There's a Reason It's Not Called a "Buttrail"

Dear Uptight Seattleite,The woman who was giving me a perm the other day put hot curlers in while my hair was wet, which is very damaging to my hair type. "I'm too lazy to do it the right way," she said. I bit my tongue, but later wondered why I'm paying her. What happened to professionalism in this town?(Not So) Hardy Hair Hair

Dear Hair,First of all, congratulations. This situation could easily have ended in hurt feelings, but you took the indignation caused by a specific person and turned it into an anonymously expressed generalization. And you didn't even realize that you done so good! Not unlike how they call that thing in an elevator a "handrail" even though people usually put their butts on it. Elevator riders always seem to hook their ischial tuberosities around it like a line of monkeys grasping a branch with their tails. I don't know why—maybe there's something comforting about this gesture to primate minds that, on some level anyway, are alarmed about being sealed in a moving box. Elevator makers instinctively knew the term "buttrail" would make people less likely to seek this comfort, as you instinctively knew that complaining to your hairdresser would be inappropriate.In order for your conscious mind to share what your subconscious mind already knows, let me spell it out for you a little more explicitly: It's exactly because you're paying your hairdresser that you can't mention that she's ruining your hair. You can't say anything that would emphasize her subservient position and make both of you uncomfortable. Pretending that you're just a couple of friends hanging out at the salon is the buttrail of the situation.Dear Uptight Seattleite,My family is always squabbling and making a scene. Whenever we have an issue, I imagine leading my wife and daughter in a reasoned discussion, writing a summary of everyone's needs on a whiteboard, and coming to a mutually agreeable solution. But instead I usually lose my cool, and after another big scene, everyone ends up retreating to their own corners. I thought I was going to be good at this. How can I do a better job setting an example?Dumb Dad

Dear Dad,I spent some time over the holidays with a relative of mine who also sometimes throws tantrums in front of his family, and I noticed something about the aftermath of his tantrums that may interest you. Five minutes after banging around the house and swearing about whoever messed with his laptop settings, he tries to salvage his dignity by suddenly acting like nothing happened. While his temper may make him a sad and comic figure in his family's eyes—a sort of hobo clown, really—the utter shamelessness of his attempted recoveries earns from them a kind of astonished respect. He seems to be totally unaware of this. It's possible that you too are setting an example without being aware of it, just not the sort of example you imagine.Dear Uptight Seattleite,I heard a woman refer to her "partner" and assumed she was gay, but then realized she was talking about her live-in boyfriend. Is it really OK for us straight people to use this word?Liz

Dear Liz,Nope. It's understandable that we want to, though. Who wouldn't want to cozy up—like a puppy on an electric blanket—to the warm feeling of easy kinship with same-sex couples that this word produces? Especially since "partner" also has an adult dignity that "boyfriend" and "girlfriend" lack. But until gays are allowed to marry, they should at least get their own word. Another reason for you not to call your partner "partner" is the danger that you'll take satisfaction in tacitly "granting" gay relationships the same legitimacy your straight relationship has. This would obviously smack of paternalism. After all, who put YOU in charge of the legitimacy supply here?A better idea is to use a term I just invented that calls bull-hockey on the status of heterosexuality as the unspoken default: Opposite-Sex Partner, or OSP. If that sounds too clinical, dress it up with a little of the ol' français and say "mon OSP." This could open up whole new frontiers in both tolerance and poetic rhyme.*I saw a bumper sticker the other day that said, "Forgiveness: Abandoning All Hope for a Better Past." I may shoot for a higher synthesis of principles with the backside of my own Volvo, which says "The Means Matter," but I still thought this was a pretty neat thought for the new year.Questions? Write

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