Of Muck and Morons

Of Muck and Morons

Of Muck and Morons

Advice on manners and morals.
Jan. 7 2000 3:30 AM

Of Muck and Morons

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

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Dear Prudence,

I need to ask you a question about my sister. I don't want to unload on her if her behavior is normal, but I have my doubts. Whenever we're in a public restroom, she will wash her hands (afterward) and then take a paper towel or toilet paper to turn off the faucets, then use it to open the door to leave. She does this so she doesn't have to touch anything with her bare hands. How crazy is that?

--Sally

Dear Sal,

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You have perhaps come to the wrong person. It has occurred to Prudie that maybe she's the secret love child of Howard Hughes because of her own slight phobia about germs. Actually, your sister's routine with the paper towels is merely one of taking precautions. What is the point, after all, of washing your hands only to then touch a surface that a non-hand-washer has touched? Prudie is so concerned for health, in fact, that she travels with a physician.

--Prudie, antiseptically

Prudie,

I am the mother of two beautiful children (4 and 6) who were both adopted from Russia. Both were amputees and therefore wear artificial limbs. I can't count the number of times people have rushed up to me and said, "Poor children, what happened?" Or worse, "What kind of drugs did you take when you were pregnant?" (This, of course, is always in front of the kids.) My standard response is to stare calmly and ask, "Why do you need to know?" I am writing for two reasons: The first is to remind people that this is not a Jerry Springer society, and everyone does not have the right to ask about a stranger's disability. The second is to ask if you have any great retorts for these morons?

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--J.D.

Dear J.,

Prudie thinks you're handling things perfectly. If you want to enlarge your repertoire, however, you might try saying, "I don't believe I know you," and continue on. They will get the underlying implicit message. The important thing for you to know is that these foolish people who think everything is their business have their own congenital defect: no brains.

--Prudie, righteously

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Prudence,

"In Trouble or Not" wrote asking about his abnormal fixation on sex. Had he written you about an abnormal drinking habit, you might have sent him to Alcoholics Anonymous. Do you not know that there is Sexaholics Anonymous, which is a well-respected organization dealing with fixations on sex? Send him to www.sa.org.

--NO NAME PLEASE

Dear NO,

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Prudie knew of this organization, but it didn't come to mind; perhaps an indicator that sex addiction is less established in our society than alcoholism. Thank you for being a Prudie.

--Prudie, appreciatively

Pru,

I am having what you'd call a philosophical argument with a friend. My position is that without rules and civilized, ordered behavior, life would be nasty, brutish, and short (to borrow from Hobbes). My friend believes that anarchy might be preferable and more "honest," with no imposed ordinances. His point is that if rules are dictated rather than instinctive, they are false--therefore not genuine and not worth having. What do you think about this? Maybe a word from you could settle the matter.

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--Philosophically Interested

Dear Phil,

Prudie votes with you ... and she's relieved, by the way, that yours was a philosophical question, because upon reading the words "nasty, brutish, and short," she thought your letter was about her starter husband. In any case, offer your friend a very ordinary, everyday example: Imagine the flow of traffic without lights and signs. Of course Prudie does not think traffic lights are what Hobbes had in mind (since they didn't exist then), but she has a hunch he would have appreciated their contribution to civilization. If you need more ammunition, just point out what happened to Czolgosv, the chap who assassinated McKinley. In addition to having a name like that, he was electrocuted.

--Prudie, procedurally