Snooping in SoHo

Nothing's a secret anymore.

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"I can't ever drink just one," he says, a dumb smile spread across his square, handsome jaw. She beams back at him, her plastic grin punctuated by a pair of dangerously puffy lips.

"I might have to take advantage of you," Puffy Lips coos. I chuckle to myself and take another swallow of beer.

It's Saturday night around 8:30 at the new Ceviche location on South Howard. Only a few blocks north of its former South Tampa digs, Ceviche occupies the spot where St. Bart's used to be. It's a great setting, but I'm disappointed that there's only one bar, and it's tiny — a half dozen stools packed two and three deep. I had hoped there would be a second bar in the patio area out back, but no luck. They need the table space. The place is packed.

Ceviche is about a 10-minute walk from my apartment. I arrive thirsty and order a bottle of Miller Lite. I walk outside to have a smoke and find myself staring at Puffy Lips and Square Jaw, who are sharing a table by the fountain. Sporting a tight, low-cut blouse, she has the augmented chest, face-work and platinum blond locks of a woman who went to the surgeon and said, "Gimme the Pamela Anderson." Square Jaw wears khaki shorts, a golf shirt and sandals. He's huge. Probably curls dumbbells that are higher than his IQ.

"Should we go?" he asks her.

"I think so," she says, offering a coquettish smile.

Observing them, I can't help but think of that great scene from Annie Hall, the one where Woody Allen's Alvy Singer character approaches the beautiful couple.

Alvy Singer: "Here, you look like a very happy couple; um, are you?"

Female street stranger: "Yeah."

Alvy Singer: "Yeah? So, so, how do you account for it?"

Female street stranger: "Uh, I'm very shallow and empty, and I have no ideas and nothing interesting to say."

Male street stranger: "And I'm exactly the same way."

Unfortunately, in real life, strangers rarely offer the inquisitive Alvy Singers of the world such candid answers. But listening to somebody else's conversation can prove illuminating. Many people consider the practice rude, but that's silly. We live in an era when the government routinely eavesdrops on private phone calls, Internet providers track our every online move, and satellite cameras positioned in the atmosphere know if I'm reading the newspaper, Rolling Stone or Playboy when I'm on the can. Privacy really no longer exists, folks.

If I'm at a bar and overhear a gal blabbering to her girlfriend about the act she performed last night in bed, I'm gonna make damn sure I do my best to absorb every detail. It's my right. Likewise, if my buddies and I are swapping tales in public, I welcome any and all to lean in and listen — especially if I'm out with Buck and he has a nice buzz kicking. It'll be worth your while. Although I'm talking shit about Puffy Lips and Square Jaw's dialogue, I'm sure Buck and I often engage in chats that are also inanely humorous.

Eavesdropping is no different from being observant — a word with a decidedly more positive connotation. Whether it's the discussion at the next table or the screams emanating from your neighbor's backyard, it's the patriotic duty of every U.S. citizen to pay attention during these treacherous times. At least that's what the neocons might argue. Truthfully, I just find it entertaining.

It's important (OK, amusing) to be aware of your surroundings. For instance, when I do my daily promenade through Hyde Park in Tampa, there's usually that one randy housewife pulling weeds in a bikini top and a pair of shorts no longer than the boxers I wore at age 12. Now this woman knows she lives in a neighborhood teeming with pedestrians and might be offended if I don't gawk while walking by at a pace usually reserved for geriatrics.

Bayshore Boulevard is my favorite stretch of sidewalk. I'm out here on a sunny Sunday afternoon, observing again. I stay on the side where the houses are, afraid of being run over by iPod-wearing women in their sports bras and shirtless dudes jogging like they're being chased by rabid dogs. I survey the mansions with their manicured front lawns and comfy gazebos. I walk by one that weeks after the Gasparilla day parade still has swashbuckler banners hanging from it and a sign over the front door that reads: "Surrender the booty."

I wonder if it's occupied by the frat boy scion of a successful businessman — or just a middle-aged tool who takes the whole Jose Gaspar celebration way too seriously.

Or maybe it's the home of Puffy Lips and Square Jaw?

They smooch while exiting Ceviche. I return inside for a delicious glass of sangria and to catch a set by local Latin jazz/folk duo Acho Brother. But it's too loud to overhear another titillating conversation, and I exit after finishing my wine.

Ceviche Tapas Bar and Restaurant, 1502 S. Howard Ave., Tampa, 813-250-0134 or ceviche.com.

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