Conversation: Good vs. Bad
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 disconcerted...at 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?