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Dinner theater taps talent of unlikely cast

In the new 'Dictionary of the Future,' trend gurus Faith Popcorn and Adam Hanft define 'secondhand speech' as the one-sided conversations foisted upon us by strangers yammering into cellphones.

Recently, at Sala, I discovered a different meaning for secondhand speech. With only a handful of customers in the house, it was impossible to filter out the conversation frothing over from an adjacent booth. Though we did not wish to, my dinner mate and I got to know this party Ñ a couple and their early-20s son Ñ very well.

The restaurant is not to blame, even though the tables are a bit too close for comfort. This scenario could happen anywhere, and it's probably happened to you. Let's compare notes.

At no meager volume, the son and father (the mom, bless her, was demure) shared their opinions on everything from movies to restaurants to trust funds.

When discussing 'The Lord of the Rings' ('good, but really long and boring,' according to the son), the dad offered comparisons to 'Titanic.' The son then redirected the conversation to his assessment of Middle Earth with an impertinent 'Let me wrap.'

Turning his attention to a movie he did like, 'The Royal Tenenbaums' (which he called 'Meet the Tenenbaums'), the son related an argument he'd had with an usher over seating. I'm sure this guy engages in an argument everywhere he goes because only moments later, he summoned Sala's manager to ask, 'Can I comment?'

Comment he then did, not once but twice to the manager and many times to his parents, criticizing the quality and execution of the dishes in what he no doubt believed was a constructive manner. The group lingered over their meal even as they lambasted it.

We also heard the three debate the age at which fortunate offspring gain access to trust funds, as well as the salary of a professor friend at New York University.

This is not meant to be a rant against these particular individuals. No, I also would include the fascinating trio kibitzing one Sunday last September at the Cricket Cafe, where I could not escape their morning-after ramblings on sex.

It makes me wonder why... why we feel so compelled to share our revelations with companions and anyone else within earshot in public places. But then I think about the compulsion to dine out in the first place. It's certainly not just for sustenance. It's for theater, for something to talk about.

And it's experiences like these that, as mind-blowing as they are at the time, cause me to be grateful for the chance to frequent restaurants. I'd never get stories like these by eating at home.

Contact Christina Melander at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .