Advice on manners and morals.
June 27 1998 3:30 AM

Drawing upon her rich experience of life, Prudence (Prudie to her friends) responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects. Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com. Queries should not exceed 200 words in length. Please indicate how you wish your letter to be signed, preferably including your location.

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Dear Prudence,

A black co-worker asked me for advice about his neighbors, who call the police to complain about his playing a radio too loudly. He owns a radio; he just never plays it, he says. Once he dropped a weight while exercising, and the neighbor called the police to complain about the excessive noise. The police were nonplussed and said the neighbors were overly fussy, but the complaints and the police visits continue.

My bewildered associate drafted a longish letter of apology for giving the neighbors offense. I offered to write a more appropriate letter for him. He accepted my offer and will deliver the letter at the earliest convenient moment. But first, I'd like your opinion of my note. I had him declare in the note that he was really perplexed about why he was being singled out for complaint. Was it not possible that the (white) neighbors didn't like him for things he has no control over (being black)? If that should be the case, perhaps counseling by a state agency might be appropriate, and he would be willing to participate.

This is everything I know. I wouldn't have stuck my neck out on this, but my co-worker is really a nice guy. I couldn't bear to see him apologizing for things that never happened. He's always cheerful, never swears, dresses neatly, works quietly. I don't know what your office is like, but the rest of us cannot be described that way.

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I am not a social agitator, but I am in favor of justice. Did I do the right thing suggesting he play the race card?

--Helpfully Hopeful or Hopefully Helpful

Dear Help,

It is good of you to help your friend and co-worker. It is Prudie's guess, however, that bigots will not voluntarily go into counseling with a state agency.

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The introduction of what you call the race card is appropriate, seeing that the deck is obviously stacked because of your friend's color. It is always a last resort to play hardball, but in this case a call to the Anti-Defamation League or the American Civil Liberties Union might be helpful.

Prudie's office, by the way, is populated by cheerful people who are neatly dressed and do indeed work quietly. As for never swearing, Prudie takes the Fifth.

--Prudie, combatively

Dear Prudie,

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I, too, am sick of all the controversial opinions and hype regarding Viagra, but I must challenge your comments (and those of all the others out there) voicing concern that it is "becoming a recreational drug," "creating ersatz libido," etc.

I am a 48-year-old male who, for the past several years, had a very mediocre sex life. I was the guy in the joke: "Call him oatmeal. Three minutes and he's done." I was also in denial until five times in two weeks my wife suggested I try Viagra. I've been on it for three weeks and my wife and I are both much happier. She has since confided that sex was the one part of our relationship she was not happy with.

Prudie, the unfortunate misconception that everyone is hyperventilating about is that this drug does something other than help those that need it. It's not an aphrodisiac, it's not going to turn wannabes into young studs. The only people it's going to do anything for are those with erectile dysfunction. Besides, those looking for a recreational sexual drug aren't going to go to a doctor and claim they can't get it up; their egos wouldn't let them. If they do obtain it on the black market they are going to find that it doesn't do anything for them they can't already do without it. It only helps those who need it. To quote Elizabeth Dole, "It's a great drug."

--Sign me, No Ersatz Libido, Just No Longer Frustrated

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Dear No,

Prudie wrote in the column to which you refer, "People of good will cannot begrudge those in genuine need." Prudie is a person of good will, and you, apparently, were in genuine need. (While Prudie is sincerely happy for you and the missis, your breakfast cereal reference suggests another difficulty altogether, but we'll leave that alone for now.) Alas, you are mistaken about men and women not trying to use Viagra to achieve a little extra oomph. Prudie herself knows two women who have got their hands on it, and a close friend who's a physician reports that all kinds of men without impotence problems are requesting prescriptions. (You misgauge the number of men who are not thinking with their egos.)

And wasn't that an unfortunate remark by Elizabeth Dole? It seemed like bragging, once removed, don't you think?

--Prudie, steadfastly

Dear Prudie,

Since it is stated that Prudie "responds to questions about manners, personal relations, politics, and other subjects," here's one about politics--sort of.

I read that Senate Majority Leader Trent Lott has gone on record saying that homosexuality is not only "a sin, but just another problem like alcoholism, sex addiction, and kleptomania." He added--I guess to prove his goodness bona fides--that he's never cheated on his wife. What do you think of all this?

--Wondering, Philadelphia

Dear Won,

Prudie thinks Sen. Lott belongs in the Ignorance and Bigotry Wing of the Betty Ford Clinic. The senator is, of course, entitled to apply his own interpretation of the Bible to his personal life. But when it comes to dictating to others, it always amazes me when people--particularly politicians and preachers--substitute their own interpretation of the Bible for medical and psychiatric findings.

Whenever Prudie hears rigid, unsound, and ungenerous dictums, for some reason she automatically thinks of Jimmy Swaggart.

--Prudie, righteously