Gentleman Scholar

Gentlemen Don’t Let Fellow Gentlemen Drive Drunk

But how to stop a bull-headed, belligerent gentleman from getting behind the wheel?

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

A troubling situation recently arose regarding a good friend and copious imbibing. He is that friend most of us have who can “really put it away.” Most nights, the spirits seem not to touch him at all, and he drives without incident. On this particular evening, he showed definite signs of being impaired and I insisted he stay at my home and not brave the roads. He refused my pleas and half-hearted attempts at physical restraint and wandered off in the wee hours. While he got home safely that time, I worry about the next.

I had a conversation with him a few days later explaining that his behavior worried and upset me, inserting the phrases “because I care,” and “I don’t want to sound like your mom,” so as to infuse the discussion with the appropriate gravitas, but I worry, despite his sober promises not to repeat the scene, that his less sober self might not keep the bargain. If the scenario plays itself out again, how should I take care of it more effectively?

Bourbon on Board

Troy Patterson.
Troy Patterson.

Photo by Christina Paige

Thank you for your letter.

Are you familiar with the concept of social-host liability? It’s not to be confused with the concept of social-parasite liability, which concerns problems related to hangers-on infiltrating entourages, social-climbing plus-ones embarrassing themselves at parties, and ill-socialized weirdos who through obscure grandfather clauses tenaciously latch onto cliques. 

Though social-host liability laws vary from state to state, morality doesn’t, and a host must make an effort to see that his guests “drink responsibly.” (In my experience, the most invigorating way to drink responsibly is to get totally drunk while keeping one’s itinerary clear of any tasks that actually require responsible behavior, such as operating heavy machinery, tending to infants, and sending text messages.) When a guest is three sheets to the wind, a host must exhaust all reasonable options to keep him off the road, lest the sheets be shrouds.

The scenario you present is actually pretty clear cut. It requires more finesse and resolve to deal with a friend who’s had one too many, as opposed to 12, and more vigilance to manage a guest who is a smooth drunk, rather than a sloppy one. But in either case, one rule applies: Don’t wait until the end of the night to broach the subject. When it is apparent that a guest’s buzz is gathering mass and speed, and that you have the energy to keep the session going for a couple more hours, passingly float the idea of a sleepover. Bring it up again a bit later, in an earnest spirit but with a touch of humor, perhaps promising an elaborate Belgian waffle spread in the morning or hinting at the possibility of wife-swapping in wee hours—any temptation that might involve Reddi-wip, really.

If the guest continues to decline the suggestion that he crash at your place, then step things up with joking-but-not-kidding references to other sorts of crashing: “I don’t want sound like your mom, but it’s all fun and games until somebody’s Subaru turns a little old lady into a mound of grandma tartare.”

If he continues to resist, you could try a shoot-the-moon strategy, and try getting him so drunk that he can’t even see his car. But if you overdo this, then you might wake to discover that you’ve got a coma patient on your fold-out sofa, leaving you no time to deal with the pressing matter of your own hangover.

If all else fails, call the cops and ask for them for advice while your pal is in earshot: “Yeah, this is kinda weird, but my buddy Bob has been marinating in Buffalo Trace for six hours, and now he wants to drive home, and we can’t talk him out of it … Yeah, it’s a late-model Subaru station wagon, with Ohio tags BOOR-101 …” If he can’t play nice, why can’t you play hardball? He’s being a bad friend. 

This is the moment where I’m supposed to do some boilerplate hand-wringing about whether your friend needs to submit to a higher power and all that jazz. Frankly, I’m more concerned about you and that, in spending your evening with someone who would treat you and the general public so cavalierly, you are wasting precious time and booze.

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

My fiancée and I have been at odds for quite some time over how long a man’s fingernails should be. I prefer to show a small amount of free edge, which I think is what the outer white section is called. Maybe a millimeter or so, definitely not enough to hang out over the tip of my fingers. My fiancée cuts her nails much shorter and shows no white edge at all. I think doing that sounds painful and gross. She thinks having long nails is dirty. I would agree, but I don’t think my nails are long. They’re just well maintained. Ladies can probably do what they want with their nails, but what is the best length for a gentleman?

Thanks for the note.

If I were judging this debate in a spirit of scholarly detachment, I would declare a draw, but my sympathies are with you. I side with the contemporary fancy lads who believe there should be a white edge about the width of the edge of a dime at the end of the nail—just enough to scratch your head and say, “Huh—what is our long-running argument about this tiny matter about?” But I suppose that if you are scrupulous about shaping the curves of immaculate nails, then the edge of a nickel might be the right unit of measure. Also, I allow that this is a U.S. standard: In some cultures, gentlemen leave a nail long to signal that they are not manual laborers (a message the Gentleman Scholar prefers to get across by not lifting anything heavy).

On the other manicured hand, Renaissance men—Michelangelo, for instance—favored cutting to the quick, to judge by the frescoes. For more on the subject, read Senses of Touch: Human Dignity and Deformity from Michelangelo to Calvin, a philosophical and art-historical study of the human hand. There, author Marjorie O’Rourke Boyle passes along manicure tips from everyone from Hippocrates to Erasmus, who decreed, “You shall not have long nails; you shall cut them in secrecy.”

Boyle’s book also informs us of the ways that fingernail parings figured in medieval sorcery, and when next you see a miserable lout clipping his nails on public transit, I suggest quoting one of her sentences on the topic: “You know, once upon a time, ‘The parings of fingernails were believed abodes of evil, incapable of serving of God.’ Just like you, you miserable lout.”