Friday, October 28, 2011

Eight inside secrets of a great conversationalist

Eight inside secrets of a great conversationalist
1. Speak in humble tones when you know you’re right.
Why do ministers bellow at congregations who are in total agreement? It’s especially oxymoronic when the bellowing is about humility.
When you’re right, there is no need to preach. Certainty is a gift for which to be quietly thankful.

2. Never vie for the floor.
When you can’t get a word in edgewise, don’t demean yourself by trying.

3. Do not tell anecdotes unless you’re sure everyone wants to hear.
By saying, “That reminds me of a story…” you’ve swung the spotlight to yourself. With such usurpation goes an obligation to be good and fast and on point.

4. Solicit the opinions of those who have little to say.
This is an act not of etiquette but of intellectual curiosity, frequently well rewarded.

5. Be kind.
It’s easy to score conversational points at the expense of someone vulnerable. If Humphrey the klutz has cocktail sauce on his chin, you could score easily by pointing it out to everyone. Don’t do it. Disdain the cheap shot.

6. When someone makes you stretch intellectually, say so.
You’ve given me something to think about, you could say. It’s high praise. Talented conversationalists listen intently, seeking sustenance and acknowledging as much when received.

7. Never, never bluff.
When you don’t know, admit that you don’t know.

8. Never attempt to recite the entire plot of a movie/book/play.
How many times have we heard, “Oh, you didn’t see Turtles at Midnight? Well it starts out when….”
And you’re stuck for 10 minutes hearing that which you would not wish to hear even given an interest in the subject.
Art can be discussed from the shared perspective of having seen/read/heard it, but cannot be recounted by one to another.
Incidentally, if you haven’t seen Turtles at Midnight, save your money.

Friday, October 21, 2011

Ten really dumb observations

Thank you for your forbearance as I attempt to prove that an idle mind does not preclude a productive life. 
Why is ‘wise guy’ a pejorative?
I blame the Three Stooges for sullying the concept. 

1. Why is it that we can send a man to the moon but cannot make the referee’s microphone work at football games?

2. When you ask your stockbroker about the market’s direction, must he respond, “Your guess is as good as mine?” Because if my guess is as good as his… you get the gist. Brokers are also fond of saying, “I don’t have a crystal ball.” And I’m fond of retorting that he could simply invert a goldfish bowl.

3. Why isn’t a citizen of New Zealand called a New Zealot?

4. Why does Donald Duck wear a sailor suit? I see nothing nautical in his performance or demeanor. If he’s a sailor, let’s see him weave a lanyard or toss a rope.

5. Why are there towns named Jasper in Georgia, Tennessee, Florida and Alberta? (The latter is in Canada so it’s probably full of Eskimos.)

6. We’re not affronted by decapitations and gore in movies, yet we are socially affronted by mismatched socks or a lady’s slip showing. Imagine: A couple exiting the theater: “You’re worried about my socks? We just saw a severed head.”

7. If you ask me, it should have been Johnson’s Life of Boswell instead of Boswell’s Life of Johnson. Johnson was the reigning intellectual bully of 18th century London whereas Boswell, a Scot, was a gentleman who somehow found himself in Johnson’s thrall.

8. Why is ‘wise guy’ a pejorative? I blame the Three Stooges for sullying the concept. Wisdom is to be coveted, not cited as justification for an eye gouge.

9. If all Will Rogers knew was what he read in the papers, why was he regarded as a sage?

10. An idle mind is not the devil’s playground. An idle mind is more like the devil’s green room on Jerry Springer.

And here’s an idle thought bonus: Bet somebody that if he flew 1500 miles due south from Atlanta, Ga., he’d be over the Pacific Ocean. You’ll win the bet!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Listen to drunks

  “Laws are not the fabric of this society,” he averred. “What is it that keeps you from robbing me? The law? I believe not.”
  The guy was drunk but still kind of eloquent. A professorial Boston drunk in the hotel bar where I’d come for a quiet martini. “What keeps you from robbing me?” he insisted.
  “I don’t want to rob you.” He nodded and said, “You behave decently because you want to, not because it’s the law.”
  “You’re talking about civility?” I ventured.
  “You think civility’s a wimp word, right?” he said. “It’s not. It’s all we’ve got. Know why? Cause without it there aren’t enough cops. If enough of us want to rob each other, there aren’t enough cops. We rely not so much on the law as on one another’s goodness.” We both took a sip. “Fabric of society,” he mused. “Damned useful metaphor. Civility’s the fabric and we’re all weavers.”
  The bartender came over. “You gents want another?” I was staying at the hotel and said yeah. The professional guy said no and slid off the barstool, weaving a pattern all his own
  “You’re not going to drive, are you?”
  He shook his head. “MTA,” he said. “Subway. I enjoyed talking to you.”
  He was gone leaving a renascent nimbus where he had been.

Monday, October 3, 2011

Turning on the charm? Be very careful

            A sudden surge of charm can overwhelm the charmless. Before turning on the charm, regulate your internal Charmometer to the desired setting. Zero for, say, sports events with drunken pals who wouldn’t know charm from a cheese sandwich. Or 10 if you’re attending some fancy-shmancy dinner party. But be careful. I attended one such party with the setting at 10 and scared the hell out of everybody.
            Here are some suggested Charmometer settings for various situations:
            At a singles bar – Start with a setting of 5, to be adjusted upward if things go well. Opening with a 10 can suggest an unpleasant manic quality.
            Visiting the sick – Set at 7; buoyant but not giddy. No need to flaunt the fact that you’re in better shape than the hospitalized party. Break as many hospital rules as you can; it’ll amuse the sick person.
            Visiting a retirement home – Set at a full-blown 10. Let charm supersede Bingo. Be sure your genuine charm transcends the professional friendliness of staff.
            Appearing on Bill O’Reilly or Chris Matthews – Come on like a malignant muskrat, then, as the host is cowed into gibbering malice, calmly escalate to a civilized 7.
            At a formal fundraiser – Set the Charmometer at 4 and snarl your way through the evening. All behavior that takes place in a tuxedo is phony.
            At a business meeting – Set initially at 10. Then, when everyone assumes you’re all-charm-no-substance, revert to a 5. Keep them off guard.
            With kids – Start at 2 and trend upward if they behave.
            While arguing with spouse – Start at 9, then revert like quicksilver to 0, then back again. It’s schizophrenic but you’ll probably win the argument, albeit at the expense of your sanity.
            When you can’t think of someone’s mane – Give ’em a 10 with a gush of faux intimacy that makes names unimportant: “Wow! What a surprise! Look who’s here!”
            Anyone who looks downtrodden – A full dose of the old charm. It’s fun to cheer people up.
            So you get the idea. Incidentally if your Charmometer setting brings you nothing but alarmed looks, deactivate the thing and just wing it. One problem with turning on the charm is getting it turned off when you’re through with it.