There are few things I like less than making small talk at parties. Since we became parents, my wife and I haven’t gone to as many as we used to but before my daughter was born, it was a fairly regular occurrence. When Sarah would mention a party we were supposed to attend, my response was often “Is this going to be another party where I have to make small talk all night with people I don’t know?” The answer was often “yes” and I’d usually be a good soldier, grit my teeth, and go. Over time, I discovered a secret to surviving those parties – find a guy (preferably one who’s just as psyched as I am to be there) and talk about sports.
Sports provide the perfect fodder for conversation with people you don’t know. There are millions of directions the conversation can go, common frames of reference, and despite our fascination with and passion about sports, ultimately they matter not at all. You can talk about them ad nauseum but, owing to their almost complete lack of importance, you’re less likely to offend or anger anyone than you are with other touchier subjects.
Recently, I started wondering “What do non-sports fans talk about at parties with people they don’t know?” For at least one chunk of the sports-shunning crowd, my kids at work have supplied a couple of answers for me.
Image courtesy of society6.com
We’ve heard a lot of recurring conversations with our quirky crowd here at Academy MetroWest but two come to mind now. While neither of them has anything to do with sports, they meet my three criteria (a wide open topic with lots of room for discussion, a common frame of reference, as well as being nearly devoid of any real importance) for a tantalizing cocktail party conversation.
The first topic I’m thinking of is the zombie apocalypse. It’s long been a favorite topic of conversation for kids I’ve known but with the proliferation of zombie-themed movies, tv shows, and video games over the last few years, it’s been coming up more often. During the summer of 2012, the topic came up in my group during our summer camp and it just wouldn’t go away. Specifically, the question up for discussion was “What is the ideal form of transportation during a zombie apocalypse?” If there’s no guarantee that there will be a reliable source of fuel, does it make sense to pin your hopes on a motorized vehicle? At one point, I bravely joined the conversation and suggested that a solar powered car would make a lot of sense. There was a lot of scoffing at that suggestion along the lines of “Yeah?!?! Where are you going to find a solar car in a zombie apocalypse, old man?” Ultimately, the group reached something like a consensus and agreed that a bicycle would be the best choice although, as I recall, there was a substantial dissenting group that favored sailboats or canoes.
The other topic focuses on hypothetical battles between superheroes. I know for a fact that this topic pre-dates my time here on the planet. My dad, who grew up in the 40’s & 50’s in Brooklyn and Long Island, used to tell me the story of a recurring conversation from his youth that incorporated both baseball and superheroes. He and his friends asked themselves “If you were to drain the Pacific Ocean and there was a one on one baseball game being played between Superman and Plastic Man that used the entire ocean floor as a field, who would win?” As you can imagine, a question as weighty as that one occupied a good chunk of time and brain work for me. Among the kids I work with, the topic usually veers away from baseball and towards more conventional battles among superheroes. My own personal twist on this was to ask a number of them who’d win in a fight between Iron Man and Darth Vader. Most kids I posed that question to agreed with me that Iron Man would never get close enough to Darth Vader to do any kind of damage.
But just like asking whether or not Cy Young would be able to strike out Miguel Cabrera, it’s a great conversation because you can go around and around with it and never reach a definitive answer and, even if you could, it just doesn’t matter! I know there are some contrarians out there who are thinking “Doesn’t matter?!?! I guess we know who WON’T be surviving the zombie apocalypse!” Regardless, both of those topics can serve a vital function for a lot of kids by providing the school-age equivalent to a great cocktail party conversation.