Free Shows

Free Shows

Free Shows

Advice on manners and morals.
July 9 1999 3:00 AM

Free Shows

Please send your questions for publication to prudence@slate.com.

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Dear Prudence,

"RS " ' s disgusting letter concerning meal and gift parity, along with her psychotically misguided ideas of the whys and wherefores of giving gifts are a great deal more than "alarming." I found myself deeply troubled by her fantastical notions and saddened by the possibility that her children might be taught these same ideas. Needless to say, I thought your response to RS was absolutely correct.

Nevertheless, I must take issue with your slander of mercenaries. A mercenary makes it clear he/she is fighting for money, not attempting to hide the expectation of booty behind a wedding invitation.

--Cordially, ML III in Hong Kong

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Dear M,

Prudie thanks you for your support and regrets that she may have insulted official mercenaries. If RS, our bride with the tally sheet, is by any chance reading this week's Prudie, she may be interested to know that there was much mail essentially calling her a woman with a cash register where her heart ought to be.

--Prudie, assuredly

Dear Prudence,

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As a young man approaching 40, I am confused about how I am supposed to react to women's fashions. At a recent conference of professionals, we were seated around a U-shaped table--glass--with no tablecloth. Several of these professional women across from me were wearing Ally McBeal skirts. They spent the entire meeting pulling their skirts down so their lingerie preferences were not so obvious. Am I supposed to look at the ceiling the entire meeting, steal the occasional glance, or just assume it's a '90s thing?

Along these same lines, I was recently in a retail store and the clerk had on a summer dress. As she leaned over the counter to hand me my purchase, it became clear that her lingerie preference was none at all. I didn't know whether to stare at the ceiling, pretend I saw nothing, or thank her for the free show. In both instances, these women had to know that everyone was getting an eyeful. I missed the era of free love while in grade school and am wondering if we are now in the era of free looks.

--Somewhat Dazed and Confused

Dear Some,

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You have nicely named our new era. Fashion is deep into spandex and see-through, with the off-one-shoulder style occasionally revealing a stray boob. Alas, the '90s motto, "Let it all hang out," has moved from emotions to body parts.

 Clothing is meant to cover or reveal. The look-at-me outfits say just that. As for your particular question about Ally McBeal skirts and ladies minus underwear, Prudie feels these people do not purchase their clothes in the dark, so whatever is able to be seen is fair game for whatever response feels natural. You may even stare if you like. Prudie gives you permission.

 --Prudie, permissively

Dear Prudence,

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Maybe you can help with this problem. My wife and I have a subscription to our city's symphony orchestra. Sometimes things come up that prevent us from using our tickets. When this happens we give them to friends who are also classical music fans. We have made it clear to this couple we expect nothing in return, as we have already paid for the tickets that would go to waste if they didn't use them. However, being polite people and good friends, this other couple has, as a gesture of thanks, invited us to be their guests at a minor league baseball game. My wife and I are not enthusiastic about this, especially since getting there requires a drive of close to an hour. But we don't want to appear ungrateful to our friends or hurt their feelings. (We can't use the "We're busy" excuse, because they've given us four different dates to choose from.)

Is there a graceful way of declining, or have you some suggestions for handling this dilemma?

 --In Need of Help in Ohio

Dear In,

Prudie sympathizes with your feelings of ix-nay on the ballgame ... she, herself, having been briefly shown on national TV reading the New Republic at a World Series game and the Sunday papers at the Rose Bowl.

It is best to be upfront, both to handle the matter truthfully, as well as to scotch baseball invitations on into the next century. Prudie therefore suggests you tell your friends: 1) you are most appreciative that they wish to reciprocate; 2) neither you nor your wife is a sports fan; 3) long car rides hurt your behinds; and 4) a leisurely dinner, just the four of you, would be much more to your liking.

Prudie believes there are certain occasions when one plays along in order to spare someone's feelings. This is not one of them.

--Prudie, decidedly

Hello, Prudie,

The tone of "Really Confused" about that "geezer" Hugh Hefner rather surprises me. Really Confused seems to want to criticize Mr. Hefner because he is no longer a young man under 30, yet he still manages to attract the attentions of three young attractive women. Would Really Confused be less confused if Mr. Hefner were a Gen-Xer? Would you be less critical of the three women if Mr. Hefner were under 30? In other words, it appears that numbers are driving the argument here, and I can't tell if it's the number 3, any number over 30, or an interaction effect.

--Quantitatively Questioning the Quality of Life, a k a SB-B

Dear Quant,

Prudie can't speak for Really Confused, so she will speak for herself. If Mr. Hefner were under 30, the three, uh, companions would no doubt be an implied tribute to his attractiveness. At the age of 70-something, however, this trio has about it the barest whiff of self-serving motives. Without the mansion, the money, the famous friends, and the publicity, Prudie thinks the object of their affections would be just another eccentric old guy who stays in his pajamas. As Prudie has wondered in the past, in other publications, why do geezers with young girlfriends not know that they might as well glue an American Express Gold Card to their foreheads? Oh, well. As for the Viagra component, let's not go there, as the kids say.

--Prudie, appropriately