Intentionally Unreasonable: Less small talk, more medium and large

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Humans are social animals and as such we enjoy connectivity through common activities and conversation. A high percentage of these engagements fall within the mind-numbing category of inane or insipid small talk.

While “small talk” is generally well-intended, serving a benign function as an inert social lubricant, might we all make a concerted effort to mix in a little “medium talk” or even on special occasion, “large talk?” (The worst arena for this phenomenon might be wherever you get your hair cut.)

I’m not suggesting that every time you get your hair cut that your stylist leads with, “How do you think Benjamin Netanyahu is handling negotiations with Mahmoud Abbas? Also, did you know that the Gaza Strip is only 139 square miles, approximately twice the size of Portland, with a population of almost 2 million people?”

So to my friends at Supercuts in Falmouth, where I’ve been getting $16.95 haircuts since my hair was more pepper than salt, I am giving you the gift of laboratory-tested, small, medium and large talk conversation starters to utilize as you see fit. My suggestion: mix and rotate small, medium and large talk topics, then rinse and repeat as needed.

Small talk

• How was your (week/weekend)?

• How about that weather?

• What about those (Patriots/Red Sox/Celtics/Bruins)?

Medium talk

• Ahhh, the metric system. Why do you think that the United States is virtually the only industrialized country in the world that doesn’t use it as the primary measurement system? Sure, we have two-liter bottles of soda, but given our global leadership in areas of science and medicine, doesn’t it seem weirdly arrogant (and massively impractical) for the U.S. to hold out against metric? This speaks to something broader too, right?

• Red’s Eats in Wiscasset is one of Maine’s most iconic attractions with lines of robotic people (“… must have Red’s … must have Red’s”) wrapped around the restaurant during the tourist season, forming a human landscape for people driving along Route 1. Don’t get me wrong, I love their lobster rolls and the owners seem like nice people, but what about the two empty lobster restaurants directly across the street from Red’s near the water? Do you think that they have ever considered buying a Red’s lobster roll, analyzing the exact ingredients and ratio of lobster meat, mayonnaise and roll, and then duplicating it? Maybe even painting their building red?

• Fort Gorges sits in the shadow of Portland in Casco Bay. Completed in 1865, the fort was obsolete before it even really opened for business. Since Portland acquired it from the federal government in 1960, it just sits there, with no real plan or purpose for the future. Seems like a shame, not a shame of history or environment, but of our political leaders of the last 55 years. Don’t you think Portland should do something meaningful with Fort Gorges?

• Have you noticed that our state and federal holidays don’t always align and frequently government services, banks and schools are out of sync, with one or more open, and the others closed? The lack of a unified system creates havoc with businesses and families, while costing billions of dollars in inefficiency. How can we compete in a global economy when we can’t coordinate workdays?

Large talk

• Do you think the Free The Nipple campaign is about female empowerment or broader issues of social inequality? For too many years the U.S. has operated under patriarchal and parochial rule that has historically suppressed women’s rights in many areas. It’s 2015, shouldn’t women have exactly the same rights as men?

• Gov. Paul LePage earns an annual salary of $70,000, an amount mandated by state law that is considerably less than thousands of other Maine state and municipal leaders, and the lowest salary of any governor in the United States. While many here in Maine might approve of such a salary for the chief executive of a $3 billion-a-year enterprise, don’t you think it’s counter to our greater interests? Such a low salary sets an unhealthy environment where incumbent governors are forced to establish future income opportunities that could compromise their decisions as governor. It’s also a disincentive to serving for more qualified and highly compensated people.

• The highest speed limit in the U.S. is 85 mph (in Texas), with the vast majority of highways at 65-75 mph. Why then do we allow car manufacturers to produce cars that are capable of exceeding 120 mph when there isn’t any possible place to legally drive that fast? If we built consumer cars and trucks with a maximum speed of 85 mph, we would save hundreds of lives and save millions of gallons of fuel each year. Plus, manufacturing costs would go down, since vehicles could utilize lighter components. We can do this, right?

That’s it. Time for that much-needed haircut.

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Steve Woods is from away, but fully here now, living in Yarmouth, working in Falmouth, traveling the world, and trying his best. His column appears every other week. He can also be heard each Saturday at 11 a.m. on WLOB-AM 1310.

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