Ann Cannon: Eavesdropping in the nation’s capital

First Published      Last Updated Mar 17 2015 08:52 pm

We just returned from Washington, D.C., which is a town that loves a good quote. Everywhere you turn, famous people are quoted — from George Washington to Abraham Lincoln to JFK to Martin Luther King. It's awesome!

I especially like this quotation found on the Jefferson Memorial: "I have sworn upon the altar of God eternal hostility against every form of tyranny over the mind of man." Or this one on the FDR Memorial: "The only thing we have to fear is fear itself." And especially this one on the Lincoln Memorial: "Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal."

Seriously. Who can read that line without feeling a chill race down the spine?

But here's what I discovered. People who aren't famous are capable of coming up with a few pretty good lines themselves. Here's a sampling of things I overheard while recently roaming the halls and highways of our nation's capital.

"It depends if I'm people-watching or watching for certain people." A Capitol Hill policeman's response when asked if his job ever gets boring.

"Mommy! I love my new duck friends!" A little girl's statement while feeding ducks swimming in a reflecting pool.

"Yes. Your tax dollars." A docent's answer when asked if there is an admission fee to the Smithsonian.

"I don't know. I'm from Minnesota." One tourist's response to another tourist when asked where the entrance to a building was.

"Is that … a rabbit?"A woman's question while looking at a bronze statue of (wait for it!) a rabbit in the National Gallery of Art Sculpture Garden.

"I drive an 18-wheeler for a living. The women in my family think outside the box." A female passenger's response to her neighbor on the flight from Salt Lake to D.C.

"Listen to me. SHE'LL NEVER NEED TO KNOW!" One man's advice to another man as they walked together down the steps of the National Museum of the American Indian.

"When push comes to shove, he doesn't do either." A conference attendee's apparent evaluation of an absent colleague while standing in the lobby of a downtown hotel.

"I took a whole stash of it." A snatch of conversation between two men overheard in passing on Mt. Vernon Square."

"Maybe I could tattoo my cat." A snatch of conversation between two girls overheard in passing at Union Station.

"ACK! LOOK AT THOSE EYES! SO CREEPY!" One teenage girl's assessment of a medieval portrait of St. Paul in the National Gallery of Art.

"Look around you. You're the only one in this entire building who's actually smiling." A grumpy museum guard's comment to me when I walked past him. (I didn't tell him I was smiling because I was having so much fun eavesdropping on strangers' conversations.)

OK. I understand that none of these quotes is monument-worthy. Obviously. But still, they inspired (in me at least) a sense of wonder at our human ability to turn a pretty good phrase at a moment's notice — phrases that make people think or smile or wonder about the backstory. For example, what doesn't someone need to know about? Or who does the Capitol Hill policeman think needs watching? Or exactly what kind of a stash are we talking about here?

And, most important, why does a cat need a tattoo?