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Burnett's Urban Etiquette

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Conversation: Good vs. Bad

So it's just been hours really since I returned to Miami from my latest road trip, or air trip in this case - this one to the frozen Northeast.

And before I forget, let me just say that after decades of falling for the hype, I am declaring shenanigans on "Thinsulate." When Mrs. B and I moved to South Florida a couple of years ago we left most of our true winter gear in storage in my mother-in-law's basement back in Milwaukee. So before I left town over the weekend, I had to go out and buy myself a winter coat. This time, instead of tissue paper thin, but lined with Thinsulate, I went for sturdy, woven wool, the good stuff, with a built in heavy-duty zip-turtleneck collar. And you know what? I was warm. My face was cold, but the rest of me was just fine.

Going all the way back to middle school and high school in the 1980s and '90, however, I have fallen repeatedly for the legend of Thinsulate, and I always ended up cold. I went for weight, not necessarily bulk, this time, and low and behold I kept warm.

Anyway, on to conversation. We've all got a little bit of instinct that lets us know appropriate conversation, vs. inappropriate. Bowel issues? Not good dinner chat. Death and fear? Not great conversation when sitting at the bedside of a terminally ill friend...unless they initiate the topic. Ex-girlfriend? Not a good idea to bring her up during the first dinner with your new girlfriend's parents.

So I have to say that while I don't consider myself uptight, I did find myself a little shocked to be sitting next to Dirk Diggler on my flight back to Miami.

I was in the aisle seat. He was next to me. And a young woman - just past 21-years-old, she told him later - had the window seat.

As a rule, I try to keep in-flight conversation to simple, basic stuff like weather, living conditions, jobs, sports, etc. Anything deeper than that usually feels weird to me, 'cause I don't like sharing too much of my business with strangers. There are always exceptions. On my flight up north several days ago, I found myself sitting next to a cool guy, an engineer for a power company, who was very pleasant and funny. By the time our plane landed we were chatting like old friends. But still, it didn't get too personal.

So back to my flight home. About 40 minutes into it I was engrossed in my book - Killing the Rabbit, a really weird, but very well-written suspense/mystery/sci-fi novel set in Australia, by Alison Goodman - when I heard the pair next to me strike up a conversation.

He ordered a glass of wine. She commented that it was good wine. He said he agreed, but that she looked too young to know. She said that she was old enough and had tasted that wine several times. He then asked what she was doing up north and why she was going to Florida. She explained that she'd attended college up there, was working up there, and was on her way home to spend the holidays with her family, who live in South Florida. She asked him the same, and he explained that he lives the winter in South Florida, and the summer in the Northeast, where his business is based. He then asked where she "goes out" in South Florida. She told him. She then asked the same of him.

And that's where the conversation got weird. You have a guy pushing 50. You have a young woman barely past 21, who looks like she's 15. Instinct, in my humble opinion, should have told him to brush off the question and maybe answer it vaguely and generically, considering the truth.

Nope. Instead he proceeded to tell her that he was a swinger. And he spent the next three hours explaining to her that he and his girlfriend "attend" a number of clubs where swapping and group hook-ups go on, and describing the rules of the swinging game.

To be fair to him, she didn't stop the conversation. And she only seemed mildly first, but not really demonstrably uncomfortable. On the contrary, she listened intently and even asked the occasional question. As a journalist, I couldn't have asked 'em better. And I wasn't trying to eavesdrop, but considering the close quarters I couldn't help but hear every word. And I won't lie, I was curious too. Thankfully, he left the most graphic descriptions out of the conversation.

But it was still kind of creepy. It sort of felt and sounded like he was proselytizing her, enticing her like the Pied Piper.

By the end of the flight, he was asking for her phone number and encouraging her to talk to his girlfriend about "the life." She gave him a number. Whether it was her real number, or not - who knows?

I don't know. I'm old-fashioned, but again I ain't uptight. Different strokes, I say. Literally in this case. But this conversation though? Not sure it's one I would have struck up with a stranger on a plane, who looked young enough to be my daughter.

What do you think?

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  • What do I think?

    Ewwwwwwww. For all the reasons stated.

    It sounds like he was preying on her youthfulness and perhaps her inability to respond to an older person, or a male person, whatever, that could be construed as rude. And that's just creepy.

    By Blogger heartinsanfrancisco, at 9:21 PM  

  • Believe it or not, James, this Animal is old-fashioned, too. It bothers me to see 50 year-olds macking on my chicks.

    How ironic. I was just thinking the other day about how clothing should really return to the old days. I enjoy my wool pea coat and it is indeed heavy and warm, unlike the bubbly Thinsulate winter jacket I have in my closet. It was 20 to 30 years of that crap. Enough is enough. When I'm 50, I'm going to buy a decent dress hat, too.

    By Blogger M@, at 10:01 PM  

  • I buy down coats and stay warm.

    I have been married to the same woman for 37 years, and that has worked well for me. What works for others is fine as long as they leave me out of it. Whatever works for consenting adults is fine for them, as long as they're consenting and adults. I really don't want to tell anyone else what's right for them either. I figure they can decide that for themself too.


    By Blogger The CEO, at 11:27 PM  

  • hmm... had there been headphones on the plane for an in-flight movie or something... would you have not listened in if there were another option??
    The whole thing sounds a bit creepy, but then swinger mentality is a little out of mainstream thought anyway tho. This guy is probably constantly trying to find people to share his experiences with and look for new people to get involved in the lifestyle. He's trying to validate himself or his thoughts or something?
    I guess there would have been lots of times for her to stop the conversation if she were uncomfortable. If she really was 21 and knew about wine and started to chat with him about it then she is either a very open person who had no trouble with his age or interests... or she's not developed enough to make certain decisions. But I think you would have seen or heard something in her voice or demeanor that showed some discomfort. And while I don't know you personally, from reading your blog, I think that if you felt she was in way over her head, you'de have somehow stepped in and done something.
    Just sounds like 3 people who all found a way to get thru a boring plane ride. ;)
    Happy holidays to you and yours!

    By Blogger CrystalChick, at 1:01 AM  

  • Nothing wrong with a little sex, but it seems as though this pushing-50 guy's whole reason for existing resided about a foot just below his belly button.

    By Anonymous before the mayflower, at 5:35 AM  

  • The conversation topic isn't so bad, it's having it on a plane, where it is bound to be overheard several rows away. What if there were children within ear shot? Decorum, people. Decorum.

    That being said, every "swinger" I've ever met has been old, fat and ugly. How they get one person to have sex with them, let alone several, remains a mystery to me.

    By Blogger SWF42, at 10:12 AM  

  • There is rumor of a swingers group here in my area that decorates their yards with white gravel to let others know. I dunno if it's true, but I guess you gotta advertise if you want new customers eh?

    I loved me some Dirk Diggler in those white satin pants. If I remember correctly, you've got him on speed dial, no?

    Frankily Yours

    By Anonymous Anonymous, at 1:41 PM  

  • Wow. Talk about things that make you go hmmm. I will never understand what makes men over 40 think that women under 25 will be fascinated by their sex lives, but I met many of them in my early 20's. Ick is really all I can say.
    I still would have listened, like you did though.

    By Blogger WNG, at 2:10 PM  

  • He probably talked like that when he was 20, too. Never grew up.

    Probably will die choking on a viagra .

    By Blogger Pamela, at 1:22 AM  

  • Before I begin this kind of conversation, I like to get my raincoat cleaned. You know, to give a good impression. I also find it helpful to stuff my pockets with all sorts of hard candies. Soft candies melt.

    By Blogger Stewart Sternberg, at 12:51 PM  

  • Hearts in SanFran, ha ha ha ha ha ha ha!

    M@, I admit I am shocked. I would've thought you'd wholly endorse that old pimp pushing up on Lolita. And let's toast to the hopeful death of Thinsulate.

    Monty, I'll have to give down a try. As for the consenting adults thing, we do agree. My only hitch with this whole conversation was whether or not it was appropriate for this guy to start it in the first place - not whether or not the guy should engage in swinging at all.

    CrystalChick, we agree about the comfort levels in the conversation. I noted in my post that she only seemed uncomfortable for half a second and after that seemed to eagerly embrace the conversation. There was a lot of time to kill during that fly, for sure. And happy holidays back to you!

    Before the Mayflower, that's the reason all guys exist. I'm kidding. Or am I?

    SWF42, I agree on the topic. It wouldn't have been my first choice of topic, but in my business I believe I really have heard it all. So I don't think there's a topic out there that could make me blush. I just questioned whether it was appropriate for this guy to initiate this conversation w/a stranger, a stranger who looked like she might've needed a fake ID, in spite of her claims of being over 21. Also, he wasn't fat. But he had an orange tan, he was wearing rocker jeans, and his hair was frosted in streaks, early '90s style. He could've been Kaito Kaelin's cousin.

    Frankily Yours, hardy har. I do not have Dirk Diggler on speed dial. I don't swing that way. I have, however, had pleasant conversation with and interviewed Marky Mark. He's a very nice guy, and compared to the other Hollywood folks I've met in the line of duty, he was a pleasure to work with. And that gravel thing is disturbing. I have a neighbor with the gravel. But she's gotta be like 180 years old. Again though, different strokes...

    WNG, I couldn't help it. The conversation was like the flame that draws the moth.

    Pamela, that Viagra death is not a pretty picture.

    Stewart, ha! Why would you need to get your raincoat cleaned? Do you where one of those yellow ones with the fisherman's hat?

    By Blogger James Burnett, at 1:22 PM  

  • it's one thing to work it. It's another to work it sitting next to a total stranger. On a plane. Good lord, have some discretion.

    By Anonymous og, at 9:41 PM  

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