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Found Conversations

November 7, 2011

I love found stuff. Found money, who hasn’t found some of that from time to time and who doesn’t like it when that happens? But I’m talking about other “found” stuff that you wouldn’t normally encounter in life. Found letters are especially cool. Have you ever been at the grocery store and found someone’s leftover grocery list in the cart? Or been in an antique store and looked at old postcards? Maybe a used book with someone’s comments in the margins or on the inside covers? Possibly someone’s wrinkled electric bill receipt that’s blown off the garbage truck and landed in the gutter? I suppose that makes me a bit of a voyeur, but I love that secret look into someone else’s life.

Found art is also interesting. By my definition, which might be incorrect or incomplete, found art is when an artist takes things s/he finds – bottle caps, crushed pop can, cigarette butts, pieces of glass, etc. – and combines them into a piece of art. By extension, found art also includes items – rakes, typewriters, musical instruments – that the artist turns into something else. 

Found stuff is everywhere and it goes beyond money and letters and art. I like listening for found conversations. Those are the conversations you hear when you don’t expect it, or when you’re not really paying attention, or when you’re maybe paying too much attention (read: eavesdropping), or when you’re focused on something else and your ear picks up on a key word. Listening to one-sided conversations as people talk on the phone is a great source of found conversations. So is waiting in line and so are public restrooms. Odd to say, but men’s restrooms, and this probably applies to women’s restrooms as well (I don’t know because I’ve never been in one), is one of the best places I’ve noticed for found conversations. That’s probably because people like to talk when they find themselves in delicate situations.

“Once in a while you get shown the light in the strangest of places if you look at it right.” – Robert Hunter, Scarlet Begonias.

I’m always on the lookout listenout for found conversations and this is my most recent:

The date: November 6, 2011
The scene: Costco men’s room the first weekend of deer hunting season in Minnesota which means nearly a half million people put on orange jackets and head into the woods with firearms. The rest of us stay home and continue with life as usual.
Situation: Some of us stay-at-homers might struggle a little with the question of why they’re not out hunting with the crowd.
The cast: Two unknown guys urinating.
Me: I’m standing and minding, as usual, my own business.

“You don’t hunt, huh?” Guy One asks.

“No, not a hunter.” Guy Two.


Guy One obviously has difficulty standing near someone else and not talking. I imagine he struggles with keeping quiet, which, in a public restroom he should be doing (reference: The Men’s Urinal Etiquette Handbook). To make an awkward situation less awkward, he talks.


“I went quail hunting last month.” Guy One says.

Guy Two has obviously read The Men’s Urinal Etiquette Handbook and says nothing.

I wanted to ask him if quail taste like chicken, but having also read The Men’s Urinal Etiquette Handbook, I don’t. In fact, I’ve been avoiding any type of eye contact with anyone while keeping a keen ear turned toward the sadly lopsided conversation. It would have been a silly question anyway because doesn’t everything taste like chicken?

I start washing my hands.

“Yeah,” Guy One again. “I went up to the North Shore with a friend.”

Guy Two finishes, zips and leaves. He didn’t wash his hands so my earlier appraisal was wrong and he obviously didn’t read The Men’s Urinal Etiquette Handbook. Or he skipped over the chapter on mandatory hand washing which is just as bad as not having read it at all.

Standing alone, Guy One stops talking and tends to his business.

The End.

So that’s it, nothing really exciting or anything like that. Just a little bit of found conversation in the Costco men’s room – where I’d really like to see them have paper towels instead of blow dryers – on a Sunday afternoon.

Aside from the George H.W. Bush presidency twenty-three years ago, I have no real knowledge of quail so I went home and read about them and learned that Minnesota is on the northern edge of the bird’s range. Quail are not very abundant in Minnesota and there hasn’t been a quail hunting season here since 1958. Additionally, the quail population in southern Minnesota has been steadily declining over the years due to heavy snows, a loss of habitat from a change in farming and the use of pesticides that destroyed much of the area where quails nest. Quail coveys (I learned a new word!), which number between 10-20 birds, were never seen farther north than central Minnesota.

Central Minnesota? So how could my Troubled Toilet Talker have hunted quail along Minnesota’s North Shore? A little more checking and I unfortunately learned that quail in Minnesota are raised nowadays on private land that is turned into hunting preserves where hunters pay to go and do what hunters do.

I felt sort of sad for the quail.

5 Comments leave one →
  1. November 7, 2011 1:44 pm

    I collect used, hard-bound books specifically for inscriptions. 🙂


  2. November 7, 2011 2:46 pm

    I love antique store findings with other peoples stories, their conversations if you will. When rehabbing our home I found a post card from 1945 and framed it. I just think that kind of stuff is really neat.
    What is not neat, by any means, are the conversations I encounter at work. They are a little like your rest room one only mine take place in the woman’s locker room at a gym. There is just something creepy about being forced to carry on a conversation with a naked woman. Or, listening to them talk to each other and avoiding direct eye contact.


    • Michael Fishman permalink
      November 8, 2011 11:01 am

      Conversations should never be conducted in the nude! Exceptions would be with your doctor and you know, those other times with someone special, but locker rooms and places like that? Never!



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