Gentleman Scholar

Does the Gentleman Use His Phone at the Urinal?

Depends who’s calling.

Please send your questions for publication to or to Mr. Patterson’s regular email address (if you are his editor) or to his cellphone (if you are his wife). Questions may be edited.

What sorts of (moderately priced) gifts do men actually want to receive on gift-giving occasions? Is the tie/tools/sports-stuff trifecta really the be-all and end-all?

Troy Patterson
Troy Patterson

Photo by Christina Paige

Thank you for the question, which inspired me to draft a theory of “affordable luxury” that expounds on the desirability of receiving essential clothing items (such as socks) in rich fabrics (such as merino blends) and which recommends giving a bibliophile not a first edition but a foreign translation with a snappy cover and which suggests, further, that ties are fairly lame presents unless creatively paired with appropriate shirts, preferably mail-ordered from Jermyn Street, preferably slim-fit, with a 16-inch neck and a 35-inch sleeve. 

I’d made some decent headway with this theory when I took a break and went browsing in a men’s shop where I overheard a salesman counsel a woman knitting her brow: “Get your man a cashmere sweater and call it a day.”

Dear Gentleman Scholar,

Is it OK to use your phone at the urinal?

Many of the men at Slate

Thanks for the chuckle, fellas.

It is OK to use your phone at the urinal in the following circumstances:

  • You are entering the second hour of a tedious conference call and the phone is on mute.
  • You are on hold forever with Time Warner Cable, as usual.
  • You are interviewing a source famous for his reticence (e.g., reporting a Terrence Malick tell-all, gathering a fondue recipe from Thomas Pynchon, or moderating a round-table discussion among Brian Wilson, Sly Stone, and Phil Spector).
  • You are submitting to a court-ordered drug test while also having an urgent conversation with your parole officer. Or your dealer.

Otherwise, no, it is not OK to use your phone at the urinal. Are you kidding me? Tinkling in your interlocutor’s ear is flamboyantly disrespectful.

Five centuries ago, Erasmus found it necessary to instruct boys that it was “impolite to greet someone who is urinating or defecating.” Then we invented the toilet, and the problem went away. Are you trying to drag us back to 16th-century standards of privacy by way of 21st-century telephony? When going No. 1, dial no other numbers.

But what if you are just texting or looking at the Internet? Is that OK?
—Dan Kois, senior editor

Thanks for the clarification.

This is substantially less offensive, especially if what you are looking at on the Internet is this column. But it is crucial to avoid giving any co-urinators the slightest impression of the merest possibility that you are recording their actions. You might think it extremely paranoid for a guy to be concerned about leaking footage, but I can imagine a Google Glass future where an innocent nod to a colleague seeing a gentleman about a horse will unwittingly trigger a stream of corporate surveillance activities designed to increase sales of coffee, bottled water, and/or grapefruit soda.

Did you take out the recycling?

Thanks, hon. I did, yes. The trash, too.

This Week’s New York Media Gender-War Skirmish® concerns parity in housekeeping. The opening salvo was a Stephen Marche essay in Sunday’s New York Times—which, it should go without saying, is out on the curb with the rest of the recycling—that proceeded from an academic finding that “women’s housework did not decline significantly and men’s housework did not increase significantly after the mid-1980s in the United States, the United Kingdom, and the Netherlands.” The piece describes housework as “intimate drudgery,” which is a cute way to describe one’s Sisyphean relationship with the broiler pan.

I would suggest that Marche try that phrase out on the 20-year-old woman, a college student living at home, who recently sent the Gentleman Scholar a letter; after her parents divorced and her mom split, the woman discovered that her father and brother are totally helpless and completely unhelpful when it comes to keeping house: “I have tried repeatedly to divide the workload, but they refuse and ‘forget’ to do their assigned tasks. I’m despairing and giving in to cleaning impulses I didn’t even know I had, and I want to know a gentleman’s opinion on sharing chores and how to best divide them so they actually get done.”

The Gentleman Scholar suggests dividing chores evenly, such that each so-called adult in a household devotes the same amount of time to them. Now, this cleaning solution still leaves my correspondent confronting a mess, given the brazen negligence of her relatives, so I can only suggest that she hold her nose and go on a housework strike, to see whether her dad is, living like a pig, actually as happy as a pig in mud. If the answer is yes, then she needs to follow her mother’s lead and make a clean getaway.

Are there exceptions to the GS’s chore-division rule? Yes. A person who doesn’t have time to mop the kitchen or Swiffer the den because he is out earning money should spend some of that hard-earned money to hire a cleaning person to visit at least once per fortnight. And each household’s scheme must acknowledge that not all chores are created equal. To my mind, a five-minute chore that involves interacting with fecal matter (or remnants thereof) is equivalent to a 10-minute chore that does not.

Which brings me to my dust mote of a point: The experts may tell us that men’s housework did not increase significantly after the mid-1980s, but I am here to tell all the fellas out there with feline friends that it does increase once your wife discovers that she has a bun in the oven. Because of the risk of toxoplasmosis, it falls to the nonpregnant half of a couple to clean the litter box. If the lady of the house has been the person responsible for scooping Fluffy’s poop, then the gentleman must assume that stooped position cheerfully—and then, for the love of God, with kindness and humor and a twinkle in his eye, he must renounce the duty once the kid is born. At which point, he may well find himself in charge of polishing the diaper pail, which is fine, but the principle of the thing matters. A new dad should not get accidentally reverse-grandfathered into litter-box duty, I declare, at the risk of airing dirty linen.