I don't think it will come as a surprise to anyone who knows me when I say I'm an unrepentant eavesdropper. I like to think it's because I'm a passionate observer of the human condition. My daughter says it's because I'm nosy.
It's amazing what you can learn just by listening. The other day in the post office, I was wiling away my time in line by eavesdropping on Frank, one of my favorite clerks, as he explained shipping restrictions to a woman who was sending a package to Turkey. Did you know that any used clothing or bedding headed to that country must be accompanied by a certificate of disinfection?
I kept silent for as long as I could until it was apparent that no one was going to ask the obvious. I put the question out into the universe: "Where do you get a certificate of disinfection?"
The line came alive with speculation. The health department? A dry cleaner? I even checked the USPS website when I got home and it was no help. So for now it remains one of life's great mysteries, waiting to be solved another day. If I hadn't been eavesdropping, I never would have thought to wonder.
In this age of cellphones and Bluetooths (Blueteeth?), many people surrender privacy for the convenience of discussing any matter anytime, anywhere. I've been within earshot as callers discussed delicate medical issues, sticky financial problems and family meltdowns. I've heard one side of reality show-worthy hissy fits from two aisles away in the supermarket.
Last week, I was waiting in line (or as those of you who are not from around here say, "on line") to prepay my gas purchase at a convenience store. Judging from the purchases being made by those ahead of me, Megamillions or Powerball jackpots must have been about the same amount as the national debt. This was going to take a while.
I settled in and started listening to the conversations around me.
A pretty young pregnant woman was talking to a grizzled old man. Actually, he probably wasn't much older than me but he had the look of someone who was well-acquainted with vices that take a toll on the both the visage and the internal organs.
He was grilling her about her pregnancy. When was she due? Was she married? Was she getting married? When she answered the last two questions in the negative, he grunted, stuck out his banty chest and said with a smirk, "So you're having a little bastard, are ye?"
Oh, no. I stepped forward and put my arm around the girl's shoulder. Giving her a squeeze, I glared at the man and murmured, "Don't you listen to him, sweetie. Every baby is a blessing."
This really set the old coot off. He gleefully announced, "Well, I had three of 'em and weren't none of them blessings. More like curses, I'd say."
Good Lord, where did this guy come from?
I observed that all babies start out as blessings; it's how they're raised that determines the rest. Then I turned my back to him and started talking with the young mother-to-be. He huffed and puffed about "bastard" this and "bastard" that until he finally paid and left the store.
It's been a long time since I've heard that word lobbed toward an innocent child.
We live in an age when over 40 percent of all births are to single women. In some demographic groups, it's as high as 60 or 70 percent. Statistically, these children are five times more likely to grow up in poverty. There is the increased risk of developing emotional and behavioral problems, participating in risky and delinquent behavior, dropping out of high school, and being abused.
Furthermore, being raised outside of a family with both parents present increases the likelihood of sexual activity for teens, thereby increasing their chances of becoming a single parent and thus perpetuating the cycle of poverty and dependence.
These babies have a heavy enough burden without being labeled "bastards."
That young mother I met in line seems to have dodged the statistical bullet. She has steady employment, as does her boyfriend. Although they are not married, and have no plans to be, they are together, an intact family. I have a feeling they're going to be just fine.
Which is more than I can say for that judgmental old geezer in the convenience store. I have two words for you, buddy: first stone.
Teressa Glazer is a Gainesville businesswoman. Her column appears biweekly on Fridays and on gainesvilletimes.com.