Men Say the Darndest Things

Many men, especially those younger than me, are cognizant of the expected and acceptable boundaries when dealing with women associates. I’ve been retired going on 21 years (I got lucky) having already become a dinosaur in the office setting. Transitioning from my old school (men only) environment to a diverse office led me to suffer through several self-inflicted awkward incidents in my later working life. Who wants to relive embarrassing experiences? Certainly not New York’s governor.

I believe most times, my foibles resulted from laziness on my part. Instead of thinking about what I was saying, I reverted to stereotypical assumptions that I falsely transferred to the woman with whom I was talking. Even simple things like: “What’s your husband’s name?” are the result of  chauvinistic presumptions. Most embarrassing: “Oh, are you pregnant?”

Of course: “How’s your sex life?” at best deserves a verbal slap in the face. ”F**k off,” would be appropriate, but would a woman be so bold? That’s why men in positions of power must get the message: Out of bounds.

I was recently reminded of my gender’s fatal flaws in a conversation with a female friend. Let me call her E. We were speaking on the phone when the subject of COVID-19 Virus vaccinations came up. E, mentioned that she had received a call from the VA offering her a special slot reserved for Korean War veterans like herself. “I jumped at it and made a reservation to be vaccinated at the VA center in Northport, Long Island.”

“On arrival, I realized that the patrons lined up for their vaccinations consisted of elderly men and me. Making small talk while we shuffled along, the chap in front of me asked: ‘Were you a nurse?”

“No,” I replied, “I was a sergeant in the Marine Corp!”

“Good come back,” I commented to E, but in my heart and head, I thought back to my own “were you a nurse” moments.

One January afternoon in the mid-1990s found me at the United Counter at LaGuardia Airport checking in for what accurately could be described as an insurance boondoggle. I was one of several New York insurance brokers invited to a so called: “Round table discussion of the status and future of energy needs,” sponsored by the Geneva Insurance Monopoly (GIM.). Held in Aspen, the conference would last three days, but the actual meetings were limited to one hour each day.

The rest of our time was dedicated to winter sports and activities. GIM gave us alternatives to down-hill skiing which was fine with me as skiing was not on my list of things to do, EVER. As I recall, I selected snow shoeing, cross-country skiing and snowmobiling as my activities. Most of the American brokers picked similar venues. We noticed that all the staff from GIM went skiing every day. Of course, the entire rationale for the conference was for these Swiss skiers to test their prowess on Colorado powder.

But who was I to complain? They picked up everything. The goggles I brought with me broke so I bought a new pair in the hotel’s ski shop. When I went to pay and offered a credit card, the clerk explained, “The charge has been automatically billed to your room,” a bill I never saw.

But I digress. At LaGuardia, I boarded the United 757 that was about half full and found a row in coach completely empty. “Perfect,” I said to myself. I sat down in the aisle seat and scattered the stuff I wanted to look at on the middle seat. An important part of my stuff was that Sunday’s edition of The New York Times. By coincidence, their Sunday’s magazine was devoted to airline travel.  

Just before the door was closed and secured, there was a bustle of activity and several individuals in airline uniforms passed by my seat. One woman stopped at my row and asked, “Would you mind if I sit here?”

“Not at all,” I replied.

With that, she took the window seat. The door closed and we began to taxi for takeoff as the flight attendants began the litany of pre-flight safety procedures. When they reached the part about fastening seatbelts, I could not resist telling my new seatmate one of the anecdotes I had just read in the NYT Magazine.

“I just read about this clever method a particular flight attendant uses to deal with this announcement. She says: ‘Now for those of you who haven’t been in an automobile since 1955, here is how you fasten a seatbelt.”

She laughed and said, “That’s great.”

Bravely, and stupidly, I continued, ”You should try that one day.”

She replied: “I’m a pilot.”

I replied: “Damn, I just stereotyped you, didn’t I, and I am embarrassed!”

I dreaded what was to come, but she was both polite and nice. Otherwise, this would have been an awfully long flight to Denver.