Annabella, the punk child/woman who everyone circles in John Ford’s warped play about incest and hellfire. She is so delicate and strange amongst the production’s blood and raw-lust and disco music that at points it seems like the whole worrying melodrama might be shifting scenes in her imagination.
(I should say at this point that Lydia and I went to primary school together, so I may be biased – we used to play games in my garden that would have made John Ford blush – but I’m pretty sure she is objectively brilliant in this production.)
“I fear much more than I can speak: good father,/ The place is dangerous, and spies are busy,” says Annabella. I wonder if anyone has written a history or eavesdropping? Othello, Hamlet, Wuthering Heights, Pride and Prejudice, Oliver Twist, spy novels, the available texts would be nearly endless. Whether it’s listening for plot points outside bedroom doors, or the grain of a story presented in an abandoned buggy on the metro, or a half overheard argument (“I don’t know if I can stay if you keep learning the flute,” I overheard a man said into his mobile outside Selfridges a few days ago) I doubt there’s a writer in the world who isn’t an avid eavesdropper.