A friend called to check on me while I was sick last week. We were supposed to go to a fancy ladies' lunch, but with a sore throat and temperature, the kindest thing I could do was stay home.  I did, and she was calling to fill me in.

"Ooooh, girl--you missed it!"

"So, how was the lunch?"

"VERY interesting!  Let me tell you who was at my table..."

The group of women at a luncheon honoring a mutual friend didn't know each other, so they were casting about for some common ground.  They found it pretty quickly: a couple of them had pledged the same sorority (although in different cities, at different times), two other women lived near each other, but hadn't met.

The circles were getting wider and wider, until it turned out that their friends had friends in common.  Everything was going swimmingly and the ladies were comfortable enough with each other to begin to swap gossip.  One particularly spicy story revolved around a husband who'd left his wife and imported another woman from out of town.  She was about to move into the home they'd once shared.

There was a lot of speculation about the general hussitude of the new lady--did she know he was married?  Did SHE have a husband somewhere around? Did she care that she was breaking up a marriage of almost 15 years?  And so forth.

At the end, one of the women at my friend's table sniffed, "I just hate that kind of woman.  I hope she never shows her face around here--I believe I'd have to say something to her.  Ayesha is my friend."

The woman across from her rose and placed her napkin on the table.

"You can cross that off your list," she said cooly.  "I think I already know what you think, so further conversation isn't necessary."

Of course, jaws dropped.  Faces reddened.  Eyebrows went up foreheads.

"Well, who knew?" Ayesha's loyal friend breathed.

Um, that's kind of the point.  If you're meeting someone for the first time and you have a juicy story to share, do a little sleuthing first to make sure you're not sharing it with the person who's central to the story. As the late Robin Harris used to say: small world!

Karen Grigsby Bates is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News, and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).

is a Los Angeles-based correspondent for NPR News and co-author, with Karen Elyse Hudson, of The New Basic Black: Home Training For Modern Times (Doubleday).