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When you talk, everyone listens

I wasn’t trying to overhear. Honest, I wasn’t.

But it was hard to avoid.

I was standing on one side of the gas pump, working the handle to get the numbers to stop at $20 even. On the other side of the same pump, a young woman filled the tank on her SUV while talking on her cell phone.

I wasn’t really paying attention to her; I was more concerned about not running my bill to $20.01. But she threw off my rhythm when she asked nonchalantly into her phone, "Has the swelling gone down?"

My concentration was broken, and the numbers on my side of the pump rolled over to $20.11.

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It was worth the extra 11 cents; I’ve become an unabashed eavesdropper, and I make no apologies for it.

To paraphrase the old "no smoking" argument -– if you choose to have a loud cell phone conversation in public, your right to privacy ends where my ears begin.

For some reason, many conversations that would be whispered face-to-face in a public setting get shared with everyone else in the restaurant, grocery store or gas station when the two parties are on the phone.

Since many people speak more loudly on a cell phone, being an innocent bystander is becoming more difficult.

I have reluctantly set aside my long-held opposition to cell phones, and even carry one myself now. I’ve learned that it’s not always easy to follow the rules of "cell phone etiquette": Keep your phone set on "vibrate" and let calls roll over to voice mail whenever you can — but if you can’t, keep the conversation short and quiet.

Virtually everyone over the age of 10 carries a cell phone these days, and the majority of their conversations go unnoticed. Most of them are like your appendix — pretty unnecessary and easy to live without: "What is Roger’s wife’s name?" "Who pitched for the Twins last night?" and "Is baking powder the same as baking soda?"

Since eavesdropping isn’t as politically incorrect as a loud, public cell phone conversation (I think Miss Manners ranked them), I’ve got a growing list of favorite "overheard" conversations:

• Courthouse lobby: "The cop said I blew a point-one-five"

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• Drug store aisle: "It’s probably just a rash".

• Discount store checkout line: "How big is this tattoo?"

• Frozen food aisle: "It’s your dog … you clean it up!"

• Walking down Main Street: "Call the plumber before the basement fills up."

• Restaurant booth: "No, Austin, Minnesota. I think it’s near Minneapolis."

I began to wonder if there were other people like me out there — people who have turned cell phone eavesdropping into a hobby.

I slid the gasoline nozzle into the opening on the side of the car, locked it in the "on" position, pulled out my cell phone and punched in a number I knew by heart.

The answering machine came on; it was my voice.

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"It’s me" I told the machine, loudly enough to be overheard. "You’ll never guess where they just found Jimmy Hoffa."

The guy at the next pump groaned as his numbers rolled over to $20.19.

Dan Conradt, a lifelong Mower County resident, lives in Austin with his wife, Carla Johnson, and their son.

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