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"Chronicle Groupie"
Hyperion April 29, 2001

#37 Social Obligations

Last night I dined at a restaurant with my friend “Bear”. Several high schools had their proms that evening, and so while waiting for a table we spent time taking pictures of various couples, dressed in their finery. The subject of Bear’s proms came up, and he regaled me with tales that led me to believe most of his prom experiences were nothing to write home about. “Yeah,” I said, “But at least you got to kiss the girl.”

“No.” he replied. “I never got one kiss.” This was too much. I patiently explained to Bear that one of the duties of the male during prom was to kiss the female, thereby making the whole prom experience better. At least in theory.

“Think of it as a Social Obligation.” I said. He disagreed (although I think he was just defending his own lame practices), but the concept of Social Obligations led us to start discussing other Obligations that we face in society. Soon some of the prom couples were joining in, and before long, we had spirited debate.

The first topic we came up with was tipping. “Maybe you feel gratitude.” I reasoned, “But the real reason you tip is because others are watching.” My claim is borne out by years of delivering pizza. Many are the times when customers, in the dark of night, would stiff this poor driver. At least at a restaurant, there are other prying eyes, which makes the person feel obligated to leave a tip. Sometimes.

One of the high school seniors, decked out in a black tuxedo with a red vest (to match his date’s dress), had another one. The Car Wave. On the road, if someone lets you in, it is a Social Obligation to give a little hand wave. After some intense argument, the consensus was that this rule did not apply to women. There were dissenters in the vote.

This gender inequity led to another topic; holding the door open for a woman. Here some of the guys lustily besmirched the practice, claiming women never did the same for them.

“That’s the point, Dufus.” One young man’s date retorted, after his outcry of unfairness. “You hold the door for us because we’re special.” This started another impassioned debate, the details of which I will omit, as this is a family column. One sidebar to this, though, was that someone brought up the Male-2 Door Obligation. What this means is that if there are two doors into a building, and a man holds the door for another man at the first door, the recipient then runs to the second door to hold that one open, and even the scales. Men are just weird.

Speaking of weird, I brought up, quite reasonably, I thought, how strange it was that we are obligated to say “Bless You!” or “God Bless You!” or “Gesundheit!” every time someone sneezes. To me this seems like a practice left over from the Dark Ages, but I was called down for lack of manners. Oh well, I guess I will keep fighting my own private war.

At this point someone brought up buying dinner for sex. It seemed we could just not avoid the Battle of the Sexes tonight. The young man was booed off the stage, and several of us guys tried to pull him aside and explain the idiocy of bringing that up when he was about to enjoy a meal with his date.

“Besides.” I said. “ I can’t write about that. My Grandmother would never let me hear the end of it.”

Right then Bear and I were called, and the conversation turned to weightier matters over dinner. I thought the discussion was finished until we were driving home, and somehow the subject of toilet seats came up. Bear was adamant that the default position should be up for the seat, and the woman could make the accommodation.

“Bear” I said. “You're crazy.” Argument ensued. Bear’s position, and I don’t want to cheat him here, is that he uses the toilet with the seat up most of the time, and it should therefore be that way. He also brought up the low class of most males, and argued that if the seat were left down, many men would still “take aim” and raise the possibility of a spill dramatically. Of course, I destroyed these points quickly.

“First of all, Bear, if you divide up the uses of the toilet, there are four (two for men and two for women). THREE of the four require the seat to be down.” Bear was unconvinced.

“Secondly,” I scolded. “Men have a choice. Women do not. Therefore, WE must make the accommodation, and not require women to do it. It’s just common courtesy.” Triumphant, I looked at him, awaiting his Mea Culpa, but I was to be disappointed this night.

Finally, we had reached his home, and had to depart with the argument still unresolved. As I pulled away I heard a banging on my truck, and saw in my rearview mirror Bear waving me to stop. He ran up to the window, and as I rolled it down he shook my hand.

“Thanks for dinner.” He said. As I drove away, I pondered his actions. He easily could have called me at home to deliver the message, but I guess he did not want me to leave without thanking me. Mulling that over, I hurried home to make sure the toilet seat was down.

Here’s hoping reading this is more joy than obligation,

April 29, 2001


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