Gentleman Scholar

Should I Make Small Talk With My Boss While We’re Both Peeing?

Also: Can short gentlemen still be masculine?

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Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson

Photo by Christina Paige

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

What is the social contract for two gentlemen who are office acquaintances when standing side by side at urinals? For example, if I am urinating and then my boss appears at the urinal beside me, am I obligated to acknowledge his existence, make small talk, or is this considered a realm as private as the toilet stall?


Thank you for your question. The most personal of bodily functions assume a great deal of psychic weight in a professional setting. Why, back when the Gentleman Scholar appeared in an office on a week-daily basis, it was at a magazine where the editorial staff inhabited the 28th floor of an office building and the publishing staff the 29th. Guess which floor the neurotics on the writing staff—which is to say, the writing staff—went to do No. 2. 

People have explored the issue in freakishly nuanced details. Some extremists believe it is never appropriate to make a nanosecond of neutrally inflected eye contact with a man entering a bathroom. Some others refuse to occupy a urinal immediately adjacent to an occupied urinal, even in the presence of dividers. And though I rush to defend such people from charges that they are motivated by homophobia—as opposed to a humdrum desire for privacy in a vulnerable moment—you will notice that I still nonetheless called them extremists. 

I am of the mind that it is rude to ignore a colleague when he is approaching a urinal bank at which you are installed. But nor is this necessarily an occasion for chitchat. One party—probably the higher-ranking one—should say, with energy of presence but a flatness of tone, something like, “Hey, how’s it goin’?” The correct response to this is, as usual, “How’s it goin’?” 

At this juncture, it is probably desirable to return to contemplating the grout, but if the two prospective micturators are genuine chums—or if your doofus boss absolutely insists—some ultralight banter may ensue. Otherwise, wait until the two of you have reached the sink to transition into small talk. Popular topics include weather, sports, and malicious gossip, but you don’t talk business in the same room where you do your business. You never know whether your interlocutor strongly disapproves and thus could be pissing money away.

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

Is height really important to masculinity? I was always attracted to more compact gymnasts, not football players—until watching Dances With Wolves. Tall, lanky, boxy Kevin Costner began bounding up the hill, thighs and chest fluid like in a dance, and … wow! Isn’t how a man moves what physically attracts (or pleases) women most?  


Elizabeth, thank you for your inquiry into this issue, which ranks for some fellows as a featherweight matter and to others as a really big deal. Physical stature ought not have any bearing on any other kind. Many little people abound with largesse. The terpsichorean grace of Jackie Gleason stands (and leaps, and twirls) as a proof that grace and gross tonnage are not mutually exclusive. And as you know from high school, jocks can be jerks and jokes.

I was thinking of such matters the other day, while typing in a table at a tavern. Three guys walked into the bar. They sat on barstools. But only two of them were sitting. Guy No. 1—who stood just over 6 feet tall, a height recently discussed by Joe Queenan as an irrational benchmark for mental comfort with one’s masculinity—sat on his stool. Guy No. 2—who seemed to stand a comfortably average 5 feet 10 inches—sat on his stool. Guy No. 3—who was notably short—instead of sitting on his stool crouched atop it, shins on the cushion, elbows on the bar, dignity nowhere in evidence. Which is why I noted that he was notably short. Had the third guy comported himself an adult, he wouldn’t have fit into my notebook, but in carrying himself like a child, he called attention to a quality unworthy of attention, and I can’t have been the only one observer wanting to chide him: “Dude.”

Hey, little guys, I know you can hear me down there: Buck up. Behave as if within your Spud Webb–like frame exists a Shaq-sized spirit. Be proud. (But keep the pride in check. Unchecked, it may lead you to develop certain compensating complexes that lead to a chain of events ending with your exile to Elba.) And don’t wear lifts of any but the very highest quality. 

Further (and higher, and stronger): The taller gentleman should not be shy about his height, lest he slouch toward resembling one those lanky lasses you remember from middle school dances who stooped and thus failed to conquer. Stand up straight, I’m saying. And muscle-bound sorts should not affect a burly carriage, taking up a lot of room because they can, swinging triceps with the menace of a Triceratops swaying its bulk. Dude, you’re jacked; nice work, we get it; but any cowpoke or action star will tell you that elegance is a gentlemanly trait.